Writing advice, publication opportunities, and thoughts on books, language, and life from Donna Volkenannt, winner of the Erma Bombeck Humor Award. Donna believes great stories begin in a writer's imagination and touch a reader's heart.
Hey all you grandmothers and grown-up grandchildren, Chicken Soup for the Soul is looking for "great stories about the unconditional love between Grandmothers and grandchildren." Stories about step-grandmothers and honorary grandmothers are also welcome. Note: They are not looking for stories from children.
The other day I realized it's been a long time since I've done a Blog Me, Baby post, which is my recommendation to readers of blogs they might find interesting and useful.
I ran across The Blood Red Pencil after visiting Colorado writer Patricia Stoltey's blog. A few months ago I won a box of books on Patricia's blog, including her own book "Prairie Grass Murders," which is a very good read. Patricia's blog is chock full of information about writing and books, and she has links to several other helpful blogs.
One blog linked to hers that I routinely check out is The Blood Red Pencil, where Patricia and other writers take turns posting their "sharp and pointed observations about good writing."
Today on The Blood Red Pencil, Patricia posts about a thorny problem for writers: Point of View. Yesterday's post was a Q&A with illustrator Eliza Wheeler on "Being Present." The Monday, July 26 post "Ten Steps to a Better Story" by award-winning author and journalist CJ Sellers, was also enlightening. Two of CJ's tips caught my attention. Tip #7 discussed when it's okay to tell and not show, and #10 laid out the order of importance of the components of a novel. Hint: It's all about story.
So, if you're looking for a place to pick up advice and tips on writing from those in the know, The Blood Red Pencil is my Blog Me, Baby site recommendation for the month of July.
WRITING THE WEST with Dusty Richards and Friends High Hill Press 188 pages Trade Paperback, $15.95 ISBN: 978-1-60653-021-4
Full disclosure: I’ve known Dusty Richards for about 15 years, after meeting him and his wife Pat at an Ozark Creative Writers Conference in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I got to know Dusty while serving as a board member of the Ozarks Writers League and have attended his workshops in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and at Saturday Writers in Missouri
More disclosure: Louella Turner, of High Hill Press, is a writing friend. Although Lou gave me a review copy of WRITING THE WEST, I’ve not been compensated to give a favorable review of the book.
Dusty has published nearly 100 novels and a dozen short stories. In 2007 he won two Spur awards from Western Writers of America. In 2010 he received the annual Heritage Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
No matter how many of Dusty’s workshops I attend, I always learn something new. Tucked away in a desk drawer in my office are several books of notes from his talks. That’s why I’m pleased he’s come out with a how-to book to use as a quick reference.
In WRITING THE WEST, Dusty uses plain language to share his thoughts on writing. He gives examples of the right and not-so-right way of doing things, and, like any good teacher, he gives assignments and exercises to show writers how to become better at their craft.
Topics in his book include: the importance of story, word count, dialogue, creating a strong sense of place, editing, scene and sequel, critique groups, first drafts, marketing, and creating memorable characters.
One suggestion that stands out is how to divide your book into quarters. Another tip points out words editors hate. On details and research: Who knew about the history of tumbleweed in America?
WRITING THE WEST also features essays by other acclaimed Western writers, all friends of Dusty’s.
Three-time RITA award winner and member of the RWA Hall of Fame, Texan Jodi Thomas’s essay “Romancing the West” offers tips to get writers started. She also stresses the importance of reaching the heart of your characters to connect with your readers.
Pulitzer-prize nominated author Jory Sherman’s essay on “Writing the Mountain Man Novel” immerses the reader in time and place. Sherman discusses research, conflict, setting, and taking your readers along on your character’s journey.
Wyoming writer and teacher and Spur finalist, John D. Nesbitt’s essay focuses on “Writing the Traditional Western.” His informative essay defines: setting, time period, word count, form, conflict, and structure.
Spur award winning author John Duncklee writes from his New Mexico home about mistakes to avoid when writing the West. In Duncklee’s essay he discusses the importance of research on geography, weaponry, history, customs, and other telling details.
Don’t forget the young’uns! YA Western writer Mike Kearby discusses the importance of understanding your audience through characterization, dialogue, and other age-appropriate topics.
The artwork of Western artist Michael Andrews adds to the enjoyment of the book.
Although I’m not a Western writer, I’m always eager to learn about writing for the best in their fields. In WRITING THE WEST with Dusty Richards and Friends, I’ve discovered a mother-lode of writing advice.
I'm always interested in discovering ways to improve my writing, so I popped over to Fitch's blog and found some insightful writing tips. Her suggestions cover: the importance of writing good sentences, picking the right verbs, varying the length of sentences, writing in scenes, and much more.
The suggestions that got me thinking the most were:
#1: Write the sentence, not just the story. I especially like her suggestion at the end.
#5: Explore sentences using dependent clauses. I need to work on this.
#9 Write in scenes. Successful writers know how to do this. I've attended workshops where award-winning writers (Dusty Richards and Pat Carr are two that come to mind) have discussed the importance of writing in scenes, so this is definitely one I need to focus on when writing.
#10: Torture your protagonist. This isn't easy for me because I want to protect my characters, especially the likable ones, so it's another aspect of my writing that needs attention.
Thanks, Janet, for sharing your writing tips and for getting me to think more not only about what I write but how I write.
If you're the curious type whose always searching for ways to improve your writing, pop on over to Janet's blog and check out all ten of her writing tips. If you do, which ones caught your attention and why?
I'm happy to announce my dear friend Louella (Lou) and her wonderful husband Bryan (Squeak) Turner have recently launched their High Hill Press website. They have been operating their publishing company for more than a year, but they've been so busy publishing books (almost 40 for more than 30 authors), Lou has just now got their website up and running.
Lou is not only a publisher and an editor, she is an award-winning writer who has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. (I tried to work a semicolon into that sentence, but I decided not to because everyone who knows Lou knows about her aversion to semicolons.)
Full disclosure: Lou and I have been friends for ages. We met at a critique group called Liars Ink more than 15 years ago and have belonged to about and/or started three other critique groups since then. Our latest group meets each Tuesday at the Rendezvous Cafe in O'Fallon, MO. We also are co-founders of Saturday Writers and have co-edited several issues of Cuivre River Anthology.
Over the years, Lou and I have driven to writing conferences before sunrise; we've sat in cold, hard chairs while listening to inspiring, educational (and a few not so much) speakers; and we've driven to our homes in the dark laughing so hard we had to pull of the road to find a bathroom. We've enjoyed lots of good times but also have been there for each other during the rough patches. That's why I am so thrilled all of her years of hard work, dedication, and generosity have finally paid off with High Hill Press.
To celebrate the launching of the High Hill Press website, Lou is sponsoring a "Write Us a Story Contest" using photos on the home page for inspiration. Deadline is Aug 15, and the full details are listed on the bottom of the Home page right beneath the graphic of the gunslinging cowboy. (Lou loves cowboys.)
While you're there, check out Lou's award-winning essay "My Unlikely Friend" about Jo, an unforgettable woman from Liars Ink who recently passed away in California.
Final Note: You'll be reading more about High Hill Press on Donna's Book Pub over the next few months. I will be reviewing books published by some of Lou's authors, including "Writing Fiction with Pat Carr" and "Writing the West with Dusty Richards."
So Congratulations, Lou and Squeak! Here's to many years of High Hill Press celebrating writers and their words!
Here's a quick way to discover which author your writing resembles. It's entertaining and somewhat enlighting, although I'm not sure how accurate the results are.
I Write Like is a site you can enter, copy and paste an excerpt of your writing into a text box, and find out which famous writer you write like. The site claims to use a statastical analysis tool to analyze word choices and writing style and compare it to famous writers to see which one your writing resembles.
Sounds interesting, right? So the other day I pasted an excerpt from a short story I've recently written. I was hoping to learn I write like Flannery O'Connor or Katherine Ann Porter, two of my favorite short story writers. I was surprised to find out my writing resembles . . . David Foster Wallace. Really?
His name is familiar, but I've never read any of his work. So, I did a search. The link above is one of many that talks about his writings, his life, and his death. Such a sad waste of talent lost too soon.
Back to the I Write Like site. Visiting the site is quick and easy, but its results are not without critics.
If you're the curious type and don't take these statistical analysis tools too seriously, tool on over to I Write Like and give it a go. It's free and fun, and after you get your results, you can mention that your writing style is like (insert famous author's name) in you bragging "writes."
And if you're a brave soul, you can post your results here so we'll all know who you write like.
Thanks to everyone who left comments the past few days on my post about "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee.
One of Lee's biggest fans is Cathy C. Hall, a Southern humor writer with a great voice of her own. Let me clarify. I've never heard Cathy sing--although I've read on her blog that she sings in her church choir--but I'm a regular reader of Cathy C's Hall of Fame and have read articles, poems, and stories she has written in other media. Cathy's writer's voice has an uplifting touch of humor with an undercurrent of wisdom.
In the Fiction Writer's Toolkit feature in the July/August 2010 issue of WOW! Women on Writing, Cathy uses both humor and wisdom to craft her excellent article, "Voice: Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are." In her article, Cathy suggests one way to learn about voice is to read, read, read. She praises the voice of Scout in Harper Lee's timeless favorite, "To Kill a Mockingbird."
For her article, Cathy interviewed several writers and quotes them about their favorite writers'/characters' voices. One of the quoted writers--ahem, that would be me--mentions the unique and memorable voice of India Opal Buloni in "Because of Winn-Dixie" by Kate DiCamillo as being a favorite. Don't you just LOVE the first sentence of that book?
But wait, there's more! In her article, Cathy also suggests ways to help you, as a writer, find your own-- sometimes elusive but always unique--writer's voice. So, hop on over and read Cathy's article in the July/August WOW! to learn more.
If you ask people to name their favorite books, odds are "To Kill Mockingbird" by Harper Lee is on most lists. Many of my writing friends claim it as one of their favorites. It's one of my favorites, too. Harper Lee's ground-breaking book, the only one she's ever published, became an instant best seller and a classic which has sold millions of copies, and it continues to make bestseller lists.
Fifty years ago today, on July 11, 1960, Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" was published. The following year she was awarded a Pulitizer Prize for fiction.
I read "To Kill a Mockingbird" in high school during the mid-1960s, a turbulent time for civil rights in America. I remember being impressed by the bravery of Scout and the wisdom of her father Atticus Finch.
Flash forward to the 1980s. My husband Walt and I and our two children Julie and Erik were living in Germany when Julie read "To Kill a Mockingbird" while she was in high school. For Julie, living overseas and being a teenager was a time of big hair, shopping, boys, and make-up, but it also was a time when we bonded through a book we both had read and liked.
A few years ago a thirty-something neighbor was out walking her new yellow lab puppy. When I asked her what the pup's name was, she answered, "Scout."
"From 'To Kill a Mockingbird'?" I asked.
A wide grin stretched across her face. "You're the first person who's made the connection," she said.
Our conversation switched from dogs to books.
This past year my granddaughter Cari read "To Kill a Mockingbird" while a high school freshman. At night while she worked on her English homework, we discussed the book. It brought back memories of when her mom, my late daughter Julie, and I talked about Scout, Boo Radley, and Atticus Finch.
Last week for my husband's birthday, Walt, Cari, Michael, and I all rode out to our place in Osage County. As we drove down winding country roads past farms and fields and cows and horses. Eleven-year-old Michael spotted a huge oak tree out in the middle of a field. He asked why it was there. Walt speculated that some farmers didn't trust banks and buried money and valuables around trees, but they wanted to be able to keep it in their sight.
Cari chimed in. "That tree reminds me of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and Boo Radley."
Much has changed over the past 50 years.
The book's cover has an updated look, but for me it will always be a book of special memories of times that connected me with with friends, neighbors, and especially loved ones.
So, Happy Anniversary to "To Kill a Mockingbird," and for creating such a wonderful story and such cherished memories, thanks and God bless Harper Lee!
A writing friend recently told me the market for inspirational anthologies isn't as strong as it has been in the past. Speculation is there are too many competing anthologies and not a large enough readership. With the popularity of the Twilight series and similar books, it could be lots of folks are reading about vampires or werewolves instead. Vampires and werewolves aside, I found this call for submissions for a Cup of Comfort for Christian Women with a deadline of August 15.
I've been fortunate with the Cup of Comfort market. Three of my true-life stories have appeared in their anthologies. "Julie's Gift" is in Cup of Comfort for Women; "Santa Wore Cowboy Boots" is in Cup of Comfort for Christmas; and "Welcome Home" is in Cup of Comfort for Military Families. Beyond the publication credit and payment, each of these stories is special to me because they are about loved ones.
A few of the writer benefits have changed since my first CoC publication. Payment for the Christian Women anthology is $50, which is half of what I received for my previous publications with Adams Media, the publisher. The publisher also used to pay for interviews and book signings, but after my last signing I was told they no longer pay for those.
Even with the reduced payment, a Cup of Comfort publication is an impressive one for writers to have on their resumes, even more so if it's for a story that is a special one that a writer wants to see in print. So, if this anthology is something that interests you, here's a link to the guidelines.
Yesterday was a perfect day. For Walt's birthday we spent the day at our country place in Osage County. The kiddos and I rode four-wheelers and picked blackberries. Cari and I watered the flowers at the gravesite. Walt and Michael cut grass on the riding mowers, and Harley chased us all around before hopping in the pond. The kiddos didn't argue or fight--they helped each other--and Walt and me. Even the tics and mosquitos left us alone. We didn't make it down to the river--maybe next time. We ate a picnic lunch then had birthday cake after we got home.
Here's another way to enjoy a perfect day, courtesy of Bookreporter. Between now and Sep 3, Bookreporter is featuring another Beach Bag of Books giveaway. For this go-around they are giving away five bags filled with: a beach towel, a water bottle, flip flops, a badminton game, several other beach-related items, and four paperback books. The book titles for this giveaway are: The Breaking of Eggs, Light Boxes, Sima's Undergarments for Women, and The Slap. Here are the contest guidelines and entry form. This four-book giveaway ends on July 9. After that, another group of books will be featured.
The talent and wisdom of my critique group members amazes and humbles me. Our group meets every Tuesday at a local coffee shop/wine bar to read and critique one another's works.
Either Lou Turner (CEO/Editor of High Hill Press) or I "run" the group by calling on readers and trying to get things moving, although the group runs mostly on auto-pilot. Sometimes things get messy; sometimes people get testy, but we all respect one another, and mostly we all learn.
Occasionally, like last Tuesday, we are treated to a song by Nick Nixon, a local country-western legend and an amazing singer/songwriter who is working on his memoir.
Generally I don't read; I offer comments, suggestions, and encouragement, but lately I've been trying to bring something to read once or twice a month. Last Tuesday I brought a flash fiction piece I thought was ready to be mailed off to a contest--and would, no doubt, be a winner. How wrong I was!
Here's what I learned (or re-learned) this week:
* Even though I've polished, reviewed, rewritten, and revised my manuscript, comments from my group always make it better.
* Respect. I try to treat all members of the group with respect, even when our writing style or sensibilities are vastly different.
* Everyone in the group brings something to the table. A few of our members grew up on farms, so if my setting is on a farm, I get advice from built-in experts. Nick explained the difference between "Haw, Haw." and "Come up," commands for a horse. One member is an expert (and uber-fast) copy editor. Alice always manages to find double words, misplaced modifiers, and spelling mistakes. She also will run off copies for you if your printer is on the fritz if your e-mail your ms to her in advance. Lou has a lot of contacts in the publishing industry, including editors, agents, and bestselling writers. When Lou talks about structure, plot, or what she thinks makes a piece marketable, I value her advice. All other members have their own special areas of expertise, which are too long to mention here.
* Listen. Sometimes it's a comment from a writer who doesn't always say a lot that is spot-on. The quiet ones are usually deep thinkers whose advice on character motivation, theme, or literary merit offer fresh perspectives.
*Read the marked-up copies. Not all suggestions from the group are spoken, so I make sure to read all comments written on the copies.
* Check your ego at the door. This has been a long-standing saying at our critique group. Sometimes I need a reminder because no matter how good I think my writing is, an insightful suggestion can help.
* Use what works and discard what does not. I've learned to be selective in which suggestions I incorporate into my final manuscript.
* Stay true to my vision and vioce. Many comments are valid, but if they change my voice or vision for the piece, while I'm grateful for their suggestions, I stay true to my voice.
* Always say "Thank you." Although I try to remember to do this after each critique, it doesn't hurt to say it more often.
I'm sure there's more I learned this week, but that's all I can think of for now.
Yesterday I mailed off my critique-checked flash fiction piece. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Even if it doesn't win, I know it's a much improved story.
Oh, and Happy July! Can you believe the year is already half-way over? Time to revisit my writing goals and check out my progress.