Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Why Chicken Soup Warms My Heart and Soul

 Several years ago I remarked to a writer friend, who had been hard at work on his first novel, that I'd had a story accepted by the popular series, Chicken Soup for the Soul. He grimaced.
"Why would you want to write schmaltz?"
"Write what?" I asked, not quite certain I'd heard him right.
I had, though. He'd wrinkled his nose and repeated, "Schmaltz. You know...sappy stuff."
I hadn't answered. I felt diminished and disrespected until I'd had a moment to reflect. 
Promoting The Spirit of America
Sappy stuff? Maybe. I write true stories about my life. Yes, I write about being adopted, about getting a divorce, about having double pneumonia as a child. Yes, I write about falling in love, baking apple pies, quitting smoking, and serving in the Peace Corps. All true. And all salient. All about my life, no matter how sappy, silly or sad, or even how sublime those events may seem to others. My friend is still revising the opening chapters of his yet-to-be groundbreaking coming-of-age epic.
Yes, in my teens I, too, dreamed of writing the great American novel. What teen writer doesn't? But then life intervened with my dreams, so instead now and then I'd written book reviews, travel articles, pop psychology, author interviews.
Then one day in 2007, on a whim, I wrote a story about my little brother and a memorable Easter pageant. And Chicken Soup for the Soul published it. I continue to write about my life.
Since then my work has appeared in 110 anthologies, with a few more on the way. My friend still is a struggling would-be novelist. I'm a happily published storyteller. I may not be a household name, but people read my stories. Some even write me fan letters. Some tell me how I inspired them. That certainly warms my heart. 
With Catalina Ortiz at workshop.
Last week in San Bernardino I conducted a brief seminar on how to mine your life's events for story ideas for such publications. A small but enthusiastic group of would-be anthology writers listened attentively, and appeared appreciative. Not a one of them uttered the word "schmaltz."
I've been invited back to do a more in-depth evening session this coming spring. I'm delighted. I'll be covering the basics, beginning, middle and ending. I'll especially concentrate on how to use the elements of fiction in creative nonfiction, including plot, character development, dialogue and the descriptive details that reveal emotions. They constitute the "show, not tell" that you've heard about.
Happy with Amy's new book.
In the meantime, whenever I'm asked what kind of stories Chicken Soup for the Soul is looking for, I recommend that the inquirer carefully read the new book by series publisher Amy Newmark, Simply Happy: A Crash Course in Chicken Soup for the Soul Advice and Wisdom. In it Amy tells us that she seeks stories on how people made changes in their lives that improved their outlook. One of my favorite boxed quotes in the book is, "If you don't like something, change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it." When I worked as a psychotherapist, we called this attitude adjustment "reframing." It still works. Sure, it's finding silver linings on dark days. If that's schmaltz...bring it on. It works for me. It could work for you, too.


  1. Hi Terri - I loved your post. Your "friend" was kind of rude, wasn't he? The first time I had a story accepted by Chicken Soup for the Soul, I was obviously thrilled, but didn't realize how big it was until a complete stranger inside a Barnes & Noble heard me talking to a friend about it. She approached, and congratulated me, saying how wonderful it was, etc. THAT was when I felt like a "real" writer!

  2. You have proven yourself time and again. No need to defend your writing to anyone. You have the knowledge. And I'm certain your audience benefitted.

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  4. I wrote a comment but couldn't find it so here we try again. lol I shared your column above with my Olli students whom I'm teaching how to compose a story for Chicken Soup for the Soul. I impress on them that the competition is steep and it's no small achievement to be accepted! Nothing to poo-poo! lol--- Erika