Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I'm Back with a Quick Deadline Call for Submissions for Veterans and their Families

If you've been wondering where I've been for the past two months, I'm still around, although I haven't been spending a lot of time on social media this winter.

Earlier this year, after scrubbing my kitchen and bathroom floors, I was so out of breath I had to sit down and rest. Around the same time, my Internet service provider "upgraded" their system and threw my program speed and capability for a loop.

Frustrated with not being able to easily do what I used to do both physically and on line, I took some action.

I joined a local fitness center and began a nutrition and exercise program, and my husband figured out what was wrong with my laptop.

Now that I have more energy and my computer is behaving itself, I hope to blog more often.

I wanted to begin with this call for submissions because it's for such a good cause and there is no fee to enter.

Here are some details:

For all military personnel, Veterans, and their families:
Call for Submissions for Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors volume 4
Deadline: June 1, 2015
No fee
Prize: $250
Categories: Short fiction, Poetry, Interview with a Warrior, Essay, Photography
Writing must be by veterans, military-service personnel or their families.  Include the connection in your short bio.

You can find more information by clicking on this link from Walrus Publishing.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Dr. Richard P. Johnson's Workshop for Writers "Enliven Your Writing with an Understanding of Clinical and Spiritual Psychology"

On Saturday, Feb 28, I was among the more than two-dozen writers who attended Dr. Richard P. Johnson's workshop sponsored by Catholic Writers of St. Louis and hosted by All Saints Catholic Writers in St. Peters.

The topic of Dr. Johnson's workshop was how writers can enliven their writing through an understanding of clinical and spiritual psychology. 

Dr. Johnson is the former Director of Behavior Science at a large teaching medical center in St. Louis. 

You can also find further information and explanation in his book, Discover Your Spiritual Strengths.

Here are some notes I jotted down.

Writers and psychologists are kindred spirits -- both are observers of people. 

For writers, using accurate words to describe behaviors is vitally important.

Personality: The core of individuals; what makes them unique. 

Dr. Johnson's six Christ-centered functions of personality are:

1. Believing. What you think life should be like. “Beliefs are the mother of your actions and behaviors.” 

2. Perceiving. Where you place your focus. We take in data - physical, mental, emotional, and also spiritual. (body, mind, and spirit).

Transcendence - visible and invisible. How are you perceiving that which is invisible?

3.  Thinking- the meaning you make from your evaluations or assessments, We have an estimated 60K thoughts each day; we are constantly thinking. Thoughts create feelings.

4. Feeling. Feelings have a great purpose. They are the automatic emotions that flow from our thoughts. How your personality creates your emotional life

5.  Deciding. The choices we make in our lives are based on our feelings. Make choices as to what we are going to do: strategies, goals, objectives, FREE WILL.

6. Acting. Behavior, what we actually do. Actions move things, hearts, minds, and souls. Actions cause change; we change as a result of action.Some action is outward; most is inward.

He also discussed Spiritual Gifts and Attitudes: 

What are spiritual gifts? They are the essence of the person. 

What is attitude? Patients with healthy attitudes responded rather than reacted. 

Responding is something thoughtful

He passed out a list which displayed the above six functions of personality with corresponding Spiritual Strengths (virtues), Disturbing Compulsions (fears) and Instructive Shadows (absence of virtues).

Virtues are expressed as spiritual strengths received through the grace of God. For each spiritual strength or virtue (light) there is an instructive shadow (darkness) expressed in the absence of that virtue.  We use our compulsions (fears) to try to get out of the shadow.

For example: The spiritual strength of  HOPE, the absence of hope is some measure of Despair (from disillusionment to hopelessness). The corresponding compulsion is Presumption (taking things for granted). 
Spiritually healing patient expressed themselves through their: VIRTUES

What is a virtue? Manifestation of Christ in them

“Virtus in media stat” In the middle stands virtue.

Virtue motivates our behaviors, from the Christ-centered perspective.  

Shadow (the absence of virtue) is the fear that comes from darkness. Something is missing.

Compulsion: When our whole being is fearful.

 As authors, we try to describe the human condition. He suggested we use the model for fleshing out  our characters to go beyond the physical, mental, and emotional dimensions to the spiritual. For fully fleshed out characters, consider using the character's virtues.

After Dr. Johnson's presentation, Cathy Gilmore from Catholic Writers of St. Louis led participants in a brief exercise to apply what we learned. I was amazed at the creativity expressed during the readings offered by several writers. 

I left the workshop with a happy heart and a desire to learn more about spiritual strengths to use in my writing--and in my life!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Don't Let the Truth Get in the Way of a Good Story: When Facts and Truth Matter

In June of 1995, my sisters Kathleen, Bridget, and I toured Ireland. I have many memories of that trip, but the recent media flap over NBC news broadcast journalist Bryan Williams reminded me of a saying I first heard our Irish bus driver say twenty years ago: “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Our bus driver/tour guide was a cheerful and funny man with a "gift of gab" I’ll call Tommy. To quote the TV show “Dragnet,” Tommy’s “name has been changed to protect the innocent.”

During our daily trips, Tommy shared some history of Ireland and entertained us with jokes and long-winded tales. And usually, after one of his far-fetched stories, someone would ask him: “Is that a true story?” 

He would grin and wink then say, “The Irish have a saying: Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.” 

After hearing some of his stories, one might conclude that Tommy not only kissed the Blarney Stone, he went back for seconds.

As he skillfully drove down busy highways and wended across narrow roads, stopping for flocks of sheep, which he called “Irish traffic jams,” he would break out into song and encourage everyone to sing along. When one of the tourists complimented him on his singing, he smiled widely and humbly bragged that his voice wasn’t as good as his cousin’s, who belonged to the Irish rock group, “The Cranberries.” 

After I returned to the USA, I shared his don’t-let-the-truth saying with several writing friends, some who often quote it and a few who claim it as their own.

I’ve also used Tommy’s principle in my own writing--my fiction writing that is. In fiction, it is all right to embellish and change details or facts to fit a story. That’s why it’s called fiction.

But in non-fiction, facts are important, and truth is the critical element.  

When I write personal essays, I try to remain as faithful to the truth as possible, or at least as I remember it. 

But memories can fade, especially over long periods of time. Was it sunny or overcast thirty day years ago? Was I wearing a blue dress or a red sweater? Using vivid details can color a story and make it stronger, but they aren’t as important as the essence of the essay--the universal truth I’m trying to convey. And while those details might be innocent mis-remembrances, they aren’t deliberate falsehoods, like the ones Bryan Williams told when he reported that the helicopter he was riding in was shot at by RPGs.

Using dialogue in personal essays is especially tricky. I’ve often tried to recall conversations verbatim. For example, I've asked myself: Is that exactly what my mom said when I told her my teacher died? If I can’t recall the exact words, I stay true to my memory of how I felt and what I believe she said. On occasion I'll ask one of my siblings to compare memories.

So, while I’ll continue to embellish and not let the truth get in the way of my fiction writing, for my non-fiction, while I might occasionally “change a name to protect the innocent,” I’ll follow the advice of Sergeant Joe Friday on “Dragnet” and do my best only to use “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Free Writing Workshop by Dr. Richard P. Johnson on How To "Enliven your Writing with an Understanding of Clinical and Spiritual Psychology"

I'm pleased to announce that the Catholic Writers of St. Louis and the Catholic Writers Group of All Saints Parish in St. Peters, MO, are co-hosting a Special Presentation and Writing Workshop on Saturday February 28, 2015.

The workshop title is: “Enliven your Writing with an Understanding of Clinical and Spiritual Psychology" presented by Richard P. Johnson, Ph.D., PCSG, LPC, NCC

You can learn more about Dr. Johnson here.

When: Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hospitality 8:30 a.m. 
Workshop 9:00 - 11:00 am

7 McMenamy Rd.; St. Peters, MO

This special event is free, but registration is required. 

* Bring a pen and notebook and invite a friend, but be sure to let us know that you'll be there!

** RSVP to: dvolkenannt at or post in the Comments section below that you will be attending.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

As Seen on Dr. Oz: The Doctor Oz Effect on Book Sales

Yesterday, the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel, was featured on the Dr. Oz show. The title of the segment was "Proof of Angels: Can They Heal Us?"

Dr. Oz interviewed Gabrielle Bernstein, who wrote the foreword to the Touched by an Angel anthology, and he posed the question: How do angels help us heal? 

As a believer in angels and a contributor to the anthology, I was curious to hear both Gabrielle's explanation and Dr. Oz's thoughts on the matter. 

Dr. Oz spoke about neurotheology, which was a new term to me, so I looked it up in the dictionary. 

Neurotheology (also called neuroscience) is defined as "the scientific study of the neural correlates of religious or spiritual beliefs and practices." 

To demonstrate, Dr. Oz showed side-by-side graphics of a brain, which showed how much more active the frontal lobe is during prayer or meditation. Fascinating!

The segment also included interviews with three women who were contributors to the anthology. They shared their personal stories of their encounters with angels. Inspiring!

From my point of view, the feature combined the best of both worlds --  scientific method and anecdotal evidence as proof of beliefs.

Before watching the program, I was curious to learn about how being mentioned on the Dr. Oz show would affect book sales. I had a gut feeling that having a book on his show would increase sales, but I wanted proof. So, I did a mini-analysis of my own. 

Hours before the show aired, I collected data from two major book sites then compared it to data collected within 24 hours after the show aired.

Here’s what I found.

Hours before the show was aired on Wed, Jan 28, here are the book's rankings:

On Amazon
Kindle: # 102,888 in the paid Kindle store
#55 in Angels
#63 in Spiritualism
#74 in Faith

Paperbacks: #81,392 in sales
#66 on Angels
#13 on Faith

On Barnes & Nobel the book ranked #94,235 in books. I didn’t check Nook.

Within 24-hours -- the day after the show aired, Thurs, Jan 29:

On Amazon
Kindle: #2,683 in the paid Kindle store
#1 in Angels
#1 in Spiritualism
#1 in Faith

Paperbacks: #736 in sales
#1 in Faith
#1 in Angels
#1 in Self-help

For Barnes & Noble it ranked #323 in books. Again, I didn’t check Nook.

So, just as Dr. Oz pointed out how the frontal lobe of the brain experiences a chemical effect during prayer and meditation, I discovered that a book experiences a positive “retail effect” after being featured on the Dr. Oz show.

My brain has been overworked from all this data collection, so I'm going to take a break--just in time to watch today's Dr. Oz show.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Watch Dr. Oz on Wednesday to hear about Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

I just received some exciting news from D'ette Corona, VP and Assistant Publisher of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.

Here's the scoop:

This Wednesday, January 28th, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel, will be featured on the Dr. Oz show. 

Foreword writer Gabby Bernstein will talk to Dr. Oz about the book. In addition, the show taped interviews with three contributors to the book. The interviews are expected to be shown as well!

While I'm not one of the lucky three contributors who were interviewed for the Dr. Oz show, my true story "A Patchwork of Hope" appears in the anthology.

Here is the link if you want to check your local listings for the show’s air time:

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

It's hard to believe it's already 2015. The Christmas holiday seemed to whiz by, and after fighting a cold I'm just catching up. In fact, I'm late wishing everyone a happy new year, but I'm determined to get back on track.

At the end of last month I downloaded my writing planning calendar and have set my writing goals for 2015.

One new goal is that I've committed to journal each day in 2015. In the past I've journaled when I've traveled or at times in my life when I needed to record special or emotional events.  But this year I'm taking a structured approach.

Here's how I plan to stick to my journaling plan:

One page per day.
At the end of the day.
Journal and pen sit on the table next to the lamp that I turn off each night before turning in, so I won't forget to write.

After two days of success I think it might work.

How about you? Any new or improved goals for 2015?