Monday, December 23, 2013

Coffee and Critique Anthology Release on Christmas Eve

This morning I received the exciting news that the hot-off-the-press Coffee and Critique Anthology will be available for pick up tomorrow morning.

Lou Turner, CEO and Publisher of High Hill Press, will be distributing contributor copies tomorrow at the Rendezvous Café (pictured in the photo cover on the left) at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning (Christmas Eve day).

A limited number of additional copies will be available for sale.

Several contributors will be on hand to sign copies tomorrow, but the official  release date and party/signing will occur early next year.

In addition to the stories and essays, the anthology also includes group and individual photos and "Take Ten" interviews from several members, including the late Nick Nixon.

Additional copies of the anthology will be available for sale from High Hill Press soon. I'll post more about the anthology early next year.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Colorful Writing in the Classic Christmas Short Story: "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry

Earlier this week my grandson's English assignment was to do a close reading of and make annotations on the classic Christmas short story, “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry (William Sidney Porter).

I’ve always liked the story because of its message of selfless giving, but it wasn’t until my close reading of the story with my grandson that I noticed how O. Henry used color to paint a picture with words and depict the mood of the story.

Here's an abbreviated version of the story, with the colors highlighted:

It’s Christmas Eve. Della has only one-dollar and eighty-seven cents to buy a present for her husband, Jim.

While Jim is at work, she sits on a shabby couch looking out the window and watches a gray cat walk along a gray fence in a gray backyard. Her feet rest on the worn red carpet.

When she combs her shiny brown hair it falls like a cascade of brown water. In desperation, she decides what she must do, and she turns white for just a moment.

She puts on a brown jacket and brown hat and rushes out to see Madame Sofronie, who is large, white, and chilly.

Della sells her long brown hair to Madame Safronie for twenty dollars then takes the money and shops on rosy wings.

She buys her husband a platinum fob chain for twenty-one dollars to use with his most prized possession, his gold watch.

Meanwhile, on his way home from work, her husband Jim trades his gold watch for a set of lovely tortoise shell combs to give to Della to complement her beautiful long brown hair.
 
That's quite a lot of colors.

While I use color in my writing, I try not to overuse it. Now, I wonder if I should use more.
 
After re-reading "The Gift of the Magi," I thought about another short story of O. Henry's that I read in high school: "The Ransom of Red Chief."
 
After the holidays I plan to re-read that story to see if O. Henry also uses a lot of color in that one. While I'm at it I'll take a gander at some other classic short stories by other famous writers and see how they use colors in their stories too. 
 
What are your thoughts on using color in writing? Can you recommend any short stories where authors effectively use color?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Main Street Books in St. Charles to Close in January

The Post Dispatch has reported that Main Street Books in St. Charles is going to close on January 31, unless a buyer steps forward.

Vicky Irwin, owner for the past seven years, has been a champion for local writers.

The news also reports that the store will have a "retirement sale" in January.

The store is open for business as usual through December. Gift certificates will expire Jan. 31.

Here's a link to the article.

I'm hoping someone with deep pockets and a passion for books will buy the book store to keep it open.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Chicken Soup for the Soul Signing Cancelled

Please Note: Due to the snowstorm, the "Chicken Soup for the Soul, Canned Soup for the Body" book signing for December 14 has been cancelled.

If the signing is rescheduled I'll post details here.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Save the Date: Another "Souper" Book Signing at Main Street Books in St. Charles

On Saturday, December 14, 2013, seven local writers will participate in the fifth Annual “Chicken Soup for the Soul, Canned Soup for the Body” Book Signing.

The "sole" location for this year's "souper" signing will be back to where it all began at Main Street Books, 307 South Main Street in St. Charles, hosted once again by Vicki Erwin, from 11 a.m. till 5 p.m.

Customers who bring in canned goods, which will be donated to area food pantries, will receive 20% off their entire purchase that day.

The following is the schedule of the featured Chicken Soup contributors: 
 
11 a.m. till 1 p.m. -  Cathi LaMarche and Nina Miller

1 p.m. till 3 p.m. - Linda O’Connell, Theresa Sanders, and T’Mara Goodsell

3 p.m. till 5 p.m.  -   Beth M. Wood and Sioux Roslawski

For directions to Main Street Books, call Vicki Erwin, 636-949-0105.

Monday, December 2, 2013

National Writing Month Results: I Crossed the Finish Line but Have a Way to Go

Done. Done. And not quite Done!

That's how I felt on November 28 when I exceeded the 50K word count for my novel in progress.

My official ending count on November 30 was 51,428 words. I still can't believe it!

I'm now about three-quarters of the way finished with a very rough first draft of a novel I've been wanting to write for years.

The next step is pulling it out and finishing the first draft early next year. Then the revising, rewriting, and editing starts. My plan is to have a decent manuscript by the spring, unless life gets in the way of my plans.

November was not without its bumps and bruises, but at least now I can say I wrote 50K+ words in a month. Of course many of those words are crappy, but what the heck. They're still words.

Congratulations to anyone else who has ever taken on this daunting task.

Here are my lessons learned:
Write every day.
Early morning or late at night worked best for me.
Limit social media time.
Limit editing. I could not turn off my internal editor; I just toned her down.
Outline ahead of time.
Don't feel compelled to stick to the outline.
Map out characters ahead of time. (I kept changing their names and descriptions)
Listen to your characters.
Go with the flow. (cliché, I know)
Spreadsheets are your friend. (I kept one with the chapter number, title, word count, and a brief synopsis.) This was extra work but helped keep me focused and on task.
Celebrate!
Put the WIP away for at least a month before picking it up again.







Friday, November 15, 2013

NaNoWriMo Progress Report

In case you haven't noticed, I haven't been blogging much lately. That's because I'm elbow deep in writing a novel during National Novel Writing Month.

Today is the midpoint.

For those unfamiliar with NaNo, the goal is to write 50,000 words of a new novel during the month of November. That equates to 1,667 words a day.

Generally I'm a slow writer because I tend to edit and cut words as I go, but I'm trying my best to just let the words fly. It has worked to some degree, especially in the beginning. I didn't edit much except for quickly reviewing my the previous day's chapter and fixing tiny mistakes before proceeding to the next chapter.

My progress during week two has been slower. I found myself doing more re-reading of previous chapters along with editing and fixing of plot holes because my story is taking off in a new direction.

It's both fun and frustrating.

In addition to the stats provided by NaNo, I have a spreadsheet that breaks each chapter down by word count. I have a line entry on the spreadsheet for each chapter. The spreadsheet helps keep me organized and on track. The word counts on my spreadsheet are generally a bit shorter than how they're validated by NaNo, which is a good thing. Maybe they're giving me a 20-word bonus.

Now, for my progress report.

This morning I tallied the words on my spreadsheet and I've passed the 25K mark. Actually, I'm at 25,101.

So, at the half-way point I'm half way there.

This weekend is shaping up to be busy but I'm hoping to take some time to write some more.

I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Oh, if anyone has any extra words lying around they're not using, send them my way.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Winner of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope and Healing for Your Breast Cancer Journey

Sorry for this delayed announcement.

Since starting National Novel Writing Month I haven't posted on my blog or visited other blogs as often as I'd like.

Thanks to everyone who left comments for the drawing for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope and Healing for Your Breast Cancer Journey, featuring Alice Muschany's true story "Hats Off to Betty with Love."

Special thanks to Alice for her generous donation of the book.

The winner is  BOOKIE

So, if you will send me an e-mail at dvolkenannt (at) charter.net (please replace the (at) with the at sign--I didn't want to put my entire e-mail address so I don't get Viagra ads). Be sure to include your snail mail address so I can mail the book to you next week.

Congratulations, Bookie, and thanks again to everyone else.

Now, back to my novel-in-progress. I hope to post my word count early next week.



Friday, November 1, 2013

National Novel Writing Month - I'm in!

Call me a glutton for punishment, but I decided to take the plunge this year and give National Novel Writing Month a try. I signed up late last night after reading the rules and thinking I can do this.

I'm not sure about all the etiquette of belonging, so if showing the crest in this post before I reach my goal is a NaNo no-no, will someone let me know.

Awhile back I developed a chapter outline for a novel I've been wanting to write. Last night, between answering the doorbell for trick-or-treaters, I dug the outline out of my file and printed off a copy.

I logged on to the site even later last night and discovered I needed to write a synopsis, which was no easy task --  and was a change from where the outline was headed. The synopsis got me to really thinking about my novel, though, so when I started actually writing the first chapter I was surprised at where my fingers went across the keyboard and where the story is taking me.

Writing without editing as I go is painful for me, but I'm giving it a whirl.

Before I climbed into bed early this morning I had written over 1,000 words, then when I woke up a few hours later to get Michael off to school I stated another chapter then went back to bed and took a nap.

I've been a member for 16 hours now, and my official word count is 1858.  So, I'd say I'm off to an okay start. We'll see what the rest of the month brings. I'll post my word count weekly to try to encourage myself to continue the task.

If any of my blogger buddies are doing NaNo this year, let me know.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bad News: Cardinals Lose World Series; Good News: Well Versed Deadline Extended

My nieces who live in Western Massachusetts -- not to be confused with my niece from St. Charles who is a Cardinals fan and got to go to Game 2 of the World Series -- are no doubt celebrating last night's Red Sox victory in the World Series.

But, if you're a St. Louis Cardinals fan like me you're lamenting the fact that the Red Birds lost the World Series to the Boston Red Sox. At least it took six games this time and not four!

A good way to get over disappointment is by writing, which brings me to the good news.

This morning I received an e-mail from Linda Fisher, managing editor of Well Versed, that the submission deadline has been extended.

Here is an excerpt from her e-mail:

"I’m extending the deadline to November 10. Electronic copies must be received before midnight on the 10th. You do not have to postmark your hard copies until November 12. I’m not sure if the post office is open on the 11th.
 
Visit our website for complete guidelines and prizes. Please read through the guidelines carefully. A section has been added to help you format your manuscript. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me at wellversed2014@gmail.com.

You may submit five poems and three prose pieces. We do require both electronic and paper versions of each submission.

As always, CCMWG members pay no entry fee. Nonmembers pay a small fee, or can join CCMWG for $15 and pay no fee. Each edition of Well Versed is filled with outstanding prose and poetry, and we look forward to having your pieces considered for the 2014 edition.
 
My sincere appreciation to all who met the original deadline! To keep Well Versed on track, this is the only extension. Entries received after the extended deadline will not be used."

Good luck if you enter! Here's hoping one of you wins big!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Boston Bound to Watch the Cardinals Play the Red Sox -- and World Series Memories

I’m so happy that my niece left St. Louis early this morning bound for Boston—not that she’s leaving town, but that she will get to watch the St. Louis Cardinals play the Boston Red Sox tonight in Game 2 of the World Series at Fenway Park.

Talk about the luck of the Irish!

For baseball fans there's nothing like the thrill of being inside the stadium during a World Series game.
 
My one and only inside-the-stadium World Series experience was in 1964 when my sister Kathleen and I went to Game 7 and watched Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals defeat the New York Yankees. Our parents were huge Cardinal fans, but we still were surprised when they let us skip a day of high school to go to the game.
 
The night before, Kathleen and I bundled up in blankets, along with some of her friends, to spend the night  on Dodier Street outside Sportsman Park. On that chilly evening, we took turns running to the YMCA on Grand Avenue to warm up and use the bathroom.
 
Our efforts were rewarded when we bought $2 tickets to sit in the bleachers. In fact, we were able to buy two tickets each. We then sold our extra tickets for $5 a piece to a friend of my sister's, who undoubtedly resold those tickets for even more. But our combined $10 covered the cost of our admission with enough left over to buy snacks during the game.
 
Anyway, my niece is traveling to Massachusetts today to visit her good friend and former college roommate, who is married to a player on the New England Patriots football team, who also is from St. Louis and a Cardinal fan. I'm not sure how she scored her ticket for tonight's game, but you can bet it cost a lot more than $2.

After the Cardinals' ugly loss last night, I’m hoping she will bring along some of our family’s Irish luck while she’s cheering for the Red Birds. 

So, if you see a dark-haired, gray-eyed beauty sporting a St. Louis Cardinals cap in a sea of Boston Red Sox fans, be sure to wave.

No doubt she will return home with lots of special memories of her own after watching the Cardinals win (I hope) a World Series game.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Searching for Halloween Short Stories? Check out "Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories" and "Shadows After Midnight"

As the temperature drops and the leaves change from green to gold, red, yellow, or orange, my thoughts turn to Halloween -- and tales of ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night.

To help keep my hands off the Halloween candy, I pick up a pen and write -- or grab a book and read.

If you're looking for some scary short stories to read by the fire on a chilly October night, here are two collections to check out.

Shameless plug: Did I mention I have stories in each of these collections?

Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories has recently been released by Rocking Horse Publishing.

My story about the haunted Bissell Mansion in North St. Louis "Ghost in Celestial Blue" is included in the collection, along with tales from blogger buddies, Missouri author Val the Victorian from Unbagging the Cats and Canadian author and travel writer Sean McLachlan of Civil War Horror.

I haven't received my contributor copies yet, so I haven't read all the stories, but I know what great writers Val and Sean are because I am a frequent follower of their blogs.

If you're curious about who else is in the anthology and want to purchase a copy, visit the RHP website.

If you're a frequent visitor to my blog, you might remember the title of the book Shadows After Midnight.

The e-book was published late last year by Welkin Press, but editor Patricia B. Smith has redesigned the cover and reduced the price, just in time for Halloween.

The Shadows After Midnight e-book is now available for a limited time on Amazon.com for less than a dollar. The collection of "12 Spooky Tales for Halloween" includes my short story "Stairway to Heaven."

How about you?  Do you have any scary books to recommend reading on chilly fall evenings--that is, when the Cardinals aren't playing in the World Series?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Nightmare in Washington: "Walking Dead" Politicians Sucking the Blood Out of Our Nation

What’s been going on lately in Washington is truly frightening, to the point of being nightmarish.

Maybe it's because Halloween is just around the corner or because I've been watching too many scary movies on TV or it could be the spicy sandwich I ate the other night, but I have a wild notion about what is wrong with the career politicians running Washington -- and our nation -- into the ground.
 
Isn't it obvious?

Zombies and vampires are in charge of our government, on both sides of the aisle.

What else can explain their bizarre behavior?

Think about how the zombie-vampire members of Congress cleverly disguise their true essence:

During the day they roam the halls of Congress in fancy business suits and ties or dress suits and high heels. Rapt minions trail behind them, waiting to serve their every need, whim, or desire. 

To look fit – and no doubt to fit in with the living – these zombie-vampire members of Congress spend hours in the Congressional gym or on the golf course – both of which were open during the shutdown, according to news reports.

Others frequent tanning booths to conceal their pasty skin tones.

A few of the more vain Congressional members seem to have had some “work” done to hide their wrinkles and make them appear younger looking.  

Some politicians like to imbibe in alcohol after hours—or maybe that odor is formaldehyde.
 

And what do they do for us, the citizens?

They feed on our fears.

They suck the blood out of our economy.

They stomp on our freedoms.

They do sneaky things when they think no one is watching.

And we can’t seem to get rid of them!

Somehow, the same politicians get re-elected year after year. They’re like a piece of chewing gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe. You just can’t shake them loose.

I have a solution to get these blood suckers the heck out of Washington – and out of office for good.

Forget silver crosses or garlic or holy water or other vampire-zombie elimination methods, whatever those might be.

There are two words that strike fear into their hearts – if, in fact, the zombie-vampire career politicians in Washington actually do have hearts:

Those two words are: TERM LIMITS.

Okay. I’m done now.

Don’t you wish you’d hear that from members of Congress?

Friday, October 11, 2013

An Overdue Post: Notes from Dianna Graveman's Presentation on “Using a Travel Journal as Inspiration for Writing Short Fiction"

This post is overdue. In late August I took notes during Dianna Graveman's presentation during the Saturday Writers monthly meeting.

Dianna's slideshow presentation on “From Open Road to Manuscript: Using a Travel Journal as Inspiration for Writing Short Fiction” was informative and inspiring.

During her presentation Dianna spoke about how she uses her travels throughout the American West as inspiration for her writing. In particular she mentioned how the landscape and the spirit of the American West “make for great conflict in stories.”

It’s been more than a month since I jotted down notes during Dianna’s talk, but here are some bullet point tips I jotted down:

* Listen for regional expressions. Ask what they mean and there they came from.

* Ask and listen for people’s stories.

* Take a lot of photos, including plants and animals.

* Use your senses: touch, feel, smell.

* Research after you see something unusual (e.g. boots on fence posts. What do they mean?)

* Watch for town names. Ask locals where the town name originated.

* Avoid tourist attractions. Take the back roads to add flavor to the story.

* Use history to spin fiction.

* Look for controversy. Talk to people. What are they worrying about; what divides them?

* Watch for historical markers.

* Be aware of connections to develop a theme: We are connected to other people through our experiences and similarities. It’s not about the place as much as interactions and connections.

To learn more about Dianna, her writing, and her business ventures, stop by her website: http://2riverscommunications.com/

After re-reading my notes from Dianna’s presentation, I’m ready to grab my camera and pen, crack open a fresh notebook, pack up the car, and hit the road.
 
How about you? How does traveling inspire you to write?
 
 Do you have any tips to share for capturing the essence of your travels?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Watching the Cardinals Win, Home from Bunker Hill and the Winner of Baker Mountain

Last week was busy and a ton of fun, but somehow time got away from me.

I had intended to post the name of the winner of Baker Mountain on October 3, but life got in the way of my good intentions.

The winner's name is posted at the end of this here's-my-excuse-for-posting-late ramble.

Wednesday I got a call from Las Vegas from a very generous writer-friend, who was returning to St. Louis around midnight.

She is a season ticket holder for the St. Louis Cardinals and had some extra tickets to the Cardinals first playoff game. She knows what big Cardinal fans my grandchildren and I are. A few weeks ago I mentioned that Cari and I made it to one game this year with her Irish dance studio, but the only game Michael got to was the game he went to on a school field trip for being on Safety Patrol.

"Would you like to go to the game tomorrow?" she asked. "I have some extra tickets."

"Are you kidding? Of course!"

"Great!" she answered.

We chatted for awhile before I thought to ask.

"How much are they?"

"Don't worry about it," she said.

I told her how good she has been to me and my family and how grateful I was for her thoughtfulness -- not only was she giving me tickets to the Cardinals playoff game, she had let us use her beach house in South Carolina for a week in June.

Did I mention she is very generous?

So, on Thursday I picked up Michael right after school. We grabbed a quick meal before heading down to the ballpark for the 4 p.m. game, where we scouted for a parking place before picking up tickets at the Will Call booth. 

As we entered the stadium, we were given rally towels, which we waved frequently during the Cardinals 9-1 win. It was hot that day and supposed to rain. I brought a jacket and an umbrella. Thankfully I didn't need either. It was a perfect evening.

During the game I offered to buy my friend something to eat or to drink. "No, thanks," she said.  While there was no way I could repay her generosity, she graciously let me buy her a bottle of water.

Michael and I had a wonderful time at the ballgame. We have a special memory, one I'm sure Michael will remember until he's my age or older--and the Cardinals brought home a winner. I'm hoping they'll win two more to move on in the playoffs.

Friday was occupied with getting ready for my trip to the Missouri State Teachers Association third annual Creative Retreat at Bunker Hill, Missouri, on the Jacks Fork River in the heart of the Ozarks.

Last fall, while I was a speaker at a writing conference in Columbia,  I was invited by the managing editor of the MSTA magazine to be a presenter during this year's retreat.

I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd taught adults before on my government jobs, at writers' conferences, and a college seminar, but teaching teachers? I was a bit anxious. Teachers are so smart. What if they asked a question about writing I couldn't answer? I planned and organized my material, prepared handouts and hoped for the best.

My publisher-friend Lou was also invited to be a speaker. Friday afternoon Lou and her husband Squeak arrived at my house, where Squeak and my husband Walt loaded up my VW Passat. Well, almost everything got put in my car--but that's another story.

On the drive down to Bunker Hill, Lou told me a friend of hers called right before she left to warn us to be careful because we would be driving through "Winter's Bone" country, where if someone tells you they're a cook, they're more of a cook like Walter White than a fry cook at McDonald's. We didn't she any sketchy characters or run across any meth labs, but we did see lots of strange colored mushrooms--more about them on another day.

I had a wonderful time during the retreat. It was a full schedule and I met some amazing and talented writers, who happen to be teachers. Teachers really are smart, but they also are very kind. Before we left I took  time to take photos which I'll share on another post.

Now, for the big announcement. 
 
The winner selected at random to win a copy of BAKER MOUNTAIN is:

LISA RICARD CLARO

So, Lisa, please e-mail me at dvolkenannt @ charter.net (without the spaces) with your address so I can get Doyle's book in the mail to you.

Hope you're all enjoying this lovely fall weather--and Go, Cards!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Chicken Soup for the Soul Giveaway and Share Your Story of Hope with Beliefnet

October is national breast cancer awareness month.

To raise awareness, Alice Muschany -- my generous critique group buddy and a breast cancer survivor herself -- has donated a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Healing for Your Breast Cancer Journey to give away on my blog.

Alice's warm and witty essay, "Hats Off to Betty With Love," is included in the anthology. Compiled by Dr. Julie Silver of Harvard Medical School, the book contains "inspirational stories and medical advice for a healthy you!"

For a chance to win a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Healing for Your Breast Cancer Journey, just leave a comment on this post by October 31. Winner's name will be announced in November.

Also, the editors at Beliefnet are looking for inspirational stories from breast cancer survivors. Stories with a message of "hope for the past, present and future" should be no more than 200 words. Winning story will be awarded $250 by Beliefnet.com.

Thanks, Alice, and hats off to you and other breast cancer survivors!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Win a Copy of YA Novel BAKER MOUNTAIN by Doyle Suit

To celebrate the release of my critique group writing pal Doyle Suit's historical fiction YA novel, I'm giving away my advance reading copy. Baker Mountain is a Cactus Country novel published by High Hill Press.

Here are the blurbs from the back cover, including my own:

"This man puts a whole lot of himself into his books. His years spent wandering the Ouachita Mountains were not wasted. Baker Mountain tells it like it was for men and their families during and after the Great Depression." Dusty Richards

"Set during America's Great Depression, Baker Mountain by Doyle Suit harkens back to days of hard work and hard times. Through Suit's crisp and clear prose, vivid descriptions, and skillful painting of an era gone by, we learn the story of sixteen-year-old Gary Hill, whose life is turned upside down after the death of his mother. While Gary's father travels around the world in search of work, Gary moves in with his grandparents on their farm in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas. In the shadow of Baker Mountain, city-boy Gary learns about farming, hunting, horseback riding, bootlegging, and falling in love. Baker Mountain is an entertaining coming-of-age novel of historical fiction whose message about the importance of education, self-reliance, and courage still resonates today." Donna Volkenannt

"Doyle Suit is a great storyteller with a smooth writing style, which is more than evident in his historical fiction YA,  Baker Mountain. From page one, my heart went out to poor Gary, having to leave his home in New Orleans to move to the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas. But what he experiences in his new home will have you laughing out loud at times and crying with him at others. This book is especially wonderful for any library, classroom, or home school program." Margo Dill

To win a copy, just leave a comment between now and Oct 2. Winner will be announced Oct 3.



Monday, September 23, 2013

Retreat to Bunker Hill and Surrender to Your Passion for Creativity, October 4-6

Accord to ancient Spartan law, there motto was, "No retreat, no surrender!"

So, why am I suggesting writers and other creative types retreat and surrender?

Well, what better time than the glorious fall weather in Southern Missouri to go on a weekend retreat and surrender to your passion for creativity?

That's what I'll be doing October 4-6 at the third annual Missouri State Teachers Association Creative Retreat for writers and photographers.

The retreat will be at the scenic Bunker Hill Retreat Center in Mountain View, Missouri, and I am  excited to be a faculty member for the retreat.

Here's a synopsis of the topics included during the retreat:

Writing: Donna Volkenannt, will present "Think outside the book: writing short stories and personal essays." During workshops participants will be guided through writing exercises to get their creative juices flowing and keep them motivated to continue.

Publishing: Lou Turner will present "Let the adventure begin!" She will share her step-by-step plan to get writers from their first word to their book signing.

Photography: Angie Carmack will encourage photographers to "explore your passion for photography." Workshops will be for both beginners, mid-level, and advanced photographers.

Gates open Friday at 1 p.m. to check in and enjoy leisure activities. From 5-7 there will be a "Make and Take" class for card making with Daphney Partridge. The meet and greet begins at 7 p.m. on Friday followed by meeting with faculty for overview and assignments.

Weekend fees ($215 for MSTA members and $250 for non-members) include workshop fee and Friday lodging, three meals on Saturday, Saturday lodging, and breakfast and lunch on Sunday. You do not have to belong to MSTA to attend.

According to the welcome letter I received from MSTA's Sarah Kohnle, during the weekend retreat, writers and photographers can "unplug from the outside world, soak up inspiration, and create."

If you would like to sign up or for more information, e-mail Sarah Kohnle at skohnle @ msta.org (Remove spaces in Sarah's e-mail address when writing to her.)

Or, e-mail me at dvolkenannt @ charter.net (without spaces) and I will send you a PDF file of the retreat brochure, which includes what participants need to bring with them to the retreat.





























































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 






















Friday, September 20, 2013

John Searles, author of HELP FOR THE HAUNTED, in St. Louis next week

Talk about timing: Yesterday I received an e-mail from St. Louis County Library that John Searles, author of HELP FOR THE HAUNTED, the book I reviewed on my blog earlier this week, will be in St. Louis County next Friday.

The SLCL Foundation presents John Searles, Author of "Help for the Haunted" Friday, September 27, 7:00 p.m., Library Headquarters - Auditorium (Doors open at 6:00 p.m. Seating is limited; early arrival is highly recommended.)

Presenting Sponsor Maryville University.

Here's a link to the SLCL site for more information.

Darn the luck. Why is it that when I want to attend one of these type events I've already got something planned?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Worth a Read: HELP FOR THE HAUNTED

Raise your hands is you like ghost stories.

HELP FOR THE HAUNTED by John Searles is a mysterious ghost story with a murderous twist.

Sylvie Mason is an unusual teen with a special gift. She belongs to a family of Christian ghost hunters and healers living in Maryland. But all is not well, and all is not as it seems, in the Mason family.

After Sylvie's older, rebellious sister Rose goes missing, her parents receive a mysterious call on a snowy night to meet in a church if they want to find out where Rose is. Sylvie is told to wait in the car, and she does for what seems like forever. Finally, she traipses inside the church. When she discovers her parents have been murdered, she is grazed by a bullet that whizzes by her ear.

Flash forward: A year later, Sylvie is being "raised" by her negligent sister Rose, who barely provides food or clothing for Sylvie. In high school, Sylvie's life is unbearable, except for the school counselor who does his best to help Sylvie cope with her shattered life.

Who is the mysterious person who leaves casseroles on the doorstep at night, but which Rose throws out because she tells Sylvie they could be poisoned. And what's causing the unexplained noises and happenings in the basement?

After the man originally charged with the murder of her parents is cleared of the crime, the police reopen the case and question Sylvie. Forced to relive the horrible night, Sylvie is determined to find out who killed her parents. But that knowledge will reveal deep family secrets that could put Sylvie's life in jeopardy.

Narrated by the haunting voice of Sylvie, HELP FOR THE HAUNTED is a well written and satisfying ghost story that is surprising and a bit creepy.

Monday, September 16, 2013

10 Writing Contest Tips and Strategies

Talk about timing.

As it turns out I'm judging two writing contests this month, and this past Saturday I gave a seminar at UMSL on tips and strategies writers can use to help them do better in writing contests.

Before I gave the seminar I solicited input from some of my writing friends (you know who you are) because they are so smart, plus I figured the students wouldn't want to hear only my opinions. 

While I shared 25 tips with the students during the seminar on Saturday, according to the KISS principle I've decided to pare the 25 tips down and combine them into ten.

1. Do your research. Understand the contest category you are entering. Know yourself and your target. Know who is sponsoring the contest. Know what rights you are giving away when you enter. Avoid scams. Invest wisely. Find out the name of the judge, if possible, and see what type of writing the judge prefers.

2. READ CAREFULLY AND FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES PRECISELY. Just about everyone I asked for comments mentioned this. That's why I put it in bold and all caps.This should be tip #1 because it is so important, but I wanted to list the tips in chronological order. Anyway, if you're uncertain about the guidelines, contact the Contest Chair.  As part of the guidelines: DO NOT EXCEED THE WORD LIMIT-- not even by one word (titles don't count). Know which category you are entering. (If the category is fiction, don't send an essay or a memoir. It's frustrating for the judge to pick a winner when more than half of the entries are well written, but they're nonfiction and the category is fiction.) Print out a copy of the guidelines and keep it handy.

3.  Just write it. Get your thoughts on paper and edit later. One prize-winning writer suggested, "write what you want and find a contest for it." If the word count is 1000, it's okay to write twice as much in your first draft. That gives you room to edit out weak or unnecessary words and keep in the best when you revise.

4. Use proper manuscript format. This gets back to #2. If the guidelines state double-spaced on plain white bond one side of the paper, be sure to do that.  Beyond that, proper manuscript format calls for the way your story or essay is laid out on paper. If you're unclear about proper manuscript format, check with the Contest Chair, or do some research. Here's a site one of my experts suggested: www.shunn.net/format/  Writers Digest online also has helpful information about formatting.

5. It's all about the writing. The above tips will get you started, but it's the writing is what will win the prize. Keep in mind the following: Titles matter, so always include one (unless it's a haiku). Unusual titles can catch a judge's attention and get them to take a closer look. The first line should be an attention grabber to get the judge to read more. Don't load up the beginning with backstory or too much description. Word choices are important. Nouns and verbs should be the workhorses of your manuscript. Eliminate passive or weak verbs (is, are, was, were, would, have). Ease up on adjectives and adverbs. Eliminate filler words (just, very, only, little, so, that). Watch out for clichés. Use vivid writing, including using the five senses (but not too much). Use concrete nouns (e.g. ox-eyed daisy is more concrete than flower.) Don't let description slow down the action. Take a unique approach. Judges get tired of reading the same type of story. Dare to be different, as long as you follow the guidelines. Use dialogue to make scenes come alive. Dialogue should sound natural. Dialogue is for conflict, not for meet and greet or agreement and not as an info dump. Orient your reader to time and setting. Character, voice, action, and conflict are important. A memorable character or a unique voice will stand out among other entries. In fiction: no conflict, no story. Watch out for tense shifts (from present to past and back again). Don't confuse your reader -- or the judge.

6. Pay attention to grammar and technique. Everyone makes mistakes, but take some time to correct spelling, punctuation and the like during editing and revision. Avoid using exclamation points. They're like screaming on paper, or as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke." One of my writing friends despises semicolons and suggests writers "never use semicolons in dialogue."

7. Endings are important. Endings should be satisfying, yet surprising. Know when to stop. Too often stories go on too long and become repetitive or preachy. Read some short stories by famous writers. See how they end their stories. Here's a famous ending from The Great Gatsby. "so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." According to Pat Carr, "The last line of a story should be an action, a piece of dialogue, or an image."

8.  Edit, re-edit, revise, repeat. Print out a hard copy and proofread away from the PC. Read it out loud. Sure, your dog might think you're crazy, but you'll be amazed at the mistakes you'll pick up. Read it backwards (from the end to beginning--not sitting backwards in a chair) to catch double words and even more missteps. Don't rely on spell check. Set it aside for at least a week. Read it out loud again and edit and revise as needed. Truman Capote wrote, "Editing is as important as the writing. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil." So cut, cut, cut to make your work shine, shine, shine.

9. Re-read the guidelines. Catch anything you might have overlooked. Don't wait till the last minute to submit. Send in early to give the judge more time to consider your work. Be sure to include the contest fee and sufficient postage. Mail to the correct address. Keep track of your submissions. Before you submit, check the contest website in case there's a change to the guidelines--it happens. One of my experts mentioned that if a deadline is extended it might mean there aren't a lot of entries, which could increase your chances of winning. Submit and move to your next project.

10. Attitude matters.  You can't always win, so be a gracious loser. Accept the fact that judging is subjective. You didn't win this time, but there's always the next one. Accept a loss, be grateful for an honorable mention. Learn from your near misses. Be a gracious winner. Celebrate, but don't gloat. Celebrate when your writing buddies win too. Send a thank you to the contest sponsor, especially if you win. If you get an opportunity to judge, jump at the chance, even if you don't get paid. You'll learn a lot about writing by being a judge, plus it's a good feeling to give something back, especially to small organizations that don't have a budget to pay judges. Never quit! (Okay, I used an exclamation point, but I think it's appropriate here.)

But wait, there's more . . .

If you want to read about how winning a literary prize can change your life, Alan Rinzler's blog, "The Book Deal," has an insightful interview with several prize-winning writers.












Thursday, September 12, 2013

Games Writers Play: Tag, You're It

Earlier this week, Cathy C. Hall tagged me in a game called, "Tag, You're It!"

What fun! And how interesting.

The first thing I did was read Cathy's answers to the questions, and I sure did learn a lot about what she's working on and what got her started on her project!

Answering the questions also helped me focus on how I need to manage my time better and focus on my long-term goals rather than short-term ones.

So, here are my answers, and at the end of my answers I've tagged three other bloggers whose answers I would enjoy reading--and I think others would too.

Here goes:

What are you working on right now?

The long answer to that question is: At the beginning of 2013, after being a freelance book reviewer for about five years, I decided to switch gears and focus on my own writing. My checking account balance has dwindled, but my stress level from delivering so many reviews on deadline has also decreased.

One project in the works is the first-ever Coffee and Critique Anthology. I’m collecting and editing short stories and essays for an anthology showcasing works from members of Coffee and Critique, a writers’ group a friend and I started six years ago.
 
The elephant in my office is my self-imposed challenge to finish a first draft of a novel by the end of the year. I have two ideas in mind and am mulling over which project to tackle first. I dug out a rough outline and a synopsis for a paranormal thriller that’s been lying dormant in a works-in-progress file. I also have the beginnings of a YA paranormal mystery novel that keeps calling my name. Right now I’m leaning toward the paranormal thriller.

How does it differ from other works in the genre?

Probably the setting and characters. The action occurs in Missouri and Germany and has an international cast of characters—both good and evil.

The genesis for the story is: Several years ago I bought an antique rocking chair for an unbelievably low price at an estate sale in a rural area of Missouri. While I was bidding I wondered why local residents weren't outbidding me. Afterwards, the auctioneer told me I had gotten the deal of the day.  The idea that the chair was possessed – and not in a good way -- took off from there. I’ve sketched out some thoughts about where the story should go and have drafted a first chapter, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten.

Why do you write what you do? 

Now that I’m not writing book reviews, most of my time is spent writing personal essays and short fiction. Writing essays and short stories is a quick fix which satisfies my need to see my thoughts and imagination take shape on paper. Still, I want to stretch myself as a writer and finish a novel while I'm still vertical. 

What is the hardest part about writing?

Time. I never seem to have enough of it. I’m easily distracted and need to focus. What was the question? ;-)

Now it’s my turn to tag three writers. My picks are Sarah (the Practical Historian), Pat (Critter Alley), and Claudia Mundell. If you click on the links you’ll find their awesome blogs.

I hope they’ll agree to participate because I’d love to read their answers to the questions.

So tag, you’re it!

 

Monday, September 9, 2013

On the Matter of Tense Shifts

Yesterday I sat in on a works-in-progress critique group. One writer's manuscript was interesting, had some nice description and a creative premise, but the writer shifted from past to present tense several times and changed points of view at least once.

While the POV shift was a minor distraction, I found the tense shifts confusing. I couldn't tell if the action was occurring today or yesterday or in the future.

While this isn't an excerpt from the work-in-progress, it is a crude example of what I mean:

"What's going on," he said.

"Not much," she answered.

"Do you think we'll get out of here alive?" John says.

"I hope so," says Ann.


**

The first person to comment picked up on the tense shifts and pointed out where they occurred. Before she could finish with her remarks, another person chimed in that wasn't quite right because the second person had read a book explaining it's okay to mix tenses when the writer is summarizing the scene.

I spoke up in favor of using one tense in a scene and sticking with it to avoid confusing the reader. I believe that whichever tense a writer uses, she should be consistent. 

Although I didn't get time to elaborate or give exceptions, such as if a writer adds in backstory or has a flashback, now I'm wondering if I mislead the other writers with my "be consistent" advice.

Okay, you expert writers. What are your opinions on tense shifts?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Write Stuff Program at the University of Missouri at St. Louis

Are you searching for the "write stuff?"

The University of Missouri at St. Louis is offering a "Write Stuff" program for students desiring to take courses and receive a Chancellor's Certificate in Writing.

The program requires completion of 50 contact hours, which includes two core courses (one fiction and one nonfiction) as well as choosing from seminars covering a wide range of writing-related topics.

I'm scheduled to give a seminar on "Write to Win: Writing Tips from a Contest Judge" at the J.C. Penney auditorium on the UMSL campus on Sep 14 from 1-4 p.m.

During the three-hour seminar I'll share tips and strategies I've learned over years of entering and judging writing competitions. I'll also conduct an exercise where participants judge contest entries to determine if their picks match those selected as winners in a national writing competition.

UMSL Write Stuff Program seminar topics given by other instructors -- including Margo Dill, Dianna Graveman, Bobbi Smith and others -- will cover: research, marketing, publishing and more.

Writers who aren't interested in completing the entire program for a certificate may take individual classes and seminars.

Cost for individual seminars is $65.

To register, phone 314-561-6590.

Here's a link to the UMSL Write Stuff Program site, where you can find more details.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Words, Art and Beauty

Most of the time, I'm all about words, but sometimes words don't do justice when it comes to describing beautiful works of art. 
 
Perhaps a picture really is worth a thousand words.
 
So, rather than writing a long post today, I thought I'd share more photos from my recent trip to the Saint Louis Art Museum. 
 
Here are some photos of beautiful creations -- the Edgar Degas "Little Dancer of Fourteen Years," Claude Monet's "Water Lilies," -- and other works of art that stirred my soul.
 
Enjoy!
 
 
 
 





Saturday, August 24, 2013

Call for Submissions: Got Ghost?

Rocking Horse Publishing is seeking ghost stories set in Missouri for an anthology that will be published this coming October. The deadline is August 30, so what are you waiting for? Scare up a ghost story.

Here is the call for submissions from their website.

Rocking Horse Publishing Call for Submissions

"Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories"

RHP will be releasing a volume of original ghost stories set in Missouri, based on legend or purely fiction, in October 2013! Potential authors must submit, by August 30,  works of 1000-5000 words plus a short, 30-word bio, and must be age 18 older.

Selected authors will receive two copies of the anthology and a one-time royalty of $25.00. Additional copies may be purchased at a 50% discount plus shipping. Books will be available in both print and E-format.

We want good ghost stories, things that go bump in the night, haunted houses - no werewolves, vampires, or fantasy. No erotica, devil worship, or otherwise sexual or offensive themes.

Please follow regular submission guidelines below, but submit manuscripts to
rhpanthology@gmail.com.
 
 
 
Thanks to Brad Cook of St. Louis Writers Guild for sharing the link to the submission call-out.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Transformed Saint Louis Art Museum and Yoko Ono's Wish Tree

Last week some friends and I visited the recently renovated Saint Louis Art Museum. I hadn't been to the museum in a few years, so I was looking forward to the trip.

For me, the apotheosis of St. Louis (Charles Niehaus, 1903) standing in front of the museum symbolizes St. Louis, even more than the Gateway Arch.

As a child I recall taking field trips to the museum and being amazed at the statue of St. Louis mounted on his horse and holding a huge sword.

The day of my recent visit was unseasonably mild for mid-August. Our group from St. Charles arrived early and got a primo parking place before meeting up with the North County, South County, and Illinois ladies. We were in the first tour group, which began at 10:30 a.m. Barbara, our docent, did an excellent job pointing out noteworthy pieces in the renovated section of the museum, along with some of her favorites.

One of the highlights of the tour was our walk-around outside the museum, with a visit to Goldsworthy's Stone Sea and Yoko Ono's Wish Tree for St. Louis.

The St. Louis Wish Tree is actually three Japanese maples. The photo on the left explains the significance of the wish tree to Yoko Ono.

After hearing about the project, we were invited to write our wishes on a tag and tie them to one of the trees.  


As I searched for just the right spot to tie my tag to a branch, I couldn't help reading a few wishes nearby.

Several included good health and world peace. One person wanted a Samsung Galaxy.

My sister Kathleen spotted a request for a pink bunny. Hmmm. Wonder if that one will come true.

After our guided tour, we separated and did a self-tour before lunch. With limited time I didn't get to take in all of the amazing artwork, but I did get to view several major pieces.

Although I didn't add this to the Japanese maple trees, one of my wishes is to return to the Saint Louis Art Museum soon.

To learn more about the Saint Louis Art Museum and Yoko Ono's Wish Tree, visit their website.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Importance of Transitions in Writing and in Life

Writers know how important transitions are to make their words flow smoothly so readers can understand what they are trying to communicate and don't get lost. According to the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, "transitions glue our ideas and our essays together."

In my little corner of the world, the past few days have been a time of major transitions. For us, the love of family and the kindness of friends have been the glue that has kept us together.

Last Thursday my grandson attended Freshman Transition Day at his new high school.

Being a shy kid, the thought of switching from a small Catholic elementary school to a large public high school has been intimidating. On the drive to his new school, he and his best friend from grade school told me how nervous they were.

By the time I picked them up three hours later, they told me how much fun they had and how they can't wait to start their new high school.

During transition day, my grandson met other students, found his way to his locker and classes, had a teacher/coach invite him to try out for a team, and even talked to some girls. His transition day was a big hit!

First-day jitters is the last hurdle he has to overcome: riding the school bus and maneuvering through his first lunch period, but experiencing transition day has made that prospect less daunting.

And he isn't the only one making a major change this month.

Yesterday, my granddaughter began her trek to college, where it's Rush Week for coeds interested in Greek Life and thinking about joining a sorority.

After a quick breakfast, my husband and grandson loaded her car and mine. We barely fit her stuff into two cars with room for two of us in each vehicle; I wondered how she would fit everything in her half of the dorm room.

Oops, they're not called dorms anymore; they're called residence halls.

On the 100-mile drive, she and I had a good talk. Mostly, I listened, and we both shed some tears. To keep her eyes dry while she drove, I read out loud a few pages from Start Something that Matters by Blake Mycoskie, creator of the TOMS shoe company.

She had already started reading the book but needs to have it finished for a group discussion the first week at school -- and I'm always happy to read and learn, especially if it's something my grandchildren are reading and learning.

Upon arrival, we were directed to park in spots designated for 20-minute unloading. That's when the fun began. The scene was controlled chaos as students and family members unloaded cars, trucks, and vans then waited their turns to check in and haul everything up to their rooms.


Several hours later, with the help of her grandpa and "little" brother, who did most of the heavy lifting and moving of furniture, she was unpacked and ready to register for Greek Week.

After sharing a late lunch with the family of one of her good friends, we loaded the dolly, the empty suitcases, and the storage containers into my car for the trip home.

By 6 p.m., we said our farewells and shed even more tears as we watched her and her friend head off for their first Greek Life meeting and the beginning of a new chapter in her life.

Loving families, good friends, and smooth transitions; without them, we'd be lost.



Friday, August 9, 2013

Lights, Camera, Action: Chicken Soup for the Soul Headed for the Big Screen

Grab your sunglasses and roll out the red carpet!

Amy Newmark, Chicken Soup for the Soul series publisher and editor, notified contributors today that Chicken Soup for the Soul is being made into a feature film with a Hollywood studio.

According to Newmark's press release, "Alcon Entertainment, the creative studio behind The Blind Side, Dolphin Tale, P.S. I Love You, and many other hits, is set to finance and produce the film, along with The Kerner Entertainment Company and its principal Jordan Kerner, the genius behind The Smurfs 1&2, Charlotte's Web, George of the Jungle, Fried Green Tomatoes, and many others.

"Brandon Camp, who wrote Love Happens, will write the screenplay, which is inspired by our books. Warner Bros will release the film. One of the Executive Producers of the film will be Ben Haber, who executive produced The Smurfs and Across the Universe."

To read more about this exciting project, here's a link to an article in the LA Times.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Green River Writers and Springfield Writers' Guild Seeking Contest Submissions

Now that summer is winding down and my teenage grandchildren will be heading off to school next week, I'm hoping to write more and -- if time permits while working on my novel and preparing for speaking engagements this fall -- submit to writing contests. 
Here are announcements from two writing organizations which have sent me their contest guidelines and asked me to share the guidelines with other writers. 
Both organizations have categories open to non-members.

The first is Green River Writers. According to their website, Green River Writers is, "a non-profit organization founded in Kentucky in 1984 to support writers through education, promotion and fellowship."
Here is a link to Green River Writer  contest guidelines. The deadline for submissions for the Green River Writers Contests is August 15 August 31. Contest categories are mostly poetry, but there are fiction and non-fiction categories as well.
The second is Springfield Writers' Guild, a chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild. The deadline for submission to the SWG annual contest is September 15. Here are guidelines for the SWG contests, which has contest categories for poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.
Good luck if you submit!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Query and Synopsis Advice from Treehouse Publishing Group: Stay Focused

During the July Saturday Writers meeting, Kristy Blank Makansi and Jennifer Dunn Stewart of Blank Slate Press and Treehouse Publishing Group spoke to a packed house about “Knocking on the Door: The Query and the Synopsis.”

I’ve been to several presentations on this topic, but I have to say this one was exceptional. What I most appreciated was that they geared their talk toward helping and educating writers rather than highlighting the services their business offers.
 
The duo worked well as a team, each stating their individual approach and preferences, which gave a balanced perspective to what editors look for in query packages.

At the end of their presentation they read and discussed a handful of query letters submitted by audience members. What stayed with me most about the reading of the query letters was one word: FOCUS!

As usual, I took pages of notes. Here are some dos and don’ts from their presentation.   

 
Do:

Focus on the writing and trust your instincts.

Put some distance between completing your manuscript and submitting to an agent or an editor.

Remember that writing is an art; publishing is a business.

Understand your genre: Writing what you love to read will help you understand the market. Writing your query letter will help you understand your manuscript.

Keep your query to three paragraphs, no more than three sentences each. Paragraph 1: Why are you querying that particular agent? What’s the word count and genre? Paragraph 2: Distill your story in three sentences. (Time and space, the hero, the challenge, the conflict, what is at stake, how the hero changes.)  Paragraph 3: Include a relevant, brief bio with significant publications, if any.  

Keep in mind that a synopsis should be one page, single spaced and include: the set up, the character’s motivation, description of main characters (not tall and blond), main plot points, conflict, emotion, action, snippets of dialogue, black moment, climax, and resolution. Be sure to include the story’s ending.

Always follow agency or publisher guidelines.

Keep it real: You’re not Stephen King.

Remember that your query letter has one job: To get an agent or an editor to read more of your manuscript.

Stay calm and keep your chin up!

 
Don’t

Query before you’re ready.

Get too personal in the bio of your query letter.

Leave the ending off of your synopsis. (An agent or editor needs to know how it ends to be able to sell it.)

Ask an agent or a publisher to sign a non-disclosure form. (It's a turn off and a sign of mistrust.)

Have the word copyright all over the pages. (It’s the mark of an amateur.)

Think you’re the exception to the rule. 

Let the end game influence your craft.

Lose focus.

 ***
 
Jennifer’s and Kristy’s talk inspired me to dig out a manuscript I’d started years ago and had stored in the bottom drawer of my desk. No doubt about it, I'd followed their advice on putting distance between writing and querying. In fact, I’d put way too much distance.  

Using their boilerplate, I wrote a query letter to help me understand my manuscript better. Now I’m inspired to finish my manuscript by the end of the year and edit it early next year.
 
Stay tuned while I try to stay focused!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

On Writing and Dancing



Edgar Degas The Dance Lesson c. 1879 Painting
Image, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art
 
In many ways, writing is like dancing. Both are creative arts. Both take practice, dedication, and learning from others. 
 
Writers get cramped hands and fingers rather than the sore feet and calves of dancers.  Some writers enjoy the spotlight, while others dance to a different drummer. Writers and dancers don't always get the parts they hope for -- and they often feel the sting of rejection while producing their art. Yet, dedicated writers and dancers are persistent and hopeful. 
 
Like confession, both writing and dancing are good for the soul. Writers and dancers enjoy the freedom of expressing themselves and sharing their gifts with others.
 
Over the years I've learned a great deal from writers who've shared what they've learned with me. In that same spirit, after attending a writing event, I think about what I've learned that might benefit other writers. 
 
So, here are ten lessons learned (or relearned) during the launch of Well Versed 2013, sponsored by the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild.

1. Be prepared/Be flexible. I don’t like to read in public, especially if it’s an emotional piece. The night before the launch I practiced reading my essay out loud and ran off a copy in large print so it would be easier to see. However, shortly before heading out the door I received some news that caused me anxiety, so I wasn’t comfortable reading.  But I’ll give it a try next time.

2. Carpool. Because the launch was 90 miles away, several contributors from this area carpooled. We saved money by chipping in for gas. As a bonus, chatting during the drive helped pass the time and I got to know the other writers better.  

3. Contribute. One carpooler brought snacks to share during the launch. My small contribution was donating back to CCMWG the fee I got for being a contributor to the anthology, which helped with printing costs. Next time I’ll also bring a snack.

4. Socialize. I’m not great at small talk, but I chat with people I know and make an effort to introduce myself to others, especially someone standing or sitting alone. To break the ice, I ask what they write and where they’re from. I talk about the weather, something they’re wearing, or the food.

5. Compliment. It takes courage to read in front of a group. After someone reads, especially if they’re sitting nearby, I compliment them after they sit down. After a reading, I seek out contributors and ask them to sign my book.

6. Bring business cards and a camera. I carry business cards in my purse to exchange at these types of events. I usually bring a camera as well. Because the batteries on my camera weren’t fully charged, I used my cell phone for pix, but the photos didn’t turn out very well. Fortunately, other writers brought cameras and shared their photos.

7. Don’t forget your pen. Having a pen that works is a must for a book launch. When I handed my pen to another contributor and asked him to sign my book, he asked me to use his pen instead – and keep it. Etched on his pen were the name and contact information for his editing business. What a smart marketing tool!

8. Advertise. The gentleman handing out pens knew that a book launch is an opportunity to spread the word about his business. It’s also a good time to advertise a book release or event. Shameless plug: I’m a presenter at a retreat this fall. During the launch I placed fliers with details about the event on a table. I also handed fliers to writers, while telling them a little bit about the retreat. (I’ll post details about the retreat later.)

9. Mind your manners.  Before heading home, I thanked the editor of the anthology, the newsletter editor, the president of CCMWG and others. I suspect most attendees did the same. One sour note:  While I was in the snack line, one person kept reaching across my plate grabbing food. He also didn’t use a fork or spoon to pick up food, just his bare hands. I don’t want to be like that guy.

10. Share. If I take photos, I post them, and I appreciate it when others do the same. I also try to blog about the event so others can learn about the organization and submission opportunities.  (Note: Deadline for 2014’s issue of Well Versed is October 13, 2013—I’ll post more later.)

How about you? What have you learned by attending these types of writing events that you'd like to share with others?

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...