Friday, August 31, 2012

Time For Some Football

Willie the Wildcat, our mascot on a Gameday

Those of you who have been reading my blog for some time know that I am a big Kansas State football fan. Ken and I attend all the home games and at least one away game each season. Last January, we went to see our Wildcats play in the The Cotton Bowl game in Dallas.

My two oldest granddaugthers with me before the 2012 Cotton Bowl

The season opens tomorrow with a 6 p.m. game vs Missouri State.  That means we will head for the stadium around 4. It's a 5 minute drive from home, so aren't we lucky? Many people drive hours to attend each game. The stadium parking lot will be filled with purple flags fluttering in the breeze and tantalizing aromas from the many grills. There will be music blasting over loudspeakers, the K-State band will march through the fans playing the Fight song, kids clad in purple jerseys will be tossing footballs, and there will be much feasting on tailgate foods and beverages of all kinds.

Our four grandkids before the first game a few years ago

The pre-game festivities in the stadium will have the fans revved up and ready to go, and when the team comes running onto the field bearing both the American and K-State flag, there'll be a lump in my throat just as there is every year. We'll watch the game and see who is doing great, who needs a little more practice and exchange thoughts with the fans in our section. Home teams are expected to win their opener which is why nearly all schedule a smaller school with a lesser football program. Our team needs the practice, needs this game to get the jitters over, and it's a great opportunity for a smaller school to play at a larger stadium with a winning program. Makes for positives all around.

So what does all this have to do with my writing world? Quite a bit actually. I've found a lot to write about related to football (and basketball) games at K-State and the away games we go to. I find an amazing number of interesting people among the fans who may one day end up in a story. 

Tomorrow, we'll be wearing our purple shirts, cheering the Wildcats and enjoying one of the great American pastimes. A lot of women cannot stand football, but I grew up in a family with a dad and three brothers, so I learned to enjoy it, and now, it's something Ken and I do together. We've spent many an hour watching either at the stadium or on TV. The man doesn't know how lucky he is!

How about you? Like it or hate it? Why?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wannabe A Political Speech Writer?

This is a campaign year, and we've heard, and will be hearing, speech upon speech from the candidates of both parties. Some of the speeches are lackluster while others literally glow. Of course, the person delivering the speech has something to do with that, but more importantly--it's up to the speech writers as to whether the speech is a winner or not. They need the perfect combination of words, not an easy task.

Writing political speeches is not for everyone. For one thing, you have to be pretty savvy in that world so that you know what you're talking about. You can't have only bits and pieces of the present political situation or recent history. You have to be fully in-the-know.

You need to know the candidate, what he stands for, what credentials he has, and what he hopes to accomplish (besides winning!). You need to have a feel for the audience the speech will be directed at. A sense of humor comes in handy here as well as some passion. You must reach out to the hearts of the audience.

A political speech writer's list is filled with things that must be done and those that need to be avoided. You need to decide whether to tear down the opposing side or spend the time allotted building up your own candidate. Many 'ifs' involved.

You will not get much credit for the speeches you write. Your name is not on the cover of a book or shown as a byline in a newspaper or magazine when you spend your time writing words for others to say. How many names of political speech writers come to mind? We know the speech-giver far better.

I think you must also love this kind of writing for it can be filled with critics who are hoping to tear your work apart. You would have to have a true passion for it to continue under the often-difficult circumstances. You need to be ready to rewrite over and over again when the candidate or his associates veto half of the words you wrote.

The next time you listen to one of these speeches, think about the people who write in this field. Google political speech writers to learn more. I found an article that gave a good overall picture of what credentials you need in this career path, Take a few minutes to read it.

This specialized form of writing doesn't get nearly the credit it deserves.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

No Regrets

There's probably not a one of us who hasn't done something we've regretted during our lifetime. I even saw a call for contest submissions with this theme. I bet they get plenty of entries. We're humans so we make mistakes on occasion. We rue them, we sometimes agonize over them, we beat ourselves up--figuratively-and we pledge never to do that again.

That last part is key here. If you promise yourself to never repeat the error, it means you learned something. We need to sit down when we're rationale and ask ourselves what we learned. If you can come up with an answer, then whatever happened was not a mistake. You ended up with a benefit from whatever mistake you may have made.

For illustration's sake, let's say that a newbie writer finishes a story that she thinks is just grand. She has a market in mind and is so excited, she copies and pastes the story into an email and clicks Send. She can hardly wait until the editor contacts her with the good news. The problem is that the editor either does not contact her or he/she sends a form rejection letter. Disappointing to the writer for sure. When that first rejection comes along, it brings dejection, anger and even hurt. If the writer is to learn something from what happened, she needs to wait until she's calmed down and then read the story over again, ask herself why the editor may have rejected it. 

There are any number of reasons, but often newbie writers mess up on the little things. They don't make sure the story is free of spelling and grammar errors. They don't pay attention to format--things like separating paragraphs with a space between for single-spaced stories or by indenting each paragraph for double-spaced documents. Maybe she needs to go back and read that market's guidelines for submission, check carefully to see that she followed them. It could be that she used language that was too flowery, a common error when we begin to write. It could be that the story pattern doesn't flow well or it's too long and rambling.

Whatever she finds wrong will be a lesson learned. Of course, it's possible that the rejection came only because the editor had no place for the story or had recently published something very similar. That happens, but we writers also make mistakes in our writing. Not a problem if we learn from those inadvertent errors and move on. No regrets!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

This Fish Story Will Make A Lasting Memory

Yes, I did catch this big guy!
My youngest granddaughter, Jordan, spent Sunday fishing at a neighborhood pond with a group of kids who live near her. They often fish there but rarely do they catch one the size of the bass she caught. Around 8 pounds! How, I wondered, did she land it? 

Her mother told me during a phone chat that when the fish took the hook, Jordan could feel the big pull and she hollered. Then, boys to the rescue! A couple older boys helped her reel him in. What an exciting time it must have been for all of them, since they normally hook pretty small fish in that pond. 

I doubt that Jordan, who is 8, will ever forget the day she caught the big fish. It left a major impression and has initiated a lasting memory for her. I have visions of her telling her 'fish story' to her children and grandchildren someday. Do you suppose the fish will grow a little over the years?

I've had readers ask me how I can write about childhood memories with such clear vision. How in the world do you remember what happened so long ago? I've been asked more than once. I think the answer is that you remember very clearly the events or situations that impressed you a lot. Those things don't fade with time, they stay in the recesses of your mind. All it takes is some small thing to trigger the memory, and it floats back as clearly as if it happened yesterday. 

It might be an especially happy thing, or it could be some tragic occurrence. When you've suddenly learned one of life's lessons through an experience, it stays with you. I learned a great deal about dignity and courage during a fleeting moment during my grade school years. It so impressed me that I wrote a story about it decades later. One of Life's Lessons is still a favorite story of mine because of what I learned and the way it happened.

The experiences you've had in life from early on can be great bases for the stories you write. Start writing with a long-ago memory as the beginning, and you'll be surprised at how the clarity expands and brings you right back to the moment in time.


Monday, August 27, 2012

A Thought To Keep

old fashioned flowers

Not very long ago, I wrote about a friend who was in the final stages of cancer. She passed away Saturday evening. Toni was a member of my online writer's group, but we had met in person at one of our conferences. With the constant back and forth of our online group, we were true friends. She was full of spirit, humor, had a thirst to learn all she could about writing. She left an unfinished novel and an almost-finished coffee table book that was scheduled to go to print next month. Hopefully, that will happen.

She wrote periodically about her journey through the world of disease and all the ills that accompanied it. She did it with a positive spin, tossing in a bit of humor here and there. She left those of us who read it in awe of her strength, her faith, and her optimism. She showed us how a decimating illness should be approached. She shared her inner thoughts, the kindness of her family, friends and the many doctors she consulted. As a result, we walked this path with her to almost the end. 

She will be missed in her home state of Georgia and to her writer friends who span the globe. She often mentioned a small amount of Native American blood in her family ancestry. I found a poem that seems an appropriate tribute to her. The poem has also been titled "Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep" but for Toni this one is just right.

Native American Prayer
I give you this one thought to keep - 
I am with you still - I do not sleep. 
I am a thousand winds that blow, 
I am the diamond glints on snow, 
I am sunlight on ripened grain, 
I am the gentle autumn rain. 
When you awake in the morning's hush 
I am the swift, uplifting rush 
Of quiet birds in circled flight. 
I am the soft stars that shine at night. 
Do not think of me as gone - 
I am with you still - in each new dawn.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Make Time To Write!

I know you've seen this before, but I love these guys! They tell me what I already know, but they're so nice to look at that I let them tell me I should be writing every now and then.

I know they're right, but guess what? It's not always an easy thing to do. I had houseguests for 5 days, then left immediately on a 12 day trip. We arrived home yesterday and you know what that means--lots of laundry, mail to go through, newspapers to scan quickly so we know what was happening while we were away, groceries to purchase, housework, phone calls with friends and family, writers group to catch up with. Did I forget anything? I hope not as that list is long enough.

Even with the priority list above, writing is still going on in the back of my mind. I did a lot of thinking the past two days about what I wanted to write as we drove home through Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and into Kansas. I even made a list. Now, I need to decide which writing project will be first, second and so on.

Yes, the guys in the poster are right. Writers should be writing! But we all have more to our life than sitting at the computer pounding out words, and sometimes those other parts take precedence. The trick is to try to find a balance. Don't let your writing life slide into oblivion, keep it near the top of your priority list. Make time for it.  Yes, that is key to keeping your writing life alive and well.

I make time to post something new on this blog five days a week. I make time to work on a new story or revise a first draft. And believe me, I don't always find it easy to make that time, but I usually can do it, even if it means shirking something else in my life a little. Hey, if there is a little dust on the tables, it's OK. Life goes on. If the ironing doesn't get done each week, I still have more clothes in my closet and I can catch up later. Someone once wrote an essay, or maybe it was a poem, called Dust If You Must. The message was simple but good--we shouldn't waste our time on an inane task like dusting every day when there is so much more to savor in life.

I'm going to make some time for writing this week-end. How about you?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How Do You Live Your Life?

I hardly think I need to write about the quote above, but maybe I should say a few words. Being me, that's a necessity. 

Writers do live a life that matters, Each one has many other facets of their life, but the writing part does matter. It means bringing readers a laugh, a tear, or a tug at the heart. Writers serve to entertain as well as teach through what they have written. They do make a difference in the lives of others. 

We know that every time a reader sends a positive comment. It's what gives us the incentive to keep writing and to know that what we do means something to many someones.

All of us, writers or not, should strive to live a life that matters to others. What we do in this life is important to our families and friends, but even more to ourselves. When we give of ourselves to others, we reap the benefits. Time and again, that fact has come home to me when we help out the new Czech exchange students who come to Kansas State University each year. We gain so much more than we give and what we do matters.

What do you do that matters in your life or someone else's? Don't be too humble, blow your horn a bit. Most people do something that is important to another person or persons. 

For you who are writers, keep on writing. Even when you don't receive feedback on your work and how it affects your readers, know that it does touch many a life. You're definitely living a life that matters.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Door county Days

Death's Door Sunset, Nearest Location: Northport Ferry Dock Wisconsin, Image Credit: Door County Visitor Bureau
A special view from a restaurant window

We've been relaxing in Door County, Wisconsin the last few days. Door County is the peninsula that looks like a thumb on the Wisconsin map. Filled with art galleries, fun shops, inns and resorts and good restaurants, it's the perfect spot for a summer sojourn. Known as the Cape Cod of the Midwest, this area is a prime target for those in Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and of course, Wisconsinites. We visited here first when we lived in Illinois and have returned several more times.

This summer, it sounded so appealing as we lived through day upon day of 100+ degree heat in Kansas. So, we drove to the Chicago area first to see family and friends, then moved farther north. We stayed at the Nordic Inn, nestled in a wooded area. 

The temps have stayed in the low 70's with sunshine and a light breeze. Seems like Heaven! We've enjoyed strolling from shop to shop in the half a dozen towns that dot the peninsula. With names like Fish Creek, Ephraim, Sister Bay, Egg Harbor, Ellison Bay, Bailey's Harbor and Gill's Rock, how can you not want to explore each one?

The pictures here are taken from the Wisconsin Tourism site. I had planned to upload the pix from my camera, but I forgot to bring the cord. No wonder with all the other things I had to remember. 

Eagle Harbor Sunset, Nearest Location: Ephraim Wisconsin, Image Credit: Door County Visitor Bureau
Sunset View
Anderson Dock, Nearest Location: Ephraim Wisconsin, Image Credit: Door County Visitor Bureau
 Perfect place to relax

As always, I've enjoyed people watching here. So many different types of human beings, all of whom have a story of some kind. Hearing bits of conversations here and there gives hints of who they are and what their story might be.

We've done our part to help the Wisconsin economy since arriving. Ken loves roaming the art galleries, especially those with pottery. And yes, we have a new piece of art to bring home.

We're heading home tomorrow which will be a two day drive. I have a pad of paper with me so I can write about this beautiful place. What a setting for a story or novel. 

(Note:  I wrote this Tuesday evening and set it to be posted at 7 a.m. Wednesday. Guess what? It didn't work. Posting now at 4:20 p.m.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Don't Wait

A writer friend is losing her battle with cancer. All through her chemo treatments, she has been working on a book project, determination moving her from chapter to chapter. I've critiqued nearly all of those chapters and have been thankful that I could do this one small thing to help. The book is so near to being completed but my friend is too sick to see it through to final publication. I can only hope someone else in the group she has written about will pick up the ball and see that the book is published.

My heart became heavy when I read my friend's message to our writing group earlier today. After reading the letter again, I couldn't help but think of the many times I, and myriad other writers, have delayed a writing project. We shouldn't for our own time may be shorter than we think.

If you have a story or book in mind, get started now. Don't wait! It's human nature to put things off, but suddenly I am of the mind that we must get those stories we've only thought about under way immediately.

I have several writing projects on the back burner. Maybe it's time to bring them to the front and work on them til they are ready to submit. Every morning when we wake up, we are given a gift. The day ahead is ours to do whatever we want to, and we need to use it to the fullest.

I am thankful for the lesson taught by my friend. She has made the most of the time she had left after her diagnosis. She's looked at life with a new perspective and she's been a beacon of love and light to those around her. She's taught me to do as much as I can each day. Best of all, she's reached a point of feeling total peace thanks to many people who have entered her life and those who have been part of her life for many years.

So, please don't wait. Do the things you want to now, whether it be writing projects or any other part of your life.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Really Good Friday Afternoon

We're traveling right now and so my computer time is limited because of the driving time, visiting family and friends and now in Door County, Wisconsin, where there is much to explore. Last Friday afternoon, I did a quick check on facebook and found an announcement of the People's Choice awards given at Knowonder! online magazine for kids. You may remember that I won second place in that category in June for Message in the Night.

Then there was one more award announced for the month of July and that was the Editor's Choice award. My story, Just Plain Sarah Jane, was the winner! What a surprise! The editor had selected my story out of the 31 published that month. There is a cash prize that goes with the award, and while that is very nice and appreciated by any writer who receives it, the thrill of being chosen takes top place for me.

It made me want to write another story that I can submit to Knowonder! Definitely a good incentive. I may never win another award at this magazine, but that's OK. This one will be remembered and it will make me want to encourage other writers to try this market. Getting paid for the story is good, but with the possibility of winning one of these monthly awards, it's even better.

It will also be nice to be able to advertise the fact that I am an award-winning writer when I approach the editor of a new market, when I want to blow my horn a bit to get a speaking engagement. That information can make an editor take me seriously.

Thanks to Phillip Chipping and his assistant editors for making my Friday a really good one.

Friday, August 17, 2012

One More Day of Christmas Stories

Christmas window graphics

Are you getting in the mood to write a Christmas story? I hope these three days of stories that have a Christmas theme may trigger something for your own story. Mine are nonfiction, but yours can be fiction, something for kids, or creative non-fiction. 

Here's one published in 2011 in Celebrating Christmas With...Memories, Poetry and Good Food. My story in this book is a Christmastime memory. 

Magical Windows of Christmas
By Nancy Julien Kopp

At least once during the Christmas seasons of my 1940’s childhood, my mother and I rode the elevated train from suburban Oak Park to downtown Chicago, exiting at the Marshall Field’s station. Pigeons strutted on the wooden platform and railings, flapping soft gray wings now and then, drawing my attention, but Mother pulled me toward a long flight of steps to the street, leaving the pigeons far above us.

We headed to a special, magical place, the big department store’s Christmas windows. Often, the wind and cold air stung our cheeks. Sometimes snowflakes floated lazily over us, but it didn’t matter. A crowd formed close to the windows of Marshall Field’s, and Mother and I wiggled into the center, moving closer and closer to the front until we stood before Christmas Window #1.

There, before us was a wonderland that brought oohs and ahs from the crowd. “Look, Mommy!” could be heard off and on as well when excited children pointed out the obvious to their mothers.

Marshall Fields initiated the Christmas window display in 1897. During November, the windows were covered with brown paper and not unveiled until the day after Thanksgiving. For weeks, designers and their staff worked long hours to create a story told in eleven successive windows, using a fairy tale or child’s book theme. Animation came in later years, and the designs grew more and more lifelike.  Piles of snow and frost-covered trees looked real enough to touch. A tray of gingerbread men near an oven so perfect, I could almost smell the spicy aroma. A scroll or some other unique prop told part of the story, and the rest came with our imagination.

The earlier windows were toy displays, a marketing scheme that drew thousands of shoppers. Later, in the mid-40’s, the story windows began, and Uncle Mistletoe and Aunt Holly were introduced.

We moved from window to window enjoying the continuing tale. Stories like Snow White and Pinocchio came to life behind the giant windows. They were probably more exciting in the days prior to television, for we had nothing like this anywhere but the movie theaters. By the time we’d walked the entire route, our feet were tingling with the cold, and we headed into the store to warm up.

What better place to thaw out than in the line that ended with a short sit on Santa’s lap. By the time, we reached Santa, we’d shed gloves and hats and unbuttoned our heavy coats. I told Santa my dearest wishes, never doubting that he’d remember and bring at least one of the items I’d requested.

When the 1950’s rolled around, I made the trip downtown to Marshall Field’s with my girlfriends. Even then, my excitement stayed at a high pitch. I noticed more details, and my friends and I giggled and chatted, and pointed things out to one another. With rosy cheeks and numbing toes by the time we’d gotten to the end, we headed into the store. Not to see Santa but to savor a cup of hot chocolate and then spend some time wandering through the massive place looking for Christmas gifts for our family members. We might finish the day with a Frango Mint, the candy made famous by Marshall Field’s.

Today, Field’s is no more. The sign in front now says Macy’s. It was a sad day for me when that happened. A piece of my childhood crumbled, never to be the same. But the memory of the Christmas windows and my visits to Santa remain even many decades later. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

More On Christmas Stories

Free Christmas Scenes Clipart

It's the simple things from Christmastime that we remember

Continuing the Christmas story theme, here's another one of mine that Chicken Soup published in a 2007 Christmas book.

It’s The Simple Things
 By Nancy Julien Kopp

Ken and I have been a host family for Czech exchange students who come to study at Kansas State University for the past 6 or 7 years. The students live on their own, but we are there to answer questions, show them around town when they arrive, and invite them to our home for dinner now and then. They lead busy lives, but we e-mail or phone to keep in touch.

This year, we have two young women who are both majoring in the study of Architecture. Jana and Klara attend university in Prague, but both come from smaller towns in the Czech Republic. They arrived in the USA the day after the new airline regulations regarding what can be carried on and what must be checked went into effect. The day before they left home, their luggage had to be sorted out and rearranged to meet the new regulations. Then there was a paperwork snafu in New York when they went through immigration and customs. Before they knew what happened, they were taken to a tiny room filled to overflowing with other immigrants who had problems of one kind or another. Most all the people in there were from Asian countries or the Arab world. These two tall blonde girls huddled together in a corner expecting the worst. Finally, the paperwork got sorted out and they had to find a new flight to Kansas City since they’d missed their connecting flight with the delay. The customs officials in New York refused to help them, so they marched off to find the counter for their airline and managed to get on another flight with the help of a kind and helpful ticket agent.

Meanwhile, we knew only that they had not arrived when they were scheduled. Once they knew what flight they would be on, they did call and a full twenty-four hours beyond the expected time, they arrived at our door--desperately tired, longing for a shower, and hungry after traveling nearly two full days and nights. They spent their first week with us in our home while looking for housing and getting registered on campus. We spent the time getting to know one another and taking them to meetings and testing places on campus as well as orienting them to our community. At the end of the week, they had found a little house to rent with two other Czech students and were ready to begin the semester’s classes.

That hot August week seems so long ago. In early December I invited Klara and Jana and their two housemates to come to dinner to celebrate Christmas. Most of the exchange students travel around the USA during the holiday break, so we try to provide an evening of Christmas cheer for them each year, as it is often the only Christmas celebration they will have. It is heartwarming to watch the wonder and joy on their faces when they walk into our home and see the decorated tree and other Christmas symbols throughout the house. We have a special meal and linger at the table to talk about Christmas traditions in their country and ours. I place a candy cane above each dinner plate, and this year’s group were as surprised as all the others in years past. Candy canes are not known in the Czech Republic, and the students like them. I guess it is because they are something different. “What do they taste like?” they usually ask. Try and describe “peppermint” sometime. It’s not easy. One of the young men said he was going to Walmart to buy many candy canes to send home to Prague for Christmas.

Turns out it’s the simple things that mean something to these young people far from their families and their own country. A home-cooked meal, conversation, knowing someone cares about them and maybe having a candy cane for the first time. For Ken and me, it’s another simple thing. We end up receiving far more than we give with all of the students we’ve had. Not every Christmas gift comes in a box with wrapping paper and a bow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Think Christmas!

winter25.gif - 11.0 K

How about thinking Christmas now--right in the middle of August? If you want to sell a Christmas story, you'd better start submitting now! Even June is not too early. It's not always easy to write a Christmas story when the air-conditioner is running full force, the sun is blazingly hot outside, and the kids are begging to go to the pool to cool off. 

If you can't get in the mood during the hot summer days, write a Christmas story in the winter and save it to submit in late spring or early summer when editors are on the lookout for holiday stories. Or maybe you could slip in a few Christmas CD's to get you in the mood. Whatever it takes!

Places like Chicken Soup for the Soul accept Christmas stories all year long. They only publish a new Christmas book every two to three years, so you have to practice patience if you submit to them. 

Here's one of the Christmas stories I sent them that was accepted for the 2010 Christmas book. Maybe reading it will get you in the mood to write one of your own. 

 A Spoonful of Fudge
 By Nancy Julien Kopp

Spiral back in time with me to a mid-December day in 1947 and relive one of my treasured memories. With our teacher’s guidance, my third grade class planned the Christmas party, which would be held on our final day before the holiday break. Our classroom already looked festive thanks to a live Christmas tree decorated with our art work. Cut-out paper snowflakes adorned the tall windows, and in free time we’d made construction paper chains which we used to decorate every available space in the room.

But now the most important part of getting ready was upon us. Miss Marshak asked for volunteers to bring Christmas napkins, cookies, and punch.

 “Now what else would be good to have at the party?” she asked.

A boy in the last row hollered, “Fudge!”

At his one-word answer, I sat up straight and waved my hand in the air. When Miss Marshak did not call on me immediately, I bounced up and down in my chair and gestured furiously.

 “Yes, Nancy,” she finally said.

“I’ll bring the fudge. My mother makes the best fudge in the world.” My mouth watered at the thought of the creamy, rich chocolate candy my entire family loved.

I could hardly wait to get home and tell my mother that I’d volunteered to bring fudge for the party. She’d be so excited to share her special fudge with all my classmates. I barely felt the cold December air as I hurried along the six blocks from school to our apartment building. My feet scarcely touched the stairs as I sailed up the three flights to our door.

Mother stopped peeling potatoes when I burst into the kitchen. I announced the great news, but I didn’t get the reaction I’d expected. Her face paled. “Fudge? Isn’t there something else you can bring?”

“No. Other people signed up for the rest.” My excitement deflated like a pricked balloon.
What could be wrong?

Mother shrugged, picked up the potato peeler and said, “It’s all right. I’ll make the fudge.”

The December days slid by, one by one. I helped Mother put up our Christmas decorations. Dad took my brothers and me to pick out a tree, and Mother spent her days wrapping packages and baking special cookies and Christmas cakes. At school, we practiced for our part in the all-school musical program, read Christmas stories in reading time and created our own in Language Arts period. Giggles got louder as Christmas surrounded us.

Finally, the day before the party arrived. Our teacher went over a checklist to make sure everyone remembered what they were to bring the next day. How could I forget? I’d thought about the chocolaty, wonderful fudge Mother would make every day. I could almost taste its smoothness and the lingering sweetness it left.

When I got home that afternoon, my baby brother was crying, and Mother looked about to cry along with him. “What’s wrong?” I asked. My worry centered not on the baby or my mother but on the fudge.

Mother sank into a kitchen chair. “I’ve made three batches of fudge today, and none of them worked. They’re all too soft. I can’t send it to school.”

I had no idea why she was so disturbed. Fudge was always soft and gooey. We spooned it up every time we had it. “Why?” was all I could think to say.

Nancy,” my mother said, “fudge is not meant to be eaten with a spoon. It should be firm enough to pick it up in a piece and pop into your mouth. I beat and beat it, but it’s like it always is when I make it. Too soft. And I made it three times today!”

Tears welled in her eyes, and my baby brother reached up and patted her cheek. Maybe even he knew how bad she felt. How could I bring the fudge to school? I loved my mother’s fudge, but maybe nobody else would. Maybe they’d laugh when they saw it. I worked up my courage and asked, “What are we going to do?”

The next morning, I carried a big pan of fudge and 21 spoons to school.

 The soft candy was the hit of the party. After we had our punch and cookies, everyone gathered around the cake pan of fudge, spoon in hand, and dug in. My fears were never realized. One of the boys licked his spoon and said, “You were right. Your mom does make the best fudge in the world.” Echoes of agreement sounded around the circle. We dipped our spoons for more.

Some years later, Mother began to make a new fudge recipe that contained marshmallow crème. The ads promised it was foolproof--firm fudge every time. They were right, but the spoonfuls of soft fudge we’d eaten all those years before remained my favorite, and I never forgot how my mother found a solution to what might have been my biggest third grade disaster. It wasn't only fudge she'd given me that December day.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Submission Process, Part 2

Continuing the Submission Process...

Offering guidelines allows editors to reduce the amount of unusable submissions sent to them. Guidelines provide a step by step guide for the writer. For instance, a writer can learn if single or double spacing is asked for, if paragraphs are to be indented or not, if there are certain items to be listed at the top of the entry (ie. name, address, phone, e-mail, word count, rights offered). Guidelines might specify that only unpublished work is accepted, or they might say that reprints are welcome. The information is there to help and is meant to be followed carefully. If the writer disregards the information, the submission will end up being tossed, so it is to her benefit to follow guidelines carefully.

If a cover letter is included with the submission, keep it short and professional. If at all possible, learn the editor’s name and use it--Dear Mr. Brooks rather than Dear Dan. If a writer has never been published, there is no need to point it out. If published, she should give a short resume of where her work might be found.

Send the cover letter, the submission, and a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) if you are submitting through postal mail. Don’t add cutesy things to any of the above. Be professional at all times. If indicated that submissions are accepted via e-mail, so much the better. No postage, no SASE to be included. Pay careful attention to the guidelines as to whether the editor prefers attachments or to have the submission copied and pasted into the body of the e-mail.

Set up a record-keeping system of some kind. It may be a series of index cards, a notebook with a page for each piece you’ve written, or a more complex spreadsheet on the computer. How it’s done is a personal choice, but do it.

The last step in the submission process is not to sit back and wait for an answer. A response may not arrive for weeks, perhaps even months, occasionally never. The final step is to begin to work on a new story, article, or essay and start the submission process all over again. Keep a ferris wheel of submissions going at all times.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Submission Process, Part 1

There is one great truth in writing for publication. You will not be published if you don’t submit your work. Submitting is step one. Sounds easy, doesn’t it, but in reality a writer must have a few items in her internal tote bag to help in the process.

First and foremost, she’ll need the courage to send her work to an editor. And don’t kid yourself--it does take courage to send your baby out into the publishing sea. The waters are deep, and the sharks numerous. Other authors have sent their precious words to the same editor. Which one is going to survive? There’s no way to tell, but if you don’t submit, you’ll never know if your words will be the ones to swim right into the publication process. Take a chance and send your work along with whatever is required in the writers’ guidelines. The rejections may outweigh the acceptances, but that’s what this business is all about. Statistics tell us that writers receive more rejections than acceptances, so toughen your hide and send your work to an appropriate publication. If it comes back, send it to another publication.

The best way to match your story, essay, or article with the right magazine, newspaper or ezine is to study market guides. There are several guides published annually that offer complete information about hundreds of publications. They list address, phone numbers, editors’ names, requirements, payment and sometimes list current needs. Guides exist for novel writers, magazines, playwrights, poets, and song lyric writers. It is to the writer’s advantage to study the guide that pertains to her particular type of work. Most library reference sections have copies of the market guides. A writer can spend hours in the library taking notes, but she can also go online to find market guides or websites of specific publications, or visit a bookstore and purchase a copy. Keep in mind that they become outdated in a hurry.

It’s also possible to use an internet search engine for writers’ guidelines. Use keywords to narrow the search. If you have written an article about building a backyard pond, look for garden magazines or How-To publications. If there is a particular magazine that interests you, put the name in a search engine and look for the guidelines. Ask yourself if your article, story or essay would be a good fit. It’s a waste of time to submit to them if you feel your work is way off base for that publication. 

Part 2 tomorrow...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Why We Write For Publication?

There are various reasons a person writes. A few people do it strictly for themselves, would never want the world to see what they’ve written. The mere act of writing satisfies the soul for some, and for others, a lack of self-confidence keeps them from submitting their work for publication. But he majority of writers strive for publication for various reasons, some of which overlap.

Chief among them is cash, either needed or desired. Let’s be honest. There must be very few writers who wouldn’t welcome a check in exchange for words written. That old adage “Time is money” holds true for writers. They deserve compensation for the great amount of time it takes to ponder over an idea, to write, and then revise a piece. They offer knowledge and/or entertainment in exchange for money.

For others, the byline is important. Seeing your name on a story that is available for the world to read gives one a sense of pride and a feeling of accomplishment. I once knew an obstetrician who claimed he received a thrill with every baby he delivered. Writers might feel the same with every new story, essay or article created. Each one comes close to the joy that the doctor experienced with every newborn he held in his skilled hands.

Publication provides a way of touching the lives of others with the words written and printed in a magazine, newspaper or ezine. A writer can derive satisfaction in the hope that she has made a difference in someone’s life. The sad part is that the writer seldom knows who, or how many, her words have touched. Occasionally, a reader will respond with a letter, phone call, or a comment via a website to tell the author how her words have made a difference, how they taught a lesson, or perhaps touched a heart. What could be a better inspiration to continue writing?

Perhaps some write to fill a need to produce something worthwhile. They hope to leave something personal, a legacy of a kind. Long after a writer dies, her words can still be read by and touch succeeding generations. Even writers who don’t achieve great fame and fortune can be reasonably assured that their work will be passed down through the family for generations to come.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Your Friends Have Stories, Too

The Birthday Girl and Her Husband

The picture is of my good friend, Zoe and her husband, J.D. Today is Zoe's birthday. Because I am her true friend, I won't reveal which one it is. 

I often urge you to write your family stories and I always will, but a part of your own story is the stories of your longtime friends. Do you have some friends that you might write about and include in your Memory Book? I bet you do. 

I met Zoe when Ken and I moved to Rockford, IL in the early 90's. She was one of the first people I met in the Newcomers Club, a fellow Bridge player. We lived only a few blocks apart. Zoe invited me to join her in early morning walks along the Rock River three mornings a week. We took turns driving to the river, chattering all the way. Once parked, we set off along the winding walking path that followed the river. Zoe's little dog, Heike, accompanied us most mornings. On that first morning, Zoe strolled along and I kept moving a bit faster and faster. If we're doing this for exercise, I told her, we need to move at a brisk pace. Soon, we were moving at a faster pace on each outing.

We walked summer and winter, and in inclement weather, we walked at the mall. When you spend 30-40 minutes walking with someone, you also talk, and in our talking, we learned about one another's lives. Zoe's husband had held jobs in Algeria and Brazil as well as parts of the USA. I learned a lot about what life as an expatriate is like, and I learned some things about each of those foreign countries. We discussed the families we grew up in, our husbands, and our children. We became grandmothers close to the same time and reveled in talking about our wonderful grandbabies.

In 1997, Ken retired and we moved back to Kansas. Only a year or so later, Zoe's husband retired and they moved to Phoenix, stopping at our house as they made the long auto trip to their new home. We've kept in touch via e-mail, skype, and an occasional visit. I know her story and she knows mine. I've worried over some serious illnesses she's had, and I've rejoiced when good things happen to people in her family. We send one another small birthday and Christmas gifts, one more way to keep our friendship alive and well. 

If I wrote a story about Zoe, it would have to include our many shopping trips, lunches and bridge games. Also the online scrabble games we play which allows us to add a note on each play. We are a part of one another's life. I love her positive outlook on life, her sense of humor, her love of God and family, and her caring attitude.

Happy Birthday Zoe! 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Grammar--Boring But Important

This poster made me smile when I saw it on a friend's facebook page. I never considered myself a Grammar Nazi, but I think it's possible that the title is fitting for me. 

Unlike many kids, I enjoyed the grammar part of English class. I liked filling out those fill in the blank exercises where you had to choose the proper word. Like your or you're. To this day, it irritates me when I see it used incorrectly. Even on TV news shows! 

I thought diagramming sentences was great fun, the longer the sentence the better. Punctuation exercises brought me an easy A. Spelling, which I consider a close relative to or even part of grammar was easy for me, too. This is not bragging, it's just the way it was. 

Now that I'm a grown-up, I know that what brought pleasure and something easy to learn for me might have been terribly difficult and boring for others. I understand that because math proved miserable and tough for me. 

Nevertheless, writers need to be especially careful to use proper grammar. Only the other day, I read an interview where several editors claimed that one of the biggest turnoffs when reading submissions received from writers was to find the piece rife with grammar and spelling errors. The content would have to be spectacular for them to accept it and correct all the technical mistakes.

Writers today have the benefit of spell check and grammar usage helps. Use them if you know you have a problem with either one. Sure, it adds a little time, but you'll come out the winner in the end if you send a submission to an editor that has no errors in it. 

Google keywords like grammar websites to give you any needed assistance. Spend 10 minutes a day with a grammar website. We're never too old to learn. One I found that looked good is a Guide to Grammar and Writing  You'll find plenty of others. Same with spelling rules. 

I've decided I'm not a true Grammar Nazi because, even though I cringe a bit when I see a major grammatical error, I never correct the speaker or writer. Not that I wouldn't like to, but my mother taught me to be careful of other people's feelings. I did correct my children but that's in the Mother's Handbook--a part of my job as their mom. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Which Writing Fairy Do You Listen To?

I've had a story swirling in the recesses of my mind for several weeks. One that I think would work for a new Chicken Soup for the Soul book that accepts submissions until the last day of August. Last night, I opened a blank page in Word and began to write the story. 

I wrote for well over an hour. The story seemed to be coming together nicely. I was aiming for 1200 words, and by the time I was ready to call it quits for the day, I had over 700 words but still a lot to be told. I didn't take time to read over what I'd written, knew there would be time to do that in the morning.

I got ready for bed, feeling satisfied that more than half the first draft was complete. I settled down in bed to watch the news but while the news anchor and weatherman jabbered on about the day's events, something began to gnaw at me. My story!

I knew that the story wasn't right but what, I wondered, was wrong with it. I mentally replayed what I'd written and the answer came. The first two paragraphs were fine, but the rest of it went into background that threatened to take over the original story. It would overshadow the original premise. Maybe I'd find a solution the next day.

Then the Bad Writing Fairy whispered that it would be a shame to lose all those words that I'd so painstakingly written. Leave it the way it is and keep going. The Good Writing Fairy rapped her over the head with her Writers Wand. but smiled sweetly at me. Dump all except the first two paragraphs and keep going. I knew which one I should heed. I pushed both fairies off my pillow and decided to sleep on their advice.

It's a new day, and there is no doubt in my mind that I have to begin the story again. The first thing I'll do is delete more than 500 words, no matter how much it hurts. There is no reason to sabotage my own story with words that don't belong. 

A good many stories that are published look nothing like the first draft. It's a practice round to help a writer know what direction to go. We begin and often begin again.  Writing isn't easy. Well, maybe the Bad Writing Fairy might tell you it's a piece of cake, but the Good Writing Fairy is going to remind you that it's hard work but well worth the effort. Which one will you listen to?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dinner Time, Story Time

Saturday evening we hosted a dinner party with three couples invited, something we hadn't done for quite some time. I spent Friday and Saturday grocery shopping, cleaning and cooking. This time, it wore me out much faster than in the days when we had dinner parties on a regular basis.

Even so, I was ready when the doorbell started ringing announcing our guests. After drinks and appetizers, I filled the plates with baked salmon, rice pilaf, a citrus chiffon salad with a strawberry garnish and asparagus with almonds. Once they  were placed on the table, I called our guests to come and eat.

Ken poured the wine while I passed the bread I'd baked earlier in the day and soon we were eating, laughing, and telling stories. As the plates grew emptier, the stories increased. Each couple related times in the past when they'd lived or traveled overseas. There were stories about the years we were all raising children. We heard stories about our individual heritages, how our ancestral grandparents had come to this country, how we've worked at learning their family stories.

Over Sour Cream Lemon Pie and coffee, military years stories were related. I noticed that the stories were about the pasts of 8 different people, and yet there were similar threads running through all of them. The older I get, the clearer it becomes that people are more alike than they are different in so many respects.

After our guests left, I cleaned up the kitchen and thought about all the shared memories. How many, I wondered, will ever sit down and write about the things they so easily spoke about? My guess is that not very many will do so. The children and grandchildren of the people who gathered around our table would find the stories interesting, maybe fascinating in some cases, as well as being of importance when tracing a family history.

One woman told us about an adult daughter who rather disdainfully questioned why her mother kept a particular item when moving to a new town. Her mother told her the the family history of the piece and immediately the daughter asked if she could have it. When we learn the story of an item, we see it in a new perspective.

What is it about people eating together that triggers these stories? What other places have you been where memory stories are told with gusto? The next time you tell a story, give strong consideration to writing it and starting a memory book for future generations of your family to read.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Place of Interest For Readers and Writers

Linda Pharaoh Carlson

Linda Pharaoh Carlson is a poet and owner/moderator of The WordSmith website. Linda is masterful at adding the perfect graphics and music to the stories and poems featured. She adds magic to a poem or story that writers submit to her. Take a look and you'll see what I mean.

Recently, she has updated the website. Read about what she has been doing in the newsletter. Then go to the Home Page to see the new look. It's really fabulous. One of my favorite spots is the Book  of Favorites that has turning pages where a visitor can click on a page and read the poem or story featured. And yes, some of my work is included there. Maybe I'm a bit prejudiced but I think it's a pretty neat idea and love the stories and poems Linda selected to be featured.

With another click, you can go to Kathe Campbell's author page that Linda has put together to feature this Montana mountain author. Kathe has been spotlighted in my blog more than once. Linda intends to create author pages for others in the near future.

You'll find the Featured Story and Poem near the top of the Home Page, just one more click to read each one. Farther down the page click on Submission Guidelines, then go on to read news of some of the WordSmith authors.

Near the top left, you'll see a few lines that offer the option of signing up for an account to take  full advantage of all The WordSmith has to offer, along with the Writers Forum that Linda also hosts. This is not mandatory, only for those who want to participate fully in all these websites have to offer. Linda has a complete explanation as to why she offers this choice.

Spend some time at The WordSmith, bookmark it, and return to read more of the entertaining stories and poems Linda Pharaoh Carlson offers both readers and writers. If you like it, pass it on to others.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Maeve Binchy--A Favorite of Mine

Maeve Binchy
The news of Maeve Binchy's passing saddened me greatly. I was born exactly one year before her, well almost, as her birthday was May 28, 1940 and mine May 29, 1939. We were the last wave of Depression babies, brought up by parents who knew what real hardship was. Our early years coincided with WWII. Both of those situations had a tremendous influence on the person I am today, and I'm guessing that it was the same for this beloved Irish novelist. 

Like me, Maeve Binchy was a teacher. She moved on to become a journalist and then began writing novels. She wrote about everyday people in Ireland which endeared her to her readers. Her characters were ones readers could relate to. They are like the people we meet in our day to day life. We cheer when something good happens to her protagonist and snuffle a bit when something bad occurs.

Light A Penny Candle was, I believe, her first novel and it made me a fan of hers for life. I read it about 30 years ago and loved it. I think I must read it again to understand what it was that appealed to me about that book. I do know that I followed Maeve's career and read every new book she had published. Some I liked better than others, but I never found one I did not finish or disliked. 

First and foremost, Maeve Binchy was a master storyteller. Her style was simple, her voice all her own, and her prose most readable. Her work would not be put into the literary section at a bookstore. Her books appealed more to women and they were meant to be entertaining. Even so, readers learned many life lessons as they journeyed through her many novels and short stories. 

Her husband is Gordon Snell, a children's author. What interesting dinner conversations they must have had, both being in the same field, both knowing all about the joys and miseries of getting published, both knowing the elation and sorrow that comes with being a writer. 

I will miss her stories immensely. Her latest novel, A Week in Winter, has not been published but is with her publisher in the final stages of editing prior to publication. Surely, it will be published soon and with great fanfare to laud this beloved author's final gift to the world of readers. 

If you have not read any of Maeve Binchy's books. go to her website (where the home page now announces her death) and click on the page links on the left to learn more about her and to find a list of her publications. Then start reading her books, one by one.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Memory Book--August

Free clipart of swimming pool with olympic swimmer swimming fast.

It's a brand new month--the 8th one of 2012. Still summer so kids are swimming, running lemonade stands, and skateboarding. It's also time for you to add to your Family Memories Notebook.

Think back to August in your childhood or even your young adult years. What kind of activities did your family do in this last month before school started? Was August always a vacation time for your family? Did your mother start shopping for back-to-school supplies and/or clothes? Did she spend hours canning produce from the family garden? Did you go to baseball games? Or maybe listen to them on the radio? Did you make long trips to the beach? Or swimming hole or a pool?

Did you have a park nearby or play in your own backyard? Or were you like me, growing up in a large apartment building that offered a concrete courtyard in back for kids to play? We played a game called Chinese Stoop Tag on top of the many sewer covers in that large play space. We played 7-up with a rubber ball that we bounced on the brick wall. We played Tag and Hide-and-Seek. What games did you play with your siblings and friends during August?

What kinds of foods did your family eat in August? Maybe sweet corn dripping with butter or peaches picked from your own trees. Potato salad, hot dogs, burgers, baked beans--all picnic food. 

What was the weather like where you lived in August? Hot and sultry? Hot and dry? Cool and rainy? Miserable or delightful? How did you keep cool? Air-conditioning, floor fans, ceiling fans, in-window fans, attic fans? What sounds did you hear through an open window as you lay in bed trying to go to sleep? Crickets? Birds? Barking dogs? Trains? Cars bumping along a brick street? 

Maybe some of the above will trigger long-ago memories for you. Write about all these things and add it to your Memory Book. Is there a particular family story you want to add? Don't say I'll do it later. Do it now before life steps in and pushes the thoughts farther back into the recesses of your mind.