Saturday, September 22, 2018

Writer Granny's World On Short Vacation

We're taking a vacation the week of September 24-28. Next post will be on October 1. 

Keep on writing!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Writers Make Lots of Decisions

Today's quote is true in about every part or phase of our life. It works the same in our writing life. 

As writers, we make many small decisions during the actual writing. We must decide what a character will look like or act like. The little things we choose to add to that character could make a good story even better. Small but important details. Will it change your life? Most likely not but it will bring you the status of being a 'better writer.'

We have to make up our mind whether the outcome of the story will be sad or glad. Isn't it great that we, as writers, have the power to make the story end any way we want it to? Susie Q next door isn't going to make that little decision. Monty, the mailman, isn't going to choose the ending. You are!

A piece of dialogue might give you problems. Changing it just the tiniest bit can make all the difference. A flat line becomes strong with a small change. Don't be afraid to make the change. 

What if you receive a critique on a story you've written and there are multiple spots that the critiquer has marked that could use changing in some way. Maybe you've used far too many passive, weak verbs. Making the small decision to change all of them could let you end up with a far stronger story. Yes, it's a small thing--to follow what the critiquer suggested but you could end up reaping big benefits.

How about the stories you wanted to submit to a paying publication but were afraid they weren't good enough? Making that little decision to do so could result in selling your story. Maybe not ever time but now and then. If you are too hesitant to submit, nothing will get published. We, as writers, must make that effort or everything we write will gather dust in files. 

There are many writers, many people actually, who have trouble making decisions. They cringe at the thought, think of every little thing that might go wrong and back down completely. Not making a decision is worse than making a bad decision. If you don't try, you'll never know what might have happened. Start with the little decisions and move on up the ladder to the bigger ones. Maybe you'll see results and maybe not but that's alright. Life isn't perfect.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Remember Those New Year's Goals?

This guy is a goalie and his goal is to keep that ball away so no points are scored by the opposing team. We writers have goals, too. We talk about our goals. We write lists of our goals, especially when we are celebrating the New Year. We occasionally think about our goals.

The question is Do we actively pursue our goals? And What percentage of our goals do we achieve each year?

Did you make a list around the first of January 2018? My post for December 31st of 2010 mentioned making goals instead of resolutions. Read it here.

We all have the best intentions in working toward our goals on a consistent basis. Then Life steps in and we push the thoughts of those goals aside to address things that appear to be more important at the time. I'm not pointing fingers because we all do this, myself included.

Every once in a while, one of the goals I made pops up in my mind and I have to ask myself what have I done to meet that goal. I don't always like the answer. Then, it's pretty easy to push it back into oblivion again.

I copied two paragraphs in the 2010 post mentioned above because I think it is still good advice today. Good for you and for me. This is what I wrote:

You don't need to make a list of 25 goals for this year. Try one or two or even three, but keep the number achievable. Anyone who creates a lengthy list of goals is going to feel overwhelmed before they even begin. Whether the goals are about your personal world or your writing world, you won't want to make the goals so difficult to reach that you feel defeated before you get started. There are many steps in every stairway. Take your goals as you do the steps--one at a time.

When the first of each new month arrives, make a quick assessment of those goals. What did you do the previous month toward each one? Then ask yourself what you would like to do, or need to do, in the new month. It's better to do this monthly than wait until next December 31st and ask yourself if your goal(s) was achieved.

The suggestion that I liked best is to try looking at your list of goals, whether it is an actual list or tucked away in your mind, on a monthly basis instead of once a year.  

Creating goals is great. Achieving them is even better. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Three Autumn Exercises For Writers

Autumn  Glory

Saturday is the first day of fall, or autumn, in the northern hemisphere. Summer temps may still be with us but it won't be long until all the parts of fall that so many adore will be evident. A great number of people would name fall as their favorite season. Or they might say 'autumn' instead. 

I am posting three exercises today. Choose any one or try all of them. They're not difficult and won't take a lot of time but they will get you in the mood for what is nearly here and might inspire a story or poem with a fall theme.

Exercise #1
For writers, this upcoming season offers a lot in sensory details. For an exercise, write a phrase or two to answer each of the following questions using something that is reminiscent of the fall season. 

  1. What sights can you see?
  2. What smells remind you of fall?
  3. What do you hear during this third season of the year?
  4. Are your taste buds ready for fall foods? Which ones?
  5. What can you touch in fall that you cannot during summer?
Exercise #2
I have read several quotes from famous people about the fall season. I'll post a few below. 

"And all at once, summer collapsed into fall."  Oscar Wilde

"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall."  F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Autumn, the year's loveliest smile." William Cullen Bryant

Now, get creative and come up with a quote of your own about fall. 

Exercise #3
Make a list of words that remind you of the season, ones you could incorporate into your writing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Egg On The Floor and More

My morning did not start out too well. My husband, Ken, was getting ready to play golf and had eaten early. I decided I'd like a fried egg and toast for my breakfast. I used a small fry pan for the one egg and it turned out perfectly, no broken yolk Instead of using a pancake turner to lift the egg onto a plate, I decided to just flip it out of the pan.

The plate was near the edge of the counter so it was a short move from stovetop to the plate. I turned the pan upside down and the egg slid neatly out of the pan but missed the plate. Actually, it hit the edge of the plate, then the counter and plopped onto the floor right in front of my feet. Egg yolk had dripped down the cabinet as the egg made its way to the floor.

There I stood, pan in hand and muttering a few choice words which I shall not repeat here. Bless Ken, for he came to the rescue. After my hip replacement earlier this summer, cleaning up messes on the floor is not in my bag of tricks. I wiped the egg yolk off the cabinet door while Ken scooped up the egg and washed the floor. It will be a long time before I forget this small disaster.

In the overall scheme of things, what happened really is a small problem but at the time, it seemed gargantuan. Even now, a few hours later, it still looms large.

It's the same when we have a disaster in our writing life. What if you lost several chapters of a book you're writing? Sometimes, computers tend to devour things we thought were saved. Or, what if a submission you made was rejected when you were absolutely certain it would be accepted? How about reaching the halfway mark of a big writing project and you are stuck? Stuck like your feet were mired in mud with no way to raise either of them and make your way to a dry area. (That happened to a friend just recently.)

There are eventual solutions to all those problems but my point today is that, as the poster above tells us, nothing in a writer's life is wasted. My fried egg event could be used in a short story someday. Losing all those chapters to a hungry computer can certainly be part of a character's life in your novel.

If you're ever in an auto accident, you remember it well and can eventually use what happened in a story. What about the poor people in the Carolinas who have been inundated with flood waters from Hurricane Florence? A writer could put that experience to good use.

When a minor or major disaster occurs, make a few notes afterward and pluck one of those happenings to slip into your stories. Yep, nothing in a writer's life is wasted. Except maybe my egg that landed on the floor!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Creating A Family Recipe Book

When it comes to Family Stories, there is one category that is of great importance but often gets overlooked. Family recipes figure big in our memories of going to Grandma's or Great Aunt Hazel's for dinner and having one of their specialties. 

What better way to preserve some of your family's history than to create a cookbook of the family recipes? There are presses that give you a lot of guidance and do the printing for you. One of them is Morris Press Cookbooks. There are others that you can find via a search engine. 

It's not necessary to use a publisher/press to create a Family Recipes Cookbook. You can do it on your own and have it printed and put into a booklet at a place like Staples or wherever there is a copy center. I have found the clerks in copy centers to be very helpful.

If you come from a family of immigrants, the recipes the older generations brought with them from their former country are treasures you want to keep, ones to pass down through the generations. Lately, I have been posting my blogs on a facebook page for Volga Germans to give a little help to those with this ancestry in writing their family stories. Because they have a double ethnic background, the recipes were based on both German and Russian cooking. If you have never heard of this group of immigrants who settled in Kansas and Nebraska and even Canada, take some time to read about them. 

Your family background may have roots in the European countries, Asian or Central American or African. Whatever it happens to be, what you eat was influenced by your ancestors and may still figure prominently in your recipe collection today.

One problem with the recipes that have lived through generations of a family is that the directions are not very detailed. My own grandmother, who was Irish, wrote things on her recipe cards like Add flour until it feels right. Or 2 eggs and 2 eggshells of water. There are different sizes of eggs but I suppose she just kept adding flour until the noodle dought 'felt' right. You can write the recipe as it was originally and then make notations for today's cooks. 

Because married couples are from two different families, you might want to make two cookbooks--one for each side of the family. 

After obtaining copies of the recipes to include, you need to put them in categories. For a Family Cookbook, you might arrange them according to the recipes you got from individuals. There might be a section for Aunt Jane, another for Great-Grandma Jones, and another for Cousin Lila. Or, you could put all the main dishes together, all the cookies, all the salads etc but be sure to credit the name of the person whose recipe you are using. As well as the recipes, you want to preserve the names of the people who made them and dates, if you are lucky enough to have them.

Just as in your Family Stories Book, you can arrange the cookbook any way you want to. Ask a child or teen to draw a picture to divide the categories. That makes it very personal and keeps with your family theme. Be sure to give them credit. There are endless possibilities. 

It's a big job to collect and assemble all the recipes but the result may be one that becomes another legacy within your family. Maybe two or three people can work on the book together. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Writing--Difficult Or Easy?

Thomas Mann was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic and essay writer. His quote above might first leave the reader scratching his/her head. Read it a few times and some sense comes of it. 

The question is why writing is more difficult for the 'writer.' I came up with a few reasons:
  • Writers know what can go wrong 
  • Writers see with more critical eyes
  • Writers strive for perfection
  • Writers want to write right!
A writer puts his/her work on display for readers and editors. In some ways, it feels like we are leaving ourselves open for criticism but there is also hoped-for praise. Thus, we want to write our very best to curtail the criticism and foster the praise. 

Writers are more aware of what tools of their craft are helpful and which ones are not. We know that an ending that falls flat can deflate an entire story. We're cognizant of the importance of those opening lines. We know that cliches are the sign of a lazy writer.

A writer's eyes are more critical than a reader. A writer who is editing his/her work will find many places that need revising. Back to square one for some areas. If we could write a first draft that sings, we would find writing quite easy. It seldom happens. We write and rewrite and do it again until we reach a piece that satisfies us. 

Yes, writers do want to write right. We know that, to achieve that state, we must use the knowledge and skill we have acquired over time. So, yes, writing is more difficult for writers than for others. 

What if you belong to that second category--other people--and suddenly have a desire to write your family history or a series of family stories? Does the quote mean that it will be apple pie easy for you? Probably not. It does stand to reason that you would not be as self-critical as someone who writes for publication. In that respect, your writing will be easier. 

Give some thought to Thomas Mann's quote. How does it apply to you? Or does it? 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A Morning in Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia

Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia

Have you tried writing a personal essay or a travel piece after being somewhere that impressed you? They would be nice to have in your Family Stories Book but can also be submitted for publication. One of the places we visited that stayed with me ever since was Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia. I'd heard others say to be sure to visit this little seaside village when we were touring the area. I wondered why until we spent a morning there. My story is below. Try your hand at writing about a place you've been that became a treasured memory. 

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A Morning in Peggy’s Cove

Early morning traffic in Halifax, Nova Scotia is not difficult to maneuver with two of us in charge. My husband, Ken, drives, and I read maps and signs, acting as navigator on this sunless June day. We make our way easily through the Canadian coastal city and travel beyond to the road that will take us to Peggy’s Cove.

I’m eager to see this tiny fishing village which friends have recommended, and I check the map once again to gauge the distance.

“You must be sure to go to Peggy’s Cove,” said one friend upon hearing we were planning a driving trip to explore Nova Scotia, one of Canada’s easternmost provinces.

“Don’t miss Peggy’s Cove,” said another.

Thus, the village is high on our list of places to visit.

Road-signs mark the route clearly, and soon we turn off the main highway onto a secondary road. We wend our way along the curving stretch of road. I search the sky for an absent sun and silently wish it would make an appearance. More clouds roll in, some dark and seeming to threaten rain. It is the first such weather we experience on our trip. Prior to today, the sun has spread its gentle warmth and renders our daily excursions most pleasant.

I wonder, as the car makes each twist and turn in the road, what can be so beguiling about Peggy’s Cove. I know that it is the site of the 1998 Swissair jet crash, but surely more than that steals into the hearts of those who visit.

One more bend in the road, and the fishing village appears. It is small and picturesque, the few homes and fewer businesses situated on hills near the water. The town seems to stand guard as the ocean slaps against flat-topped boulders that line its edge. Sea terns perch serenely on rooftops and dot the hillsides, while fishing boats line the harbor area.

We come to the end of the road, and Ken parks the car. We emerge into air that carries a chill and a fine mist, as well as that special scent of the sea. There is no doubt in my mind that I will traverse those huge boulders to the lighthouse standing near the water’s edge, but I wish I had worn sturdier shoes.

I pick my way carefully across the boulders to the whitewashed lighthouse, which sports a cheerful red top. A few other tourists step cautiously across the great boulders. Some sit silently on the rocks gazing out to sea, their thoughts known only to themselves. What a wonderful place to ruminate, I muse, as I study those who are seated, their thoughts sealed within themselves.

I reach the lighthouse and peer inside the open door. To my amazement, I find that it is now a government post office. I exchange greetings with the clerk, purchase postcards and Canadian stamps, then retrace my path a short distance. I can see the ocean waters on my left and on my right, even though I am facing the village. As though called, I turn and look out to what is now a calm and friendly-appearing sea. The mist has ceased, and the sky brightens a little.

Entering Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia

I watch this piece of nature that sustains the village inhabitants who fish its waters daily. The sea calls to them like a siren of mythical tales. She promises a bountiful harvest, entices them into deep waters, and produces more fish than can be counted at times. But in the wink of an eye, she can become menacing and dangerous. Churning waves tossed upon the flat-topped boulders, angry and vengeful, have swept more than one person to a watery grave. Signs posted here warn of such a possibility. Hard to believe, as I gaze at the now peaceful scene before me.

Only the day before, I noted the detailed story of the tragic Swissair crash while reading a Halifax newspaper. The widow of the pilot, who guided the doomed flight, was featured in the article. She and her children have visited Peggy’s Cove more than once since the accident occurred. On their first visit, men from the village transported the Swiss woman and her two small children out to sea where the plane crashed. The family scattered flowers across the water, and the small son said he is glad his daddy is in such a beautiful place. The Sea, I think, must have smiled to hear his words.

I say a silent prayer for all who perished at Peggy’s Cove, then slowly make my way back across the unique path of boulders, passing close to an iron anchor imbedded in the rocks. The air feels warmer as the clouds part, and a welcome sun emerges.

I meet Ken, and he holds out a hand and helps me travel the remainder of this precarious pathway. We meander slowly down the narrow road together to visit a small gift shop, take pictures of the fishing boats, and investigate a magnificent sculpture carved in stone which depicts the life of the fishermen who live here.

Finally, we visit the memorial site of the Swissair victims commenting softly to one another, as we stand shoulder to shoulder, reading the plaque. A few other tourists join us, but no conversations take place. Instead, each one focuses on a personal meaning of the site which tragedy visited. The entire village resembles a place of meditation rather than the usual tourist chatter and banter.

Walking back to our car, I inhale the scent of the sea once more, and I know that this small village and the sea around it are now etched in my memory and on my heart forever, yet another of life’s blessings. Quaint, picturesque, charming, even somber--it is all of these and more. I am now another who will urge travelers to be sure to see Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia.

The Flat Rocks at Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Why You Should Record Your Memories

We write family stories and memoirs because of events in our lives that had some importance or relevance to us and those whom we know as family and friends.

There are many happenings in the years behind us that should not be forgotten but treasured. We want to keep those stories alive for our children and grandchildren and even farther down the line. Yesterday, I wrote about my first train ride. I don't believe any of my four grandchildren, aged 12-22, have ever ridden on a train. They have no idea about compartments, sleeping berths, dining cars, porters and more. Recording that initial introduction to a long train ride is my gift to them. Yes, our words are gifts to our family.

The negative times need to be recorded as well as the good ones. Some people would say that the bad times should be forgotten Put them in a closet and turn the key in the lock.

I don't feel that way. The difficult times in my life have helped me understand myself and others. I have also discovered along this long path of my life that out of all bad comes some good. Granted, there are moments when it's tough to find the good. Look hard enough, and something positive will come through.

Writing about life in your childhood will let others know what living in an earlier time period was like. Your personal family stories will be a small sliver of history in years to come.

What should you write about?
Immigrants should write about the why and the how and the result. Married people must write an account of their wedding. The birth of each child you have should be recorded in a story written by you. Not just the facts but the emotions, the reaction of others and more. Write about a family reunion, painting pictures with words about the individuals who attended.

Write about graduations--your own or a spouse's or your children's. How about vacations? Lots can be written about family vacations. Again, not just where you went, what you saw or ate, but about the people involved, their actions and reactions.

Write about the favorite place where you lived. You want to remember, as Isabel Allende, says in our quote, the reasons that place was special for you. What did it look like? What kind of area was it? Who were the people who lived nearby? What little spots in the house were special to you?

Write for publication or for your Family Stories Book that is for your family. It doesn't matter whether these memories are published for the world to read. That, of course, would be wonderful.
Even if no one but your family members read what you've written, you've done them a great favor, given them a gift of words and memories that will last through the generations.

One last thought. The younger people in your family might not appreciate what you've done until long after you've written your stories. Don't worry. The day will come when they will treasure the words you gave them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

My First Train Ride


Do you remember the first time you rode on a train or an airplane? Maybe a voyage on a ship figures high on your memory chart. 

I grew up in a Chicago suburb so we rode commuter trains downtown and to other suburbs, but the first passenger train I traveled on left me with vivid memories. It was May of 1944 and I was about to celebrate my 5th birthday in Phoenix, Arizona--a much different Phoenix than the sprawling metropolis we know today. Our travel party consisted of my mother, my little brother who was about 18 months old, my grandmother and me. We traveled on a troop train that carried a minimum number of civilians. It was a time of war with rationing, shortages, grief and more. As a small child, I was aware of little of that. 

The four of us had a private compartment that had two sleeping berths, a wash basin and a private toilet. There were little cone-shaped paper cups in a container near the mirror over the sink. I was fascinated by them and asked for a drink of water more than I ever did at home. How my parents managed this is a mystery to me to this day. Mine was not a wealthy family, not even close to it. I imagine my dad knew someone who knew someone and so on. 

We were on the train for two days and two nights. I remember being excited about going to Phoenix to celebrate my birthday with my Aunt Jane and Uncle Paul, Aunt Pearl and Uncle John and my cousin, Yvonne. Yvonne, I had been told, had her own Playhouse behind the big house where her family lived. That Playhouse was high on my list of things to see.

During the daytime, Mother let me wander up and down the aisle of our train car, something no mother today would do. Every seat was taken by a military man. It took me a long time to get from one end of the car to the other because the soldiers and other military men all wanted to talk to me. Many of them gave me a stick of gum or a piece of chocolate. It was great entertainment for a little girl. 

We had to wait in long, long lines to use the dining car. My grandmother took me while Mother stayed with my little brother. When we came back with something for him to eat, it was Mother's turn to stand in line, moving from car to car to car until finally reaching the dining car. Standing up while the train moved at high speed (high for those days) was not always easy, nor was it nice to cross over the coupling area between cars, looking down at the ground zipping by below. I clutched Grandma's hand and jumped over that zig-zagging space each time we moved to another car. 

In the evening, the porter came to our compartment to make up the berths for us. The two bench seats that faced one another during the day, spread out to become a bed. The upper berth pulled down from a door in the upper wall. There was a ladder for me and Grandma to climb to our upper berth. Great fun for a little girl. Maybe not so much for Grandma! The motion of the train and the sound of the wheels on the tracks below us served as a fine lullaby that put me to sleep quite soon. 

In the morning, the lines for the dining car were just as long, the soldiers just as friendly and the train just as exciting to a little girl. 

Write your own story about your first time on a train, plane or ship. It's something you can put into your Family Stories Book. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Different Kind of Writing Exercise

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt: A Novel

My Book Club is reading Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman.I enjoyed the story narrated by a twelve-year-old girl named Cecilia Honeycutt, but known as CeeCee. She lives in Ohio with a mother who is mentally ill and a father who stays away from home as much as he can. CeeCee is the caregiver to her mother, something no young girl should have to be.

Her mother was the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen in Georgia and she plays that part until the day she is killed in a tragic accident during one of her mental lapses. CeeCee witnesses her mother's death which leaves a deep emotional scar within her.

CeeCee's great aunt comes from Savannah to offer the girl a home. CeeCee knows her father doesn't want her so she goes to live with Aunt Tootie in a glorious old southern home. The rest of the book is filled with somewhat stereotypical southern women who all become part of the girl's new world. 

The story brings laughter and tears and a great many insights to life and the way we live it. Termed "Both hilarious and heartbreaking,..." the book had me pondering the things CeeCee learns as she meets a bevy of strong, but sometimes strange, southern women. 

In the next to last chapter, CeeCee hears her mother's voice as she is about to drift off to sleep. Her mother's words are It's how we survive the hurts in life that brings us strength and gives us our beauty. I was quite taken with that statement and read it several times. 

It's how we survive the hurts in life that brings us strength and gives us our beauty.

Read the quote several times. What comes to mind? Could it be the beginning of a story? Or perhaps a personal essay? Maybe a poem? 

For an exercise, write something that uses the sentence as either an opening or a closing line.
Or try to develop a character that fits the quote. It can be a child or an adult, male or female. 

We often use photo prompts for a writing exercise. Using a quote like this is a different kind of exercise and might be a lot of fun. Give it a try!

To read more about Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, go here. You'll find a summary, editorial reviews and customer reviews. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Using Similes and Metaphors

Sunflowers in September

The sunflowers are in full bloom this early September. Seeing a whole field of our Kansas state flower makes me want to write poetry. Many have done so in the past, I'm sure. A sunflower is like...
Think about the comparisons you might make when writing about sunflowers. Using similes and metaphors when we write show rather than tell.

Let's define those words and then try an exercise. This definition comes from Grammarly.

While both similes and metaphors are used to make comparisons, the difference between similes and metaphors comes down to a word. Similes use the words like or as to compare things—“Life is like a box of chocolates.” In contrast, metaphors directly state a comparison—“Love is a battlefield.”

I think the easiest way to remember is that a simile uses the words like or as. Metaphors do not. If you remove the word like in the example above, you have a metaphor using the same nouns. "Life is a box of chocolates." Or if you add one of the two defining words, you would have "Love is like a battlefield." 

Why do an exercise on similes? Because then using similes and metaphors will come naturally when you write. You won't need to stop and think about it. 

One word of warning:  Both similes and metaphors are helpful in bringing visuals and more to the reader but be careful not to overuse them. I once read a book that a writer friend had self-published. The story was quite interesting but she used similes on nearly every page. It turned out to be overkill. Had she gone to a professional publishing house, her book might never have seen the light of day. An editor would have pointed out her simile problem in a hurry.

For the exercise on similes:

Make lists comparing everyday objects to something you know. Try the ones below to begin but make a new list each week. It's a quick exercise and, as stated, will help you use both metaphors and similes without having to think about them. Just be careful not to use cliches. Those 'tried and true' phrases we all know may come to mind but use your own instead. Editors slash through cliches, too.

  1. A window is like __________________
  2. A doorknob is like __________________
  3. Policemen are like ___________________
  4. My sandals are like __________________
  5. A sunflower is like ___________________
Next try some where you expand on the idea:
  1. My mother is like a library. (Go on to explain)
  2. My old boyfriend is like a McDonald's. (go on with this idea)
  3. His hair is as unruly as a rag mop. (Continue with the description)
Exercise on metaphors:

Use the examples above. Remove the word like or as. Same idea but now it is a metaphor. Do they all work? 

I find similes easier to use than metaphors but many writers prefer it the opposite way. Poets, I believe, are more apt to use metaphors. Some use them in a way that leaves the reader scratching their head to figure out the exact meaning. Do what works best for you when you write.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Is There An Age Limit To Begin Writing?


First, an apology for leaving you with the same post for two days. I try to have something new every day Monday through Friday each week. Today completely got away from me with a house guest, appointments and more. 

Look at the hands above. We don't know the age of the people whose hands we see. When you have a story or poem or essay published, no one knows how old you are. Nor should it matter. What if you never published until you were over 50? Believe me, there are many who fit that description including me. A reader has no idea of your age unless your picture is posted with whatever you wrote. 

A number of years ago, I wrote an article that was published about writers who started writing after age 50. Read it below and know that there is no starting age to write, nor is there a time of life when a writer must quit. If and when that time arrives, you'll know. I had fun interviewing several writers for the article. 

If you've had a yen to write a memoir or anything else and consider yourself too old to try, get rid of that notion and give it a try.

Is It Too Late?
Nancy Julien Kopp

"I'd love to write, but I'm too old now." Have you thought or said something like that aloud? Is it too late once you've passed through your forties? Can you learn a new craft later in life? Come along with me and meet several writers who took the first step when well into, or past, middle age.

Tragedy turned Kathe Campbell into a writer at the age of sixty-two. A wretched accident at her Montana ranch resulted in the loss of her right arm. Still in shock and feeling useless, Kathe held many a pity party. No one showed up but the Guest of Honor. Her son built a computer and urged her to practice using the keyboard with her left hand. Once a 120 words a minute typist, she played with the keyboard a little, finding it difficult but challenging. Kathe says "If any old broad ever needed confidence during this settling and coping time of life, I did. I discovered several writing e-zines on the internet and unabashedly submitted the wrenching story of my loss at the age of 62. The entire effort served as mental and physical therapy, jolting me right back into allowing my thoughts to spill over pages once again." Only a few years earlier Kathe had written her first story detailing a journey through her mother's Alzheimer's Disease. Cosmopolitan magazine published it. She never wrote another until after her accident. Now, at seventy-two, she turns out story upon story bringing folksy humor and touching warmth to readers at several website e-zines. Chicken Soup For The Grandparent's Soul recently published one of Kathe's true-life tales.

Did Kathe Campbell start a writing career too late in life? She waited until she harbored a lifetime of experiences to draw from, until the goal of succeeding seemed less important than the fact that she enjoyed writing with every fiber of her being. In her own words, "Writing is such a lot of fun." Her accident became the catalyst for a part-time career she'd never considered in her younger years.

Kathe Campbell

Hollywood portrays young men writing the great American novel in garrets, outdoor cafes, or even at a kitchen table. They sweat, they agonize, they labor long into the night until that magical first sale turns them into Pulitzer Prize winners in a flash. Oh, that it might be that easy. Have you ever seen a film that portrays someone over the age of forty-five writing their first story? They don’t fit the stereotype Hollywood has invented, do they? 

More than a few writers launch freelance careers in mid-life and beyond. Madge Walls, author of Hawaii Real Estate Exam Book, tried to write in her thirties but found the distractions of young children overwhelming. She shelved the writing itself but attended every workshop on the subject of writing that came to Maui where she lived. "I 
knew I would write seriously someday and wanted to absorb all I could while waiting to get the little distractions grown up" Madge says. She feels the older you are the more wisdom and experience you have accumulated. At sixty-one, she believes her writing to be much richer now than it might have been years earlier. Madge is currently working on a historical fiction novel and has completed another novel based on her experiences selling real estate in Hawaii 

A woman in her sixties, who prefers to remain anonymous, entered the writing world partly because of being a copious letter writer all her life. Letters filled with mini-stories were a medium of self-expression which, over the years, evolved into writing short stories and novels. She enrolled in a correspondence course to learn the basics, writing many articles and stories that never reached publication. Rather than give up, she signed up for several writing courses found on the internet. Many were excellent but left her searching for more. She needed feedback and interaction, which these courses did not offer. She wrote five adult novels, one for teens and two for middle-grade children. An online critique group became an eye-opener, teaching her more than all the previous period. Nearing seventy, she is an active person who still works to support herself but also writes four hours each day. Her positive attitude and consistent hard work aid this writer on her journey to publication.

Dick Dunlap creates stories that bring both laughter and an occasional tear to the reader. Dick says that anything he wrote in high school was overlooked because of poor spelling and bad handwriting. In spite of that, he won second prize in a Woman's Club essay contest in his teen years. It was the first time he received recognition for his writing, and the excitement was never forgotten. Dick avoided writing through the majority of his life, being ashamed of its appearance. When over sixty, he submitted a poem to a newspaper. A Writer's Guild member contacted him, and he took a big step by attending meetings. Soon, he bought a word processor and signed up for a writing course for Seniors. He created a fictitious family called "The Nevers", writing story upon story about the folks who make up this bumbling family. Dick says, "I like what I write. I laugh, I get a tear in my eye, I live my plots."

"Will the Boots and Saddles Club please come to order?" That was the first line of a novel Molly Samuels penned at the age of 8. Molly says, "That was so horrible, I put my writing skills to work elsewhere for the next forty-four years. I never lost that desire to write a book, even though it was one of those "someday" dreams. I'm fifty-eight now and have been seriously focused on writing for only four years." At fifty-two Molly came to a crossroads in her career. She realized that everything she enjoyed throughout her career related to writing, and a new door opened for her. She spends her free time turning out chapter upon chapter of a historical novel that has captured the interest of her online critique group.

Molly states her thoughts on writers who jump into the writing game at a later stage of life. "I really think we need to age a bit to get experiences, things to fill those wrinkles in our brain for our sub-consciences to ferret out, for our writing to glow. I don't think the first fifty-two years of my life were wasted, even though I never wrote anything more scintillating than a survey analysis."

A teacher's criticism douses the spark of creativity in many cases. Shirley Letcher had an interest in writing all through her high school years. A creative writing teacher criticized her work mercilessly, adding a massive dose of sarcasm. Shirley did not write again for more than twenty years when she returned to college to pursue a master's degree. Professors complimented her on weekly essays she submitted. It wasn't long before she was publishing articles and getting paid. She writes in her free time and finds it exhilarating.

Leela Devi Panikar operated a lucrative pub/restaurant business in Hong Kong. At the age of sixty-six, her life moved in a different direction. She found it necessary to bring her elderly wheelchair-bound mother to live with her. Leela's care-taking duties are time-consuming, but she is well aware that she needs something else in her life, too. In her precious spare time, she works on a novel set in Hong Kong.

I have a personal interest in the topic at hand. A desire to write occupied the recesses of my mind all through my growing-up years, college, career, and raising children. Too busy now I told myself, until, at the age of fifty-three, I landed in a small town that did not accept new people very readily. I was lonely and homesick for all we left behind when my husband made a job change. I plunged in head-first by enrolling in a correspondence course that promised to teach me how to write for children. I was hooked after Lesson One, and I've never looked back in the fourteen years since.

Middle-aged and older people who have never written before can learn the craft. Bumps and bruises await along the road to a writing career, but if desire is strong, and you practice patience and perseverance, satisfaction and success lie within reach. Draw from your wealth of experience to write that first story soon.
(written in 2006)

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Writers Who Fret, Worry and Stew

Vintage, Woman, Worried
Fret, Worry, Stew...

It seems to be a part of the human psyche to fret, worry, or stew over things beyond our control. I found several good quotes about worrying that I'll share here today and then my own thoughts on writers who worry.

The Quotes:
  1. “Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere”
    – Erma Bombeck
  2. “A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.”
    – John Lubbock
  3. “Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith.”
    – Henry Ward Beecher
  4. “Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”
    – Arthur Somers Roche
  5. “Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.”
    – Swedish Proverb
Writers and Worry:
What do writers worry about? Plenty! 
  1. They fret over the beginning of a story.
  2. They stew over the ending of a story.
  3. They worry over where to send a submission.
  4. They worry that they'll never be published. (or published again)
  5. They fret over reviews that are not glowing.
  6. They worry about the critiques others give their work.
  7. They stew over not hearing from an editor.
  8. They worry that their writing is not as good as it should be.
There are other concerns that writers have but the list above covers some of the main ones. 

Worrying is a lesson in futility. It doesn't change a thing. Erma Bombeck's quote above illustrates that thought. We need to have the attitude that whatever is going to happen is what we'll deal with if need be. 

If you worry over the beginning or ending of a story, pick the one that makes you feel the best. That's probably going to be the right one. If you are fretting over an opening line, try another one or two or three until you find one you're comfortable with. Don't just sit there and worry about what you wrote.

If you worry that you'll never be published again, that may be what happens. Instead, you need to keep writing and keep submitting. It's the only way to be published.

If you get poor critiques or less than pleasing reviews, you have an opportunity to do correct your errors or to do better the next time. Worrying about it will only give you a headache.

If you stew over weeks going by without a response from an editor, push it aside and start a new writing project. You may hear from the editor later or might never get a response. Many only respond when accepting. 

If you worry about your writing not being as good as you hoped, then get to work learning more about the craft through reading reference books on writing. Take a class or two. Attend a conference with workshop speakers. And keep writing. The more you write, the better writer you will be. 

Pick a day. Maybe tomorrow. Make a vow to not spend one minute worrying about anything writing-related. Practice having a little faith in yourself.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Let Apples Inspire Your Writing


We started September with a horrendous rain overnight. Many areas of our community are flooded with water up to car roofs in some places and residents evacuated.  We live on top of a hill, actually one of the highest places in town. Our 7-inch rain gauge was filled to the top this morning so we''re not sure if we had that amount or a little more than spilled over. Like all rains, some areas of town get more than others. 

We've been in Extreme Drought for months but maybe the large amount of rain we've had the past few weeks will put a major dent in the deficit. More rain is forecast throughout the week. 

When I turned my calendars on Saturday, I started to think about autumn and all that it brings us. Even though it was in the upper 90's, lower temps will soon be here. We've been enjoying the summer produce and will for awhile longer but apples will be featured in the stores and roadside markets along with pumpkins in a short time. 

Do you remember how apples were featured in the Snow White fairy tale? Yes, the poisoned apple the witch gave to the beautiful young woman. Of course, an apple figured pretty prominently in the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. Another story in which apples were a factor is Johnny Appleseed. 

How about that well-known adage:  An apple a day keeps the doctor away. (True or False?)

Today, try writing something featuring an apple, a basket of apples, or an apple orchard. Maybe you have a Family Story that is about apples.

Use sensory details:
  • How does the apple feel?
  • What does it look like?
  • Can you hear the crunch when you bite into it?
  • What aroma comes from apples, fresh or in baked goods?
  • What about the taste of an apple?
Describe an apple. Write a story featuring an apple or apples. Pen a poem that uses apples as a theme. 

Thinking about apples has made me want to bake something with apples but I will need to go to the store to buy some of those shiny beauties first. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

The No-Name Sisters

On the Farm

We all have family stories that we hear around the holiday dinner table or at family reunions--the same ones often repeated every year. My husband's aunt was the youngest of eight children. Her parents had immigrated from Germany and farmed in central Illinois when she was born in the early 1900's. She and I were enjoying a nice lunch in a restaurant one day when she told me an amazing story about how she and her sister a couple years older were named. "We had no names until we went to school," she said.

Her sister she referred to was my husband's mother. She went on to tell me the full story and I, in turn, told it to my husband. "What?" was his response. No one else in the family had ever told the story but we both knew his aunt would never have made up such a thing. His mother was called Baby until his aunt came along. Then the entire family called them Big Baby and Little Baby. Their father finally gave them names when it was time to start school. The names he chose offered one more surprise. 

I thought about this for a long time and decided to write a fiction story based on the true facts I'd heard over lunch that day. I used what I knew about the family and the actual names and where Papa took the names from but wrote it as I thought it might have happened. I wrote it several years ago.

The story below is the result: 

The No-Name Sisters
By Nancy Julien Kopp

(Note:  This is a fictionalized version of a true story about my husband’s mother and her younger sister.)

Papa leaned forward and in his German-accented English said, “So Katie, have you found out about this word ‘perseverance?’ Can you tell us what it means?”

Mama and the other children leaned forward in their chairs, the same way Papa had. All eyes turned to Katie, the oldest daughter, as they waited for her to enlighten them.

“It means never giving up what you have set out to do.”

Papa laughed heartily. “Then I think it is good for us all to have a little of this perseverance. Ja?”

Every head nodded in agreement with Papa. None of them ever disagreed with him, not her five older brothers, not her mama, not even Big Baby or Little Baby, her no-name sisters.

Katie wanted her sisters to have real names. Big Baby was six and Little Baby five, so they’d been without names for a long time. Once, Katie said to Papa, “In 1912 in America everyone has a name,” but he’d ignored her.

Katie loved her handsome papa. In the parlor, there was a photograph taken when he lived in Germany. He wore his Prussian army uniform and sat straight and tall on a big white horse, looking like a prince. 

During dessert, Katie asked a familiar question, “Papa, when are you going to name Big Baby and Little Baby?”

He gave the same answer as always. “Sometime soon I will do that. There is no hurry, Katie.” He cut another bite of the fresh gooseberry pie Mama had made and popped the forkful into his mouth. “Good pie, Mama, good pie.”

Katie took a deep breath and responded softly. “Oh yes there is, Papa. School will start soon, and they must have a real name to go there. Miss Taylor won’t let them stay without a name.” Tears were forming in her eyes, so she blinked hard to keep them from slipping down her cheeks. Why wouldn’t Papa name her sisters?

Her brothers all laughed until Papa silenced them with a stern look. All five boys ducked their heads and continued eating to smother their laughter. Even though they remained quiet, their eyes twinkled. Koert leaned over and poked his finger in Big Baby’s cheek.

“Sometime soon,” Papa said while he patted Katie’s arm. He pushed back his chair and placed his hands on the table. “Koert, finish your pie and go hitch Jennie and Fannie to the wagon. Mama and I are going for a little ride tonight. Jennie and Fannie whispered in my ear that they like to take long walks on a fine summer night like this.” His deep laughter rang across the kitchen.

Little Baby laughed, too. “Horses can’t talk, Papa,” she said, clapping one jam-covered hand over her mouth.

“Maybe they can, and maybe they can’t. But my horses are special treasures.” Papa twirled the ends of his mustache and winked at Mama. 

That night Katie tossed and turned in her bed, unable to sleep. Why was she the only one in her family bothered by her sisters’ nameless state? Mama didn’t seem to mind, and her brothers were perfectly happy calling them Big Baby and Little Baby. Even the nameless girls never complained. Only Katie fretted.

Katie turned over and fluffed her pillow. She glimpsed the silver moon out of her tiny window and pictured herself on the first day of school. In her mind, she saw herself so clearly. She held her sisters’ hands, one on each side of her, all of them with neatly braided hair. They wore clean pinafores over calico dresses, their high button shoes were polished, and their faces glowed from the morning scrubbing. She proudly presented her sisters to Miss Taylor.

The pretty picture changed when she thought about Miss Taylor asking the girls’ names. Katie punched her pillow hard as she imagined the laughter from the other pupils. She pulled the light quilt over her shoulder and then her head. She would keep on asking Papa to give the girls names, even if he became angry with her. She’d use some of that perseverance with Papa.

The next morning a tired Katie approached her father again while Mama set out brown sugar and jugs of cream for the oatmeal. “Please Papa,” Katie asked, “when are you going to give Big Baby and Little Baby a name?” She trembled inside but stood straight and tall as she waited for his answer.

His fierce look kept Katie from repeating the question that day or the next, but inside she was still anxious. Life on the farm went on as always. The boys helped Papa outside, and the girls worked with Mama in the house.

Only once did Mama mention the subject of names to Katie when they were alone. “Katie,” she said firmly, “you must not ask Papa about the names again. When he is ready, he will tell us. You must be a little bit patient and a lot quiet.”

Katie smiled at Mama and nodded, but she knew she must never give up. She’d remind Papa whenever an opportunity presented itself.

The morning before school was to begin, Papa harnessed Jennie and Fannie to the wagon so he could go to town. Mama and the girls stood on the porch waiting to wave goodbye.

Papa was halfway into the wagon when he stopped, one foot in mid-air. He jumped down and headed to the porch looking serious.

“Mama, I have decided on some names for these new schoolgirls,” he said, looking only at her. “Big Baby will be called Jennie, and Little Baby will be Fannie.”

The two little girls giggled and jumped from one foot to the other. Mama folded her hands like she did in church and smiled at Papa. Papa folded his arms one over the other and smiled back at Mama.

Katie blurted out, “But Papa, those are the horses’ names!”

“Ja! They are good names,” Papa said. “Look at those two beautiful animals. See how proud and tall they stand, with heads held high. My girls will be like them and be fine people one day. Ja! They are good names, and tomorrow the girls will take their new names and go to school.”

Mama patted Katie’s shoulder softly, and she leaned close and whispered, “You see, Katie, it all happens if you are a little bit patient and a lot quiet.”

“And if you have perseverance, Mama,” Katie whispered back. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Most Important Lines For Writers

Free stock photo of notebook, office, pen, writing         Free stock photo of light, art, dark, pattern

Both pictures show lines. There are a variety of lines in our world--telephone lines, power lines, notebook lines, laser lines, clotheslines, architectural drawing lines, lines in triangles, squares and circles, lines on highways and more. For writers, the lines that we need to be concerned with are guidelines.

One of the biggest blocks to publication happens to be guidelines. Not what they tell us but the way writers often ignore them when they submit to a publication. When an editor receives a submission that does not fit the parameters, the message he receives from the writer is that the person who submitted doesn't read guidelines or just doesn't care. They give the appearance of knowing it all and even seem to be thumbing their nose at the editor.

Consider an editor who receives thousands of submissions in a year's time. If more than half of them do not fit the guidelines, how do you think he will react? Is it any wonder writers sometimes think that editors are grumpy guys or gals? If it were a child who had ignored the rules, we'd probably say I've told you and told you. Now listen! Instead, they toss your submission without even sending a rejection letter or they send you that form letter that starts out with how sorry they are but they can't accept your submission. Rarely do they tell us the reasons why.

Maybe it is the term that throws writers off. Guidelines are actually rules to help us know what the publication is seeking. They've done their part by giving them to us. It's up to each writer to read, not scan, but really read the guidelines from start to finish. There are no hard and fast rules to what the guidelines should tell us. Some are so short that they are of little help while others are so long you can barely digest them until reading several times.

Those guidelines are there to aid you in choosing markets. Chicken Soup for the Soul guidelines are lengthy but they also let you know if your submission might work for them or if it would be tossed out immediately. When they say 1200 word max, they aren't kidding. Send 1500 and out you go. Send an essay instead of a story and you're done.

I've had a few stories for children published in a magazine titled Knowonder! Their guidelines are even longer than Chicken Soup for the Soul. I was reading through them one day and was surprised and pleased to see they had used one of my stories as an example in their guidelines. This was a few years ago and that may have changed as I believe the publisher has changed.

You might prefer short guidelines but remember that those short ones tell you only bits and pieces whereas the longer ones lay it on the line. They're saying This is what we want and this is what we don't want. I much prefer the lengthy ones.

Again, you cannot just scan the guidelines. You must read them over several times. If you submit to the same place several times, you should still check the guidelines with every submission. Sometimes they change and sometimes we forget.

Yes, there are a lot of lines in your life but Writer Guidelines should be at the top of your list.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Using Your Writer's Eye

adult, beautiful, blue eyes

Yesterday, we had a Photo Prompt writing exercise. I asked you to study the picture, then write a description, a poem, a story or whatever you chose to do. I encouraged you to look at the main part of the photo, which really appeared to be a painting but to also consider the small details. 

Today, I'd like you to consider your Writer's Eye. Most people go about their daily life being quite unobservant. Writers need to develop a keen sense of sight from the time they rise in the morning until they fall into bed at night. 

As writers, we must see but also truly look around us. If you're a passenger on a bus, you often sit and think, maybe read a book or newspaper, maybe even close your eyes and have a rest. Writers who are observant will look at the ads that usually run around the top area inside the bus. One might be the inspiration for a writing project. They'll give their attention to the other riders. They might see a person who is perfect for a character in a story or book they are writing. They'll note anything of interest about the driver--his uniform, whether he shaved that day or not, is there a shine on his shoes or are they scuffed up, whether he needs a haircut or not. Most people get on the bus, pay their fare and walk down the aisle scarcely glancing at the driver. 

If you walk through a park on your lunch hour, do you pay attention to all that is happening around you? Do you see the kinds of trees and the many varieties of flowers? Do you notice two squirrels chasing up and down a tree? What about the nanny pushing a stroller with a small child? When you pass by, do you really look at her and note many little things? Every person you meet in your daily life could be someone in a story. 

Train yourself to notice if someone like the cashier in the grocery store looks happy, bored, sad or angry. Is her hair neat and clean or does it look like she just got out of bed? Are her nails chipped or nicely polished?

Noticing details around you is important but it's also possible that you will find a story to write. Something can happen right in front of you that most people will miss. Use your Writer's Eye and you may find a story to write.

The more you pay attention to these small details, the better Writer's Eye you will have. No writer has this ability as soon as he starts to write. He/she develops it little by little. All you need to do is pay attention to what is around you and what is happening around you. 

Some writers keep a small notebook on their person to jot down what they see that might be of use later. That's not necessary, of course, but it could be helpful. 

Work on training your Writer's Eye. There's a whole lot out there that you probably never noticed before!