Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day - A Time to Remember

During the Saturday Writers open mic meeting on May 29, Jerrel Swingle read an essay that moved most of the roughly 30 attendees to tears. Before reading his piece, Jerry began with the quote "We who are left to die salute you." That phrase rang a bell, so when I got home I researched and discovered it was what gladiators said (in Latin) before entering the arena--it's probably familiar from reading about Caesar in high school Latin class.

Back to Jerry's essay. He described an encounter with an elderly veteran selling red buddy poppies in front of a supermarket. His poignant essay was also a tribute to those who have died in any war or who've came back from war broken, damaged, or changed.

Jerry spoke of the history of the buddy poppies after World War I, "the war to end all wars," and wove in the poem "In Flander's Field," written by Col. John McCrae of Canada. The poem describes blowing red fields among the battleground of the fallen.


In Flander's Field

by John McCrae

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead.
Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved and now we lie,
In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw,
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us, who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow,
In Flanders Fields.

On this Memorial Day I remember young men from my youth who, in the words of President Lincoln during the Gettysburg Address, gave their "last measure of devotion," fighting for their country. From the City of St. Louis, Missouri, the names of 260 men are on the walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Here are four I knew:

James Donnelly, a classmate at Most Holy Name of Jesus School in North St. Louis, Missouri, was a shy, smart, and handsome boy with dark hair and dark eyes. He took me to Holy Name's eighth grade dance in 1962 on the steamship Admiral on the Mississippi River. Jim gave me my first corsage. He died in 1968 as an Army soldier in Vietnam.

William June was also a classmate at Holy Name and grew up in our North St. Louis neighborhood.

Ron Imperiali, a friend of my sister Kathleen, grew up in our North St. Louis neighborhood.

Michael Blassie was my date for the St. Alphonsus (Rock) senior prom in 1966. He went on to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy and was sent to Vietnam. In 1972 he was declared MIA then KIA after his plane was shot down. His remains were buried for several years in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier until DNA proved the remains were his. His remains were returned home for burial in 1998. My husband Walt (also an Air Force Vietnam veteran) and I attended the ceremony at Jefferson Barracks.

Eternal rest grant them, Oh Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon them.

Friday, May 28, 2010

ForeWord Magazine Announces Book of the Year Awards

Yesterday at a ceremony at the BookExpo America in New York City, ForeWord Magazine announced the 2009 book of the year awards and awards for independent publishers.

Among the winners was Sue William Silverman's Fearless Confessions, A Writer's Guide to Memoir, published by University of Georgia Press. Fearless Confessions won Honorable Mention in the Writing category.

Last August, Sue was a guest blogger on Donna's Book Pub. During her visit Sue talked about Truth in Memoir. You can read her guest post here.

David Lee Kirkland, of my writer friends and a founding member of Saturday Writers, was a finalist in the Fiction - Sciene Fiction and Category for his novel, The Last Dark Elf, published by High Hill Press. While Kirk's book was not among the top three winners in his category, being named one of the top 13 finalist out of the many books published in his category is amazing.

So, congratulations to Sue and Kirk on your wonderful accomplishments.

Hope everyone has a great Memorial Day Weekend. God bless our military for keeping us safe and free to read, write, and speak without fear.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Amazing Short Fiction Contest from The Write Helper

My friend Amy Harke-Moore over at the Write Helper has an Amazing Short Fiction Contest going on until the end of July. For a $5 fee (per story, up to three) entrants have a chance to win $100, $50, or $25. Entries also receive a free critique, if requested. Optional line edits are also available for a small fee. Amazing!

In addition to all the extras Amy offers in her contest, what, you may ask, is an amazing story? According to the Write Helper website, an amazing story grabs at the throat, tugs at the heart strings, uses beautiful words with a lyrical quality, and is told by a master storyteller.

Word limit is 4,000. The contest deadline is July 31.

For complete details, visit the Write Helper website.

Full disclosure: Amy and I have been friends for over a dozen years, since we met at a critique group called Liars Ink in St. Peters, MO. We now belong to different critique groups, but we are founding members (along with Margo Dill, Lou Turner and David Lee Kirkland) of Saturday Writers. Amy is an award-winning and a multi-published writer whose work has appeared in The Writer, The MacGuffin, Chicago Quarterly Review, Grit, Permafrost, and others.

So, if you have an amazing story or can write one by July 31, here's your chance. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Tony Hillerman Writers Weekend in Santa Fe

I don't have a "bucket list," but I do have a conference dream list of writing events in cities, states, and countries I would like to attend. Near the top of my list is The Tony Hillerman Writers Weekend. This year it's in Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 12-13. New Mexico is really a land of enchantment. Featued speakers include:

* Margaret Coel, who will discuss "Creating Compelling Characters and Dynamic Dialogue." Coel was a speaker several years ago at OWFI, where she gave an informative and entertaining presentation on creating characters readers can root for when crafting your novel. (If I look hard enough I might be able to find my notes from her presentation.)

* Bill O'Hanlon, who has been a guest on Oprah, will present Show Me the Energy!Find the Fuel to Start, Complete, and Sell Your Writing Projects." Sounds exciting.

* Publisher and editor Judith Van Gieson will give optional first chapter and synopsis critiques. Sounds helpful.

* Keynote speaker Valerie Plame Wilson is a former CIA covert operations officer and an author. She is currently working on a spy novel. Sounds fascinating.

Other locations for writing conferences or events on my dream list are: Hawaii, Florida, Georgia, San Francisco, Chicago (I might get there some day), London, Germany, Greece, Ireland, and of course New York.

How about you? What are the locations of dream conferences you would like to attend?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Notes from Nature Writing Workshop

In yesterday's post I reviewed Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson, who gave a Nature Writing Workshop to Saturday Writers in April. Jen's workshop was inspiring and a great opportunity to stimulate the writing muscles, so I want to share some of my notes from the workshop.


To write a story about nature:

1. Sit quietly (or walk) and observe
2. Engage the five senses (see, touch, smell, taste, hear)
3. Notice the details (texture, color, weight)
4. Describe an object using two senses (for example, a clover field)
5. Describe the object as it evokes a memory (running through a clover field in the summer, making clover bracelets)
6. Combine the two parts (description and memory) to create a story
7. Be as specific as possible
8. Include a goal
9. Add conflict
10. Introduce a second character
11 Dig for emotion
12. Include Climax and resolution
13. Prune and tighten


In Jen's workshop I began a story about my mom's backyard. One woman wrote a piece about running through a field and making clover bracelets. Another wrote about scuba diving for shells. What really helped stimulate my imagination was holding the seeds and plants that Jen gave to participants.


Another suggestion was to keep a notebook or a journal to record details when you are out in nature. I also have found taking photographs helps stimulate my memory and heightens my senses to create a story or an essay with more vivid details.


Short Story Month Reminder and Challenge: How about writing a short story where nature has a strong presence?

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Recent Read - Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson

Last month, writer and environmentalist Jen Cullerton Johnson gave an inspiring workshop to members of Saturday Writers and dozens of children writers. During Jen's workshop she talked about her book Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace, a story about Wangari Maathal, a Kenyan woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 at the age of 64.

At the time of the workshop, Jen's book had not yet been published, but she promised to have her publisher send me a review copy as soon as the book came out. True to her word, the publisher Lee and Low Books in New York, sent a copy last week. Seeds of Change is a beautifuly written (by Jen Cullerton Johnson) and lushly illustrated (by Sonia Lynn Sadler) children's picture book with a powerful message.

The Seeds of Change opens with Wangari as a young girl in Kenya at the foot of a mugumo tree, where she learns from her mother to treasure and protect nature. Wangari is a curious girl and a quick learner. She learns much from her brother Nderitu, who attends school, and Wangari and dreams of going to school herself. At that time it is unusual for a girl to be educated, but Wangari's dreams come true after her parents save up to send her to the local school then later to fruther studies in Nairobi.

Education plants seeds of ideas and opportunities for Wangari, who loves science. She travels to America and and studies to become a biologist. In America, she does more than learn science, she also discovers a spirit of freedom and possibility that she wants to share with others in Kenya. No matter where she travels she carries a part of her family with her and remembers her promise to protect her land.

Cullerton Johnson's accurate depiction of facts, vivid descriptions, and authentic dialogue combine to create an inspiring story about Wangari Maathal, a determined woman whose actions took root in the Green Belt Movement and who became the first African woman and environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace, by Jen Cullerton Johnson, Illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler, $18.95, ISNB; 978-1-60060-367-9, Hardcover, 40 pages, Lee & Low Books Ages 6 to 11

Note: While I received a free review copy of Seeds of Change from the publisher, I was not paid to give the book a favorable review.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Yesterday was a busy, but very fun day.

In spite of the rain and traffic I arrived on time at the library in Harris Elementary School in St. Charles to talk to more than 400 students in KG-4th grade about "The Life of a Writer." The visit was set up by Ruth Guffey from the Saint Charles City School District Partners in Education Program. The school's Literacy Leader Melissa Armbruster oversaw the program. (Thanks, Becky, for sending my name to Ruth.)

For the event I joined Sarah Weaver and Stephanie Bearce. Sarah is a young, an enthusiastic and an intelligent reporter who talked about some of her reporting assignments, including President Obama's visit to St. Charles in March. Stephanie is a vivbrant and knowledgeable retired teacher who has written several non-fiction books and is working on a fiction book.

The real stars of the program, however, were the students. What a joy it was to be in their presence! They asked great questions and had some charming answers when they were asked questions. I was amazed that the kindergartners knew the difference between fiction and non-fiction. All the children were attentative and appreciative and just so sweet.

After leaving Harris School, I met up with my sister Kathleen and friends Gerri and Patty to go to the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. The four of us are volunteer gallery attendants for the Splendors of the Vatican exhibition which runs through September. The crowd wasn't as large as last Sunday so I had some time to examine some items in the collection more closely.

Last night I typed up several current event papers for Cari (that are due today) and didn't get to bed until early this morning--around 2 a.m.

Today is catch-up day. I'll be signing the kiddos up for two short summer day camps and Ill be updating the Saturday Writers website, which is long overdue. And housework is calling my name.

Tomorrow (and for the next 10 days) I'm hoping to receive more entries in my no-fee, easy-to-enter short story contest in honor of National Short Story month.

You can find complete guidelines on my May 3 post. In a nutshell, stories should be unpublished, in English, no more than 2010 words, and e-mailed to me (copy and paste in the body of an e-mail) dvolkenannt (at) charter (dot) net by May 31. Open to writers in the USA and Canada. First place winner receives a copy of the out-of-print Cuivre River Anthology (Vol I). Top three winners receive certificates.

Hope you all have a great weekend. I'll be back on Monday!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

WOW! Wants Bloggers and Submissions

Some of you might already know about this submission call out from WOW, but for those who don't here's something you might want to check out. I found this information in WOW's May 2010 newsletter.

WOW! is seeking submissions for these upcoming themes:

Creativity: (Deadline for queries/subs: July 15, 2010) They want writers to get creative and send queries/subs!

The Freelance Union 3: (Deadline for queries/subs: September 15, 2010) This issue covers all topics related to freelance writing. This will be their third issue on the subject, so they are looking for article topics they haven't covered before.

For complete details, review the submission guidelines on their Contact page. This will give rates and directions on how to submit. Good luck!

The editors of The Muffin, that's WOW!'s blog, are looking for bloggers with these areas of expertise:

Fiction: The editors want someone who enjoys sharing knowledge, tips, and advice with fellow writers. They want a writer dedicated to fiction, who has a novel under her belt and/or published short stories to craft short posts on how-to topics related to fiction writing.

"Tech" Topics: The editors are looking for a blogger who can write about various "tech" topics in a reader-friendly voice to guide newbies through the labyrinth of the web. Posts can be about anything from how to burn a feed to how to find groups on Twitter.

Blog posts should be short, simple how-tos written for beginners. All posts will be roughly 250 - 500 words. Familiarity with Wordpress and blogging is preferred. This is an ongoing blogging position where you'd be required to blog regularly and come up with your own post ideas with little or no supervision. Starting pay: $5 per post, paid monthly through PayPal. Send an e-mail to editors@wow-womenonwriting.com with "Fiction Blogger" or "Tech Topics Blogger" in the subject line. Include links to sample blog posts related to the topic you're applying for. Include links to your blog(s) and/or links to blogs you currently blog for. Let them know how many days a month or week you'd like to blog.

Now those are some fine writing opportunities. All I can say is WOW! Oh, and good luck!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

This article in Woman's Day about unusual jobs got me thinking. I'll pass on being an odor tester or a professional whistler, but two jobs in the article caught my attention. How cool would it be to be a furniture tester (sometimes I just want to take a nap) or a wine taster?

But one job made me bristle--writing fake reviews. As someone who freelances by writing book reviews and who tries to be fair and honest but not mean in my reviews, knowing that some people (I won't call them writers) get paid to lie in print about the quality of hotels, restaurants, etc. to hike ratings makes me want to scream. Writing fake reviews is just wrong!

Now that I've gotten that out of my system, here's my question: What's the weirdest job you've ever had? If you've never had a weird job, what's the most fun job you've ever had?

One fun job I had as a teenager was working in the candy department at Sears. It was a yummy job until the day a professional crook short changed me out of $20. The man went through the store gyping cashiers. I fell for it, but then realized what happened and told my supervisor, who called the police. It was also at Sears that I was introduced to unusual candy requests. One I remember was being asked to mix redskin peanuts and jelly beans. After I tried it, I discovered it actually tasted good.

So, how about you? Any unusual jobs or job-related experiences you want to share?

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Absinthe Road - A Blog to Stoke the Fires of Creativity

I'm long overdue for a "Blog Me Baby" link to a writer's blog, so I'm doing a shout out today.

Recently over on Cathy C's Hall of Fame blog I read about another writer's blog called The Absinthe Road. Blog creator is Karen, a writer, an editor, a publisher, and a photographer from Texas. According to her blog, her desire is to "fuel the fires of momentum and encourage creativity in others."

Each Monday she will post a prompt to stoke the fires of creativity. "It might be a quote or a link to a song. It could be a painting, a photograph, a single word, or just a phrase. All you need to do…is simply write. Write a song, or a story, or a poem. You don’t have to share it with anyone unless you want to. Let’s compel CREATIVE to get off the ground!"

So, if you're looking for inspiration, check out Karen's blog, and Monday would be a great time to start.

Note to self: Post "Blog Me Baby" links more often.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Writer's Digest One-Sentence Contest

Yesterday I visited a friend's blog and was asked to post publishing or contest news. The only news I had to report was a couple of freelance assignments, but no contest or publishing news. After reading the post I realized I hadn't submitted anything to a contest in a few months. So I went looking and found a one-sentence contest with a quick deadline.


The Writer's Digest One-Sentence Contest is straightforward and easy to enter. All you need to do is come up with an opening sentence of no more than 35 words. The sentence should be based on a photograph provided on the Writer's Digest Your Story site. For complete guidelines and to enter your sentence, visit the Your Story site. I dashed off an entry this morning. Even if I'm not one of the ten winners, I now have a first sentence for the beginning of a short story.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Critique Suggestion: Don't Mess with Voice

My weekly critique group meets on Tuesdays at the Rendezvous Cafe and Wine Bar on Main Street in O'Fallon, MO. We are a mixed bag of writers including novelists, short story writers, memoirists, essayists, journalists, columnists, and what have I missed? Poets--actually we don't critique poetry, but we have critiqued song lyrics.

Everyone in our group brings something to the table--one even occasionally brings his guitar. Some are strong on plot, others on characterization, grammar, structure, etc. While we use our individual strengths to try to make suggestions to improve each other's works, one thing we stress is: Don't mess with voice. Most, but not all, heed this suggestion.

A few weeks ago one writer suggested another's work wouldn't sound as good if someone else read it. Interesting observation. So the following week we asked writers to have someone else read their work. We discovered that although some of the rough spots were highlighted when another writer read someone else's work, writers with distinct and strong voices still shined through, warts and all, no matter who read.

While we're on the topic of voice, this morning I read an excellent post on literary agent Nathan Bransford's blog on "How to Craft a Great Voice." His post brought out some great points. If you get a chance, check it out.

I believe a writer's voice is a unique gift, akin to grace; it's something we are blessed with and a gift we should cherish. What are your thoughts? What do you think about Voice? Let your voices be heard.


Monday, May 10, 2010

National Short Story Month Contest - Day 10

We're about one-third of the way through NSSM and my contest to encourage my visitors to write and submit a short story. If you missed my original post about the contest, check back to the beginning of this month. In essence, I'm hoping to encourage short story writing and asking visitors to submit a short story of no more than 2010 words. Contest details are in the earlier post.

If you're stuck and looking for ideas to get started, here are a couple of suggestions.

Last Friday on Cathy C. Hall's blog, she posted a link to The Absinthe Road where you can find writing prompts each Monday. How's that for a great way to get inspired to write?

If that doesn't work, I'll also try to help. This week I'll post some prompts I've gathered from workshops I've attended as well as from other sources I've collected on my writing journey. Today's prompts come from Pat Carr, who gave a "Writing Fiction with Pat Carr" workshop to Saturday Writers last October.

In Pat's workshop, she taught that a "short story moves from innocence to experience" and "fiction is narrative shown in scenes." She advised not having more than five charaters in a short story and shared these prompts:

1. The easiest place to start a story is with an incident that actually happened. Prompt: Write five incidents you remember (preferably longer than five years ago).

2. For authenticity, use a place you've been. Prompt: Set your story in one of these places:

The most comfortable place in life, most uncomfortable, most exciting, most boring, or the most frightening.

3. To make your setting come alive for your reader, use specific sensory details. Prompt: Use one or more of these to get your story started: An odor (our sense of smell is our strongest), time of day and season, temperature, sound, an important object, a dominant color, a dominant shape, something that can be touched, a taste, a certain slant of light (from Emily Dickenson).

I've used Pat's prompts to start two short stories--note I wrote start--they are still works in progress, but they got my creative juices flowing and gave shape to my ideas. So, how about you?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Books for Mother's Day

Mother's Day is a special time to remember the women who nurtured us, but it's also a special day for mothers to take time to pamper themselves. Books are a thoughtful way for us mothers to treat ourselves or to say, "Thanks, Mom," to the women who nurtured us.

Bookreporter.com has a special Mother's Day feature highlighting 36 books, both fiction and nonfiction, about or for mothers. Just a few of the titles include: A Mother's Touch, Letters to My Daughter, Beautiful Things Happen When a Woman Trusts God, Bringing Up Girls, and Bringing up Boys.

Click on this link to check out the featured titles. Wishing you all a blessed and joyful Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Call for Submissions from ApronStrings

Being an Irish-American, I have a fondness for all things Irish, and the trip my sisters Kathleen, Bridget, and I made to Ireland in 1995 is one of my favorite memories. My writing friend Dianna Graveman knows about my fondness for Ireland, and she sends me call outs with an Irish slant.

Last year she sent me a call out for an Irish Inspirations anthology from Blue Mountain Arts. I submitted an essay "Coming Home," which was accepted for publication and is included in the anthology.

Anyway, Dianna e-mailed the other day with a call-out, which she also posted about on her Write in the Midwest blog. The magazine, in Wicklow, Ireland, is ApronStrings: Essential Reading for all Mothers. The editors are looking for stories from "mothers of all ages in all stages." The primary focus of their magazine is on personal essays, but they accept feature articles and some short stories. Irish and International writers are invited to submit. Payment varies, depending on length.

For complete details, including payment information, visit the writers' guidelines page of their website.

Go n-éirí an t-ádh leat! (that's Good Luck! in Irish Gaelic)

Monday, May 3, 2010

National Short Story Month Contest

In case you didn't know it, May has been designated National Short Story Month. Don't feel bad; I didn't know it either until I read an article in the May/June issue of Poets and Writers Magazine.

I love reading and writing short stories and can still remember some favorites from high school and college--"The Most Dangerous Game," "The Gift of the Magi," "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," and "Good Country People"--are some that come to mind.

So, in honor of National Short Story Month, I'm going to sponsor a little no-entry-fee contest to encourage writers to write and submit a short story this month. I'm also doing it to accomplish my goal of downsizing my bookshelves by giving away a copy of Cuivre River Anthology (Volume I), Saturday Writers Winning Words, which contains one of my short stories.

Here are the short and simple rules.

Short stories must be:
The submitter's own work
Written between May 1 and May 31, 2010
Written in English
Unpublished
No longer than 2010 words (as in the year 2010)
Submitted by e-mail to dvolkenannt (at) charter (dot) net
Received by midnight CST on May 31 2010

Other guidelines:
Copy and paste into the body of an e-mail
No attachments; attachments will not be opened
Submit your best work
Proofread before sending
No pornography or gory content
One entry per person
Open to residents of USA and Canada
Decision of judge is final
Writers retain all rights to their stories
No whining, please

Prizes:
First place winner will receive a copy of Cuivre River Anthology (Vol I), which includes my short story "Golden Lilace Under the Worm Moon"
Top three winners will receive certificates
Depending on number of submissions, I might award some honorable mentions
Titles and names of winners will appear on Donna's Book Pub on June 8, 2010

Old School Treasures in Missouri

If you look up the definition of "old school" in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, you will find "characteristic or evocative o...