Friday, April 30, 2010

My Talk on "Prose Writing" to MFA Students at Lindenwood

Last night was an eye-opening experience. Dianna Gravemann, a writing friend and university-level teacher, invited me to talk to her MFA students in a class on "Prose Writing" at Lindenwood University in St. Charles. The focus of my talk was on short stories, specifically what I look for when judging a short story contest or deciding which short stories to accept when I'm editing Cuivre River Anthology.

The class was a mix of published and yet-to-be-published students. During my presentation I talked about what makes a good story, including the importance of story titles and gave them an exercise on "guess the original title of the book." For example, "Pansy" was the original title of what best-selling book that was made into a famous movie? Answer: "Gone with the Wind."

Last night we also discussed characters, conflict, word choices, voice, and most of the basics of short stories. But a few students had specific questions about the business of publishing, and I'm not certain I adequately covered those questions in the time I had to speak. Even if I had more time, I'm not sure I could've covered them because frankly those questions were geared for someone in publishing rather than a garden-variety writer like me.

Before leaving I handed out bookmarks with my blog address and invited the students to visit here. So, I hope some of them will visit today because I've found links to sites with insight from professionals in the publishing industry on some of the questions asked last night.

* One question had to do with the future of self-publishing. I don't have a crystal ball and wouldn't want to specualte, and self-publishing individual decision. While self-publishing isn't right for me, I mentioned a few self-publishing success stories, and Dianna chimed in with some others. Here's a link to Alan Rinzler's post on How Self Publishing Can Lead to a Real Book Deal. In his post he lists the top four reasons self-published books get signed up. Another excellent post about self-publishing comes from literary agent Nathan Bransford, "Should You Self-Publish? The Questions to Ask Yourself."

* Two related questions asked last night were: "When do you know you're ready to send off your manuscript?" and "When do you stop sending off to lit mags or publications that only give contributor copies or pay $100, and start writing to make money?" Those are very personal decisions, and I didn't have a one-size-fits-all answer, but I found something that might shed some light on the subject. Here's a link to another post from Alan Rinzler. This one is on "How Writers Build Courage."

* Related to the questions above, which touched on finding an agent, here's a post from literary agent Nathan Bransford on "How to Find a Literary Agent," along with over 100 comments about his post. You can also learn a lot about agenting from Kristen Nelson in her Agenting 101 blog posts. I frequently visit these two blogs because of the excellent information they provide for writers.

* Another question touched on the content of a manuscript. "If 90 percent of what I've written is true and 10 percent is made up, is it fiction or non-fiction?" Great question. I've heard several opinions on the matter and had lengthy discussions with writing friends. Last night I mentioned James Frey, and one student brought up "Angela's Ashes." I found an article from the Christian Science Monitor that addresses the question of "Memoirs Whose Truth and Does it Matter?" that might help. Here's another link on a related question that was asked: "What is Creative Nonfiction?"

Those are all the questions I can recall that needed to be addressed more, but if there are others, let me know.

Thanks again Dianna for inviting me to talk to your class, and thanks to everyone there for being so polite and for having so many wonderful questions!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Advice from Agent Cherry Weiner

Yesterday at critique group, we had a special visitor--literary agent Cherry Weiner. I met Cherry about eight years ago at an OWL meeting in Branson.

Cherry represents some of my writing friends including Dusty Richards and Lou Turner. The photo on the left is of Lou, Cherry, and me, taken by Bea Siros after lunch. Note to self: lay off the fatty foods, lace up those tennis shoes, and start walking.

Anyway, Cherry's plane arrived from NYC late yesterday morning, and Lou brought her straight to our critique group at the Rendezvous Cafe in O'Fallon. Cherry is visiting with Lou and another client before taking off to be a speaker at a conference.

We were just about finished with critiques when they arrived, but Cherry patiently listened to us critique one manuscript, followed by a reading and critique of a second. I didn't take notes, but here are a few comments I remember about what she had to say:

* In a critique group, it is important that someone else read your work. That way the focus will be on the writing rather than the reading.

* Grammar, punctuation, spelling and anything technical must be perfect before submitting. An agent or editor does not have time to correct your mistakes. Chances are if your manuscript or query letter have mistakes in the opening, they will automatically get placed in the NO pile. If you aren't proficient in grammar, etc. find someone who is, and don't rely on spell check.

* Less is more. Details add to the story, but too many details, unnecessary details and repetition slow down the work.

* Endings are important. Watch the endings of chapters, paragraphs--even sentences. The example used was: "The next day Frank was gone and so were his clothes." Revise to: "The next day Frank was gone."

* It's about the writing and the story. When asked the question, "What are you looking for?" Cherry answered, "Whatever I can sell." She added that the market for Westerns is soft, even for established writers. Her advice was to write a great book.

Cherry will be in OKC at OWFI this weekend speaking on a panel and taking pitches from attendees. If you're headed that way, good luck, and if you talk to Cherry, tell her Lou's friend Donna says "Hi!" And if you see Lou, tell her I said "Hi!" too.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Marketing Matters

At this weekend's Saturday Writers workshop with Jen Cullerton Johnson, one aspect of writing that Jen stressed was the importance of marketing. During her presentation she shared her publishing experience, including how her book was selected from the slush pile and how the illustrations came about. She also stressed that while writing and publishing a book is hard work, after your book is written and published, the really hard work of marketing begins.

On Saturday it was my good fortune to share table space with Jen and her sweet and polite son Nico, so I was able to take some pointers. Jen was extremely approachable and very inspiring. She was also flexible and seemingly unflappable. While Jen's book SEEDS OF CHANGE won't be available until next month, that didn't seem to bother her. She came prepared. Here are some tips I took from her:

* Approachability - After Jen's initial presentation and before the workshop, several writers came up to talk to her. She was sincere and inspiring at reaching out and answering questions from writers, including young writers and poets who had won in our annual writing contests.

* Visual aids - She posted a good-sized cardboard display of her SEEDS OF CHANGE cover and packets of "seeds of change" as handouts and for use during the workshop. She also had a display of plants of various shapes and sizes.

* A clipboard and sign-up sheet - These were available for people interested in purchasing her book, and she offered a discount to anyone attending her workshop.

* An assistant - Jen's son Nico was her able assistant.

* A camera - While Sheree Nielsen, the Saturday Writers' photographer, took shots of Jen and workshop attendees, Jen also brought a camera of her own. Nico knew how to use the camera and when to get a good shot of his mom. Jen used her display poster as the background for many of the photos.

* Plan B - Technical difficulties prevented Jen from presenting her slides, but she used the time to connect with the audience by asking questions about their writing.

* Giveaways - In addition to seed packets and other gaily wrapped giveaways, Jen also gave away certificates to children for her to come talk at their schools. The certificates for adults were for manuscript evaluations or a discount to attend a publishing workshop in Chicago.

* Business cards - She exchanged business cards with other writers.

* Good will - She offered to do reciprocal links to writers with blogs.

* Review copies - Although she didn't have copies of her book, she took business cards from writers willing to review it. She's going to send that information to her publisher so the publisher can send review copies to those reviewers.

That's a snapshot of what I observed about marketing from Jen. In a future post I will share what I learned about nature writing during Jen's Nature Writing Workshop.

Monday, April 26, 2010

And the Winners of WITHOUT MERCY Are

Thanks to everyone who posted comments about my review of Lisa Jackson's latest romantic suspense thriller, WITHOUT MERCY, as well as everyone who left questions for Lisa last week.

A special thanks to Lisa for dropping by to answer your follow-on questions and comments.

Two names were randomly selected to win a copy of Lisa's book. The winners are: Bookie and Jemi Fraser.

So, Bookie and Jemi, please e-mail me with your mailing addresses so I can forward that information to Lisa's representatives, who will mail you copies of her book to you.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Saturday Writers "Seeds of Change" Workshop With Jen Cullerton Johnson

Tomorrow, members of Saturday Writers, local children, teens, teachers, and parents have a rare opportunity to participate in a special "Seeds of Changs" workshop.

Jen Cullerton Johnson, author of Seeds of Change, will present a workshop designed to give participants the tools to write about the environment around them. Jen Cullerton Johnson has published fiction and creative nonfiction in literary journals and magazines. She holds a MFA in Non-Fiction, a MEd in Curriculum and Development and is a founding member of MuseWrite a literary arts organization based in Chicago. She lives and teaches in Chicago, Illinois.

During the "Seeds of Change" workshop participants will learn how to observe nature through keeping a nature journal. They will use their inspiration to write a piece of their choice: poetry, short story, essay, etc.

The workshop will be presented at the St. Peters Arts and Community Center, 1035 St. Peters Howell Road. Registration opens at 9:45, followed by the mini-workshop which begins at 10:30.

Children and teen writing contest winners will receive their awards at noon, followed by lunch at 12:30. Open mic begins at 1:30, and the event ends at 3:00 p.m. Visit the Events page of the SW website for detailed schedule and to find out how to sign up for the open mic event.

This special event will feature door prizes, refreshments, pizza for lunch, book signings, and lots more. Margo Dill Balinski does an excellent job planning and organizing our annual workshop each year, and this one promises to be extra special.

Hope to see you there. The "Seeds of Change" workshop is sponsored by:

*Saturday Writers
* Missouri Writers’ Guild, (
*Cindy Allen, Saturday Writers board member
*Margo L. Dill, (Editor 911: editing services and business writing,
*Amy Harke-Moore, (The Write Helper, editing services
*Lou Turner, (High Hill Press,
* Donna Volkenannt, (Donna’s Book Pub and author of stories in Cup of Comfort for Christmas, Cup of Comfort for Military Families, Cup of Comfort for Women, and Irish Inspirations)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day, A Writer's Way

Happy Earth Day 2010.

Here's a photo showing how magnificient nature is. I took it last week from the front porch after a brief rain shower. Michael was outside playing kickball and ran inside yelling for us to come and look at the double rainbow. I never did find the pots of gold at the end of the rainbows, but I think the image, with my lilac bushes in the foreground, is golden!

Today is another lovely spring day. While driving Cari to school this morning I thought that with today being Earth Day there are several writerly-ways I conserve energy. Here are some of mine. If you have any, please share.

Revise: I read as much copy on the screen as possible (in large print to save on my eyesight) and try to print out as close to a final draft to save on paper.

Recycle: After printing out copies and making changes, I feed the marked-up copy back into the printer to use the reverse side on my next printout.

Refill: Refillable ink cartridges are cheaper than new ones, and they save ink.

Reuse: After my critique group marks up my copy, the edges are sometimes folded or unable to be refed back into my printer. I use those copies as scrap paper to jot down ideas or sketch out outlines.

Reduce: Reducing clutter is one of my goals this year. For the past few months I have reduced the books in my library by having giveaways on my blog.

Regift: After reviewing books for Bookreporter, I give copies to my grandchildren, my sisters, donate copies to the local library or Saturday Writers, or give away to my friends or blog visitors. (Bonus: The library gives a tax receipt.)

Renew: About once a month I bundle up items to donate to charity. Last week I cleaned out closets and drawers, and even a storage area in the basement. Afterwards I took several boxes of household items and books to our parish for a rummage sale to send the All Saints youth group to Mexico. But, darn it, they didn't take clothes, so Michael and I took the bags and boxes of used clothing, an old TV, and some books and magazines, to our local Goodwill. That spring cleaning definitely renewed my spirit and will hopefully help renew someone else. (Bonus: Goodwill gives a tax receipt for the donations.)

That's all of the writerly-ways I conserve energy, at least the ones that begin with the letter "R." If you have any suggestions, no matter what letter they begin with, I would love to read them.

The last two photos were taken this morning, shortly before writing this post. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Interview with Lisa Jackson and Book Giveaway

I'm excited today to be able to share my interview with New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jackson.

The photo on the left is from Lisa's official website. According to the bio on her website, "Lisa is known for her more than fifteen bestsellers, including the number one New York Times Best Seller, FATAL BURN. She has written more than 75 novels and has over 15 million copies of her books in print in 19 languages. Lisa is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America. Born in Molalla, Oregon, Lisa hasn't strayed far from her roots. She continues to live, love and work in the Pacific Northwest."

Her latest novel, WITHOUT MERCY, which I reviewed on Donna's Book Pub yesterday, is set in an isolated area of a mountain range in Oregon.

NOTE: Anyone who leaves a comment by April 25th about yesterday's review or today's interview will have a chance to win one of two copies of WITHOUT MERCY. Two names will be selected at random. Names of winners will be announced here on Monday, April 26. Winners will then need to contact me with their e-mail addresses so copies of the books can be mailed to the winners by Lisa's media representatives. (Only residents of the USA or Canada are eligible to win.)

So, here are my interview questions (DV for Donna Volkenannt) and Lisa's responses (LJ for Lisa Jackson):

DV: I've read several of your books, including your latest suspense thriller, WITHOUT MERCY. For those unfamiliar with your work, can you briefly share how you got started as a writer?

LJ: I wrote my first novel with two other women, one being my sister, author Nancy Bush. That book was never sold. It was 1981. I remember there were rejection letters saying it had too much suspense in it. Ironic, I think, considering the path my career has taken. So, when I did first get published, I wrote romance novels for Silhouette Books. Suspense was a no-no. I was told to take it out, out, OUT! Well . . . a little suspense always slipped in because I’m a suspense/mystery reader. I cut my teeth on Nancy Drew and The Black Stallion mysteries. LOVED them. Suspense came naturally Isn’t that great? Once romantic suspense came into reading vogue again, I was all over it. Believe you me. I think it is what I was always meant to eventually write—suspense, thrillers, romantic suspense, whatever description suits doesn’t worry me. It just makes me happy writing it.

DV: My sister Kathleen and I loved reading Nancy Drew books while we were growing up, too. Each week we checked out the maximum at the library then traded with one another so we could read twice as many. And, on the topic of sisters, as you mentioned above, your sister Nancy Bush is also a successful writer. That makes me wonder about why you both followed the same career. As children were you encouraged to write?

LJ: I had always thought about being writer, even in grade school and throughout high school and college. However that dream always seemed a tad unrealistic. I'm a pragmatist at heart, I think.

DV: The characters in WITHOUT MERCY are vivid and compelling. Are they based on people from actual events, are they fictional creations, or a little bit of both? What was your inspiration for WITHOUT MERCY?

LJ: My characters sort of arrive, almost fully formed, in my head and then grow and change from there. Although people I know will sometimes say I took one of their quirks or expressions and incorporated them somewhere along the line. So, no, my protagonists are not from actual events. However, the inspiration for WITHOUT MERCY did come from an actual event—though probably not the sort you have in mind. I was in the car, the radio was on and a commercial came on talking about a private school for troubled teens. I thought…hmmm, what if…and the fictional Blue Rock Academy began to take shape.

DV: When creating your novels, which comes first: character, plot, or setting?

LJ: Every book is different. Sometimes it’s the characters that have reveal something about themselves that I just have to follow up on and others it’s the sort of “what if” that occurred with WITHOUT MERCY. Though I must say that Reuben Montoya, Rick Bentz and other New Orleans characters have more or less insisted that they are going to be in my next hardcover, out in 2011.

DV: Your next hardcover sounds like another book I will enjoy reading, especially with a New Orleans setting. Speaking of which, the settings for your novels have been varied: Savannah, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Wyoming, and WITHOUT MERCY is set in an isolated area of a mountain range in Oregon. How do you decide on the setting for your story?

LJ: For WITHOUT MERCY, I wanted somewhere rugged to set Blue Rock Academy. Someplace that was also hard to get to and hard to leave. It to be isolated enough that when the blizzard hits and things are going from bad to worse, there’s no hope of anyone can get in or out, Jules, Trent, Shaylee and the others are truly on their own. Since I love the mountains, especially here in Oregon, I thought of the Siskiyou Mountains and right away I knew they were perfect. For some of my other novels, the settings have been chosen because of their own ambiance or sense of mystery, or because of a plot point—such as being a location where their could actually be an abandoned hospital for the mentally ill.

DV: That makes sense. Another important element for a novel is its title. Sometimes I will select a book because of its intriguing title, which makes me wonder how they are selected. Do you select the titles for your novels, or do you suggest a few titles and the publisher decides on which to use?

LJ: It’s very much a collaborative effort between me and my editor. We both have ideas of what may fit and specific suggestions and we talk them out until we both know it sounds right.

DV: One question I'm certain other writers would be interested in knowing is: What one piece of advice would you like to share with other writers?

LJ: Work hard and don’t forget what’s important—including family, friends and some time for you. Easier said that done, I know. I have to remind myself of this all of the time.

DV: That's good advice, no matter what one's profession. Here's another question about how you approach writing your novels: When writing, do you follow an outline or plunge right into the story?

LJ: I have a lot of the plot on paper before I can truly lose myself in the book. It’s not so much an outline as it is, I guess, the skeleton of the book, fleshed out somewhat, but still bare bones. Of course, there are changes on the way to the final version, but the essential idea holds it all together.

DV: Have you ever had a character take over while you were writing and demand a bigger role in the story?

LJ: A bigger role??? Rick Bentz stood up and insisted on his own book, last year’s MALICE, just out in paperback. And, yes, they can be a nosy bunch. Often what’s happening is that ideas and character development find their way into the story because ideas about how a character may change in future work sends me in an unexpected direction.

DV: Please describe what happens after you finish your first draft.

LJ: Many things, though not necessarily in this order—sleep, walking on the beach with the dogs, touching base with humans again, putting on real clothes not just sweats, and the list goes on. Also, though, the first draft may or may not be ready to go to my editor. I may be making notes on changes I already know I want to make. And it’s time to take care of some of the business of publishing.

DV: What are you working on now?

LJ: WITHOUT MERCY just came out so I’m very involved right now in promoting that book and responding to readers who have been getting in touch. Otherwise, though, sister Nancy and I are working on revisions for on our next book together, WICKED LIES, out in February 2011, and I’m digging in on my next hardcover novel, which takes us all back to New Orleans.

DV: WICKED LIES, that's another great title. Sounds like a fascinating book. What is the best way for readers to find out about book signings or author events?

LJ: Readers should please head to my website, We try hard to keep it as up-to-date as possible. And, if you want to sign up for news of upcoming book releases, you can do that there and you’ll get updates from both me and Nancy. Thanks for asking!

DV - P.S. For curious minds who want to know how I was able to get Lisa for an interview on Donna's Book Pub--and to comply with FTC guidelines--please note: Lisa's Media Consultant e-mailed me awhile back and asked if I would be interested in interviewing Lisa on my blog and reviewing her latest book. I thought interviewing Lisa would be a unique opportunity for my visitors (and me) to learn about how successful writers approach the art, craft, and business of writing. So, I read her latest book, reviewed it, and came up with interview questions for Lisa, which I forwarded the her media consultant, who in turn forwarded the questions to Lisa and then returned her responses to me.For the record, while I received a complimentary Advance Uncorrected Proof of WITHOUT MERCY, I was not paid to review her book or to interview her on my blog. Whew! And I thought working for the DOD was complicated--just kidding!

Hope you enjoyed Lisa's interview, and don't forget to leave a comment to be entered in the book giveaway.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review of WITHOUT MERCY by Lisa Jackson

New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jackson has written another page-turner in her latest book, WITHOUT MERCY. The setting is fictional Blue Rock Academy, a school for wayward young adults located in an isolated mountain range in Oregon.

Julia "Jules" Farentino is divorced and an unemployed teacher, struggling to overcome the trauma of discovering her beloved father's bloody body. While her father's murder remains unsolved, Jules tries to pull her life together after losing him and her teaching job. Jules' younger half-sister Shaylee "Shay" has fared even worse. Shay, who has a different father than Jules, has acted out by using drugs and having run-ins with the law. And Edie, the girls' mother, is more concerned with appearances than mothering her daughters.

Following Shay's latest conviction, a judge orders her to attend Blue Rock Academy rather than go to prison. But to Shay, the isolated and ultra-strict academy is just as bad as prison, and she pleads for her sister's help. After doing some research, Jules discovers that Blue Rock has had its share of trouble recently, with a teacher being involved with students and one girl going missing. Although students are not permitted contact with the outside, Shay manages to get a desparate message to Jules asking for her help before a killer strikes again.

WITHOUT MERCY is a suspenseful page-turner with a touch of romance, and lots of twists and turns that will keep you guessing till the end.

Stop by tomorrow to read my interview with author Lisa Jackson. Anyone who leaves a comment about the review or interview is eligible to win a copy of WITHOUT MERCY. Lisa will be giving away two copies of WITHOUT MERCY. At the end of the week names of two visitors will be selected at random, and the books will be mailed to those two lucky visitors. (Winners must be residents of the USA or Canada.)

IAC FTC guidelines, please note that while I received a complimentary review copy of WITHOUT MERCY, I was neither paid nor required to give a positive review of the novel.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Book Giveaways and a Guest Blogger Announcement

Thanks to everyone who left comments about their favorite library memories last week in honor of National Library Week. I loved reading them all.

The person whose name was randomly selected (i.e. names drawn from a hat) to win a copy of MYSTERIES OF THE OZARKS (Vol I) in honor the National Library Week Book Giveaway on Donna's Book Pub is . . . Roland.

So, Roland, if you can please e-mail me I will make sure you get your copy of MYSTERIES OF THE OZARKS. I hope you enjoy the anthology, which contains my short story "The Shape of a Heart."

If you didn't win this last time, I have a special announcement about how you can win a copy of New York Times bestselling author Lisa's Jackson's latest novel, WITHOUT MERCY.

Tomorrow I will post a review of the romantic suspense novel WITHOUT MERCY, and on Wednesday I will post my interview with Lisa.

In the interview, Lisa answers questions about her latest novel as well as writing-related topics including character, setting, titles, plot, and much more.

Lisa has generously donated two copies of WITHOUT MERCY to be given away to two lucky people who leave comments on my blog this week. Check back tomorrow and Wednesday for details.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pitch Perfect

With the MWG conference this weekend, the topic of pitching to an agent came up at lunch after critique group last Tuesday. I mentioned that I had recently read some helpful posts about pitches on literary agent Nathan Bransford's blog and acquisitions editor Alan Rinzler's blog.

A critique buddy, Claudia, who will be at the conference this weekend, asked me to post links on my blog. So, here are the links:

Mr. Rinzler's March 29 post "Insider's Tips for Preparing and Delivering a Winning pitch," discusses preparing for the pitch and delivery. The main points that stick with me are: be short and convincing, talk about the book first and self second, practice, be polite, and listen.

Unfortunately, for some reason, the video of Nathan didn't show when I revisited his site, but if you read the comments in his April 1 post about "The Importance of the Pitch" you can get the gist of what he said.

Wishing you a "pitch perfect" weekend at the MWG conference, or wherever your path to publication takes you.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ally Carter, Kristen Nelson, and MWG

Last month I reviewed HEIST SOCIETY by Ally Carter for Teenreads, which is a fantastic site for teens to learn about authors like Ally Carter and books like HEIST SOCIETY. You can read my entire review on the Teenreads site.

I first learned about Ally Carter after visiting Literary Agent Kristen Nelson's blog, Pub Rants. Kristen is Ally's agent, and from what I've read on Kristen's blog, Ally and other authors Kristen represents have done exceptionally well with their books. So when I saw Ally's name on the list I received from my editor at Bookreporter, I jumped at the chance to review HEIST SOCIETY. Reading books written by YA authors, especially successful ones, has taught me a great deal in crafting the YA mystery novel set in St. Charles, MO, that I'm working on now.

Finishing my YA novel has been a challenge, and I'm always looking for resources to help me work through the process. I visit Kristen's blog frequently because she represents YA authors. Her blog is an exceptional resource for writers; it's filled with helpful advice about submissions, query letters, pitching, and other relevant topics.

Kristen is going to be speaking at the Missouri Writers' Guild Conference this year and I had hoped to learn more about the YA market from her, but life has interfered with my plans. This weekend I will be one of the hostesses for a shower for my niece.

MWG Conference Chair Claire Applewhite, Registrar Margo Dill, and all the board members and volunteers have done an outstanding job planning this year's conference. Pulling off a conference of this magnitude is a major undertaking; I know because in 2005 it was my job to plan and chair the MWG Conference in St. Charles, so I appreciate all their hard work and dedication. While I won't be at the MWG conference this weekend, several of my critique group friends will be including Judy Moresi, who is speaking on a panel, and Claudia Shelton and Doyle Suit, who will be shepherds for some of the speakers. Have fun, guys!

So, I hope everyone who attends has a great time and learns much. With such a star-studded line up, I'm sure it will be a success! To find more about the conference visit the MWG Conference website.

Monday, April 12, 2010

National Library Week (Apr 11-17) and A Book Giveaway

In honor of this being National Library Week (Apr 11-17), I'm giving away a copy of a book from my own library collection.

The book is Mysteries of the Ozarks, which includes my story "The Shape of a Heart." I gave away a copy of MOO earlier this year and the response was so good, I wanted to do it again.

One winner's name will be selected at random from everyone who leaves a comment about their favorite library memory between today and April 17. And by library, I'm including Bookmobiles, too!

My favorite library memories are of summers visiting the original Divoll Branch Library in the Hyde Park section of North St. Louis, Missouri. Divoll Library (which is no longer in operation) was a magnificient building that sat atop a hill not far from the Mississippi River, and one of the St. Louis libraries built with funds from Andrew Carnegie. I tried to find a photo of Divoll Library on the web, but couldn't find one. If I find one this week I will post it.

The highlights of each summer was a program called the Read Away Vacation club. At the beginning of the summer Mom enrolled us as club members. For each book checked out and read, the librarian put a star next to the member's name, and at the end of the summer, the librarian presented club members with certificates.

My parents were big believers in keeping us kids busy--and reading--during summer vacation. Trips to the library became part of my summer routine. Once a week, usually on a Monday, after the wash was taken off the line and clothes folded and put away, Mom put baby brother Timmy down for an afternoon nap (Bridget wasn't born yet). She handed the rest of us (Glenda, Kathleen, Jimmy and me) books to return from the previous week, along with our buff-colored library cards.

Entering the library was like walking into heaven. After racing up the wide concrete steps, I opened the bronze-handled door and stepped inside. I took a few minutes to soak in the cool air, the whisper of fans, and the smell of fresh ink and musty books before running to the water fountain for a long, cool drink. Then my sister Kathleen and I headed to the section where the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books were shelved.

The highlight of the Read Away Vacation club occurred in late August, when the librarian presented us with our certificates. At the supper table Dad praised us, and after dishes, Mom wrapped the certificates in tissue paper and stored our prized certificates in her cedar chest along with baby books, Baptism and First Communion certificates, and yearly report cards.

It seems appropriate that memories of my mom and dad are so vivid today. Mom kept us busy during the summer while Dad was at work, but Dad was the person who instilled my siblings and me with a love for reading and learning, for learning's sake. "The more you know, the more you know you don't know," he would often say. (Translation: The more you learn, you realize you don't know that much in the first place.)

When we were little he read the "funny papers" to us, and when we got older, he quizzed our vocabulary by asking us to "help" him with the crossword puzzle then later the word jumbles in the daily paper.

Today marks 27 years since Daddy passed away. Although my dad encouraged us to read, he also told us, "Don't believe everything you read, especially in the newspaper."

So, in remembrance of my dad, James P. Duly, Sr., and in honor of National Library Week, I invite my visitors will leave a comment and share their favorite library memory.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

And the Winner Is . . .

I promised to announce the winner of Beverly Barton's romantic thriller, Dead By Midnight, tomorrow, April 12. That's just a few hours away, but I have a longish post tomorrow in honor of National Library Week, so I thought it would be a good idea to announce the winner tonight.

The winner's name selected at random is . . . Nick Nixon. Nick tried to post on my blog last week but had some trouble, so he e-mailed me his comment and I posted it for him. Anyway, Nick's name was picked out of the hat, so I will get the book to him.

Congratulations, Nick, and thanks to everyone who dropped by and left a post.

I will announce another contest tomorrow, so stay tuned.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Words That Go Clunk When You Write

Okay, I admit that's not the greatest title for this post, but it's Friday and my brain is tired, and it's pretty much all I got till Monday.

Here's the thing.

I've read a couple posts the last few days about grammar. One blog responded to a question about the correct use of "then" or "and then" in a compound sentence. Here's an example (but not the same sentence used on the other blog): Is it correct to write: "He went to the bank then he went to the movies."?

According to the response on the other blog, the correct use would be (using my example above): He went to the bank, and then he went to the movies.

I left a comment on the blog that while using "and then" might be correct, it sounds "clunky" to me, and I suggested rewording the sentence to something like: He went to the bank before he went to the movies. I haven't checked back yet to see what the response to my comment was.

Today I found this question/answer post on Writers' Digest about using the pronouns he or she for a non-specific gender. The post is interesting, and as I read the answer to the question, my eyes lit up at: " No. 1 on the Writer’s Digest 10 Commandments list states: 'Thou shalt avoid clunkiness at all costs.' ”

While I thought my comment about not being clunky was original, apparently Writer's Digest also advises writers to "avoid clunkiness." Is clunkiness a real word? Anyway, I agree with the sentiment. Avoid clunkiness and "things that go clunk when you write."

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend.

Today in St. Peters, MO: Sunny, high 69 degrees. My lilac bushes are in full bloom (about this color) and smell amazing (use your imagination).

Thursday, April 8, 2010

2010 Called to Write Conference April 9 & 10

If you live in the Midwest and are looking for something to do this weekend, here's a conference that might interest you. It's the 2010 Annual Called to Write Conference sponsored by the Christian Writers Fellowship.

The conference will be April 9 & 10 at the Lamplighter Inn and Suites, 2040 Parkview Drive in Pittsburg, Kansas. Speakers include:

Cecil Murphey, best selling author of 90 Minutes in Heaven, Committed but Flawed, Touchdown Alexander and other books.

Deborah Vogts has written a contemporary romance series set in the Flint Hills of Kansas.

Sally Jadlow is a member of the Missouri Writers' Guild who lives in the Kansas City area. She has written poetry and has been published in Cup of Comfort books and others.

The workshop schedule covers: How to get started, How to promote yourself, Contracts, Poetry, Biographies and Memoirs, the Business of Writing, Background and Settings, and other topics.

I'm not sure if you can register this late, but it's worth checking out. For more information, including area lodging and dining options, contact Carol Russell or visit

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Book Giveaway - Dead by Midnight by Beverly Barton

Regular visitors may remember one of my goals is to get organized this year by giving away some books on my book shelf. So, in the spirit of keeping organized and sharing the wealth, here's the giveaway.

Last month I interviewed New York Times bestselling author Beverly Barton and reviewed her latest romantic thriller, DEAD BY MIDNIGHT on Boookreporter. In her Bookreporter interview, Beverly tells readers why titles are important and what happens after she writes her first draft. DEAD BY MIDNIGHT is a chilling romantic thriller about a deranged serial killer whose victims are related to a porno movie.

So, if you enjoy reading romantic thrillers with a twist at the end and want to help me reach my goal of reducing my stack of books, just leave a comment between now and April 11. I will select one name and pick a winner and announce on April 12.

Today in St. Peters, MO: Chance of afternoon thunderstorms, high 72 degrees.

Note: If you watched closely, you could see Walt on TV last night and early this morning. He works at the polls as an election judge in Cottleville, the small city next to St. Peters. The Cottleville mayor is pushing a petition to legalize medical marajuana, which helped his wife when she was in the grips of breast cancer. The measure failed by 9 votes, but I suspect it will appear on the ballot again.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Whispering Prairie Press 2010 Writing Competitions

Here's a contest announcement from the Kansas City Writers' Group and Whispering Prairie Press. The contest has a category for most types of writing.

KCWG is a chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild and publisher of Kansas City Voices magazine.

Whispering Prairie 2010 Poetry, Flash Fiction, and Essay Writing Awards

Prizes in Each Category: 1st place $100, 2nd place $50, 3rd place $25, plus one honorable mention for every 10 entries.

Open to all writers age 18 and up, except members of the Board of Directors of Whispering Prairie Press. All work must be the author’s original work.

Poetry: Any style, any subject. Limit: 36 lines

Flash Fiction: A complete fictional short story with a beginning, middle and end. 1,000 words or less

Non-fiction Personal Essay: 1,000 words or less

Submissions: All entries must be unpublished at the time of submission.
1. No limit on number of entries.
2. Submit hard copy with no name on manuscript.
3. Put word count for fiction or line count for poetry in the top right corner.
4. Include a cover sheet with name, address, e-mail, telephone number with area code, category, and title of entry. If author is a full-time college student, add the name of the school
5. Prose must be double-spaced in 12-point Times New Roman or Courier. Poetry may be single spaced.
6. Enclose SASE for next year’s guidelines. Entries not returned.

Entry fee: $5 for each entry or 3 entries for $10. (nonrefundable)
Full-time college students: 2 entries for $5 May mix categories.


Whispering Prairie Press Writing Awards
PO Box 8342
Prairie Village, KS 66208-0342

Postmark Deadline: June 30, 2010

Winners will be announced by August 1, 2010, and winners’ names posted at’ decisions are final.

Good luck!

Note: If you visit the KC Voices link you can also read their regular submission guidelines.

Today in St. Peters, MO: Windy, high 81 degrees.

Friday, April 2, 2010

My Interview with Jen Calonita, author of the SECRETS OF MY HOLLYWOOD LIFE series

Last month I had the privilege of interviewing YA author Jen Calonita for, which is part of the network.

Before becoming a famous YA author, Calonita was a Senior Editor at the former Teen People and a journalist for Entertainment Weekly, Glamour and Marie Claire. She has interviewed celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, Ashton Kutcher, Hilary Duff and others.

What I like about interviewing writers like Jen (besides the paycheck I receive from Bookreporter) is having the opportunity to learn how other writers, most notably multi-published novelists, approach the craft of writing.

In my Teenreads interview with Jen, she answers questions about: the difference between writing fiction and magazine articles, how she performs research to keep up with modern trends and why she wrote the series in first person, present tense. Jen also she shares the best writing advice she ever received.

Oh, and if you aren't familiar with Jen's books, be sure to check them out on her website. The story line is fresh and fun, and the covers are amazing! Oh, and I love her website background. Probably no one outside my family knows that I have a small collection of items (including a set of book ends) with the fleur de leis on them, so when I saw the fleur de leis in the design of her first book and on the background of her website, it put a smile on my face.

Happy Easter everyone! My postings next week might be spotty. I'm scheduled for jury duty on Monday, so if I get selected to be a juror, I won't be doing much blogging.

The weather in St. Peters, MO, has been lovely the past few days. We've even come close to breaking some records. Today's forecast is sunny and mild, with a high temperature around 80 degrees.

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...