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WORD FOR WORD
January 10, 2009
When I first saw the book’s title, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less with the black and white photo (obviously from the 1950s) of Mom, Dad and many children surrounding them, I knew I had to read it.
First was the reference to Defiance Ohio. As many of you know, I grew up in Mansfield Ohio which is two hours away from Defiance. Second my mother was a dyed-in-the-wool contester and I, too, had grown up with entry blanks scattered about the house, proof of purchase labels (no such thing as bar codes or ISBN numbers then) and hearing my mother try various rhymes and meters all designed to fit within that 25-word limit. Most directly, I related to the similarities between writing product jingles within a strict word frame and constructing card verses into a succinct format. That the Ryan family and the Miller family shared the same era put the final seal of appeal on the book.
I knew I’d find a kindred spirit in Evelyn Ryan, much the way I did with comedian Mitch Hedberg (see Word For Word Archive #11 from 9/24/06: http://www.greetingcardwriting.com/wfw_11.htm )...and of course, I did. She loved writing and without a doubt, that’s the thread linking all of us together—those of us passionate about our living language. She had an incurable (so who’d want to cure it?) optimism and subscribed to the philosophy of enjoying the moment given to you, in whatever form it happened to take. While other duties called constantly, she kept her notebook and pen handy, bouncing ideas off her children and always with an eye toward word count.
Evelyn and I differed in some ways as well. A product of her era, she and her husband brought ten children into the world. Evelyn couldn’t drive; she was dependent upon her husband or teenage children to take her where she wanted to go. When Kelly’s paycheck didn’t cover their expenses—due in part to his drinking—she turned to contesting as a way to keep the family afloat. As if a magic wand had been waved over the Ryan household, it seemed when something broke, such as a toaster, Evelyn would win a toaster. Her winnings included cars, appliances, exotic trips, even a pony—all either sold to pay the bills or used immediately to replace a worn-out item. When her husband took out a second mortgage unbeknownst to Evelyn (it’s the 1950s—her husband’s was the sole signature on the deed), a $4,000 note became due in thirty days. In a family whose deep freeze (which Evelyn had won) had a single package of food left, that amount seemed unattainable. Days away from losing their home, Evelyn wins first prize in the Dr. Pepper Time of Your Life contest, which included $3,400.64 in cash and a trip for two to Switzerland (which they sold) to pay off the note. Her entry had beat out more than 250,000 others.
Her unconquerable spirit attracts many people today. When she couldn’t pay the milkman, he told Evelyn he’d get some customers if she took in washing. She refused, not because of the work itself but because she wanted her children to see there were better avenues open to them. All ten children eventually had careers and were well-educated. When she died in August 1998 at 85, all her children came back to Defiance for a final farewell.
Although this book focuses on Evelyn’s life as a successful contester, her daughter also notes she sent verses to greeting card companies—one in particular, Charm Craft then located in Brooklyn—paid her $15 for each verse. Reading that, I knew the short, snappy format of contest entries and greeting card verses were similar.
We can all learn from Evelyn Ryan who knew life was hard and often unfair—yet she never became bitter about what she had to face. The overall era to the contrary, she was the real head of the family—by her energy, her spirit and her guiding principle that one needs to face what must be faced and try your doggone-best to face it with a smile.
And that’s my Word For Word.
My, oh my, oh my. When I looked at the original date of this current Word For Word, it was April 9th, nine months ago. To say 2008 was a challenging year—both professionally and personally—is an understatement. And the quality most of you find most endearing about this site—that of my personal touches and equally personal answers to your emails and letters that come to my post office box—can also be the quality that becomes overwhelming. Without going into excruciating detail, let me encapsulate the past nine months and especially allow me to link you to a new page (link is on the home page) that gives you a much-anticipated update on the second edition of my greeting card writing book: Write Well & Sell: Greeting Cards. Although I’m slowly going through the backlog of emails (since I average approximately 12 per week asking about the book), I know posting the information on my site will be more efficient.
On March 27th, I was the guest blogger on my friend—and sister writer, Donna Gephart’s—blog. Donna wrote the funny—and timely—middle-grade reader, As If Being 12-3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running For President, published through Delacorte Press and released last February, when Hillary and Barack were still slugging it out. I wrote about—what else?!—breaking into the greeting card writing market and had a number of enthusiastic responses. Donna and I go way back from when she was a greeting card editor at Kalan Cards in Philadelphia. Here’s the link: http://donnagephart.blogspot.com/2008_03_01_archive.html I also interviewed Donna about the writing of her novel: http://www.absolutewrite.com/novels/donna_gephart.htm
In April, I headed to a beautiful lodge in Punderson State Park in my beloved Ohio as guest speaker at the Women Who Write Conference. What a glorious facility and what a terrific group of women. Not only did I lead two enthusiastic workshops, but I won two great prizes during the Chinese Auction. It was at this conference that I met another terrific children’s author, Shelley Pearsall, whose first novel, Trouble Don’t Last, won the 2003 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. Her newest novel, All Shook Up, is the story of a 13-year-old whose Dad makes his living as an Elvis impersonator. I interviewed Shelley for Writer’s College (scroll halfway down to read her insights into writing the novel: http://www.writerscollege.com/zcarchives/newsletters/080930.html
May was the Pennwriter’s Conference in Lancaster Pennsylvania where I’d also been asked to speak (I declined because there was a possibility it would have conflicted with my daughter’s graduation from Penn State—magna cum laude, by the way [proud Mama gets to brag]. As it turned out, they were a weekend apart, so I went with a friend). And here’s where the saga of my updated greeting card book comes into play, so be sure to use the link (go back to the home page and scroll down) to find out its status.
Summer was a mix of sending two children far afield—Logan to San Antonio where he’s starting his career as an Air Force Linguist and Alexis to Denver where she’s beginning her work on a Master’s Degree in Psychology. We worked to put my mother’s house up for sale (she now lives with us) and thankfully, despite the recent economic meltdown, it sold within a few weeks.
In the midst of all this, several huge assignments—some having to do with the launching of new companies—came my way. And while these are always exciting, they are also time-consuming. I wear many hats during these start-up phases...a creative one, a negotiating one, a collection agency one (when needed!). And as I’ve said before, I’m still amazed at how sitting at the dining room table in front of my old Smith-Corona back in 1986 has morphed into...all this.
I also want to thank everyone who wrote regarding my previous Word For Word—the one about the abysmal spelling errors in the scrolling ticker of a major news network. I must have touched a nerve because everyone who wrote agreed and told me they, too, had witnessed ongoing errors not only on TV, but in newspapers, magazines and all sorts of ads. I can only reiterate that if you find such errors, document them and when they reach epidemic status, let the offending publication or network know (and cite the specific errors involved with dates). If no one protests, the status quo will continue—and it will certainly get even worse. Thanks for your supportive, interesting and often funny emails on this topic.
My online classes at www.writerscollege.com are going strong and I’ve added a Eulogy workshop as well that is picking up steam. I will soon be introducing my 8-session greeting card course exclusively offered now only on my website, so you can enroll directly through me—at a substantial discount from where it was previously offered. With the start date of each class being the convenient “Monday After” a student registers, you, as the student, control when you begin. The one-on-one attention and feedback is something students marvel at as well; it’s the best of both worlds—learning at home and still getting individual attention.
I’d like to remind you again that I personally read all your emails and take much joy in learning about your writing, your background and your aspirations. I thank you for placing so much confidence in my advice and observations and I apologize that recently it’s taken me longer than normal to respond. Sometimes my Outlook Express takes on a mind of its own and won’t send my messages. Other times, my Satellite Dish decides to take a hiatus, especially when our mountain climate gets windy, icy or just plain yucky. That’s when I can’t get on the internet and decide instead to read (another thing I’ve taught myself—close one book, open the next one!) or watch a Susan Hayward film. High-speed, cable internet has finally come to our area and once our contract is up with our current provider in February, I’ll be changing over to cable. Hallelujah!
Please continue to order from my affiliates whenever possible—we’re in the process of updating all links—since the dividends we receive go right back into the site. I still plan to feature an affiliate of the month because the varied products they offer are so worthwhile.
January drags on and instead of Salisbury, our town should be called Siberia. Since the kids are now back in school from the holidays, the keyboard should call.
I expect you to answer its invitation. Here’s to pleasant times tapping out words.
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