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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

I remember...

Image result for free image of person, eyes closed, thinking

Having trouble finding something to write about? Here's an exercise that might help. Close your eyes and think of two words:  I remember...   What is it that you remember? It might be a time from your childhood or maybe the party when you turned 30 or 50. Tragic, humorous, nostalgic--any of these could pop up when you close your eyes and say I remember... When something comes to mind, start freewriting and see what results.

My own I remember... exercise result is below. I found that once I got started, I wanted to keep on going. When I finished, I realized that I had a wealth of material to draw from. Go ahead. Give it a try!

I remember....

I remember so much of my childhood days. Incidents, events, people, and places return to me over and over, sometimes in my dreams. I so often am the age I am now, but the dream takes place in someplace of long ago—a place where I might have been as a child. My childhood home figures prominently in my dreams and memories.

I grew up in a 3rd floor apartment. Six of us crowded into a 2 bedroom apartment which also had a small kitchen, pantry, dining room (which is where I slept) and a living room with a small sunroom extension on it and one bathroom with a clawfoot tub, no shower. We also had an outdoor balcony, very small and scary when you leaned over the railing and looked way down below. We never had a chair or table on the balcony like people would today. It was a place we were seldom allowed to go actually. A good spot for taking pictures, and that was about all. It was reserved for those Kodak moments.

We climbed the three flights of stairs carrying so many things. Laundry baskets, grocery bags, the live Christmas tree we had each December. Whatever we needed or wanted was toted up those three flights. The enclosed front stairs were carpeted, and as we climbed we could smell dinner. Sometimes it was dinner cooking and sometimes it was a lingering odor from yesterday's dinner. We had to pass four other apartment doors to reach our floor, and the dinner smells from all four mingled and blended. I would try to single out the aromas to see who had eaten what that day. The back steps were outdoors and wooden. Up a big double set to the first floor, then split off to a single width set on either side, then onto another double set, and another single width set on either side leading to our floor. One more double set of steps and we landed on our back porch. There were four apartment doors on that big porch on the third floor. And above the railing on our side a clothesline on a pulley swung to and fro. My mother often did hand-washing and hung the clothes to dry on that line. When there was an infant in the family, diapers fluttered in the wind every day of the week.

I never knew what it was to be alone during my growing-up years. With three younger brothers and living in a small apartment, privacy came down to my allotted ten minutes in the bathroom each morning. The only place I can remember being alone is when I walked to the library, which was at least once every week. Down the three flights of stairs with a load of books in my arms and away I went. Past the conservatory in the next block, past the city park, and across the double set of railroad tracks. One was for freight trains, the other for Chicago Transit Authority "els" Once across the tracks, I turned onto a cinder path that ran behind the train station platform. I loved that cinder path. It made me feel as though I was in another world. The feel of concrete under my feet was the norm, but crunching along the cinder path was different. The back of the train platform was to one side of me and a field of tall weeds bordered the other side of the path. Today I would probably think it was no place for a child to be walking alone, but I did it myriad times over those years and never had a mishap. Maybe an angel walked with me. The cinder path ended all too soon, and I skipped along the remaining block and a half until I reached my home away from home--the public library. While I made the walk to and from the library, my thoughts ran to so many things. I had time to think, to plan, to dream. It was my only private time, and I cherished it as much as the wonderful books I carried with me.

I remember so many good things my mother cooked and baked for us. Food was something to be enjoyed in our home, not just to eat to stay alive. Money was scarce, and Mother skimped on many things, but food was of primary importance, and we ate quite well. Steak did not appear on our table often, but occasionally it did. And we knew if we had steak one night, the next night was something like tuna casserole, or a pound of hamburger stretched in any way possible, and some never even thought of before. My mother baked a lot, and she passed the love of baking on to me. She had learned from her own mother who had a neighborhood bakery for many years. My daughter is a good baker, too. Must be genetic!

Memories feed an old soul. Memories entertain the younger generations. Memories are priceless.

Yes, I remember so many things from those childhood years on Garfield Street in Oak Park, Illinois. They helped make me the person I am today, and they've made me appreciate all that I have as an adult.


Monday, February 27, 2017

A Checklist For Writers

Why haven't you...
  • written something new in the past month?
  • submitted any of your writing in a long time?
  • edited one of the first drafts sitting in your files?
  • joined a writing group?
  • read a book on the craft of writing?
  • stepped outside your comfort zone and written something different?
  • attended a writing conference for years?
  • ever done a writing exercise?
  • had lunch or coffee with another writer lately?
  • promoted your writing to others?
  • worked toward writing goals you set for yourself?
  • ever written a poem?
  • tried to grow as a writer?
  • read more stories and books by other writers?
  • tried to find inspiration?
  • attempted to motivate yourself?
  • practiced more patience?
  • persisted?
  • tried to increase your vocabulary?
  • been more passionate about your writing?
  • started that big writing project you've been thinking about for a long time?
Some of the above may not pertain to you. Maybe you have tried to do some of them and been successful, but I'm guessing that many of the questions might make you squirm a little. Hey, none of us likes to be criticized. The questions aren't meant to be critical. Instead, look at them as a means to help you assess your writing life, to figure out why your writing journey has either slowed down or stopped, to help you gain some insight into your writing life.

The poster makes a good point. There's no reason to sit and wait for good things to happen in your writing life. If you do, you will get older and you'll be wasting valuable time.

So, what are you waiting for?

Friday, February 24, 2017

A Travel Story With A Personal Side

Lahr, Germany

You can combine a travel article with a personal essay that could be part of a memoir collection. Wow, that's covering three areas at one time. Most travel articles give lots of factual information about a specific destination. Add the personal touch and some memories of days long gone, and you may have a publishable piece of writing.

My personal essay about a visit we made to my husband's grandfather's hometown in Germany was published on a travel website. It could have been included in an anthology like Chicken Soup for the Soul if they had a book theme to fit it. Writing a travel piece that has a personal side is a lot more fun to write than a purely factual article, although I am quite certain that kind of travel writer earns more money.

My example is posted below. The photo above is the hotel we finally found after an exhaustive search. Try your hand at writing something like this. Remember to include your feelings, something you learned or a lasting memory.

Grandpa’s Town

My husband wanted to go to Germany, rent a car and travel the scenic southern area. He had a yen to visit small towns and villages instead of big cities, which we’d already seen on earlier trips. Ken planned to drive the secondary roads and stay off the autobahn. For people who had relied on tour guides in the past, this was definitely an adventure.

In January, we started planning. I did multiple google searches on hotels, restaurants, attractions, transatlantic flights and car rentals. Ken’s job was to map out the route. He spread a huge map of Germany across our dining room table, leaving half of it clear for us to eat meals. He agreed to fold  up Germany when company came.

Pointing to the map one morning, he said, “Here’s Lahr, the town where my Grandfather Kopp grew up.” His finger circled the immediate area. “It’s on the edge of the Black Forest. We could stay there for a few days and take in the surrounding area.”  

With that simple statement, our understanding and love for his grandfather grew tenfold, but not until we’d experienced Lahr.

We arrived in Grandpa’s town on a fine June day. We’d had good luck winging it as far as hotels went, but Lahr proved a different story. One hotel didn’t meet our standards. Three others were open but we could never get assistance. They appeared deserted, even though the front doors stood open. We began to wonder what kind of place we’d come to.

We continued to drive up one street and down another. Around a curve, we happened on a place I warmed to immediately. I sent Ken in to look and book. It proved fit for kings and queens, and that’s who could afford to stay there. Ken kept driving, while I had visions of sleeping in the car. Then I grabbed Ken’s arm.

 “There! The Hotel-am-West-End. It looks nice.”

I liked the all-white building and the big, leafy trees that lined the street. The open deck on the second floor, ringed with colorful, overflowing flower boxes beckoned. Ken went in and returned smiling. We had a room.

We climbed to the second floor reception area, and Ken introduced Dirk, the owner. Dirk must have lost his razor—either that or he liked the stubble on his face. His clothes were clean although a bit rumpled, but he gave us an effusive welcome, his smile warm and genuine.

Ken told Dirk that his Grandfather Kopp had grown up in Lahr. Dirk looked at the register where Ken had signed in. “Kopp? Ja, we got lots of them here.” Ken knew of cousins who had moved away but not of any other relations here. Apparently, our last name was a common one in this part of the world.

We ambled down the hall on oriental carpeting, dragging our luggage behind, mouths opened as we tried to take in the amazing antique art and furnishings that lined the walls
We learned later that Dirk ran the small hotel and dealt in antiques on the side.

After a quick look at our pleasant room, we met the Guest Relations Manager in the hotel restaurant. Schef was a short-legged, fat, amiable dog, who plunked himself next to my chair, hoping perhaps for a morsel of my wiener schnitzel to fall his way while we planned our agenda. We’d only been in Lahr for a few hours but already felt warmly welcomed.

Schef, Guest Relations Manager

Lahr was not a tourist stop but had its own charm. The town was surely much smaller in the late nineteenth century when Grandpa lived here--where he went to school, played
games, and maybe gave a wink to a pretty girl now and then. Maybe some of these shops were the same ones where his mother sent him on errands.

Each day, we thought of Grandpa as a little boy, a teen, and then a young man. In this clean, working man’s town, he learned values and formed opinions that lasted a lifetime. His cheerful outlook on life had been cultivated here on these streets. Every letter we’d received from him in our early married years began “I am fine and dandy. How are you?”

We did venture to the surrounding area each day, visiting the Black Forest region and crossing the border into Strasbourg, France. After one of these daylong excursions, Ken went out for a walk by himself. He seemed a bit surprised that he felt so much emotion while visiting his grandfather’s hometown. He wanted to see as much of it as possible in the time we had, and he snapped myriad pictures to show his brothers when we returned home.

Wilhelm Kopf moved away from Lahr at age twenty to try his luck in America. He left mother, father, and baby brother as well as friends. More than fifty years later, he returned for a three-week visit telling Ken’s family in Illinois that he’d see them soon. Three months passed before he journeyed to America again. I have a feeling long-buried memories flooded back as he walked his boyhood paths and visited family and friends. He must have been reluctant to let them go again. But the pull of his family in America proved great enough to make him return.

Our visit to Lahr touched Ken deeply. Even more than a century after his birth, this was still Grandpa’s town, and a part of his own heritage. Ken’s connection may have once been a fragile thread, but by the time we left, it had strengthened considerably and had drawn me in, as well.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Writer Who Practiced Patience and Persistence

Image result for the plum tree by ellen marie wiseman

A friend recommended that I read a WWII themed novel called The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman. The story is about a German family from a small village during the war and immediately after. Heartbreaking but a well-written story which allows a view of what it was like on 'the other side' since we so often read stories of that period that are from the Allied view. I am not going to review the book but you can read the summary and reviews at Amazon should you be interested.

Instead of a review of the book, I want to concentrate on the author and her publication journey, which I read about in a conversation with the author at the conclusion of the novel. I found it fascinating.
Ellen Marie Wiseman is the daughter of a woman who grew up in Germany during WWII. She married an American and lived in the USA. She told story upon story of what life was like during her childhood to her own three children. Ellen, the oldest, was inspired to write a WWII novel told from the viewpoint of a German family after she learned in high school about the Holocaust. Her dreamworld her mother had instilled with her stories caused her to have mixed emotions. She continued to question her mother about this era of life in Germany. Years went by and she felt the need to write the novel about an average German family.

Much of what she wrote is true--mostly the everyday living of the family, the hardships they endured during those years, the Allied bombings and Dachau. The characters are fictional but she based some on the grandparents she visited in Germany with her mother.  

The author attended a small rural school that had no creative writing classes. Besides that, she did not go to college. She worked on her writing on her own for years, then turned to the internet  where she located William Kowalski, an author who became her '...editor, teacher, mentor and friend.' She says his faith in her pushed her to believe in herself.

Over the years, Ellen Wiseman received 72 rejections from agents. Ask yourself right now--Would I have persevered in sending queries of that number to agents? In 2008, she and her husband had to file bankruptcy in a family business. They each had to search for work after 26 years of managing their own business. The time was a difficult one but Wiseman persisted in following her dream about getting her book published. When told the story was too long, she spent months cutting and revising while still fighting financial battles. She began querying again.

In January 2011, she came close to giving up. After all, 72 rejections from agents were not the stuff of encouragement. Trying one more time, she secured an agent who sold her novel in three weeks!

She has had two more novels published and another coming this year. I have written about my two keywords for writers--Patience and Persistence. This author is a perfect example of a writer who practiced both and found success because of it. Ms. Wiseman writing journey should also be encouraging to writers who have not received a degree in creative writing, those who strike out on their own, learning as they travel down their writing path.

When you feel like you are ready to give up in your own journey, think of this woman. I'd like to put her on a pedestal ten feet high as she is definitely someone I would look up to. I enjoyed the book but reading about Ellen Wiseman's writing journey was the icing on the cake.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Writers Learn On Their Journey

Easy enough to say but maybe not a piece of cake to find a lesson when life dishes out seeds of sadness. I do think we can learn from harsh moments in our lives. Also in our writing journey.

As writers, it sometimes feel like we set ourselves up for facing unpleasantness. We are well aware that by submitting our work, we may face rejections more than acceptances. Why in the world would be subject ourselves to the nasty feelings that accompany being told our writing is not worthy of being published? Even if the editor who rejected you did not say so in exact words, that's the message we pull from it.

We've all been there. Our reactions range from disappointment to anger to shedding tears to throwing something across the room. Sounds like a little kid who's been told NO, doesn't it? When we're upset, or hurt, we do seem to revert to childish reactions. If it serves to get the disappointment out of your system, fine. Go ahead and rant to a friend or let a few expletives fly.

Once you've calmed down, it's time to consider if there is a lesson to be learned. If you're lucky, the editor will give a reason that your work was not accepted. That gives you a head start in fixing the piece and submitting it again.

When you work on revising before submitting again, try to use objective eyes. Being too close to what we write is a major sticking point for many of us. Those are our precious words that the stranger didn't want. We toiled over the story, or article, a long time so why was it rejected? Oh, oh, there we go again--reacting like a kid. Step away from your submission for awhile before you start reworking it. You'll do much better if you let it alone for a few days.

There are also lessons to be learned when we're writing a story that doesn't feel right or appears flat when we read it over again. Ask yourself why? What is missing? Try a checklist to see what is or is not there. Use things like sensory detail, active vs passive verbs, too many adjectives etc in your list. Plot, theme, lesson learned--are all these positives or lacking? On occasion, I've written 1500 words and when I read it over, my reaction has been This is boring, drivel, or worthless. Then, I'm disgusted. Not over the story but with myself. Time to go back to square one after going through my mental checklist.

What if we submit a fine piece but don't follow the submission guidelines?  The story might bounce back immediately. One question to ask yourself is Did I follow the guidelines? Your rejection could be because of a simple thing like that.

There are myriad lessons to be learned from those harsh moment in our writing journey. It's up to us to sift and sort and find the lesson, then move on with newly acquired knowledge. The more lesssons we learn, the fewer rejections we'll have.

About the first part of today's quote, where it says When life is good, be grateful, pay close attention to those fine words.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Writer As A Magician

Ever give consideration to the fact that you, the writer, are as creative as the sculptor who takes a lump of clay and comes up with a piece of art. Or the painter who starts with a blank canvas, a brush and a few paints. He finishes with a piece of art.

Perhaps the writer is even more creative. We don't have a lump of clay or a clean canvas. All we begin with is our mind and what it contains. I've thought more than once about my mind being filled with boxes with certain types of information in each little box. Maybe our minds are compartmentalized in some respect.

The older we are, the more we have to draw from. As a young adult in our twenties, we drew from experiences as a small child, then a teen and finally someone in the beginning stages of being an adult. I'm a senior citizen so there are more little boxes in my mind--many, many of them. When I write, I open one or another to use whatever the experience I need to illustrate what I'm writing.

Creating a piece of writing really is a type of magic in some respects while, in others, it's just plain hard work. There have been times when I've gone back through old stories or essays and read them again. Sometimes, I wonder where in the world it came from. How did my mind to fingers produce this particular story?

It makes me realize that our writing process is both conscious and subconscious. The parts that usually surprise me are the ones that have been dredged up from my subconscious.

The magician pulls a rabbit out of his hat while you and I pull stories, essays and poetry from our minds. Start with nothing and come up with something. Our own kind of magic.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Amy Snow--A book Review

Image result for amy snow by tracy rees

I stopped by the library one day last week and checked out 4 books, 3 from the New Books shelf. The first one I started reading was Amy Snow by Welsh author, Tracy Rees. Ms Rees won the "Richard and Judy Search For A Bestseller" competition in the UK with this debut novel.

Historical Romance fiction has always appealed to me and this one definitely did not disappoint. The book is well over 500 pages and I read it in two days, picking it up whenever I had a few free moments, evenings and a Saturday afternoon. I'm a fast reader but more so when a book really intrigues me as this one did.

A newborn baby, left in the snow, is discovered by eight-year-old Aurelia, the only child of wealthy parents. Aurelia convinces her parents to keep the baby and raise her at Hatville, their estate. They reluctantly agree but banish the baby, named Amy Snow by little Aurelia, to the kitchens. Amy grows up as servant, reviled by Aurelia's parents, but loved by Aurelia herself. Amy moves from servant to companion to nursemaid when her beloved friend is dying from a heart problem. Amy has been educated thanks to her mistress and friend's insistence.

She is heartbroken when Aurelia leaves for a short visit which turns into a year. Upon her return home, Aurelia declines over a three year period. After her death, a devastated Amy is turned out by Aurelia's parents. She had been left 10 pounds and a sketchbook of drawings done by her friend. Amy also is given a letter written earlier by Aurelia. It is coded and sends Amy on a treasure hunt in 4 places in England. Aurelia has left another letter in each community with the help of friends. Amy is sent from one unfamiliar town to another as she tries to unravel the mysterious treasure hunt.

She encounters many interesting characters along the way, two men who claim to love her, and more mysteries than answers as she seeks the reason Aurelia has sent her on this quest. Is there really a treasure at the end? Will she ever find out who her parents were? Which one of the men will she end up with? Or with neither? Many questions for the reader to contemplate while turning the pages of this delightful novel.

Beautiful writing makes it a pleasure to read. Historical detail offers the reader a fine view of the early Victorian era, the 1840's-1850's. We are given the story with flashbacks as Amy spends months on the treasure hunt.

A few editorial review comments by others:

"This charming character captured my heart, and her compelling adventure kept me turning the pages. A total delight!" (Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House and Glory over Everything)

"A hugely appealing tale of the endurance of friendship. With the elements of romance, mystery, drama, and history, there's much here to love." (Library Journal, starred review)

"Engrossing...fresh...rife with mysterious clues, intriguing people, and varied settings." (Publishers Weekly)

If you like Historical Romance, do give this one a try. I don't think you will be one bit disappointed.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Thoughts On Handwritten Letters

When is the last time you wrote a personal letter? Or received one delivered by your postman?  It's rapidly become a thing of the past. Stores don't display as much stationery as they once did. I see mostly note cards and thank you cards. Apparently, people do still pen a thank you note or a quick personal note now and then.

Handwritten letters from long ago are sometimes used to show a particular period of history. Love letters written during wartime tell heart wrenching stories of couples separated by miles and circumstances beyond their control. Some people were able to put their feelings in letters when they could not express them aloud. Books have been written using only letters to tell a story. One I particularly liked that used that form was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

A cousin of my husband sent us some letters she'd found. One was written by Ken's mother when he was a very small child. In it, she told her sister something that no one in the immediate family ever knew. Had that letter not been saved, we still would have no knowledge of what Ken's mom had written. The information didn't change anyone's views or hurt the family in any way. Mostly, it was a sliver of information that helped the family know what life was like at a certain time in the parents' lives.

My mother and I wrote to one another once a week during my adult life until she was close to death. In her mind long distance calls were used for relaying bad news, never to just chat like we do today. So, we wrote one another each week with chit-chat. I would tell her of things our children were doing and she'd let me know about other family members. We'd discuss new recipes or old ones. New books or favorite old ones. Current events and more. When I saw her familiar handwriting on the envelope in my mailbox, I was eager to get to the house and read the weekly news. I still miss her letters.

Mom and one of my dad's cousin's daughter had become pen pals, too. When my mother passed away, I started writing to the cousin. I liked her a lot but it also gave me a chance to keep in contact with my father's side of the family.

Perhaps because I am a writer, I have always found writing a letter satisfying and enjoyable. Some people hate to write letters. I'm guessing they don't like to write anything more than a grocery list.

I still write letters to a number of friends and family but the majority of my letters are now email messages. Even so, there are a few people who do not use computers so I still hand write to them.

How do you feel about writing letters and/or receiving a handwritten letter? What about saving letters? I have never saved letters and there are times now when I wish I had. If some of those people in the last century had not saved their letters, we would have missed a lot, especially those written by celebrated figures of the past.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Celebration For A Granddaughter

Alexis at 11

Me at 10

Our oldest granddaughter, Alexis, is celebrating her 21st birthday today. Quite a milestone; it's the birthday many of us remember well. She has brought great joy to her parents and to us as she moved through the stages of childhood. Now, she is a junior at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas where she is pursuing a degree to teach high school English. She is also a writer which pleases me, of course. I thought it might be fun to post pictures of both of us near the same age as there is definitely a family resemblance.

I could write an entire post on this young woman but, instead, I want to urge you to write about a grandchild or a grandparent. Don't just record their physical traits; tell about the kind of person he/she is, what kind of feelings you have for this person, and the influence they may have had on you. It's a perfect addition to your Family Stories book.

A story like this can also be submitted to markets like the following:

There are others that you might find through a search engine.

We reminisce about grandchildren and grandparents when special events come about, like a birthday, a wedding, a funeral or some other family gathering. Write the good things but, if there are tragedies or things that angered you, include them. They are, after all, a part of your family history.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Is Grammar Important?

I admit that I am a stickler for grammar. It's also apparent to me that not everyone feels the same way. If you are a writer, however, you should be on top of the game with grammar and punctuation.

The chart above shows the most common grammatical errors. I remember doing pages and pages of grammar exercises in English class in grade school, junior high and even some in senior high. By senior high, we were expected to know the differences in the spelling and meaning of the words shown here. Occasionally, we'd have a short review or a shouting lesson when too many of the incorrect spellings were used in an essay paper. I remember my Freshman English teacher lecturing on same with fire in her eyes and smoke ready to pour from nose and ears. My, oh, my--she was irate about what she termed 'careless' errors.

Perhaps her word--careless--is right. We can be so intent on the gist of what we are writing that the grammar/punctuation part slides by us. That's the reason we write a first draft, then go back and edit more than once. It's a good reason to put your work up for a critique by one other person or an actual critique group. Others will find these small errors quicker than he/she who wrote the words.

I have seen news flashed across the tv screen that uses words like your and you're incorrectly. When that happens, I actually cringe. The one thing I need to remind myself of is that half the people who see that error will not even be aware of it because they do the same thing themselves. Am I try to put people down by saying that? Not at all. It's merely reality.

As writers, we need to learn to care about the grammar and punctuation quotient in our stories, articles and poetry. We should set the example for our readers and, yes, other writers. As important as what we are saying is, it's also of relevance that we say it in the proper way.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ever Try Writing About Love?

Valentine's Day brings a flurry of stories that involve love and romance. Romance novels are high on the list of kinds of books read most often. Authors of romance novels are sometimes scoffed at by other writers. Formula stories. Sex sells. Sappy stuff. We've all heard these comments or similar.

But--have you ever tried writing a romantic story, or a full romance novel? Woman's World magazine runs a romance story in every issue and they pay $800 for an 800 word story. This blog post will give you guidelines. 800 words sounds like a piece of cake for decent payment. Try it before you say that. It's not easy to write a full story in so short a word count. Read several back issues to get a feel for the type of story the editors want. Another call for submissions on stories about love has guidelines here.

You might say that you wouldn't try to write in the romance genre because you would never, ever be able to write a sex scene. Relax! Lots of love stories have no sex in them at all. It all depends on the market you're aiming for and how you feel about adding explicit sex to your stories. There's a lot more to true love than the physical side.

Want to write a romantic story for teens. Teens love to read about love. Even so, you'd need to be very up to date on what is going on in the teen world, the slang and more before you would be successful. Don't write about love in your teen years. They'd consider it archaic! Even if you're only 30 yourself.

It's difficult to write a romance that is fresh and new, not clich├ęd or done a thousand times before. Come up with a fresh angle and you're likely to find success in being published in this genre. Use all the techniques of writing quality fiction in these kinds of stories, too.

I once sent a story to Woman's World that I felt sure was a different approach. I knew they received around 2000 submissions each month but I submitted and waited. If you haven't heard from them in 4 months, you'll know you've been rejected. I did hear from the editor with a note saying that he liked the angle I'd written from and other things about the story. Ended his note by telling me it still wasn't quite right for them. I'd gotten close but not close enough.

If you've never written a love story, give it a try. Base your story on your personal experiences or dream up something entirely different. Most of all, have fun with it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What Libraries Have Meant To Me

Not only the doors of learning are open but a library user is guaranteed hours and hours of pure joy reading fiction, too. Today, I'm reposting a personal essay I wrote about my feelings about libraries. If you haven't visited your local library recently, put it on your To-Do List for this week.

My Second Home

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

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

"Alright, Nancy," the woman said as she read from the form, "come with me."

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, February 10, 2017

We're Each A Committee of One

What would you change in your writing life past? What chances did you have that you passed up? How many decisions did you let hang so long that they were no longer relevant? How many story ideas did you never work on?

It's probable that most of us would have a story to illustrate one of the situations I mentioned. Revisiting those times is not going to change it but perhaps it will help you address future decisions.

I know that one thing I would change in my writing life is that I would have started writing far sooner than I did. Time and again, I have chastised myself for letting life get in the way and never writing all the things swirling in my mind until I was in my mid-fifties. What I did earlier was important, too, but in retrospect, I should have tried to fit in some writing around my other responsibilities.

We all have regrets. Bigger than having them is that we should learn from our bad choices, missed chances and overlong decision making. Instead of dwelling on what might have been, ask yourself how you can make better choices. How can you pursue better relationships within your writing world? How will you conquer the fear that sometimes holds you back?

We'd love to run to the Great Writing Guru and purchase a dose of this or that to help us with these problems. I've never found him and I doubt you have either. Instead, we must rely on our own actions. We're each a committee of one. It's up to us to change the past into a brighter future in our writing world.

Can we consult one another for some guidance? Certainly. But ultimately, it is up to us as individuals to learn from our past and move steadily on into the future in our writing journey.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Different Kind of Writing Exercise

Painting by Julie Mehretu

Earlier today, one of my friends, who happens to be a poet, started a new kind of game on facebook. She assigned each of several people a noted artist. We were to find a painting by that person and repost. The idea is to instill some beauty into the posts that lately have been negative, angry and more. I googled my artist, one I had no knowledge of prior to today, and selected one of her paintings to post.

Later, I got to thinking that this abstract art might be an interesting photo prompt writing exercise. Usually, we have a scene of a place or someone in the scene to prompt our thoughts into being able to write a paragraph or more.

So, today, spend some time studying this painting, then freewrite whatever it brings to your mind. It could be prose or poetry--your choice. I think we might all be surprised what this painting might bring forth from the depths of our brain bank. Give it a try. Share in the comments section if you like.

Have fun with this one.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Memoir Musing For Writers and Non-Writers

Image result for pinterest memoir writing

A lot of people feel like the quote above. My  life? In a memoir? You've got to be kidding! Your life might be more interesting than you think. I contend that it's not necessarily what happened to you but how  you write about it.

There are memoir or life story workshops going on everywhere, or so it seems. One of the standard activities at senior centers or senior living places is an ongoing class to help older people capture their lives through words--to help them leave a written record for their families. I'm all for it as, even though stories get told around a dinner table, they will eventually get lost. Write them and they're forever.

I once gave a program on Grandparents Day to a women's group. I asked people in the audience to tell us one thing they remembered about their grandmother or grandfather. The stories that were told were all fascinating. Some were amusing while others tugged at the heart. A few were sad. The point is that every one in that group had a story to tell and the others were interested in hearing it. I urged them to write the story after they returned home. I imagine only a few actually did so. Maybe none. If you can tell a story, you can write it!

The question here for today is how are you going to write a memoir story that is also an interesting read? I'm referring to a short piece highlighting one event or experience, not a full book of an entire life.

First and foremost, keep in mind that writing a memoir, whether a story or a book, means that you are telling the truth. What you write had to have actually happened. Do memoir writers embellish the facts? I'm sure many do. The important thing is to keep the embellishments small; stick with the truth as much as you can. Those added decorations to the story may not be lies at all; we may remember something that occurred fifty years ago a little differently now than when it happened.

Don't merely report what happened in actual sequence. A memoir like turns into exactly that--a report. It's not a story. Use the same techniques you would in a fictional short story.

A few things to keep in mind as you write:
  • Start with a bang! Grab your reader's interest right away.
  • Organize your story with a beginning, middle and ending. In other words, introduce what happens, build on it and then bring it full circle to end.
  • Use active verbs instead of passive like was, is, are to make the story visual and more interesting.
  • Use adjectives to describe but keep them to a minimum. Less is always better than more with words like these
  • Add sensory details--show them rather than telling your reader about a smell or sound etc.
  • Let your feelings about what happened come through your story; in a memoir we are tasting life twice and often baring our souls as we do so.
  • Readers like surprise endings; try to finish with something unexpected.
Like any story, your first draft will not be perfect. Whether you have never written before or if you're a professional who gets paid for writing, your first draft is the bones of your final story. Like any fiction story, you must also edit and revise until you are satisfied.

My state authors group has an annual contest with several categories. The highest number of entries is always in the Memoir category. And they come from people of all ages. Don't ever think that you have to be in the winter of your years to write a memoir.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Should You Write For Free?

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In the writing world, there is a never-ending debate on whether to write for free or only when paid. It is almost a given that, if they had a choice, most any writer would opt for being paid for their work. 

Those who say to never write for free have valid points. Why give away something that you've worked hard to produce? A writer deserves to be paid for work rendered. No one will take you seriously if you write for free. Writing is a job and people get paid for jobs. We've all heard writers make statements like these. Is there any truth in them? Yes, of course, but there is also another side to the argument.

New writers have a difficult time getting clips. If they write for free at first, they are going to find it easier to get published. Once published in several places, they'll have clips to add to their bio when submitting work for pay.

Some writers want nothing but being able to say they've been published. There's no law that says they have to add ...but I didn't get paid. If publication is your only goal, it's fine to write for free.

There are times when we write as a help to a charity or group that we support. If you agree to write a newsletter without pay, you're doing it out of the goodness of your heart and because you care about whatever the group may be. There's nothing wrong with writing for free for this reason. I submitted to an anthology last year that accepted my story but there was no pay. Instead, all royalties went to an internationally known charity group.

I write blog posts five days of the week for no pay. No dollars, that is. I do get benefits. It pleases me to help other writers in some small way. It helps me promote my own writing. Writing something five days a week keeps my writing muscles in good working order. I can't pay guest bloggers, nor do I receive any pay when I write a guest blog for someone else. That's fine. Often, it's a good trade with unseen benefits.

I have to agree with Mark Twain's quote above. Go ahead and write for free but keep working to find that editor who is willing to pay for your work. That will happen when you grow as a writer and fine tune your writing to bring it up to the professional level.

Don't let the naysayers about writing for free get you down. We all have choices in life and they have chosen to never give away something that they worked hard to produce. I respect their decision but it doesn't mean that I have to do the same at all times. I can choose to write for free and so can you. Even so, I love it when an editor is willing to pay for my submission.


Monday, February 6, 2017

A Good Read

Image result for news of the world paulette jiles book cover

I read a short blurb about a novel in Book Page several weeks ago. News of the  World by Paulette Jiles sounded like something I'd enjoy reading. It was published in 2016 and had a few holds on it at our local library. I reserved it, then forgot about it.

Last week, the notice came from the library that the book was ready for me to pick up. By then, I'd forgotten what the story was about. When I claimed the book, it surprised me that it was of a smaller size than the usual and also just over 200 pages.

I started reading a few days later and found myself wanting to read longer than the time I'd allowed. The story grabbed me immediately and held me captive through the final page. The book is historical fiction with two well-drawn main characters and a cast of fine extras.

In 1870, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas reading parts of several newspapers to the town folk who pay coins to hear him. He is a widower, tired of war and waiting for two daughters to join him in Texas. He's offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a ten-year-old girl to her relatives near San Antonio.

The trip is over 400 miles, filled with dangerous areas to travel through, but worse is the thought of spending all that time with the child, who had lived with the Kiowa Indians four years, who had forgotten English, who wanted nothing but to return to her Kiowa family, they who had actually traded her for blankets and silver. The old man and girl travel by wagon with one horse pulling and another tied to the back. They have a handgun and a rifle, neither of which is in very good condition.

The story follows the Captain and Johanna as they travel south from the far northern part of Texas. It takes a long time to gain the child's trust. to teach her rudimentary English, to explain to others what he is doing. They stop in towns where the Captain rents space available and reads his news of the world to those who are interested. They meet enemies of one kind or another more than once but also kind people who help them.

The Captain regrets his decision to transport Johanna time and again but guilt and something he can't define push him on. Slowly, the old man and the little girl develop a relationship that grows deeper the farther south they travel. Even so, he cannot wait to deliver her and consider his job finished.

What the Captain discovers when he finally brings Johanna to her only surviving relatives angers him so much that he decides to take drastic action to right the situation.

Paulette Jiles has created characters that bring out many emotions in her readers. We learn to care about them. We cheer when they come out on top of a bad situation and we nearly cry when they have major difficulties. The book shows post-Civil War Texas. It gives us a glimpse into the little known occupation of being a newspaper reader. It lets us savor the developing relationship between an old man and a frightened, confused child. It's the old western story--good guys and bad guys--all over again.

Something bothered me as I read, but it was not the story. Instead, I noticed that there were no quote marks used in any of the dialogue. My writer's mind didn't like it and also wondered why it had been done that way. I did get accustomed to the style as I turned page after page, so it can't be called a huge problem.

I read this National Book Award finalist book over two evenings. I'm a fast reader, but it shouldn't take anyone very long to read this fine novel. I didn't want the story to end, and I must admit, I cried in the last couple of pages. Always the sign of a good book--at least for me.

Friday, February 3, 2017

What Will I Get From An Online Critique Group?

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The following is an article published 9 years ago about online critique groups. I am posting it today with comments in parentheses and blue to add to what was written long ago.

The masterpiece is finished. You've written it, revised it, and revised it once more. The piece is ready to market. You're elated until doubt floats by, but you ignore it while you scour the market guide. It isn't long before doubt creeps into the back of your mind and settles in. Maybe my work isn't as good as I think it is. Maybe no one else will note the beauty, the joy, the passion of these words like I do.
It's time for an opinion from your peers. It's time to join a critique group, time to expose your manuscript to other writers. No matter where a writer lives, all have the opportunity to join an online critique group. How do they operate? What will the writer receive, and what will the writer be required to give in return?

I joined an online writers critique group several years ago and have no regrets.(true!) I have turned some so-so stories and essays into marketable pieces. I’ve now been in two groups, and being a member has become a major part of my writing life. I consider its members a family. But like all families, they don't hesitate to tell me when I have done a good job, nor do they hold back with criticism. In fact, they can be quite harsh in judging a submission. These groups have no “atta girl” philosophy. Praise is given when earned, but honest and fair criticism is also rendered.

The group I’m in requires participation on a semi-weekly basis. For each submission the writer is required to complete two critiques for other members.(now 2 subs per month/4 critiques) One of these must be a line by line (LBL) critique. Not all online critique groups operate the same way and with the same honest opinions. Members have related tales of(other) critique groups that do nothing but praise, never giving constructive criticism. Their aim is to pump up the writer and stroke the ego. All well and good, but it won't sell a manuscript that needs work.

To submit your precious words for praise and/or criticism puts you at high risk. The first time your work is harshly judged, negative emotions come raining down. Frustration, fear, and fury dart back and forth attacking your head, your stomach, and your heart. Depression becomes the companion of the day, and your old friend, doubt, takes up residence once again.

All is not lost, however. Once you swim through all the above, you stand ready to accept suggestions to make the piece marketable. Those who critique offer a clear(er) vision of what the manuscript needs. It may be a marvelous story but filled with unnecessary words that serve to detract. You might be vying for the award for the longest sentences in a manuscript or have too many awkward and choppy sentences. The critique may question areas that are clear to the writer but not the reader. Critique group members become masterful in pointing out passive verbs, places that tell rather than show, and unnecessary adverbs -easier to find in the writing of others than in your own. When we read our own writing, it’s that old “can’t see the forest for the trees” but red flags pop up easily when reading the work of another author.

I developed the habit of reading the critiques of other members. To do so was akin to taking a course in writing and critiquing. I put my observations to use in my own writing and have become a better writer. Writing exercises, grammar guides, and market information the group offers also enhance my writing ability.

My group has a closed membership with a waiting list.(sometimes) Members come and go, but there seems to be a core group of serious writers who continue to commit the necessary time
required. And rest assured that belonging to a group like this does take time.  Those who do not participate fully are asked to leave. A group like this is not for the sometime writer.

There are many online critique groups. Activate a search engine or watch for announcements in writers' newsletters. (This does not mean all are great ones/assess carefully. Try one and leave if you are not getting benefits.)

The group I belong to is trying something new. A full three-fourths of our members are meeting in a regional park outside Washington DC for a four day retreat. We will meet face to face for the first time. Several members will present workshops covering various aspects of writing, and a computer expert will be on hand to answer questions. We’ll wade into the writing waters and create even stronger bonds within the group. Participants will gather from the USA, Canada, Ireland, Shanghai and the Turks and Caicos Islands. (At the end of March, we will meet again after having several face to face conferences. The benefits of such a conference are pure gold.)

Decide what you want from a critique group. A pat on the back is nice, but honest criticism will aid your growth as a writer and push Mr. Doubt right out of your mind. (Join with the attitude that the criticism you receive is meant to help you become a better writer. )

(Another big benefit is that you can participate in your group looking like the lady above. I must admit that she resembles me on many a morning!)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Power Of A Writer

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Have you ever considered how powerful you, as a writer, can be? Your words influence your readers in more ways than you might imagine.

I had an enlightening moment during my first year of teaching fourth grade. The school set aside two days for teachers to have conferences with parents. Over and over during that first, for me, conference period, I heard my own words coming back to me. Words from me to the students to the family at home. Equally surprising was the particular words or phrases that had interested the students. I realized then that my words had power and I knew I'd better think before speaking if I wanted to be a good influence.

As writers, we need to be cognizant of what we write. Readers, from children to teens to adults, are willing to accept what we write as gospel truth. So first and foremost, be truthful. We've all read about writers who plagiarized or told untruths and got caught. It's not a pretty situation. Sure, there are writers who tap out falsehoods on their keyboard and never get caught. It doesn't mean it's alright. It must be awful to wonder and wait to see if anyone questions the validity of what you've written.

I once did it purely by accident with a short story I'd sold to a well-known national newspaper. The story was told by the male protagonist in first person. My name as author appeared next to the title. A few days after publication, an editor wrote to me saying that a reader had written wondering why the story was told by a young adult male when the author's name was decidedly female. I learned that the section I had submitted the story to published only true stories, not fiction. Ooops! That was the day I realized the great importance of reading guidelines carefully and I have done so ever since.

The words we write have the power to help in the healing process. When we experience tragedies in our lives, we can help others going through similar situations. No, we can't miraculously heal or cure but we can certainly provide some insight, perhaps some comfort. It's why I firmly believe in sharing the hard times in life though writing.

Writers have the power to use their writing to help readers make decisions. The writer will never know how or why, but it does happen. Think about your own reading. Haven't you read something that triggered thoughts about your own dilemmas? Maybe seeing what a character did to handle a similar situation helped trigger thoughts of a solution for yourself.

When unjust events happen throughout our world, writers can write pro or con articles, essays, and even poetry that concerns the same. Look at the recent upheaval in our political world recently. How many op-ed articles or Letters to the Editor have you read that takes one side or the other? Some of those writers can sway opinions, while others only rant and turn the other side off in a big way. It's important to voice an opinion but take care in how you do it.

Those who write for children have power over young and easily influenced minds. Let's hope they use that power to help build strong, moral people. Children's writers carry a big weight. They want to entertain children but hope to teach as a second benefit. Once again, give careful thought to what you write for young minds.

As a writer, you do have power. Keep that in mind when you address a new topic. Long ago, Martin Luther, church reformer and leader of the Protestant movement, said, "If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write."

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Lots of Things To Write About In February

Image result for Hello February Goodbye January

I get a little flicker of happiness when it's time to turn the calendar page wondering what the picture at the top will show me. One on my computer desk show a mountain in the Czech Republic at sunset and the one on our office wall startled me at first. There are two sandhill cranes with feet in the water and wings spread wide, ready to take off. Neither one of the calendars brought February images to mind.

Give some thought today to what you'll write about this month: 
  • Will it be love and romance with Valentine's Day only two weeks away!
  • Or will you write something about two presidents whose birthdays fall this month?
  • How about writing about the weather in February where you live? Is it almost spring or still deepest winter?
  • Maybe you can write about the joy of gathering all the information that you need to file your income tax return.
  • What kind of birds come to your area this month?
  • What kind of crafts do you like to do this time of the year?
  • What about the foods you like to eat in February?
  • Write about your February closet. What kind of clothes do you need this month?
  • How about your memories of your growing up years in February?
  • You can write about February birthdays in your family.
Write for submission for publication or to add to your Family Memories book. Write fiction or creative nonfiction. Write a factual article or a poem. Write for your eyes only. Choose any or all of these but do write. In my area, it's not the best month to be outdoors so you should be able to sit at your desk and write instead.

February is short, only 28 days, so you'd better get started. Even if you are only continuing to work on something you started in January, it's fine. You're writing and that's our goal every month of the year.  

Welcome February! Let's write!