How could anyone resist this little book with such an intriguing and comforting title? This is one of those gems that I looked forward to reading each day, and it was responsible for much sleep deprivation, since I couldn’t stop reading the narratives until I found out what would happen at the end.
This is a collection of inspirational articles that originally appeared in Reader’s Digest magazine, and were compiled and published as a book in 1959. Most of these are short vignettes or biographies about ordinary people who—through their tenacity, hard work, creative solutions, compassion—became extraordinary. I can’t resist hearing about people’s lives, and I find hearing others’ stories to be the gentlest way possible to change my own character for the better. How fortunate that books like this still circulate fifty years later!
The authors of the articles include Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Dorothy Kilgallen (remember the TV show “What’s My Line?”), Helen Keller, Norman Vincent Peale, Pearl S. Buck and five articles by Fulton Oursler. They are filled with a variety of people, places, hardships, misery, joys, sadness and transformation. Some of the lifestyles and perspectives are so different from today, and so refreshingly simple and helpful.
The titles show the broad range of topics: “I Owe My Career to Losing a Leg”, “The Child who Never Grew”, “A Formula for Presence of Mind”, “Rebirth of an American Farm”, “Forget It!”, “What the Sioux Taught Me”, “Billie Miskie’s Last Fight”.
Here are some notes from my favorites:
From “Your Second Job”: “No matter how busy one is, any human being can assert his personality by seizing every opportunity for spiritual activity. How? By his second job, by means of personal action, on however small a scale, for the good of his fellow men. He will not have to look very far for opportunities.” The author, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, relates two examples, the first about an elderly man traveling by train to an unfamiliar city to visit his dying son; the second about a WW I cab driver declared too old for military service but wanting to serve somehow. Through the compassion of a stranger, and through ingenuity and will, both men were successful.
Helen Keller, blind from birth, tells what she would do if she was granted three days to see. Five articles are taken from the regular Reader’s Digest magazine column, “The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Met”, and tell of men and women who are unusually determined, courageous and generous.
One long narrative, “When Are You Going to Turn Respectable?”, relates the experience of a man who had studied for several years at Harvard University. But he ran out of money and had to get a job in a hurry, so in order to eat, he left behind his white collar lifestyle and took a job as a sweeper in a steel company. By the end of the article he is explaining why he recommends that sort of work, as dirty and dangerous as it is, and says, “I’m more respectable now than I ever was.”
You can find The Bedside Book of the Art of Living at online booksellers.
Although I have little room on my bookshelves, and usually get rid of the books I’ve read to make room for more, I am squeezing this one back onto the shelf. It’s a keeper, and a reference book I can return to as an antidote to change any kind of gloomy attitude to one of gratitude.
I made notes on this book as I was reading it. (Caution: many spoilers.)
I am only pages away from finishing this book which was published in 1918. It has been a dusty, dry read at times; maybe I’ve been very taken by the Nebraska fields. There have been tragedies and characters’ stories of tragedies. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to accept these ugly intrusions into my reading as necessary or beneficial (two grotesque suicides and a brutally pointless murder). But I’m resigned to the idea that this is real life, and we will now watch as the characters react to and live with these sadnesses and injustices.
The first half of the book draws us into the extreme hardship of the immigrant families living in sod houses. The narrator, Jim, is a few years younger than Antonia, who he knows will probably always look upon him as a boy. Antonia, called Tony, is a strong young woman, physically and otherwise, cheerful, optimistic, dutiful, and full of life. Jim and Tony have moved into town—Jim to go to high school, and Tony to earn money working for another family. For the last half of the book, I have cringed hearing about Tony joining a loose group of girls and participating in their escapades, and about Jim enjoying the company of Lena, the soft-spoken wispy “leader” of the disreputable team, all the while hoping he wouldn’t fall in step with her.
Although I was curious about what would happen to the characters, I haven’t really looked forward to reading the book each evening. It’s as harsh and bland as the colorless landscape. And then when they get to the easier, more colourful life living in the town, the tension has constantly risen as their morals have been compromised. It’s interesting to see that while Jim’s upright family—and his strong home-away-from-home—stabilize him, the opposite happens to Tony, due to her strong will and insistence upon her own way in spite of others’ warnings, but also due to her family at home and the not-so-strong family she lives with.
The author has done such a marvellous job of developing the characters that I almost took it for granted. It seems as though someone is simply narrating a true story, all completely real. Some of the ugly characters were given to us very lovingly (Lena and Tiny), and in spite of all her hardships, some who might have been enemies (her brother, her mother) stayed dear and close to Tony’s heart forever.
I have just read the account of Tony naively entering into engagement with the slippery train conductor, and how he brought her out to Denver to marry him, but instead abandoned her and went off to Mexico. She moved back out to her family’s farm, had her baby, and for the last year and a half has been working as hard as a man for her heartless brother. I think I know what’s going to happen, and if I’m wrong it will be an awful experience, so I thought I’d jot down these thoughts now.
A big reason why I put this book on my “To Read” list is because Kathleen Norris (Amazing Grace) loves it, and this edition has a forward by Kathleen Norris (that I haven’t read; never read those kinds of things, just in case they give away some of the plot). The reason I decided to read it is because the Classics eBook club featured it, and gave me the first 6 chapters to read.
Now I have finished (except for Norris’s forward), and was a bit surprised, and disappointed at first. No, Jim doesn’t marry the young woman with the baby; he goes off to be a lawyer on the East coast, and doesn’t see her for 20 years. (I’m disappointed; he seemed to be much more concerned for Tony than that.) But when he does finally visit her near their old homes, she is blissfully happy with her 10 strong, mature, good-natured children and gentle husband on their farm. It’s just so, so perfect for her. It’s as though all the hard times didn’t matter in the end. Jim apparently didn’t marry; I wonder why.
Willa Cather’s 1918 forward to the book essentially says that her actual friend Jim, with whom she grew up there in Nebraska, wrote down all his remembrances of Antonia, and that became this book. Anyway, I’m glad I read it. It keeps me aware of how easy my life is, by comparison, and makes me more grateful for the good in my life, and the comfort.
Writers sometimes get an “us versus them” attitude toward the editors to whom we send our work. But I have found an editor that is such a pleasure to work with, I almost stopped caring what happened to my submission. Meet editor and author Graham Taylor at Good Guy Publishing in the U.K. We had many emails go back and forth over a few months, and each of his quick responses and warm greetings left me feeling glad that I’d connected with GGP. It was frosting on the cake when I squeaked in as a finalist in the Flashy Shorts 2 contest. I highly recommend writers check them out.
Flashy Shorts?! People displaying their colorful underwear?
No, that’s the name of one of GGP’s many competitions, accepting Flash Fiction (500 word max) and Short Story (5,000 word max) entries. It was hard to find places looking for “long short stories”, but I discovered GGP via a Google search on short story markets, and why wouldn’t I want to do business with a Good Guy? I sent in “I Guess I Robbed a Bank” after getting the go-ahead from Graham by email, but frankly, I didn’t know I’d actually entered a competition until they said I was one of the finalists. (Perhaps everything submitted is considered an entry to a competition?)
Hyperventilating at a hyperlink
You can buy Flashy Shorts 2 at Amazon, here. (That link goes to Amazon.com, rather than the Amazon.co.uk address, because you may have an easier time buying it through Amazon.com.)
Please bear with me in my !!! ExCiTeMeNt !!!. This is a first for me, my name being listed (even hyperlinked!) on AMAZON as an author. In an odd coincidence, this is the second short story of mine published in June/July 2013, both written in 2007 while I was out of town on a holiday, both inspired from a writing prompt in The Writer’s Book of Matches. I’ll have to do some analysis and try to recreate the environment that was so full of creativity.
So do check out Good Guy Publishing, and their many publications. Here are the opening sentences of “I Guess I Robbed a Bank”. Maybe they will inspire you to read the rest!
While Veronica waited at the police station for the administrator to return with the documents, she massaged her wrists beneath the handcuffs. She noticed that a man at the counter kept looking at her. Well, no wonder. Her jeans were ripped at the knees and dried blood stained the denim around an ugly wound. Frightening tattoos decorated the full length of both arms, and sliding tears had left tracks through the pink and blue butterflies on her cheeks…
A few months ago, I mentioned to some writer friends that I’d created some spreadsheets to calculate my writing income and expenses. I use these for the writing business portion of my tax return. I offered to send a copy to them, and a few were interested, so I made them a little more user-friendly (colors!) and included some instructions before I sent them off. Now I’m offering these to you.
Taxes in August? Well, ideally if you have a small business, you are logging your business expenses and income each month. This is always my goal, but unfortunately I tend to leave all this until the last minute in March. Anyway, this may give us an incentive to get a head start before tax season rolls around.
I created these spreadsheets on Open Office and saved them as Excel spreadsheets, assuming most people would be using Excel. WordPress didn’t allow me to upload the Open Office version, but here is the Excel version.
A few notes:
1. I have highlighted in red each cell which contains a formula, so don’t type over those.
2. The GST is automatically calculated when you enter the “before GST” amount.
3. The total cost for each item is automatically calculated by adding in the GST.
4. The totals for each section are automatically added up at the bottom of the section. (So, for example, you can see the total GST you paid.)
5. There are 3 separate sheets all in one file: the “Writing Expenses & Income” sheet, the “Business Use of Home” sheet, and the “Business Use of Car” sheet. You can flip between these by using the tabs at the bottom.
6. The “Writing Expenses & Income” sheet automatically grabs the final numbers from the other 2 sheets and includes them in the calculation of “Total Writing Expenses – Other”. So once you’ve filled those last 2 sheets out, the final numbers will automatically appear on the first sheet.
7. I have shown the calculation next to some of the red formulas. For example,
“(= B12 / B13)” (the amount in cell B12 divided by the amount in cell B13).
Won’t this make tax time fun? I’m looking forward to hearing if this is helpful!
My short story, “Inclement Weather”, is now appearing in the current issue of The Storyteller: A Writer’s Magazine. What a thrill!
This story came out of a unique writing opportunity and a great book of writing prompts. Several years ago when I was a teaching assistant working at an elementary school, I had two months off during the summer, and spent one of those months in Denver visiting my family. My routine was to spend mornings writing, and the rest of the day visiting. I’d brought with me a favorite book, The Writer’s Book of Matches: 1001 Prompts to Ignite Your Fiction, and used many of the prompts to write short stories. This was one of them.
Over the years, I revised it many times and struggled to find markets for my humorous, slightly romantic story. Eventually I submitted it to the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition in the Genre Short Story category. (This is typical of my questionable habit of starting high, in a competitive arena, and if I don’t get a positive response, I know it still needs work.) And I got no response. I revisited it a year later, and something occurred to me about a change that was happening with the main character, so I clarified and emphasized that change and felt that I’d improved the whole story.
With this new enthusiasm, I went back to the Writer’s Market books and the internet to find a potential home for my story. My writing style isn’t the most in-demand. I don’t write in some of the more popular genres, such as paranormal, thrillers, mysteries or science fiction. I think my stories could be considered a mixture of women’s fiction with a touch of romance, and on the corny side, definitely tough to find markets for. So I was excited to find The Storyteller listed in the 2013 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market as a publisher who was specifically looking for wholesome writing. “We accept all genres, but please remember this is a family magazine and submit accordingly.”
The Storyteller is listed in the 101 Best of the Magazine Markets for 2006-2011, and The Best of the Magazine Markets for Writers 2009-2011. Harvard University has now included the Storyteller in their publication, Magazines for Libraries. It is a world wide publication.
All Robert wanted was to come in out of the rain for a few minutes, but the next thing he knew, he was in a shouting match with a complete stranger. Over a period of less than fifteen minutes, however, the conflict in the dress shop caused a significant change inside him which transformed a faltering element of his personality. He left a much taller man with a delightful woman on his arm.
You can buy this and other issues of The Storyteller by going to their website and clicking on “Shop with Us”. To order this issue, choose the Single Issue option, and select April, May, June.
For the last few weeks, many of my writing, posting and other activities have taken a back seat to the news and activities surrounding the flooding here in Calgary and nearby cities and First Nations. Our neighborhood was evacuated for several days and since we’ve returned (all safe), I’ve been listening to other people’s stories, telling some of my own and taking many photos. My own family, in three households around the city, all live close to the Bow River. When we had to evacuate, we kept in touch by texting as we went in different directions to stay with friends and family, and thankfully were untouched by flood waters. Here is my story.
At about 9:30 PM the first night of the flood while I was taking pictures of the rising river, a neighbor told me that our area was next to evacuate. I walked home to listen to the news and by the time the police told us to leave at eleven o’clock at night, I’d grabbed a few days’ clothes, my cat and my neighbor. We went up the steep hill on our street to a McDonald’s and hung out there with other neighbors, eating and watching the news on television.
The river was supposed to crest between about three and six in the morning, so at about 5 AM on Friday when it started getting light, we decided to go back to see how high the water was. Police were blocking some of the roads, and we were shocked to see that the little creek about two blocks from our area was now a raging river about five times wider and faster, and was only one block from us. All the electricity was out, so I figured that was a sign that we weren’t welcome back, so even though we were sure that no water would reach our places, we decided that we would cooperate by going to a shelter at a recreation center.
On the way, we saw that what was once a dog park, golfing range and cement factory was now a raging river. It was a strange to walk into the hockey rink where my kids had often played hockey, and to see the entire surface of the rink filled with rows of cots! As was typical around the city, there were so many volunteers and so many donations offered, we watched them turn away people and home-made food because there was no more room for them. We stayed there and ate three meals, and then went to a friend’s house for the night. Returning to our neighborhood on Saturday to see if we could salvage some food from our refrigerators before it all spoiled, we found that the electricity was back on and we were allowed to come back home.
The entire downtown core—one of the hardest hit since it is along the river—was flooded and closed for about a week, some businesses even longer. The mayor asked all companies, whether in flood zones or not, to close up shop in order to allow all emergency vehicles to do their job unhindered by traffic. I thought this was brilliant, and am in awe of the competency and care of our mayor Naheed Nenshi. My son’s IT company, which is in operation 24/7, had to move their operations to an employee’s basement and later to a college classroom, carrying on their work via their company’s server near Atlanta, Georgia.
June 22nd – police borrowing my neighbor’s binoculars to see if it was a person in the middle of the river (it wasn’t, it was just debris)
For a few days, sections of the main highway through town were closed. It was frightening when a railroad bridge buckled over the river with a train on it carrying tanker cars full of petroleum. Thank God the bridge held and the train was moved with no further problems. My neighbor works at the Calgary Zoo, which is on an island in the Bow River in the east part of downtown, and he told me yesterday that they had to lay off seventy-five percent of their staff. The flood damage required them to close, and it will be months before everything gets up and running again. In the early part of the flooding there was a contingency plan for some of the large cats from the zoo to be evacuated to the city jail, but it proved unnecessary.
July 16th – now that the water has gone done, we can see how in many places the trail was gouged out by the river. It all used to look like the trail in the background, only with shale covering it.
I personally don’t know anyone who was flooded out. A co-worker told me that some friends in Mission—a beautiful neighborhood, many of whose front yards extend to the banks of the Elbow River—lived in a seven million dollar home, but are abandoning it because it will cost two million dollars to repair the flood damage. The government gave financial support to many victims, and recently announced that there would be conditions on any further support for those in flood zones, encouraging them to rebuild in a different location.
The flood hit two weeks before one of Calgary’s biggest celebrations, the Stampede. It flooded one of the central venues, the grandstand, rodeo grounds and racetrack where the chuck wagon races are held. With the announcement that the Stampede would go on as planned, “come hell or high water”, came tee shirts with that logo, sold as fund raisers for flood relief. I could hardly believe it when I was at the grounds on Sunday and heard that to date $2.1 million has been raised from these shirts! There on the big screen we saw the amazing transformation in photographs of the entire area under several feet of water, yet two weeks later, it was dried out and remade to a track that the cowboys and horse racers said was a better surface than they’d had in years. I am inspired and proud of the spirit in this city.
- This bench used to sit in the shade of huge old poplar trees along a lovely red shale walking trail, facing trees and bushes and within hearing of a gurgling creek where the mallards made their nests in the rushes.
I have just returned from my latest walk in my end of the once-flooded park and saw uprooted trees and various strange debris in the middle of a large field that were apparently dropped off by that raging river during the flood. The creek is almost down to its normal July spring run-off level, but its course has changed to cross over the walking path. I am—and have been through the past weeks as I have seen the alarmingly fast waters and the hills of large rocks deposited in its wake—in awe of the power of God in nature. Somehow, though it sits in the center of the most disastrous looking area, my favorite bench is still there in the midst of the wreckage with debris still stuck firmly to it.
My prayers continue for the victims in Calgary and especially High River to the south, and the First Nations to the east and west. I hope you will join me to ask for help from the ultimate power in the universe, Almighty God, who tells us to call to him and he will answer us, and show us great and mighty things.
Since I’m having so much fun writing a story for kindergarteners, I thought I’d share some of what I’m learning.
I started two stories for the Children’s Writer Contest, but I’m pretty sure they are not going to work for this young age. So I thought I’d focus on the words first, instead of the story plot first.
According to Alijandra and Tayopa Mogilner, the authors of Children’s Writer’s Word Book, the kindergarten student’s vocabulary centers around one-syllable words under six letters long, and the sentences need to be VERY short. Many of the short sentences are technically only phrases, but they are what kiddies at this age need.
What I did to get the feel for one of these stories is read her example story over and over until I got the rhythm. Then I started with the A words and looked at each word in the list of acceptable kindergarten words, hoping for inspiration.
Then I took a break and went into the library. Actually, I was already sitting in the parking lot of the library with books to return, and wasn’t allowing myself to actually go inside until I’d written a story. But the dark clouds came and the wind whipped up and I remembered the weather forecast was for thunderstorms, so I went inside after only writing a few phrases.
I looked at four “X” books, early readers, level 1, and the feel of the short sentences got locked in my head. I checked out those books, went back out to my car, opened up that list of kindergarten words again and browsed through them again. Soon I had the germ of an idea for a story. I wrote down some phrases and short sentences, but many of the words for my first ideas weren’t allowed because they were too advanced. So I had to look up the words in the “thesaurus” section of Children’s Writer’s Word Book—what a brilliant idea the authors had, to find other words at the reading level you need—and I began to re-think how else I could express my thoughts within the restrictions of the simplest words.
I started driving home, and at each light, I’d jot down a few words and phrases that had popped into my head since the last light. Now that I’m having fun imagining this story, I have enthusiasm and momentum!
Are you writing for early readers? Let me know what works for you!
I have just read one of the best children’s books ever, that teaches the simple truths of the Bible. Here are 17 lyrical stories—from the point of view of the ANIMALS—with large, bright, happy artwork. Silliness and rhymes pop in and out of the humorous tales like little gophers. These tales can be enjoyed by children up to age 12 (and childlike adults), and are perfect to read aloud to children six and under.
Once I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down. I smiled my way all through the stories, starting with the very first raccoon ever created, not knowing where he was or who he was, to the rooster that crowed at Peter’s denial of Jesus but soon finds something wonderful to celebrate. One of my favorites was the military group of Raven Raiders, a tactical organization that gets orders to feed Elijah.
This is one of my gems from a used book sale. This 220-page hardback is illustrated by Elizabeth Hagler, published in 1990 by Questar Publishers, and readily available online. The Bible Animal Storybook is a keeper!
I have been receiving a newsletter from CBI, Children’s Book Insider, for quite a while, and what a dynamic organization! CBI offers many tips about writing for children, and often gives away some of their valuable resources, which is how I happened to receive this helpful eBook.
With all of the changes in the publishing industry, it’s hard to keep up. But Karen Robertson’s book, What is a Book App and Could YOU Create One? How 27 Writers Did!, gave me a lot of practical information. The loads of interviews and testimonials gave me a sense of the challenges, the wide range of experiences with various contractors and experts needed when creating a book app, the cost, the variety of uses and possibilities, and the reason to create or not create a book app. The only thing that disappointed me was that I didn’t get more of the details of how I could create a book app all on my own, without hiring others for parts of it. At any rate, I now feel informed enough to make a decision about my own book. Thanks so much for putting together all this information in one place, Karen!
(You can buy this eBook on Amazon for only $2.99!)
I just wanted to get the word out that Children’s Writer newsletter has a new contest running for a Kindergarten Story, with the theme of Exploration. Here is the information I got in an email (including some ideas to get your creative wheels turning!):
The winning kindergarten story in this contest will be published in Children’s Writer, the monthly 12-page+ emailed newsletter that is read by almost 1,300 children’s book and magazine editors in North America.
Along with the winning pieces, we’ll publish an article about the other top-ranked entries and their authors.
In addition, we will publish the winning entries on the Children’s Writer website.
Win one of five cash prizes
There are also five cash prizes: $500 for the top winner, $250 for second place, and $100 for third, fourth, and fifth places. These alone are good reasons to write and enter.
The contest is for fiction about exploration for kindergarteners, up to 150 words. The story should be appropriate to children 5 to 7 learning to read on their own. The story should be fun, colorful, use well-targeted words, and have special interest for the age group. Do not write too high for this readership. Know what a five- or seven-year-old can and cannot read. Originality and the overall quality of writing will also be considered. Publishability is the ultimate criterion.
Possible ideas and concepts
The exploration theme could mean setting your story at home, down the block, at school, or on vacation. Or your character could explore in books, in nature, among new people, or in their daydreams. Use your imagination!
Current subscribers to Children’s Writer enter free. All others, including our students who are not subscribers to Children’s Writer, pay a $15 reading fee—standard for writing contests.
If you are not a subscriber, your $15 fee will also bring you an eight-month trial subscription to Children’s Writer. You may enter multiple manuscripts, but please use an entry form and enclose a $15 reading fee for each one.
The contest’s rules are important. You’ll find them on the contest entry page. Please read them very carefully.
Note the July 12th deadline! Be sure to get your entry in on time.
Now warm up your computer and write a $500-winning Kindergarten Story!
Get published. Get paid. Good luck!
P.S. As someone who has judged writing competitions for many years, I can tell you that nothing hurts an entry more than exceeding the word limit. Don’t fall out of the running because of this easy-to-meet spec. Please remember to count your words!