Saturday, April 28, 2012

My Interview with Lisa Jackson is Posted on Bookreporter

My interview with New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jackson is now available on the Bookreporter website.

In my interview with Jackson I asked about New Orleans, the setting for DEVIOUS, her latest Rick Bentz/Reuben Montoya novel. I also asked Jackson about: how she researches to get details just right, how she gets into the minds of serial killers, her collaboration with her sister Nancy Bush in the Wicked series, and the best writing advice she's ever received.

Over on Bookreporter, you can also read my review of DEVIOUS, which is now available in paperback. Here's an excerpt of what I had to say in my Bookreporter review: "DEVIOUS . . .  takes readers on a journey into the isolated world of a cloistered New Orleans convent filled with deadly secrets. Jackson measures out the right dose of mystery, suspense and romance to create a captivating story of jealousy, lust, murder, redemption and revenge."

Next week I'll post more about my amazing time at the Erma Bombeck Workshop on the campus of the University of Dayton, where Adriana Trigiani was a keynote speaker. And I'll share my thoughts on Trigiani's latest novel, THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cactus Country II Is Now Available

Last week, while I was getting ready to leave for the Erma Bombeck Workshop in Dayton, my good friend Lou Turner, who is the Publisher and Editor of High Hill Press, took time from her unbelievably busy schedule to drop by my house and deliver a copy of Cactus Country (Volume II).

Even though Lou is an award-winning writer and publisher, she is sweet and considerate like that.

Anyway, I'm so excited that my short story "Keeping Faith" is included in the Cactus Country Volume II anthology, along with stories, articles, and poems from some famous Western writers, as well as a few writing friends.

If you like reading about the West, or if you enjoy good writing, Cactus Country II is an anthology not to be missed. 

The anthology includes works from: Dusty Richards, Jory Sherman, Delois McGrew, Brett Cogburn, Lucia St. Clair Robson, Pat Carr, Claudia Mundell, Ellen Gray Massey, Regina Williams, W. E. (Bill) Mueller, and many more talented writers.

Yesterday at critique group two writers purchased copies from Lou then asked for my autograph. What fun!

So, I hope you'll gitty up, pony up a few bucks, and get yourself a copy of this anthology. 

Here's a link to the Cactus Country book store with information on how you can buy a copy, as well as a link to submission guidelines if you want to submit something for a future Cactus Country anthology.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Erma Bombeck Celebration at the Centerville Library

On April 18, I participated in the Erma Bombeck Celebration Evening at the Centerville Library in Ohio. The library is cozy and cheerful, and I love the huge stack of wooden books displayed out front. 

The celebration's featured speaker was syndicated humor columnist and author of Rebel Without a Minivan, Tracy Beckerman. Tracy is not only side-splitting funny, she is also wise and sweet.

During the ride in the van to the event with Tracy and Michele Wojciechowski (Wojo), I felt like I was in the midst of comedy queens who have insight into the world of journalism. Both ladies were funny and friendly and smart. And Wojo's husband Brad was a perfect gentleman. Humor writer Wanda Argersinger, an honorable mention winner in the global humor category, also rode in the van with us. Wanda hurt her foot in the Atlanta airport, but she was a trooper as she hobbled through the library to the meeting room.

The room began to fill early, and there was standing room only by the time the program began.

People of all ages attended the event. Two young boys sat with their parents in the front row. A woman around my age brought her white-haired, 92-year-old mother. The older woman used a cane to find a seat near the front, but she was spry and alert and attentive. The 92-year-old spoke with my sister Kathleen, who accompanied me on the trip. During their conversation, the woman shared memories of Erma Bombeck and Phil Donahue, who were neighbors.

Debe Dockins, Centerville Public Library's cool, calm, and collected competition coordinator, facilitated the festivities, with audiovisual help from Sue (whose last name I didn't write down). Sue also works at the library.

I was surprised and pleased when Krysten Hager showed up to listen to me read. Krysten and I got to know one another through the Women on Writing website. We have been Facebook friends for a couple of years -- from the time Krysten 's husband was stationed in Portugal -- before their move to Ohio.

At the celebration, Tracy's hilarious talk included her experience at the Dayton airport. After Tracy's performance, three first-place winners of the 2012 competition (including me) read their entries.

Local winner Gina Sandoval, accompanied by her younger son holding his light saber, delighted us with her funny and charming story "The Force." I followed with my essay, "Honey, Can I Borrow Your Garter Belt?" People laughed when I hoped they would, so I guess it was funny. Then Christina (Tina) Cahall read her sweet essay "Rebel in a Cashmere Coat." Debe rounded out the evening by reading Alison McDonough's beautifully written "That's Him All Over." Alison wasn't able to make the trip, but her presence was felt through her moving essay about her late son.

During and after the program, Kathleen attempted to take photos, but my camera misbehaved badly. Note to self: Time to buy a less tempermental camera.

At the end of the event, the 92-year old woman wound her way to my side. A smile widened her face as she patted my hand and told me, "I'm happy to see that elderly women like me are still writing."  
 
I wasn't sure if I should laugh or cry, so I nodded my thanks and smiled. Wait? Doesn't smiling cause wrinkles?
 
The weather that evening was lovely. As the sun began to set we climbed back into the van. The sky turned from blue to purple and the stars made their presence known, and I thanked my lucky stars to have been a part of such a memorable experience.

More on the workshop later this week.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ohio Bound for the Erma Bombeck Celebration and Workshop

This will be my last post for several days. Bright and early tomorrow morning I'm leaving for the Erma Bombeck Celebration and Workshop in Ohio. My sister Kathleen is going with me.

Walt is staying home to care for the grandkiddos. I've written out lists of significant events and things to do each day, so I've got my fingers crossed that it will be smooth sailing at home.

Tomorrow evening I'll be reading my prize-winning essay, "Honey, Can I Borrow Your Garter Belt," during the Erma Celebration at the Washington Centerville Public Library. Last week, Debe Dockins, the Community Outreach and Development Coordinator, e-mailed that the library will be sending a van to the hotel for us to ride to the event along with featured speaker Tracy Beckerman, a syndicated humor columnist and author. Tracy's Lost in Suburbia column is carried by more than 450 newspapers, 250 websites and reaches an audience of nearly 10 million readers in 25 states.

Thursday through Saturday I'll be attending the Erma Bombeck Workshop on the University of Dayton campus. I'm excited about the speaker line up and the topics. After I return I plan to share some of what I learned during the workshop.

Have a great week, and take time to write!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Writing and Other Marathons

On April 7, I, along with Sioux Roslawski, Bea Siros, Jennifer Hashieder, Marcia and Jim Gaye, Kathleen Kaiser, Barbara Hedges, and Rebeca Wise, participated in the Saturday Writers First Annual Writing Marathon.

Our group of intrepid writers met around 9 a.m. on the corner of Boone's Lick and First Street near the Trailhead Brewery then proceeded to walk down Main Street.

This was my first writing marathon, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but Sioux Roslowski provided excellent direction and guidance. Sioux (with blue scarf) and Bea Siros (in pink hat) are in the photo on the left. They were dedicated to their task of writing.

I was more in an observational mood and wanted to visually record the event, but sadly, this photo is the only photo that came out unblurry. The batteries on my camera were out of juice, and the other photos I took looked like they were washed in honey.

As we strolled along Main Street, the sights and sounds elevated my mood. Most of the stores hadn't open yet, so the view of the homes and stores was clear. I stopped to read some of the placards on historical buildings, and Spring had definitely made its presence known. The dogwoods, red buds, and tulips were in bloom. 

I  ran into a former co-worker opening her shop on Main Street. We chatted about the good old times--not at work--but when her children visited our farm when they were teenagers. We caught up on what we'd been doing lately and how our lives had changed. Mostly we talked about our daughters. She and I lost our daughters in motorcycle accidents, two years apart.

My thoughts turned to wondering about connections--how certain people come into our lives for reasons we might not realize until years later--as we near the finish line of the marathon called our personal histories.

When our group convened for readings, we sat on stone benches alongside the Homestead Store and Grandma's Cookie Shop. The sun made its presence known, crowds of shoppers grew, and chippies scavenged for bits of cookies on the cobblestone sidewalks while we shared our works. The talent of the marathon writers was inspiring.

After our readings, a handful of us stopped in an outdoor cafe called Braden's for Mimosas before visiting the Oil and Vinegar store. I bought a bottle of specialty cooking oil to give to Walt for Easter.

Because of a soccer tournament clear on the other side of the river, I wasn't able to stay for lunch, but I heard later that it was fun and the limericks were a blast. My impression of the writing marathon was that it was both relaxing and exhilirating--an attractive combination of experiences--that I hope to repeat soon.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Calls for Submissions: Angel Encounters and Times to Remember

Here are two submission call outs to get your writing juices flowing over the next few months.

Earlier this week my writer-friend Sioux Roslawski reminded me about a call out from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angel Encounters. According to the guidelines on the CS website, the editors are looking for "stories from people who believe that they have encountered or been helped by angels." Their editorial preferences are quite specific, so be sure to read the complete call-out guidelines. The deadline for submission of a true story or a poem about an angel encounter is July 31, 2012.

The second call for submissions was e-mailed to me by Becky Haigler, one of the editors at Silver Boomer Books. The working title of the anthology is Times to Remember: A Pocketful of Holidays. According to Becky's e-mail, "When the phrase 'the holidays' is mentioned most of us quickly think of the end of the year and the period of Thanksgiving through Christmas. That time of year has produced many wonderful stories and poems from many talented pens. If you have a piece for that season, you may send it but we are hoping to include events from throughout the year in this project. Your chances of being selected will be higher with a well written essay or poem about Flag Day, or Arbor Day or the Watermelon Festival, etc. Surprise us." The deadline is May 31, 2012.

So, be an angel and take time to remember to check out the submission guidelines from Chicken Soup for the Soul and Silver Boomer books. Good luck if you submit.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

More Angels and Demons - St. Louis Style

The second church on our tour was St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, 15 Plaza Square, commonly known as St. John's Downtown. The church, which was built in 1847, was designed by architect Thomas Warring Walsh. At one time, during the 1860s, the church was designated the Cathedral Church of the St. Louis Archdiocese.

During the Civil War, an Irish priest names Father John Bannon, served as pastor of St. John's. Father Bannon was also a prominent chaplain for the Confederate forces as part of the 1st Missouri Brigade. Tragically, Irish immigrants fought against each other in Gettysburg and on other battlefields during the war. At the end of the conflict, clergy on the Confederate side could no longer serve as ministers, so Bannon returned to Ireland. Two flags, one Confederate and one Union, appear in the rear of the church, above the choir loft. Because of their remote location I was unable to get a photo of the flags.

The significance of the church in the Angels and Demons tour can be found in the east apse--a reproduction of Raphael's 1520 painting of The Transfiguration recounted in the Gospel of St. Matthew. The original painting is displayed in the Vatican Museum in Rome. The painting shows demons being exorcised from a young boy.


Scenes in the stained glass windows of St. John's Church depict events in the life of Christ recounted in the Gospel of St. John.

The final church on our Angels and Demons Tour, St. Francis Xavier (College) Church on the campus of St. Louis University, is notable for many reasons. One is because of its historical significance, beautiful architecture, and lovely interior, but also because of its connection to a famous exorcism.

In 1949-1950, it was in the rectory of St. Louis University and at the Alexian Brothers Hospital a few miles away, where the exorcism made famous by the William Peter Blatty novel THE EXORCIST actually took place. While the records had been ordered to be sealed by the Church for 50 years, the news of the exorcism leaked out in writing the book. However, significant details were changed in the novel, such as the sex of the child and the location of the exorcism.

In the actual exorcism, the possessed was a teenage boy named "Robbie" (not his actual name) whose family lived in the Washington, D.C. area. Robbie's family was non-Catholic but had a family member living in St. Louis, who contacted a priest from St. Louis University asking for help for the teenager.

During our tour, the docent revealed details about Robbie's exorcism. Robbie was brought to St. Louis and examined by medical professionals before the exorcism was performed -- by three Jesuit priests with assistance from two seminarians.

Listening to the true story, goosebumps formed on my arms as I sat in the church, lit only by dim lights and sunlight.  Even with a flash on my camera, the photo I took of the main altar (above) came out dark. I won't go into it here, but suffice it to say that many of the reported details of the possession were chilling, and which I won't repeat them. The church itself was the scene of an other-worldly event at the end of Robbie's exorcism. Walking out of the church into the sunlight that day was a welcome feeling.

Hope you enjoyed my recounting of the Angels and Demons tour. Although parts of the tour were frightening, it was interesting and memorable. I'll save the final, and less unsettling, portion for another time.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Angels and Demons - St. Louis Style

Last month my sister Kathleen and I took a motorcoach tour sponsored by the City of St. Peters, Missouri.

Over the past few years I've gone on several of these around-town tours and have found them educational, entertaining and fun. Tour guide Linda Koenig led the "Angels and Demons" Tour, which took us to several churches, one cemetery, a convent, and a haunted mansion.

After boarding the bus, our tour guide gave us an explanation about the origin of words angel and demon. Angel comes from the Latin word Angelus, meaning messenger of God. Demon comes from the Greek word Daimon, meaning evil spirit.

The first church on our tour was the Shrine of St. Joseph, 1220 North 11th Street in St. Louis (pictured above). Jesuit priests founded the parish in 1843 in an area called Kerry Patch because of the large number of Irish immigrants who settled in St. Louis after the potato famine in Ireland. The land for St. Joseph's was donated by Mrs. Ann Biddle, daughter of one of St. Louis's most generous benefactors, John Mullanphy. Mrs. Biddle, whose husband Thomas was killed in a duel, occupied her time with Catholic charities and other philanthropic endeavors.

An outbreat of cholera plagued the citizens of St. Louis in the 1860s, and parish priests conducted as many as 20 burials a day from St. Joseph's.

Members of the parish prayed their families would be spared more deaths and asked St. Joseph to intercede on their behalf. Several family members signed a vow that if their prayers and petitions were answered they would erect a monument to honor St. Joseph. According to the parish history, not one family member of those who signed the pledge was stricken with cholera after that.

In thanksgiving, the families erected the St. Joseph's Altar of Answered Prayers (above), which serves as the main altar of the church. The Shrine of St. Joseph is also the site of a miracle healing of Julius Strecker, which involved a blessing with a relic of Peter Claver. The miraculous healing was confirmed by the Vatican.

Other features of the church are the slots where doors once stood on the side of the pews. The doors were shut to help keep the faithful warm in the winter. The pews were also divided lengthwise, which meant double pew rental fees.

Among the notable features of the church are the symbols of life and death depicted on the ceiling. The skull and crossed bones (in the dark) represent death, while the butterfly above it (in the light) represents rebirth and resurrection.

In the 1980s the church was abandoned and in a deplorable state. A dedicated group of faithful people donated money to save it from ruin. Before they could begin repairing the insides, more than five tons of bird droppings had to be removed from the floors. Now the church is the site of Sunday Masses, special events, and a popular location for wedding ceremonies. The church also has a thrift shop, which serves residents who live nearby. The day we visited we were given bread and fruit left over from their St. Joseph's Day celebration, which was celebrated the day before (on March 19).

In my next post I'll share some of what I learned about another famous St. Louis church, which played a part in the Civil War.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter Traditions - Kate Duly's Irish-German Potato Salad

On the major holidays my brothers and sisters and I, along with our families, get together to celebrate. This Easter we're going to my brother Tim's house. Each family brings special dishes to the feast.

I'm baking a turkey and making strawberry-angel food dessert. Bridget is bringing a baked ham and making green bean bundles. Brother Jim is making his fabulous baked beans. Nieces and nephews are providing salads, appetizers, and other goodies. But my sister Kathleen is making the dish most requested by family members: our mom's German Potato Salad.

On this Good Friday I thought I'd share a recipe that my family has enjoyed for more than 50 years. Since my family is Irish-American and not German, the title has been modified. My husband, who was born in Germany, insists that real German potato salad does not have mayonnaise and is not eaten cold, so to keep peace after I got married, the name of the recipe was modified to Irish-German Potato Salad.

My mom's name was Katherine, but one of her nicknames was Kate, so the official name of the recipe is Kate Duly's Irish-German Potato Salad.

Here is the recipe for Kate Duly's Irish-German Potato Salad, courtesy of my sister Kathleen:

5 lbs of red potatoes

1/2 lb of regular bacon (not maple cured or flavored, etc)

1 cup each white vinegar and white sugar

6 hard boiled eggs (chopped)

6 green onions (chopped)

1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper and celery seed

One and a half to two cups of real mayonnaise

Boil 5 lbs of red potatoes, peel and cut into small chunks. Cover in a bowl so they don't turn dark.

Fry 1/2 lb of regular bacon, cool and crumble, save drippings in skillet.

Add 1 cup each of white vinegar & sugar to the bacon drippings and simmer until sugar is dissolved. Pour over cut up potatoes in a large bowl, mix well and let cool.

Add chopped green onions & hard boiled eggs, salt, pepper and celery seed.

Add real mayo and blend to a smooth consistency.

Refrigerate and serve cold.

More mayo may be added later if needed to get desired consistency

This dish is so good, it makes your mouth smile. So, no matter what nationality you are, I hope you enjoy!

Happy Easter!

I'll be back next week with a few posts about a tour I recently went on--and I'll even have some photos.

Monday, April 2, 2012

New Beginnings - Thoughts on My Husband's Coming to America 50 Years Ago

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the day my husband and his mother arrived in America. He was barely a teenager when they left their homeland in the Bavarian state of Germany and traveled across the Atlantic for seven days.

A few days before their departure, Walt hid in a farmer's barn because he didn't want to leave. His mom knew where he was all along, and he reluctantly accompanied her on the voyage to America to join his older sisters who were already here. Walt told me that after he arrived on land he walked sideways for days after being at sea for so long.

Walt's mom spoke no English when they arrived in New York, and he only knew a few curse words he'd learned from the G.I.s stationed near their home. So, after they arrived and a customs officials searched their belongings, Walt couldn't convince the burly agent not to confiscate antiques and collectibles they'd brought with them. The collectibles were from World War II, World War I, and the 100-Year War.

Thus, was Walt's introduction to America. The hope is that the collectibles, including daggers and swords, ended up in museums, but most likely they were sold by the inspector. Later that day Walt and his mom were greeted by his sister and brother-in-law (a Massachusetts policeman), but by then it was too late to track down what happened to the confiscated goods.

What is weird about the timing of this fifty-year anniversary is that last week I received two Facebook friend requests, both from Germany. I didn't recognize the names and started to delete them until I read the messages--one in German and the other in English.

The first was from Walt's nephew who still lives in Bavaria, and whom we hadn't heard from in more than twenty years--when we lived in Germany. Reiner speaks Bavarian, German, English, and French, so he has no problem conversing in English. But, he used a pseudonym and I didn't recognize his Facebook name. The other note was from Rudy, a classmate who wrote in Bavarian to tell Walt about their class reunion next month. My German is rusty and I could make out only a few words, so Walt translated the rest. What's strange is that my husband is not on Facebook, but Reiner and Rudy found him because I use my married name on Facebook.

So, how does all this relate to writing? Here's what I think:

Beginnings -  While staring at a blank page is not as daunting as leaving one's homeland, sailing across an ocean, and starting a new life--starting a new story, essay, poem, or novel is exciting and a bit frightening. Sometimes it takes awhile to convince yourself to get going.

Faith -  Letting go of the familair to take a chance on the unknown takes faith and courage. Who knows what lies ahead?

Setbacks - Not knowing how to respond to someone in power is a helpless feeling.  Writers deal with rejection every day. The best way to handle it is to speak up when you can and do it gracefully.

Connections - Have an online presence. Like the two Bavarians who found Walt through my Facebook page, who knows if an agent or an editor might be searching for you? You might want to use a name people recognize--unless you're tyring to avoid bill collectors or old flames. ;-)

Celebrations - Making a daily word count goal, completing a final revision, winning a contest, or receiving an acceptance are all reasons to celebrate. Let's just hope it doesn't take 50 years!

So, happy anniversary, Walt. I'm so glad you and your mom decided to join your sisters in America and made the trip across the Atlantic fifty years ago! 

And good luck to all writers who have the faith and courage to begin, survive the setbacks, make  the connections, and celebrate success.

Did You Know It's US Constitution Week?

Preamble  to the US Constitution While visiting the Spencer Road Branch of my county's library yesterday, I was greeted by two f...