Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Missouri Resources, a Free Magazine with Resources for Writers

Image from the Missouri Resources magazine
Timing is everything, and this week the Fall 2016 issue of Missouri Resources magazine arrived in my e-mail box while I was in the middle of doing rewrites for a historical short story that features a teenage Sam Clemens. (Notice the subtle way I gave a writerly excuse for not posting on my blog for several weeks?)

Image from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Back to the magazine: Published by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the free magazine is filled with interesting facts, figures, and photos.

As a Missouri writer, I'm always searching for interesting tidbits about the "Show Me State" to weave into my writing or give me inspiration for a story or an article. And, as luck would have it, the fall 2016 issue includes the article "A Magical Tour on US 36."  US Highway 36 runs across the top third of northern Missouri and has been dubbed "The Highway of American Genius" because of some of the raw American talent with roots across that stretch of land. 

The "A Magical Tour on US 36" article features phots of the birthplaces or childhood homes of famous Missourians, including Samuel L. Clemens (aka Mark Twain) in Florida, MO; Walt Disney in Marceline, and General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing in Laclede.

Being a native St. Louisian, I also found the article "The Bricks that Built St. Louis," fascinating. This issue also includes a really cool photo from 1904, the year St. Louis hosted the World's Fair. The "Time Exposures" photo was taken in front of a shoe store in Old North St. Louis, which is the neighborhood where I was born and grew up, so that got my attention.

Did I mention the Missouri Resources magazine is free? Click here to read the latest issue.

A word of warning, reading this magazine can cause a writer to get lost in the fascinating articles and research material.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Field Trip to Monticello Sculpture Gardens, Through the Looking Glass

Who loves to go on a field trip? I do!

A field trip with friends is not only fun and relaxing, it also stimulates the brain.

This month I've gone on two outings, the first was a trip my friend and former co-worker Barb planned, which included a walking tour through the Monticello Sculpture Gardens on the historic campus of Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois.

The college's 2016 "Gardens Through the Looking Glass," Summer Garden show, celebrates the 150-year anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” books.

The college offers free guided tours, or you can do as our group did, and visit the sculpture gardens on your own at your own pace.

According to their website, "The Monticello Sculpture Gardens have been designated by Missouri Botanical Garden as one of their Signature Gardens in Illinois. Here, the traditional edges between art and landscape blend to create a seamless partnership between sculptor and landscape architect."

Here are some photos from the trip.

I'm taking a photo through the looking glass
with my friend Patty waving and looking on

Here's a lovely centerpiece fountain with an egret
and some of the many limestone buildings in the background

My sister Kathleen and I take time for a photo op

A fountain surrounded by flowers - delightful!

Breathtaking sculpture of Sacajawea
carrying her child on her back

A bit of history about the original Monticello Female Seminary,
founded in 1838 by Captain Benjamin Godfrey, who championed
education for females

Horticulture Manager Ethan Braasch took time to
highlight some features of the gardens
My friends and fellow co-workers: Fran, Nancy, JoAnn,
Judy, Barb, Kathleen (my sister), Donna (me), and Patty
For information about the garden tours, call Ethan Braasch, Horticulture Manager, phone: (618) 468-3140 or e-mail him at

If you're interested in learning about the history of the Monticello Female Seminary, here's a link to the Monti Memories blog.

After our sculpture garden tour we took a quick drive across the street and met up with two more friends, where we enjoyed lunch at the magnificent Josephine's Tea Room and Gift Shop, I had the special quiche, salad, and lobster bisque soup, after which I was as full as a tick. For dessert, I bought a slice of lemon meringue pie to go. On the drive home, we stopped at one of the many roadside farmers markets along the way, where farmers displayed freshly picked tomatoes, watermelons, peaches, and other delights.

The field trip to Godfrey with my friends was a wonderful way to feed my mind, body, and soul.

How about you? Have you had any interesting field trips or vacations this summer that inspired you?

Friday, August 12, 2016

October Delight: 50th Annual Ozark Creative Writers Conference in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

The very first writers' conference I ever attended was the Ozark Creative Writers Conference in beautiful Eureka Springs, Arkansas. That was twenty years ago. And the conference is still going strong. In fact, this year is the 50th anniversary of the conference! The friendly atmosphere, top-notch speakers, networking opportunities, and dozens of writing contests keep writers coming back each year.

This year's conference will be held October 6-8 at the Best Western Inn of the Ozarks in scenic Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

This year's faculty includes agents, editors, publishers, and writers, some of whom you might have seen on the History Channel or other television programs.

One of the most attractive features of the conference is that registrants can enter more than 30 writing contests.

There is no additional fee for conference registrants to enter the contests, and there is a contest for everyone, with thousands of dollars in total prize money. The awards are presented on Saturday evening, with a lot of hoots and hollers and applause.

In the past I've served as a judge for a few contests, but this year I'm excited and honored to serve as the contest chair. The entries have begun to arrive, with some folks entering more than a dozen contests, so that gives you a hint at how treasured winning one of these contests is for writers.

But wait. There's more: The Ozark Mountain fall foliage is eye-popping in October, and the drive from St. Charles County goes quickly. So, if you're looking for a fun, informative, and rewarding contest, I hope you will join me at the OCW 50th Anniversary Contest in Eureka Springs.

Monday, August 1, 2016

My Top Ten Takeaways from Jill Marr's "Exposition versus Dialogue" Presentation

One area I try to improve on in my fiction is hitting the right balance between exposition and dialogue.

So I was thrilled to listen to literary agent Jill Marr's suggestions on how to do that during her "Exposition versus Dialogue" presentation at the All Write Now! Conference.

Here are the ten takeaways I plan to focus on from list she discussed: 

* Write it down then go back over the telling part and change to show.

* Start as late as you can in the plot.

* Lock up back story and let out only when needed.

Don’t have two characters talking about what they already know.

* Don’t use quotes on an entire page.

* Fold exposition in like eggs into a batter.

* Don’t give up great heaps of information.

* Dialogue has to ring true.
Use italics for interior dialogue.

* Don't use he said/she said if it's obvious who is speaking.

How about you: Do you find any of the above suggestions helpful when writing fiction? 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

More Notes from the All Write Now Conference: Tiffany Schofield and David Armand

Here's another installment of my notes from the All Write Now! Conference earlier this month.

During a morning session Five Star Publishing representative Tiffany Schofield gave a presentation on how writers can challenge their characters.

Her presentation included a discussion on some of her favorite recent reads and how the authors challenged their characters.

Here are some notes from her presentation:

* Readers get invested in characters.

* Read twice as much as you write.

* Step out of genre.

* Keep a journal/note what stood out as a reader and jot it down.

* For character development, describe setting.

* For pacing, balance dialogue and narrative.

* Writers can take some liberties in historical fiction, but history buffs will call you out if you make a mistake.

Challenge your characters' boundaries (physical, emotional, spiritual, societal, and literary).

* Push through; challenge the norm.

* Question the status quo.

* Without failure, there is no growth.


During lunch, keynote speaker David Armand spoke about his writing journey from an adopted son in Louisiana to a college professor at Southeastern Louisiana University.

His memoir, My Mother's House, opens with the image of rotten peaches, bruised fruits left on the floor to rot. He felt the peaches represented his life as being discarded and bruised, but still bearing fruit. 

His remarks were inspirational and focused on how books saved him and made a difference in his life. Through books and writing he was able to live his grand dreams.

He recommended the book On Writing by Stephen King as one of his favorites

He also suggested writers:
* Do the work.
* Believe in yourself.
* Take the seeds from an image to create a story.

He closed with a line from the Robert Frost poem, "The Road Less Traveled."

Although his remarks were brief, they demonstrated how reading and writing can change lives.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Notes from All Write Now Conference (Part II): John Rudolph on "Don't Call the Lawyers: Understanding Publishing Contracts"

One of the most informative sessions at the AWN Conference was John Rudolph’s presentation on “Don’t Call the Lawyers: Understanding Publishing Contracts.”

It was apparent that Mr. Rudolph, an agent with Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is skilled on his topic. Here are a few tips he shared with the standing-room-only crowd:

* Hiring a lawyer might cost more than what an author makes on a book.

* Pay attention to who pays for ancillary materials (photos, indexing).

* Unless you’re dealing with a movie studio, don’t give up movie rights.

* Author should have approval over copyedited manuscript.

* Unless you accept a flat fee (work for hire), you own the copyright.

* Reserve the right to an audit and ask for an accounting statement at least once a year.

* Plagiarism and lawsuits are rare but expensive.

* Limit as much as possible the first look at next book option.

* Define Out-of-Print status.

* Agent commission should match original agreement with agent.

* Any rights not expressly covered by contract belong to you.

* Areas to negotiate: Advance, Royalty, Territory.

Remember, the publisher wants you to succeed. A contract is an act of good faith, not an adversarial relationship!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Notes from All Write Now Conference: Perfecting Your Pitch with Jill Marr

Sioux reads her winning pitch while Jill Marr listens

For the next few posts I'll share some notes and observations from the All Write Now! Conference last weekend at SEMO in Cape Girardeau, which was an amazing experience by the way.

The first event of the morning was "Perfecting Your Pitch" with literary agent Jill Marr.

During the session, Jill described what she considers to be the makings of a successful elevator pitch.

Jill stated the best elevator pitches can be done in about 60 seconds, so her first word of advice was for writers to keep it short and focused.

For fiction, the focus should be on your project, rather than yourself.

Here are some specific tips on pitches. Pitches should be:

* Concise (be brief)

* Clear (no acronyms or jargon)

* Correct (appropriate audience)

* Compelling (hook to ask for more)

* Conceptual (stick to high level, don’t give too much detail)

* Customize (be ready to improvise)

* Conversational (keep it flowing, not stiff)

Also, be sure to include: character, situation (inciting incident), objective (goal), opponent (antagonist), disaster (climax - blackest moment in time).

* For nonfiction, the focus is more on yourself. Why you are proposing this project? What is your personal story?  

When pitching, know your title and genre. Have two options in your head. Be prepared.

Jill has an issue with pitches starting off with a question; it usually doesn’t always work for her. 

After her talk, about a dozen brave souls volunteered to give their pitches to the entire audience. 

I was not one of those brave souls. Call me chicken, but I'm not one to volunteer to get up in public and read. But I did use what I learned during this session to polish my pitch for later that afternoon.

To encourage the audience to participate, Jill offered as a prize for the winner a ten-page critique.

My observation of those who gave pitches was that the best were concise, focused, and memorable.

The one selected as the winner was Sioux Roslawski’s. (Yay, Sioux!)

Sioux (pictured above) visited our critique group and shared her pitch last Tuesday, so I had a hint at what she was going to say.

When Sioux practiced her pitch to our group we blown away. Still, her pitch was fresh. To sum it up, I’d say Sioux’s manuscript is wickedly funny.

After this session I revised my own pitch so I'd be prepared to pitch my project later in the day.

And I'm happy to report that when I pitched my project to Jill she had positive comments. She loves my title and subject matter. She gave me her card and asked me to send the entire manuscript after I've polished it. She told me she'd rather have it polished than quick.

Hope this post is helpful to anyone who plans to pitch to an agent or an editor.

For my next post I'll share some notes from John Rudolph's session on publishing contracts.