Thursday, August 31, 2017

What Were Your Writing Highs And Lows This Month?

August has 31 days and sometimes that makes it feel like a long month. Strange how one extra day does that. I've been pondering what I've accomplished in my writing life during this 31 days of August. Should I be satisfied, proud or ashamed of what I've done? 

The Good:
  1.  I checked my Submissions Record and noted that I'd sent out 5 stories and poems. 
      2.  I wrote the first draft of two personal essays
      3.  I critiqued several submissions in my online writing group

     4.  I did all 4 Random Word exercises in my online writing group

     5.  I wrote a blog post 5 days every week this month

    6.  I made two submissions to my online writing group

    7.  I encouraged another writer

The Not So Good:
  1. I didn't work on pieces I subbed to my writing group that had been critiqued
      2. I didn't read much of a new book on creative nonfiction that I'd purchased

      3.  I did not succeed in getting a new member or two for my writing group

      4.  I didn't spend as much time on writing as I could have

      5.  I had no acceptances from earlier submissions

      6.  I wasn't inspired as much as usual

How about you? What were your highs and lows in your writing life this month? Some months are better than others for various reasons. Maybe we should keep a record for the 12 months each year, listing our good and not so good happenings. I think we'd find it of interest when looking over the list at the end of the year. 

There will be months when our life outside of writing throws us some curves or is incredibly busy. When that happens, it definitely affects our writing life. There's no way around that. Maybe we should also note on our list what else was going on that month that may have hindered or helped us in our writing life. 

Writing is our passion but the record keeping part is not so much fun. Even so, it's imperative that we keep a record of our submissions, acceptances, rejections, amount paid, date of publication and maybe now this monthly accomplishment list, too. I guarantee that you will find your records of interest at the end of the year. They will tell you a story about your writing life for 2017. Read that story carefully if you want to improve in 2018. 

So, good bye to August. Tomorrow we begin a brand new month with opportunities available to us if we take advantage of them. As writers, we are the captain of our own ship. We choose where to sail and for how long.    


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

An Invitation For Serious Writers

I've mentioned my online writing critique group multiple times here. Today, I'm issuing an invitation to anyone who is serious about their writing and looking for a fair and honest crit group. My group, writers and critters, has some openings.

The group is international and for women only. Sorry, gentlemen. To be considered, a writer will need to send a writing sample and a short bio telling about writing background and general info. The moderator will share this with the group members who will then vote Yes or No on accepting the applicant.

Sound daunting? It isn't. This is not a group for beginning writers so it helps us determine the level of writing and if we think the person would be a good fit in the group. Having been published is a plus but not a requirement.

We shorten our name to 'wac' and members are given a few minimum requirements.

  • Submit two pieces of writing per month (maximum of 2500 words, less is fine)
  • Do two critiques for each submission you make
We cover a variety of kinds of writing:  poetry, short stories, kidlit, personal essays, memoir, novels and nonfiction articles. 

Our critiques are fair and honest and meant to help, never to hurt. That said, it is not always easy to accept criticism of our work but it's what helps us grow as a writer. It's what helps us polish our work so that is has a greater chance of being accepted by a publisher. 

Let me add that I learn a lot about writing by reading the critiques made by members on other peoples' submissions. I am also grateful for the help others have given me over the years. It still amazes me what 'other eyes' see that the writer does not. 

A group like ours with submission and critique requirements does take time, so please do consider that. The amount of email can be overwhelming at first, but we all soon learn how to handle it. You don't need to read every submission or every critique. You do what works for you. 

Our moderator is Joyce Finn, an experienced writer who keeps us on an even keel with love and humor. Joyce sent the following:

“Writersandcritters, in existence since 2004, is an international women-only group for serious working writers intent on honing their craft for publication. We have admission and monthly participation requirements.   Critiques are aimed at strengthening short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and all other writing forms.  If you're serious about your writing, we may be the group for you.”

If you are interested, send me your name and email address in the comments section found at the end of this post. It will come directly to me and will not be published. I will send it on to Joyce Finn and she will contact you directly. If you think you can manage the requirements and would like to benefit from the help a group like this gives, please consider applying.

About the photo at the top of today's post:  That is a view of the Potomac River where we hold our conferences. Oh yes, this group does meet face to face every 18 months to 2 years in a lovely state park close to Washington, D.C. Those who have attended rate it A+ for many reasons.

If you have any questions, send through the comments section. Remember that all comments come to me directly and then I choose whether or not to publish on the site. If you prefer it be private, specify same. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Writers In The Night

I'm working on a memoir piece that deals with the neighborhood shopping area in the Chicago suburb where I grew up. I've got the skeleton but fleshing it out has been rather troublesome. It feels blah to me.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night, tossed and turned awhile, then did something dangerous. I started to think about that draft and what it needed. It's dangerous to start thinking because, once begun, never done! Or so it sometimes seems. On the other hand, it's a good thing to act on ideas or thoughts that come in the night. So, my sympathy in the drawing above is all with Snoopy. 

I finally decided that what the memoir piece needed is more sensory detail. One in particular--smell. Why smell? Think about it. Each shop or business in that neighborhood had a unique smell. The drug store didn't smell like the bakery. Nor did the small grocery store smell like the shoe store. I think I could close my eyes and walk into each one and identify it by the aroma that hit me as I entered. 

Think about a few words that tell us about 'smell'--odor, aroma, scent, fragrance, bouquet, stench, essence, malodor, fetid--these are just a partial list. Some are good and some are yuk! (Yuk--that lovely word children use most effectively) 

If I mention walking by the bakery that had the door propped open on a summer day you visualize it. If I start to describe the 'smell' emanating from said bakery, what it was like and how it affected me, I'm going to pull my reader closer. The reader can relate. They know how a whiff of cinnamon can tickle the nose and start us salivating. Or what the aroma of freshly baked bread does to us. 

Writing books emphasize the importance of a sense of place. The sensory details like smell, sight, sound, touch and perhaps, even taste can help paint a word picture about a place where a story happens. 

Sensory details make our writing stronger and much more interesting. Some writers decide that, if a little is good, a lot might be better. Moderation is a better practice, even when adding sensory details. 

Back to my writing project. I think I must also explore sound along with smell. My middle of the night musing has continued to swirl in my mind all morning. Unlike Snoopy, I didn't start writing again in the dark of night but it definitely triggered these daytime thoughts.

If you have a piece of writing that you thought was finished, have submitted to an editor and got no place fast with it, consider going back and finding places where you can add a few more sensory details. You have little to lose and a lot to gain if you give it a try.

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Photo Prompt Writing Exercise

Let's begin the week with a photo prompt writing exercise. It seemed fitting to use one with our current month featured plus some rather interesting features. One in particular intrigued me. 

Study the photo for a few minutes, then begin writing whatever pops into your mind. Let the words flow from brain to fingers and see what evolves. Will it be a short story? Or a memoir piece? Or perhaps a poem?  Or just a descriptive paragraph? 

Try some of that fearless writing we mentioned last week. Use some of the passion for writing that you will completely unleash. You can let yourself go. No one will see this except you, unless you want to turn it into something to publish. Write from your heart. 

Use this exercise today to warm up your writing skills before you move on to whatever your main writing project for the day happens to be. 

Anyone who would like to share can do so in the comments section. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Friday Thoughts On Writing

A writer is not always writing but they are constantly thinking about writing. You might see me pushing my cart down the aisle at the grocery store with a blank look on my face as I reach out for a box of cereal. Most likely, I am turning an idea for an essay over and over in my mind. If I stop to witness a mother and child conversation in another aisle, I'm probably considering using one of them as a character in a children's story. When I'm watching the news on tv, only half of my mind is on it while the other is probably mulling over a story idea. 

It's good to think about writing a lot but be careful not to fall into a trap. You might do far more thinking about writing than actual writing. You think about a new story you want to start. You think about an old story you know needs revisions. You think about submitting to this or that editor. You think about putting together a group of stories as an ebook. You think about what you can write for a contest you enter on an annual basis. The problem is that you might spend too much time thinking about it and not enough carrying through.

Louis L'Amour's quote above is simply good advice. Nothing is going to get written unless you sit down at the keyboard, or pick up pen and pad, and start writing. Start! That's the keyword. Doing a short writing exercise is a good way to get the creative juices ready. Do a 10 minute freewrite on a word you point to in a book. Do a photo prompt writing exercise. Consider it the same as an athlete who does stretches to warm up before they begin the real work. 

Once you've done the short writing exercise, you'll be more relaxed and ready to begin whatever project you have decided to work on. I find that when I get started writing, I want to keep on going. 

Try to write something every day, even if it is only a paragraph, or one scene, or a short poem. Write for two days, then skip a day, then write for three days, then skip two days and it becomes too easy to skip more days than you spend on actual putting words on paper or screen. Most of us tend to be creatures of habit. Develop the habit of writing every day and you'll be a more productive writer. 

I've often advised keeping a small notebook with you when away from home. If something you see moves you to write, get out your notebook. Whether a sentence, a paragraph or more, write it. Wait til you get home and it may be gone. We have to seize the moment. 

A member of my online writing group subbed a micro-essay about a simple thing she witnessed while riding on a commuter train. She saw something that most others on the train missed completely. She didn't just think about it; she wrote. 

Turn the faucet on. Let the words flow today and every day. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Write About Food

Food, Glorious Food

Food! It's a big part of our life. We tend to deal with it every single day, whether it is in the eating or the preparation or the purchase of it. It's a necessity for life but the degrees we go for it vary considerably. 

I got to thinking last evening about the big part food plays in our memories. When you think of summer days as a kid, doesn't food come into play? Watermelon, lemonade, fresh fruit, barbecues, picnics, BLT's made with homegrown tomatoes. And lots more. Holiday memories often involve food, too. So do cold, winter days. What did your mom make for dinner on those arctic days that helped warm you through and through? 

We have golden memories of the first times that Mom or Grandma let us help in the kitchen. Do you remember how proud you were when you showed another family member what you had helped make? Did you have a sense of accomplishment? Were you ready to gobble up the goodies made as soon as they were ready? 

Those of us who have cooked for families for many years have a treasure trove of memories, both good and bad. And what about the purchase of food. Anyone who has a family or who cooks for one alone must find time to go to the grocery store or a farmer's market or roadside stand to buy the food before they can eat it. I know you all have many possible food stories buried in your memory. But why would you want to write about food? And in what kind of writing? 

1.  Memoir pieces--this is a natural. I wrote a piece once about my grandfather who was dying of cancer and his wish to see me before the end. I was only 9, but my parents put me on a train and my grandmother met me. We went to the boarding house where Grandpa lived and where Grandma had come to care for him, even though they'd live separated for many years. All that was important but I wove in my grandmother's love of fresh raspberries and how she taught me while I visited about eating them with real cream, how the memory of that stays with me to this day. I even used 'raspberries' in the title of the piece. It was published at Heart Touchers and also placed in a contest. Read it here if you are interested. 

2,  Personal Essays--food can figure into this kind of writing, too. You might use an example of eating in a restaurant or at a family dinner, citing what you ate, who prepared it and more. The food story could be a tool to help you drive the point of the essay to the reader. 

3.  Travel articles--one of the great joys of travel is the food we encounter in different places. It's a natural to include when writing about a place you visited and are recommending to others. I once wrote a piece about pub fare in the UK and Ireland trying to help fight the long held thought that the food in that part of the world was pretty awful. Check it out here. Most people like to enjoy food when traveling, so offer them something about that part of travel.

4.  Fiction--yes, you can feature food in a piece of fiction as well. It's something we all relate to and can be used to bring in many sensory details. The food does not have to be the feature but can act as an enhancer in a short story or even a novel.

5.  Articles--of course, many magazines and websites seek articles on food and cooking. If you're really an expert, head for this area. 

6.  Poetry--poems can deal with food, too. How about writing Ode To A Pumpkin? Or any other kind of food? You could do that.

7.  Family Stories--being one to always promote writing your family stories, this is a natural when it comes to food. Many of us have family stories that revolve around food in some way. My grandmother's bakery figures in many of my family stories. She only had it until I was 5, but I remember so many things about it very clearly. It obviously left a big impression on me and is probably the reason I still enjoy baking. I know that you all have food stories that you could write for your Family Stories Book. 

A few triggers to help you get started:
  • What was your favorite meal as a child?
  • Was your mom a good cook, or not so hot?
  • What do you remember about Grandma's kitchen?
  • What was the first food you helped prepare?
  • What specialty foods did your family always have on holidays?
  • What was your worst food disaster?
  • Did you ever win a prize for something you prepared?
  • What trip stood out more for the food than anything else?
  • What food did you absolutely detest? 
  • Did you ever have a time when you didn't have enough to eat?
  • How did food affect the rest of your life?
Yes, food is a big part of life and it can be a major source when looking for a topic in your writing life.  

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

New Books At Chicken Soup for the Soul Need Stories

Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology publishers are looking for stories for some new books as well as for some that have had calls out for some time now. Here are the newest ones.

Love Stories:

Looking for stories on how you found love and how you kept it fresh over the years. They stress that this is a book for adults, not for teens. The usual Chicken Soup standards will be in play here; they merely mean that they do not want teen-age love stories for this particular book. There is a lengthy list of suggested topics you can write about. Got to the Submit a Story page on the possible books section to get the full list. Deadline date is November 30, 2017

There is an editorial note to let writers know that they should NOT submit any story that has been published in a previous Chicken Soup book. They also suggest that, if you have submitted a story for another book that was not published but might be a fit for this one, then go ahead and resubmit it. Both of these are important points to take into consideration.

It occurred to me that writers who keep good submission records will be able to check what stories they have sent in the past, to look for ones that can be submitted for this next book. If you rely completely on your memory, you could easily skip one. 

The Best Advice I Ever Heard:

This book will feature advice, big and small, that has made a difference in your life. Or it can be about a piece of advice you gave to someone else. There is a full list of topics that correlate to this theme at the Submit A Story page.  Deadline date is February 28, 2018. Seems so far away but it will creep up on us quicker than a jackrabbit runs through the Arizona desert.

Other Books Needing Story Submissions:

Christmas and Holiday Collection 2018 by October 31, 2017

Miracles and More by August 31, 2017

My Crazy Family by September 30, 2017

Redemption  by August 31, 2017

Note that there are two deadlines dates only days away. If you plan to submit to Miracles and More or Redemption, you'd better hurry. 

Remember to read the Guidelines page carefully, even if you've contributed many stories to Chicken Soup in the past. We read guidelines for many publications so we don't remember all the details. Believe me, those details can be crucial in your story being read or tossed out. Go here to check and recheck the guidelines.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Writer--Are You Wishy-Washy Or Passionate?

This is one of my most popular posts from a few years ago. I felt it was worth repeating. Some of you may have read it while others have not seen it before. 

Wishy-washy or passionate? Which one describes your writing life? I've heard more than one person expound on wanting to be a writer. They talk about it and take a half-hearted stab at it, then give up when they don't see immediate results.

A star athlete became a star because passion for his sport burned within. The basketball player who doesn't have that intensity is the guy who spends the game on the bench. The writer who doesn't harbor those intense feelings is one who will not have a long list of publications behind his/her name.

How do you get that passion? Can't buy it. Can't steal it from anyone else. Can't wish it into fruition. You have to love something a great deal to spark that depth of feeling. You have to want more than the glory of being a successful writer. You need to write for the love of writing. Those who love beautiful prose when they read are ones who will try to equal it in their own writing.

I held my desire to write in check for many years. I waited until my children were independent adults, and as I've said many times here, that probably was not the smart thing to do. I wish I had followed my desire earlier, but there is no way to rectify that now. Still, the embers glowed within me all those years and when I finally got started writing the stories and essays I'd often thought about, it burst into a flame that still burns within me nearly twenty years later.

Does having a passion for writing ensure you'll be a successful writer? No, it doesn't. What it does promise is that you'll continue writing and most likely will continue to be a better writer. If the passion is alive and well, the writer will take all the other steps to grow in his/her chosen field.

If you don't have that passion now, does it mean you should quit? I don't think so. Maybe if you keep working at it, the spark will ignite when you least expect it. Give it some more time.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Are Writers Scaredy Cats?

This morning, one of the first things I read was a post by Kathy Pooler who has a fine blog called Memoir Writer's Journey. She featured an interview with William Kenower, author of Fearless Writing. The quote used at the beginning of the post called out to me and held me suspended for awhile. The quote is:

"You will find your confidence and begin writing fearlessly the moment you stop caring about what anyone else thinks."  William Kenower, Fearless Writing

Go to Amazon to read a summary and reviews of Mr. Kenower's book. All 9 reviews gave it 5 stars. In the summary, there is a statement about the fact that this is not a how-to book about writing. Instead, it is a book to put you in the proper mindset to become a writer. 

I have not read the book but I would like to do so and perhaps you would, too. But let's go back to that thought provoking quote. I'm in agreement that one of the things that holds us back as writers is caring about what other people think of us. 

We've been conditioned into that from childhood on, haven't we? Mom taught us to behave nicely in public--keep our dresses down, speak in a soft voice, don't use harsh language, say please and thank you. After all, what would people think if we did otherwise? That was the message we received. Nothing wrong with it as we learned to be civilized people, ones who can fit into society with no problem. 

Even so, we also learned to care about what others think of us to the point that it could easily hold us back when we write. I daresay that many writers hear their mother's admonitions in their subconscious even while they try to write the greatest novel known to man. 

Note that Mr. Kenower cites our confidence as being of importance in writing without fear. No doubt that confidence does not come wrapped in pretty tissue paper and tied with a ribbon. Wouldn't it be nice if we could run to our nearest Walmart and pick it up? Instead, I think it is something we acquire bit by bit. Having a proper attitude toward our writing is one step to gaining that confidence. 

Just how do we learn to stop caring about what others think so that we can write fearlessly? I'm anxious to read the book and learn more but in my own mind, I think that we must acquire that ability one small step at a time and we must practice what we learn on a regular basis. 

If you start an exercise program to help your aches and pains (guess who is doing this?) and it helps you a great deal, should you suddenly stop exercising? You know what will happen. All the same aches and pains will come rolling back, settling into the same spots they were in originally. Once we learn how to combat something--whether it is physical or the art of having the confidence to write without caring what others think--we have to continue to practice what we achieved. Forever! 

I love the thought that we should write without giving a thought to what others think of us. The chains will break and we can write whatever is in our heart and from our heart. This is only the beginning of this concept. I hope to learn a lot more after reading Fearless Writing. How about you?

William Kenower's website can be found here. Do also check out Kathy Pooler's blog if you have an interest in memoir writing.  (Link above)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Readers Want A Story

How many times have you heard a reader say that they only like fiction, never read nonfiction? I've heard that often and I'm guessing you have, as well. Fiction is probably more popular because it does tell a story. It's the story, with a beginning, middle and end, that entertains us. It's that story that carries us away from our routine lives to other places. It's that story that keeps us wanting to read. 

Let's step back and look at nonfiction that also tells a story. Creative nonfiction does exactly that. The personal essay is a story but it also actually happened. No writer made it up. Some of the stories we read in personal essays and memoirs are fascinating, as are those told in biographies. The stories in the personal essay are used to make a point, and that's just fine. The 'story' will drive home the point.

Even narrative poems tell a story, although they can take the fiction or nonfiction route. Whichever way the poet wants to go. 

Even journalists who write for newspapers can weave a story into their factual reports. When they do that, they put themselves in the journalism awards category. Sports writers report on a game, play by play, but they often come up with fascinating stories about the athletes who are competing. Sports fans want to know all those stats but they also like learning about the individual players. They want to know the stories behind the men or women. 

Historians write to teach us about what happened long ago, to leave us a record. They also tell us stories about famous people who lived long ago. How would we know the 'story' about Cleopatra, Nero, Noah, Napoleon or Catherine the Great without those historians who brought the story to us? 

The quote above mentions using words we string together to make logical sentences. That's no small feat in itself if you want to make those sentences worth reading. But, it's a sure bet that if there is a story to be told, the reader will respond in a more positive way. 

In ancient days, the storytellers were revered for what they brought to their people verbally, before the advent of paper and pen and written words.  Now, writers create stories in both fiction and nonfiction categories for readers. 

We humans are a curious lot. We want to know what happens when boy meets girl. We care about the adventurer who defies fate time and again. We love whodunit stories so we can try to figure out who the killer is. We relish the rags to riches stories brought to us by romance writers.

Would you rather write a story with a beginning, a middle and an end than merely using pretty words strung together to make a sensible sentence? I know I would.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Writer--Don't Be So Hard On Yourself

For those who are regular readers of this blog, you've heard me say that lots of negatives in our writing life are good lessons for us. The one thing they are not is a life without pardon kind of sentence. Go ahead--make mistakes, learn from them and move on.

We learn from rejections, especially multiple rejections on the same submission. At least, we hope we learn something and we will if we give it a few days to rest and then go through whatever was written with an objective eye. Pick out the parts you think did not appeal to an editor. Maybe it was a lot of mechanical errors. Or perhaps the clarity factor was pretty low. It might have been a dull report without any emotion or sensory detail. 

Consider yourself fortunate if the editor returns your work with a note telling you why it was rejected. There is no question then as to what you must correct but not all editors take the time, or are kind enough. to do that. Don't let it be the end of your writing world. Move on!

What if you received a brutal critique from another writer? Ouch! It does hurt and any good critiquer will be fair and honest and deliver with a dash of kindness. However, not everyone is like that. You don't have to like what the person told you but you can learn from it. There is no need to back into a corner and put your hands over your eyes and let forth with a piercing scream while you contemplate your next step in life. Sadly, there are writers who have given up writing after an experience like this. Today's quote is perfect for them. It was one person's opinion and perhaps a good lesson. But you should never feel that you must quit over a singular incident such as this.

Did you ever have a teacher who scribbled cruel words across your essay or poem that you slaved over for your English class? I know people who have a mental block when it comes to writing because of just such an experience. Again, it's a lesson, not a life sentence. As a teen, it was probably hard for us to take that objective look and figure out what was wrong, what lesson was learned. But, now as an adult, it something like this still haunts you, put it in perspective. Don't let one person keep you from being the writer you wanted to be. An attitude of I'll show them! will serve you best here.

It's much harder to look at problems like these as a lesson to be learned than it is to give up. Giving up is easy; working at the lesson is a tough job but, oh, so beneficial. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Writer--Let It Out!

We all have some of that 'inner awesome' but we tend to keep it hidden deep inside instead of letting it out through our writing. It goes along with that fear I recently wrote about. Sometimes we are fearful of letting the awesome part of us surface. Somebody might judge us by what we write.

The point is that we need to. If we want our readers to react with emotion to what we write, then we have to open up the floodgates and let our own emotions flow. Don't be afraid to show your readers you care and that you are a pretty special person. 

If you want your readers to laugh, let your hilarious side spurt forth, or if that's not your style, how about opening the door to some gentle humor? It's there, buried somewhere within you but it's up to you to release it.

Unleash your joy and also your sadness. Writing a sad story in reporter fashion--this happened, then that happened, then this happened--is not going to allow your reader to respond with emotion. That old kid thing--you show me yours and I'll show you mine--is similar. The reader wants something from you before they can give back. 

Many times, I have mentioned the free write exercise my online writing group does on a weekly basis. We're given a word and we are to start typing whatever comes into our head for a full ten minutes without stopping. No attention paid to grammar, spelling or anything mechanical. Instead, we want to open up and let our inner thoughts out. And it works! There have been some amazing things written within our group for this kind of exercise. With no restrictions and only friends reading what we write, we do unleash our inner awesome

When we write stories or essays, memoirs or poetry, are we afraid to let our deep inner thoughts and feelings come through? Are we worried about how others might react? By 'others,' I mean editors and readers. Do you subconsciously think They'll see the real me if I let it all out? Maybe they should see the real you; maybe the real you is a better writer than the one who has kept all those feelings buried inside for a long, long time. 

Use your own emotions to show us how a character in a story feels. Let the way you felt in a memoir piece come through to the reader so that they have no doubt about the joy or sadness or terror of whatever happened evoked at the time. 

Sometimes, it hurts to bare those emotions but I have also found that it is one more step to healing. It can also be a joy to share the happy things with others. Our feelings and our inner awesome encompass a lot of territory--both good and bad. 

Work on unleashing your inner awesome and you'll be a better writer. You may even find you'll be published more often. You are awesome so why not let others know it?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

My Story In A New Anthology

I received my copy of a just released anthology titled Loving Moments compiled and edited by Yvonne Lehman. Under the title it says 59 Inspirational Stories of the Many Faced of Love. The 50 authors whose stories make up the book have donated the stories with no compensation to them. All royalties of the book go to Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief society.  The book can be ordered on Amazon for $12.99. 

The story I submitted for this collection of stories that show love in many forms is one that has been published several times under the title "The Perfect Grandchild." In this book, the title has been changed to A Lasting Lesson. No matter the title, it's is a memory from long ago that is still very special to me. Read it and share with others if you wish. 

A Lasting Lesson 
By Nancy Julien Kopp

Dad couldn't deal with handicapped individuals. He changed the subject when a special needs child became the topic of conversation. If you don't talk about it, you don't need to recognize children born less than perfect. He never voiced it, but his actions and attitude spoke volumes.
Ironically, I taught a class that included several handicapped children. Maybe his attitude is what made me so bent on helping these children. My dad didn't want to hear about them when I came home to visit. He abruptly changed the subject whenever I tried to tell a story about one of them. I hoped he’d see that they were no different than any other child. They laughed, they cried, they wished for special things, and they had likes and dislikes. 
When our first baby arrived shortly before Thanksgiving of 1966, our anticipation and joy turned to shock, for Julie was a spina bifida baby. Along with silver blonde hair, big blue eyes, and skin that shone like satin, she had an open spine and paralysis of her legs, bowel, and bladder. My husband relayed the sad news to both sets of grandparents. The message we received from three of them showed nothing less than hope and acceptance. My dad had nothing to say about his first granddaughter. He visited me in the hospital and pledged his support and love to me for rough times ahead. Sadly, his visit didn't include a peek into the nursery.
 Within days, Julie became a patient of a well-known neurosurgeon at a children's hospital in Chicago. He closed the opening in her spine and inserted a shunt to drain fluid from her brain. It was so much to endure by one tiny soul. I wasn't able to stay with Julie, as a difficult delivery, a slow recuperation, and distance kept me at home where I agonized over our separation and spent a great deal of time in prayer.
My mother and I spent our phone calls talking about Julie. I tried to live with hope, but sometimes hope is a fragile entity. Mom's positive words buoyed me up when I occasionally fell into despair. I spoke to the nurses daily, and we went to visit our little girl every weekend. To us she was perfection.
One night during the second week, my dad called. "I went to see Julie today," he blurted before even saying hello. My heart skipped a beat, and I clenched the phone. Dad went on to describe all he'd seen at the hospital, how impressed he'd been, and how beautiful Julie looked. His voice quivered more than once as he talked to me. Tears flowed down my face at the knowledge that my dad was beginning to accept a handicapped grandchild. I knew how hard that visit had been for him.
 It was the first of many such visits. Dad worked several blocks from the hospital, and he spent many of his lunch hours walking through the cold, rain, or snow to check on Julie's progress. His reports to me were descriptive and filled with love for both his daughter and granddaughter. I could detect a little more acceptance on his part with each visit to her. One evening he called, and I noted excitement and pleasure in his voice as he told in great detail of seeing Julie receive a Christmas doll from a hospital auxiliary volunteer. The woman tied the tiny doll to Julie's isolette within her line of vision while dad watched. He described the doll from head to toe as well as the red satin ribbon used to fasten it. They were words I needed to hear since I had not been present, words I came to treasure.
Dad's visits came to an end in the middle of January when Julie died. Despite our grief, I gave thanks that my dad had come to accept a less than perfect child as part of our family. Her time here was limited, but she taught Dad a lasting lesson, and the bond between my dad and me grew stronger than it had ever been. A loving God worked yet another small miracle using a tiny soul who worked her way into her grandfather’s heart, one short visit at a time.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Writing and Fear

In his sermon Sunday, our pastor posed the question: What are you afraid of? As we drove home, it occurred to me that we writers live with a lot of fear. Not a fear involving danger of any kind but fear that we often create ourself, something dangerous only to us. Why do we do that? And what kind of fears do we deal with?

We fear:
  • Submitting our work
  • Rejection
  • Public speaking (book signings and speeches to literary groups)
  • Writer's Block
  • Finding new ideas
  • Writing crummy stuff that everyone will hate
  • Success
There are others but this list covers some of the main ones. What do you do to overcome these fears? 

Learn to have faith in yourself. Easy huh? No, it's not. You have to work at it. Concentrate on the positives in your writing journey instead of dwelling on the negatives. Make being positive a habit. Believe me, there are many who make the black cloud hanging over their head a habit. If they can do that, you can certainly do the exact opposite. Will it happen in a day? No. Little by little.

Consider this--if you don't believe in yourself, can you expect others to believe in your writing?

I had some dates to put on my September and October calendar this afternoon. As I was turning the pages, I noted a saying at the top of each page. Curious, I checked all of them and I found four that spoke to me as a writer. Maybe they will reach out and touch you, too. Take a look. Which one do you like best, or relate to the most? 

Progress always involves risk; you can't steal second base and keep your foot on first.

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

If you don't paddle your own canoe, you don't move.

Hope is the dream of the waking man.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Joy Of Being A Reader

Yesterday's post was a review of The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, which is a current 'must read' book. Where would writers like Ms Quinn be without readers who devour the stories novelists write? These readers don't only peruse books. A true reader is into short stories, creative nonfiction, essays, articles--almost anything in print. 

Readers are greedy--they always want to read more and more. Is it an addiction? Perhaps but, if so, it's certainly a positive one.  The poster above gives us one reason we love to read. Stories take us away from the everyday routine, stress, and to-do lists. I find reading my greatest form of relaxation.

No picture with this next poster but the words paint a vivid scene for us. And, if you're an avid reader, you'll be able to relate with a smile and a nod, whispering Been there, done that. 

I feel sorry for the person who never, or seldom, reads. They obviously don't feel like they are missing anything or they'd delve into the deep waters of the book world. I would love to be able to convince them that reading can enrich their lives in countless ways. I've heard many reasons, or excuses, from non readers. I don't have time. I like  to do physical things, not sit and read. I have no interest in reading; i hated it in school and still do. Who cares? Those of us who are voracious readers know that not only do we derive enjoyment from our reading but we learn so many things we might not have known otherwise. 

This final poster gives me a mental image of the non reader confined to a tiny little space on this planet arms at his/her side, eyes closed. In my visual, the reader has his/her arms spread wide and eyes opened, and a smile because of all the vicarious lives he/she has led through the myriad books and stories read. 

It's never too late to become a reader. Start today or tomorrow with a trip to your local library. Don't have a card? Well, step up to the desk. A librarian would be most happy to help you obtain one. Start scanning the shelves until a title attracts you. Read the frontispiece or back cover blurbs. When one piques your interest, check it out, go home and start reading. When you're finished, that library has thousands more books waiting just for you. Trust me on this--reading is a joy.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Fine Read--The Alice Network

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read. When I saw The Alice Network by Kate Quinn advertised in Book Page, I put it on reserve at my local library. By the way, if you are an avid reader and want to know what's new in the world of books. pick up the free monthly edition at your local library (if they have it) or check it online. 

The novel is based on actual women who were spies in France during WWI but the story itself, while filled with real events and people, is fiction. Evelyn Gardiner lived in a time when women were rarely given an opportunity to do courageous, patriotic things. By chance, she was recruited as a spy by the British army. After training, she went to France and worked with a French woman, nicknamed Lili, who was the queen of spies at the time. She and her comrades became known as the Alice Network. 

The book opens in 1947 when Charlotte St. Clair, a 19 year old American is brought to England by her mother to take care of Charlotte, or Charlie as she prefers, 'little problem' in Switzerland. Charlie is pregnant, a not to be tolerated situation at that time. She is still suffering from the aftermath of her older brother's suicide after he returned from WWII fighting and the disappearance of a beloved French cousin named Rose. 

Charlie flees her mother and the posh hotel to search for her cousin. She cannot get money from her trust fund as she is a single woman--a sign of the times, so she pawns her grandmother's pearls, then heads to the home of Eve Gardiner, former spy with a name that she hopes will make Eve help her search. 

She finds a disheveled shell of a woman who is drunk more than sober, haunted by what happened 30 years earlier in WWI. Finn Gilgore, a Scotsman with a somewhat tarnished background, works for and watches over Eve. The three eventually team up and head to France and the search is on. 

The story moves seamlessly back and forth from 1915, when Eve was recruited to spy for the British, to 1947 when Charlie starts her search and tries to figure out what to do about the 'little problem.' 

The book hooked me right away. It's fast-paced, humorous at times and heart rending, as well. It offers plenty of tension making it hard to put down. Toss in a bit of romance and revenge and you couldn't ask for more in one book. The horrors of war are present throughout and perhaps not for the faint of heart. Kate Quinn has given us a fine story with a cast of memorable characters. 

This is a book that the reader will not easily forget. I give it 5 stars. I will definitely look for earlier books written by Kate Quinn.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Muses and Fairy Godmothers

Book and Fairy.jpg

In a perfect world, we'd all have a Fairy Godmother who could grant our every wish. The young lady above obviously has a manuscript sitting somewhere. Her wish is for nothing to enhance herself, such as a party dress. No, it's that deeply desired book contract instead. 

Where is our Fairy Godmother when we need help in our writing journey? And where the heck does our muse run off to now and then? Look all over and she's not to be found. It seems to happen when you need her most. 

You have an idea for a story but can't seem to sit down and start typing. You need your muse sitting on your shoulder, patting you and and smiling as she whispers Keep going, honey, you're doing fine. That little muse is a writer's best friend and worst enemy all rolled into one sugar cake. 

Some days she's smiling. Others she sits in the corner pouting. She can be loving. She can be mean. She can be helpful. She can be a major detriment. Face it--her mood usually mirrors yours. 

Where did this must thing get started? Go back to Greek Mythology to find these inspirational goddesses of literature, science and the arts. Today, it's any person who inspires a musician, artist or writer. Real or pretend?

Kids often have imaginary playmates but who's to say if they are a figment of the imagination or very real? Kids believe in them, talk to them, take them along to the playground, even blame their own naughtiness on them at times. So, why can't writers have a muse, imaginary or real, to basically do the same thing?  If we believe in them, it's between us and our muse. Nobody else! We sure aren't going to share her with another writer. Let 'em get their own muse. Right? 

A writer friend says she has lost her muse so she stopped writing for several weeks. That's too long for someone as talented as she is. She says she's looked everywhere for her muse but the darned girl keeps playing hide and seek. She pops in for a minute or two and then disappears again. My friend has decided to start writing again and let her muse decide if she wants to come along for the ride or not. I was glad to hear it. I think her muse will show up once my friend begins her next project.

How about you? Are you on good terms with your muse? Does she inspire you sometimes and then play the tease? Or is she always happy and helpful? If you have one like that, be glad, very glad. I get along pretty well with my muse most of the time. Now and then, she becomes a bit irritable and pouty. Then, I have to take a step back and wait until she's in a better mood before I start a new writing project. 

We may not have a Fairy Godmother that will wave her wand and produce a book contract for us but we do each have our very own muse who can help us achieve our writing goals. Maybe it's a book contract and perhaps it's writing for a magazine. It doesn't matter as long as she's there to inspire us. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Writer--You Are In Charge

WRITING as freedom

Until I saw this quote by author, Toni Morrison, I had never considered the issue of control in writing. The writer is in complete control of what he/she writes. Wow!

How many other parts of life are there where you are in total control? Not too many. We adhere to rules and morals and ethics as we go about our daily activities at home and at work. We have had to answer to parents, teachers, spouses, bosses, even our friends at times. 

But when you are writing, you are 100% in charge. Maybe that's one of the things that draws us to writing, even if subconsciously. 

As a writer, I can: 
  • manipulate the lives of fictional characters
  • create weather disasters
  • kill people
  • make people fall in love
  • bring on a natural disaster
  • be nasty
  • be lovable
  • make people angry, happy or sad if I write well
  • make things happen
  • turn a nasty person into a lovable teddy bear type
  • use words that I might not use in everyday conversation
  • make my own decisions
  • write as long or as short as I like
  • be erotic 
Yes, when I write, I am in control but once I start submitting my work, I lose control rapidly.

As a writer, I cannot: 
  • have a say in what editor will like my work. 
  • always write any number of words I want to 
  • ignore writer's guidelines
  • forget about the mechanics of writing
  • dictate to an editor or publisher
  • ignore reader responses
  • skip proofreading
So, maybe we writers have two worlds. When we sit at our computers, tapping our keyboards, we are in control. And it feels good. Very good. Once we step on the submission Ferris wheel, control dissipates like a handful of sand slipping through our fingers and those rules and regulations are back in play. 

We know nothing is perfect but enjoy the parts of your writing life that you can control. Then deal with the rest.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Day Filled With Stories

Only a week ago, I wrote a post about seeing story ideas while at a German Youth Symphony Orchestra concert. Every few minutes that evening, I saw a possible story to be written later.

Yesterday was much the same but in a different situation. Our daughter and her husband are on vacation with another couple. Their two children, 11 and 13, are being looked after by both sets of grandparents. We were on our way to start our half of the care giving time when I received a text from the children's Nana. It took my breath away! Our 13 year old granddaughter had passed out, cutting her chin on the edge of a counter top as she fell. Nana and Grandpa were on the way to the Emergency Room. STORY

Trying to remain calm, I called Nana to see if they wanted us to meet them at the hospital, wait at the house or what? We were only 15 minutes from our destination. She thought it would be best if we'd wait at the house and she'd let us know how things progressed. Modern technology allows us to keep in touch at all times. STORY

Of course, a hundred questions skipped merrily through my mind. Shortly after we'd arrived and been duly greeted by our two large granddogs, Nana texted that Jordan had her chin 'glued' and been checked out, ready to be dismissed. I texted back asking what they wanted to do about lunch. Our plan had been to go somewhere to eat, then back to the house for a small birthday celebration for Cole, soon to turn 11. Back and forth we texted trying to decide where to go. Decision made so we headed to the restaurant. STORY

Jordan told us that the doctor thought gluing was a better option than stitches and he explained some possible reasons for her fainting. She seemed perfectly normal which allowed Ken and me to breathe a sigh of relief. STORY

Next, we had a committee meeting at lunch as to when to tell the parents. We hated to disturb their vacation with this kind of news. Definitely would have had it been more serious. Mom and Dad facetime the kids late afternoon every day so it was decided to wait and tell them then. STORY

Still filled from a big lunch, we had Cole's birthday celebration when we got back to the house. He enjoyed being the center of attention after waiting patiently while Jordan was cared for at the hospital. And he also liked celebrating 2 weeks before his actual birthday. What boy wouldn't? STORY

Facetime with the parents arrived along with a multitude of questions with photos being sent from here to there. STORY

Nana and Grandpa left for home and we, Grandma and Poppy, took over supervising until Mom and Dad get home. We don't consider it babysitting any longer now that the kids are older. STORY

In the evening, the four of us played Monopoly. I cannot even begin to count how many years it's been since Ken and I have played that great game. What was so interesting was watching how each of the kids handled the money, bought property and negotiated to swap or buy more from other players. Turned out to be a very interesting evening with Poppy beating all three of us bigtime! STORY

Look how many stories there are in the things that happened in one day. Each place where you see the big, red STORY, a fully expanded tale could be written. Each one might be used as an example to begin an essay or a full family story to be saved for many years. I only hit the highlights here, but if you wrote the story, you would add emotion, sensory details, show a sense of place, some action and more.

As you go through your day, jot down notes about anyone or anything that could evolve into a full nonfiction story or something to use as a base for a fiction piece. Look for stories wherever you go, whatever you do.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Worthy Words For Writers

If you've ever sent in a submission to an editor and then sat back and waited, and waited, and waited some more, you know how frustrating it can be. Today's poster brings us a lovely picture and some worthy words. Let's look at the three pieces of advice it offers.

Believe:  To accomplish anything in this writing game, we do need to be able to believe that we can be successful. Many beginners start out with the attitude that they will write this and then write that and sell them and keep on going on the carousel where the brass ring awaits. Then, reality hits when rejection after rejection arrives, or worse--when no word arrives at all. It doesn't take long to deflate and sink into despair. At that point, it's time to step back and quiz yourself. Do you believe in yourself as a writer? If you do, you'll knock away those rejections and move on to a new writing project. If you believe in yourself, you'll forge ahead, not give up. One way to believe in yourself as a writer is to take an objective look at several pieces you've written. Try to trade places with your readers. How do see the story, essay or poem? Is it interesting? Is it error-free? Is it motivating, stimulating or inspiring? If you can answer yes to most of the questions, you can feel assured that you are truly a 'writer' and keep writing. If you answered no to some or all, it's time to work on those items. If you believe in yourself as a writer, you can make adjustments or improvements. If you don't believe, you can end up stuck where you are. 

Wait: Oh, how hard it is to wait and wait and wait to hear about a submission. If you've read books on the craft of writing, the universal advice on submitting your work is to submit and then immediately move on to the next writing project. Submit and write at all times. Keep the Ferris wheel of submissions moving. Submit one piece, then another and another along with starting new writing projects. A dear writer friend just finished her first novel. She announced recently that she has submitted it to a contest and three publishers. Now, she begins The Long Wait. She's a good writer and will get back to writing immediately. But even busy writing, underneath, she is waiting with butterflies in her tummy. I've often said that becoming a writer has taught me to be a more patient person. Nothing happens fast in this business. 

Don't give up: This is probably the most important of the three pieces of advice here today. If you become hurt over rejections, start doubting yourself, or become terribly frustrated with the waiting, it's quite possible that you'll decide to chuck it all and move on with your life. If you truly love to write and if you like what you write, stay the course. Don't give up! There are a lot of words that can be applied here-- words like patience, persistence, determination, stubborn, goal-setter, hard-working, passionate. How many of these labels apply to you? If you don't have some of these traits, how can you acquire them? Go back to the Believe part, then Wait and see what happens. Please Don't give up.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Story About Sisters

I saw this poster yesterday and it made me think of a story I had published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul:  Sisters II book a few years back. I'd always wanted a sister but, instead, I had three younger brothers. So many nights, I wished on a star for that sister. My wish was finally granted in an unusual way. Here's the story:

Wish Upon A Star

By Nancy Julien Kopp

Star light, star bright,
first star I see tonight,
I wish I may,
I wish I might
have this wish
I wish tonight
I wish..

I repeated the childhood poem on myriad starlit nights and finished with: "I wish for a baby sister." God would hear I told myself, for wasn't a wish like mine the same as a prayer? Perhaps God heard, but He chose to answer in a slightly different manner. When I neared four, He sent me a baby brother. At age eight, another brother joined our household. Even so, I continued to watch for the first star of the evening and repeated my wish. No baby sister arrived. When I'd nearly given up, my parents informed me there was to be another baby.

My heart soared with hope. Finally, my baby sister would be a reality. It didn’t  matter that I would be sixteen when she made her appearance. All through the months of waiting, I watched for the first evening star and repeated the same words "I wish for a baby sister." She'd make her appearance in May, which pleased me for it was also my birth month. In May, trees blossomed and grass showed a new spring green coat, the sun warmed us, and gentle rains urged tulips from their winter's sleep, the perfect time for my longtime wish to come true.

Dad called from the hospital to tell me that our new brother had arrived. Brother? My heart nearly broke. Three strikes and you're out--baseball or baby sisters; same difference. Though disappointed, I soon adored my third brother. I accepted the fact that I'd never have a sister. I even stopped repeating my wish whenever I spied the first evening star.

I loved my three brothers, but something seemed to be missing in my otherwise full life. Girlfriends held special places in my heart throughout high school, college, and newlywed years. But I still felt incomplete in some way. When I heard other women mention their sisters, a little pang rose within me. It couldn't be called jealousy. No, it was more a pang of envy. I chastised myself for feeling this way when I had a wonderful daughter and, as time went on, three beautiful granddaughters.

Once my children were independent, I pursued a life-long wish to write. Many of my stories found a home at an inspirational e-zine. Fan mail arrived from readers. Another writer wrote often to comment on my stories. It was a mutual admiration society, as I loved the folksy humor she injected in her stories, the way she taught life's lessons with amazing tales, and the manner in which she used words and phrases.  Pictures of her appeared in the e-zine, and I admired the sparkle in her eye and the broad smile she had. Our e-mails became more frequent. She lived on a mountaintop, raising donkeys and loving her family. I lived in a university town with neighbors nearby and no pets but also loving my family. Kathe often mentioned another writer who was also a marvelous editor. Before long, the three of us were good buddies.

In time, our three-way friendship grew strong. In an e-mail, Kathe said she had something serious to discuss, something for me to ponder upon. Would I consider being her sister since she'd never had one? I knew this was no joke, and I sat in front of my computer feeling stunned. A lump rose in my throat and tears threatened. Pleasure warmed me from head to toe as my childhood wish was granted in my sixth decade of life. But this would be no baby sister, because Kathe was seven years older than I. After all the years of waiting, I wasn't about to quibble. My fingers flew over the keyboard as I wrote a glowing acceptance.

Not long after, she wrote to ask what I'd think about asking that sweet Maria to be our younger sister. And so it came to be that we three are sisters of the heart. Kathe is the eldest, I am the middle sister, and Maria is our baby sister. Is it only coincidence that she is the same age as my youngest brother? The messages fly between us. We edit one another's stories before they are sent to an editor. We rejoice when they sell, and we commiserate when they don't. We bare our souls to one another.

I had the great good fortune to finally meet my older sister in the flesh, since my husband and I traveled through her state The long hug we gave one another sealed our sisterly bond forever. We talked nonstop for two days, the way sisters do. Late on the second afternoon, a phone call from Maria brought more chatter between the three of us. How wonderful if Maria might have joined us on top of Kathe's mountain.

One day, we three sisters of the heart will find ourselves together in a place where we can give hugs whenever we like. Meanwhile, the messages fly through cyberspace. Each one is filled with the love only a sister can pass along to another sister. Now, when I see the first evening star, I repeat the little poem to myself and just smile. My sisters were worth the wait.

Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Sisters II

Note:  Kathe Campbell passed away in November of 2015. I still miss our daily echats.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Never Too Old To Write

A writer I know just turned 80. She's still writing, still blogging, still getting published. Is she too old for all that? Not by a longshot! She's obviously passionate about writing and my guess is that she will keep writing until she physically can no longer do it Hopefully, that will be a very long time from now. I am very close to that same age and I hope I never stop writing.

What about senior citizens who have never written anything? Can they become writers, too? You bet they can. I firmly believe we are never too old to learn--just like today's poster says. Too many dream of writing for years and years, then they reach a point where they convince themselves that it's too late to begin. Begin today or tomorrow but begin! A writing journey is like all others--it begins at the beginning. If you start writing in your later years, your journey will not be as long as someone who sets out in their twenties or thirties but that's alright. 


I love this photo and quote. As long as we work at something, we're fine. Give up and it's a different story. There are great numbers of older people who are trying their hand at memoir pieces. Tackling a full book might be overwhelming but writing one story at a time is easily accomplished. What do seniors have to do to become a writer? They need to do just what a young writer needs to do--learn by reading about writing, brush up on grammar and other mechanics, maybe take a class and talk with others who've tried writing. 

Lots of senior centers or senior living places across our country now offer classes to help seniors write life stories by bits and pieces. One simple class like this could be the spark that sets your writing desire afire. Writing has no age limit. One does not need to be 100% physically fit to accomplish the craft of writing. 

Are you guaranteed to be a success? Of course not! That is only because no one is guaranteed success in the writing world, no matter what the age. You may not want to be published. you might have the desire to write only your life stories to leave to your family. What a treasure that would be for them. 

A senior writer has one big advantage over the very young writer. Summed up in one word, it's experience. Think of all the things seniors have done, have witnessed in their lifetime. 

You need to have the desire, the courage to try, and the will to jump in now. Not tomorrow or next week or next month. Now!