Category Archives: My Philosophy on Writing

A Few of My Favorite Things are Songs

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Mary Poppins.  Who wouldn’t want to eat spoonfuls of sugar, sing endlessly, and be “practically perfect in every way?” I sewed my own Mary Poppins costume for Halloween and could even repeat “Supercalifrag…etc, etc…” backwards. 

 And then Mom let me stay up late to watch Sound of Music.  Suddenly, singing scales and yodeling seemed awfully wonderful.  My friends and I belted out “Do-Re-Mi” at the top of our lungs.  We felt quite proud when we could hit the high Ti-Do notes. 

 I admit it–I was (and still am) a Julie Andrews groupie.  Many of her solos bring back special memories, even into adulthood.  The year I taught at a difficult inner-city school, I frequently listened to “I Have Confidence” on the way to work.  The words…

 I will be firm but kind
And all those children
Heaven bless them
They will look up to me
And mind me
…gave me some courage to face each terrible day.

One of my favorite happy songs was (and still is) “My Favorite Things.”  I always get tickled at the part “when the bee stings,” because a friend and I always poked each other at that part, and he accidently stuck his finger up my nose one time. 

Actually, my favorite things aren’t kitten whiskers (which make me sneeze) or copper kettles (that have to be scrubbed).  Instead, I find I have an ever-changing list of favorites.   

Here are my favorite things (this week):

Sitting by the fireplace and blogging during the Oklahoma blizzard

1.  Sitting by the fire during an Oklahoma blizzard

2.  Reading about Regency England romance in “The Season” by Sarah MacLean

3.  Talking to my 80-year-old Grandma about outhouses

4.  Knocking out two more agent query letters (fresh and full of promise)

5.  Watching Lucy argue with Ricky about an expensive hat

 And finally…

 6.  Listening to (not reading, but listening to) Julie Andrews read her own biography Home: A Memoir of My Early Years.

What are your favorite things this week?  Does a song have a special place in your heart?  I think music is such a powerful force in our lives, and you writers will agree that the words are just as important.  Words set to music have power, create memories and change lives.



Filed under Inspiration for Writers, My Philosophy on Writing, Some Writing Humor, Uncategorized

10 Writing Resolutions for 2010

1.  Become a Word Whisperer.  Logan Pearsall Smith said “What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers.”

 2.  Stop misspelling recieve and enviornment

 3.  Figure out a way to convince the IRS that every trip to Wal-Mart is a deductible writing expense.  It’s research!  After all, what better place can you go to find some crazy characters to write into a story?

 4.  Remember the difference between affect and effect.  Stopping to look it up each time has an unfortunate affect effect on the flow of my, uh, whatever I was talking about.

 5.  Reread at least five of my favorite books from childhood…you know, the classics, like Anne of Green Gables, Little Women and Superfudge. 

 6.  Pursue agents with greater tenacity.  (Hmmm…maybe ten-a-city is the right formula!)

 7.  Adopt a method for organizing the rejection letters piling up in my office. I’m thinking that something like the Dewey Decimal System might be adequate.  

 8.  Find a market for a story about my oddball hobby: listening to 1930s comedy radio shows.  (No, I’m not a 90-year old woman, thank you very much.)

 9.  Be a student of humor.  Author Patricia Case recommends improving your “funny” by studying comedy-writing techniques.  Or to quote The Cat in the Hat, “It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how.” 

 10.  Inspire others to work harder at their writing craft.  Then, when they are successful, they can encourage me to keep going.  (Hey, that’s YOU I’m talking about!)

 Happy New Year!  May we all achieve that multi-million-dollar book contract sometime in the next 12 months–that way, we’ll have no need to write a resolution list again next year. 

 Amy Dee Stephens

“Words carry time and culture.”


Filed under Inspiration for Writers, My Philosophy on Writing, Some Writing Humor

The Reality Show Version of Writing a Book


Tonight, I was in the mood for some humor.  If you can pull yourself away from your favorite reality show–you might enjoy this metaphoric piece I wrote shortly after the publication of my zoo history book.   

Book: Oklahoma City Zoo; 1902-1959

“Ding dong the book is put to bed!” That’s the song I’m singing right now, since my manuscript, The Oklahoma City Zoo; 1902-1959, is resting peacefully at the publishing house in Chicago.  It began its life four long years ago, whining and nagging to be researched—throwing guilt trips in my path that if I didn’t do it, no one else would. It was up to me to drag fifty years of forgotten zoo history out of the attic and begin a trip down the Antiques Roadshow lane. 

 Five-hundred hours later the scraps of information began to take on a personality; a strong storyline full of animal whimsy, with an occasional outburst of history. Once it was written, however, the ungrateful brat demanded a break and sat on the shelf for a year, wallowing in rejection. I finally had to force it to overcome its Fear Factor. I had put way too much effort into raising it for it not to be a Survivor. So, I reintroduced it back into society, sending out letters on its behalf to three reputable publishers. All three pursued the manuscript to a degree, but at the end of The Amazing Race, I had to tell the biggest Contender, “You’re fired!” and Apprentice it over to a smaller press.

 This meant my precious brainchild had to undergo an Extreme Make-over. Another 500 hours of Overhaulin’ was required. At first, cutting unnecessary words was painful. It resisted going on the diet, complaining that it was unfair to be The Biggest Loser. After firming itself into tight, concise little captions, however, its inner beauty began to show. It decided it might be America’s Next Top Model yet. The facelift included a city-wide search for over 200 Candid Camera photos to fit the manuscript’s pretty little text. Being confined to only 128 pages, the photos kept Trading Spaces, and in some cases, were cut altogether.

 Next came agonizing weeks of deciding What Not to Wear on the book’s cover. It needed Bachelor appeal if it was going to attract bookstore customers. Even after the final deadline, the editor and I were still searching, a bit desperately then, for the right photo. I scoured the options one last time, when suddenly, I yelled out, “I Want That! one.” Somehow we had both missed the best choice—two children looking at a leopard.

 Finally, my labor of love has become comfortable with its new image. No more tweaking or rearranging, no Starting Over. I’ve instilled as much historical integrity into it as possible, and it is ready to face the readers of the world with confidence.

 I, too, have changed through this process. I’ve learned to sacrifice words, interpret nearly-obliterated newspaper text on a microfiche machine, and harass companies for photo licensing. I’ve freed up space in my head where fifty years of history had been rattling around.

 In “reality” though, the best thing about raising this non-fiction book was knowing that it would spark good memories and conversations. I keep imagining a grandma saying, “I remember when Judy the Elephant came to the zoo. Let me tell you about it.” From the beginning, I knew that this book would not make me a Joe Millionaire, but Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? I’ll cash my small royalty check and take comfort in knowing that the next historian who gets a bug to write about the Oklahoma City Zoo’s past will actually have a resource to use. Just think how much less work they will have to do!

 Now that my manuscript is grown and gone, things are much more peaceful around This Old House. I’m living The Simple Life. I come home in the evenings and have time to piddle around with my new hobby—no, not watching reality television—writing. Writing glorious, creative, non-factual, no-photographs-needed fiction!


Filed under My Philosophy on Writing, Some Writing Humor, Zoo