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Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween Brings Thoughts Of Other Holidays For Writers

Today is one of my least favorite days of the year. I know--I'm among the minority as most people love Halloween. I never did like it, even as a kid. I've written my Halloween confession and shared it here before so won't repeat. For anyone who would like to read it, you can do so here. It was written several years ago so those two grandchildren pictured are a lot older now.

One of the things I learned when I first started trying to market stories for kids was that editors love holiday-themed stories.But--and it's a big 'but'--they are overrun with Halloween and Christmas stories. I imagine the magazines/ezines looking for adult holiday stories find the same. You can still write and submit them, but they will need to be quite unique, not the same-old, same-old.

If you're willing to write a holiday story about a lesser holiday, you're far more likely to have it accepted. The problem is that we seem to have had many more experiences with Halloween and Christmas so it's far easier to pluck a memory and turn it into a holiday story than it would be for those more minor holidays. 

If you're willing to challenge your memory and your imagination, you can come up with a story for Thanksgiving. Might be something heartwarming or filled with caustic humor or that 'awful family get-together every November.' Valentine's Day is one most of us could manage to write about if we gave it some thought. 

Moving on to even less popular holidays--how about writing a story based on a Veteran's Day Parade? Or a Fourth of July pageant? What about Easter? You can gear those stories to either the religious side or the bunny and chick side of the holiday. Kwanzaa and Hanukkah are both holidays that fewer people celebrate but have importance in the life of those who do recognize them. Wouldn't it be a good way to inform others about those holidays if you wrote a nonfiction article or even a fiction story based on the holiday experience? 

Mother's Day and Father's Day should inspire some stories. I've written a few of them that involve this special day of the year and they've been accepted. 

Here are a few more ideas not already mentioned for other holidays and days of recognition:

Flag Day
Arbor Day
Labor Day
Memorial Day
St. Patrick's Day
Columbus Day
Martin Luther King Day
Black History Month (February)
April Fool's Day

Write and submit these stories far ahead of the actual holiday you are featuring so editors have time to include them in their schedule. Sometimes you get paid on acceptance while other times it is after publication, so it might be a long wait to see those dollars.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Are You A Writer Or A Magician?

Various kinds of artists start with a blank canvas, a pure white page, a lump of clay, an empty loom or a bolt of fabric. As the poster tells us, it is magic to create something out of nothing. 

It's the painter, the writer, the sculptor, the art weaver or professional designer who hovers over nothing, then waves the magic wand and Presto! Changeo! art of some form appears. 

Oh, if it were only that easy. It is true, however, that we writers do create something from nothing, and that can feel magical at times. It is also hard work. 

When we begin with the blank page, we start with one sentence, then a full paragraph, then more paragraphs until we've written a thousand or more words. Is it a masterpiece? Of course not, If we could find that magic wand and let it hover over our words, it might be. Instead, we must go back and revise and edit until the words do appear enchanted. 

When you read a novel, do you ever give thought to what the author has been through to bring you this finished product? I do occasionally because I am a writer, and those of you who write may, as well. But the average reader most likely concentrates solely on the story. They don't think of the gnashing of teeth, the late night frustration of working out a scene, or the anger when things don't come out to the author's satisfaction. The reader doesn't consider the nights the author tosses and turns in bed figuring out why one character does something to another character. The reader is only interested in the story itself. 

It's the writer who wants those words to reach out and touch the reader in some way. He/she who has created something out of nothing wants to bring something special to the reader. 

We plant seeds and wait for the flowers to grow and bloom. When we have a story idea planted in our minds, we have to do more than wait for it to bloom. We work at it a bit at a time. We fill that blank page with words until the story begins to gel. Then we shape it to perfection before submitting it to an editor. 

If you are a writer, be proud of yourself today. Give yourself the proverbial 'pat on the back' because you have performed a bit of magic every time you create something out of nothing. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

What Kind Of Writing Group Do You Want?

Could these people be going to a Writer's Critique Group?

The people above are all reading something. Maybe they are reading a copy of something a person in their writing group sent ahead so that they could discuss it at the meeting itself. Writing groups operate in different ways. One is as stated here--send the story to the members earlier so they'll be ready with suggestions and comments when the meeting begins. 

Others bring the story to the meeting, hand out copies to everyone and then the writer reads the story aloud. Those listening can make notes in the margins as they listen and then be ready to make comments when the reader/writer finishes. Some people are reluctant to make negative remarks when they have to look the writer in the face while doing so. If a writer is there asking for a critique, he/she should be aware that there might be both negative and positive responses.If you cannot accept the negative responses, you probably should not be in the group. Sure, we all love to hear the good things but we need the others to help us make our writing publishable. 

In an online writing group like mine, we email our subs and hope that several members will read and critique the piece. There are definite advantages in this type of group. The members select the pieces they want to or are willing to critique. They do it when they have time but do try to get to a sub at least within a week. We can do our crits in our jammies. One disadvantage is that I might submit a story or poem and get no crits on it. I have to say that has never happened to me but it could. Another negative is not being able to talk to one another face to face. Our thank you to those who critique our work must be written and sent individually.

There are some writers who prefer a writing 'group' that is made up of only two people. You help me and I'll help you. That's the method here. It works well if both people are in agreement as to what kind of critique they would like to have. The disadvantage is that you get only one person's opinion. That may or may not be alright. 

I urge all writers to join some kind of critique group. It's one of the best ways to help you grow as a writer, to determine if your submission is worthy of publication or if it needs more work, and to gather marketing suggestions. 

Word of warning! If you find a group that does nothing but praise your work and never points out places that need work, I'd look for another group. They might make you feel good but they aren't truly helping you. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Take Writing Goals A Little At A Time

Wouldn't we all love to be consoled with chocolate and a lot of money? Even the hug might be of big help when our writing life doesn't go according to plan. 

We talk a lot about setting goals and achieving them. It's good to have goals, something to reach out and hold onto. The hard work comes when attempting to achieve our goals. Making the list is easy. We know what we want and where we would like to go on this journey. Next comes working at each goal a little at a time.

That's what it takes--a little at a time. To quote an old cliche Rome wasn' t built in a day. Anything worth having is worth working for. But when we take those small steps, one at a time, we can get tired of waiting for results. Discouragement becomes a close companion.

As an example, if you set a goal of being published in a high paying magazine even though you've yet to be published anywhere, back up and start small. Try a website or a small local magazine when you submit your first stories. When you've found some success with those, move on to the next level and keep moving until you reach your goal level of publication. It may not happen in a year or even five, but if you keep working toward that goal, you might very well achieve it. 

When we don't reach our goals in a short time, we feel bad, as if we've failed. Then we need that hug and the chocolate. And, oh yes, that 6  million dollars. You haven't failed; you're taking it a little at a time to eventually reach your goal. Make a chart with your goal at the top and your status now at the bottom. Draw a line toward the top every time you get published. You want that line to move steadily. Sometimes it will and others it may stay at the same point for an achingly long time. Keep that end goal in mind--it's the gold ring on the carousel; it's the piece of birthday cake with the flower on it; it's the handsomest guy in school asking you to the prom. 

When your get bogged down with the way your writing journey moves, commiserate with another writer. They can relate better than anyone. Then, get back to work on your current writing project or start a new one. Keep your goals in mind but don't let achieving them be the most important part of your writing journey. The thing that is of prime importance is to write and keep writing. Edit and keep editing. Submit and keep submitting. Do that, and the goals will happen. A little at a time!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Quotes From Writers

Today's post is filled with good advice from noted writers. I don't think I need to add anything to these words of wisdom from those who have achieved recognition in the writing world. Read and enjoy the quotes, then ask yourself how they might apply to your own writing life. 

Quotable - Bruce Taylor - Writers Write Creative Blog:

"Writers end up writing about their obsessions. Things that haunt them; things they can't forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be released." - Natalie Goldberg. True. #quotes #writing:

An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this. - Stephen King:

Quotes About Writing: Has to say something.:

Freewriting - writing prompts for teens - iTeenWrite

Find out more about the author here:

Monday, October 24, 2016

Memories of Food Make Good Stories

If you're looking for new story ideas, consider family recipes or favorite family foods. We all seem to have stories that revolve around the things we eat. Some are warm and joyful stories while others describe a disaster of some sort.

You can incorporate food stories into a section of a memoir. Or write a specific memoir piece about a special cake your mother always made for birthdays in your family. Maybe your dad had a specialty item he fixed on the grill with a lot of pomp and circumstance along with it. How about the Christmas candy your grandmother always made? Or the popcorn your Grandfather drowned in butter for you? 

You can base a short story on some of the recipes or food items from your childhood. Use that as a base and enlarge upon it for your story making it more fiction than fact. One of my favorite stories from way back was about a boy named Homer Price and the disaster he had with a doughnut machine that wouldn't stop making doughnuts. It was a funny story but maybe it was based on something the author, Robert McCloskey, had witnessed as a kid. Then again, it may have come from his own vivid imagination. Either way, food stories always seem to be a hit with kids or grown-ups. We can all relate to food in some way.

Another idea is to write for a food magazine, using one of your family recipes that has a story attached to it. There are many possibilities in this field but you need to check the markets and their guidelines. 

Our Kansas City newspaper features a local person's recipe one day each week. There is nearly always a family story that goes along with the recipe. Some are especially interesting. 

I've written a few stories about foods we ate in my family. One is titled Love On A Plate. It's about some marvelous date muffins my grandmother baked when she visited us. She would make them for lunch and that would be all we ate, one still warm and luscious muffin after another, smothered in real butter and downed with a glass of milk. We waited for a Muffin Day whenever Grandma came to see us in Chicago after she'd moved to Phoenix. You can read the story here.

Another food story I wrote that has been popular was featured in a Chicken Soup for the Soul that used chocolate as its theme. My story about my mom's fudge has been featured other places, too. I was in third grade and volunteered to bring fudge for the school Christmas party. I had no idea that other people did not eat fudge with spoons like we did at my house. No one ever told me that my mother couldn't make fudge that hardened no matter how much she beat it. Not ever! What happened that fateful Christmastime is a story we still laugh about today. After several batches of fudge that was way too soft, my mother sent me to school with the gooey candy and 21 spoons. The kids loved it! 

Delve back into your memory or maybe your mom's old recipe box to see what you can find to use for a new story. Whether it is fiction based on your factual story or a creative fiction piece highlighting the true story of many years ago, see what you can come up with. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

No Problem, No Story

When you're writing fiction, your protagonist has to have a problem of some sort that must be solved by the end of your story. If there is no problem, there is no story. It's just a lot of la-de-da sentences strung together and it will not keep a reader interested enough to keep reading.

When we start reading a short story or a novel, we are soon introduced to the problem. We turn the pages to see how the hero or heroine tackles the problem and triumphs. At least, we hope he/she triumphs. We want to cheer him/her on. We want to experience the fear or anger or joy right along with the character.

The bad decisions mentioned can create the problem and also help to keep it alive. Your character can make a lot of bad decisions which will make his/her life almost unbearable. If Goldilocks had not decided to go into the woods, she'd have never stopped at the home of the three bears. Hansel and Gretel shouldn't have gone into the dark forest looking for their father. If they'd stayed home, there would have been no meeting with the wicked witch. And how about Sleeping Beauty? She never should have taken a bite of the poison apple, but she did. Look what happened to her? These old fairy tales all ended well but the characters all made a bad decision which got them into trouble. And it created a good story for readers.

If you're writing a novel, your character is probably going to need to make several bad decisions and then work like crazy to get out of trouble. You, the writer, has to make those bad decisions believable and, at times, that can be a difficult task. You'll need to play the what if....? game with every situation to figure out if the bad decision and the solution are realistic enough for your readers to accept. 

If you're writing memoir, some of your own bad decisions and how you worked your way out of it will appeal to readers. 

Make a list of the bad decisions you've made in your life. I've made plenty of them and I'm sure most of you have, too. Then, make another column in your list and add a way to make that bad decision be a problem that is solved in some way. What you end up with is the bones of a story to write as fiction or to be included in your memoir.

Other peoples' bad decisions end up being good for writers!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Writers Who Share With Other Writers

 Remember when your parents taught you to share with others? They weren't the only ones who instilled this trait in us. Grandparents, preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers, Sunday School teachers are a few of the others. 

We heard things like Don't be selfish. Share your toys. Give your friend one of your cookies. The lesson was learned and we tucked it away to be used or shunned in later life. What is all this leading up to? Sharing in our writing world.

Do you share market tips with other writers? Do you let writer friends know about a terrific new writing exercise you discovered? Do you share some of the great info you got at a conference? Do you recommend an editor who has been good to you to your writing crowd? Do you tell your writing group about a new writing reference book?

Or do you keep all these things to yourself? Are you averse to sharing with writing friends? Some of you will be shaking your heads and thinking that no one would do that. Don't be too sure. 

Consider that, if you share a hot new market, you might be allowing someone else to move in line ahead of you.Maybe their story will be accepted and yours won't. If you hadn't told her/him about the market, you'd be steps ahead. Now consider this--if your story is the better one, you'll move to the head of the line. If your friend has the better piece of writing, she/he will be number one. For the sake of friendship, tell your friend about the new market. If she/he comes out ahead, so be it. Don't be selfish. Share your toys. Give your friend one of your cookies. Bring Mom's lesson back.

One of the great aspects of a writing group is that the members do share tips and give recommendations with one another. Each member should be willing to help the others in any way they can. If you decide not to tell the others about a new anthology title looking for submissions, it's not going to catapult your story ahead. The others will no doubt find the call for submissions on their own or from some other writer who believes in sharing information.

I share submission calls, good articles or books, or information that might benefit with the members of my online group. My thought is two-fold--they are people I care about and want to see achieve success and if I help them, they are going to do the same for me someday. 

There definitely is a competition among writers. We are all trying to be the one whose work is accepted and published. I love competition like this for it spurs me on, makes me want to send in the best writing I can. There should also be a type of camaraderie among writers that makes us want to share and help the others. Think back once again to what Mom said. Don't be selfish. Share your toys. Give your friend one of your cookies. Then hope your writing friend's mom taught her/him the same. 

All this is not to point a finger at any one person. It's just to make us all think about the benefit of sharing what we can with other writers. Good deeds like that bring good things back to us. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Writers--Don't Put Off That New Project!

How often have you had a story idea swriling in your head but can't ever seem to get started writing it? How many of you keep a Story Idea list but let it gather dust on your desk? Which of you sees something that would make a great story when you're out and about, then promptly forget it before you get home?

Have you ever said, or thought, I want to write a series of articles for a writing magazine--or something similar? We have great ideas, big goals or giant plans for a novel. What happens if we fail to begin the project?

You know what happens--we think about it longer and longer and put off the hardest part. And what is the hardest part? The beginning, of course. Putting bottom in chair and fingers on keyboard is step 1. Step 2 is to write that first sentence. And then another, and another.

Sometimes that first sentence has come to you before you ever sit at your desk. I've had first lines of a poem pop into my head at the strangest times. Some of them absolutely startle me. Where did that come from? I often wonder. Our subconscious mind harbors many hidden gems.

If a first line comes to you, stop what you're doing and jot it down somewhere. Anywhere! On a napkin or in a notebook you carry with you, or at the bottom of your grocery list. If you don't write it as soon as you think of it, you might lose it. That wonderful first line can float away like a feather on a summer breeze.

When you begin your project with that first line, you will keep going. Getting that first sentence in print is motivating in itself. Your mind will pluck another line and another to follow. Will they all be brilliant? Of course not. This is a first draft with changes to come. That special first line you thought of may eventually end up as your conclusion or deep into the middle of your project. Even so, it's what you use to begin the entire story, or whatever you're writing.

As the poster says, we must simply begin. Nothing is accomplished if we don't. Those good ideas will just keep swirling in your mind, going nowhere.

If you've had an idea for a new writing project, why not begin it today? Once begun, you're nearly done. Well, not really but you are on your way. Set a goal to begin something new this week. Sit down and write that first line.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Thoughts From Three Published Writers

On many occasions, I have encouraged readers of this blog to do the Random Word exericse. It's one that my online writing group offers on a weekly basis. Whoever selects the word does it through different methods. One of the easiest is to open a book, close your eyes and plop your finger on the page. Whatever word you hit is "it."

We've had some wonderful results from this exercise. Some, who write the specified ten minutes, writing as fast as possible, no stopping, just letting the words come, have found when finished that they have the bones for an essay or a short story. Writing this way brings a lot from our subconscious. I've sometimes read my ten minutes' worth and wondered Where in the world did that come from?

Three of the members of my writersandcritters group have agreed to let me share their feelings about doing the Random Word exercise. Each of these women are fine writers and have been published many times. Let me introduce you to them.

Jane Banning lives and writes in the northern part of Wisconsin. She is a novelist and a poet. When I asked her how she felt about the Random Word exercise, she said:
     Yes, I find that the RW exercise is good for me. When writing “long” (as in a novel or, for me, even a short story) feels like less joy and more work than I’d like, the RW is a little spark of light. It’s a window, not a door. It feels accessible and possible. I’ve had several RW’s published because I think they can be so well-focused and circumscribed.

Toni Somers writes wonderful poetry and creative nonfiction from Springfield, MO. Toni gave me a quote about doing the Random Word exercise and she topped it off by writing a haiku poem to accompany it. She said:
    Writing on a random word is a real antidote for writer’s block. Any word, whether provided by a friend or picked from a dictionary, can set me free. I can write and not worry about making each word perfect, or using lush language, or even making sense. I’m simply free! It’s wonderfully liberating to turn words in my mind loose and let them fall on the page in the order they choose. If as a child you enjoyed being a bit rebellious and “breaking rules”, try random word writing. It will give you the same sense of freedom and joy.

Haiku on The Random Word
Random words set free
unfettered, unleashed on page
liberate the soul.

Joan Lambert Bailey is an American writer who lives in Japan. She writes for Japanese publications as well as American ones. She says:
    As usual, this random word took a turn I didn't expect. I always start out thinking I have nothing to say, and then it bursts forth. It is amazing, although I can't say that of the writing! I do love these exercises, though.

These three writers are not beginners but they still value the benefit of doing the Random Word exercise. How about joining them by doing a Random Word exercise of your own today. You might be happily surprised at what results you get. One note, however--sometimes the exercise produces nothing but gibberish. That's quite alright. Even then, the ten minutes spent writing gets the creative juices flowing and you're ready to move on to the next project of the day. 

Try the exercise with one of the words below: 

1.  time
2.  rainbow
3.  stop
4.  senior
5.  tense

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Poem Inspires A Writing Exercise

I have tried in vain to find the author of the poem above. If anyone knows who wrote it, please do let me know so that I can give credit where it is due.

Meanwhile, as an exercise today, read the poem a few times, even aloud. Then turn it into prose rather than poetry. Tell us more about the person who is savoring both tea and book. Use descriptive phrases, add sensory details and give us a story.

Ask yourself:
  • where is she?
  • how old is she? 
  • what time of day is it?
  • is she a contemporary or historic person?
  • what color is her hair? her eyes?
  • what aroma does the tea have?
  • what is her name?
  • what book is she reading?
  • what is the lighting like?
  • what sounds are there?
  • does someone else enter the room?
  • is it a sunny day or storming outside?
As you contemplate each question in the list, you should be getting a mental picture of the person in the poem. In the poem, We see her in the poem but let us know her better as you write your story. 

If anyone is willing to share what they wrote, put it in the comments section. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Creating Characters In Fiction

One of my articles published at a writers' site.

The Pinocchio Factor
By Nancy Julien Kopp

An intriguing plot that piques the reader's interest and holds it throughout the story might be at the top of a list of goals for writing good fiction. As important as plot looms in creating memorable fiction, however, characters that show emotion and carry out the plot may surpass it in importance. No matter how good the story line, stiff and unfeeling characters will deflate a story faster than a pin pops a balloon.
In the classic tale, Pinocchio, a woodcarver named Geppetto creates a puppet boy made of wood. Geppetto's fondest wish is to turn his inanimate creation into a live boy who can love and cry and be a son to him. Pinocchio's adventures and misadventures fill the pages of this beloved children's story. We're writers, not woodcarvers. We don't want to create lifeless characters that might drag a story into oblivion.
We've all read work with characters that move the reader from Point A to Point B, but if they are wooden and show little or no emotion, we lose interest quickly. Emotion drives us, identifies us, and creates feelings of one kind or another for the characters in a story.
Readers want to see emotions in the characters they read about. Let them feel the anger, fear, or sadness in a character. More important than a physical description is to show what that character feels within. Show is the keyword here.
Consider the following two passages:
A. Jennifer felt angry.
B. Jennifer stormed into the kitchen, picked up a bowl of gravy and threw it against the wall. Body shaking, she clenched her hands into fists and searched wildly for another missile to hurl.
Passage A is short and sweet and tells the reader what the emotion is, while B shows the emotion through Jennifer's actions. The reader can relate to and feel the emotion in B. Depending on the situation in which Jennifer vents her anger, the reader may be angry and empathize with her, or the reader might be in total disagreement and feel no sympathy at all for her. The important thing is that Passage B not only shows emotion in the character, it creates emotion in the reader.
Have you ever read a novel where lengthy physical descriptions of the characters filled page after page? At the end all you have is the outer layer of the character. You still don't know what they are like emotionally. Let the reader be moved by the character's jealousy, deep love, or sorrow. Naming the emotion the character experiences isn't enough. The writer must make the reader feel what the character feels.
In Lois Lowry's Newberry Award novel, Number The Stars, a girl living in Nazi-occupied Denmark during WWII runs into two German soldiers on her way home from school. Ms. Lowry did not say "Annemarie was frightened by the soldiers." Instead, she wrote the following passage:
Annemarie stared up. There were two of them. That meant two helmets, two sets of cold eyes glaring at her, and four tall shiny boots planted firmly on the sidewalk, blocking her path to home. And it meant two rifles, gripped in the hands of the soldiers.
When a reader comes to this passage, her heart might beat a little faster. She’ll feel the same fear that Annemarie must be experiencing by seeing the soldiers through her child eyes.
In her book, Skylark, Patricia MacLachlan created characters that let us know their feelings through their actions. Consider this passage in which Anna describes a reunion with her father, whom she and Caleb have not seen in many months:
"Papa!" Caleb ran into Papa's arms, and Papa held him close. Papa picked me up, too, and my hat fell off, and I buried my face in his neck.
Instead of Anna saying "I was happy to see Papa," Ms. McLachlan shows us that joy in all three characters with a simple description.
In Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi brings Geppetto the woodcarver to life through his words and actions. When Geppetto carves his wooden puppet, strange things begin to happen, and we see his fear and frustration in the following passage:
In a few minutes it had become an immense nose that seemed to never end. Poor Geppetto tired himself out with cutting it off. The mouth was not even completed when it began to laugh and deride him. "Stop laughing I say," he roared in a threatening tone.
In real life, we often hold back our emotions. When writing, we must learn to do exactly the opposite. If you want to create memorable characters that inspire deep feelings in the reader, release the passion in you and allow the emotion to rise to the top. It's the perfect place to give your own emotions the outlet you might not have in your everyday existence. Make your characters laugh and cry, shout and stomp.

Pinocchio spent an entire book trying to become a real boy. You can create a real person in a paragraph with the right words. Let yourself go. Who knows? It could be a lot of fun! 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Quote With Three Pieces of Good Advice For Writers

This three-pronged quote gives food for thought to all of us who write. Let's look at them one at a time.

Believe:  I've written many times about the importance of believing in yourself. If you don't, who else is going to? If not, you might give up submitting your work. Remember that the only way to get published is to submit. And keep on submitting. Believe that some of what you submit will end up in print. It may not happen at the very beginning of your writing journey but it will if you keep working at the craft, keep growing as a writer. Do all you can to gain self-confidence. Google articles on same if you must. Remind yourself of the good things that have happened in your writing life. Read that wonderful children's book, The Little Engine That Could a dozen times or whenever you feel your self-confidence slipping.

Patience:  Yes, here it is again. That keyword for success in the wriitng world--patience.  Instant success in the writing world is pretty rare. Most of us have to work at the craft for quite some time before we achieve success. If we start submitting to smaller circulation publications, we have a better chance than if we send our precious words to top paying magazines who take only the highest quality works. Yes, it's hard to wait for good things to happen but it's well worth it. Practice patience in all things but especially in your writing life.

Best things:  This one appears obvious, doesn't it? Don't give up--three little words packed with power. She/he who gives up is going to be the biggest loser. Perseverance has always been the other keyword that I equate with patience in my writing world. Easy? Definitely not.

In fact, none of these three points is an easy task. You'll have to work at each of them, and not for a day or a week but all the time. Our writing journey is an ongoing process and the tools we need to write well can be added to as time moves on. We also need to keep reminding ourselves of these three points. It might be beneficial to print the quote and keep it near your writing area as a reminder. We often get excited about good advice but, as time goes on, we forget and slip back into old ways.

Keep working toward good things, better things, best things.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Handwriting A Letter--Do You Still Do It?

We have so many wonderful things in this great technological world of today. Even so, there are things I miss from long ago. One of them is writing a personal letter rather than dashing off a typed email, although I send plenty of those.

I have just finished a handwritten letter to a very ill friend. She can have no visitors or phone calls but I thought that a short personal letter could be read to her by a family member. Years ago, when we both lived in different states, we wrote to one another on a weekly basis. With a pen and stationery. I looked forward to those letters in my mailbox.

My mother and I wrote to each other every week for all my adult years until she became too ill to write and spent her last days in a nursing home. I missed those letters filled with her family news and her thoughts on current events or a book she'd read. When I spied one in my mailbox, her familiar handwriting on the envelope made me anticipate the reading once I got inside the house.

With email so easy and at our fingertips on a regular basis, we write few personal letters today. That's rather sad. Note that word personal, because that is what a handwritten letter is. It means someone took the time to get out paper and pen, handwrite the missive, put it in an envelope, address same, stamp it and take it to a post office or mailbox to send the letter on its way. Effort? Yes. Caring? Yes. I find somethng comforting in writing a letter on paper with a pen.

Long ago, love letters were saved and tied with a ribbon to be read again and again. How many of us print and fold and tie emails with a pretty ribbon? Nope. Instead we save in a computer file or delete them.

Wartime letters that were saved give us a wonderful picture of what life was like during WWI,WWII, Vietnam or Desert Storm in Iraq. Pioneers who wrote letters to those back East left us with an accurate picture of what life was like for these adventurers

Do you enjoy opening an envelope and holding a letter in your hand to read it? How often does that happen now? I love getting personal letters. Most of mine come via email, and I'd certainly rather have them that way than not at all. I do love finding an envelope with my name handwritten in my mailbox. How about you?

Do you write any personal letters in 2016 or are yours all done via email or texting? How about sending one just to bring back memories of old times?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Learn From Guest Blogger: Barbara Carpenter

Having a novel and three commissioned memoirs published in the past eight years has not left Barbara Carpenter much time to work on her own projects. Carpenter's work appears in multiple Chicken Soup for the Soul books, national magazines and other anthologies. Most current is "Roses and Thorns," The Memoirs of Isabel Ramos de Aguilar." Available on amazon,Mrs. Aguilar's story is an engrossing account of her life and escape from Cuba in the mid-1960s.

                                                             Show. Don’t Tell
By Barbara Carpenter

For twelve years I was a member of the Cedarhurst Writer’s Roundtable. Sessions were held on Tuesday nights. Our ages ranged from 14 to 80, and there were two instructors. Many of the members became published writers. Several of my short stories, written as assignments, became part of my first novel.  Class members read short excerpts of their work each week, followed by critiques from fellow writers. “Show. Don’t tell.” was a helpful subject to me.

The preceding paragraph reads much like a small newspaper item. It tells basic facts, revealing nothing about my experience with a colorful assortment of people who became my friends. I would like to “show” them to you:

For twelve years, Tuesday nights found me and a dozen other would-be writers gathered around a large table inside the Cedarhurst Art Museum Annex. While the museum is a beautiful, pillared white building surrounded with sculptures and massive trees, the Annex is not. Cedarhurst grounds are extensive. They include an outdoor venue that boasts a classic pavilion where weddings, receptions and other social gatherings are booked months, even years in advance.

A tall, wrought-iron fence encompasses the grounds. Impressive flower gardens and trimmed shrubberies draw photographers, artists, patrons and visitors during all seasons.

On a street behind the museum, the Annex is a run-of-the-mill tan metal building, with gray concrete floors, suitable for art, pottery, sewing and crafting classes of all kinds, even minor art shows. The Writer’s Roundtable was held in one of those classrooms, a large one, complete with sinks, counters, multiple tables and supplies. Our diverse group thought it perfect for our needs.
Ages of those around the table ranged from 14 to 80. The majority, like me, at 48, fell in the middle. Improbable as it seems, we were compatible; and some close friendships resulted from our weekly meetings. The two instructors were memorable: a soft-spoken elderly woman with a crown of snow-white hair, worn in a classic bun; and a man of approximately the same age, who wore horn-rimmed glasses and tweed. They held court and presented lessons/discussions on all aspects of writing. Both of them were aspiring writers, so we all learned together.

Two of my soon-to-be-colleagues-in-arms and I decided early on that the gentleman was a “pseudo” intellectual, his assumed collegial persona as phony as the brown micro-suede elbow patches on his jackets. After delivering what I’m sure he considered a pithy paragraph, he often gazed at us over the tops of his glasses and added, rhetorically, “Don’t you know?”  My two new friends and I dared not exchange glances following his discourses, not after the one time we made the mistake of doing just that. We had burst into simultaneous laughter, laughed more as we tried to extricate ourselves from and explain our inexplicable mirth.

We adults parented 14-year-old Sean, whose soft, brown hair curled over his forehead; matching brown eyes twinkled behind his wire-rimmed glasses. Suzy, quiet by nature, had long dark hair and green eyes that seemed to reflect her gentle personality, a writer of plays for her church and her children. Larry with the light blue eyes and slow accent that belied his birth and denied most of his life spent lived in Illinois, wrote side-splitting humor that often had us doubling over with laughter. Beautiful Betty, whose color-coordinated make-up, clothing, shoes, jewelry and be-jeweled cane to assist her MS-afflicted body, wrote flowery paragraphs and poetry that could have come from the pen of some Victorian miss. When I once whispered a question to Betty, wondering if her underwear coordinated with her clothing, she only laughed; but she and her sparkling blue eyes did not deny that my supposition was wrong.

And Melissa, our curly-red-haired, freckled, hazel-eyed genius who had grown up thinking she was “dumb,” until a loving teacher discovered that the girl was dyslexic, held all our hearts. Her epic stories about “The Kid,” a tomboy girl who ran across railroad trestle bridges with the boys, fell out of a tree and broke her arm, after successfully transferring baby birds back to their nest, who survived horrendous sexual abuse. I and the other one of our triangle suspected that “the kid” was actually Melissa and hoped we were wrong.

These are only a few of our number, each memorable in his/her own way.
We gained an amazing amount of practical writing skills, from improved grammar, punctuation, dialogue, paragraphing, wants and needs of publishers; and three of us had articles and stories published from some of our assigned writing. The first book of my series, “Starlight, Starbright…” came into being from a collection of my stories, also part of our weekly assignments. The group helped me decide upon a title for the series. Among the suggestions was “Redbud Prairie Tales,” which was nice; but since the town was called Redbud Grove, not quite suitable.

Our critiques of each other’s works were gentle, but pointed and helpful. We were there to learn, not to be flattered, not to hear only that our efforts were all wonderful and ready for publication. Our victories were shared ones, each of us happy for anyone who ecstatically held up a publisher’s check.
One of the important, possibly the most important lesson/skill, we learned was to “show, not tell” our stories. We learned to use all the senses: taste, touch, hear, see and smell. Recently I read a best-selling author’s newest book, a most disappointing several hours of time. He told a story, but he failed to show me the following: physical attributes of his characters, from hair and eye color, to stature, mannerisms, voice, accents; descriptions of the settings, the ambience, shops, brick or asphalt streets, the tone of the town; and it went from there, or did not, actually.

My goal in writing this little description about Cedarhurst Writer’s Roundtable is to bring life to the characters in my story, to show a glimpse of them, to hear their laughter, see their faces, perhaps to realize a bit of their dreams; for both instructors, Suzy, Betty, Larry and others of our number have passed away, the first being Larry, who died four months after the discovery of an inoperable brain tumor. He left multiple boxes of stories, some finished, some not; but all of us learned better how to bring a reader into our stories, to show them our experiences, not just tell them.


Friday, October 7, 2016

What? Cut My Precious Words?

I've used this poster quote before, but it seemed a good one for today's topic. Cutting your precious words! Earlier this week, an editor asked me to send him a piece he could use in a memories section of a senior newspaper. I sent him one on my memories of November during my growing-up years in Chicago.

He wrote back that it was fine, that he'd like to use it but it needed to be cut to 750 words. The version I'd sent him had close to 1,050 words. My first reaction was What? Cut 300 of my precious words? I feared I'd lose important parts of this personal essay. I sent a message to him that I'd work on it and get it to him in a couple of days.

The next day, I avoided the task completely. On the second day, I knew there was no more putting it off. I started with the opening paragraph and chopped off an entire sentence. On to the next para where I axed another 25 words, keeping watch on the word count in the lower left corner of the Word document. I wanted to see the numbers go down!

By the time I'd reached the end, I had 742 words left. I managed to reach the golden number but it was then time to read the piece from start to finish and see if it all made sense. Were things still clear? For the most part, they were. I cut a bit more, then added a little to clarify certain areas but still kept the word count down.

Cutting a lot of words is a daunting task but you often find that you end up with a stronger piece of writing than the original. I tried changing a full phrase to one or two words--ending up with the same meaning but fewer words. I reversed the order of some sentences which allowed me to chop a few words. I dropped an adjective here and there. It all adds up to more words cut than you thought was possible. I looked for redundant areas which were easy places to lose words. Why say the same thing twice, even if with different words?

I ended up being grateful to the editor for asking me to cut the word count because I think I sent him a better piece of writing than the wordy original.

When you revise and edit a first draft, consider cutting words. Those first drafts tend to be very wordy. We feel the need to go on and on when a shorter bit would be more interesting and impressive. Quite often, we must write to a certain word count. Editors have only so much space and your work has to fit into that already-designated space. Contests put a word limit on entries.

One of our best writing tools is the ability to cut our own precious words.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Different Kind of Chicken Soup for the Soul Book

If you look at my profile on the right hand side of my blog page, you'll see that I have had stories published in 18 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I don't take that accomplishment lightly. It means a great deal to me, especially when I learned that each book brings in around 5,000 submissions and only 101 are selected. The anthologies have been published for the past 23 years and they still sell.

Eight years ago, Amy Newmark and husband, Bill, purchased the company that publishes these inspirational books. Everyone wondered if a new publisher would measure up to the standards set by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. I'm happy to say that all is well with the publishing company and they are carrying on the tradition of the books very well.

I received an advance copy of Amy Newmark's book, Simply Happy, as were many other Chicken Soup authors. There was no pressure to write a review. I think the author relied on the book itself to motivate these author/readers and it did! The subtitle on the book cover gives a browser instant knowledge of what they will find within the book covers.

I have always been a person with a positive outlook, so I found myself nodding my head in agreement myriad times as I read the book. Also a positive outlook person, Amy Newmark has divided her tips for helping your life become better into relatively short chapters. She backs up her suggestions to improve your life with excerpts and summaries of actual stories from many earlier Chicken Soup books. These are real stories by real people that we can all relate to.

It's not necessary to read the book in two or three sittings. You can easily read 2-3 chapters in the evening before bed or with that first cup of coffee early in the morning before anyone else is awake. Once started, however, I think you'll want to keep on reading.

The author's style is friendly and personal. You'll feel as though you and she are having a cup of coffee and chatting about life. Her sense of humor comes through, as well.

As I read Amy Newmark's book, I thought of the well-known self-help book that has sold 5 million copies since 1952 of long ago--The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. I've often thought of his title through the years, having learned that there is power in positive thinking. This new Chicken Soup for the Soul book titled Simply Happy will stay with me, too, for don't we all strive for happiness in our lives?  This book can help you achieve that goal with easy changes in your attitude and the way you live your life now if you heed her advice and wisdom, as the subtitle says.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

October Musings--Memories Of A Chicago Childhood

A good time to write a memoir or add to your family stories is when a new season arrives. Here, in the northern hemisphere, it's fall. I sometimes slip back into my childhood years and what life was like during this season. I've posted a short piece on what life was like in my Chicago suburb in the 1940's and 50's during October. 

Maybe reading it will spur a bit of inspiration for you to write your own memories, whether it be to submit to a reminiscent type of magazine or only to add to your Family Stories book so that your children and grandchildren will have a glimpse of what your childhood years were like back in "the olden days" which is what they think of our growing-up times. 

October Musings
By Nancy Julien Kopp

Do you remember when October meant burning leaves? We lived in a big suburban apartment building without many trees around it. The janitor raked the few leaves to be seen, but I’d pass homes where piles of burning leaves left a pungent odor that tickled my nose. Or I’d see kids take a flying leap into the center of a raked pile, shrieking with glee as they did so. I envied them.

Every October, our Girl Scout troop took a field trip to a local forest preserve. Country kids had nature all around them, but we city scouts journeyed to a small piece of the same, hidden from city sights and sounds. It was as if someone had gathered a piece of forest, rolled it up, and brought it to the city. Once there, they unrolled it, the trees popped upright, and city children could pretend they were far away. Pure magic!

We hiked through the woods there, identified trees and plants, were warned to watch for poison ivy. We gathered around a crackling fire to roast hot dogs and marshmallows on the end of a stick. Girl Scouts learned to prepare S’Mores with graham crackers, Hershey’s chocolate bars, and blackened marshmallows. Sometimes we’d prepare a meal on the grated grill in one of the forest preserve shelters. My favorite was a dish called Bags Of Gold. It was a big pot of canned cream of tomato soup, and Bisquick dumplings made with a cube of Velveeta cheese in the center. That hot soup and the soft pillow-like dumplings with their golden cheese center was my favorite outdoor meal. I never had it anywhere but on the Girl Scout field trips. Somehow, that dish belonged to outside eating, not to be done in our kitchen at home. I’m sure it would never have tasted as good as it did in the crisp October air.

October also meant Halloween parties where the most popular game in the late 1940s was bobbing for apples. I really hated that game, but everyone had to try. I had long hair, curly and auburn red, and no matter what I did to avoid it, I managed to have wet curls before I captured an apple between my teeth from the tub of water. I’m sure there were other games played, but those miserable little apples floating merrily around the tub have are one of those memories better pushed into the deep recesses of my brain.

At school, our art classes concentrated on leaves and pumpkins, witches and black cats all during October. The teacher read scary stories to us and we made plans for our Halloween parade and parties. Every class in the school lined up the day of the party wearing costumes of various kinds, most of them created from things we had at home. Nobody bought a costume. We marched around the outside of the school with some of the mothers watching. Dads didn’t take off work for school events then like they often do today. We didn’t feel deprived not having our fathers see us in the parade. It was just the way it was. We’d get back to our classrooms and play games, including that awful bobbing for apples, and then have our treats. Usually frosted sugar cookies made to look like pumpkins, apple cider and a nut cup filled with candy corn and peanuts.

When darkness descended, it was Trick or Treat time. Big kids took little brothers and sisters along. Our apartment building had sixty-two apartments and we rang the doorbell of all, up and down the stairs in each vestibule. Great exercise, but we only looked at it as a means to get lots of candy. Mother put it all in a big bowl and allowed us only a piece or two each day until it was gone.

October in Chicago brought chilly mornings and evenings, but often pleasant afternoons. We had some cold, rainy days, too. It was time to bring out the flannel pajamas, sweaters and jackets. October brought a blaze of color that soothed the soul, and as the leaves dropped and swirled in the winds, we knew winter waited just around the corner. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Positives of Attending A Writer's Conference

One of the steps I hope you all take is to attend a writer's conference of some kind. Every time I do, I come home feeling more motivated than I've been since the last conference I went to.

Yesterday, Tracy Million Simmons, a writer friend, wrote a blog post that she'd been inspired to write after attending her state authors convention this past weekend. The points she brought out are worth sharing.

She said:

  • she is grasping for a way to bottle the energy she received so she could use a little at a time on her next writing project
  • all workshops she attended were good but one on marketing was special; she could have listened to presenter for another hour or two
  • there is always a 'message just for me' sometime during the convention. It might be in a keynote speech, a workshop or just conversation with another writer 
  • she was thrilled that two books she published in her own press, Meadowlark Books, won awards

This quote from Tracy impressed me and should be reason enough for all of us to attend writing conferences.She said:  "There's always this moment when I think to myself, "THIS is what I came for this year. This is the nugget I've been needing to hear."

Besides Tracy's fine points, here are other reasons to attend a writing conference.
  • contact with other writers
  • gleaning information from professional writers in the workshops
  • learning more tools of the trade
  • finding the bright spots of the writing journey
  • getting help in areas where you feel you are lacking
  • coming home inspired to write as soon as possible
Look for conferences/conventions in your area or even ones far away. It might be worth a splurge to go to another state, or country, to widen your horizons. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

POD and E-Publishing Tips From A Few Pros

The Kansas Authors state convention was held this weekend in Lawrence, KS. Because we were traveling all of this past week, I was only able to attend the Sunday session. I chose a panel discussion on e-publishing and was not sorry I'd done so. 

Four published authors made up the panel, Sally Jadlow, Dennis E. Smirl, Gordon Kessler and Randy Atwood. Click on each name to learn more about these four authors. 

Here are a few things regarding e-publishind or Print On Demand (POD) gleaned from the remarks made by the panel. I am only touching on the tips, not going into a lengthy explanation of each: 

Dennis Smirl:  Avoid poor book covers and doing all the editing yourself. Consider cost containment and purchase only small lots of POD books or your house will be overrun with boxes of books. Manuscript must be clean before submitting.

My favorite tip:  He said to read your work aloud BUT do it standing up. He said that, if you sit in a chair to read aloud, you end up getting absorbed in the story and entertaining yourself instead of looking for errors and places that need revision. Being uncomfortable makes you look at it in a more professional way.

Sally Jadlow:  Change the font or size when you edit. Errors will pop out at you. Check CreateSpace for POD books.

Randy Atwood:  Check out ibooks and creating a CD or audio copy of your book. Find a good reader and offer to share the royalties. 

Gordon Kessler:  He has a wealth of knowledge in the publishing world and was willing to share, even though he gets paid to help authors prepare manuscripts to self-publish. He suggested to check out which has the largest number of self-published books. Kindle Select gives an exclusive contract and offers many perks. Others to try are Smashwords, Apple ibooks and Nook--Barnes and Noble. You can Google each of these to learn what they offer and how to begin. 

As we were leaving the conference room, I heard one woman exclaim--"It's darned scary!" Another said, "I'm excited about trying e-publishing." 

Like anything new, you need to research the different places where you can self-publish or put out a book as a POD volume. Read a lot before you dive into the deep end of the pool. Talk with others who have been there to get their thoughts. 

What we learned during the panel discussion was only the tip of the iceberg, but it was enough to interest the attendees. It was enough to make me want to research the option of self-publishing more than I have done before. It was enough to provide that spark of motivation we so often need. The online e-publishers like Amazon and Create Space provide step by step directions for the novice which makes it pretty enticing. 

I have two books I'd like to e-publish but have been dragging my feet about doing something I'm not familiar with. After listening to the pros yesterday, I just might try it.