Friday, October 30, 2009

Interview with Therese Walsh

Today in St. Peters, MO: Chance of rain, high 61. Now that it's the rainiest October on record, rain has really become a real four-letter word.

As part of the WOW! Author's Blog Tour, I'm pleased to introduce Therese Walsh as my guest blogger today. Anyone who posts a question or comment for Therese is eligible to win a copy of her debut novel, THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY. To read my review of her new book, pop over to my other blog, A Book A Week.

From her website: "Therese was a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine before she became a freelance writer. She’s had hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness published in consumer magazines and online, but she loves her fiction work best of all–directing the lives of made-up people and stamping around in a puddle of theme. She has a master’s degree in psychology. Her favorite things include music, flash fiction, poetry, art, crab legs, Whose Line is it Anyway?, dark chocolate, photography, unique movies and novels, people watching and strong Irish tea. Oh, and the cover of her novel. She is married to the next Tommy Makem, and has two cute kids, one cat and a bouncy Jack Russell named Kismet."

Here's our interview:

DONNA VOLKENANNT: The Last Will of Moira Leahy is an enchanting and elegantly written story about love, grief, the need for approval and acceptance, and the strong bond of siblings—in this case twins. What was your inspiration for The Last Will of Moira Leahy?

THERESE WALSH: First, thank you for having me today, Donna, and for your kind words.
Maeve Leahy, the main character, has much in common with my youngest sister. Our father died suddenly at age 56 when she was 16, and she took it very hard—shut down, changed drastically, just like Maeve. Writing Maeve’s healing process via adventure and love and self-realization became almost therapeutic for both my sister and me. Her recovery experience—and my experience trying to reach her—inspired the novel, but I didn’t recognize that right away.

DV: Losing a loved one is definitely a life-altering experience. It's inspiring to learn that you were able to help your sister's recovery experience through writing your novel. Your website mentions that before you turned to fiction you were a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine and then a freelance writer. You began writing fiction after your daughter was born. Was it a difficult transition to go from writing non-fiction to fiction? Do you think there is a connection between becoming a mother and giving birth to a fictional world?

TW: I didn’t find the transition difficult. I remember being glad to simply express myself with fiction—even if that expression wasn’t saleable. It felt good.

I love your second question, and yes I see similarities between motherhood and birthing a fictional world—beyond the idea that a manuscript is like a child. When you first open the door to fiction writing, everything is new, a blank slate, a clean page; anything is possible. You don’t really get that with nonfiction. And it’s definitely like that when you have a new human life in your hands. There are no limits. It’s frightening sometimes, but it’s also incredibly exciting. Maybe this is why my fiction will always have a combination of realism and myth. I never want to lose that sense of anything is possible, everything is.

DV: I asked some writing friends if they had any questions for you. My friend Margo wants to know: How do you keep up your own blog while you are also writing novels and promoting your book? (Thanks for the question, Margo!)

TW: Honestly, my next novel has taken a backseat while I dedicate myself to promo for Last Will. I’m going to turn a switch in November, though, and my plan is this: Work on the novel in the morning, before I check email or Twitter or Facebook or the blogs. Catch up on correspondence in the afternoon. Hang out with my family in the evening. Hatch a plan for the following day before bed. We’ll see how it goes!

DV: On the topic of blogs, you are co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a blog for writers about the craft and business of genre fiction. How does the collaboration process work with several writers posting on the same blog? Are there pre-arranged topics, a set schedule?

TW: We occasionally have dedicated craft months during which time everyone will comment on the same topic (e.g. Plot Month). These are popular but take some effort to coordinate; we’re due for another soon. (Any ideas for what you’d like to see? Let me know!)
Yes, there’s a set schedule, which I’m happy to share with you:

Every Monday: YA author and WU co-mama Kathleen Bolton
Every Tuesday: My day
1st Wednesday: Agent Donald Maass
1st Thursday: Fantasy author Juliet Marillier
2nd Wednesday: Urban fiction/romance author Ann Aguirre
2nd Thursday: Commercial fiction author Allison Winn Scotch
3rd Wednesday: YA/fantasy author Sophie Masson
3rd Thursday: Editor and author Ray Rhamey
4th Wednesday: Women’s fiction author Barbara Samuel
4th Thursday: Techno-thriller author J.C. Hutchins
4th Friday: Historical author Anna Elliott
Fridays have traditionally been our interview day. Kath and I split duties here, interviewing authors and industry pros we think will interest our readership.
Our contributors generally send their work to either Kath or me to post, though some post on their own without difficulty.

DV: Your blog is a wonderful resource for writers and has an impressive line up of contributors. I've added Writer Unboxed to my blog links so visitors of Donna's Book Pub can check it out. Next question: The details in your novel add to the richness of your story. The sense of place is so distinct, and an obscure artifact, a Javanese dagger called a keris, is featured in The Last Will of Moira Leahy. Before reading your novel I had never heard of a keris. Can you tell us how you learned about the keris and how you performed your research?

TW: Thank you! You could say there were two forms of inspiration. The story of my sister was the underground inspiration but doesn’t explain how the story evolved on the page.

A little history: There are actually two very different forms of this story. The version you’ve read was written between 2005 and 2008, once I realized the book had to center around the relationship between the twins. But when I first began writing Last Will, in 2002, I intended only to write a love story between Maeve and her friend Noel. Noel was an antiques dealer, so I gathered lists of interesting things that I could describe in his shop. I wanted to set the first scene of the book at an auction house, so I randomly chose one item from the shop’s list for that scene. That item was the keris, which is a Javanese sword or dagger. When a friend read the scene, she said she liked it and asked if the keris would be in the rest of the book. This sounded like a good idea, so I later did some research online and was awed by the potential for story linked to the keris alone; it’s an item rich in mythology. Later, Moira appeared. Between the keris and Moira, the book took on a decidedly unromantic tone, which led to the rewrite.
More than half of my research regarding the keris took place online—through keris-related websites and even weapon message boards. I have one valuable book as well, The Keris and other Malay Weapons, published by The Malaysian Branch of The Royal Asiatic Society. This 179-page volume is loaded with fascinating information.

DV: I love the cover of your book. It is mysterious, elegant, and inviting. What role did you play in selecting the cover design?

TW: Thank you; I love it, too. My friends and I joke that I was visited by the Good Cover Fairy.
I just reviewed that old file—talk about a walk down memory lane. I sent several pages of ideas to Random House, including some story and character descriptions, and 35 pictures. A full 17 of those pictures involved a woman in water. I pushed the idea of water because so many of Maeve’s nightmares involve water and it was thematic. One of the pictures I sent was of a woman with red hair in the water, though it wasn’t even 1/10th as beautiful as what RH designed. Last Will’s cover was the first option presented to me, and it was the last.
Random factoid: I mentioned that there were two version of my novel. Well, the one scene I kept from version one of the book was the emotional climax between the twins, which is reflected on the cover of Last Will. How’s that for kismet?

DV: Whatever the reason: Good Cover Fairy or Kismet, the cover is definitely lovely, and I'm certain it will attract even more readers. What has been most gratifying about writing and promoting your novel? Surprising? Challenging?

TW: The most gratifying part of this experience was finishing this story the second time around after so many mental battles—realizing I could do it, and that I was very happy with the product.
Most surprising might be how many friends within the blogosphere have stepped forward to help promote the book—through interviews like this one and other invitations. I’m sincerely flattered, humbled and grateful.
Most challenging has been finding a balance between promo for Last Will and work on my second novel.

DV:What’s the best piece of advice on writing you’ve ever received? The worst?

TW: Best advice: Never, never quit. Worst advice: Don’t add too many layers to your story. Save some for the next manuscript.

DV: Interesting answers, especially the latter one. Who were some of your favorite writers growing up? Now?

TW: I wish I could tell you that I devoured Jane Austen’s novels as a five year old, but the truth is that I wasn’t a big reader growing up. I’m sorry; I’m an anomaly. I do remember adoring Winnie-the-Pooh and Dr. Seuss as a young girl, but my pre-adolescent and adolescent years didn’t involve many books. My father and I were “bum buddies,” and watched TV shows together instead.
Of course I love our authors at Writer Unboxed—I have oodles of books on my keeper shelf by Barbara Samuel O’Neal and Juliet Marillier—but otherwise I’m less apt to attach to an author than I am to a particular book. My favorite book is Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife; another is Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

DV: If you weren’t a writer what would you be doing?

TW: If not for a glitch in my grad-school program, I would be a sleep researcher somewhere. Life is odd, isn’t it?

DV: It certainly is! What can you tell us about your next novel?

TW: My next book is about a blind woman who travels across West Virginia in order to finish her dead mother’s story and along the way teachers others how to see the world. It’s a women’s fiction piece with cross-genre aspects, like Last Will, including psychological suspense, mystery and mythical realism.

DV: That sounds like an interesting book and one I will definitely want to check out. What is the best way for readers to contact you with questions or to find out about upcoming events?

TW: Readers can keep up with the latest on my website at and contact me directly through the site as well. I welcome reader feedback.

Thanks again for having me, Donna! This has been fun.

And thanks to you, Therese, for being so generous with your time and gracious with your answers.
Now it's time for visitors to post comments or questions for Therese. Anyone who posts will have the opportunity to win a copy of Therese's book, THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY. The winner's name will be announced on November 4th (the birthday of my twin grand-nephews.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

One Year Anniversary Today

Today in St. Peters, MO: Thunderstorms and rain, more rain. Please stop the rain!

It's hard to believe I've been blogging for one year now. Wow! It has been fun. Not as scary as I imagined. My sincere thanks go to everyone who has stopped by this past year; if you've become a follower, posted a comment or question, or just visited, I appreciate your company. Special thanks to all my writing friends who have shared blog-worthy information or who have posted links to DPB.

I hope you will stop by tomorrow for my interview with Therese Walsh, who chats about writing and her debut novel. Everyone who posts a comment or question for Therese will be entered in a contest to win a copy of her enchanting book, The Last Will of Moira Leahy.

Here's to another year of friends and fun! Please, have a virtual drink on me! I'm drinking a glass of cranberry juice, but feel free to drink at your pleasure. I raise my glass to you!

Cheers! Prosit! Zum Wohl! Avanti! Salute! Sláinte! Here's tae ye! Sante! L'Chaim! Sanitas bona! Skål! Kampai! Jamas! Salud! Bottoms up!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Saturday Writers 8th Annual Short Story Contest

Today in St. Peters, MO: Areas of fog, high 60 degrees, but thankfully no rain. Yay! No need to build that ark afterall.

Hi All,
Has it been a week since my last post? I've been sort of busy driving grandkids to school and sports and other events, attending a wonderful writing workshop, and doing housework for Bunco this Friday at my house. Yikes!
At the Saturday Writers workshop last weekend, Pat Carr talked about "Vision, Voice, and Viewpoint." Pat is an inspiration; I have tons of notes and ideas for stories. My dear writing friend Louella Turner did a STUPENDOUSMARVELOUSMAGNIFICIENT (I made that word up) job planning the workshop. I played a bit part as workshop contest chair. We had 23 contest entries and lots of happy faces when the winners were announced!

I'm also the contest chair for the Saturday Writers 8th Annual Short Story Contest. (Note to self: Stop volunteering so much or quit whining--or both). With two contests running, the 8th Annual Saturday Writers Short Story Contest hasn't gotten the attention it deserves (my bad) so we've extended the deadline until November 15.

Here are the details, so PLEASE, PLEASE spread the word about the contest to your writing friends--or better yet, enter yourself. If we don't get a lot of entries, I'll get "fired" as the volunteer contest chair. Hey, wait. Is that a bad thing? Just kidding; I love being contest chair, although I think my mail carrier hates delivering all those brown envelopes.

Saturday Writers 8th Annual Short Story Contest 2009 CONTEST GUIDELINES (Short stories only. no essays, poems, or articles)
EXTENDED DEADLINE: November 15, 2009 (postmarked)
Word Limit: 2009--as in the year 2009. Clever, right?
Contest is open to EVERYONE. Open subject, open genre. (No pornography or gore.) Entry fee: $7 Maximum of three entries per person.
(Members of Saturday Writers, MWG, or other MWG Chapters: $5 per story.) Checks payable to: Saturday Writers.
Prizes: 1st place - $100, 2nd place - $50, 3rd place - $25. 4-10th Place receive a certificate.
Short stories must be in English, unpublished at the time of submission, and the original work of the contestant. Contestants retain all rights to their stories. Standard manuscript format: 8 1/2 x 11 paper, typed and double-spaced on one side of the paper, pages numbered, title of entry on every page, 12 point Times New Roman. Paper clip pages together. No name or other identifying information should appear anywhere on entry.
Attach a separate cover sheet and include: story title, contestant’s name, address, e-mail, phone number, and MWG chapter name (if applicable). Do NOT send by certified mail!
Mail entry fee and two copies of each entry, flat, not folded, by November 15 (postmark) to:
Saturday Writers 8th Annual Short Story Contest
c/o Donna Volkenannt
32 Country Crossing Estates Drive
St. Peters, MO 63376
Stories exceeding word limit, not having adequate postage, or not adhering to contest guidelines will be disqualified and entry fee will not be returned. Decision of judge is final. Not responsible for lost or misdirected entries. Keep a copy of your entry because stories will not be returned. For a list of winners, visit the CONTESTS page of our website in late December 2009: Certificates and prizes will be mailed by the end of December.
Judge: Lynn Carney from Fayetteville, Arkansas, has been nominated for a 2010 Pushcart Prize and has received many awards for her fiction, including a Mainstream Literary award from the 73rd Annual Writer's Digest Competition for a short story, and others.
On Friday, my guest blogger will be Therese Walsh, who will answer interview questions I sent her as part of the WOW! Author blog tour. Anyone who posts a question or comment (or who sent an interview question for me to ask her) is eligible to win a copy of her novel, THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY. Tomorrow I will post a review of her book on my other blog, A Book A Week.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Interview with Pat Carr - Part II

Today in St. Peters, partly sunny, high 70 degrees. Another fine day!

As promised, today I will post part II of my interview with Pat Carr. In addition to being a prolific writer, Carr has also been a teacher. She has taught English at Rice, Tulane, New Orleans, and several other universities. She has received numerous awards and honors, including a writing fellowship to the Foundation LedigRowohlt in Luasanne, Switzerland. She and her husband have retired and live in Elkins, Arkansas.

Here are my interview questions and Pat's answers:

Donna Volkenannt: Several years ago I had the privilege of attending a workshop during which you read your short story, “The Party.” I still get a lump in my throat when I think about the characters in that story. It is such a vivid and moving piece; I think it should be required reading for students from junior high through high school. I’m curious: what has been the reaction from teachers, parents, and students to “The Party”?

Pat Carr: I loved your reaction to "The Party." When I was teaching in college, my colleagues used to ask me to read it to classes to introduce the concept of a short story, and I have had great responses to it from students, teachers, and editors. It's been anthologized more than any of my other stories, and Hillary Clinton wrote me a note after she read it that said, "Reading it was like a fist in the gut."

DV: I can understand Mrs. Clinton's reaction. "The Party" is an amazing story, beautifully told. Here's another question about short stories: With more than 100 short stories published, you must have a favorite. Which is you have a favorite and why?

PC: I'm afraid I have a lot of favorite stories. Besides "The Party" I really like "The Puppet" and "An El Paso Idyll" but my husband's very favorite is also a favorite of mine, "Diary of a Union Soldier."

DV: In your works of fiction which comes first, character or plot?

PC: When I write a story, I usually start with an incident and then pick a character, so I'd have to say that plot comes before character for me.

DV: That's interesting. Now another question on craft. On October 24 you will be giving a workshop at Saturday Writers in St. Peters on "Vision, Voice, and Viewpoint." I'm curious about what is most important in writing fiction: vision, voice, or viewpoint?

PC: As for which is more important, vision, voice, or viewpoint, definitely viewpoint. It can make or break a story, and I've seen the most achingly beautiful story ruined by the author choosing the wrong point of view to tell it.

DV: Thank you for your succinct answer and wise advice. It is definitely something to think about before beginning a story. Speaking of advice, what is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

PC: The best writing advice I ever got was probably that of my father who said, "Nobody can be great in more than one field, so you need to decide if you want to write or paint. Since you write more than you paint, I'd choose that if I were you."

DV: That is good advice, and definitely something to think about. As a final question: What are you working on now, and what’s the best way for readers to find out about book signings, workshops, or personal appearances?

PC: I don't currently have a website, so people can find out about readings, signings, etc. by checking with my e-mail, I don't mind answering them (with an e-mail the size of a post-it, of course.)

Thanks again, Pat, for taking the time to answer my questions and share you knowledge and wisdom with my blog visitors. I look forward to learning even more from you during your "Vision, Voice, and Viewpoint" workshop with Saturday Writers on October 24.

If you are in the St. Louis area and would like to attend the Saturday Writers workshop at the St. Peters Community and Arts Center, 1035 St. Peters- Howell Road from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with Pat Carr and Regina Williams, editor of Storyteller Magazine, walk-in registrations will be permitted on a space-available basis. For workshop fees and other details about the event, visit Events page.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Interview with Pat Carr - Part I

Partly cloudy, high 71 degrees--another beautiful day in St. Peters, MO.

I am so excited to share with you my interview with acclaimed writer and teacher Pat Carr. The interview will be in two parts beginning today and concluding tomorrow.

Carr's twelve books of fiction include THE WOMEN IN THE MIRROR, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award, IF WE MUST DIE, nominated in the 2003 PEN book awards, and THE DEATH OF A CONFEDERATE COLONEL, published by the University of Arkansas Press. Her more than one hundred short stories have been published in Southern Review, Yale Review, Best American Short Stories and other publications. ForeWord magazine named Carr's, THE DEATH OF A CONFEDERATE COLONEL one of the top university press books of 2008.

This coming Saturday, October 24, Carr will present a workshop to Saturday Writers at the St. Peters Community and Arts Center on "Vision, Voice, and Viewpoint." I conducted my interview with Pat via e-mail.

Donna Volkenannt: You have written a dozen books of fiction and have had more than 100 short stories appear in notable publications such as Southern Review, Yale Review, Best American Short Stories, and others. THE WOMEN IN THE MIRROR won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. Your novel IF WE MUST DIE was a finalist in the PEN book awards. It is obvious you are talented and a master of the craft! When did you first discover you wanted to become a writer and how did you go about becoming one?

PAT CARR: I knew I wanted to be a writer before I could write. Before I knew the alphabet, I'd fold up pages into book form and write squiggled lines that I'd "read" to anyone who'd listen. I taught myself how to type when I was 13 so I could type up stories and start submitting them. Fortunately, no magazine took any of those early ones, but I had a liquor box stuffed with stories by the time I started high school.

DV: That's an interesting story, rich in memory and detail. Now, on to your latest book. THE DEATH OF A CONFEDERATE COLONEL is a short story collection set in Arkansas during the American Civil War. ForeWord magazine named it one of the top university press publications of 2008. What was your inspiration for THE DEATH OF A CONFEDERATE COLONEL, and why did you chose to write a short story collection rather than a novel?

PC: I did write a Civil War novel called A PERFECTLY SPLENDID TIME, but as I was researching and writing it, I ended up with a cast of characters that didn't fit in the novel plot, so I wrote a series of short stories as well and ended up with DEATH OF A CONFEDERATE COLONEL.

DV: The research in your work shines through but does not overshadow story. Your novel IF WE MUST DIE is set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, during the deadly race riot of 1921. Your short story collection THE DEATH OF A CONFEDERATE COLONEL is set in Arkansas during the American Civil War. Both works of fiction are rich in historical detail. Please talk about how you research your fictional works.

PC: When I do historical research for a historical novel--or story--I read everything I can get my hands on--which in the case of the Civil War is thousands of volumes. For IF WE MUST DIE, there are basically only 8 sources since that deadly riot was kept secret until the 1980s. After I read everything, I go to the places I'm going to write about so I can get a feel for the setting. (I just finished another novel, BORDEAUX IS BURNING, set in 1348 France when the Black Plague came to Europe, so I had to go to Bordeaux to do part of the research.) I also stalk every museum I can find.

DV: I know what you mean about visiting museums. What a wonderful obsession! Now, on to short stories. Over the years I’ve attended numerous writers’ conferences, and almost without exception, agents and editors said they did not represent short story collections. Lately I’ve noticed short story collections are getting some favorable attention. Oprah’s latest pick, SAY YOU’RE ONE OF THEM by Uwem Akpan, is a collection of stories. John Grisham’s FORD COUNTY: STORIES is one of the most pre-ordered books on and What do you make of this? Do you think short story collections are making a comeback?

PC: I hope short story collections are making a comeback because I love the form. But agents and publishers other than academics are still very shy about taking on a collection.

DV: I hope you are right about short story collections making a comeback because I love the form, too. On the topic of short stories, who are some of your favorite short story writers?

PC: Short story writers I like are Chekhov, Frank O'Connor, and Katharine Mansfield.

That concludes Part I of my interview with Pat Carr. Check back tomorrow to find out which Pat believes is most important in fiction writing--vision, voice, or viewpoint--and what Hillary Clinton had to say about Pat's short story "The Party."

To learn more about Pat's "Vision, Voice, and Viewpoint" Workshop visit the Events page of Saturday Writers.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Becky Povich in Vestal Review's The Dirty Dozen

Today in St. Peters, MO: Mostly sunny, high 69. Bring on the sunshine!

Here's some good news from a writing friend and fellow member of Saturday Writers: A flash fiction story by Becky Povich has just been selected by Vestal Review as one of three winning entries for the month of October 2009. Becky's story can be read online and will be included in their next print edition. The reason for the name Dirty Dozen is that the story can only have 12 words, plus a one word title. For more about the Dirty Dozen visit

Way to go, Becky!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mastering the Craft

Today in St. Peters, MO: Light rain, high 49 degrees. Sunshine predicted for the weekend.

Today on Michael Hyatt's blog (Michael is the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing) his guest blogger is Mary DeMuth, an author, a speaker, and a book mentor with seven published books.

Her thoughtful guest post on Hyatt's blog poses the question: "Are you the type of person who will invest 10,000 hours to become a master writer?"

DeMuth has compiled a checklist of 10 traits to determine if you have what it takes to become a master writer.

All 10 traits have merit, but the ones that connect most with me are: 2, 5, 8, 9, and especially 10: "I understand the beauty of God’s sovereignty in the midst of the journey. He gives and takes away. Blessed be His name, no matter what happens—published or not." (Amen!)

How about you? After reading DeMuth's guest post on Michael Hyatt's blog about what it takes to become a master writer, which traits resonate with you?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Call for Valley Voices from Highway 24 Alliance in Kansas

Today in St. Peters: Fog and mist. Rain, rain, go away.

Claudia M. from Carthage, MO, e-mailed me the other day with a contest announcement. It's the Solomon Valley Writing Contest: Call for Valley Voices, a small group promoting the Highway 24 Alliance in northern Kansas. They are looking for: poetry, fiction, essay, non-fiction, and biography. There is no entry fee or cash prizes, but there is the possibility of being included in an anthology they will publish in 2010. The submission deadline for their fifth annual contest is November 1.

Last year Claudia won a first place Adult Fiction category, and her sister-in-law from Great Falls won third place Adult Autobiography. Thanks for the information, Claudia, and good luck to all who enter!

Visit the website for complete guidelines. According to their website, "The Solomon Valley is full of fascinating cultural treasures to explore. Where else can you find the World's Largest Ball of Twine (Cawker City), the only Black settlement west of the Mississippi (Nicodemus), and an 1880s working sheep ranch (Cottonwood Ranch State Historic Site at Studley)." Sounds fun!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Everyone Has A Story to Tell

Today in St. Peters, MO: Drizzle, high 49 degrees. A good day to stay inside and write.

Lately I've met some people who have led fascinating lives. During my talk last Saturday, I met writers from outstate Missouri, West Virginia, Washington State, and Arkansas, and briefly talked with man wearing a Pearl Harbor survivor cap--wish I would've gotten to talk with him longer.

Ann, the woman from Arkansas, was a Senior at Little Rock High School during the Little Rock Nine historic event, when President Eisenhower ordered the National Guard to enforce integration at the high school. She shared a bit of her experience with us, but the clock was ticking and she seemed reluctant to say more.

While we were on the subject of high school experiences last Saturday, I mentioned that I went to an all-girls' Catholic school in St. Louis, where we had to invite our dates for prom. My date for senior prom was Mike Blassie, who was headed for the Air Force Academy after graduation. Mike later became a pilot. In May of 1972 his jet was shot down in Vietnam, and Mike was declared missing in action. Flash forward to 1998, when DNA testing determined Mike's remains were those which had been interred in in the Tomb of the Unknown back in 1984. In 1998 Mike's family made the decision to move his remains to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. My husband Walt, also a Vietnam Veteran, and I attended the ceremony, and I wrote about the experience in my story "Welcome Home" in A Cup of Comfort for Military Families.

A gentleman in our Coffee and Critique group is working on his memoir. When he joined our group I recognized his name immediately. He is a local singer and songwriter of some note (no pun intended). He is a wonderful storyteller who can weave words magically, yet he is soft spoken and not sure of his gift. Yesterday after critique he causually talked about the night he met a local crime boss while he was performing at a night club, although he didn't realize who the man was at the time. Then he talked about the time Elvis Presley pulled a gun on him while he was a Marine stationed in Memphis--that event made the headlines.

A while back, another critique group member told a few of us about the time she was living and working in Dallas in November 1963 and was questioned by the FBI about a co-worker, who later fled the country. While living in Texas she also came into contact with mass murderer Richard Speck--how frightening is that. This woman is a novelist, but has lived a fascinating life and met some famous--and infamous--folks along the way.

The lesson I've learned from all this is to take time to listen. I never know what I might learn because everyone--even the quiet ones, or maybe especially the quiet ones--has a story to tell.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Alice Muschany's "One Damaged Headlight" is Unbeatable

Today in St. Peters, MO: Showers likely, high 55 degrees.

Drum roll, please!

It's official; out of scores of entries, Alice Muschany's essay "One Damaged Headlight" won first place in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Unbeatable Contest. In her essay, Alice pays tribute, with eloquence and humor, to her husband Roland for his love and support during her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. Congratulations, Alice, for your courage and humor--and for sharing your gift of story.

With Alice's permission, here is her winning essay, "One Damaged Headlight":

"When I was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, my husband--my best friend—called for referrals, scheduled appointments, and gave me tender, loving care. His love and humor lifted my spirits.

After I completed four months of chemotherapy, the doctor performed a partial mastectomy.

From the beginning, my husband assured me all that mattered was that I win the battle against cancer. But when it was time to remove the bandage I worried, will he feel that way now?

He gave me a gentle hug and said, 'Honey, you remind me of my wrecked ‘55 Chevy.'

'Just what’s that supposed to mean?'

He quickly explained that he and his brother used the truck for raccoon hunting since its damaged headlight shone upward and assured a successful hunt. When I broke out in a fit of giggles, he supported me in his arms, and we laughed until it hurt.

I knew then he’d support me the rest of my life." Alice Muschany, Wentzville, MO

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Talk to Writers Society of Jefferson County

Today in St. Peters, MO: Mostly cloudy, high 51 degrees.

Last Saturday the weather outside was brisk, but inside I was greeted to a warm welcome by the members of the Writers Society of Jefferson County. The group meets at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Festus, Missouri. My hands-on presentation, which focused on revision, was titled "Thirteen Ways a Bad Haircut Can Make You A Better Writer."

I'm always excited to get out and meet other writers, and the members of WSJC are a creative and lively bunch One gentleman in the back of the room sported a cap that read "Pearl Harbor Survivor." I wish there would've been more time to talk with him. Verna, who set up the meeting, was a charming host. She met me at the door and escorted me to the meeting room. She mentioned she attended Afton High School, where George Clooney did part of the filming of his latest movie. Ann, the WSJC president, mentioned she attended Little Rock High School during the "Little Rock 9" historic event, when President Eisenhower sent in the National Guard to ensure integration in the high school. What an amazing group of writers--each with a fascinating story to tell. I wish we got to visit more, but we got down to the business of writing.

Several members dazzled us when they read their on-the-spot writing exercises. During my wrap-up I encouraged them to attend workshops, network wth other writers, and enter contests. I reminded them of the Saturday Writers Workshop with Pat Carr and Regina Williams on Oct 24. I hope to see some of them there so we can visit some more.

Speaking of the Saturday Writers workshop, acclaimed writer Pat Carr will talk about "Vision, Voice, and Viewpoint." Storyteller Magazine editor Regina Williams will give tips on "Writing Query Letters" and will take pitches during the workshop. The early-bird deadline to register for the workshop and enter the contest is October 15. For details, visit the website.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Novel Contest from Smoke City Narrators

Today in St. Peters, MO: Scatter showers, high 51 degrees. I hope the weather clears tomorrow. Tomorrow is Cari's first high school homecoming parade and dance and Michael has a soccer game.

Here's a novel contest from an organization I hadn't heard of before--the Smoke City Narrators in Pell City, Alabama. An e-mail showed up in my mail box asking me to share this information with other writers. This is not an endorsement of any kind; I'm just passing along information to other writers.
NOVEL PITCH & 1st FIVE PAGES of a NOVEL CONTEST Sponsored by Smoke City Narrators DEADLINE: Postmarked by Saturday 10/17/09
AWARDS: 1st - $150 2nd - $75 3rd - $40 6 Honorable Mentions.
*Novel Does Not Have to be Complete.
* First 5 pages of a novel, 1,500 words max.
* One-sentence pitch for the novel, 20 words max.
Judged by Cindy Dyson, author of THE LAST QUERY: A New Approach to Crafting a Novel Query Letter.
The contest guidelines are quite specific, so visit the blogsite for complete details.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Zero Ducats Seeking Submissions

Today in St. Peters, MO: Rain and thunderstorms, high 61 degrees.

I'm always looking for markets I've never heard of before for my blog. My writing friend Julie is a goldmine for markets and submission opportunities. She recently forwarded an e-mail about a submission opportunity from Zero Ducats, which is now accepting submissions for its 2nd issue. Zero Ducats is both a print and online journal of poetry and flash fiction, comprised entirely of recycled and pilfered materials and distributed for free. There is nothing subtle about the photo (left) on their submission page. I guess they are seriously seeking submissions.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Shade Tree Creations Contest

Today in St. Peters, MO: Mostly sunny, high 69 degrees. Chilly nights, sunny days; the leaves are starting to show their brillant colors.

Speaking of trees, here's a contest from Shade Tree Creations out of Oklahoma City, sponsored by Barbara Shepherd and Art Affair. According to the website, Art Affair is a private organization which encourages writers of poetry, short stories and, especially, Western short stories, to work at their trade and be recognized and rewarded for their efforts. To accomplish that goal, Art Affair holds three annual contests--one for poets, one for western short story writers, and short fiction writers. The contest fee is $5 per entry. The deadline is October 15. For details, visit their website. Good luck!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Burning the Midnight Oil Poetry Contest

Today in St. Peters, MO: A 90% chance of thunderstorms, high 69 degrees. It's already storming outside.

A stormy day like today is a good time to stay inside and clean house--no wait--that's no fun. How about walking on the treadmill? Nah. Writing a poem? Much better! Just in time for Halloween here's a contest with a spooky title: Burning the Midnight Oil Poetry Contest. Amy Harke-Moore at The Write Helper has been sponsoring this contest for a few years now.

Amy is an award-winning poet and writer as well as an editor. She is also a long-time writing friend and one of the five founders of the Saturday Writers chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild. Entry fee if $5; visit The Write Helper website for complete details.

The Burning the Midnight Oil Poetry Contest deadline is appropriately on Halloween, October 31. Moo Haa Haa Haa.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday's Market - Highway 101 Chapbook

Today in St. Peters, MO: Mostly sunny, high 69 degrees. It was lovely yesterday. After church I washed windows and took down screens in the kitchen and bedroom for Walt to wash and put back on the windows.

Here's a submission call-out sent to me by Julie Earhart, one of my writing buddies. Julie is a teacher, a writer and an editor who works for the St. Louis Public Library. Julie was editor for Saint Louis Events magazine when I wrote for them--before they went out of business. She is plugged into the literary scene in the St. Louis area and generously sends e-mails with submission call-outs, announcements about book signings, and the like. She also has been a speaker and judge for Saturday Writers several times.So, I pay attention to Julie's e-mails.

She recently sent an e-mail about Highway 101, a new chapbook press out of California, accepting poetry or prose from Oct 1-Dec 31. Editors are Sarah Suzor and Annie Pentilla. Payment is 15 copies of the chapbook. For more information or a printable Highway 101 flier visit Highway 101 Press .

Thanks, Julie!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Vote for Alice in the Unbeatable Caregivers' Essay Contest

Today in St. Peters, MO: Windy, high 65 degrees.

Alice Muschany, one of my writing friends and a member of Coffee and Critique, is a breast cancer survivor participating in the Unbeatable Caregivers' Essay Contest. Alice has written a poignant essay for the contest. If she wins she will get tickets to see the musical Unbeatable, plus have dinner at Albert Pujols's restaurant at Westport Plaza.

Her essay "One Damaged Headlight" combines grace and humor to tell the story of how her husband Roland helped her survive her breast cancer nightmare with love and tenderness--and humor.

If you would like to read Alice's essay and vote for it, just Log on and click on Contests, or go directly to You have to register before you can vote, but it only takes a minute or so to register. You can also leave a comment about her essay. After I voted the first time I left a comment, but for some reason it didn't show up, so I'm not sure how that works.

Anyway, look for "One Damaged Headlight" and the name Alice from Wentzville. You can vote once each day. Before I voted this morning Alice had 53 votes. There are several other touching essays that will bring tears to your eyes or put a lump in your throat. The contest ends Oct 09, 2009 at 11:59:00 AM, so there's still time to vote for Alice.

Good luck, Alice, and thanks for sharing your charming essay!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bobbi Smith Autograph Party for The Gunfighter

Today in St. Peters, MO: Thunderstorms, high 69 degrees.

Tomorrow afternoon my friend Louella and I are going to an autograph party. New York Times bestselling author and "Queen of the Western Romance," Bobbi Smith, will be signing copies of her latest book, The Gunfighter, who, according to the cover, "aims to please."

Bobbi is one of the sweetest and most generous writers I know, and I'm not saying that just because we grew up in the same neighborhood--she also writes darn good books.
Bobbi is an honorary member of Saturday Writers and a writer who definitely believes in "giving back." She has donated (as in doing for free) countless hours to Saturday Writers and the Missouri Writers Guild-- judging contests, serving on panels, being a guest speaker, even writing blurbs for writers just starting out. She also has been a teacher for her parish school of religion, donated scholarships for high school students pursuing careers in writing; I could go on and on.
So, if you're in the metro-St. Louis area, Bobbi will be signing books tomorrow, Friday, October 2, from noon until 2:00 p.m. at World News in Westport Plaza.
Hope to see you there!

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

Here is the second installment of interviews with contributors who have stories in Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V , from Ozark Writers, I...