Monday, December 29, 2008

Monday's Market - Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

(cover from the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine website)

Today's weather for St. Peters: Sunny, high 55 degrees. Time to get out of the house and run some errands.

If you visited last Monday, you read about the featured market--Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Today I'm posting about the companion piece to that market--Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.
In fact, they're both located on the same website http://www.themysteryplace.com/ahmm/ , although they are very different magazines with guidelines geared for their specific magazine.

To find out more about AHMM writers' guidelines click on the link. Both markets pay well, and have large circulations, so if you have a mystery that fits--submit, submit, submit.

Quick Note: Because of the holidays, posting will be spotty again this week, but on Wednesday I will share some of my writing goals for 2009 and ask visitors to share theirs.

Until Wednesday, take care, and take time to write.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Good Book is Good Business

Today's forecast for St. Peters: Sleet, high 35 degrees. After the bitter cold we had yesterday and an expected high temp of 35 today, I'm humming "It's a Heat Wave." Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah--Heat Wave.

Here's something that will warm your soul. An article written by Stephanie Simon in the Wall Street Journal titled, "Prophet Sharing: The Good Book Is the Best Seller" confirms that The Bible, which is a perennial commercial hit, has become more in demand after being repackaged for market niches, including a Magna Bible. (See a photo and excerpt about the Magna Bible in Simon's article.)

Here are some facts from her article:
*The Bible is the best-selling book in America
* 90% of households have at least one copy
* An estimated 25 million copies sold are each year
* Sales are largely driven by innovations in design, color, style and the niche marketing

Simon's article chronicles even more facts and figures--fascinating reading about the timeless Good Book.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Monday's Market - Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

(Cover from the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine website)

Today's forecast for St. Peters: Mostly sunny, high 20 degrees; right now it's 3 degrees--brutally cold--and I need to run out and do some last-minute Christmas shopping. Brrrrr.

What better way to heat up a bone-chilling day than sitting by the fire reading a bone-chilling mystery? Today's market is Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, which is part of The Mystery Place.

Here is an ecerpt of the guidelines from their website:

"Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine welcomes submissions from both new and established writers. We publish every kind of mystery short story: the psychological suspense tale, the deductive puzzle, the private eye case-the gamut of crime and detection from the realistic (including the policeman's lot and stories of police procedure) to the more imaginative (including "locked rooms" and "impossible crimes"). We need hard-boiled stories as well as "cozies," but we are not interested in explicit sex or violence. We do not want true detective or crime stories. With the exception of a regular book review column and a mystery crossword, EQMM publishes only fiction. We are especially happy to review first stories by authors who have never before published fiction professionally. First-story submissions should be addressed to EQMM's Department of First Stories.
"EQMM uses stories of almost every length. 2,500-8,000 words is the preferred range, but we occasionally use stories of up to 12,000 words and we feature one or two short novels (up to 20,000 words) each year, although these spaces are usually reserved for established writers. Shorter stories are also considered, including minute mysteries of as little as 250 words. Our rates for original stories are from 5 to 8 ¢ a word, sometimes higher for established authors. EQMM does not accept stories previously published in the United States. "
Manuscripts should be sent to:

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
475 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10016

You can download their guidelines here: http://www.themysteryplace.com/pdf/writeeqmm.pdf

So, here's my challenge: By Feb 15 I'm going to write a mystery and submit it to Ellery Queen, probably one of the minute mysteries (as little as 250 words). How about you?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Day 5 of Book Week - Non-Fiction


Today's forecast for St. Peters: Mostly cloudy, high of 40 degrees, although this morning it was 50 degrees when I drove the kids to school.


I haven't read much non-fiction this year, but one book I am reading and thoroughly enjoying is THE AMERICAN PATRIOT'S ALMANC :Daily Readings on America, by New York Times Best-Selling author William J. Bennett and John T. E. Cribb, published by Thomas Nelson.

The almanac is a collection of facts and figures about Americana, spotlighting patriots who shaped our nation, from the formation of the United States of America to present day. It is a day-by-day account of historic events and contains verbatim texts of historic documents, such as the: Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address, Emancipation Proclamation, Pledge of Allegiance, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights--as well as sections on Flag Etiquette, Poems and Songs of American Patriotism, Prayers for the American people and a listing of Fifty All-American Movies.

This is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in Americana or history. It is a quick read and easy reference.

While I think the book is wonderful, I just have two minor nits to pick. They are very minor, but in a book with so many facts and figures and such a vast amount of historical information, I think they bear mention.

The first is an omission. The May 31 entry on The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier includes a statement "that the remains of the Vietnam unknown were identified by DNA in 1998, so they were removed, and that bomb is now empty." What is omitted is the name of the Air Force pilot who was buried in the tomb, later identified, disinterred, and reburied. His name is 1st Lieutenant Michael J. Blassie. I admit to being biased about this bit of American history because I knew Mike Blassie. Mike took me to my senior prom, but I still believe because of the historic significance his name and rank should've been included.

The second nit is a mistake on the July 8 entry about the Liberty Bell. While the date at the top of the page is July 8, the beginning of the entry states that "Tradition says that on June 8, 1776, the Liberty Bell rang from the tower . . ." What's confusing is the date heading is July 8 and the text states the event occurred on June 8. Because of this historic significance, I think this should've been fact checked so the page heading matches the text.

Okay, don't throw any shoes at me; I admit, they are minor quibbles. But I really do like this book and think anyone who loves American trivia or enjoys reading about people and events that shaped our nation will treasure this book. In fact, my husband Walt, an immigrant who cherishes his adopted nation, will be getting a copy of THE AMERICAN PATRIOT'S ALMANAC: Daily Readings on America as one of his Christmas presents.
If you have any favorite non-fiction books you want to recommend, please let me know.
That's all for this week. I will try to post a few days next week, but most likely it will be hit or miss because of Christmas.
Hope you have a great weekend, and take time to write.
Donna


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day 4 of Book Week - Adult Fiction


Today's forecast for St. Peters: Overcast, freezing rain high of 31 degrees; chance for thunderstorms tonight. (Guess I better run my errands this morning before the nasty stuff gets here later today.)

Because most of the books I read are fiction, written for an adult audience, this post is a bit long. This year I've read some great novels, some very good ones, and some--well the typing was nice.

Here's a list of some of the great and very good ones from this year:

THE SECRET SCRIPTURE by Sebastian Barry - set in Ireland, it's a story about Roseanne McNulty, a woman turning 100 in a mental hospital, and Dr. Greene, who has been called in to evaluate her. A lovely written and deeply moving novel about the destructive power of well intentioned people to destroy lives and the redemptive power of truth to heal, no matter how long it takes. (Nominated for this year's Mann Booker Prize.)

ANCIENT HIGHWAY by Bret Lott - a beautifully written novel spanning three generations; it’s a story about family, failed dreams, hope and healing.

THE FIFTH FLOOR by Michael Harvey- a mystery set in Chicago with a failed hero worth rooting for; a story about worst and the best of the human condition --- power, greed, corruption and hate; loyalty, sacrifice, courage and love. Chicago politics --- now where have I heard that lately?

THIS ONE IS MINE by Maria Semple - a debut novel that is at times wickedly funny, tart and bitter, sweet and wise --- and always entertaining. (Laugh-out-loud funny and quietly weep-to-yourself sad).
SALT RIVER by James Sallis - Technically published late last year, but it needs to be mentioned because of the tight, crisp and brutally honest writing. It's a dark and intelligent mystery that grabs and won't let go. (The third and final mystery featuring John Turner.)

THE GHOST WAR by Alex Berenson - a well crafted thriller about events that bring two super powers to the brink of war. It’s a story of ambition, betrayal, sacrifice, redemption and the remarkable power of faith to transform and save lives.

THE SEVEN SINS: THE TYRANT ASCENDING by Jon Land - a fast-paced thriller with a flawed, yet fascinating, character whose daredevil personality and single-minded ambition thrust him into a high-stakes world of greed, betrayal, revenge and murder.

THE HERETIC’S DAUGHTER by Kathleen Kent - a debut historical fiction written by a descendent of the Salem Witch Trials --- strong storytelling, vivid use of descriptive language and a haunting voice.


**Footnote to yesterday's post: Beth Fehlbaum, author of Courage in Patience, posted a comment and a link to her story of hope for those who have endured abuse. I read part of the first chapter and thought I would share the link in case you haven't read her comment on yesterday's post. Here's the link: http://courageinpatience.blogspot.com/

How about everyone else--anyone have a favorite to add to the list?

Tomorrow will spotlight non-fiction.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Day 3 of Book Week - Spotlight on Young Adult Books


Today's weather for St. Peters: Chance of flurries, high 29 degrees.

It's not always easy to get pre-teens, teenagers or young adults to read, but when an author writes a series that captures their imaginations, the book's popularity spreads by word-of-mouth. Here are a few books I've read and reviewed (and my granddaughter and her friends have also read many of them):

Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli is a thoughtful and moving book about families and friendships and what’s really important in life. A wonderful book intended for ages 10 and up (but I think teenage boys especially will also enjoy it) with an important message written by an award-winning author. You can read my entire review by clicking on the link above.

The Clique, Summer Series, by Lisi Harrison - Massie is the first installment followed by: Dylan, Alicia, Kristen and Claire. The series gives insight into what the "Pretty Committee" girls are like--shallow, yes, and focused on shoes and designer clothing. But each book in the series has a message--be proud of who you are, stand up for yourself, family is important, or be true to your friends--that resonates with teenage and pre-teen girls. If you click on the link above you can read my review of the entire series on Teenreads.com.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. Controversial, yes; entertaining, you betcha; overly long, yes; well written, let's just say it's a very entertaining page-turner that appeals to young adults and adults alike. (I've seen mothers reading it in the carpool line.) It's the first in the series about a "good vampire" and a teenage girl who falls in love with him, and it has been made into a movie.
Tomorrow will spotlight fiction books.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Day 2 of Book Week - Spotlight on Children's Books


Today's forecast for St. Peters: Light snow, mixed with sleet. High 21 degrees. (I thought winter wasn't supposed to start until next week, but I guess Mother Nature has her own calendar.)


Children's books make great holiday gifts. Here are a few to consider.


The first recommendation comes from Margo Dill. On her blog you can read about a beautiful picture book--Under the Night Sky--which is about the Northern Lights. The book is perfect for kids in preschool through 3rd grade or for teachers to use with a science unit. Here's her blog address http://margodill.com/blog/ If you leave a comment on her blog you could win a free book--and you can't beat free!

The second book is The Gollywhopper Games, written by Jody Feldman, who was the guest speaker at Saturday Writers earlier this month. Her book has been recommended by Bookreporter.com as being one of their "great books for boys" to read.

The third is one I read and reviewed recently for Kidsreads.com. Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris, written by R. L. LaFevers, is the follow-on book to Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos. The fictional events take place in early-twentieth-century London, where Theodosia must stop the mummies who are running loose. Secret societies, supernatural events, and a heroine who won't be deterred from her mission are some highlights of the book, which received a starred review from Booklist.
Rounding out the list is Great Joy, a picture book written by award-winning author Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Last year I reviewed Great Joy for Kidsread.com, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The illustrations are exquisite, with old-world charm and warmth, and the story is rich in the wisdom of a child, with a message for readers of all ages.

All of these books are available from Amazon.com, and I've included them on my list of favorites if you want to check them out.
This is an exciting week because I get to post about something I'm passionate about--books. Tomorrow's post will highlight young adult books.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Day 1 of Book Week - Spotlight on Regional Books


Today's weather in St. Peters: Overcast, 17 degrees. Chance of snow. The kids are home today from school, and they might get another snow day tomorrow.

This week's posts will focus on books. Each day will highlight a different type of book.

Books make great gifts, no matter what time of year, but for Christmas, especially receiving a book as a gift is a treat.

Today will be dedicated to regional books--either written by local writers or books about Missouri or the local region. (All the featured books are available on Amazon.com. They can be previewed and ordered by clicking on the My Favorites link on the the right.)

First up, St. Charles residents, Dianna and Don Graveman's book, St. Charles:: Les Petites Côtes (Images of America) (Paperback), which includes a foreword by Mayor Patti York, is now available for pre-order. The book will be released March 23 by Arcadia Publishing as part of their Images of America series.
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Here's a description of the Book: "In 1769, French Canadian fur trader Louis Blanchette built a cabin on the Missouri River in what is today St. Charles. He called the settlement Les Petites Côtes, or the little hills. Other now famous explorers soon passed this way, including Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who began their expedition here in 1804 to explore the Louisiana Purchase territory. Daniel Boone forged a path through St. Charles along the Boone’s Lick Trail, which later joined the Santa Fe Trail and then the Oregon Trail. Today St. Charles hosts many annual events to celebrate its rich history and transport visitors to the past. However, the site of Missouri’s first state capitol has not survived without tragedy and an occasional natural disaster, including a cholera epidemic, tornadoes, floods, and a couple of disastrous railroad bridge accidents. "

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Another St. Charles resident, David Lee Kirkland, has published a collection of short stories called, The Yesteryear Tales. Kirkland's collection received glowing reviews from many reviewers, including Harry Levins of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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Rounding out the list is Missouri writer, Sean McLachlan, whose book Missouri: An Illustrated History (Hippocrene Books, Inc.) was included among the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's picks of Best Local and Regional History Books for 2008.

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Those three are just a few of many books written by regional writers.

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Tomorrow's spotlight will be on children's books.

Friday, December 12, 2008

First Paragraphs, Opening Sentences and Hooks

Today's forecast for St. Peters: Overcast, chance for snow flurries. High 40 degrees.

If you've been following this week's posts, you know about literary agent, Nathan Bransford's, first paragraph contest. Although my paragraph wasn't selected as a winner, reading the finalists gave me insight into what captures the attention of an agent. To read the winners, hop on over to Nathan's blog, where Donald Draper, from the TV program Mad Men, introduces the finalists.
The generosity of publishing industry experts who are willing to share insider information is truly amazing. Another blog I recently discovered is The Book Deal, An Inside View of Publishing by Alan Rinzler's. Rinzler is a consulting editor. His "Ask the Editor" post on six tips on the power of opening sentences is --- well very powerful. The section on the Craft of Writing is a literary gold mine.

That's it for this week. I'll be back on Monday. Hope you have a pleasant weekend, and take time to write.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Are You Kidding Me?

Today's weather forecast for St. Peters: Mostly sunny; high 40 degrees.

This morning I received an e-mail from a member of an on-line writers' group I belong to, with the terse message of: "read it, read it, read it" and a link to an opinion piece in the New York Times. Definitely got my attention.

After clicking on the link, I got a jolt stronger than a cup of coffee--expect I don't drink coffee--so make that a cup of hot black tea or a splash of cold water in my face. But I digress, perhaps I'm still dumfounded after clicking on the link and reading New York Times op-ed guest columnist Timothy Egan's piece titled, "Typing Without a Clue."

No matter your party affiliation or whom you voted for in last month's election, as a writer, you will probably have the same reaction I did: Are you kidding me?

Can you guess who has written a book with a selling price for $24.95?

Still curious? Joe the Plumer.

What?????

Wait a minute. No need to panic. There might still be hope for us.

If my logic follows here; the other night I unplugged the toilet, so next year I should expect to have a book deal. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Well, darn it, if JTP can do it, so can I. And you can too. Guess you never know what it takes to get a book deal. I better get to writing my book. But, wait; before I get writing, I'll run to Wal-Mart and buy myself a new plunger--the latest tool of the trade for um . . . writers?

Here's a link to the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/opinion/07egan.html

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

First Paragraph Contest


(Logo courtesy of Nathan Bransford's blog)

Today's forecast for St. Peters: Partly sunny; high 31 degrees.

First, thanks to Bea Siros for pointing out the typo in the last sentence of my blog heading. I must've read it 100 times and glossed over it. If your curious, the word "know" should have been "knows," but it's been corrected.

***

Now, for all you intrepid souls who want to get the attention of a literary agent, here's your chance. Nathan Bransford is a literary agent with the San Francisco office of Curtis Brown Ltd., a New York based literary agency that has been representing writers since 1914. On Monday he began inviting writers to post the first paragraph of a work-in-progress on his blog. The invitation expires at 4 p.m. Pacific time Thursday. Finalists will be announced Friday.

As of this morning, more than 900 people have posted their first paragraphs (or comments) on his site. It's interesting to read what writers are posting as their first paragraphs. I read about the contest the other day and figured: With so many paragraphs to wade through, what's one more? Why not give it a shot, so I did. You can too!

The grand prize winner will have the choice of: a partial critique, query critique or 15 minute phone conversation with Nathan. Runners up will receive query critiques and/or other agreed-upon prizes.

To read some first paragraph entries and complete details, here's a link: http://nathanbransford.blogspot.com/2008/12/2nd-sort-of-annual-stupendously.html

Good luck,

Donna

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Name That Train

Photo, courtesy of MODot website
Today's forecast for St. Peters: Chance of thunderstorms; high 55 degrees.

"All Aboard!"

For all you creative types, here's a fun contest from the Missouri Department of Transportation website. (Note: According to the rules posted on the website, anyone can enter, but you must be a legal Missouri resident to win):

"The 'Name The Train' contest will rely on train fans everywhere to pick the best name for the train that runs between St. Louis and Kansas City. The new name will be revealed in January.

There will be three phases to the contest.
*Submit your favorite name online or by mail between Nov. 10 and Dec. 10.
*Contest judges will select five names as finalists.
*Vote for your favorite finalist name online or by mail from Dec. 16 to Jan. 16."

Click here to download complete contest rules, including eligibility requirements and prizes.

**
So put on your thinking caps (or conductor's hats). Maybe you will be the winner. But you have to act fast; the contest train leaves the station Dec 10.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Monday's Market - Bylines Writers' Desk Calendar

Today's forecast for St. Peters: Mostly cloudy, high 51 degrees.

Here's some good news about two writing friends from Saturday Writers: Cindy Allen and Doyle Suit will be among the writers featured in the 2009 edition of Bylines Writers' Desk Calendar, which will be released on December 12.

I recently e-mailed Bylines Calendar publisher, Sylvia Forbes, and asked about what she is looking for in the 2010 calendar.

Sylvia is looking for: "great stories about the writing life. Stories that are funny, moving, tell of a rewarding moment, of hard work paying off, of not giving up, of "ah ha" writing moments, of learning something from other writers or writing groups, of a memorable moment at a writing conference, or even learning what NOT to do, are just a few possible topics that would be fitting. These stories are meant to motivate a writer to keep trying, to cheer them up on a day when the writing seems hard, or just to inspire them or make them feel they're not alone, by reading about someone else's trials, errors and successes.

"In 300 words, there's not a lot of room for a complicated or multifaceted story, so writers must pick just one incident, or idea and write about it. Some writers introduce too many elements, and then aren't able to resolve everything in such a short story. Writers are certainly welcome to submit more than one story, but only one story per person will be chosen for an edition.

"Two types of submissions that get rejected for Bylines are: 1) entries that are really just bios of the author. (I wrote published my first article, got better, met an editor, and now I have 5 books published, etc.), or 2) those who submit some version of "I write because I must."

"I would like to include a couple of poems about the writing life in each edition, but get very few poetry submissions. Poems must be specifically about writing to be eligible.

"Stories are accepted totally on the quality of the writing and on the story told. I do not look at the writer's name, what genre they publish in, or anything else, to decide. However, if I get two stories that are almost exactly alike, I might save one for a different edition. This has rarely happened, however.

"Compensation could be better, and as Bylines grows, I will try to do better. We pay $5 and a copy of the book, plus give discounts on any extra copies that they buy. We also put a link to their website from the Bylines website, and will publish their email address on the contact page in Bylines. I do know that several writers have been emailed by fans who got their email address from Bylines, and complimented the writer's writing, but I don't know if any Bylines writers have gotten assignments or book deals from being in Bylines.

"Currently Bylines is available on Amazon, from the Bylines website, and also from Funds for Writers, and by calling or emailing me. The website is the best way for me to sell books.

"Last year, we added a submission tracker, as well as an expense tracker. This year, I've added listings of over 50 popular literary festivals in North America. Authors who want to promote their books might find this listing of benefit, as one more way to market books is to either speak at or participate in a booth selling books." Sylvia

According to the submission guidelines on Sylvia's website, submissions for the 2010 calendar must be received by February 1, 2009. Writers will be notified by April 15. For complete submission guidelines, visit the website.

Good luck with your submissions, and congratulations, Cindy and Doyle.

Friday, December 5, 2008

We Have A Winner


Today's weather forecast for St. Peters: Partly cloudy, high 31 degrees. It was 14 degrees when I was out and about at 7 a.m.

Thanks to everyone who entered the "Santa Wore Cowboy Boots" contest for a copy of the book, A Cup of Comfort for Women. The name selected at random was
Drum roll, please . . .
Pat Wahler of Missouri.

In Pat's e-mail entry, she also shared this charming Christmas memory:
"As a kid, even after I'd grown too old to "believe", there was something about lying in bed on Christmas Eve. You could almost hear the sleighbells and feel the magic. It was a time that suspended logic and dared me to dream the impossible. And I must admit that all these decades later, Christmas still affects me the same way!"


And thanks to everyone who entered by e-mail, the kind-hearted Anonymous writer who posted a comment about the book on Monday's blog, and to Tricia Grissom who continues to spread the word about writing, contests, submission opportunities, and other great stuff on the Coffee and Critique blog.


Until Monday, have a great weekend, stay warm, and take time to write.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Jody Feldman to Speak to Saturday Writers December 6

(photo courtesy of Jody Feldman's website)

Today's weather for St. Peters: Mostly sunny, high 35 degrees. Right now it's 19 degrees, but the sun is shining and birds are chirping and flitting among the bushes outside the window.

The Saturday Writers chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild hosts Jody Feldman, author of THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES, at their December 6 meeting.

Jody holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri, which has led her to write a television special, a travel book, speeches, all means of advertising, and now - more fulfilling than that giant fortune cookie message she was assigned to create - The Gollywhopper Games (HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 2008), her first children's novel.
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Targeted to 10-14 year olds, The Gollywhopper Games leads readers through the challenges, puzzles and stunts of a nationally televised, once-in-a-lifetime competition along with the contestant who wants to win it for more than the prize at the end. The Gollywhopper Games has been named the Midwest Booksellers 2008 Choice Awards Honor Book for Children's Literature, is an ALA/YALSA BBYA (Best Books for Young Adults) nominee, is on the 2009-2010 Texas Bluebonnet Award Master list.

Jody lives in St. Louis, Missouri, where she's not supposed to be playing video or computer games until she finishes her next novel.
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For more info, check her website at http://www.jodyfeldman.com/; and the book's website at http://www.gollywhoppergames.com/.
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Margo Dill Balinski has done an excellent job getting Jody as a speaker, orchestrating the children's program, and lining up the schedule for this special meeting.
Jody will lead a writing activity and present awards to winners in the children and teen writing contest. Afterwards, members of Saturday Writers will read share literary and culinary treats, and have a gift exchange.
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Click here to read complete details about the day's festivities and the event schedule http://www.saturdaywriters.org/events.htm

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Meet the Author - David Lee "Kirk" Kirkland

David Lee Kirkland at a Saturday Writers Meeting
Photo by Sheree Nielsen

Today's weather forecast for St. Peters: Chance of rain today, high 45 degrees, chance of show this evening.

The first time I heard the saying, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story,” was in 1995 while touring Ireland with two of my sisters, Bridget and Kathleen. As we rode across the countryside, our tour bus driver, Eddie Ryan, regaled us with colorful stories about Irish history and life in Ireland.

Invariably after each story, one of the tourists would ask, “Was that a true story, Eddie?”

A huge grin spread across Eddie’s face. He repeated, each time with increasing gusto and good humor, his Irish saying about truth and good stories, which was followed by a bus full of laughter.

Years after returning from the tour, I heard Eddie’s Irish saying repeated by another robust storyteller, David Lee “Kirk” Kirkland, after he read a short story during critique group. In the tradition of memorable storytellers, Kirkland’s recently released short story collection, YESTERYEAR TALES (published by High Hill Press), is told in a rich voice and sprinkled with a goodly amount of wit and wisdom—and no doubt some measure of truth.

*Full disclosure: Kirkland, High Hill Press Publisher, Louella Turner, and I have been friends for more than a decade. In the past we belonged to the same critique group, and we all serve as board members of the Saturday Writers chapter of the Missouri Writers’ Guild. But, just as my Irish tour bus driver Eddie Ryan wouldn’t let the truth get in the way of his good stories, I’m not going to let my friendship get in the way of with my interview with Kirk.

*Here are my ten questions and his answers from a recent e-mail exchange:

DPB: When did you first discover your passion for storytelling, and can you tell us how you nurtured that passion into writing?

Kirk: Becoming a story teller? The confluence of two quite different streams led me there. Writing and storytelling are quite different, of course. My first works were novels (not good ones either!) and quickly I understood that the craft of writing is hard to polish in long fiction—and that short stories constitute the most practical and effective training. Create beginning, middle, and end. Have rising tension. Use a mix of dialogue and narrative. Evoke a mood, a setting, and include memorable characters. My first published short story was in a book titled The World’s Shortest Stories of Love and Death, and the word limit for every story was 55 words—though most of my short fiction was tailored in length to fit the customary contest entry limits of 1500 to 2000 words.

Though himself not a natural storyteller, my father did have interesting life experiences, starting in his youth in rural Arkansas, continuing to include the sort of seasonal migrant work on the west coast that then was not unusual for folks from the Ozarks, and on through his experiences in the Second World War. So it was natural that I would ask about that history, and from there to other family stories including Civil War folks Turkey Trot John Kirkland and Bushwhacker Kirkland.

The second major influence would be my daughters, who in their youth asked for bedtime stories, and together we created some dandies as they gave me ‘ingredients’ as diverse as a bowling ball, a giant snail, and a daisy with petals that granted wishes. I rather imagine most storytellers would likewise attribute the genesis of their work to family.

DPB: Please tell us a bit about your inspiration and the setting for your short story collection, YESTERYEAR TALES.

Kirk: When writing those short stories, it was quite natural to use the sort of country voice that followed out of my father’s experiences, and in a way The Yesteryear Tales is a tribute piece to my father.

DBP: Your book is peppered with many interesting and different stories, yet your writing voice is clear and consistent. If your readers had time to read only one story from YESTERYEAR TALES, which would you recommend as best representing your writing style and voice?

Kirk: I have asked a great many readers that exact question, and have been amazed at how widely the answers vary. I’d rather expected the reverse, and instead find terrific advocacy for quite different tales. Which is, I think, wonderful, for it suggests many of them have the potential of being deeply resonant with readers. For me, it would be Hunting Bob Kit Holler, because of the way that story contrasts how sharply modern life has diverged from the rural sensibilities that prevailed only two generations ago, while being respectful to both.

DPB: So many engaging and memorable characters fill the pages of your stories. If you could pick only one (I know this is really, really hard) which character is your favorite and why?

Kirk: Like Fred Chappell, I would say my favorite character is Hoot Gibson, in part because I aspire to be that cheerful when I myself am an old codger.

DBP: Your collection has received many favorable reviews, including glowing reviews in Armchair Interviews and the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Another reviewer on Peevish Pen, while positively commenting on your collection, remarked that, until she read the book, the title led her to believe it was intended for younger readers. How did you come up with the title, and what special meaning does it have for you?

Kirk: Titles can be almost an art form. By using the word yesteryear I hoped to establish that the setting would not be contemporary, while also imparting a possible expectation that the writing dealt with rural settings. By itself, of course, yesteryear might also bring to mind city images, perhaps even gritty associations, and so using the word tales rather than stories was intended to suggest a style of writing that was accessible and ‘in voice’—a bit like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon; although many folks in my stories are not ‘above average’, I did want even the scoundrels to be somewhat sympathetic.

DBP: Short story collections are extremely difficult to get published, yet you have succeeded in doing so with remarkable results. Can you briefly share with us your journey to get YESTERYEAR TALES published and recognized?

Kirk: Marketing is immensely fascinating, and something that also occupies me in my day job where I think about how to craft effective outreach and public images for senior assisted living facilities. I’ve not sure any short reply could convey the complexity, so let me sidestep with a story. What comes to mind at once, of course, is a signing event at a bookstore. What I’ve heard, both from bookstore managers and from established authors, is that a ‘good’ two hour event for a local author will result in five sales, and a ‘great’ event will result in ten. So if a person wanted to sell even five thousand books, perhaps as many as five hundred events would be needed? Further, assuming travel and coordination time equals the time in the store, that is two thousand hours, and assuming a 5% royalty applied on a $10 book, then the author would be earning about $1.25 per hour? Yep. Book signings even at their best can thus only be a small fragment of a marketing plan.

DBP: We all (hopefully) learn from our experiences. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently or change regarding your writing experience? Or, What writing advice do you have for writers just starting out?

Kirk: Just as writing is a craft, so too is marketing, and the author’s creativity needs to be engaged completely and anew a second time when a book is scheduled for publication. I think of publication as being ‘only’ the entry fee, with the more difficult contest being how to prevail once ‘inside’ in what is a bit like a tournament of champions. For most of us, this cannot be left to agents or publicists or publishers. But it is really interesting!

DBP: Most writers are avid readers. What is the first book you remember reading that moved you, who are your favorite authors, are what are you reading now?

Kirk: The books have most influenced me would be these three: I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, The Man Who Planted Trees, and I am One of You Forver. The first is by Dr. Suess, of course, and I can recite quite a lot of that one—and could long before I had children. It is a terrific story about taking responsibility for one’s own life. The next is a simple parable by Jean Giono about the opportunity all of us, whatever our station, have to make a difference. The third work is by Fred Chappell, who in my mind is to ‘hillfolk’ regional fiction what Stephen King is in his field – the standard. Unlike many writers coming from that sort of heritage, Chappell demonstrates a real affection for the characters in his writing, and never stoops to condescend. Being also a noted poet, his writing is lovely, and he colors it with a gentle, affectionate humor.

DBP: Beyond writing, please tell us a bit about your hobbies, interests, or passions.

Kirk: Other interests (in addition to family, the day job, and writing) gravitate around the twin poles of travel and charity work. Presently I am a director at Emmaus Homes, which houses mentally retarded and developmentally disabled adults, and also on a supporting non-profit affiliated with the International Institute, which is best known for its work in relocating refugees. My best trip, certainly, was to the Holy Land, though the most recent was to Newfoundland and the most interesting was the trip to ‘go hawking’ with golden eagles and nomadic Kazakh hunters in the westernmost reaches of wintry Mongolia.

DBP: What are you working on now and what is the best way for readers or other writers to contact you?

Kirk: My next book is a tribute piece to my mother. The new work has as its title and subtitles God’s Three Step Plan, a Study of Micah 6:8: Scripture for the Spiritual Journey. Advance reader copies are available now, and it will be published early next year. The easiest way to contact me is via email, using the address kirk@davidleekirkland.com I would love to hear from readers, and would love to know what story was their favorite, and why.

***Hope you enjoyed Kirk's answers to my questions. If you want to purchase a copy of Yesteryear Tales, it's available at barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com, or you can contact High Hill Press Publisher and CEO, Louella Turner, highhillpress@aol.com

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thomas Nelson Publishing


Today's forecast for St. Peters: Mostly sunny, high 45 degrees, but it's 22 degrees as I type this.

Here's a publisher that's been around for a long time, with a rich and fascinating history beginning in Scotland and now located in Nashville, Tennessee. They spread the word by publishing Christian and inspirational materials.
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According to their website they do not accept unsolicited proposals, but Michael Hyatt, CEO and President of Thomas Nelson Publishers, has written a helpful article "Advice to First Time Authors" with the following tips: educate yourself, read blogs written by agents, write a killer proposal, have someone read your proposal, find a literary agent to represent you, or submit your proposal to Christian Manuscript Submissions. You can read his complete article by clicking above. In the article, he even gives names of literary agents who represent Christian writers.
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For non-fiction writers, you can download his article, the Thomas Nelson Guide to "Writing a Winning Book Proposal," as a PDF file.
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I recently signed up to read and review Thomas Nelson books on my blog. Although I haven't selected my first book yet, I have viewed their catalog and am considering which book to select. So, stay tuned.
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Tomorrow, watch for my interview with David Lee Kirkland, author of Yesteryear Tales, published by High Hill Press.
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And keep those e-mails coming to enter the "Santa Wore Cowboy Shoes" contest.
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If you're wondering about why I'm including these asterisks between paragraphs, it's because of operator error (mine). For some reason indenting and double-spacing between paragraphs doesn't work, so it's the only way I could figure out how to show a break to set the paragraphs apart.


Monday, December 1, 2008

"Santa Wore Cowboy Boots"


Today's forecast for St. Peters: Light flurries, high 31 degrees. Brrr, it's cold outside.

As promised, today I'm announcing another free contest for visitors to my blog.
If you would like to win a copy of A Cup of Comfort for Christmas, which includes "Santa Wore Cowboy Boots," e-mail me at dvolkenannt@charter.net
Include your name and mailing address (in case you're the winner) and "Santa Wore Cowboy Boots" in the subject line. The story is about a Christmas lesson my son Walt (Erik) taught me while we were living in Sierra Vista, Arizona.

Contest opens today and closes on Thursday, December 4. Winner will be announced on Friday, December 5.
If you would like to include a special Christmas memory in your e-mail, I will post all I receive on Friday when I announce the winner.