Friday, December 31, 2010

Expect the Unexpected

I had planned to write a totally upbeat post for today, but as I type this, our neighborhood tornado siren just started blaring, thunder has started to boom, and it's impossible to ignore the storm headed our way.

The TV weather forecaster is warning folks west and south of us to seek shelter immediately. Nasty stuff threatens.

Tornado watches and warnings are nothing new to those of us living in "tornado alley," but usually thunderstorms and tornadoes are springtime events, or sometimes in the fall. I don't remember having a tornado so late in the year.

Snow and ice storms, yes, but a tornado on the last day December? Guess anything is possible.

At least with tornadoes, we have warnings, but with life that's not always the case.

As I reflect on 2010, I had hoped to focus on the good things and not the bad, but today's weather is a reminder that no matter how much I want only good in my life, sometimes bad stuff like rejection, sickness, accidents--and tornados--pop up unexpected and unwelcome.

A few years ago when my life seemed to be filled with nasty stuff, I read five words that helped sustain me through dark times - "Look back, but don't stare."

Having survived several tornados and weathered many storms, this much I know: The nasty stuff will pass and the sun will shine again.

So, as thunder rumbles and the new year approaches, I'm being prepared but remaining positive. I'm going to look back, but not stare.

I'm looking ahead with a hopeful heart to welcome the unexpected, especially those moments of joy and grace that give purpose to my life.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Crazy for Calendars

This time of the year I go crazy for calendars.

I can't help myself. I justify buying them or picking up my complimentary copies from church or businesses because it's a way for me to get organized for the new year, keep up with family and school and sporting events, and track my goals, plus I just love calendars, especially pretty ones.

Today at Barnes and Noble I spent some time looking at the calendars, which were reduced by 50 percent. That's my kind of sale. I didn't buy one, but I've got my eye on a couple and might return later if I can justify buying another one, even if only to look at the pretty pictures. (I'm easily amused.)

I feel guilty wanting to have another calendar because I already have these:

2011 Saints from the Catholic Extension, which has been "providing Catholic calendars for nearly one hunderd years." Got this one after Mass from our parish. Each month has a large photo of a saint with a saying from them. This family calendar will be posted above the phone to jot down events.

Weekend Projects 2011 from True Value "Start right. Start here." Picked up this one while paying for keys at the local hardware store. It includes a checklist of monthly projects and things to do around the house. I'll give this one to Walt. He's our weekend projects guy.

2011 black pocket planner with my name embossed in gold from the Lakota children at the St. Joseph's Indian School, where I donate money sometimes. This one goes in my purse. The folks from St. Joseph Indian School keep sending me free stuff and I feel guilty if I don't send money to pay for the free stuff they send.

2011 Reading Writers calendar. It's free and a very handy way to track submissions and deadlines. I'll print off a copy for each month and keep in a folder or post on the bulletin board in my office to track deadlines and payments.

Blue Mountain Social Butterfly downloadable calendar from Blue Mountain Arts. For birthdays, anniversaries, and such. You have to register to receive it, but it's free and pretty and reminders are delivered to your PC (or laptop). Some folks might hesitate wanting to do that, but I'm trying it to see if it helps me stay on top of events.

So far, that's it, but it's not even January 1st yet, so I'll probably give in and buy a couple more. And I haven't been to the Hallmark store lately, where I usually pick up a free pocket planner.

How about you? Any favorite calendars to recommend?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Review of Geese to a Poor Market by L. D. Whitaker


Recently I finished reading Geese to a Poor Market, written by L. D. Whitaker and published by High Hill Press. The book's setting is in the Missouri Ozarks in the 1950s. Its title comes from an Ozarks expression that means selling yourself or your goods for less than they are worth.

Whitaker's novel is rich with the sights, sounds, sayings, and characters of the Missouri Ozarks. Told from multiple points of view, the story centers on the lives of Rita Sanders and her son Wesley.

At the beginning of the story, Rita leaves her semi-truck-driving-hard-drinking-cheating husband Ray and takes their seven-year-old son Wesley back to her parents' home in rural Missouri. Life isn't easy for Rita or Wesley, but Rita's parents tighten their belts and do their best to welcome them home.

Rita's father Will O'Dell is strong and proud, but also has a gentle streak, especially when it comes to his grandson. Although Will's left arm has been amputated above the wrist, he manages to make a living by farming.

Rita's mother Beulah is prudish and judgmental. She disapproves of Rita's leaving her husband, even though he was the one who was cheating, but she loves her grandson and wants what she thinks is best for him. Beulah is insensed when Rita gets a job working for retired Navy vet Sam Rockford at a local honky-tonk to help pay for their share of the family expenses. Beulah tells Rita her actions are like, "driving geese to a poor market."

Things get dicey after Rita moves in with Sam, and Ray shows up to reclaim his son.

In the tradition of Ozark storytellers, Whitaker knows how to spin a good yarn. His book is peopled with characters who leap off the pages, including moonshiners, lame-brained criminals, fire-and-brimstone revival preachers, the goodly, and the goodless. Whitaker's background as an attorney shows in the parts of the book that deal with the intracacies and nuances of Missouri law.

His descriptions of life in the Missouri Ozarks are vivid and specific. It's hard to find fault with Whitaker's debut novel. My only criticism--and it's a minor one--is that at times the detailed descriptions and lengthy dialogue interrupt the flow of the story.

On balance, Geese to a Poor Market is a thoughtful and an entertaining tale that captures the essence of the struggles, loves, and lives of a family living in the Ozarks in the mid-1950s.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas and a joyful New Year. I'll be taking a break from blogging for the rest of the week, but I'll be back next Monday.

Until then, I leave you with this Irish blessing:

"May you always walk in sunshine. May you never want for more. May Irish angels rest their wings right beside your door."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Soltice Lunar Eclipse, Tomorrow, December 21

Seeing red: You'll have to stay up late or get get up early to see it, but according to NASA, tomorrow, December 21, "the first day of northern winter, when the full Moon passes almost dead-center through Earth's shadow, for 72 minutes of eerie totality, an amber light will play across the snows of North America, throwing landscapes into an unusual state of ruddy shadow.

"The eclipse begins on Tuesday morning, Dec. 21st, at 1:33 am EST (Monday, Dec. 20th, at 10:33 pm PST). At that time, Earth's shadow will appear as a dark-red bite at the edge of the lunar disk. It takes about an hour for the 'bite' to expand and swallow the entire Moon. Totality commences at 02:41 am EST (11:41 pm PST) and lasts for 72 minutes. If you're planning to dash out for only one quick look -­ it is December, after all -­ choose this moment: 03:17 am EST (17 minutes past midnight PST). That's when the Moon will be in deepest shadow, displaying the most fantastic shades of coppery red."

Anyone plan to take a peek at the coppery red moon?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

FREE Writer's Calendar from ReadingWriters

If you're like me, you're looking for a bargain this time of year, while trying to get organized for next year.

Here's a way I've found to do both.

Elizabeth Guy over at ReadingWriters, "The Ultimate Reading Service for Writers by Writers," is giving away a free download of a 2011 writer's calendar.
At the beginning of this year, I took advantage of the 2010 free calendar. The calendar helped me track my writing goals, deadlines, submissions, and payments due. Another cool feature is the inspirational writing quotes each month.

Did I mention it's free?

Here's a link to download your free calendar from ReadingWriters.

While you're visiting the ReadingWriters site, you can take advantage of other free download offers, including "Ten Steps to a Killer Story" and "How to Use Y'all Like a Southerner."
I can't wait to read those!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's On Top of Your Tree?

Top O' the morning to ya,
and the rest o'the day as well.

That Irish greeting put me in mind of what people put on top of their Christmas trees.

My sister Kathleen has a large black top hat on hers. She bought it a few years ago when my niece Jamie had a shop on Main Street in St. Charles. The top hat is unique and stylish, and definitely an attention grabber, but it's not something I would put on top of my tree.

I like angel tree tops and have a collection in different colors and styles. For the past several years I've selected a different one depending on the color of ornaments we use.

This Christmas is different.

While we were decorating, Cari asked why we always have an angel on top She wanted to use a gold star. Deciding it was time for a change, I drove to several stores looking for a gold star but couldn't find one. I was about to give up when I discovered one at Wal-Mart.

So, here's a photo of our tree, which is a work in progress. We add ornaments each day.

Yesterday Michael brought home a grinch ornament he made in art class. It's made out of a lightbult painted bright green with a red and white hat on top.

Notice the gold and white star, which has passed Cari's very critical eye as being "tree top worthy."

So, I'm curious: If you have a Christmas tree, what do you put on top?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thanks, A Winner and More Welcomes

Thanks to: Carole, Clella, Betty, Terri, Sally, Tammy, and Pat for leaving comments about the EXTRAORDINARY Advance Reading Copy giveaway.

The name of the winner of the ARC of EXTRAORDINARY by New York Times best-selling author Nancy Werlin is . . .

TAMMY

So, Tammy please e-mail me at dvolkenannt (at) charter.net to make arrangements to get the ARC to you. I think you will enjoy it!

To all others: If you didn't win, take heart, I plan to have another giveaway later this month.

Now, I want to WELCOME my most recent followers, TOM and JANEL. I hope you will stop by often, and THANKS to my regular visitors. I hope you will continue to visit.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thoughts on Book Signings

Last Saturday my sister Kathleen and I braved the rain to drop by a book signing at Main Street Books in St. Charles. We fought traffic from a parade that was getting ready to start, struggled to find parking, and had to use a broken umbrella in the pouring rain, but I'm so glad we went.

Four local Chicken Soup authors joined forces for a "Chicken Soup for the Soul, Canned Food for the Body." The authors included three writing and blogging buddies: Becky Povich, T'amara Goodsell, and Linda O'Connell, along with Theresa Sanders, a local writer I don't know well, but who has also been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

As part of the promotion, shoppers who brought in canned goods received twenty percent off their total purchases.

The event was lots of fun! I got to talk with several of my writer friends, including those signing books and others who stopped by to show their support. Bea Siros was there to take photos and report the event for a local news-magazine. Lou Turner from High Hill Press and Debbie Marshall from the Missouri Writers' Guild also were there chatting, buying books, and offering support.

I'm sure the event made money for the book store and the authors, and it no doubt did a lot to spread good will to the local food pantry receiving canned goods.

Vicki Erwin, the manager of Main Street Books, was her usually friendly self, saying hello and chatting while Kathleen and I each purchased a couple of books.

Kathleen and I picked up a couple Christmas presents, saved some money, got to visit with old friends and meet some new ones, and we had a good time.

All book signings should be this successful. Here's why I think Saturday's book signing worked so well:

* Location. Main Street Books is a wonderful site for a book signing, and the manager Vicki Erwin is helpful, supportive, and friendly.
* Timing. The signing was from 1-3 p.m., which coincided with the annual Old Time Christmas parade. In spite of the bad weather, the streets were crowded.

* Publicity. Several of the authors posted about the signing on their blogs and e-mailed their friends. The event was also announced in Main Street Book's newsletter.

* Theme. The Chicken Soup for the Soul tie in with a canned good collection was a hit. Who doesn't want to help out a food pantry--and get 20 percent off their entire purchase?

* Extras. The ladies gave away peppermint canes, candy kisses, book marks, pens, gift bags, and other items. Tammy even gave away some free books she received because of a publisher's mistake.

* The more the merrier. Having four writers there brought in more people to the store. I much prefer to go to one signing for four people than four signings one at a time for one person each. Four seemed to be the right number. Many more than that would've been a bit crowded.

Here's what didn't help:

* Weather: Not much you can do much about that.

* Parking: It took awhile, but we found a spot, and I can use the exercise.

As you can see, the positives outweighed the negatives, and those minor inconveniences of weather and parking make life interesting.

So, congratulations, ladies. Your event was a hit, you helped fill a need in our community, and it was great to see you all!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Submission Opportunity - Star Spangled Banner Anthology

Are you living the American dream? If so Choice Publishing Group (Choice) might want to publish your story in their Patchwork Path: Star Spangled Banner anthology.

Here are submission highlights:

* Stories and essays from 250 to 2000 words
* Fiction and non fiction
* No poetry
* Based on creativity, originality, concept, and style
* Not all works accepted
* No entry or reading fee
* Deadline December 31, 2010
* Authors receive $50 for each published story
* Two story limit per author per anthology

Visit the Patchwork Patch website submission page for complete details.

Good luck!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December Giveaway #2 - Extraordinary

My second giveaway this month is for an Advance Reading Copy of EXTRAORDINARY, published by Dial books, and written by New York times best-selling author, Nancy Werlin.

What does it mean to be extraordinary? That is the question posed by this intriguing young adult fantasy novel, which is not the type of book I usually read.

When I read the book's title on the list of possible review books for Teenreads, I wasn't sure if it was a book I would enjoy. It's about fairies who live in our world and a pledge made generations ago. Not my cup of tea, but I decided to step outside my reading comfort zone and try something different. I have to say I was enchanted with the story about Phoebe and Mallory, who become unlikely friends, and whose friendship is tested after Mallory's brother Ryland appears.

Beyond being a fantasy about fairies, it's also about family and courage and loyalty and sacrifice. To read more about the novel, visit Nancy Werlin's Extraordinary site.

To spread some Christmas cheer, I'm giving away my ARC of EXTRAORDINARY to one lucky person who posts a comment between today and December 13. I will pick one name at random (drawn from slips of paper out of a hat) and announce the winner next week.

So, good luck!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 7--A Day to Remember

December 7 is a day to remember.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor, a day, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced, was "a day that will live in infamy."

At that time, my dad, James P. Duly, Sr., had moved from St. Louis and was living with his older brother Tom in Chicago. Because of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dad enlisted in the Army. After training, he was assigned to the 96th Infantry Division and sent to the Pacific Theater. He served in the Philippines and Okinawa. After the war he returned home to St. Louis, where he met my mom.

Dad was proud of being in the service. He didn't talk a lot about the war, but it affected him--and us--the rest of his life. He was frequently hospitalized in the VA hospital because of his service-connected disability. Dad died in the VA hospital in St. Louis on April, 12, 1983. So, today I remember my dad for his service during World War II, but mostly I remember Dad for giving me life and the values he instilled in me.

On a happy note, today I also remember my baby sister, Bridget, who was born on December 7, 1961--49 years ago today. Bridget is the fun and bubbly one in our family.

Mom had originally wanted to give Bridget the name Christine, but another relative named her daughter Christine a few months before Bridget was born. My grandpa urged Mom and Dad to name Bridget Pearl because she was born on Pearl Harbor Day, but thankfully, they didn't listen to him. Bridget fits her name so well. She loves everything Irish. She is a hard worker, a wonderful gardner and animal lover, and a great sister and aunt. (Her husband Steve's birthday is September 11, so they share birthdays when our country was attacked.)

So, thanks, Dad, and Happy Birthday, Bridget, on this special day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Saint, A Winner, and Welcome!

Happy St. Nicholas Day, a holiday celebrated by many Catholics. St. Nicholas Day is a special day in many European countries, especially in Germany.

Traditionally St. Nicholas visits the homes of children and leaves treats if they're good. If they're bad, they get a visit from Ruprecht, who is in charge of discipline. Ruprecht carries chains and a strap and disciplines naughty children. The St. Nicholas Center has a lot of information about how the holiday is celebrated in various countries. My husband Walter, who was born in the Bavarian section of Germany, tells the tale that he frequently got visited by Ruprecht on St. Nicholas Day. The photo at the left is from the St. Nicholas Center.

Growing up in St. Louis, we always celebrated St. Nicholas Day but never got a visit from Ruprecht. Mostly we found a candy cane or candy bar in our shoes. Last night Michael and Cari put out their shoes--actually Michael put out his size 13 Nikes and a pair of tall boots--Cari just put out her boots. This morning everyone, including Walter, and Harley our black Lab got treats.


Now, for a winner. Last week I announced a giveaway of the book A Cup of Comfort for Christmas, which has my true story, "Santa Wore Cowboy Boots." Thanks to everyone who left a comment--all 13 of you! The name picked at random to win the book is . . . drum roll, please . . .


SALLY

So, Sally, if you will please e-mail me at dvolkenannt (at) charter.net I will make arrangements to send the book to you.

I'm going to announce another giveaway later this week, so if you didn't win this go around, you might have luck next time.

Last, and certainly not least, I want to welcome all my new followers who signed up over the last month: Lynn, Sally, Jenny, Stacy Sue, Underground Teacher, Al Walker, and Sara. Welcome. I hope you stop by often.

And to all my faithful blog followers, thank you!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

God Works in Mysterious Ways

Yesterday morning I met with Becky Povich, a writing friend, critique group pal, and blogger buddy. Becky is bubbly and fun and always upbeat. She also is the new president of Saturday Writers. I'm stepping down from the board of SW, and I had some contest entries and other paperwork to turn over to her--plus, we wanted to get together and chat.

Originally I planned to turn over the paperwork to Becky Tuesday morning at critique group, but Becky couldn't make it to critique group. Then Becky was going to stop by my house Tuesday night, but because I had some running around with the grandkids, we had to reschedule until Wednesday.

Third time's the charm. I suggested we meet Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. at the Starbucks across from the post office in St. Peters because it's close to both of our homes. Becky agreed, so Starbucks is where we met.

Becky was excited about her true story that was recently published in Thin Threads, Life Changing Moments. Her story is about a woman named Tara's experience with Habitat for Humanity, and Becky brought along a copy to show me. Becky is donating $5 to Habitat for Humanity for each copy she sells.

As we settled in with our hot drinks, a young woman wearing a pea coat and a stylish hat and sitting with a friend at a table nearby said, "Becky?"

After Becky turned to look, the young woman rose from her seat. Becky squealed, "Oh, my God. I don't believe it." She jumped up and gave the woman a big hug.

Would you be surprised if I told you the young woman was Tara, the woman in Becky's story, who was on her way to Barnes and Noble to buy a book for her daughter, but who stopped at Starbucks to meet a friend for coffee? Becky hadn't seen Tara in weeks, but was planning to call that very afternoon. Because Becky had a copy of her book to show me, she was able to give a signed copy to Tara, much to her delight.

The rest of what went on yesterday morning isn't as interesting as the strange coincidence of Becky running into Tara, who lives about twenty miles from St. Peters, being in that Starbucks on that day at that time when Becky and I were meeting to talk, after rescheduling our meeting for a third time.

Coincidence? I don't think so. God truly does work in mysterious ways.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tis the Season For Giving - Monthly Giveaway #1

In the spirit of the Christmas holiday--and to help clean out my bookshelves--I'm giving away a signed copy of A CUP OF COMFORT FOR CHRISTMAS, which includes my true story, "Santa Wore Cowboy Boots."

The true story takes place in Christmas 1981, when my husband, Walt; my children, Julie and Erik; and I lived in Southern Arizona. One afternoon before Christmas I was depressed about being so far away from my family back in Missouri. Julie and Erik were off school so I took them to see Santa at the local K-Mart.

"Santa Wore Cowboy Boots" is special to me because it's about the lesson my late son Erik taught me about the true spirit of Christmas.

To win a signed copy of A CUP OF COMFORT FOR CHRISTMAS, just leave a comment between now and December 5. The name of one winner will be picked at random. The winner's name will be announced next week.

But wait, there's more: To show my appreciation to my blog visitors for being so friendly and supportive all year long I will have a few giveaways this month, so check back later to see what other goodies you can win.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 29, 2010

An Early Christmas Gift and A Few Submission Opportunities

Last Wednesday I received an early Christmas gift from Silver Boomer Books out of Abilene, Texas. An e-mail from an editor informed me they would like to include "Read Away Vacation," in their Flashlight Memories anthology.

Yay! I'm excited because my essay is about how a program called "Read Away Vaction," put on over fifty years ago by the St. Louis Public Library , helped spark my life-long love for reading.

When I read an early draft of the essay to my Tuesday critique group last summer, they encouraged me to let loose and not to hold back my feelings. In my final revision I did just that. Once again, my critique partners proved how smart they are. (Thanks, guys and gals!)

For giving Silver Boomer Books approval to publish my essay, I'll receive a small cash payment and one contributor copy. I don't know the publication date, but after I find out I'll blog about it.


So, what does my good news have to do with you?


How about a link to the Silver Boomer Books
Call for Submissions page with descriptions of anthologies they might (or might not) publish in the future:


* The Faith of our Mothers. This might not actually be your female ancestors, but it should be stories of faith of real women at least a generation older than you are. Of course people like Susanna Wesley fit, but look for the more obscure ones like Mary McKendree, the invalid mother of Bishop William McKendree, a physician, a general, and lots of other outstanding children.


* Out of the Kitchen. When Sarah T. Hughes (who much later swore in Lyndon Johnson as President) was suggested as judge of the 14th District Court of Texas in 1935, a senator made a comment about the need for her to stay in the kitchen and not take the job of a man. Women pioneers in all the professions faced this kind of obstacle. Do you have stories about them you want to tell?


* Life Spinning Moments. Sometimes a comment or an event pivots a life into a new and startling direction. What happened, and where did the spinning end?


For
complete guidelines, including desired word count and proper format for speculative submissions, visit the Silver Boomer Books website.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Shopping on Black Friday - A New Tradition

Last night and early this morning I did something I said I would NEVER do again. I fought the crowds to shop on Black Friday.

Shopping on Black Friday used to be a fun tradition I shared with my late daughter Julie, her in laws, and a few friends. Thanksgiving day we would scour the ads. The next day we met in the wee hours, fought the crowds, got the early bargains, grabbed a late breakfast, shopped some more, grabbed a late lunch, more shopping--maybe a trip to the ATM-- then drove back home by dark. It took a day to recover, but by golly I got some great bargains. Even if it was stuff I didn't need, at least I got it cheap.

Since we lost Julie and Mike in a motorcycle accident almost six years ago, shopping on Black Friday hadn't been a priority. My husband Walt and I were busy raising Cari and Michael, Julie and Mike's children. We made sure our grandkids got nice Christmas gifts, but I joked I would rather take a stick in the eye than fight the Black Friday crowds. Actually, it was because shopping on Black Friday brought back memories I wasn't ready to relive.

Then late Thanksgiving night Cari asked if I would take her and a friend of hers shopping.

So, shop we did.

We left the house around 11 p.m., drove to her friend's house, picked her up, then rode around looking for bargains--and a parking spot. I shook my head when I saw the lines of folks camped out in front of Best Buy. I spotted a tent and a bonfire, folks sitting in camp chairs, and a few playing cards at a table. We kept driving. The parking lot at Toys R Us was packed, so we continued on our way.

We ended up at Wal-Mart shortly before the advertised 12:01 a.m. sales began.

Maybe it was because of the cold or maybe the freeing rain, but people literally ran into the store from the parking lot. Inside, the greeter handed out sheets that showed where the advertised items were located. As I wandered around trying to maneuver through the crowded aisles, Cari and her friend, cell phones in hand, let me know where they were as they looked around.

I watched shoppers with wild looks in their eyes pile stuff in their overloaded carts. As expected, toys and games were hot items. Suprisingly, so were towels, steam mops, candle gift sets, luggage, storage tubs, and other household goods.

At 11:59 I stood in a line which did not move for 15 minutes, then it slowly inched forward. While I waited with my few bargains, Cari found a couple of inexpensive accessories she had to have. I passed the time talking with fellow shoppers. A twentyish woman in front of me had a basket filled with toys, games, and some household items. We chatted about Christmases past. She told me how excited her five-year-old son was the year she bought him a dinosaur that she got on sale for $100, but which she later sold at a garage sale for $10. "It was worth it," she said, "just to see the look on his face Christmas morning."

The family behind me took turns shopping while one from their group manned the cart. Not a bad strategy. Eventually our line forked into two. The twenty-something young lady veered towards the left; I to the right. That's when I noticed I could've used the Express line, but I didn't want to get out of line and take the chance of an even longer wait. At the fork I stood behind a family with three jam-packed carts. The checker was a woman about my age who was fast, efficient, and pleasant. By the time we left the store, around 1 a.m., I was about $80 poorer, but richer for the experience.

Outside, Cari ran into a couple young men from school who were selling hot chocolate to shoppers in the parking lot. What a clever way for teenagers to earn Christmas money!

After getting the girls a snack at a drive-through and taking Cari's friend to her house, it was well 2 a.m. when we got back home.

I drank a cup of hot tea and read for a bit then crawled into bed around 3 a.m. My feet ached, my back hurt, but I smiled as my head hit the pillow. Maybe it was time I started a new Black Friday tradition--this one with my granddaughter Cari.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reading - My Addiction

I love to read. There are books all around the house, a couple in the van; I even tuck one in my purse when I leave to pick up the kiddos from school. When I'm without reading materials, I feel something is missing, like an itch that needs to be scratched but I can't reach the spot.

Yesterday I finished writing my review of Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin. It's not the type of book I would normally read--it's a fantasy about fairies who come to earth to save their families--but it was entertaining and enjoyable.

Many of the books I review for Bookreporter are for middle-grade or young-adult readers. Over the past several years since I've been reviewing books for Bookreporter, I've expanded my reading selections and have been pleasantly surprised with the results.Frankly, I think writers for the middle-grade and young-adult market are some of the best around. Good stories, great characters, strong voices, intriguing plots.

Next on my reading/reviewing list to review for Bookreporter is Crazy by William Peter Blatty. While I'm waiting for that book to arrive I'm catching up reading a few recently published anthologies,I'm blogging, and thinking about what needs to be done around the house for Christmas, which is at my house this year.

Earlier this month I finished reading The Help, which my writer/critique friend Becky raved about and let me borrow. If you're looking for a book with a compelling voice that will sweep you away, The Help is one you might enjoy.

I'm hoping to have some reading time over the holidays and am looking for some suggestions for good books. So, what are you reading now? What book do you recommend?

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Winner, Some Wins, and Happy Anniversary, Walter

Thanks to all my visitors who took time to leave a comment last week about my giveaway in honor of veterans.

Drum roll, please . . . The winner of the copy of A Cup of Comfort for Military Families, which includes my true story "Welcome Home," is . . .

ALICE. Please e-mail me at dvolkenannt (at) charter.net to make arrangements for me to get the copy to you.

Speaking of winners, I was happy to find out three of my submissions won awards in the Ozarks Writers League (OWL) writing contests. The awards were presented during the First Annual Hillbilly Formal last Friday evening in Branson, MO. Although I wasn't able to be there, some of my writing friends called, e-mailed, or posted the good news about my wins on Facebook.

My non-fiction article "Nicholas Cage and the Magic of Writing" won first place in the Storyteller Magazine contest. A short story of mine, "The Window Washer," won second place in a short story contest sponsored by High Hill Press. Last, "Criminal Minds," a short story that has recently been published in Hot Flash Mommas: A Shaker of Margaritas, won honorable mention in the Mystery/Suspense/Paranormal short story contest, sponsored by OWL President Delois McGrew. Several of my writing pals also were big winners, including Linda Fisher, Judy Stock, Bill Mueller, and others I'm hoping to hear from soon. Congratulations to all!

Saving the best for last: Happy anniversary to my husband Walter, who became a United States citizen on this date in 1968, a little more than six years after he emigrated to the USA from West Germany. Walt was in the US Air Force at the time stationed at Scott AFB, in Illinois, which is where we met.

We had been married only four months, and I remember him studying for his citizenship test at nights after he got off work. For almost a year a captain at the base had tutored him on the constitution and American law.

The day Walt became a citizen, the judge at the courthouse in East St. Louis, IL, gave him his citizenship test, which was not about the Constitution or laws, but to write in English this sentence: "It is a fine day."

Walt passed with flying colors. And, for us, it was a fine day!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Submission Opportunity - The Lindenwood Review

Last night at the local author's event at the Middendorf-Kredell Library in O'Fallon, I visited with several writers and other friends--and made some new friends, too. The staff from the St. Charles City-County Library District did an awesome job with the gala, especially Sara Nielsen, who planned and organized the evening.

During the get-together I spoke with Cindy, one of my writing buddies who is a poet, a photographer, a polo player, a pilot--and an MFA student at Lindenwood University. Cindy is one busy lady, who is about to get even busier. Last night she shared the exciting news that next semester she is going to be an editorial assistant for The Lindenwood Review, the literary journal of Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO.

Cindy is excited about her new assignment and is looking forward to reading submissions. When I asked what kinds of submissions the editors hope to receive, she told me they are looking for fiction, poetry, and personal essays.


This morning I visited their blog for more details. The editors want fiction with believable characters and a vivid story; poetry with original, interesting use of language; well-crafted, honest essays; and mostly, work that moves them.

(The photo of the Cultural Center on the left is from their blog.)

The Lindenwood Review is a print journal published annually in the Spring. Their first issue will be published in Spring 2011.

Contributors receive two copies of the issue in which their work appears.

The submission deadline is December 15, 2010--so put down your Christmas shopping list, forget about writing out your Christmas cards for a couple weeks--and start writing!

Submission guidelines are available on The Lindenwood Review blog.

Happy writing, and good luck! Um, I was kidding about the shopping and Christmas cards. Have fun, kids!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Local Author Open House at Middendorf-Kreddel Library

Tomorrow I will be participating in the St. Charles City-County Library Local Author Open House and (hopefully) signing copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Christmas. My essay in the book, "Unexpected Joy," is about the year a family in our parish adopted us as their Advent friends.

The author event will be Thursday, November 18, from 4:30-8:00 p.m., at the Middendorf-Kredell Library, 2750 Hwy. K, in O’Fallon, Missouri.

Our library district is great about supporting local authors, and this is the second year they've invited me to participate. Last year I had to leave early because of a family commitment, but tomorrow evening I will be there for the entire event.

I'm excited --- and nervous --- about it. Several writing friends from Saturday Writers will also be there. Click on this link to read a list of everyone who is participating. You do not have to register in advance to attend; I think they use a registration form so they can plan on how many to expect.

So, if you're in the area, even if you aren't interested in the book, please stop by and say "HI."

Oh, and I have it on good authority that refreshments will be served.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cup of Comfort Giveaway and Submission Call Out

November is a month for remembering.

At the beginning of the month, we remember saints on All Saints Day and sinners on All Souls Day. Veterans Day was just last week. That's the special day when we take time to honor veterans who have given so much to keep us free.

For me, November is also a month for remembering anniversaries of birthdays and deaths of loved ones.

In the spirit of remembering and with gratitude for treasured memories of loved ones, I'm giving away a copy of A Cup of Comfort for Military Families, which includes my essay, "Welcome Home." The essay is about special Vietnam veterans in my life and the year my husband Walt spent in Vietnam, right after the birth of our daughter Julie.

If you would like to win a copy of the book, just leave a comment between today and November 20. I will pick one name at random and will post the winner's name next week.

My essay in the Military Families book is my third in the Cup of Comfort anthologies.

Speaking of Cup of Comfort, here's a call out for stories, just in time for the holidays!

Last week, Alice, one of my critique group buddies, told me about a Cup of Comfort call out for favorite holiday memory stories. She has written a wonderful story, which she shared with me. If you have a favorite holiday memory story, the deadline to submit is December 5. Here are submission guidelines.

Don't forget to leave a comment here by Nov 20 to enter my contest to win a copy of Cup of Comfort for Military Families.

Good luck!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Interview with Bill Mueller - Part II

Here's part II of my interview with W. E. "Bill" Mueller, author of Peaches and Cream:

DV: You are a versatile writer of essays as well as short stories. Your short stories have won several awards, and your essay in "The Liguorian" magazine is poignant and uplifting. Please tell us about your awards and some of your publishing credits.

WEM: Probably 2008 was as exciting as it gets. Toward the end of the year, Sept.-Oct. I received phone calls telling me I was Winner, First-Place, Numero Uno of the St. Louis Writers Guild short story contest, and also First-Place winner of "The Writer" magazine's short story contest. Both of those are open, nation-wide, indeed, world-wide contests. To this day, I'm still astounded. Also, in 2009 I won two Honorable Mentions in "Writer's Digest" genre short story contest. This contest attracts thousands of entries, and the publication can award as many as 100 Honorable Mentions. To win two of them is an accomplishment, I believe. I've had essays in Commonweal, a handful of book reviews in the Post-Dispatch (in '07-'08). My stories have appeared in 'Echoes of the Ozarks', the OWL anthology, in Lindenwood University's "Untamed Ink" quarterly, and a few other spots.

DV: Wow! You have had some wonderful accomplishments lately. Congratulations on your success and here's wishing you even more. Now, can you tell us a bit about your reading experiences. Growing up, who was your favorite author? Who are some of your favorites now?

WEM: Can't say I had a favorite childhood author. Favorite (fiction) authors are, first, James Lee Burke. He's a must read. Then there's a long list: Richard Russo, Elmore Leonard, E.L. Doctrow, Louise Erdrich. For short stories, I think you have to read Annie Proulx.

DV: That's an impressive list. James Lee Burke and Elmore Leonard are a couple of my favorites, too. Since this blog is about books, here's another question about them: Not counting your own book, what one book has made a difference in your life?

WEM: Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment." Be sure you get the translation by Constance Garnett. It is a beautiful story of love and redemption. I read the book in my sophomore year of college, finishing it in the reading room of the dorm, shamefully crying my eyes out. I've read it at least three times.

DV: Hmmm. "Crime and Punishment by Dostovesky." Lots of folks love those dead Russian writers, and maybe with "Crime and Punishment" having such an impact, that's why you write crime novels. Now, another question about writers: If you could meet one writer living or dead, who would it be and why?

WEM: That would be a toss-up between Dostoevsky and John Updike. I think I'll go with the Russian. Just on the basis of Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamozov, The Idiot, Notes from The Underground, The Possessed, and the story of Dostoevsky's life are enough to intrigue any serious writer (and reader).

DV: Back to your own book. How can readers purchase copies of Peaches and Cream?

WEM: Peaches and Cream can be ordered on Amazon, or at a Barnes & Noble, or Borders. A few St. Louis area book stores have it on the shelves, but it can be ordered at any legit bookstore. (Note: It also is available at Bill's publisher, High Hill Press.) E-mail highhillpress@aol.com

NOTE: If you want a signed copy of Bill's book, I also happen to know he will be at the St. Charles City-County Library District’s annual Local Author Open House on Thursday, November 18, from 4:30 to 8 p.m. at the Middendorf-Kredell Branch Library in O’Fallon, MO.

DV: What are you working on now?

WEM: I have completed at least another half-dozen short stories since Peaches and Cream came out. Currently, I am trying to expand a Zach Bannister story (Working the Crossword--which is in Peaches and Cream, and won 'The Writer' magazine first place award) into a novella. Got about 20,000 words done.

DV: Zach Bannister is a wonderful character and I remember "Working the Crossword" when you read it at critique group. It is a great story. Any final words of wisdom or advice about writing or life in general?

WEM: Revise and revise. Read at least 60 books a year, not all of them fiction. Revise and revise. Write what you don't know, but like. Revise and revise. Remember, it's all about story. Think of a good story. Fill it with characters. Make the reader ask, What happens next? revise and revise. I saw someone recently handing out a book with the title "Write a Book in a Month." That, my friends, is pure bull-hockey. Just remember the three R's: read, rite and revise.

DV: I agree about reading, riting, and revising. All three are critical. Wrapping things up, readers might want to know how to contact you with questions or comments.

WEM: I'm digitally-poor. E-mail me at wemstories@att.net. Put 'Peaches and Cream' in the subject line or my computer might 'spam' your message.

Thanks, Bill, for taking time from your busy "reading, riting, and revising" schedule to visit with us.

Note: If you live in the local St. Charles metro area, Bill and I and several other writers belong to a Tuesday critique group which meets at the Rendezvous Cafe on Main Street in O'Fallon. Occasionally Bill will bring in one of his stories, which are always enjoyable. And don't forget he will be at the Middendorf-Kredell Library on November 18th.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Interview with Bill Mueller - Part I

Bio:

W. E. "Bill" Mueller was born at a very early age (allow him to steal that line). Faulkner and Hemingway were still writing. Einstein, Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Babe Ruth were still alive. During high school he worked Saturdays in the Editorial Department of the St.Louis Post-Dispatch, where the Book Editor and Culture writer were also housed. One Saturday, the assistant Book Editor, Howard Derrickson, asked if he liked football. Before he could answer, Bill was handed a biography of Red Grange, the Illinois Galloping Ghost, and asked to write a 100-word book review. During his high school years he reviewed books for the Post-Dispatch. Also, in those days, visitors to the P-D's Editorial department included Walter Lippmann, Marquis Childs and other prominent writers/journalists.

Bill wanted to be a writer, too. He attended St. John's University (Minn.) where he moved through the ranks of the school newspaper and was named Editor in his senior year. Upon graduation, he joined the newsroom of the P-D for a brief period before serving in the Army. He found the reporter did not fit his writing style and found a job in advertising shortly before he married. He spent his career in advertising--writing copy, news releases, company histories, sales catalogs, etc. When he retired, he decided to try fiction. On December 8 of this year, he will be 74. Too late for a Pulitzer or Nobel or National Book Award, but he'll take the accolades his contemporaries throw his way and be grateful.

Here is part one of my interview with him:

DV: I love short stories and mysteries, especially when they are well written and have an intriguing voice. Your short story collection Peaches and Cream is both. What was your inspiration for the collection, and why do you write short stories rather than novels?

WEM: The "inspiration" was the mere fact that I had a 'collection' of stories that were not published individually, but had pleased certain folk or won certain awards, and I thought might make a decent book of stories, disparate as they are. When I retired, I spent the first two years on a novel, at least half that time in research. I loved the title (The Midnight Snowman) and the plot (which I'll keep secret), but found that I had let my research carry me away and it fluffed the book needlessly. I also had written two short stories which had been praised (guardedly) and decided to move in the short story direction.

DV: Please tell us about some of the stories in the Peaches and Cream collection. What's your favorite story or the story you've received the most response to?

WEB: My favorite story is the last story in the collection: From My Ozark Warehouse. It is very personal. Half true, half fiction, but all of it from the heart. The story or stories that most people enjoy are those involving Zach Bannister, the P.I. I have invented. His stories received notice from Harry Levins in the Post-Dispatch, and from anyone who's read the collection. I am working on more Zach Bannister stories and hope to make them a single collection.

DV: Please tell us about the characters in your stories. Are they based on real folks, totally fictional creations, or a little bit of both? And --- which, if any, character in your collection is most like you?

WEM: The characters are fictional, totally. I believe, however, that characters should be stretched beyond what they might normally be. For example, in "Midnight Bob" the 'bad guy' dumps trash in a river. Now I'm sure that the idiots who really do this are normal looking people, not evil looking or twisted as I make Midnight Bob. Character development is important, and a lot of what I read by my contemporaries does not address the need for a physical differentiation or a different voice for characters. The only character close to being me is the boy in From My Ozark Warehouse.

DV: The settings for your stories are varied. How do you choose the settings?


WEM: I think the story and the characters determine the setting. Settings are easy (or I should say, less difficult) to create these days with Google maps, etc. that can take you to a site or location. The setting should match the theme and feel of your story. I think of a story first, then put it in a setting.

Stay tuned for Part II of my interview with Bill.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Peaches and Cream" by W. E. Mueller - A Sweet Read

Peaches and Cream, W. E. "Bill" Mueller's eclectic short story collection, is an unusual combination of stories written in a variety of voices--some in third person, others in first--but all well told and entertaining. The time periods range from the 1940s to present day. The settings are also diverse: St. Louis, Hollywood, rural Missouri, and Wisconsin.

The most "connected" stories in the collection are set in metro-St. Louis in the late 1940s. Readers will soak up the atmosphere with references to famous St. Louis sports legends and infamous mobsters from years gone by, as well as long-gone landmarks such Sportsman Park and Coral Courts Motel.

The centerpiece character for many of the stories is St. Louis PI Zach Bannister, whose snappy voice as a savvy yet soft-hearted PI is reason enough to read the book.

In the opening story, "Peaches and Cream," Bannister is visited by former Central High School Classmates (Class of '37), identical twins Helen and Betty Braun. The twins are now strippers Peaches and Cream, who perform at the Stardust Club. The Braun sisters are in a fix and need Zach's help, but they are also smart cookies who are more than puffy hair, shiny sequins, and high heels.

"Working the Crosswood," another memorable and clever Zach Bannister story, won first place in The Writer magazine contest--and after reading the story I can see why it was the winner.

The compelling tale "Hollywood and Vine," formerly published by Lindenwood University's literary magazine, Untamed Ink, features down-on-his-luck, sickly ex-actor Charlie MacTaggert. Charlie Mac, as he is known, has a weakness for demon Rum. He uses his special gift when he performs for tourists on streetcorners, or maybe his gift is not so special after all.

"From my Warehouse," the final story in the collection, is a coming-of-age tale told from the first-person viewpoint of a lonely boy whose Sunday visits to his grandparents' home bring special meaning to his life. It is a touching story about love and loss.

Award-winning writer W. E. Mueller's lively short story collection brims with crisp dialogue, vivid and unique descriptions, unusual and memorable characters, raw emotion, and compelling voices.

While the book's black and orange cover is clever and appealing, don't be misled by the image of long-legged ladies performing on a stripper pole. Peaches and Cream, published by High Hill Press, is not a bawdy book about hookers and harlots or hard-hearted Hannahs. It is an entertaining collection of well written short stories that uplifts and takes the reader to another era. Peaches and Cream, by award-winning writer W.E. Mueller, is a sweet read.

Note: Bill and I belong to the same critique group. I always look forward to listening to his stories, and was thrilled when his publisher offered to let me review "Peaches and Cream."I hope to read more Zach Bannister stories in a future collection.

Another Note: Watch for my two-part interview of Bill later this week.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Submission Opportunity - 365 Senior Love Stories

My long-time writing friend David Lee "Kirk" Kirkland forwarded me this submission opportunity the other day, and I thought it might interest some of my blog visitors.

I'm happy to say I'm too young to submit to this one. ;-)

Note: I couldn't find any mention of payment or compensation in the guidelines, so you'll need to check that out.
365 Senior Love Stories

Submission Requirements
* Deadline: December 31, 2010.
* At least one party must be at least 70 years old at the time of submission
* Both parties must be living when submission is made
* May be written by the couple, relatives, or third-parties on their behalf
* Limited to 300 words (include how couple met, courtship, wedding cermony, length of marriage, etc.);
* Typed and include full name of the couple, address and contact information for verification
* Published story will contain only first names and ages
* May be rewritten and edited at the discretion of the book authors
* Book authors reserve the right to select the love stories for publication and will notify the submitters in advance of the selection
* If a photo is submitted, include couples' names and photographer's name if credit is required.
* Pictures cannot be returned.
* Image requirements: JPEG format and 300 dpi.
* For mail submission, to: The Ehlers Group Attn: Senior Love Stories 6203 W. Commercial Blvd. Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33319 For more info, please call (954) 726-9228

For complete details, here's a link to the publisher's blog.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Submission Opportunity from LaChance Publishing

Last week two writing friends, Linda O'Connell and Julie Earhart, forwarded e-mails to me announcing a call for submissions for Volume 2 of Voices of Breast Cancer from LaChance Publishing. Last Tuesday, Alice, a 15-year breast cancer survivor and a member of our Tuesday critique group, asked for advice on what she plans to send them. I thought visitors of my blog be interested in submitting as well.

The publisher wants: "first-hand stories of literary merit. If you or someone you know has had breast cancer and wish to share your heartfelt, inspiring, true story of facing this life-defining challenge, this could be a great way for you to give courage and comfort to others while building your writing resume."

Deadline: March 1, 2011

Expected publication date: October 2011

Stories should focus on one of the topics listed below:
Discovery and Diagnosis
Taking Charge of Treatment
Dealing with Physical Changes
Family and Friends
Looking Back

Multiple submissions accepted.

Word Count: Minimum 600 words, maximum 4,500 words.

A fee will be paid for stories accepted for publication.

Complete submission guidelines can be found at http://www.lachancepublishing.com/

Good luck!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

All Souls Day: A Day to Remember Loved Ones Who Have Died

Today, November 2, is not just national election day. It is also All Souls Day, sometimes called "Day of the Dead."

In the Catholic Church, All Souls Day is a special time to remember loved ones who have died and to pray for their souls so they may enter heaven. One prayer I recite when remembering loved ones who have passed is:

Eternal rest grant them, O Lord,

and let perpetual light shine upon them.

May their souls and the souls of the faithful departed,

through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Amen.

Here is another link to some information about All Souls Day.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Winner, Two Links, and Good Luck Wishes

Drum roll, please . . .

The book "Salem's Lot" by Steven King was mentioned most often as scariest book by those who posted comments during my giveaway. However, the name picked as winner of "The Reckoning" by Kelley Armstrong is Jenny, who recommended the book "The Divide" by Nicholas Evans.

I checked out Jenny's blog, The Jenny Pincher, and found lots of useful information. I also signed up as a follower and plan to visit again.

Jenny please e-mail me so I can make arrangements to get the book to you. My e-mail is dvolkenannt (at) charter.net. And to my visitors, if you get a chance, check out Jenny's blog.

If you didn't win my contest this go around, take heart; I'll be announcing another contest later this month.

Speaking of contests, here's one you can visit and enter to win some fab prizes. If you didn't win my "The Reckoning" giveaway, here's one I found over on Lisa's Ricard Claro's blog. Writing in the Buff. Lisa is giving away some sweet gifts, including chocolate (yum), a Yankee candle, and other goodies. So pop over to Lisa's blog and check out her nifty contest giveaway--and become one of her followers for even more opportunities to win!

Finally, on this first day of November (All Saints Day) good luck to all you writers who are participating in NaNoWriMo. (And why aren't you busy writing now?) I tried NaNo a few years back but didn't get past the first ten days--life got in the way of my writing. So, I admire all those brave souls (All Souls Day is tomorrow) who can churn out 50,000 words in one month.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mysteries of the Ozarks (Vol III) Open for Submissions

Here's a paid submission opportunity for writers living in or with strong ties to the Ozarks -- specifically Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas.

The directors of Ozark Writers, Inc. (Jane Hale, Carolyn Gray Thornton, Ellen Gray Massey, and Debbie Blades) are looking for fiction or non-fiction for their third anthology, Mysteries of the Ozarks Vol. III.

The photo above is of the cover of Volume I, in which a short story of mine appeared.

For Volume III: Each story should contain something that needs to be solved. It can be anything that is unknown, unexplained or kept secret. It need not be a crime or dead body. It could even be something supernatural or from outer space. Generally the mystery is solved, or if not, the reader is satisfied with the results.

More Guidelines:

* Fiction or non-fiction accounts of real mysteries that occurred in the Ozarks.
* Non-fiction stories can be researched actual mysterious events or handed-down folklore.
* Can be any length, but no more than 7,000 words. (I believe my story in Vol I was around 3,000 words.)
* Must be unpublished.
* Typed double-spaced with Courier New font, no smaller than 12 point.
* Can take place in any time period even back to prehistoric peoples or in the future.
* Must be set in the Ozark area and reveal characteristics of the land and/or the people. The area and/or its people should be important in the plot or theme.
* No hillbilly stereotyping of the people in the story.
* Suitable for family reading.
* Authors submitting stories need to be living in the greater Ozark area (mainly southern Missouri and northern Arkansas), or have strong ties to the area.
* Unless accompanied by an SASE, manuscripts will not be returned.
* Deadline for submitting stories is January 15, 2011.
* Submit a hard copy and a disk. Mail to:

Ellen Gray Massey
Ozark Writers, Inc.’s Mystery Anthology
126 Maple Drive, Lebanon, MO 65536

* Everyone who enters will be notified by March 31, 2011 of those who will be included.
* Payment for the stories will be 2 complimentary copies and $100.00 paid when the book is published.
* Authors whose work appears can purchase books at about a 50% reduction.
* Upon acceptance of story, it will become the property of Ozark Writers, Inc. They buy all rights as long as the book is in print. Special arrangements may be made.

* If you have any questions call 417-532-5155 or email Ellen Gray Massey, egmassey@webound.com

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Contest Giveaway - Win a Copy of The Reckoning

I'm baaaaack. Sorry for the lack of posts recently and for not visiting my usual blogs. October is such a hectic month, with birthdays, deadlines, an anthology to co-edit, a school bake sale to plan, a writing workshop to co-chair, and Bunco at my house. Yikes! Because I haven't been able to post as much as I like, to make up for it--and in the spirit of Halloween--I've decided to give away a copy of a supernatural thriller I've recently read and reviewed.

The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong is the third and final novel in the #1 New York Times Bestselling Darkest Powers trilogy. The main characters are a group of four supernaturals --- Chloe, a necromancer; Derek, a werewolf; Simon, a sorcerer; and Tori, a witch. The four teens are not normal, by even a supernatural standard, and they struggle to live with their special, and at times frightening, gifts.

The story is told from the perspective of fifteen-year-old Chloe, who is just realizing the nature of her differences and the extent of her powers. The Reckoning is an entertaining page-turner about friendship, loyalty, and embracing one’s uniqueness. The book should appeal to readers who enjoy supernatural thrillers with a PG dose of romantic suspense.

So, how can you win? Easy.

1.) Leave a comment between now and Halloween (Oct 31) about your favorite scary book. (1 opportunity to win)

2.) Post about this contest on your blog by Oct 30. (E-mail to dvolkenannt (at) charter.net with a link to your blog). (2 additional opportunities to win)

3.) Write a Halloween-themed flash fiction story of up to 250 words by Oct 31. E-mail your story to me at the above address. (2 additional opportunities to win)

So, if you comment about your favorite scary book, your name goes in the hat once. If you comment and write a story, you get three opportunities to win. If you do a, b, and c you get -- let's get out the calculator -- that's 5 chances to win.

Winner's name will be announced in on Nov 1.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Happy Birthday, Michael

Today is my grandson Michael's 12th birthday. It's hard to believe that the shy little boy who moved in with us almost six years ago has turned into a strong and handsome "almost" teenager.

I'm sure our daughter Julie and son-in-law Mike would be proud of the young man their little boy has become.

This summer Walt bought Michael a four-wheeler as an early birthday present because Michael has gotten so tall he has outgrown his little toy one. Michael loves going out to the "farm" with Walt. Michael also loves cutting grass, hunting, and fishing.

Yesterday he got an early birthday present when he found out he made the honor roll in his sixth grade class at All Saints. Way to go!

This morning while eating some of his birthday cookie, he told us he can't wait until next year when he is 13 so he can get a cell phone. Yikes!

Here's an acrostic poem in honor of Michael's birthday.


My grandson Michael

M
agnificient
I nspiring
C hicken is what he loves to eat
H eart is what he has a lot of
A wesome
E nergy--he has tons of it
L oving and lovable

Happy birthday, Michael. I hope your day is special--just like you!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ask the Authors at Kisker Branch Library in St. Charles

This Saturday, October 23, from 11:00 a.m. till 12:30 p.m. I'll be one of the authors featured in an "Ask the Authors" event at the Kisker Road Branch Library, 1000 Kisker Road in St. Charles.

I'm not sure what to expect. It's been described as being similar to speed dating (I've seen that on TV), except participants will talk about books and writing. On the promotional materials I'm listed as an article writer and my last name is misspelled, but that's okay--I can talk about writing articles, essays, and short stories, as well as editing, book reviewing.

Here is a list of participating writers: Dakota Banks, Bobbi Smith, Wilfred Bereswill, Bill Mueller, Lou Turner, Alice Muscany, Sarah Whitney, Nick Nixon, Fedora Amis, Judy Moresi, and Donna Volkenannt (me),

Authors have been asked to bring books to sell. I have a few copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Gift of Christmas, which has my essay "Unexpected Joy." I'll also bring along copies of A Cup of Comfort for Military Families with "Welcome Home," and maybe a few other anthologies which contain my essays and stories.

Even if no one buys any books with my essays in them, it will be an opportunity to meet readers and writers, so I'm looking forward to participating. To read more about this event and others at the St. Charles City-County Library, visit their website http://www.youranswerplace.org/

Monday, October 18, 2010

O. Henry Short Stories, Bio, Quotes, and a Helpful Link

This morning I came across this link to an index of literary magazines that the editors look at for the Pen/O. Henry award.

William Sidney Porter (writing under the pen name O. Henry) wrote more than 300 short stories in his rather interesting life, which included time in prison for a crime he claimed he did not commit. He died 100 years ago this past June. If you get a chance, read his bio.

Here's a list of quotes attributed to him. There's a lot of wisdom in this one: "Write what you like; there is no other rule."

I still remember the short stories written by O. Henry that I read in high school English class. My favorite is "The Gift of the Magi." I also like "The Last Leaf" and "The Ransom of Red Chief."

How about you? Do you have a favorite O. Henry short story?

Friday, October 15, 2010

O'Reilly, and Whoopi, and Joy--Oh, My!

Even though there wasn't a full moon yesterday, it was a weird day.

On the national scene, Bill O'Reilly and two of the ladies on The View got into a heated discussion over who was responsible for what happened on 9/11. After Bill made some remarks that seemed insensitive, Joy and Whoopi got spitting mad and stormed off the set. They eventually returned, but the passions and emotions ran high on both sides of that couch.

In my little world, my usually sweet-natured grandson Michael was in a foul mood when I picked him up from school. He turns 12 next week, so maybe it's his hormones kicking in, but I think the next few years are going to be interesting.

Then, my 16-year-old granddaughter had a volleyball game. She forgot half her gear at home, so I drove it to her school after picking up Michael. Then she called to tell me she forgot one more item, so I drove to her game, which was at another school. Her team won the first set, lost the second, then lost 30-28 in the final. No smiles on the way home. After dropping her off at a friend's house to do homework (or so she said), I headed for the grocery store.

The strangest thing happened there. I was bent down look at something on a bottom shelf when I overheard a father say something that I found creepy to his young son who was sitting in the shopping cart. Their cart was heading in the opposite direction, and by the time I stood up the man was skip-walking down the aisle. At first I couldn't believe what I heard, then I wondered what to do. I didn't see the man on any other aisled and won't go into details, but what the guy said to his son was disturbing, even if he was just joking around.

When I got home I asked my husband Walt if he thought it was weird and he agreed it was. Then he told me about Michael's football practice. Apparently, the coach had a tirade and lectured the parents. Maybe it's the changing seasons affecting people's moods?

I woke up in the middle of the night thinking I should've at least tracked that man in the grocery store down and told him that what he said to his son, even in jest, wasn't right. But I had a bad experience after speaking up to a bully.

I'll tell that story next week.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What's Luck Got to Do With It?

One of my favorite quotes comes from Louis Pasteur: "Chance favors the prepared mind." His quote appeals to me because it leads me to believe that while it's good to be lucky, luck is unpredictable, but hard work combined with luck can eventually lead to success.

I was reminded of Pasteur's quote this morning after reading Margo Dill's thought-provoking post on the WOW! Women on Writing blog. I've known Margo for over a dozen years. She is a go-getter who works hard, isn't afraid to take chances, and follows through on any assignment she takes on, so I value her advice.

Margo offers some solid tips on the WOW! blog today. In "Be Ready for your Writing Career," she discusses how important it is to be prepared for any opportunity that comes your way.

What's also special about her post today is that author and literary agent Evan Marshall left a comment with a suggestion about having two synopses ready--one short and one long one. So, if you want to learn more, pop over the the WOW! blog and read Margo's post.

Quick poll. Curious minds want to know: What do you think is most important for success--luck, hard work, a little bit of both, timing, divine intervention, or something else?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cave Hollow Press Open for Submissions from Midwestern Writers

Hey all you Midwestern writers, here's an opportunity to get your manuscript published by Cave Hollow Press.

Cave Hollow Press was established in June 2001 to publish great writing by authors from Missouri and the surrounding region. Several years ago I had a short mystery story included in an anthology published by Cave Hollow and was pleased with the results.

According to their website, Cave Hollow Press is actively seeking full length adult mainstream or experimental novels. Character driven novels are a plus.

Cave Hollow Press accepts ONLY queries and manuscripts from authors who live or have lived in the Midwest states of the United States of America.

Send queries to: G. B. Crump at gbcrump@cavehollowpress.com

In the subject line of the email: Query/Title/Author Name.

For complete submission guidelines visit their submission page: Cave Hollow Press.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Thrill Isn't Gone, but Romance is Waning

According to a report in Publishers Weekly, a recently conducted Harris Poll about readers' preferences for fiction revealed that mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels were preferred twice as much as romance novels.

Graphic novels, chick-lit, and westerns were the least popular fiction books among readers polled.

Another interesting statistic is that more women than men read mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels.

Hmm. So what does this mean?

For me, it kinda makes sense. I read mysteries and thrillers but few crime novels or romance. From a fairness standpoint, lumping three categories together seems to bias the poll in favor of the those categories.

I'm wondering if respondents would've been asked about their preferences separately about mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels what the results would have been. How would those individual categories stack up against romance and other categories?

On the non-fiction side, histories, biographies, and religious or spiritual books topped the poll. Business books bottomed out on the list. No surprise there. Ho-hum with the business books.

While poll results like these make interesting reading, who is being polled and the way the questions are asked can impact on the results. What really counts is the type of books readers buy.

Read the Publishers Weekly article to read a summary of the results and the names of some of the respondents' favorite authors.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Big Read in Clayton, MO, this Weekend

UPDATE: Saturday Writers treasurer David Lee "Kirk" Kirkland will appear at the Big Read on Saturday. He will be signing copies of his award-winning books at Jennifer's Pharmacy from 11 am till 1 p.m. Not sure if he'll be wearing his kilt, but there's always a good time when Kirk is in the room!

If you're looking for a lively event to engage your reading and writing pleasure, this weekend's Big Read has something for book lovers of all ages. Writers, poets, publishers, book sellers, performers, and speakers from metro St. Louis and beyond will appear at the Big Read, which will be located between Forsyth Boulevard and Maryland Avenue in downtown Clayton.

Activities kick off Friday night with two Happy Hours between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., where you can listen to Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, the Obama's Dog Trainer, talk about her book. Cecily von Zigesar, author of the Gossip Girl series will also be at the happy hour.

On Saturday, Oct 9, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. the main events will be in full swing. Bright and early, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Peter Rabbit, Madeline, and other characters will be in costume to welcome children at the Big Performance Stage. Radio Disney will be on hand, and later in the day the Modern American Dance Company will give a performance of Brandon Moll's Fablehaven. Bestselling children's author Moll will be on hand during the performance and afterwards to sign books. Check the Big Read website for complete schedule.

Also on Saturday, several workshops will be hosted by The Crossings Restaurant on Forsyth Boulevard. Presentaters include representatives from St. Louis Writers' Guild, Missouri Center for the Book, Barnes and Noble, and the St. Louis Publishers Association.

Saturday also includes author tents sponsored by Ralston Purina (Oops, my St. Louis roots are showing. Make that Nestle Purina) and Maryville University.

St. Louis Mystery writers John Lutz and Claire Applewhite will be under the--Okay; I got it right this time-- Nestle Purina tent, where you can also find poetry readings and a chance to pitch book ideas during Pitchapolooza.

Missouri' Poet Laureate David Clewell, St. Louis University professor Richard Bargin, and UMSL's director of the MFA program Mary Troy and others will appear under the Maryville tent.

KETC Channel 9 is the sponsor of the Kids' Author Tent, where several children's and young adult writers will talk about--what else--books. Also in the Kids' Author tent, a panel of librarians will discuss "Books All Children Should Read."

Take a coffee break from 11 a.m. till 11:30 a.m. at Starbucks, where you can listen to St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan, author of Gently Down the Stream.

Wow! So many events, so little time. What's a book lover to do? Visit the Big Read website to view the complete schedule.

Monday, October 4, 2010

MTV's "Jersey Shore" Snooki Has a Book Deal

You might have noticed I haven't posted since last week. This time of the year is a gloomy time for me, and I find it hard to get motivated to write, especially something uplifting or cheerful.

Another reason I'm in a funk is because of yet another seemingly undeserved publishing deal.

Generally I'm happy when writers get published. It's a cause for celebration, especially if it's someone I know or a celebrity I want to know more about.

But not all publishing deals are reason to pump your fist in the air.

Last week I read that in 2011 Simon & Schuster's Galley Press imprint will publish a book "written" by MTV's “Jersey Shore” star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi. There's a brief article about it in the Wall Street Journal, which you can read here.

Seriously? Who knew Snooki could write?

Well, at least she can read. Wait. What?

According to news reports, Snooki has only read two books--"Twilight" and "Dear John."

Maybe she's a fast learner. After all, she is famous for her gig on MTV, with her poofy hairdo, fake tan, long nails, and fist pumping skills. Snooki has been spoofed by "Saturday Night Live" and has appeared on late night talk shows. She even taught David Letterman how to do the fist pump. She seems like a personable young "lady," but I wonder about her writing skills. No doubt she will have a ghost writer and lots of editing help.

About now I'm probably sounding like sour grapes. Speaking of grapes, I could've used a glass of wine after reading the news about her book deal.

What I find discouraging is that I have many friends who are great writers with manuscripts that deserve to be published, but for whatever reason cannot. They are the ones who should be getting book contracts. They get passed over, yet someone who reportedly has only read two books is getting a deal from a major publisher.

(Note: I write articles, essays, reviews, and short stories. I have never completed an entire manuscript, so it's not jealousy on my part over Snooki's book deal. Really. Well, maybe just a little.)

Time will tell about the success of Snooki's book deal.

I guess there can be a couple outcomes. Writers like me will have to deal with it--or maybe after Simon & Schuster publishes her book and not many people buy it, they'll be the ones who'll get snookered.

Monday, September 27, 2010

What Would You Grab?

Last week my sister Kathleen, a couple of friends from St. Charles County, and I had the privilege of taking a behind-the-scenes tour of the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center. The library is located in the former Hebrew synagogue on Skinker Boulevard, not far from Washington University in St. Louis. The library site itself is historic. In November 1960, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King addressed the congregation during his Civil Rights campaign.

Last week's special tour was to thank people who volunteered during the Vatican Splendors exhibitition last May-September, which was a treat in itself. More than 101,000 people toured the exhibit--and I do believe most of them came on Thursdays (the day our St. Charles group volunteered). :-)

The library tour was fascinating. In the downstairs laboratory, we got to see how antiques are restored and evaluated to determine when and where they were made. Other items we got to see were furniture and household items from the 1770s and the famous "Chipmunk Quilt"--which indeed does have two chipmunks and bird feathers embedded in the quilt. We also saw Civil War uniforms, an antique shoe collection, and got a preview of the "Black Dress" collection slated for display in 2012.

Before beginning our tour, Dr. Robert R. Archibald, President of the Missouri History Museum, gave a brief address on some of the collections in the library. He talked about how the contents of the library really tell the stories of those who lived before us, and how important our stories will be to those who come after us.

During his talk he mentioned how natural disasters, such as floods, cause people to think about the items they truly cherish. For example, on many film clips during the Great Flood of 1993-- which devestated parts of Missouri and Illinois--news reports showed people fleeing their homes carrying family photo albums.

Dr. Archibald's talk got me to thinking. If a natural disaster were to strike, what few precious items would I grab before evacuating?

For me, it would be family photos, our family Bible, and special drawings, notes and cards from my children and grandchildren.

How about you: In the event of a catastrophe or natural disaster, what would you grab on your way out the door?

P. S. The Missouri History Museum needs volunteers, especially for their upcoming exhibits. Volunteering is fun and fascinating, especially for writers or anyone interested in history. So, if you live in the metro-St. Louis area and have about 10 hours a month to spare, visit the Missouri History Museum website and find out how you can volunteer.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is English Dead?

In a tongue-in-cheek essay in The Washington Post last weekend, Gene Weingarten lamented, "Goodbye cruel words: English is dead to me."

In Weingarten's article he pointed out examples from the Washington Post and other media of mistakes in print. Some reasons he cites for the demise of the proper use of English are decreased attention to grammar, punctuation, and syntax. Unedited blogs, instant messaging, and newspapers cutting back on copy editors have also contributed to the death of the English language, according to Weingarten. Some examples he cites are humorous; others are sad.

Everyone makes mistakes when writing or speaking. I've often made mistakes posting on my blog. When I discover them I feel embarrassed and make changes right away. On some occasions, a few writing pals have e-mailed me to let me know when I've messed up--and I appreciate it when they do.

For those who care about the proper use of English, what do you think:

Is English dead? Is it on life support? How can we save it? Should we care?

Interview with Sarah Angleton, the Practical Historian

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