Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"The Dancing Lyric that Sings as it Blooms" by Elizabeth Kirschner

Today's forecast for St. Peters, MO: Mostly sunny, high 81 degrees. The kiddos are heading for Six Flags this afternoon, so they should have good weather for that.

It's such an honor to have as my guest blogger memoirist and poet Elizabeth Kirschner, who wrote MY LIFE AS A DOLL.
Elizabeth has published three collections of poetry with Carnegie-Mellon University Press, Twenty Colors, Postal Routes and Slow Risen Among the Smoke Trees as well as a chapbook, The Red Dragon, with Permafrost. Her latest book of poetry, My Life as a Doll, which is a memoir in verse, was published by Autumn House Press and a fifth volume, Surrender to Light, is due out from Cherry Grove Editions this August.

Today Elizabeth shares with us her essay, "The Dancing Lyric that Sings as it Blooms":

Every morning I pick up my pen. Sometimes it’s a leaden pen. Most often it’s light as a feather that moves across the page till the words take flight. Even if the flight is a downward one as was writing my latest collection of poems, My Life as a Doll, surely was, I have learned there are four ways of flying—up, down, across and out. Writing involves all forms of flying as does dance and writing lyrics for composers of classical music.

I have been creating poetry for thirty-five years and my passion for it only grows larger in the fullness of time. Every morning I wake up eager to get to work. I come home from my morning walk by the sea which is my matins prayer, my walking meditation, my preparation for the making of poems.

I have been dancing just as long knowing it, like poetry, takes practice, practice, practice. Each involves the sculpting of lines—the poetic line verses the balletic one. For me, dance is the counter-balance to the writing cadence, a physical embodiment of poetry. Both set me in motion, gracefully so. Then there’s all that music. Music of the word, music the body dances to and the lyric that leaps into song. Thus my first two disciplines have been plaited into a third—the creating of poetry meant to be set to music. Three marriages, then, and me the happy, if aging bride.

I sang before I started writing, but it is ballet that truly fostered my love for classical music. It taught me how to take music into my body and turn it into a tool meant to express, like poetry, one of the highest forms of beauty. Body as tool, voice as tool. Often I think I should write my poems on blank sheets of music, graced by grace notes.

Whether I’m in my study, the ballet studio, the concert hall and yes, my garden too, I am in nirvana. I love the god of dirt as much as the god of poesy and the lyre. Hence the dancing lyric that sings as it blossoms. Anna Ahkmatova once wrote, “And the miraculous comes so close.” Isn’t that what art tries to do? Am I alone in believing that nirvana is here, as I read long ago, nine times out of ten? I wonder how others create their own nirvana, turn the little miracles into big ones till each an everyone of us is truly a miracle worker, a maker who makes the magic happen.

Elizabeth Kirschner

Wow! How is that for inspiration. Thank you, Elizabeth for such an insightful post. Anyone who leaves a question or comment for Elizabeth is eligible to win her book, My Life as a Doll. One name will be selected at random, and the winner will be announced next week.

Monday, June 29, 2009

You Can't Win if You Don't . . . Blog

Today's weather for St. Peters, MO: Clear tonight, high only 60 degrees. This cooler weather is a welcome respite from the heat. On a personal note: I'm much better, but hobbling around after my knee surgery last Friday. Thanks to everyone who sent prayers and good wishes.

Drum roll, please!

We have a winner! Cathy C. Hall was one of several visitors at Donna's Book Pub last week who left a comment or question for Ann Whitford Paul. From the names of everyone who visited, Ann selected Cathy to receive one of her books. Congratulations, Cathy, and thanks to everyone who visited and left comments or questions on my blog--as well as those who e-mailed with comments about Ann's post.

Stop by tomorrow for another visit on the WOW! Author's Blog Tour and a chance to win another book. Poet, musician, dancer, and memoirist, Elizabeth Kirschner, will post about her engagement with various art forms in her essay "The Dancing Lyric that Sings as it Blooms." One lucky visitor will win a copy of her latest book, "My Life as a Doll."

Keep cool, and keep tuned!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Guest Blogger - Children's Book Author, Ann Whitford Paul

Today's weather for St. Peters, MO: Mostly sunny, high 99 degrees. "It's a heat wave! Yea, yea, yea, yea!"

Today we have a special treat. As part of the WOW! Blog Tour, Ann Whitford Paul is the guest blogger on Donna's Book Pub. Ann's book, WRITING PICTURE BOOKS: A HANDS-ONGUIDE FROM STORY CREATION TO PUBLICATION, was published by Writer’s Digest Books last month.

Have you ever thought you’d like to write a picture book, but don’t know where to begin? Have you been submitting stories, but getting only form rejections? Ann's book covers picture book form, structure, language and the business side too. She helps writers learn how to revise their manuscripts into a polished and publishable story.

Even if you don't write picture books, Ann's advice can help you become a better writer. Here's what Ann has to say about "Grabbing Your Reader with the First Line":

Whether you’re writing for adults, or as I do for children, your first line is critical. It may be the only chance you get in this hectic world of grabbing the reader. Successful opening lines feel so right and natural you might think they wrote themselves, but I suspect each author spent many hours experimenting with different ones.

If your first sentence feels flat, play around and see if you can make it more lively. The most helpful way I’ve found is to experiment with your focus of that line.

Consider this first line: There was an old sow with three little pigs, and as she had not enough to keep them, she sent them out to seek their fortune from an old version of The Story of the Three Little Pigs.

Traditionally the writer might start grounding the reader with the time the story is happening . . . Once upon a time or Long ago and far away or When Pigs could talk.

She might work instead to set a mood . . .
The old sow blinked away tears as her three little pigs disappeared down the
road . . . forever or . . . The three little pigs clicked their hooves and skipped down the road to seek their fortunes. Or . . . The three little pigs lingered for a long while saying their last good-byes to Mother.

Then the writer could focus on the setting.
Anyone who saw the old sow’s house with its saggy roof, peeling paint and broken windows knew she couldn’t feed her three little pigs much longer. Or . . . At the end of the lane, under the tall oak tree, the old sow waved goodbye to her three little pigs.

She might open with an opinion.
What on earth could that old sow have been thinking, sending her three little pigs to find their fortunes alone in the cruel world? Or . . . Some pigs will do anything they can to avoid work . . . like building a house out of sticks and thinking it will last forever.

She could also try a provocative statement . . .
The three little pigs were turned out of their home and nothing could change that. Or . . . Pigs are stupid and you can’t say anything to make me think otherwise.

The best way to involve the reader is to cut out introductory and back-story material and begin with an action that changes something for the characters and compels the story forward . . . “I’ll remember you always,” the old sow called to her little pigs as she waved goodbye. Or . . . “You mean I can’t live with you forever,” cried the littlest pig.

It’s even better to quickly show conflict.
The three little pigs begged their mother, “Don’t make us leave.” Or . . . “I can’t keep you here,” Mother said to her three little pigs, “and that’s that!”

Sometimes background is critical so the writer could open with a scrapbook showing pictures of the piglets as newborns, blowing out birthday candles and then waving good-bye to Mother. Then the words start with what happens to them after they set out on their own.

A newspaper article could blare the headline . . . HUNGRY WOLF ON THE PROWL.

A journal entry might be:
October 1st. Today is the day Mother sent us away to find our fortunes.

A letter might begin:
Dear Mother,
We thought you’d like to know how we’ve been faring since we last saw you.

Play around with different approaches to your first line, but if you still have trouble coming up with a great one don’t be discouraged.

Blaise Pascal said, “That last thing one discovers in writing a book is what to put first.”

Set your opening aside, finish your story or book and then come back to it with a fresh new mind. Know that no time is wasted working to create the best ever opening sentence.

If you have any questions or comments for Ann, please leave them in the comment section below. Everyone who leaves a question or comment will be entered in the "Pick Which Book You Win" contest. One winner will be selected to pick between Ann's most recent books--Word Builder or Writing Picture Books.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Coming Attractions and Giveaways

Today's forecast for St. Peters, MO: Mostly sunny, high 99 degrees. "It's getting hot in here." It's going to be another scorcher like yesterday. Cari had summer gym in the morning and soccer camp last night, so we swam at my sister's pool in the afternoon. It helped cool us all down, but it was still hotter than blazes.

I'm catching up with deadlines and blog posts after returning from Chicago on Sunday. Cari participated in a Feis (an Irish dance competition). She did well in all four of her dances, and visiting Chicago was invigorating, so it was a very good weekend--even when the heavy winds blew us into town on Friday night. Anyway, I thought today would be an ideal time to post about "Coming Attractions" on Donna's Book Pub for the rest of the month.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 24, my guest blogger will be Ann Whitford Paul, author of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication (Writer's Digest Books). Ann's post will be on "Grabbing Your Reader from Word One." Ann is such a generous and thoughtful writer. In addition to her guest post, she will send a copy of one of her books as a "Pick Which Book You Win" giveaway to a randomly selected visitor who posts a question or comment for her on Donna's Book Pub this week. No matter what you write, Ann's advice (and book) can help you write better. Please stop by tomorrow or the rest of the week and visit. Leave a comment or question for Ann, and you might be selected for the "Pick Which Book You Win" contest.

This coming Friday, June 26, I will have outpatient knee surgery to repair torn cartilege, so I'm not sure if I'll be up to posting, but if you're so inclined, please keep me in your prayers or send healing thoughts my way.

Next Tuesday, June 30, memoirist and poet Elizabeth Kirschner, who wrote MY LIFE AS A DOLL, will visit Donna's Book Pub to discuss how creativity crosses artistic boundaries in her post "THE DANCING LYRIC THAT SINGS AS IT BLOOMS. " In addition to her memoir, Elizabeth has published three books of poetry and has a CD released by Albany Records with her own poetry set to Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe. She collaborates with composers and has taught at Boston College since 1990. Kirschner also studies ballet with Boston Ballet.

Her topic sounds fascinating. I hope you will stop by Donna's Book Pub next week to find out what Elizabeth has to share about creativity. Elizabeth will also have a giveaway for one of my blog visitors who post a comment or question for her.

Hope you'll visit soon, especially Wednesday, June 24, and Tuesday, June 30. Oh, and stay cool if it's hot where you live.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Blue Mountain Press Deadline Extended

Today's forecast for St. Peters, MO: Partly cloudy, high 99 degrees. That's not a typo--it's gonna be a scorcher today. Time to hit the pool--or better still, stay inside.

Speaking of hot--here's a hot market tip, courtesy of Dianna G.

Blue Mountain Arts is looking for inspirational stories and wisdom related to Ireland or Irish culture for an upcoming anthology. They are accepting stories and essays (100-600 words) and poems (non-rhyming; no minimum word count). Stories should include "a pithy saying at the end, which sums up the inspirational message of your story. For example: 'Laughter is brightest where food is best.'"
Payment: US $50 for anthology rights upon publication. Deadline: June 30, 2009 (extended).
Send name/address and submission in the body of an email with “Irish” in the subject line to write4us@sps.com. *
I've begun an essay about my great-grandfather that I plan to submit. The essay is under 600 words, but I want to get closer to 500 before submitting.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Elizabeth Gilbert on Nurturing Creativity

Today's weather for St. Peters, MO: High 90 degrees, slight chance of thunderstorms. Now that the rain has stopped, looks like it's time to cut the grass before it gets too hot.

Thanks to Joyce M. from our Tuesday evening Coffee and Critique group for introducing me to TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) "Ideas Worth Spreading" and for sending me this clip about creativity.

In the clip, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, shares with passion and humor her thoughts about genius and the source of creativity. It's a fascinating video clip that lasts about 20 minutes. No matter what (or who) you believe is the source of your gift of creativity--be it muse, fairy, daemon--or the Holy Spirit (which she does not mention, but I add)--one thing is certain, to nurture and use the gift of creativity, you must keep showing up.

While you're on TED, you can also check out what Amy Tan has to say about creativity. Watch till the end to find out what's in Amy's bag.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Oprah Show Summer Giveaway

Today's forecast for St. Peters, MO: Chance of thunderstorms, high 75 degrees. We had storms and flash flooding this morning, but it's sunny outside now.

The Oprah Show has a great summer giveaway contest going on, including Target Gift Cards, VW Routan SEL Premium minivans, GE Profile Front Load Washers and Dryers and United Airlines air travel.

The grand prize is a trip for four to an Oprah Show taping during season premiere week, a new 2009 VW Routan and much, much more!

Watch the Oprah Show every weekday and watch for the Word of the Day. Click on the link to Oprah's website to find out how you can enter.

Good luck!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Poets and Writers - Writing Contests Deadlines

Today's forecast for St. Peters, MO: High 80 degrees, chance of thunderstorms tonight.

Yesterday's newsletter from Poets and Writers included deadline announcements for thirty-six writing contests between June 15 and July 15.

One that caught my attention is the University of North Texas Press Katherine Anne Porter Prize. Katherine Anne Porter wrote one of my favorite short stories, "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall." I remember reading the story in the mid-1980's in an American Lit class while living in El Paso, Texas, and taking undergrad classes at Fort Bliss through Parks College.

Back to the contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication by the University of North Texas Press is given annually for a collection of short fiction. Submit a manuscript of 100 to 200 pages with a $25 entry fee by June 30. Visit the Web site for complete guidelines. University of North Texas Press, Katherine Anne Porter Prize, Department of English, University of Texas at Arlington, 203 Carlisle Hall, P.O. Box 19035, Arlington, TX 76019. Laura Kopchick, General Editor.web3.unt.edu/untpress/contest.cfm

To view all 36 contests, visit the Poets and Writers submission calendar.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Beach Bag of Books from Bookreporter.com

Partly cloudy, high 85 degrees, chance of thunderstorms tonight. Some wicked weather blew through here yesterday, and our friends and neighbors in Southern Illinois around Scott Air Force Base are cleaning up after tornadoes touched down.

On a much happier note, Bookreporter.com's Fifth Annual Beach Bag of Books features and contests are going on right now until September 4th. On selected weeks a different title or collection of titles will be featured with a contest prize --- a beach bag stocked with the featured book(s) and summertime essentials. Five FABULOUS beach bags will be given away each week, as well as five copies of the featured book(s) to additional winners.

This week, Bookreporter.com is spotlighting THE EX-MRS. HEDGEFUND by Jill Kargman, a hilarious, deliciously scathing novel about the ultra-rich, ultra-ambitious hedge fund set. In a pink and orange hobo-style beach bag, winners will find a pink, orange and yellow oversized block towel, pink flamingo-shaped towel clips for your lounge chair, a pair of black, white and pink sandals, an inflatable beach float, flip-flop-shaped drink coasters and a package of colorful wine rabbits, as well as a copy of THE EX-MRS. HEDGEFUND. They have five to give away, as well as five additional prizes of copies of THE EX-MRS. HEDGEFUND.

Click here for contest details. If you're going to enter, act fast because the featured book for this contest ends Thursday, June 11th. Good luck!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

Today's forecast for St. Peters, MO: High 85 degrees, chance of thunderstorms.

I'm taking the day off from posting here today to celebrate my birthday. I did post on my other blog, A Book A Week if you want to check out what I have to say about thriller writer Jon Land's latest novel, STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE.

I'll be back here tomorrow with a special summer contest announcement.

Hope you all enjoy your day!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Guest Blogger, Mindy Friddle

Today's forecast for St. Peters, MO: Mostly sunny, high 80 degrees.

As part of the WOW! Author's Blog Tour, I'm pleased today to have Mindy Friddle, for my guest blogger. Mindy is a native of South Carolina, where her family has lived for more than two centuries. After earning a BA from Furman University, Mindy worked as a newspaper reporter before enrolling in graduate school at the University of South Carolina, where she studied with James Dickey and William Price Fox. She later earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. Her first novel, The Garden Angel (St. Martin’s Press/Picador), a SIBA bestseller, was selected for Barnes and Noble's Discover Great New Writers program in 2004, and was a National Public Radio Morning Edition summer reading pick.

Mindy was awarded a 2008-2009 Artist Fellowship in Prose from the South Carolina Arts Commission. She is a two-time winner of the South Carolina Fiction Prize and the Piccolo Spoleto Fiction Open. As a Walter E. Dakin Fellow in Fiction at the 2005 Sewanee Writers' Conference in Sewanee, Tennessee, she worked with Alice McDermott and Mark Winegardner. She was awarded a residency at Ragdale in 2003 and attended Bread Loaf in 2000.

A Master Gardener, Mindy lives in Greenville, South Carolina, where she directs the Writing Room, a community-based nonprofit program she founded in 2006 to bring writers to Greenville for paid seminars and readings. Secret Keepers, from St. Martin’s Press, is her second novel.

Here is my question-and-answer interview with Mindy.

1. Hi, Mindy. Welcome to Donna's Book Pub. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and advice with my readers. First, please tell us a little about your background and how you became a writer?

I started out as a newspaper reporter and gravitated toward writing features. I realized I loved writing about people, not hard news. It took me a decade or so before I worked up the nerve to write fiction, especially a novel! I read a lot, voraciously, and for a while I felt intimidated. I couldn't imagine how novelists went about writing a book. Among the books on craft that helped me is a classic from the 1970's by John Braine called "How to Write a Novel." He suggests writing on a schedule several times a week, and his book includes some encouraging advice for beginners on how to structure a novel.

2. Thanks for that tip about John Braine's book. SECRET KEEPERS is an intriguing title for a novel. What is the novel about, and how does the title tie in with the story?

The novel is about a group of characters who are stuck--in a town, in marriages, in estranged relationships with their children and parents, in past mistakes, stuck with memories--and how they try to move on. That's why I chose to include the epigraph from Katherine Mansfield: “How hard it is to escape from places. However carefully one goes they hold you -- you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences -- little rags and shreds of your very life.” In the novel, Secret Keepers is a purely fictional flowering plant. It's flower has a potent aroma that evokes a powerful memory of love in a person’s life. Another fictional plant, Soul Shines, is preternaturally sensitive, and seems to perceive a person’s feelings (or character). Other than these flights of fancy, most of the novel is grounded in realism. As I mention on my website, The Story Behind Secret Keepers, I started SECRET KEEPERS with an image of Emma Hanley, gazing at a family portrait, stuck in her hometown. Like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, she yearns to flee. Just when it looks like she might get her wish, her husband heads off to his morning coffee klatch with a gaggle of adoring widow women, and Emma’s dream of travel is stymied. Again. And then she has her hands full juggling the demands of her adult children. A motley group of gardeners, the Blooming Idiots, complicate matters when they unearth some strange botanicals and the Hanley family’s secrets. Nature, it turns out, is a major character in SECRET KEEPERS. But I hope the reader finds that in the course of the novel -- through regret, broken hearts, and grief -- humor winds like a flowering vine.

3. I love the idea of plants having special powers like that! You no doubt have been asked this question numerous times before, but please share with my blog readers what inspired you to write SECRET KEEPERS.

My childhood love of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden inspired the idea of the neglected estate, Amaranth, and its swallowed up heirloom garden. Also figuring in: The “outsider” garden art I love stumbling upon in hidden down-at-the heels neighborhoods in town -- with their bottle trees, and vine-covered iron bedstands. More recently, I read a lot about the tales of plant hunters at the turn of the century. These men -- botanists and amateur naturalists alike -- traveled to desolate, dangerous regions in the world to acquire rare plants. Emma’s grandfather, William McCann, was such a man -- an amateur plant collector whose obsession with acquiring botanicals eventually led him to ruin. And there is the old travel trunk in which Emma Hanley stores her grandfather’s papers. It resembles a steamer trunk belonging to my great-grandmother, in which I discovered old postcards, photographs, telegrams, and a letter about a missing person--my great-aunt-- signed by J. Edgar Hoover. Family secrets -- locked away in a trunk.

4. That must've been exciting to find a letter signed by J. Edgar Hoover about your great-aunt! SECRET KEEPERS follows your critically acclaimed debut novel THE GARDEN ANGEL, which is now in its fourth printing. How are the two novels similar and how are they different?

THE GARDEN ANGEL is about the unlikely friendship between two women: An obituary writer schemes to hold onto her dilapidated, ancestral home and in the process befriends an Emily Dickinson-obsessed agoraphobic stuck in the suburbs. Think "Grey Gardens" meets "Fried Green Tomatoes." For my second novel, I knew I wanted to write Secret Keepers in the omniscient point of view, with a narrator, and include multiple perspectives.So, there's a bigger "canvas," a wider story in SECRET KEEPERS. After completing a first draft of Secret Keepers, I spent several years revising and expanding the scope of the novel to include several members of a family and a cast of characters. Both novels have in common a strong sense of place, the love of "ruined finery," family conflicts, and humor. Readers tell me they love the humor in both books, and I'm so happy to hear that. Humor is a pleasure to share.

5. I agree with your other readers; your touches of humor add to the enjoyment of SECRET KEEPERS! Your setting for SECRET KEEPERS is charming; your characters are complex and interesting. Is Palmetto, South Carolina, an actual place, and are your characters based on real-life people, composites of people you know, or creations of your imagination?

The (fictitious small) town of Palmetto is loosely based on my own hometown of Greenville, South Carolina and its overlay of New South over Old South. I like to think the heartbreaks, triumphs, family squabbles, and the "heart in conflict with itself," as Faulkner put it, are universal. Mother-daughter conflicts, for example. And controlling marriages. As for setting, I'm by no means faithful to street names and places, and I often "tweak" a landmark when writing fiction.For example, "Springforth Cemetery" in the novel is based on an actual cemetery down the street from me, called "Springwood." I thought Springforth was a better name for a cemetery, anyway. There's a Confederate memorial in front of the cemetery that was relocated from the center of town decades previously. But he isn't pointing. I made that part up. Fiction--gotta love it!

6. You are so right--writing fiction is a lovely experience. SECRET KEEPERS has a strong sense of time and place. What prompted you to select that era?

In SECRET KEEPERS, the past seems to influence, even intrude, on the present. Though it's contemporary story, there's a narrative sweep from the early 1900's to the late 1980's, often illustrated by a landmark--such as the Confederate Monument, from a past central location in the town, to a new marginalized location in the New South. And Amaranth, once the splendid McCann estate, went seedy over the decades--from roominghouse, to flop house. As for characters: Although Emma’s son, Will Hanley, died in Vietnam, and her grandfather, William McCann, died in a firearm mishap, both characters, long dead and “off the pages” of the novel, still figure prominently in the daily life of Emma and several other characters.

7. While showing a healthy respect for Southern values and lifestyles, you poke fun, in a non-judgmental way, at some of the strict religious beliefs and practices of your characters. How has that aspect of your novel been received?

That's an interesting question. Dora, Emma Hanley's adult daughter, is having a crisis n faith, in part because she's never come to terms with an event in the past she still feels guilty about. The more empty she feels inside, the more she shops, buying "Christ-centered decor" at a faith-based commerce mall. While leading the Firm Believers Aerobics Group, she feels herself "just going through the motions." Some people may not see the humor in Dora's escapades, but I hope they won't take offense. There's satire, of course, but Dora is truly suffering, and her sadness eventually drives her deeper to face her life NOW. I have some church book groups who read my books. My late grandmother's Baptist church book club won't read SECRET KEEPERS, however. The leader told me it wasn't appropriate for a church book. I respect that. Thank goodness there are all sorts of readers and book clubs, with all kinds of preferences and tastes.

8. The cover on SECRET KEEPERS is delightful. The boots/planters are like some of the characters in your novel – well worn and damaged, but still functional and capable of letting beauty shine through. What, if any, influence did you have on selecting the book’s cover?

St. Martin's has been wonderful--open to ideas for covers of both of my books, soliciting my ideas and photographs to help come up with book jackets. Although I don't consider myself a photographer--have had absolutely no training-- I love capturing images in my own garden and around town. Point and shoot! I was shocked and pleased when they ended up selecting a photo I sent them for the cover of SECRET KEEPERS. Those boot "planters" are on my front porch still. I take a boot planter to bookstores when I do signings and readings.

9. Your writing has been described as “beautiful as a stained-glass window” and has been compared with Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty. That's quite a compliment! What writers have influenced you, and who are your favorites now?

I grew up reading Carson McCullers and Eudora Welty, among many others. I also read writers such as Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, James Jones, Marilyn French. There's no way to list all the books that have moved me! I try to read widely. Mona Simpson, Pat Conroy, Ann Tyler, Richard Russo.Some of my all time favorite novels--this is a very partial list: Ironweed by William Kennedy, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, every novel written by Ann Tyler, The White Hotel by DM Thomas, The Hours by Michael Cunningham,The World According to Garp by John irving, Norwood by Charles Portis, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Veronica by Mary Gaitskill, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Amy and Isabel by Elizabeth Strout, Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo, Barbara Kingsolver, and lots of classic southern faves: Jill McCorkle, Lee Smith, Allan Garganus, Josephine Humphreys, Kaye Gibbons, Michael Lee West--Crazy Ladies, love it-- Fannie Flagg. On and on. I often recommend books on my blog, Novel Thoughts. http://mindyfriddle.blogspot.com/

10. In addition to being an accomplished writer, you are also a Master Gardner, and the beauty of nature shines through in your novel. How are your experiences as a writer and a Master Gardener similar?

I can get lost in both of them. I love when I lose my sense of self, and just focus on what's in front of me--whether it be composting, planting seeds, weeding, or writing 1,000 words-- just being absolutely present and open. In that sense, gardening and writing are my spiritual practices.

11. Please describe your writing process.

I try to keep to a schedule of writing five times a week for several hours or 1,000 words per session, depending on what I'm working on. I draft, then revise, then get a reader or two to weigh in, then revise more. It's not easy or effortless. But I do love when I feel the "portal" is open, and creativity is flowing not from me, but THROUGH me. Writing is its own reward.

12. I love that--writing is its own reward! What happens after the writing stops? As a writer, what do you have to do to help make your book a success? Can you share a few book signing horror stories and lovely surprises?

The promotion, travel, blogging, public readings call on a different set of muscles from toiling in isolation at your desk. I count myself lucky to enjoy the promotional aspects of an author's life, as well. Certainly, I feel privileged to be a part of reaching readers. It's such a contrast to drafting a novel...yin and yang...and after the extrovert part is over, I'm looking forward to getting back to writing even more.The best book signings are usually luncheons or readings-with an eager group of readers who are attentive listeners and ask intriguing questions. It turns out to be a conversation, a community of readers and writers. That's so fun. The horror story--most authors have this one-- arriving at a bookstore after traveling for hours and find they haven't ordered your books, and don't have any for you to sign. Humor...did I mention humor? Don't leave home without it! That and GPS.

13. Humor and GPS. I'll try to remember that. What advice do you have for writers just starting out, or even those who have been writing for years? Any recommendations for books on writing?

Find a group of fellow writers. You can read each other's work. Here's why: You'll often learn a great deal about your own writing by closely reading and critiquing a fellow writer's work. It's amazing how this helps! [Of course, be gentle...point out what works. Knowing what works in a piece is so helpful.]As I mentioned, Braine's book on novel writing is helpful, and so is Stephen King's book on the craft of writing. John Dufresne has a helpful book on writing fiction--stories and novels--and of course there's Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

14. What you said is so true. Finding a group of other writers is so important. I don't know what I would do without my writing friends. Final question: What’s the best way to contact you or to find out more about your books or scheduled appearances?

Please feel free to visit my website. You may contact me there through my e-mail, mindy@mindyfriddle.com. My appearances page has my current schedule. There's also a section for book clubs and some interviews with writers. I also occasionally offer a "seedy characters" contest, and you can sign up for my occasional, sporadic newsletter. And please drop by my blog, Novel Thoughts: Musings on Reading, Writng and the Earth. for content, reviews, tips, bootylicious tour updates, and lots of photos.

Mindy, thank you so much for your generosity and patience in answering all my questions. We all can learn so much from reading your answers. I personally highly recommend your book, SECRET KEEPERS, to my blog visitors. It was such a delight to read. I'll have to check out your "seedy characters" contest.

If anyone would like to leave a comment or ask additional questions, please post them here, and if Mindy isn't too worn out from answering all of my questions, she will pop in to answer them.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Father's Day Contest and An Announcement

Today's weather for St. Peters, MO: Partly cloudy, high 71 degrees. Great weather for Michael's baseball game tonight. Go Bulldogs!

One of my favorite sites about books and authors is Bookreporter.com, not only because I review books for Bookreporter, Kidsreads and Teenreads, but also because they are so generous towards their readers and reviewers. Seems like Carol Fitzgerald, Founder and President of Bookreporter, is always hosting a contest to give away books and other gifts to readers.

One of the featured contests this month is their Father's Day Contest. From not until June 12th readers will have the chance to win a Father’s Day Tote Bag Cooler, which is stocked with handy and fun items for dad as well as one copy of their six featured book titles. Click on the photo or link for contest information and titles of their featured books, which sound like great reads! You'll also need to name your favorite book that your dad read to you. What an intriguing question and a special way to remember your dad! But act fast because the contest ends June 12! Good luck!

Now for an announcement, which is actually a reminder and a request. Tomorrow on Donna's Book Pub I will interview acclaimed Southern author Mindy Friddle, as part of the WOW! Author's Blog Tour. Friddle is author of SECRET KEEPERS and THE GUARDIAN ANGEL. Her interview will touch on the differences between the two books, some thoughts on the writing process, a discussion of writers who have influenced her, and much more. Hope you can join us here tomorrow, where you can read the interview and post questions or comments for Mindy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Reflections on Saturday Writers First 300 Editors' Panel

Today is St. Peters, MO: Current temp 67, with light rain.

Today I'm going to write about a writers' group near and dear to my heart --- Saturday Writers.

In January 2002, the Saturday Writers' chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild was formed by Lou Turner, David "Kirk" Kirkland, Margo Dill, Amy Harke-Moore and me (Donna Volkenannt). In seven years we've grown from our five founders to around 80 regular members and 10 honorary members. Our motto is "writers encouraging writers." At our monthly meetings over the past seven years, we have sponsored speakers, hosted workshops, held poetry and short story contests, sponsored children and young writers' contests, and published Cuivre River Anthology and Cuivre Kids. We also have a website and a newsletter.

Our theme for 2009 is "taking your writing to the next level." One way we are encouraging (there's that word again) our members to stretch their writing muscles is by offering mini-teaching sessions before meetings to focus on areas of interest identified by a survey.

Last weekend I participated in an editors' panel, after Kirk gave a mini-session on "Self-Editing." The "First 300" editors' panel discussion members were: Amy Harke-Moore, editor of The Write Helper, and Louella Turner, publisher of High Hill Press, and me.

Lou, Amy, and I gave critiques and suggestions on the first 300 words of manuscripts submitted in advance. Treasurer David "Kirk" Kirkland read the submisssions (before and after versions).

Nine members submitted works (including a play) for critique, and one member submitted his manuscript the day of the meeting. For the last manuscript, the audience gave suggestions. What I found uplifting was the quality of the writing, Our members are so talented, yet they are still willing to learn and "take their writing to the next level."

I wanted to share some of the things I looked for when critiquing the fiction submissions:
  • Title - Is it interesting? Does it enhance the story?
  • Opening - Does it grab my attention?
  • Description - Is it fresh? Too much? Too little?
  • Characters - Interesting? Memorable? Complex?
  • Conflict - No conflict/no story.
  • Suspense - Does the story draw me in so I want to read more?
  • Sensory details - Does the writing appeal to all of my senses?
  • Voice - Is the voice engaging? Interesting? Unique?
  • Language - Creative? Appropriate? Enhance the mood/tone?
  • Humor - If used, does it work?
  • Word use - Vivid verbs and concrete nouns. Not a lot of "was, were, would, had." Adverbs and adjectives used sparingly.
  • Dialogue - Realistic or used for "info dump"?
  • Point of view - Consistent?
  • Narrative Arc - Beginning, middle, end.
  • Clutter Eliminated - Are unnecessary words/repetitions eliminated?
  • Conclusion - Satisfying? Surprising? Logical?
No one threw shoes at us during or after our discussion, so I guess our panel was a hit. In fact, after the meeting several folks, some whose work was critiqued as well as others, came up and thanked us for our comments. If you write fiction, I hope some of the points mentioned above can help you, too.

If you live in the metro-St. Louis area, check out Saturday Writers. We're a supportive and friendly group of "writers encouraging writers."

Monday, June 1, 2009

Blog Announcement - A Book A Week - and A Contest Announcement

Today's forecast for St. Peters, MO: Mostly sunny. High 90 degrees. It's a hot one out there. The kiddos are already asking when they can go swimming.

* If you get a chance, pop on over to my new blog, A Book A Week, where once a week I will discuss a book I have read. This week's pick is SECRET KEEPERS by Mindy Friddle, from South Carolina. Mindy's writing has been compared with Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty.

* I will also interview Mindy right here Friday, June 5, on Donna's Book Pub, as part of the WOW Author's Blog Tour.

* The second announcement is courtesy of my writing friend, Julie E. about the 2009 Juked Fiction and Poetry Prizes. The winner in each genre will receive $500 and publication in an upcoming print issue. Final judges this year are Dan Chaon (fiction) and Dora Malech (poetry).
Submission Deadline: August 31st, 2009

Entry Fee: $10

Fiction: one story per entry, no length requirement

Poetry: up to five poems (no more than ten pages total) per entry

Complete guidelines at: http://www.juked.com/prize/

Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V - Interviews with Lonnie Whitaker and Dr. Barri Bumgarner

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