Friday, February 26, 2010

Saturday Writers Presents Dakota Banks on "Book Proposals that Sell"

Today in St. Peters, MO: Mostly sunny, high 40, but brrrr it's cold outside right now.

Members of Saturday Writers are in for a treat tomorrow when award-winning Mystery and thriller writer DAKOTA BANKS (aka SHIRLEY KENNETT) will talk at our monthly meeting about "BOOK PROPOSALS THAT SELL." The meeting is at the St. Peters Community and Arts Center, 1035 St. Peters-Howell Road. Visit the Saturday Writers website for directions.

Dakota will talk us through a real-life query letter and synopsis that sold, and talk about an opening hook for your manuscript. She will have handouts and members can e-mail her after the presentation with any questions that weren't covered (

Dakota Banks (aka Shirley Kennett) grew up in a converted turn-of-the-century funeral home, complete with blood gutters and multiple drains in the basement floor, and it probably warped her mind. She set aside all those macabre thoughts spawned by reading books in the basement at night with a flashlight and undertook a relatively normal life. Dakota published six books, all hard-edged suspense thrillers dealing with virtual reality, one of them set in a near-future world. Something was missing, though, and it took her 600,000 words to find out what. Although the thrillers extrapolated trends in forensic science, computer simulation, and virtual reality, they didn't go far enough.

She felt hemmed in by reality. She needed to get back into the basement with a flashlight and write from that perspective. Dark Time, the first book in the Mortal Path series, is a supernatural thriller/dark urban fantasy, with a little horror and romance thrown in for seasoning. Book two, Sacrifice, will be out in September 2010.

Dakota lives on the western fringe of St. Louis, Missouri with her husband. Her two sons, one adopted from Peru and the other from Ethiopia, are in college. She's a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, Mystery Writers of America, American Crime Writers League, and a board member of International Thriller Writers.

In addition to her talk, Dakota will have paperbacks to sell. Announcement of our winner of the Saturday Writers' February members-only contest about "Love" will also be announced.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Linguistic Pet Peeves - What Are Yours?

Today in St. Peters, MO: Mostly sunny, high 35 degrees. Lovely weather for today's field trip.

Almost all of my writing friends and critique group members know about my pet peeves. One is the overuse of the word "albiet," which to me sounds stuffy, especially when used in dialogue.

My biggest pet peeve is the use of the adverb "gingerly." I don't know why this word bothers me, but it does. Imagine my surprise yesterday when I listened to an oral essay on NPR by a linquist with the same pet peeve.

I tried unsuccessfully to download the NPR video, so here's a link to the written essay.

'Equation,' 'Gingerly' and Other Linguistic Pet Peeves' is narrated by Geoff Nunberg, an adjunct full professor at University of California, Berkeley's School of Information, and the author of The Years of Talking Dangerously.

What about you? What are your linguistic pet peeves?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

NPR's Three Minute Fiction Contest - Round Three

Today in St. Peters, MO: Clearing, high 29 degrees.

Got a minute--or maybe three? Here's a contest for you. It's Round Three of NPR's Three Minute Fiction Contest. Their contest premise is: Send in an original short story that can be read in three minutes or less. This time they've provided a photo for writers to look at to write a story. The story must be no more than 600 words. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on February 28, 2010. Only one entry per person. Here's a link with complete details.

NPR book critic Alan Cheuse will choose a winning story to be read on-air, and NPR will also post their favorite entries on their site.
Contest winner will be interviewed and have his/her story read on-air during Weekend All Things Considered and will receive an autographed copy of the Alan Cheuse book "To Catch the Lightning: A Novel of American Dreaming" and an autographed print-out of the Alan Cheuse short story "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941." (approximate value - $20.00).
I've jotted down a couple ideas for stories, and time permitting I'll submit something.

P.S. Sorry my postings have been spotty lately, but it has been a busy week. If I post tomorrow it will be later in the day because I'm chaperoning a field trip with Michael's class to see "The Wizard of Oz" at a local high school. I'm excited about the trip; it should be fun.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Top 100 Writing Blogs to Improve Your Writing

Today in St. Peters, MO: Rain and snow, high 40 degrees. Maybe we should send some of our snow to Vancouver for the Olympics?

If you're looking for something to do while waiting for the snow to melt, here's a suggestion. Universities and Colleges. org has published a list of 100 blogs that will help you improve your writing "by providing inspiration, motivation, creativity and new techniques from experts, freelancers, and editors from every genre."

While I've only clicked on a few of the links, I have to check out a lot more. Many of them sound interesting and some of them are downright funny. How can I resist visiting blogs called: Evil Editor, Cute Writing, Throw Grammar from the Train, Flogging the Quill, Mens with Pens, or the Grammar Cop? And who knew there is a "Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar"?

Hope you all have a great weekend! Happy writing!


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Irish Inspirations Anthology Now Available

Today in St. Peters, MO: Light snow, currently 25 degrees. I saw the sun today and can hear birds chirping outside my office window. Yay!

The sunshine isn't the only reason I'm in such a good mood. On Tuesday I received a lovely surprise in the mail--two copies of Irish Inspirations: Stories and Wisdom That Celebrate the Magic of the Emerald Isle from Blue Mountain Arts in Boulder, Colorado. Last year I submitted an essay titled "Coming Home," which was accepted for publication in the anthology. I was paid promptly and told the I would receive two copies of Irish Inspirations upon publication.

Those two copies couldn't have arrived at a better time. The first one, which I have autographed, is going to be included as part of an Irish-themed basket my sister Bridget has been putting together for a fundraiser raffle. Bridget has also collected donations and other items for the basket, which include a bottle of Jameson's whiskey, a gift certificate to McGurk's Irish Pub in O'Fallon, lots of items with shamrocks on them, a clock, and other lovely gifts.

The fundraiser this weekend is a benefit for my niece, Alexandra Duly, who at the age of 22 was diagnosed with brain cancer last fall. The fundraiser for Alexandra will be at The Pine Room, a cozy tavern in the older section of St. Charles. The Pine Room is not too far from Lindenwood University. The address is 1102 Perry Street, Saint Charles, Missouri. The phone number is: 636-754-6237. I'll be there around 4 p.m., so if any locals are in the neighborhood, I hope you can stop by and visit.

Oh, you can also purchase copies of Irish Inspirations directly from the publisher, Blue Mountain Arts, or at places like Carcker Barrel Restaurants.

Sláinte! (That's Cheers! in Irish Gaelic)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bylines Winner, A Quote from Mark Twain, and Another Planning Tool

Today in St. Peters, MO: Snow showers, high 25 degrees.

Thanks to everyone who left a question or comment for Sylvia Forbes, publisher of Snow Flake Press (how appropriate today with all the snow) and editor of Bylines Writers' Desk Calendar. The name picked at random to win a copy of the Bylines Writers' Desk Calendar is . . . Bookie. Congratulations, Bookie!

I will e-mail Sylvia to tell her you won, but you will need to e-mail Sylvia with your mailing address. You can find her e-mail address on her website.

For everyone who left a comment or question for Sylvia but didn't win a copy of Bylines, you can visit Sylvia's website to find out how to purchase a copy. In addition to using my lovely Bylines weekly desk calendar to keep organized, I also use a monthly planning calendar.

I found the monthly calendar on the Reading Writers site. It's a no-frills, 12-page calendar that can be downloaded for free. At the beginning of the year I downloaded my copy of the Reading Writers calendar and have been using it as a planning and tracking tool for deadlines and submissions. One feature I enjoy is the monthly quote from a famous writer. January's quote comes from Missouri's famous author and humorist, Mark Twain:

"God only exhibits his thunder and lightning in intervals, and so they always command attention. They're God's adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much, the reader ceases to get under the bed." Mark Twain

So, if you're like me and one of your goals is to get organized in 2010, the Bylines weekly desk calendar and the Reading Writers monthly calendar are writing tool that can help.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Story Plot Line Contest for It Happened One Season

St. Peters, MO: Rest of the day, snow showers, high 35 degrees.

Along with all the snow, love is in the air. In honor of St. Valentine's Day, here's a sweet contest with a deadline of Feb 14 that I discovered while visiting C. Hope Clark's blog. Her blog is one I check out regularly because of all the useful information about writing and contests. So, here's the deal about the It Happened One Season Contest:

Put on your thinking caps and submit three specific plot elements, and your ideas could create the theme of the four tales in a new anthology collection: IT HAPPENED ONE SEASON.

Four best selling authors will write a Regency historical story using the winning theme. The story must take place during the Regency social season and must include three specific plot points: (1) a couple meets at an inn (2) they had met before but not within the past ten years (3) the whole story takes place within a 24-hour period.

The four authors choose the four finalists, readers vote on the ultimate favorite, and one lucky winner will be acknowledged on the dedication page of IT HAPPENED ONE SEASON and receive a $1,000 American Express gift card and a copy signed by all four authors.

Semi-finalists will receive $100 American Express gift card.
Good luck!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Interview with Sylvia Forbes - Part II

Part II of my interview with Sylvia Forbes focuses on Snowflake Press, and specifically on Bylines Writer's Calendar. The calendar on the left is the 2009 edition.

DV: I love Bylines Writer’s Desk Calendar. The weekly testimonials of writers are so inspiring, and the resources to write down and organize annual goals are helpful. For several years, as publisher of Snowflake Press, you have produced this lovely and practical weekly planner for writers. When did you become the publisher of Snowflake Press? What inspired you to publish Bylines Writer’s Desk Calendar?

SF: I wish I could take credit for thinking up Bylines, but all the credit goes to Linda Hagen Miller, a freelance travel writer in Washington. She published Bylines for two years, then became very successful at travel writing and didn't have time to continue publishing Bylines. She looked for someone who would continue her vision. I bought Bylines from her.

I started with the 2006 version, and have been publishing it since then. Bylines evolves each year, with new things being added. It contains substantially more now than it did in the beginning. For one thing, it is 24 pages longer. I've added a list of "literary holidays," pages for conference notes, a submission tracker form that can be copied, an expense tracker, mileage tracker, monthly office task lists for the full-time writer, goal-setting pages, and other things that hopefully help a writer keep organized. This year's Bylines has a list of Literary Festivals. Previous editions have had lists of Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning authors.

When I started, decided to put images of desks on the cover, as a creative setting for writers to imagine. With the 2008 Bylines, I started featuring actual desks of famous authors. I thought this might be helpful to writers to show them a variety of settings that inspired so much creativity. So far we've featured the writing desks of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Mark Twain and Will Rogers. I've got an idea for 2011, but writers are welcome send in suggestions if they know of a famous "writing desk" near them!

DV: As a writer, I find it so inspiring to see the the desks of famous writers on the front covers of each issue. I love that feature! Now that 2010 is here, you’ve already begun to plan next year’s calendar. What are you looking for in submissions for the 2011 issue of Bylines?

SF: Each essay reveals some aspect of writing. Some moment in a writer's life, or some realization about writing that might help other writers. I always enjoy humor, but I enjoy the serious ones, too. I like for the essays to have a positive message, rather than focusing on negative outcomes. It's hard to tell a story in 300 words or less, but writers have found many ways to do it.

Stories have included one on overcoming envy of another writer's success, how it is rewarding to be able to combine writing at home with taking care of one's children, how writing stretches the imagination, how writing has led a writer to have an amazing experience, and more. Writers have told about their divorces, death of children, overcoming disabilities and finding or changing careers, all in 300 word essays. Writers have compared writing to cooking, to rock climbing, to racing a car and to many other things. Humor is always good, but so is sincerity. We also take poems, if they're about writing.

DV: What would cause you to reject an essay? where can writers find complete guidelines?

SF: The entries that are most often rejected are those that are merely a bio of the person submitting. Complete guidelines are at, along with a few examples.

DV: Showing examples is very helpful. When is the deadline for submissions?

SF: This time it's March 1.

DV: What can writers expect from you if their submission is accepted?

SF: Once their submission is accepted, I send them a final, edited version. Hopefully we'll eliminate any last mistakes this way. Then, I ask them if they want their email address published in Bylines on the writer's contact page. Sometimes readers of Bylines want to contact the writers and compliment them, and writers have even gotten assignments from being in Bylines! I also ask the writers if they want their website to be listed as a link on the Bylines website.

Later, I ask them to fill out a brief marketing form. Using the information from the marketing form, I try to send out press releases about the author to their local newspaper and library, in hopes of helping not only sell Bylines, but helping the writer with publicity for his/her own career.

DV: You do a great job encouraging writers to get the word out about the calendar. I won a copy of this year's calendar on another writer's blog. I’m excited about the extra incentive you will be giving for the top three submissions for the 2011 calendar. Please tell us a little bit about those incentives.

SF: This year, it's more like a writing contest that has no entry fee! I choose 53 submissions for Bylines, and each will receive $5 plus a copy of the book. Then I will choose the top 3 essays, and those will receive $100, $60, and $40, respectively. This may not seem like much, but the first three years Bylines was published, they didn't pay writers at all! As Bylines becomes more successful, I'm trying to increase the pay rate.

DV: That's very generous. I imagine you will get tons of submissions, and I bet it won't be easy to pick the top three essays. What’s the best way to find out more about Sylvia Forbes, Snowflake Press or Bylines Writer’s Desk Calendar?

SF: Visit for more info about the Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar. Visit for more info about my writing.

DV: Do you have any other words of advice or wisdom for my blog visitors?

SF: Keep writing!. It's easy to have self-doubt. When you get discouraged, immerse yourself in reading books on writing, read well-written books of any genre, network with writer friends and focus on the positive. Also, support your fellow writers by celebrating their successes, too.

DV: That's good advice, indeed. Thanks again, Sylvia, for being a guest blogger here today, for sharing information about yourself and for letting us know more about Snowflake Press and the Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar.

Don't forget, if you post a question or comment for Sylvia, you will be entered in the random drawing for a copy of the 2010 Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar. One winner will be announced on Monday. More importantly, don't forget to submit your essay to Sylvia by March 1.

Interview with Sylvia Forbes - Part I

Today in St. Peters, MO: Partly cloudy, high 30 degrees.

It’s an honor to have Sylvia Forbes, editor and publisher of Snowflake Press and the award-winning Bylines Writer’s Desk Calendar, as my guest blogger today. I’ve known Sylvia through the Missouri Writers Guild for about eight years and continue to be impressed by her enthusiasm and hard work as a freelance writer, photographer and publisher.

Part I of the interview will focus primarily on Sylvia, her background and writing philosophy. Part II will focus on Snowflake Press and Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar. Everyone who posts a question or a comment for Sylvia will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of the 2010 Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar (shown on the left). One winner will be announced on Monday.
DV: Thank you, Sylvia, for agreeing to be interviewed today on Donna’s Book Pub. Through Bylines Writer’s Calendar you have not only helped writers become more organized, you have also assisted many writers in achieving their publication dreams. As a writer, an editor and a publisher you have much to offer other writers. Please tell us about your wriring journey and background. How did you get started freelancing?

SF: Actually, it happened by accident. I moved to a small town to be able to help my parents, who had retired to their home town and were ailing. It was difficult to find ANY jobs in town or in the nearby area, much less good-paying ones. So I thought about what kind of work I could do while living in a small town and came up with the idea of freelancing. However, from thinking about it to doing it is a big leap. My first step was to contact my local newspaper, and ask if they needed freelancers. I wrote my first article on spec for that newspaper, and have been writing ever since.

DV: What are some notable writing assignments you've had or publishing credits you've achieved?

SF: I have a degree in botany, so my articles about plants are some of my favorites. I wrote about a "living wall" for the Christian Science Monitor, and have written several articles for Herb Quarterly, a magazine specializing in growing and using herbs.

Also, I live in a very historic area, where the Santa Fe Trail started, Kit Carson lived as a boy and Daniel Boone's sons lived and worked. Lewis & Clark spent a couple nights here on their famous journey. The first steamboats up the Missouri River stopped here and eight Missouri governors lived in this area. I have written dozens of stories about local history for our newspaper. I find it exciting to uncover some piece of history that isn't well-known, or to combine several related facts to put together a better picture of earlier times.

No matter what I'm writing, my favorite part of the writing process is interviewing other people. I really enjoy meeting other creative people and learning what they have done with their talent and skill, from artists to scientists.

As far as credits, most recently I had two features place in the top 100 in the features category of the 2009 Writer's Digest Contest. I've won awards in the Missouri Writers' Guild contest in each of the last nine years in a variety of categories, even though the judges change every year, and hopefully that's good measurement of the consistency of my writing.

DV: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received? The worst?

SF: The best advice I ever received was when I wrote my first article. I was worried about word count and style and interview techniques and many other things, and the editor said to me, "just tell the story." I think that's so important. You can edit for length, or style, or add quotes, or other things later, but first you have to get the story down.

The worst is "write what you know." I've written about a lot of things I don't know, from tool collecting to vintage jewelry styles to yodeling. I think what is important is that you acquire the research skills to be able to gather information about a topic, and the interview skills to ask questions of experts. Also, fiction writers have to have a wonderful imagination. Because the whole field of science fiction and fantasy, and much of the romance and mystery genres are based on "what if," not "what you know."

DV: That's some good advice and a unique way of looking at the "write what you know" philosphy. I guess it would be safe to say through research and asking "what if" a writer should "know what you write." Next question: You have received many awards as a writer and publisher. The Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar has been honored in the Independent Publishers Association "Book of the Year" Competition and as a finalist for the Walter Williams Award by the Missouri Writers’ Guild. That’s so impressive. Is there any award that stands out among the others?

SF: The "awards" that mean the most to me are when writers e-mail and say that they love Bylines and use it every day. That was the whole reason for me to take on publishing it - to help other writers.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Interview on Kidsreads with Kathryn Lasky

Today in St. Peters, MO: Drifting snow, high 21 degrees.

Recently I interviewed Newbery Honor author Kathryn Lasky for Lasky is author of over 100 fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults. In addition to interviewing her for Kidsreads, I also reviewed her latest novel Lone Wolf, the first chapter of a new series called Wolves of the Beyond. Lone Wolf is a wonderful children's book which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend!

As a writer, I'm always curious to learn how writers, especially successful ones, approach their craft. In her Kidsreads interview Lasky talks about her writing process, how she thoroughly researches her topic, and she shares other advice for writers.

Some of you may have heard of Lasky's enormously popular Guardians of Ga'hoole fantasy series about owls. At the conclusion of her Kidsreads interview, Lasky also shares some information about the Guardians of Ga'Hoole movie which is scheduled to be released by Warner Brothers in September, 2010.

If you get a chance, check out the interview--better yet, check out one of Lasky's wonderful books!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Snow, Glorious Snow - And a Link to a Contest

Today in St. Peters, MO: Sleet and snow, high 33 degrees.

Today's snowy weather reminds me of the Reading Writers Flash Fiction Contest I entered last month. The contest theme was SNOW. It was a fun contest with no entry fee. My story "Rule Number Three" made it through the first and second rounds and received an Honorable Mention in the final round. Out of 388 entries there was one winner and ten honorable mentions, so I felt good making it into the top eleven. What also made the contest fun was that some of my blogging buddies were also in the running.

The contest going on now is "Once Upon a Day." The lovely photo on the left is from the Reading Writers website.

According to the website, "The first line of your story must begin with: The sun rose... The last line of your story must end with: ...just as the sun went down."

The deadline is May 15, there's no entry fee, 1,000 words maximum. Grand prize is $100 and publication in The Verb. Visit the site for complete details.

Good luck!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Query Stats from Nathan Bransford

Today in St. Peters, MO: Sleet and snow, high 33 degrees.

Over on literary agent Nathan Bransford's January 28 blog, he posted some interesting query stats. Nathan is an agent with Curtis Brown and one of the two agents mentioned in Chuck Sambuchino's article from yesterday about word counts. I am among the almost 3,000 who follow Nathan's blog. I've found a lot of useful news and information about writing and publishing on his blog--plus it's very entertaining.

In one week while Nathan was on vacation, he received 327 queries, which he has broken down into genres, word counts, and miscellaneous factiods. Genres include the usual, plus mangst (I had to click on that link) and "no freaking clue." Word counts for manuscripts ranged from fewer than 25,000 words to 200,000 plus. Some factiods mentioned in his post are: the number of queries that begin with a rhetorical question (which he does not like), the number of queries addressed to another agent, and the number of queries that misspelled the word "query."

It's an interesting post, if you want to check it out.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Words Count, But What's the Right Word Count?

Today in St. Peters, MO: Cloudy, high 40 degrees, chance of flurries tonight.

If you've ever wondered how many words are appropriate for your manuscript, you should check out this article: Word Count for Novels and Children's Books - The Definitive Post by Chuck Sambuchino.

As an editor at Writer's Digest, Sambuchino edits the Guide to Literary Agents and the Screenwriters and Playwriter's Market. In his article, he has broken down the general rules for word counts by genre. While he notes there are some exceptions to these rules, he also notes that new writers cannot assume they are the exception to the rule.

Here's a synopsis of the counts; for details and further explanations, read his excellent post:

* Adult Novels: Commercial and Literary - 80,000 and 89,999
* Sci-fi and Fantasy - 100,000 - 115,000
* Middle grade - 20,000 - 45,000
* Young Adult - 55,000 - 69,999 (this category is very flexible)
* Picture Books - 500-S600 words (32 pages)
* Western - 50,000-80,000 (60,000 is a good target)
* Memoir 80,000-89,999 ( 70,000-79,000 is not a terrible thing)

As a reader and a writer I've always known that words matter. I also know the length of my manuscript is important. Now I can count on it!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Six More Weeks of Winter

Today in St. Peters, MO: Cloudy, high 40 degrees

It may be cloudy in St. Peters, Missouri, but in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil (the famous groundhog) saw his shadow, which means six more weeks of winter. Bah!

Punxsutawney is in Western Pennsylvania, where Groundhog Day has been a big doings since 1886. The festivities on Groundhog Day center around Gobblers Knob. Here's a link to the news article and photos of the event. If you're curious about the history of Groundhog Day, here's a link to a site that can shed some light on the topic.

Before it was called Groundhog Day, Feb 2 was known as Candlemas Day . The Christian significance of the 2nd of February is that this date is forty days after Christ's birth at Christmas. I also found this poem about Candlemas day: "For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May . . ."

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Winner and An Announcement

Today in St. Peters, MO Mostly cloudy, high 39 degrees.

Horray! Today starts a new month. With January behind us I'm looking forward to some warmer weather. I've already made a bit of progress on my goals of getting more organized, eliminating clutter, and donating more goods to worthy causes. One worthy cause I'm donating to is my blog--more specifically to my blog visitors. Last month I announced a contest to give away a copy of Mysteries of the Ozarks (Vol I), which includes my short story, "The Shape of a Heart." The winner was selected by a random drawing from the names of anyone who submitted a comment or a question on my blog in January.

Drum roll please .............................

The winner of MOO (hey, cute) is CATHY. So, I will send a copy of Mysteries of the Ozarks to Cathy this week.

Now for my this month's announcement.
I'm pleased to announce that on Feb 11 I will interview Sylvia Forbes, publisher of Snowflake Press and publisher and editor of Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar. Check back on Feb 11 to find out what Sylvia is looking for in the way of submissions for her 2011 calendar and what great incentives she will be giving this year. Sylvia has also agreed to answer questions and comments from visitors to Donna's Book Pub. She also will give away one copy of the Bylines 2010 Writer's Desk Calendar to someone who leaves a comment or a question for her. The name of one lucky winner will be picked at random, and Sylvia will mail a copy of the calendar to the winner.
Later in the month I will be giving away another book from my library, so check back to see what's up for grabs.

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...