I take issue with the phrase Happy Memorial Day because there is little 'happy' about it. It's a time to honor our fallen military men and women and to honor those who have served and still serve today. I was reminded of a wonderful experience Ken and I had a number of years ago during the Iraq War. Today, as we head into Memorial Day weekend, I am sharing it with you. Enjoy your family and friends this weekend but remember what it is we are to remember.
Patriotism On Parade
By Nancy Julien Kopp
The hotel ballroom buzzed with music, conversation, and laughter. Military dress uniforms and ball gowns added to the festive air of the evening. My husband, Ken, and I were the only civilians out of more than four hundred attending the Kodiak Ball honoring the 70th Engineer Battalion. The men and women in the battalion, stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas, returned only weeks earlier after serving a full year in Iraq. On this night, they gathered with spouses and dates to celebrate their homecoming, their survival, and the joy of being an American.
The soldiers requested that our church send someone to receive thanks and appreciation for the support of one company within the battalion, and we were pleased to be the representatives from St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. The congregation adopted Charlie Company upon their deployment in March of 2003. For the year they served in Iraq, members of the church mailed letters, birthday cards, and packages to the men who soon became “our soldiers.” We sent Christmas cards to the nearly one hundred members of Charlie Company, kept them in our prayers, and eagerly waited news about them. Members dropped monetary donations into a pair of shiny Army boots placed in the narthex of the church. The money allowed items like socks and other necessities along with some little touches of home like gum and candies to be shipped overseas. A line of love and pride between the members of the church and the soldiers grew strong and steady as the year progressed.
Tonight both the battalion commander and commander of Charlie Company greeted us. They clasped our hands and thanked us for all the support they’d received. Both men spoke with sincerity that was further mirrored in their eyes and warm handshake. From then on, other soldiers and spouses approached us, introduced themselves as members of Charlie Company, and offered us heartfelt thanks and appreciation for all the church members had done for them. One officer remarked, “We expect support from our families, but when it comes from perfect strangers, it means a great deal to us.” Another commented that the caring and concern shown them seemed almost overwhelming at times, but it made their job easier knowing people at home supported them.
With each introduction and conversation, my pride in our country and the men who served in her armed forces grew steadily stronger. I marveled at the many men and women who volunteered to serve their country. No draft board tapped them on the shoulder and handed them marching orders. These soldiers chose to serve with a pride, love, and belief in America.
The evening provided many emotional moments including a Table Of Remembrance ceremony to honor fallen comrades. The ballroom lights dimmed, and a spotlight centered on a table set for one. A soldier’s solemn voice related the symbolism of each item on the table in a somber tribute. A moment of silence followed, a moment needed by many to swallow the lump in the throat and wipe away a fallen tear.
Two movie screens placed at opposite sides of the ballroom flashed pictures of the 70th Engineer Battalion going about their everyday jobs in Iraq. Poignant as well as humorous moments captured on film showed a side of the military not often reported in newspapers. These were Americans who had a sensitive side, could put a comic slant on serious moments, and portrayed a fine work ethic learned in various parts of America during their growing-up years.
After dinner, the battalion commander asked Ken and I to come forward to accept a framed Certificate of Appreciation for the church. The soldiers offered us a standing ovation. We returned to our table with cheers and applause ringing in our ears. Never have I felt so much appreciation, warmth, and pleasure.
No matter what one feels about the right or wrong of the war in Iraq, be proud of the men and women who answered the call to represent America. They are your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. Support them in every possible way. Before this special evening ended, it was our turn to voice heartfelt thanks to the soldiers and their families. We spoke for many Americans as we expressed our appreciation for their service.
A full moon lit the way to our car. I told my husband that this would be a night we would long remember. It wasn’t only the moon that was glowing tonight.
Published at www.2theheart.com
Friday, May 26, 2017
Thursday, May 25, 2017
Today's poster quote can be summed up with a simple thought. Achieving success doesn't happen overnight.
Beginning writers know this in their rational mind but their heart might tell them otherwise. When we want to be successful writers, we would give a lot for it to happen quickly. Write a story. Get it published. Sounds simple but any writer with experience will let you know this is a dream. It may be what your heart is saying but it takes a lot more than just plain desire.
But doesn't the quote begin with a dream? It's our jumping off place. It's where our writing journey begins. We acquire those other things along the way--faith in our ability, action, perseverance and patience.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could stop in at a writing shop and buy a pound of each? If only! Instead, writers must work at each one of those traits on a consistent basis to make that dream a reality.
Will your big dream come true if you pursue each one? For a few, it will. But for many, only part of the big dream will come to fruition. And that's perfectly alright. There's nothing wrong with meeting small goals.
At times, it feels like we move inch by inch when we'd like it to be leaps and bounds. Keep in mind that even with inches, you're making progress. It's when you move backwards or get stuck in one place for a long time that you should be concerned. Keep moving!
Yesterday, I spent some time looking through some calls for submissions. It's been awhile since I submitted to someplace other than Chicken Soup for the Soul. I've been busy with a lot of other things. At least, that's what I told myself. But the reality is that I got a bit lazy. Finding places to submit to takes time and perseverance. A bit of patience, too. As I scanned through the possibilities I found in newsletters and facebook postings, I got more enthused. I thought about pieces already written that might fit this one or that. I had a few ideas for new writing pop into my head.
Consider what you haven't been doing for awhile and revisit. Whether it's a certain kind of writing or finding places to submit or revising old pieces, spend some time there. Inspiration can sometimes be of our own making. That simple act of looking for places to submit to yesterday definitely inspired me.
Today's poster might be a good one to print and keep close to your writing area. Use it as a reminder of where you want to go and how you can get there.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Here's a writing prompt that you can use to start writing today. Instead of just a photo prompt, this one incorporates both a visual image and a phrase.
Study the picture and then begin writing using the phrase she was stronger than she thought. I've made the picture extra-large so you can see more detail. You can completely ignore the many items in the photo if you like and use only the words. The phrase is more important. The details in the picture might be of some further inspiration. The more you look at the picture, the more you see.
Give it a go and see what comes from your creative mind. Write a paragraph, a story, or a poem. Maybe even a personal essay. Your choice. I'd love to see the results but the comments section will only take a small word count.
Have fun with this one!
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
A family member contacted me last week to ask if I had ever made a family tree for our family. Did I have enough information to make one to share with the family? I had done one once but had received a little more information from an older cousin since then. I decided to download a free template and do it again.
I searched through a file drawer for the family genealogy information and proceeded to fill out the template similar to the one shown above. As I wrote the name of each parent, grandparent and great-grandparent, flashes of what they looked like and stories I knew about them came to mind. Some I remembered because I had known them while others were known to me only through family stories and photos.
If you work on a family tree for your own family, you will probably have the same experience. You'll see your grandmother in her kitchen. Maybe a vision of your grandpa milking cows by hand will flit across your mind. You might remember a great-grandparent being cared for by other family members. A funeral you attended for one of the grandparents could have made a deep impression on you. I only attended the funeral of one of my grandparents. I was 12 and I can picture the funeral home, the room where the funeral was held, the casket and, most clearly, my father shedding tears for a mother-in-law he loved dearly.
That memory flashback is enough to be the basis for a family story or even a personal essay. Seeing my dad cry was a new experience and it left a forever moment with me.
As the stories or thoughts come to you while writing names on your family tree, jot down some notes. You'll be able to write a new family story or use the situation and/or person in your other writing--even basing a fictional character on someone in your background. We write what we know and who do we know better than our own families?
Some of our family members are beloved and always will be. Others may have irritated you for one reason or another and you will most likely harbor a bit of resentment toward them forever. Just because they are family, there is no rule that says you must feel equally about every one of them.
If you've never filled out a family tree template, give it a try. I think you'll be surprised at the myriad thoughts that flit through your mind like a bee collecting nectar from a variety of flowers. If you already have a family tree, take a look at it and see what recollections it brings.
Monday, May 22, 2017
|4 people, 4 different characters|
Last night, I was watching the season finale of one of my favorite tv shows. Call The Midwives is a British production shown on PBS. At the end, I cried a little with sheer joy and love for the people in the show whom I've come to know so well.
It occurred to me that every character stands out because each one has been carefully developed by the writer. Ah yes, we come back to that well-known (to us) entity--the writer.
It goes without saying that the main characters in a story--long or short--must be drawn fully and with care. The show I watched last evening has many characters and, as the series progresses, viewers have gotten to know a good number of them to the point that we feel what they are feeling because we understand who they are, their motives for their actions, their joys and sorrows, their goals and more. Thanks again to the writer(s).
I think that one of the reasons that the series is successful is that secondary characters are also well-developed. They are not just those 'walk across the stage and smile' extras.
Creating a character who readers (or viewers) will remember takes time and some skill that comes with doing it over and over again. An author of multiple books doesn't have to spend as much time as the one who is writing a first novel. And guess what? There is plenty of help. Our old friend, google, will find many how-to articles on character development.
One site I checked on has a chart to be filled out for each character. It's lengthy but thorough. If you can write something about your character on every line in the chart, you will know him/her quite well by the time you reach the end. Check it here.
Many writers will tell you that they come to know their characters so well that the story almost writes itself because the characters direct the story. I've had that happen in one of my longer projects, so I know it is no figment of imagination.
Take some time to get to know the characters you create and your readers will thank you.
Friday, May 19, 2017
|Looking at the other side of the coin|
Yesterday, we looked at the frustration side of writing. Today, let's explore the other side--satisfaction. Here is the second half of the article.
One of the best parts of being a writer comes with the publication of your work. It’s comparable to a gift placed in a golden box and tied with a silver bow, your name on top. Here’s where the satisfaction side of the coin shows up. No matter how many times your work is published, it’s a pleasure. It definitely erases some of that frustration, which never disappears completely but can diminish and become of less importance with each success.
Sometimes satisfaction comes from the fulfillment in achieving a completed story, novel, article or essay. Many writers begin a project and never finish. I’m willing to guess that most writers have folders with half-done projects. But it’s those completed pieces that allow satisfaction to enfold us like a soft, silken shawl. Revel in it when it occurs.
What joy there is when inspiration hits while we’re doing a mundane household task, or driving a carpool. Maybe a character begins to form in your mind when waiting for a bus, or a word you’ve sought reveals itself during a conversation with a friend.
Another form of satisfaction comes when an editor assigns a project and we manage to return it completed with all points covered. Writing on speculation is much easier than writing to a specified set of objectives. For assigned articles, a writer must do the research, write a first draft, revise and edit her work, then check to see if she’s covered everything asked for. Including all points asked for requires good concentration and writing skill, so any satisfaction at the end is well-earned.
Escaping into another world while writing is one more form of satisfaction. While writing, we create a place of refuge, creativity, and personal meditation that can prove emotionally fulfilling.
I will continue reading the daily offerings in the devotional book for writers, and I am certain I’ll continue to learn from other writers’ frustrations, as well as enjoy the happiness that comes through when they are satisfied. I’m going to plan to keep the satisfaction side of the coin face up. It’s a lot more fun than the other side and is bound to make me a more productive, more creative writer.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
|Two Sides To Every Coin|
Today's post is the first half of an article I wrote that was published several years ago. This part explores the more difficult side of the coin that we writers face. Tomorrow, I will post what we find on the other side of the coin.
Daily Devotions For Writers rests next to my printer, where I can reach it easily every morning before beginning to work. The life lessons the book contains offer advice, relate trials and also inject a bit of humor. Some of the writers talk of a revelation that came when least expected. Most of the devotions include a scripture verse and/or a prayer—sometimes a quote.
After reading the daily devotional book for a few months, I noticed that a pattern appeared to emerge in the guise of a two-sided coin. On one side of the coin, I sensed frustration from so many of the writers. It appears to be a universal theme for both seasoned and new writers. But flip the coin over, and satisfaction is evident.
Novice writers may experience the frustration in greater amounts than the satisfaction. It takes perseverance and patience to traverse the tunnel of disappointment. Doesn’t every writer dream of instant success? When rejection letters pile up faster than election campaign literature, what’s a writer to do? Confidence levels fall with alarming speed when new or even long-time writers don’t meet with some success. Doubt pays daily visits, and if a writer chooses to entertain him, he’ll stay.
Believe in yourself and your work. If you have something to say, a story to entertain or to make a difference in the lives of others, don’t let the early-days frustrations get you down. Make marketing lists, and work your way down that list until you either find an editor to accept a particular story, article, poem, or novel chapters, or have exhausted the list. If every editor you’ve selected rejects your submission, it’s time to take a look and determine why the piece didn’t sell. Make some revisions and try again. It’s rarely easy to look at your own work objectively, but it’s possible, and it will be to your advantage to do so.
Lack of time to write is one common frustration. Life tends to get in our way. Occasionally, the writer allows that to happen, for what better way to postpone a project that’s not coming easily? A serious writer creates time to write. Frustration also occurs when an idea forms in the mind but won’t translate into the printed word. From the brain to the fingers is not always a smooth road.
Once in awhile, a writer finishes an article or story, puts it aside for the required seasoning of a few days, then brings it out again only to find that it doesn’t say what she wanted to say at all. In fact, the writer is disgusted with the piece and is ready to hit the delete button. It’s the very reason writing books and editors advise setting a finished piece of writing aside for a few days. Then the writer reads it with a new perspective; sees with different eyes and gains satisfaction from the process of improvement. Isn’t it better that she hasn’t been one of those writers who dash off a piece and call it finished, then send it to an editor immediately? More than likely, it will come flying back with a form rejection letter. Avoid this kind of frustration by allowing yourself some time between a partially finished and a truly completed piece.
While frustration often looms over a writer’s head, it’s not all bad. Beneficial lessons present themselves through the haze of the stress involved. It’s up to the writer to discern the positive angles. Face your frustrations with open eyes and a willingness to turn them to your advantage.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
|Love and Joy|
Two powerful emotions are pictured here. We know there are others, as well. Consider fear, anger, sadness among them. To write successfully, we need to learn how to make our readers feel emotions.
I recently read a book titled Downfall written by J. A. Janice. The book is one of a series about an Arizona female sheriff named Joanna Brady. It's the only one of the series that I have read but the author gives enough info about previous happenings in the sheriff's life that it was easy to keep up. Of course, the sheriff has a difficult murder case to solve, all while dealing with planning a funeral, as well. The book held my attention and kept me reading longer than I needed to at any one sitting. And guess what else it did? It made me cry. A murder mystery that makes one cry has to have some very good writing. I'm guessing this author writes with emotion and passes it on to her readers, a very fine ability.
Whether writing a memoir, a fiction story, or even a poem, the writer has to allow the emotion within to be released. Does that sound simple? It's not! As writers, we need to learn to release the emotion within us as we write as that doesn't always come naturally. All too often, we're afraid to do that.
Why? I'm no psychologist but perhaps if we allow our emotions to burst forth, even in our writing, we have to face them. Maybe we liked having them secreted in our hearts. It might be easier to release any joys and love we feel but what about the anger, the sorrow, the grief? Those are the ones that are more difficult to deal with.
If the writer doesn't write with emotion and just proceeds to tell the reader that the character is angry or sad, he/she is not going to reach out and grab the reader. They might respond internally with a Oh, too bad, he's a sad guy right now. Or Hmm, she seems to be angry. And then they move on to the next section. If the writer shows the character feeling whatever the emotion is, he/she has a far better chance of having the reader understand and feel it, as well.
My dad often mentioned that his mother loved to go to movies but she felt she never got her money's worth unless she had a good cry. Considering that she was seeing films in the silent movie days, that's saying something. The writers who got the emotion across were ones that gave her what she wanted--a good cry because of emotions that transferred from that screen to my Grandma Laura sitting in a darkened theater.
To sum up, showing rather than telling helps bring emotion out in our reader. Also, being able to release our own, possibly pent-up, emotion helps the reader to feel, too.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Graduations are taking place all over our nation now and into early June. It's a time for grads to look back and see what they've achieved in their school journey. We have a granddaughter in Texas graduating from high school. She went to her Awards Night last week and headed home with a nice list of scholarships and awards. They didn't just happen. No, she worked hard all four years.
Some of you know that one of my favorite quotes is Don't look back. That's not where you are going. But today, I am going to ask all writers to do so. Consider the journey you've been on since the first time you wrote something. How long ago was that? 5 years? 10? 20? Or more?
- Was your writing at the beginning of your journey of the same quality as it is today?
- Did you have all the tools in your writing kit that you have now?
- How many publications did you have to your credit?
- Were you overly confident?
- Or were you as frightened as a hen being chased by a fox?
- Did you know how to go about finding a place to submit your work?
- Could you take criticism from other writers or editors without becoming crushed or angry?
- Did you know very many of those little 'tricks of the trade?'
- Was your writing clear?
- Did you write tight?
- Was your vocabulary as big as it is now?
- How great was self-doubt then as now?
- Did you really understand the journey you were beginning?
Whether you've moved with leaps and bounds or small baby steps, you've made good distance in your writing journey and have achieved more than you might think. Have a treat today in honor of all you've accomplished.
Monday, May 15, 2017
The poster for today features books. Those of us who are avid readers love books. Those of us who are writers also love books. Readers read books. That's a given. But writers write and read books. That's a given, too.
Or is it? If not, if should be. If you want to write books, it will be to your benefit to read and read and read books written by others. Not to mimic another author's style. You want and need your own. You should read other authors to learn a lot of things that a person writing a book should know. As you read, be conscious of more than the story itself.
Ask yourself how the writer hooked you. Check to see how dialogue is used, how much and how useful it is in moving the story along. Consider the numbers of adjectives and adverbs. Too many? Too few? What is the description like? Too long? Just right?
Did the writer hold your interest with a few twists and turns, or a surprise of some sort? Did the book become a page turner for you? Why or why not? Did the ending live up to what was promised at the beginning of the book? Was the ending strong or rather weak?
These and other 'writerly things' should be in the back of your mind as you read and (hopefully) enjoy the story. The more you read, the longer your list of things you don't want to do and those that you would like to include in your own book.
No one expects you to read a novel with pen and paper by your side, jotting down notes as you go. The more we write, the more we read with the writer's eye. Writers notice much more than a reader who has never written. We store a great deal in our subconscious. We soak it up as we read.
I recently finished a book that my book club read for April. It relied heavily on dialogue rather than narrative. The author got the story across quite well but, at times, I found myself tiring of the constant rat-a-tat-tat of words being hurled back and forth. For me, it was overdone. Forevermore, I will be conscious of using too much dialgoue when I write a story. That style may have been fine for that particular author but not for all readers.
If I read a book that is filled with lengthy descriptions that I end up skipping sometimes, I am going to be aware that I need to keep my descriptions to a minimum. Show it but don't keep growing it!
We learn the craft of writing from books about writing, from lectures we attend at conferences but we also acquire a great deal of information about our craft through the joyous act of reading books. Make time for reading. Consider it a writer's homework And enjoy!
Friday, May 12, 2017
Here is one more story about my mother, written in 2004, only months before she passed away. No one likes to think about losing their mother but there are ways to keep her with you forever.
Finding My Mother
By Nancy Julien Kopp
The year is 1943, and I am four years old. The Woolworth Five and Dime in our neighborhood has a creaky wooden floor and smells like penny candy, sickeningly sweet. I walk up one aisle and down another, heart beating fast, until a clerk leans down. “Do you need help, honey?”
My lip quivers, and I voice my fear. “Where is my mama? I can’t find her.” Like magic, my mother appears at the end of the aisle, her steps hurried, my baby brother in her arms. Relief washes over me when we are reunited. She reassures me with simple words. “Don’t worry. I’d never leave you.” But I stay close to her the rest of the day.
War rages in Europe and Asia, but I am oblivious to that situation. My world revolves around my young and pretty mother. She provides everything a four-year-old requires. She reads to me, hears my bedtime prayer, and coaxes me to eat. I develop a sense of humor because she makes laughter a part of our everyday life.
Fast forward sixty-one years, and I have lost my mother again. I can’t find her, even though I know where she lives. She is eighty-six and resides far from me in a nursing home in North Carolina, but the mother I know and love is gone.
Macular degeneration denies her the pleasure of reading. In years past, she devoured novels, fit newspapers and magazines into her daily routine. She celebrated the release of every new John Grisham book.
Physical ailments curtail her activities, and depression erases the keen sense of humor that marked her character until very recently. The weekly letters stop when she loses the ability to pick up a pen and put words on paper. For years, we chatted on the phone—passing on family news, discussing world events, politics, movies, books and more. Now, she refuses to have a phone in her room at the nursing home, effectively cutting herself off from those who love her. Is it because a phone is a sign of permanency? She tells my brother she will be home again as soon as she gains some strength. She knows, and we know, that possibility is unlikely, but no one is strong enough to voice that thought.
She no longer possesses the sharp wit she once displayed regularly or the ability to entertain us with stories about her childhood in an Iowa coal mining town. Mental confusion blurs her days, and her powers of concentration are vastly diminished.
Yes, I’ve lost my mama again. But I’m not four years old. I’m an adult who signed up for Medicare last month, a senior citizen who misses her mother. I pray for her daily. I don’t pray that she will be miraculously well and strong again, for I know the aging process would not allow it. Instead, I pray that she will have comfort and peace in these final years, months, or days that remain. Even so, I feel lost again, and there is no helpful Woolworth clerk to show concern. My mother does not make a magical appearance this time.
Health concerns of my own postpone a planned trip to visit Mother, but little by little I am finding her right here in my own home. My kitchen overflows with reminders. Her blue enamel roasting pan, a painted china plate, a serving bowl and more trigger memories of happy times. The other day I picked up a rolling pin while looking for something in a cupboard, and images of my mother rolling pie pastry, sugar cookies, and cinnamon rolls moved in waves through my mind and brought a smile to my face. She learned from her mother and passed the love of baking on to me. My mother will always be with me when I bake.
Her presence is strong when I skim through my recipe box where her handwriting covers dozens of recipe cards. I linger on some to keep her close a little longer. One card has a note on the top. “Mom’s Date Muffins”, a recipe passed on to her from my grandmother. They are still a favorite of mine, and when I make them, I feel my mother and also my grandmother near. On a recipe shared by my wacky, but lovable, aunt, Mother wrote “Viv’s best cookie.”
Family photographs decorate various rooms in my home, and photo albums help me relive the years when my mother played a vital part in my life. The camera caught her laughing, holding babies, traveling with my dad. Pictures taken with her treasured older brother capture the joy she found in his company. A surprise eightieth birthday party is re-lived in an album of its own. I can wander through my home and find her in these photos whenever I feel the need to be with her.
In some respects, the vibrant mother I once knew slips farther and farther away, but these reminders of the past bring her close. There’s no need to ever feel like a lost child again. On that long-ago day in Woolworth’s she told me she’d never leave me. I know now that she spoke the truth. A part of her will always be with me.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
The quote above makes me think of my mother. What a good role model she was, not only in my growing-up years, but all the years I have been an adult, a wife, a mom, a grandmother. I wrote a story about Mom published in the 2015 Mother's Day book by Chicken Soup for the Soul. It still makes me smile when I think of my mother and her very own 'recipe for life.' Read it below the book cover.
Mom’s Recipe For Life
By Nancy Julien Kopp
I have a lot of Mom’s recipes in a blue tin box where all my special ones reside--the pumpkin pie she made during my growing up years, the light and yeasty dinner rolls that were family faves, and the tender date muffins that her own mother made. Every time I see one of the cards with Mom’s handwriting on it, I am carried back to the aromas in our small kitchen where she reigned. Even so, the recipe I treasure most is not on any index card. Nor did she send it to me in a letter. On the contrary, she lived this recipe all of her life but I was too blind to see and appreciate it until her final years.
My mother grew up in a small coal mining town in southwest Iowa. My grandfather once told me that she knew no stranger; she considered everyone in that community her friend. That attitude continued wherever she lived for the rest of her life.
As a tween and teen, I cringed every time my mother addressed strangers in the grocery store or on the city bus. She talked to everyone and offered a smile. In my naivety, I was embarrassed.
Mom had a cheerful greeting for everyone she encountered and a question of some sort that triggered an answer and more conversation. She spoke to the mailman, the grocery store clerks, and the girls who worked in the neighborhood bakery.
“Hi Lorraine,” she’d say to the woman who owned the bakery. “What did you think of Jackie Gleason’s show last night?” Lorraine chatted about the show as she sliced the usual loaf of bread for Mom, then asked what else she wanted. “Half a dozen of those wonderful crullers,” Mom might say. Then she’d lean closer to the counter and say something like, “Isn’t life wonderful?” I’d roll my eyes and accept the free cookie Lorraine gave me even into my teen years, then hurry out hoping no one would see me with the woman who talked to everyone.
Decades later, after my father passed on, I drove the hour and a half to my mother’s house every couple of weeks to spend a day with her and help with errands. She grieved for Dad for a long time inwardly but her smile never wavered. “No sense being a Grumpy Gertie,” she’d tell me.
I watched as she spoke to the Walmart greeter before he even had a chance to open his mouth. “Hi. How are you doing today? Isn’t it great to see the sun?” She flashed him a million dollar smile as he helped her get a shopping cart while he chuckled.
I noticed that she smiled at everyone she passed in the store’s many aisles. Almost all of them responded with a bright beam of their own. Some spoke, others nodded their heads at this elderly woman who brought a little light into their day.
What really sold me on Mom’s approach to life was her experience on the senior bus, a story I’ve repeated to others many times. The weeks I could not be there, she used this low-cost transportation to the grocery store. After her first trip, I asked her how it went.
“Ha!’ she said, “I got on that bus and what did I see? Thirteen little old ladies and one old man and not one word was spoken.”
I wondered how long it would be until the somberness on that bus would change. On my next visit, Mom mentioned the girls on the bus and something one of them had told her.
“Oh, are you talking with them now?” I asked.
“Of course,” she said. “One day I climbed up the steps of the bus and before I looked for a seat, I gave them a big smile and I said, ‘Isn’t it a wonderful day? I noticed a few shy smiles.”
Mom didn’t give up. She greeted them all each time she got on the bus and before long, the whole group was laughing and talking to one another. The bus became more than just transportation.
When we went to the various stores, I observed as she smiled and chatted with perfect strangers. Some of them looked like the sourest person you’d ever met but once Mom beamed at them and started a conversation, most responded favorably. She had a man with deep frown lines laughing over a little joke she told him as she leaned on her cane. My mother didn’t embarrass me any longer. I found myself admiring her.
She’s been gone for ten years but I’ve carried on her recipe for life. I smile at people as I walk by and often begin a conversation in the checkout line. Silent, solemn people respond with smiles of their own and a bit of chatter. All it takes is for one person to initiate the smile or a greeting.
Recently, I noticed a woman ahead of me in the checkout line. Her red raincoat looked cheerful on a wet day, and I told her so. She had looked quite serious only a moment before, but she smiled and thanked me. “You know what?” she said, “I really like the color of your raincoat, too.”
It’s such second nature with me now that only the other day I noticed that everyone I passed in the grocery store smiled at me. Must be a lot of happy people here, I thought. Then, I stopped walking and bowed my head in a grateful prayer of thanks for the mother I had been given. It was me who had done the smiling first and all those people had responded. My mother didn’t lecture but taught me by example. She’d given me a recipe for life.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Mother's Day is Sunday. Have you ever written about your mother? I have done so many, many times. Several of my stories in Chicken Soup books revolve around her. And, of course, the family stories I've written and kept in a binder feature her myriad times.
Who has more influence on us than our mothers. Oh sure, dads do, too, but maybe moms wield just a tiny bit more. She who carried us close to her heart for probably nine months, then cared for us as infants, moved us in the right direction time and again, scolded and punished when she thought it would teach us something, praised and lauded when we earned it.
All mothers are alike. All mothers are different. Conflicting statements? Yes, they are, but both are true. Some mothers show their love constantly while others may love deeply but not voice it often. Some mothers seldom punish or scold while others seem to do so on a daily basis. Some are great cooks. Some are not. Whatever your mother is, she is your mother.
Why not celebrate this Mother's Day by writing something about her, or perhaps something for her. Let her know what it is you appreciate about her or the depth of your love. Perhaps you have great admiration for what she has done over the years.
Conversely, if you and your mother did not have a very good relationship, write about that. You don't ever have to show it to her, or to anyone else. It might help you see the how and why and may help to release long-held thoughts.
One of the Chicken Soup stories about my mom is one written after her death. It was based on a very simple experience which became something many who had lost mothers could relate to. Mother's Day can be a hard day for those whose mothers are no longer with them Here's the story published in a Mother's themed book by Chicken Soup for the Soul a few years ago.
With Us In Spirit
By Nancy Julien Kopp
I stopped at a Hallmark shop the other day to buy Mother’s Day cards for my daughter and daughter-in-law. The aisle where the cards for this special day rested was a long one. There were Mother’s Day cards appropriate to send to everyone from your cleaning lady to your best friend. The colors were soft and spring-like, fitting for the month of May. I moved up and down the aisle looking for cards that worked for Karen and Amy, and suddenly without any warning, an ache started deep inside. It swelled and moved upward, hit my heart and pushed a tear from my eye.
The one card I really wanted to buy was one for my own mother, but she passed away more than two years ago. I could buy the card, write a special note, sign it with love, then seal and stamp it. But where would I send it? Heaven has no post office. A curtain of sadness dropped down and covered me like a shroud for a moment or two. My hand reached out to a card that I knew she’d love. It was lavender and purple, her favorite colors. I read the verse and smiled. This was the one I’d buy her if I could only send it to her. I slipped it back in the rack, picked it up and read it again, then replaced it.
I’m a mother and a grandmother of four, but I still miss my mom. I miss our long talks. She had little formal education, but she possessed a marvelous instinct and insight into human behavior. I learned so much listening to her observations. I miss the stories she told about her childhood in a coal mining town. She made me appreciate the differences in people’s lives. I miss the wonderful pies and cakes she made. I miss her terrific sense of humor and hearty laughter. I miss her hugs.
But as I look around my home, I see her in many places. I see her warm smile in photos carefully arranged in several different rooms. I see her every time I sift through my recipe box and finger the many cards with her handwriting, all so precious now. I see her when I use my rolling pin, once hers, now mine. Whenever I use it, I’m reminded of the day she taught me how to put just the right pressure on a pie crust with the heavy wooden rolling pin. I see her when I show visitors to our guest room, for the bed is covered with a quilt she made by hand.
On Mother’s Day I will be with my daughter and her family at a Mother’s Day Brunch. To spend the day with a child I love and her husband and children will give me great pleasure. It wouldn’t surprise me if we sense another presence that day, for my mother will be with us in spirit, spreading her love once more.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Yesterday, my husband I saw La La Land, the movie musical that earned many academy award nominations. Having been a huge fan of those Hollywood musicals of the '40's and '50's, I was eager to see this new offering. I also wanted to see it because my 18 year old granddaughter loved it so much that she's watched it 4 times, and I have a feeling there will be more viewings added.
I remember being a young girl, sitting in a darkened theater watching the top stars of the time dancing and singing and falling in love and having hearts broken and working to follow a dream. This newest offering still used the Follow Your Dream theme along with the romance and the marvelous musical numbers.
Isn't that we writers do, as well? We follow our dream of being a successful writer from the very first time we churn out a story, essay or poem. We have something in mind that we hope to achieve. Some of us think it will happen quickly while others know that to reach that star in the sky, we have a great deal of hard work before us.
It's not always easy to keep our goal alive. No matter how much we want to make our dream come true, there will be roadblocks off and on. Get over one and find another in your way. You know what that spells? Discouragement! How easily we get discouraged plays a major role in achieving our dream.
We have two kinds of reactions when we are drenched with discouragement. We can either let it smother our dream or we can get even more determined. It's our choice as to which reaction we'll have. The depth of your desire will play a part. Letting discouragement push you down and keep you down might be tough to take but it also could be the easier route. The one that is more difficult is when you get angry and have an attitude of I'm not giving up but it's also the choice that will bring you more benefits in the long run. If you choose the second reaction, prepare for hard work ahead with plenty of new roadblocks.
Have you ever watched a track meet where runners jump hurdles one after another? Think of that when you encounter one problem after another in your writing journey. Get over one and move on to the next. You must keep on going, not stop along the way, keep on going until you meet your goal. Even then, you're not done as you'll have to continue to meet snags here and there.
The important thing, to me, is to have the dream and stay on the road as you pursue your writing goals.
Monday, May 8, 2017
Let's try a writing exercise today that has two parts. There are two photos of the same thing. Sort of!
Freewrite for about 10 minutes--write without stopping, let it flow--using photo #1. Then, go to photo #2 and do the same. They are both water but should bring different thoughts from the recesses of your mind. Write about water from different perspectives.
Next, turn what you have for each one into a poem, an essay or a short story.
Friday, May 5, 2017
Today's quote is the perfect suggestion for a personal essay. In this kind of creative nonfiction, we highlight an experience, but there's a bigger and more important part. The primary purpose of the personal essay is to share what you learned with others.
We've all been through hurtful experiences, whether long ago in our childhood, or as a young adult or perhaps as a senior citizen. Writing about it is one step in the healing process. Even more important is to write about what positive knowledge you took away from the experience. If you don't include this, then you end up with nothing more than an anecdote. The reader might get to the end and say So what? Why should I care?
Did you learn something about life in general? Did you figure out the personality flaws in others? Or yourself? Did you suddenly realize some universal truth about life that you'd never seen before? It doesn't need to be something earth-shattering. Even small revelations have meaning.
Your personal essay topic does not need only be about something that hurt you in the past. Happy times teach us, as well. Other parts of our past serve us in selecting personal essay topics, too. Did you ever witness a disaster? Did you ever meet a celebrity? Were you ever a bully? Were you bullied? Were you so shy it almost made you sick at times? Did your family go on a special vacation--one you've never forgotten for one reason or another? Was one of your relatives a big part of your childhood?
What about the place where you grew up? How did it affect your life? Did you have a birthday that stands out for one reason or another?
I could go on and on. Writers have a wealth of subjects to use as the base of a personal essay. Remember to use your experience to tell readers what you learned. You needn't use a specific sentence that begins with I learned... Weave that bit of knowledge or eye-opening revelation into your story. It does not have to come at the conclusion in a 'wrapping-up' way. Intertwine that golden nugget in any part of your story, or in several. Perhaps you can let your reader discover it just like you did.
It appears that personal essays are presently in the spotlight, so why not take advantage of the trend and write your own. One step in learning to write good personal essays is to read ones others have written. Read with your 'writer's eye' and do a little analyzing when you finish. What did the essayist do, or not do, that you'd like to emulate?
Thursday, May 4, 2017
Isn't it interesting how a very few words can provide us with a fine life lesson? That's one of the reasons I like to use photo quotes on many of my posts. Katharine Hepburn said a lot in her few words.
As writers, we can't rely on others to move us down the river of the writing life. We might turn to a few experts, via books or interviews or articles they've written, for guidance and to gain more knowledge of our craft. I encourage that every chance I get.
Even so, it's up to individual writers to paddle your own canoe as Ms. Hepburn says. It's only the writer who can write the story that is in his/her head. It's only the writer who can make the final revisions or editing. It's only the writer who can write a cover letter and submit his/her work.
Like it or not, writing is pretty much a solitary existence. We don't work with a team. It's us alone. You and I sit at our computer surrounded by no one. We tap the keyboard and watch our story grow on the screen in front of us. If we don't make the story move from beginning to middle to end, nobody else is there to do it for us.
Consider the path a story takes. Idea in the writer's mind. Mental pondering on same. First draft written. Revise and edit. Submit. So, who is paddling the canoe through all this? You. All by yourself. If you sit back and wait for someone to come and help in any one of those processes, you'll have a very long wait.
Yes, you can have help by asking others to read and critique your work but the main thrust of it all comes back to you. You can get stuck in the shallows if you don't pursue any one of the steps involved or if you convince yourself that you have writer's block and sit silently in front of your computer. It's you who must push yourself--paddle that canoe with zest and zeal if you want to move into the publishing pond.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Mr. Smiley is making a list of what is needed in a story or essay or memoir piece--anything you write and want to submit for publication.
It's a given that you have to come up with a good story, whether it's fiction or a creative nonfiction piece. Let's say you were inspired and wrote a story that grabs the reader and holds on to them. At least, you think that's the kind of story you've written. You send it to what you think is the perfect market. It comes bouncing back faster than a tennis ball smashed by a pro. Why?
Maybe you concentrated so hard on the story part that you forgot some of the other important pieces. Take a look at the checklist below. Do you routinely pass over some of them? Hopefully not all of them. Some appear to be little things but there's a song about little things counting a lot. Same case when writing a good story.
- weak words--we fall back on old standbys too often. Why keep saying look when there are other words that mean the same but are stronger. A thesaurus helps when wanting to change some of these weaker words that pop up more than we'd like.
- poorly structured sentences--reversing phrases, or even two words, can make a sentence read better, become more clear to the reader.
- rhythm--this is something we consider a lot in poetry but it is helpful in prose to have a rhythm, or flow, to your sentences. Try to avoid too many short, jerky sentences.
- vocabulary--not everyone has a large and varied mastery of words. Increase your own vocabulary by looking up words unfamiliar to you when you read. Join one of those websites that send you a new word to learn every day.
- grammar--oh yeah, this one's a biggie. If you have a great story and write it with a plethora of poor grammar, your story is going nowhere. One way to improve your own grammar is to read voraciously and pay attention to the grammar successful writers use.
- repetition--this is a problem that many of us have--using the same word numerous times or twice in close succession. It's so easy to skip over this problem even when revising or editing our work. Let someone else read what you have written and they're likely to zone in on those repetitious words easily.
There will be some writers who think that, as long as the story itself is good, the things in my list above aren't all that important. There might be an occasional editor who likes the story itself enough to give help on the weaker parts but most editors will not, or cannot, take the time to help you rewrite the story. They might suggest that you do the rewriting and submit it again but, even that, is not a sure thing.
Pay attention to the little things. They do count.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
She turned away from mystery with this latest novel but social issues are again involved in the story. Author Pat Conroy said "Damron's masterful portrayal of misery giving way to sympathy leads us toward a glimmering hope of redemption for families and a community on the cusp of bold rebirth. This is a novelist to be read again and again."
I had a particular interest in reading Carla's latest book as I had been one of several who critiqued a few parts of it when she submitted chapters to our online writing group.
I had a particular interest in reading Carla's latest book as I had been one of several who critiqued a few parts of it when she submitted chapters to our online writing group.
|The Stone Necklace begins with a heart attack and an accident on a regular morning. A man is dead, a woman and her child in another car injured, and a family changed forever. The story revolves around 5 main characters, Lena, the widow, Tonya, the woman whose car was hit, Sandy, a nurse addicted to drugs, now in rehab and trying to regain her life, and Joe, a homeless man. Add to this mix an anorexic teen-age daughter that Lena has to deal with and the book becomes a page turner.|
Lena has survived leaving her family for a short affair and breast cancer treatment after she returned home, supported by her husband. Losing him so suddenly turns her world upside down. She deals with her troubled teen-aged daughter, adult sons who return home to help her through the beginning days, her husband's business partner and a sister who has been out of her life for many years.
Tonya, the woman injured in the crash has plenty of her own problems to deal with. Her marriage is in trouble, she dislikes her job and she fears for her small son if things stay as they are.
Sandy, the nurse who became addicted to drugs, fights every day to stay clean. She befriends Becca, Lena's daughter, as she recognizes the girl's need for help.
Joe is a homeless man who sleeps in a graveyard. He does odd jobs to survive and had been treated with great kindness by Lena's husband, Mitch, prior to the accident. Joe fights is own demons on a daily basis.
Becca, Mitch and Lena's daughter, deals with anorexia and losing her dearly loved father and more.
Carla Damron intertwines the stories of these characters with excellent character development and beautiful writing.
What happens to each character, how their lives intertwine and how each situation works out makes for a good read. The author made me care about the characters. To me, that is the sign of a good writer.
Monday, May 1, 2017
The first four months of the year slid by in what feels like a big hurry. Today is the first day of one of my favorite months. There are many things to celebrate this month which gives you several topics to write about, too.
Whether you write a family story or a poem or something inspirational or a short story, you'll have plenty of choices. Start with May Day. Do you know the history? It's not just about May baskets. Workers Rights comes into play, as well. Google history of May Day and get the full story. My husband and I have a running dialogue every May 1st. In the early morning, I say to him "Happy May Day" and he responds with "It's Law Day." What would you expect from me, the writer who loves flowers and romance...and him, the guy who graduated from Law School a very long time ago? We're both right!
Yes, Mother's Day is also celebrated in May. You can write myriad stories and poems with this theme. Chicken Soup for the Soul will have a new book with a Mother theme this year. They had so many good stories submitted that they are already filling up one for 2018. I will have a story in the later book.
There are many graduations this month--from pre-school to those being awarded a PHD! If you have someone in your family graduating this year, you'll have one more special day in May. We have a granddaughter graduating from high school but not until the beginning of next month. Do you remember your own graduation days? How about a family story about what occurred that day and how you felt? The night I graduated from high school, my dad gave me my first adult beverage--cream sherry. In our state, girls could drink legally at 18 and I'd hit that age only a couple weeks earlier. That night I had a beautiful white formal, like the other girls in my class, a dozen long stem red roses and my first drink. Pretty exciting for the '50's era.
The end of the month brings Memorial Day. So many memories come to us on this special day when we honor our deceased veterans. Many families bring flowers to the cemetery to decorate the grave of loved ones from their family as an extension of this holiday meant to honor military people who are no longer with us. There will be parades and speeches, flags on display and more as we pay tribute.
Last but not least is our old friend, Snoopy, ready for his May Day Dance. No Maypole for him, just a few hops and a skip or two across the soft green spring grass.
Turn your calendars to May and get ready to celebrate and to write as you enjoy the flowers and warmer temps this month brings.