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What goes well with chicken soup

Lots of writers ask me how to get published in the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. That’s because I’m very lucky to be a frequent contributor. In the past few years, they’ve published 40 of my stories.

Submitting is simple. You go to their website, fill in your name, address, etc., and then just paste your story. Authors receive $200 plus 10 books per story.

CSS editors receive more than 5,000 submissions per book. Therefore, before you submit, I’d like to tell you what they want. The editors want stories, not essays. A term I’ve heard is “a Chicken Soup moment.” I keep that etched in my brain. At this point, I’m acutely aware of when I’m experiencing a Chicken Soup moment. Or notice that someone else is.

I was reading a friend’s Facebook post. She had recently been published for her first time in CSS. On her FB page, she posted a beautiful picture of a Christmas decoration she kept up all year around. She wrote, “I hung these three angels from my dining room chandelier at Christmas two years ago and they have never left.” Her caption for her picture: “Angels Watching Over Me.”

The instant I saw that, I e-mailed her, suggesting that was a perfect Chicken Soup moment. I wrote, “Your life is filled with Chicken Soup moments. You just have to see them.”

Those “moments” do not need to be huge, as in a miraculous medical recovery. You can find them in the simplest of experiences. Although I have had stories accepted about my spinal cord injury, simpler topics have included: “The Appointment,” – my husband falling apart when our dog got groomed for the first time (humor), “Little Things Matter,” – not celebrating Valentine’s Day because we didn’t want to bother, “My Husband is on a Diet” – humor, “Mud-dling Through,” – when I stopped to help an old dog get up from a mucky sandbar.

I have found a major difference between submitting to CSS versus other popular publications. Your story is going to be read. You’re not just sending it to Simon & Schuster, their publisher. You’re sending it to someone who’s actually going to read all of it.

I’m seeing a slight trend of CSS accepting more humor, as well as just a tiny touch of edginess. Example: In Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You, my humor story contains the following dialogue.

Last night he screamed from the bathtub, “I’ve got it!”

I called out from the den, “Geez, Bob. I hate to think what you mean by that.”

In another book, Think Positive, I tell a story involving my husband having X-rays. The technician forgot to remove whatever they call those things that are placed over nipples so that nipples don’t show up as suspicious spots on the films. I wrote this dialogue:

“What are people going to think if you’re wearing nipple buttons?” I grabbed his nipples and started yanking.

Yes, I know that dialogue isn’t all that edgy, but a year ago, I would have edited those parts out before submitting.

Although the editors have published my reprints, as long as the columns ran in a very small venue, they prefer originals. I retain all rights to my stories. However, I do agree to give permission to CSS to use my story in various venues. That’s part of the contract. This works in my favor.

My stories have appeared on www.beliefnet.com, which is a huge inspirational website. Several of my works have been picked up, also via CSS, by King Features Syndicate and, therefore, are published in newspapers all over the country. Women’s World, another gigantic publication with a readership of more than 7 million, picked up one of my stories.

Your chances of acceptance are increased if you submit something that is not on the same topic that most others will be submitting. You can probably predict the most common topics. A terrific writer/friend submitted a story for the book, Runners. It was about finishing his first marathon. He didn’t get accepted. I would bet, because he’s such a great writer, that his story was not included because finishing one’s first marathon was likely the topic of plenty of stories for that book.

CSS editors prefer diversity.

— Saralee Perel

Saralee Perel is an award-winning nationally syndicated columnist and the author of Cracked Nuts & Sentimental Journeys: Stories From a Life Out of Balance. She was recently interviewed on “Books & the World” about her book and won two awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association for serious and humor columns. You can read one of the winning columns here.

Backseat

I sat in the back of my sister’s car so my mother could sit in the front passenger seat. I can’t tell you what type of car it was except inside and out it was clean and white. I was in my thirties, my sister was in her early forties, and mama was seventy-something. As soon as mama got into the car she didn’t waste any time complaining about daddy.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with your father.”

“What are you talking about?” my sister asked.

“I said I don’t know what I’m going to do with him. He won’t leave me alone.”

“Well, what’s he doing?” I asked.

By that time mama was getting a little irritated that her daughters couldn’t read between the lines. She came from a generation that considered certain subjects taboo. Mama’s teeth were clenched behind her pursed lips as she looked in my sister’s direction. When her eyes narrowed, what eyebrows mama had left, due to years of excessive plucking, grew sternly together creating “the look.” You know the one; all mothers get a certain look albeit stare on their face that says you are pushing your luck, you’re not listening, I’m not getting what I want.

“I said he won’t leave me alone.”

Just then my mind went where I wish it hadn’t — to my parents’ tiny bedroom with only enough space to walk around the bed. In the old farmhouse rebuilt in 1929 that we call the old homestead, you had to walk through the bathroom to get to mom and dad’s room. The basement door was in the bathroom, too. What were contractors thinking back then?

I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw only my sister’s eyes.  I could tell she was smiling because they were squinty. It’s a trait my Polish family has; smiling produces squinty eyes. My eyes were big with surprise.

“What am I going to do?”

“Well, mom, you could just make up a reason why you can’t,” my sister said.

“You know your father.  He always gets what he wants. He doesn’t care about anybody but himself.”

I kept silent in the back seat. My sister’s eyes returned to the mirror except this time they were pleading for my help. My thoughts were still on the bedroom. How do you do it when you’re that old? Do they keep their teeth in? Aren’t they afraid of breaking a hip?  How wrinkled are they? My sister’s eyes were still in the mirror.

“How often does he bother you?” I asked.

Mama’s head turned past her left shoulder to glare at me. She didn’t like my question.

“I thought you girls could help me, but maybe I was wrong,” mama said.

“You could fake being sick,” I said.

“Make sure you’re never in the same room with him,” my sister added.

“Tell him you’re worried one of his fake hips will pop out,” I said.

My sister started laughing, which made me laugh, and as Mama glared at both of us she broke into a laugh. Being older, my sister knew when the laughing subsided it was the perfect time to change the subject.

— Lois Heise

Lois Heise, the mother of four young adults, grew up on a grape farm in Pennsylvania and worked beside her husband for 22 years at his full-service automotive garage. At 52, she graduated from college. She’s been published in the Ultimate MMA Magazine and helped write Lara’s Gems, a Build-a-Book production by Bayla Publishing.

Best way to avoid writer’s block? Write.

Want to be published? Here are some opportunities right before your keyboard.

Join the “100 Hours of Humo(u)r” online festival, what’s billed as the “most ambitious and ridiculous web event ever.” Author and teacher Dave Fox calls it flash humor. From March 1-5, he will upload new humor-related content to Globejotting.com every hour for a hundred hours.

“Some hours, I’ll be blogging ‘live,’ testing my high-speed writing skills with quick comedy blasts. Other hours will feature humor writing mini-lessons to help you become a funnier person,” he says.

30 Days to Sanity

Do you have a heartwarming, insightful and powerfully moving story about how to stay sane in our chaotic 24/7 world? If you have a great story and would like to be included in 30 Days to Sanity, please send your stories to 30 Days to Sanity, Box 31453, Santa Fe, N.M.  87594-1453. Or e-mail stories to stephanie@30daystosanity.com The maximum word count is 1,200 words. For each story selected, a permission fee of $100 will be offered for one-time rights. There are no limits on the number of submissions. Stories must be received no later than May 1.

Finding Your Voice

How about escaping to a cozy inn in a quaint town along Lake Michigan for three days? Humorist Wade Rouse, author of five books, promises to teach you how to unleash your true writer’s voice at a May 16-19 workshop in Douglas, Mich. Rouse describes the experience as an “intensive literary renewal” that covers “everything from how to get your book published to life-changing writing exercises.” Click here for details.

Paris in the Spring

Or maybe Paris is your cup of tea. The 2013 Paris Book Festival has issued a call for entries for its annual event honoring the best of international publishing.

The 2013 Paris Book Festival will consider non-fiction, fiction, biography/autobiography, children’s books, compilations/anthologies, young adult, how-to, e-books, cookbooks, audio/spoken word, wild card (anything goes), photography/art, poetry, unpublished, spiritual and romance works. There is no date of publication deadline and entries can be in French or English.

Grand prize is $1,500 cash and a flight to Paris for a gala awards ceremony in late May. Deadline is April 25.

Plenty of Soup, Lots of Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul offers writers three opportunities.

The popular book series is celebrating its upcoming 20th anniversary with a special edition filled with stories about how Chicken Soup for the Soul has made a difference in people’s lives. The editors will pair old stories with new ones. Simply indicate which story helped or changed you, then write about it. Deadline for story and poem submission is March 17.

Have you experienced a connection with a loved one who died? The editors are looking for submissions for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven. Deadline is March 31.

If your story is chosen for either of these upcoming books, your piece and bio will be printed in the book. You will also receive a check for $200 and 10 free copies of your book. You will retain the copyright for your story and you will retain the right to resell it.

If you have a brief true story (up to 500 words) that shows how your faith in God has shaped your journey as a wife, please share it along with an applicable Bible verse and a two-to-three-sentence prayer. You will receive $100 for each published devotion ($100 due to the shorter word count than the regular books). The deadline for submissions is March 15.

Submit material for these three books here.

The bunion kicker

I don’t want to be my mother, or, more exactly, I don’t want to be her feet. She is a dual-footed bunion bearer, wearing sandals or gym shoes for as long as I can remember in order to accommodate these growths.

Like some kind of teenager determined to revolt against parental say-so, I found an affinity for shoes, especially those with pointed toes, closed sides, straps, buckles and general full foot coverage. I wear sandals in summer, provided they are built for beauty and not comfort and stoop to gym shoes for exercise only. Once home, my fingers fly through the laces, shedding those clod-hopping, bunion friendly monstrosities as soon as I can.

Shoes are important to me and, as such, I’ve always been a proponent of high heels. However, I’m on the short side and consider a two-inch heel as much a necessity as undergarments or mascara. I don’t leave home without elevation. In fact, I don’t leave the bedroom, as those two inches make a difference as to whether or not I can reach to the back of middle kitchen shelf. When I was young, I wore my roller skates in the house, just for the sense of domination it provided me, at least over the countertop. Shoes were my way of fighting back in a world meant for those of average height or greater.

Then, I developed a bunion, right there at the base of my big toe on my right foot. And it hurt. I put a corn cushion on it and slipped, barefoot, into a brown suede Anne Klein pump. It still hurt. I wore the shoes anyway. Surely this was a temporary swelling and, given enough cushioned protection, would flatten itself out in no time at all. Never mind that the thing is made of bone, hard, unbending, unrelenting bone. Its likely cause is ill-fitting shoes. To be exact, shoes that force the toes to slam up against each other and cause pressure to be exerted toward the front of the foot. In other words, a sweet little shoe like my pointy-toed, two-inch Joan and David is painted as nearly demonic.

I’ll admit I do own a couple pair of flats, but they don’t go out in public much. Though they’ve never given me cause to do so, I address them like naughty children, grounding them in their shoe cubbies most of the time. I’ve come to realize I treat my shoes with a perverted prejudice; higher heels simply demand, and get, more respect from me. Research will back me up on this. Studies have shown tall people earn more money, have greater status and command more deference than their shorter counterparts.

Now here’s the bunion kicker — there is no cure. No amount of padding or even surgery will assure a pain-free walk in the park unless “proper shoes” are worn. I have my own definition of “proper” and it does not include anything resembling a man’s oxford, flip flops, bedroom slippers or a shoe used in conjunction with any type of athletics.

Some of the problem is due to age. When we are young, the balls of the foot have a considerable amount of fatty tissue to protect them. Add more than a few decades and those fatty deposits dissipate or even slide towards the toes. The result? Less protection than ever against the ravages of a beautiful pair of high heels.

I’ve noticed more shoe manufacturers are producing comfortable, yet stylish, footwear. Perhaps as the Baby Boomers continue to deny aging, someone will create a line of shoes that look like a pair of Jimmy Choo platform stilettos, but accommodate bunions like a Dansko sandal. Why, before you know it, women without bunions will be wishing they had them, clamoring for shoes that meet the criteria of fashion forward while retaining the comfort level of fashion backward.

In the meantime, I’ll be easing my bunion, covered with multiple corn cushions, into shoes designed to keep podiatrists in business. I realize that, at times, I may be forced to forego the cushioned defense because the design of the shoe may not be such as to completely hide my little turgidity. In that case, I guess I’ll just have to practice unprotected shodding.

At least, that is, until I develop a bunion on my left foot.

—   Heidi Griminger Blanke

Heidi Griminger Blanke writes regularly for several local magazines in western Wisconsin and has penned a yet-to-be-published collection of humorous essays about aging. She has published several academic articles, written many newsletter articles for nonprofit organizations and presented at a writer’s conference. She is currently trying her hand at fiction.

Blowing your own horn

Humor has the power to change us intrinsically. We all know it. We feel the difference a good belly laugh makes or how injecting humor can break the tension in the room. Laughter and mirth (simply feeling the humor) change the chemicals in our brain and in our bodies. There are science and research studies to back it up, yet I don’t need stats. I simply want to experience it. How about you? Want to use humor to feel better every day?

To build a humor kit, go to the dollar store. Invest in a bag of party horns, a can of Play Doh and some sticky notes. Grab whatever else tickles you.

Keep a horn at work, at home and in the car. When a driver cuts you off or your computer drives you crazy, toot your horn! You are letting off steam in a healthier way and the folks around will think you’re silly, breaking the stress that grips them, too.

When you want to get your kids’ attention, blow your horn. It’s much better than yelling. There’s another side, too. You can literally blow your own horn to celebrate. Your new recipe came out great — party horn blow! You landed a new client — party horn blow! You love your new haircut — party horn blow! This “breathing exercise” does wonders for your mental health.

Use the PlayDoh as a stress ball. Squeeze and pass it back and forth between hands. There is left-brain right-connection happening, yet it simply feels good. Take two minutes to make a tiny sculpture and leave it somewhere for someone else to find. That sprinkle of humor creates a ripple effect throughout the home or workplace.

Sticky notes are the greatest invention ever. Post a reminder next to your alarm clock: “I will laugh today.” You have just increased your odds of a more enjoyable day. Write silly notes and stick them in unconventional places. Inside the fridge, cupboard or microwave. On mirrors at home and at work. On a desk lamp, computer screen, briefcase. A funny phrase or sentence, a quote, an inside joke, or anything of healthy humor can make someone else’s day. You’ve upped your happy quotient leaving stealth stickies.

There are myriad ways to inject humor into every day. Of course, read funny stuff. You don’t have to bust a gut. Smiling on the inside has the same effect. Keep a toilet tank reader in the loo and one at bedside. Read a few pages every night. You’ll sleep better, wake up feeling more rested, and face the day with a better attitude. Again, science proves it.

Why not prove it for yourself? Give it a whirl and you’ll see how simple it is to laugh and smile more every day. Your health will improve, and so will your mood. That is something to smile about.

—Kelly Epperson Simmons

Kelly Epperson Simmons, author/speaker/book coach and two-time judge of the Erma Bombeck national humor essay writing contest, is honored to be invited to speak at Gilda’s LaughFest in Grand Rapids, Mich., on March 14. She will speak to the emotional and health benefits of humor and happiness at this 10-day festival that honors the late Gilda Radner and her charity, Gilda’s Club. To learn about LaughFest, click here.

First grade love regurgitated

In 1967, starting “big school” meant entering the first grade.  It was an exciting time for a 6-year-old as entering the first grade represented experiencing many of life’s firsts:  first book satchel, first pair of saddle oxfords, first fat pencils and lined tablets, reading with Dick & Jane, first lunch boxes (mine was “Twiggy”) and, most especially, experiencing first-time puppy love.

I attended Leslie Steele Elementary school in Decatur and I have vivid memories of visiting the school for the very first time.  My mother escorted me down the large hallway that, regardless of how recently the floors had been waxed, had the distinct effervescent scent of new crayons, cupcakes and old vomit.  Upon entering my classroom, my first grade teacher introduced herself. She was at least six months from retiring and her name was Mrs. Gross.  Girl Scouts’ (Thin Mints) honor – her name was “Mrs. Gross.” (Cross my heart…)

I sat in the very first desk of the very middle row of Mrs. Gross’ first grade class.  Right behind me sat the cutest boy in the entire, whole first grade. His name was David, and I had the most gushing crush on him.

I was beyond smitten.

He had a golden tan all year long and the Biggest. Brownest. Eyes. He was rather shy and didn’t talk very much, but that was okay — his cuteness spoke volumes and I could talk plenty for the both of us!

It was a Monday and I was still giddy from an all-day Saturday shopping spree with my grandmother at downtown Atlanta’s Rich’s department store.  No amount of Bridge Mix and hot cashews from the candy counter or even lunch on the bridge could top my excitement over wearing a brand-new navy wool jumper ensemble to school that day.

The morning work had passed quickly; it was time for lunch followed by a quick run outside for recess. David had not seemed himself all day despite my best efforts to be my entertaining version of precious and chatty in my fabulous new outfit. After returning to the classroom, Mrs. Gross began the afternoon lesson on the chalkboard.

And that’s when IT happened.

I suddenly felt a warm and somewhat heavy sensation on the back of my head, down my neck and across my shoulders. Then, the aroma hit me.

My cherished first grade love — David — had thrown up his lunch allover. the back of me.

The highly coveted position of front and center was now the focal point of David’s long withheld and unexpressed love in the form of dripping chunks of Monday’s cafeteria special.  Needless to say, “Chatty” was ready to leave the building.

Mrs. Gross sent us both to the office  — David to the first aid clinic…  and me?  I was sent to an outlying room of isolation UHway from everyone within gag-reflex distance.  Meanwhile, a phone call had been made and my (former Marine) father was on his way to collect me and my condition.

Upon his arrival, his assessment, and the onset of the Eau de’ vomit fragrance wafting over him, I was immediately demoted to the rank of my father’s bird dogs and sentenced to ride home in the back of his truck, thus avoiding all retching possibilities.

Apparently, vomit stamina is not a priority of Semper Fi.

That would be the first and last time I would ever wear that outfit to school.  Gushing crushes of love?  Who’s to say how many times a person must suffer from love regurgitated before it’s the real thing?

—Harriette Keen Jacobs

Atlanta-born and Georgia-grown, Harriette Keen Jacobs writes everyday slices of life from rural Georgia on farmhood, familyhood, lifehood. Whatever is on her mind (and where it wanders), she’s sure to share it.  Join her for “South of the Gnat Line.”

Why I can’t buckle my belt

Inside me lives a skinny gal trying to get out. Usually I shut her up with a bowl of spaghetti or a chunk chocolate. Sometimes I don’t eat it but have to stuff my ears instead because she sure makes a lot of noise!

Let’s face it: I have never, ever met a bowl of pasta I did not like. And I am very friendly to many other foods. It is my nature to be accommodating. But I must declare that the weeks starting at Thanksgiving and ending on Valentine’s Day plus other celebrations and special occasions sporadically, are doing me in.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

5 parties 

4 restaurants 

3 brunches  

2 open houses 

and… 

yummy wedding

Please, no more food or toasts or “taste this as I made it especially for you!” 
In the past my philosophy has always been that life is fragile so eat dessert first. I just never thought I would live this long.

I mentioned previously that I thought I heard applause as I was jogging only to learn that it turned out to be my thighs hitting together? Well, now it is more like an auditorium of screaming rock aficionados giving a standing ovation to my jiggles and hanging participles.

Please, do not invite me to one more celebration. I cannot eat another thing till…till…dinner time. 

On the other hand, I just read recently in The New York Times that being overweight is not bad. The paper claims that the Body Mass Index (BMI) may not be an accurate measure of health. WHEW!

Oh, well. I am truly not worried. I do not want to brag and certainly, you should not compare yourself to me, but I can still fit into my earrings from high school, so there!

— Jan Marshall

Jan Marshall is the author of her second satirical survival book, Dancin, Schmancin with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What! She’s a columnist, certified clinical hypnotherapist and motivational speaker. This piece, reposted by permission, appears on her blog.

Crime and punishment

Thing1 is being punished. He’s being really punished for the first time in recent memory.

For most of the last 12 years we’ve been pretty lucky. For most of that time, he’s been good-natured and willing to follow the rules we set down. Infractions occur, of course, but for the most part, they’ve been small enough that an empty, humorous threat to send him to military school puts a stop to restaurant antics or begging. When we do lay down the law, Thing1 usually plays the part of the gentle giant tolerating a well-meaning but misdirected mother and goes along. He seems to understand that — even when he thinks we’re totally nuts — we’re on his side.

That all changed today, as the fallout from a less-than-stellar report card caused the first serious fissure in his faith in our good intentions.

All kids have an Achilles heel as individual as their personalities, and Thing1’s is his love of all things computer. He has begun cracking open code on favorite games and spending hours Skyping with friends, gabbing about hardware and how to improve their favorite video game and which is the best OS for their purposes. It is a hobby and avocation that could be come a vocation. Now, however, it is bordering on addiction. So, 15 minutes after the Big Guy and I read the report card, we had an intervention and pulled the plug.

Our normally tolerant 12-year-old reacted like any addict who was being cut off would.

He denied. Then he rationalized — the report card, that is. Then he protested. And finally, grudgingly, he accepted the reality that his computer time would be restricted to school work.

Grudging acceptance has now taken the form of the silent treatment. He still obeys the easy rules without defiance. Gone, however, is the good-natured demeanor. Smiles are quickly extinguished when we make eye contact — even if we caused the smile. From his room, we can occasionally hear muted muttering that tells us we hit that heel with perfect aim.

At first, we did pat ourselves on the back for being such clever parents. We felt guilty for about 10 seconds after we shut down his favorite hobby, but, contrary to his belief, we’re not enjoying our victory. I know he needs the consequences, but I hate seeing him unhappy. I know there are things we can control in our own house, and there things we can’t. This is one of the things we’re supposed to control. And while it hasn’t lead to happiness, it is giving me a bit of serenity in a way that I would never have thought possible when I was a teenager.

As the bearer of numerous crappy report cards, I was also the recipient of many groundings (pointless and redundant for Thing1 who lives in the middle of the woods) and privilege losses. I remember the profound sense of betrayal when I lost a favorite social outlet. Now, walking this mile in my parents’ moccasins, I’m finding yet another new understanding of their perspectives. There’s no forgiveness, of course — there’s nothing to forgive when someone’s looking out for your future. Instead, this is one of those moments when my mom and dad are getting an unexplained warm feeling in the back of their necks as their daughter writes that they were right about many things — even when it wasn’t fun to be right.

—Rachel Barlow

Blogger Rachel Barlow describes herself as “a midlife crisis waiting to happen, closet nomad and middle-aged work-at-home-mother of two.” Her life is “wrapped up in peanut butter sandwiches, fat (sometimes losing it), bills and blogging (her) way to sanity.”

Reflections of Erma