Tag Archives: writing essays

My Tribute to my Dad

As promised, here is my essay, written for my dad, Don Stepps.  Love you Dad, Dad-daddy-o!

Death Missions

At my grade school Halloween costume party, my dad was the guy weaving through the crowd of Catholic school kids and nuns shouting, “Adrienne!” Not only was he dressed as Rocky in his gray zipper hoodie, boxing gloves and fake shiner under his left eye – he was Rocky Balboa.  Dad always played the part, from his silly or scary folktales to the pranks he pulled with costumes or props. 


I adopted Dad’s sense of adventure and often joined in on the fun: in Tomahawk, WI where we vacationed with aunts, uncles and cousins, Dad and I finished up a day of fishing with a little “surprise.” I knocked on my Uncle’s cottage door and when they opened, Dad threw a very wet, very alive fresh-caught fish onto their kitchen floor then slammed the door closed. Off we ran leaving a wake of shrieks and screams as that poor fish flip-flopped on their floor!



Flash forward 20 years and here I am, Little Miss Big Eyes (as Dad calls me), mom of two boys who adore their Grandpa. Even at age 61, Dad still plays pranks, in the form of “death missions” with my boys.  Sneaking into the kitchen to “steal” more candy for their movie night or sending my boys to smuggle the toaster and waffles out to the pop-up camper for a midnight snack, all without getting busted by Grandma, is the essence of a death mission.


Adventurous, risk-taker, spontaneous and creative are all great traits for a dad or grandpa of young kids. But Dad’s knack for fun has also been my inspiration as an adult. As I take risks in my writing, be creative in my teaching and find the adventure in Mommyhood.  I only hope that the stories I tell are as memorable as Dad’s.


Words: 299


BIO: Mary Jo Campbell, married mom of two, is an award-winning published freelance author who has been inspiring young writers to reach their potential through writing workshops, classes and speaking engagements. She teaches for FRoG (Friends of the Gifted & Talented) through their Super Saturday Programs, hosts on-going monthly young writers’ workshops and was the key note speaker for the Chick Chat event sponsored by HGNA (Helping Girls Navigate Adolescence).   Mary Jo is also an Executive Board Member and the Secretary for Capitol City Young Writers.


Filed under Creative Essays, emotion, Inspiration, Non Fiction, Perseverance, Voice, writing inspiration, Writing prompts

Father’s Day Essays: Honorable Mentions, Pt 2

The second Honorable Mention Award goes to…

Patricia Wigeland, for her essay entry on her “Pappy.”

       Pappy.  That’s what we three siblings called our father.  Maybe not the most intellectual man I’ve ever known, but definitely the wisest.
      Once, when maligning myself for something foolish done as a teen, my father chuckled saying, “Every one makes a foolish mistake once in awhile.  If they say they never have, they are either lying or fooling themselves.”
      “Pappy, you’ve never done anything foolish,” I had countered.
      “I did.  Once I bought a treasure map from a man for one hundred dollars when I lived in Utah during the Second World War.”
      My father then bought a horse and rode out, map in hand, to seek his fortune.  Taking food and water for himself and the horse plus a pistol for protection, he traveled for five days, the map as a guide, but found nothing.  Turning back, he became painfully aware he had misjudged the needed amount of water.  The horse stepped in a crevice after a snake spooked it and broke a leg. Pappy had to shoot the horse.
      Wandering through the heat, he found himself followed by a vulture for two days.  Walking until he found a river, he followed it to a bend and a miner’s cabin.  The miner took him in, gave him shelter for a few days and a horse to ride home.
      “What did you do with the horse?” I asked, amazed by the revelation.
      “I brought him back,” Pappy answered, “because whatever else you do, you live up to your obligations. The miner saved my life. It was my obligation to return that horse.”
      His wisdom wasn’t about never making a foolish mistake; it was about the consequences and a person’s obligations to correct them.
      Pappy passed away at one hundred one years old.  I guess he had the right idea. 
* * *
BIO:  I’m just an aging country girl from Iowa looking to make a career change to writing before I get too old.  If all else fails, I will have at least added writing to my personal “bucket list”.
I enjoyed Pat’s essay for its  story within a story format and the added adventure of following Pappy on his foolish gold hunt. Great lesson learned: fess up to your mistakes and do what you need to make things right.
Please come back tomorrow when I share an essay on my own Dad.


Filed under contests, Creative Essays, emotion, Non Fiction, writing inspiration

A Daddy of a Contest!

ANNOUNCING:  Writers Inspired 1st Essay Writing Contest!

(This contest is CLOSED)

Mother’s Day is usually the “motherlode” holiday to celebrate parenting and all its up’s and down’s.  Moms get “chore coupons”, cards dotted with sequins and even homemade pinch pots made of clay.

But what about Dads and all they do? Father’s Day is sandwiched between graduation parties and 4th of July picnics. No coupons, no cards made in the classroom and certainly no fire-glazed pottery.

So, I decided, with the help of my author friend, Joe Deyo, to host a contest:


Write an essay describing the best memory you have of your father and how he shaped you into the adult you are today.  You can also write an inspirational essay of how the father of your child(ren) rocks as a “daddy.”  I’ll be judging the entries based on: beauty of language, power of author’s voice and overall emotion: make us LOVE your dad (or the dad of your children!)

$0 entry fee / 300 word count

Deadline: 12midnight, Friday, June 12

Include Title, Name, Email and brief bio

Send entries in the BODY of an email (attachments will NOT be opened) to mjcwriter”at”comcast”dot”net

Winner announced : Monday, June 15 checklists_cover

Winner will receive* an autographed copy of Joe Deyo’s Checklists for the New Dad and have their winning essay “published” on Writers Inspired (Author retains all rights)

*Must have US mailing address for shipment of book

Runners-up entries may be posted throughout the week leading up to Father’s Day

Good luck!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~   *  *  * ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And to help inspire you and thoughts of “Dad”, please enjoy this interview with the author of Checklists for the New Dad, Joe Deyo:

How did you find time to write a book while working full time in sales and still having time for your wife and children?  Did you have a writing schedule, or just sneak in sentences in the nooks and crannies of your day?

Every writer certainly has a different schedule and mix of priorities.  I have a full time day job as well as being a full time husband and father.  I knew when I set out to write a book that it couldn’t take away from those responsibilities.  So for me that meant going to bed a little earlier and getting up earlier to write.  Weekends included.  Mornings are also when I am the most energetic and creative so I usually do my best work between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. while everyone else in the house is sleeping.  I am usually out of gas at the end of the day so that is personally not a good time for me to write or revise.  It works best for me to do a little bit every day rather than try to do a lot in one day.

Tell us about your speaking engagements. Did you use these first to build your platform as an author or did these come after the book release?

For me the speaking engagements came after the book release.  I always knew that speaking would be a big part of what I do.  But I chose to focus all of my energy on completing the book first and then speaking.

As a first time author, can you tell us about the process of finding an agent, then a publisher?  What tips can you offer other beginners?

Finding an agent and a publisher can be the hardest and most frustrating part of the book business.  There are lots of great books and websites to help in the process but here are my top five nuggets of advice:

1)     Before you even begin to solicit agents put together a killer book proposal.  This may be the most important writing you ever do.  Do your research on what makes a good one.  A good timeless article to start with is Writing a Winning Book Proposal by Michael Hyatt.  It is available as a PDF on the web at www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/Downloads/WritingABookProposal.pdf.

2)     The difference maker for many projects is the author’s platform and marketing plan.  Don’t neglect this part of your book proposal.  It needs to be detailed, well thought out, and realistic.  Don’t count on Oprah.

3)     Research which agents might be a fit for your particular project.  Don’t blindly send a query to just any agent.  Two good tools to help you get started are Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents and Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide.

4)     Set aside some time and money to go meet an agent in person before you sign with them.  This is a huge partnership and you need to meet and be comfortable before doing business with each other.  Establishing that personal connection with the agent and their staff will help you down the road when you need some attention.

5)     If you decide to self-publish I recommend reading Aaron Shepard’s book Aiming at Amazon.

Lastly, I remember asking my agent early on what I could do as an author to be a great client for him.  His answer was, “Write a great book.”  That is as simple as it gets.

Are there any follow up books in progress on fatherhood or marriage?

For now I am really focused on maximizing the potential of the current release, Checklists for the New Dad.  This includes speaking engagements, article writing, media exposure, and other marketing efforts.  But like most writers I am always thinking about the next project and I have been putting some early notes together for it.  Stay tuned!

Can you share a favorite memory you have of your dad from your childhood, or a favorite memory of being a new dad, yourself?

Some of my fondest memories as a child growing up in rural Idaho are the fishing trips I took with my father and my grandfather.  We might not have said 20 words to each other in a two-hour trip but we were together having fun.  Now today I take my own kids fishing and we share the same connection—enjoying each other’s company, the outdoors, and a tug on the line.

Come Back tomorrow for more on Joe Deyo and the inspiration for his book: Checklists for the New Dad


Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, contests, Creative Essays, Inspiration, Markets, Non Fiction, Platform/Marketing, Voice, writers, writing inspiration

Good News x 2

In reading Christina Katz‘s second great writing resource, Get Known Before the Book Deal, I learned that writers should toot their own horn when they achieve little successes. How else would our readers/followers know what we’re up to?

So, taking Ms. Katz’s advice, I’d like to “toot” about my recent successes in publication and contest entries!

Underwired, a KY based women’s print magazine, just accepted my essay “Cravings” for publication in their upcoming June ’09 issue.  I wrote “Cravings” last September, with a different market in mind. I wrote the essay from my perspective on motherhood and our needs to give in to guilty little pleasures. I wrote, rewrote, sent to my writing buddies for critiques, rewrote again and finally submitted to skirt! magazine, who politely and promptly rejected my essay due to “no space.”

Of course it was a minor blow, equivalent to a small crescent shaped shiner under my right eye, but I went down my list of markets and sent the essay out again, this time to Imperfect Parent.  My essay seemed to fit their tongue-in-cheek humor and bold observations on being a parent without losing your identity. Weeks, then months went by with no reply and an updated message on their website stated they were “backlogged” and no longer accepting submissions.  So, I emailed the editor, again, and professionally stated I’d be pulling my essay from their consideration if I hadn’t heard back by a specific date. No reply and off to the market guidelines I returned.

So, you can imagine my elation when the editor of Underwired replied via email with a “Congratulations! We’ll see you in print…” Not to mention the attached contract that spelled out payment and rights for my publication of “Cravings.”

The lesson in this? Keep moving forward. Don’t lose momentum, don’t lose your faith or your focus. Your essay may be personal to you, but editors have a job to do and though they may appreciate your wit or tone, it may not fit for their publication.

My second “toot” is about another exciting email I received a few days ago, in regards to my fiction entry for the 100 Words or Fewer Writing Contest.  This email said I was at the top of the mountain where the air was thin. My entry “In Father Brannigan’s Room” had made it past two levels of judging and is now in the running for 1st, 2nd or 3rd place! 100 little words, crafted so carefully, rewritten about 20 times, paragraphs cut and pasted in different order to achieve the maximum effect of “wow” in such a small space.  And I deliriously wait,  with little oxygen.

Who thought after writing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) where every word counts and even contractions are banished to maximize  number of words, I’d be able to cut out prepositions, articles and adverbs to ruthlessly minimize word count and tell a full story with less than 100 words. An achievement in itself. I’m proud to have even accepted the challenge.

And when the winners are announced in mid-June, I’ll be back to “toot” some more (hopefully!)

Keep writing and submitting my friends! And please share your successes here and EVERYWHERE!


Filed under Advice, Believe, contests, Creative Essays, emotion, Inspiration, Perseverance, Platform/Marketing

Happy Place

photo courtesy of fotosa

photo courtesy of fotosa

This weekend, my husband and I escaped to my parents’ cottage in Sister Lakes, MI for our anniversary get away. Just the drive from Chicago through Indiana to the state line of Michigan helps me feel lighter. It is a physical sense of leaving behind the news, the phones, and the email. It is literal, as well, since there is no internet, phone or cable connection at the cottage. (I suffered minor panic and email withdrawals, but recovered quickly.)

 It was dark by the time our tires crunched over the gravel road and backed onto the large front lawn. The air was fresh and cool; the stars twinkled white and bright in the black sky, like the mini pegs on a Lite Brite game. The cottage has a faint musky smell, which itself is a comfort. The cozy enclosed front porch has large windows on each side and a skylight where the sun pours in from rise to set.  An old-fashioned refrigerator buzzes and gurgles in the kitchen, the tap water sputters cold until the fuse for hot water is turned on and a selection of Dad’s favorite movies are spread out on the bed: Into the Wild, Fargo, Lonesome Dove, Jackknife, The Man from Snowy River, to name a few.

 We spent our days talking, taking walks along the winding roads, stopping at still water ponds to look for tadpoles, we’d bring home to raise with our sons.  We never did find any. The few boats that were buzzing on Magician Lake were the backdrop to our weekend soundtrack. That and the different calls of birds and the pecking of woodpeckers. The quiet breeze sifted over our bodies as we curled together on the futon in the porch and napped. We found peace, comfort and quiet.

Recharging my batteries to prepare for a busy few months ahead was just what I needed.  The cottage has always been my place of solace. My happy place.

 Where is yours and how does it help nurture your creativity and your soul?


Filed under Creative Essays, emotion, Inspiration, Little Things, Rest, Writing Space

Change is a sure thing

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor
the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

— Charles Darwin

With a new president in office, banks under scrutiny, universal healthcare on the horizon and a one-world currency being proposed, changes are a new way of life.


Are you thriving or just surviving amongst these changes?  Maybe you’ve been become proactive in your investments or scheduled all your wellness visits for the year. Perhaps you are hording gold or stocking up on canned food and bottled water.


Whatever changes you’re rooting for or resisting, there is much fodder for us writers. Develop an article on coupon clipping, growing your own veggies or how to think like a financial advisor. Write a rant on why you should be a citizen to qualify for health insurance.


If you’re a fiction writer, take the extreme route: imagine all the banks have tanked and we’re under Marshall Law.  There’s definitely a story there!


With changes all around us, we will respond in one way or another. And isn’t our job as writers to record this history in the making?

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Filed under Believe, Creative Essays, emotion, Fiction, Non Fiction, Perseverance, Writing prompts

Writing from the Well

(photo courtesy of uniquebridalsupplies.com)

(photo courtesy of uniquebridalsupplies.com)

Do you have a writing well? A place to store ideas, images, sensory descriptions, memories, rants, one-liners.

I used to have a small, hardcover spiral notebook that I would write in each day: 5 beginning sentences. Some were obvious crap, though some were dull little gems in need of a spit-shine.

Then, I began a list of story titles. In conversation, someone,(usually me (*wink*) would say something witty, outrageous or eloquent and they would make such good novel titles.

Lately, with a prompt from Writing Personal Essays: How to Shape Your Life Experiences for the Page, by Sheila Bender, I have been keeping another list: of things, objects, people, places and memories.  There are goofy things, like the time my brother dropped an entire 6-pack of Coke bottles on the dining room rug and the caramel sticky pop leaked through to the basement ceiling.  And there are images that sting a bit more: like touching my cousin’s casket before it was lowered into the ground.

At any rate, you know I’m a “list girl”, but in these cases, this is my writer’s well. A well of ideas so my writing can never run dry.

How do you catch and hold all those fluttering ideas, snippets of memory and fleeting moments of wonder?


Filed under Advice, Believe, Creative Essays, emotion, Inspiration, Writing prompts

“I don’t believe in pessimism…”

“…If something doesn’t come up the way you want, forge ahead. If you think it’s going to rain, it will.”

Clint Eastwood, Actor and Director

End of the week reality check: anything you’re doubting right now? Of course there’s the major biggies: housing market in the tank; job losses at an all-time high; your favorite Idol was voted off.

I’ve had my share of losses, of failures, let downs and rejections. Believe me. But I never have it as bad as the next gal.  And you most likely don’t have it that bad either.  Maybe your husband lost his job, but you’re still working. Maybe you’re both out of work and lost your house, but have family to stay with and your kids are HEALTHY. Maybe you’re a single mom, but have the freedom to call your own shots, while watching a neighbor in a crumbling marriage with no outlet.

Find the silver lining. Seek out the sunshine. That’s your job this weekend:

Be optimistic. Find the positive in EVERY situation. Keep a gratitude journal, even if all you have to write is “the car started this morning.” Appreciate the little things and the little things will lighten your heart.

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Filed under Advice, Believe, emotion, Inspiration, Little Things, Rest

Call for submissions – Women and their horse(s)

My friend and colleague, Verna Dreisbach, is collecting stories of women and their horses for an anthology.

 send-to-cheri-002Here is the website for the call for submissions. http://horsesandwomen.blogspot.com.   



Seal Press, Berkeley CA
Editor, Verna Dreisbach

Dear Friends,

Here is an exciting opportunity for you to be published in a new story collection by Seal Press. Previous anthologies of this nature by Seal Press include Cat Women and Woman’s Best Friend. The expected date of publication will be spring 2010, giving ample time to collect, choose and edit stories.

I am looking for truly inspirational stories that speak from the heart and show the unique bond between a woman and her horse. Each story should be at least 1,000 words, but no more than 2,500 words in length. Please send double-spaced versions only, in 12 point font Times New Roman as a Word Document.  NO “first horse” stories please!

Should your story be selected for inclusion in the book, you will receive two complimentary copies of the book plus $100 for the right to use the story in the anthology. Your name will appear with the story as well as the option to include a high quality photograph of you and your horse. Please consider that photographs will be printed in black and white. Do not send photographs until asked to do so.

I am accepting submissions until January 15, 2009 (EXTENDED to March 31, 2009). Please be sure to include your contact information with your submission: name, address, phone numbers and e-mail address. Send stories to: womenandhorses@gmail.com. You can read more about the progress of the book at http://horsesandwomen.blogspot.com.

Due to the volume of submissions, only finalists will be notified.

I look forward to reading your stories and thank you in advance.

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Filed under contests, Non Fiction, writer markets

“If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation…”

“…you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.”

Rabbi Harold Kushner,  Author of When Bad Things Happen To Good People


Does your soul need nourishing?  Try this: write down 10 things you are grateful for, right now.  Reach deep, tap into that raw emotion that when brought to the surface makes your aura glow! It could be simple things, that go unnoticed if you don’t validate them. Then, of course, because we are writers, jot a few words next to each on how you can spin it into a story, article or essay!

I’m grateful for:

  1. Sammy’s sweet smile and attachment to me (mother-son relationships)
  2. David playing guitar on Rockband and struggling to complete the song “Battery” by Metallica – on Medium setting. (building confidence in middle schoolers)
  3. Silly inside jokes between my husband and me (marrying your BFF)
  4. Strong support group of writing friends (finding courage thru community)
  5. I have so many wishes and things to aspire to (goals/visualization)
  6. The sun is shining! (sunshine and the effects on my mood)
  7. My sister works at a bookstore! (bargain buddies)
  8. I have a day job. (make the most of 9-5)
  9. I’m attending a 2-day writer’s conference – AWP (benefits of writing conferences)
  10. My cuddly cockatiel, Comet (benefits of pets)


Now, what are you grateful for? And, more importantly, how can you validate your feelings  by writing about it?

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Filed under Advice, Believe, Creative Essays, emotion, goals, Inspiration, Perseverance, Rest, writers, writing inspiration, Writing prompts