Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More Treasures of St. Louis

As a writer, I find architecture, history and historic landmarks fascinating. Maybe that's why day trips like the one I took last week are so exciting that I have to share what I learned.

Our lunch stop was Hannegan's Restaurant on Lacede's Landing, at the foot of the Mississippi River, not far from the Gateway Arch. The Landing was settled in 1784 by Pierre Laclede, one of the founders of St. Louis. Linda, our tour guide, told us that a huge fire in 1849 claimed the buildings on the Landing, except for the Old Cathedral and the Courthouse (where the Dred Scott Decision was rendered.)

We walked from the bus along the landing over the the red granite pavers (which we were told are not cobblestones because cobblestones get worn down by water and aren't good for horses). The red granite pavers were hand hewn and came from the quarry at Elephant Rock State Park.

Hannegan's is housed in the old Witte Hardware building. It sits across the street from the original Boatman's Bank, which was formed for riverboat workers to deposit their money before the spent it all on food, drink, and carousing the streets near the river.

Robert Hannegan was a Missouri Democrat who delivered over 30,000 votes for FDR in the 1940 Presidential election. He was later appointed Postmaster General, and he convinced FDR to recruit then Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman to become his Vice Presidential his running mate in 1948.

The inside of Hannegan's is a replica of the U.S. Senate Dining Room in Washington, D.C. On each table, a brass plate sits at the foot of the green-shaded lamps. Etched on the brass plates are the names of senators and the states they represent. The significance of the names of the senators is that they are the senators who voted to repeal Prohibition.

Let the good times roll! Or as Pierre Laclede would've said, "Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez."

Our next stop was the magnificient Historic Samuel Cupples House on the campus of St. Louis University. Commissioned in 1888 and designed by architect Thomas Annan, the Cupples House is a lovely example of the Romanesque Revival style, build out of purple Colorado sandstone, complete with gargoyles.

The mansion has 42 rooms and 22 fireplaces, stained glass windows and intricately carved woodwork. My photos don't do justice to the exquisite interior of the mansion. I was so wrapped up in looking at all the antique furniture, sculptures, works of art and the glass collection, I almost forgot to take photos.

Many of the paintings, including a pair of paintings by 18th century Dutch Rocco master Jacob de Wit, were brought to St. Louis in 1845 by Jesuit priest Pierre DeSmet. The glass collection includes works by Suteben, Tiffany, and Lalique in the art noveau and art deco style.

The Zodiac windows (on the left) feature stanzas by St. Louis poet Eugene Fields.

The story of Samuel Cupples is intriguing. He was a self-made man of wealth, yet his personal life was filled with tragedy. His first wife died in childbirth, and his second wife (his first wife's sister) bore three children who died before the age seven.

His home was bought by St. Louis University in 1946, and was headed for the wrecking ball in the 1960s until Jesuit priest Father Maurice McNamee became the champion for its rescue.

The Historic Samuel Cupples House is located in the West Pine Mall on the campus of SLU in Midtown St. Louis. I plan to make a return visit. Who knows--perhaps I can work some of the history of Laclede's Landing or the Cupples House into a story--maybe a mystery even.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mom, and St. Louis Treasures

Before I write about the tour I took last week, I want to wish my late mother a happy birthday. Katherine Mae Ledford was born in Hannibal , Missouri, the first child of Willie and Minerva Blanche. Mom was born on the same date (Jul 25) as her dad and her paternal grandmother, Katherine, whom she was named after. Mom's family moved to St. Louis when she was an infant. Lucky for me, because that's where she met my dad.

It seems fitting that on my mom's birthday I'm back with more about the "St. Louis Treasures" tour I took last week with my sister Kathleen because--like my mom and dad and family--the City of St. Louis, where I was born and lived until high school graduation, had an influence on the person I am now.

So, back to the tour. After leaving Soulard Market our second stop was the lovely St. Anthony of Padua Church on Meramec Street. St. Anthony's is "the Mother church of the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart" and a cornerstone for the changing neighborhood in South St. Louis. The photo on the left does not do the magnificient church justice.

Our host at St. Anthony's was Mike Mount, who is a treasure trove of information. Mike reminded us that according to legend, St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost objects.

The original St. Anthony's was built in 1863 to serve German immigrants. The current church was begun in 1906 in the Romanesque style, and the cornerstone was laid in 1908. The church was consecrated in 1919 because as Mike told us a consecrated church has to be paid off--it cost $175,000 to build, which was a considerable sum--even back then. The Masses were in German until World War I.

Because of its beautiful design and long aisle, St. Anthony's is used for many weddings. The pews and confessionals are made of oak and the floors are white maple and terazzo tile. Emil Frei designed the 56 stained glass windows. One interesting facet of the church is the "friar's choir," which is off to the side of the main altar. It's a serene room where the brothers say their prayers.

A fire in April 1994 destroyed the roof of the church, and water damage from putting out the fire destroyed much of the wood in the church. The then archbishop of St. Louis Justin Rigali promised to have the church restored to its original splendor, which it has been at a cost of six-million dollars. The church is open daily until 2 p.m.

Leaving St. Anthony's I was amazed at the wealth of information Mike had, not only about St. Anthony's Church, but about architecture, stained glass, St. Louis and Church history, the Franciscans, church legends, and Catholic saints and icons. Mike should write a book--seriously--he has so much fascinating information to share and his passion about what he does shines through.

Although I was born and raised in St. Louis, learning about the city of my birth is an enriching experience, and reminds me I'm never too old to learn. As a writer, trips like these fascinate me because seeing new places or visiting familiar ones engages my mind, keeps me curious and gets my writing juices flowing.

In my next post I'll share the secret behind the green lamps on the tables at Hannegan's on the Landing.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

To Market, To Market

Bright and early last Thursday morning my sister Kathleen and I drove to meet a tour bus and spent the day touring "St. Louis Treasures." Despite the 100+ temperature, our trip was very cool!

Tour guide Linda Koenig was a wealth of information--and a treasure herself.

Our first destination was Soulard Market, but before we arrived there, we saw quite a few sights while on the bus. We passed the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, which is 100 city blocks long. We even spotted a couple Clysdales grazing behind the AB fence. When Linda asked us what country the Clysdales were originally from, she got several answers. My guess was Lichtenstein. The correct answer: Scotland.

Driving down South Grand we saw Tower Grove Park and learned about the large Bosnian population (estimated at 70,000) that has settled in the area.

The entrance to Soulard Market in South St. Louis (on left) was bright and decorated with lovely summer flowers. Soulard Market is the oldest continuous farmers' market west of the Mississippi. While many of the stalls were empty, several were just unloading their trucks and we managed to make some purchases.

I bought some home-grown tomatoes from a farmer from Southern Illinois. At another booth I bought a patty pan squash. It had such an interesting shape I had to buy it! When I asked the man selling the vegetables how to prepare it, he wasn't quite sure. His English wasn't the best, so I decided to buy it anyway and do an Internet search for cooking ideas. If anyone knows how to prepare it, please let me know.

I passed up the bargains at the butcher shop (on the left) where you could buy goats, lamb, pickled pigs feet, and other unusual meats. The sign at the bottom about the Pet Shop out back got me curious--and cautious.

But I couldn't pass up the Spice Shop. Just walking inside was an adventure. Kathleen bought a spinach and cheese spice mix to use for a dish for Bunco, and I bought some spices for my husband Walt--who loves to cook.

If you're ever in St. Louis, check out Soulard Market for an some delicious sights, sounds, smells and--when you get home--tastes. Be sure to check out the dates and times before you go because it's not open every day.

Next week I'll post about some of the other cool places we visited on "St. Louis Treasures Tour" on the hottest day of the year.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Blog Me, Baby - Giveaway

Yee Haw! If you love reading Westerns or writing about the West, here's a blog for you.

Cactus Country is a new blog about Western writing, featuring articles, stories, art work, and excerpts from Western novels.

Lou Turner, the heart and hand behind High Hill Press and Cactus Country, is offering free copies of Dusty Richards' Writing the West as an incentive to the first ten people who become followers of Cactus Country.

For details on how to win a copy of Writing the West with Dusty Richards and Friends, visit the links above for High Hill Press and Cactus Country.

But be quick on the draw because there are only a couple free copies left.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What Readers Want

Yesterday on I read a post from John Dalton on Writers Tips.

Dalton is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and teaches at the University of Missouri MFA writing program. Here's his bio from his website if you want to read more.

I wholeheartedly agree with Dalton's statement in the stltoday post that "even in expertly crafted literary novels, stuff has to happen." I've read novels and short stories with lovely writing and intriguing characters, but when nothing happens, I wonder--so what?

In Dalton's post he lists five tips on what readers of literary fiction value and five things they don't want. Click here to read Dalton's list of basic writing tips.

From his list, I agree with his number one picks--Value #1 Truth and Dislike #1 Philisopical Meditations. Under Dislikes, descriptions of weather don't bother me--unless they are drawn out and have nothing to do with the story.

As a reader, in addition to the five likes and dislikes listed by Dalton, here are a few of my values and dislikes:

Value: clarity, brevity and wisdom

Dislike: political opinions, stilted dialogue and repetition

How about you, what do you value and dislike when you are reading fiction?

Friday, July 15, 2011


In MY RUBY SLIPPERS, Tracy Seeley faces her mortality as she chronicles her physical and emotional journey from her adult home in San Francisco to Kansas, where she mostly grew up as a child. By visiting the many places she lived during her formative years, she rekindles memories, discovers family secrets and experiences the liberating power of forgiveness. In the process she finds the meaning of home.

At the age of eighteen, Tracy left for college in Texas, where she worked at “shucking Kansas off like the skin of a cicada.” Years later, after graduate school and teaching at Yale, her children grown, she lives in San Francisco, where she has “joined the land of the lotus eaters, intoxicated by pleasure, forgetful of our pasts in other lands.”

Then her parents, long divorced, die two weeks apart. In her grief, Tracy pulls out her baby book with a list of thirteen addresses recorded by her mother--places where her family lived before Tracy turned nine. For her, those thirteen addresses take “on the power of a spell” to carry her back to Kansas. More than two years later, after completing radiation treatments for cancer and being abandoned by her significant other, she grabs her thirteen addresses and takes off on the road towards Kansas.

Reading Seeley’s memoir is like stepping back in time and getting to know a young girl, her family, their dreams, and the Kansas of her childhood home. MY RUBY SLIPPERS: THE ROAD BACK TO KANSAS is an elegantly written story, filled with warmth and wisdom. Seeley's thoughtful and thought-provoking memoir is part of the American Lives Series, published by the University of Nebraska Press, edited by Tobias Wolff. A lovely book and a wonderful story.


Tracy Seeley

University of Nebraska Press

ISBN: 978-0-8032-3010-1



It was such an honor to have Tracy Seeley as my guest blogger earlier this week, as part of the WOW! Women on Writing Guest Author program. I thank Tracy for generously sharing her time and wisdom with everyone who visited during her post. I also thank all those who left a comment or a question for Tracy.

When I e-mailed Tracy yesterday and asked her to select the name of a winner of her memoir, she lamented that she could only pick one name. So, just beneath my review above, I've added some information about where visitors can purchase a copy of MY RUBY SLIPPERS. Another option is to check with your local library. If they don't have one on hand, ask them to order a copy. You'll be glad you did!

Now, for the name of the winner. The name selected by Tracy to win a copy of MY RUBY SLIPPERS is


Clara, please e-mail Tracy your mailing address at seeleyt (at) and remind her you were the winner she selected to win a copy of her memoir on Donna's Book Pub.

Thanks again to Tracy and all my faithful visitors who once again prove how generous and encouraging writers are.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Guest Blogger - Tracy Seeley on Finding the Best Publisher for Your Book

I’m pleased to welcome Tracy Seeley to Donna’s Book Pub as my guest blogger today as part of the WOW! Women on Writing Author’s tour.

Tracy moved a lot when she was young, but she grew up mostly in Witchita, Kansas, before heading for Austin, Texas, where she was awarded a Ph.D in British Lit. She taught at Yale for five years before moving west for San Francisco. Since 1993 she has been teaching literature and creative nonfiction at the University of San Francisco. Click here to read Tracy's bio on her website.
You can also find Tracy here:
twitter: @tracy_seeley
Facebook at My Ruby Slippers: the Road Back to Kansas

One lucky visitor who posts a comment or a question for Tracy will win a copy of her memoir, My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas.

In her post today Tracy will discuss: finding the Best Press for Your Book: How My Ruby Slippers found a University Press By Tracy Seeley (@tracy_seeley)

Your Book is Done! Not Yet.

After years of staying glued to your desk chair, shaping sentences, crafting chapters, reorganizing, revising, editing and polishing, you finally have a tidy stack of 300 freshly-printed pages on your desk. Congratulations! Your book is done.

Wrong. Because it’s not a book yet. It lacks a great cover with your name on the front, blurbs and an ISBN on the back. It might be wonderful, a real page-turner. But until you have a publisher (or publish it yourself), it’s a caterpillar, not a butterfly.

When I finished the manuscript for My Ruby Slippers, I knew what I had to do to turn it into a butterfly. I’d read everything I could about how to find an agent and dreamed of signing a contract with a major publisher. I thought, “New York, here I come.”

But I couldn’t get an agent. I quickly learned that a literary memoir by a debut writer would have a hard time. Especially since my book-to-be didn’t tell a story that involved a controversial, sensational, or Oprah-worthy topic.

Without an agent, my New York dreams keeled over in a coma. Now what?

Landing at a University Press

Once I set my mind to something, I’m pretty relentless. So instead of shopping for an agent, I went shopping for a press. One that not only would accept unsolicited manuscripts, but would be a good fit for My Ruby Slippers.

This meant entering the world of small and university presses. It’s a world I highly recommend. There, writers often find a better home for the book they’ve written than they could ever find at a big house. Small and university presses work on tight budgets, but because they have smaller lists than the big guys do, they can give all of their writers more attention. And they’re committed to publishing high quality work.

Happily, I landed at the University of Nebraska Press. A University Press may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to shopping for a press. But in addition to scholarly works, many university presses publish fiction and literary nonfiction, including memoir.

By doing my homework, I knew Nebraska would be a good home for My Ruby Slippers. They publish literary nonfiction, including the series “American Lives,” edited by the great memoirist Tobias Wolff. And they publish a lot of books with connections to the Plains and Midwest. Because Kansas sits at the heart of my book (and of me), it seemed a perfect fit.

After My Ruby Slippers went through a series of reviews by outside readers and revisions by me, Nebraska said “yes.”

Since then, the press has been nothing but a pleasure to work with. My editor worked closely with me during the review and revision process, the copy editor was meticulous and respectful of my intentions, the cover designer was brilliant (I love my cover), and given its limited resources, the marketing department has done a great job promoting the book.

Getting published is a great dream. But getting published by the right press for your book is even better. My Ruby Slippers emerged from its chrysalis four months ago, and it’s been a thrill watching it take wing.


Thanks, Tracy, for letting us know how you found the right publisher for your book, which is a fascinating and intelligent memoir that chronicles your physical and emotional journey to your childhood homes.

Note to Visitors: Feel free to leave a comment or question.

As part of the WOW! Author's Book Tour, one lucky person who posts a question or a comment will win a copy of Tracy's thoughtful memoir, My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas published by the University of Nebraska Press as part of the American Lives Series, edited by Tobias Wolff.

Winner's name will be announced on Friday, July 15.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cup of Comfort for Military Families Winner and An Announcement

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who left a comment last week on my birthday/giveaway post wishing Walt a Happy Birthday and entering to win a copy of A Cup of Comfort for Military Families, which includes my true story about Walt's Vietnam experience titled, "Coming Home."

So many of my visitors have connections with the military. I loved reading your comments and memories of those in the military and civilians who serve or have served us. Special thanks to everyone who linked to my blog.

I wish you all could win a copy of the anthology, but I picked only one name at random.

And the winner is . . .


So, Janet, if you will please e-mail me at dvolkenannt (at) charter (dot) net with your mailing address I will mail the book to you later this month.

If you didn't win this time, I hope you will try again. I plan to give away another copy of the anthology to honor our veterans around Veteran's Day in November.

Now for my special announcement:

Tomorrow, July 13, as part of the WOW! Author's Blog Tour, TRACY SEELEY, professor of English at the University of San Francisco, will be my guest blogger.

Tracy is the author of the memoir My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas. Tracy's book is a great read. In fact, I plan to post my review of her book some time this month.

So, please stop by on Wednesday to find out what Tracy has to say about her experience publishing with a University Press. And check out Sioux's Page today to see what Tracy has to say about editing.

Last: Happy anniversary to Walt. On July 12, 1968, a super hot Friday evening--Walt and I were married at the church of St. Mary of the Assumption in Bridgeton, Missouri. That night we left Missouri to drive to Western Massachusetts to spend time with his family--and on to celebrate our honeymoon, which was an ever farther drive to Buzzard's Bay on Cape Cod. It's hard to believe it was 43 years ago. Time flies when you're in love!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Notes from Nancy Pickard's MWG Session on Rewriting

It’s hard to believe it’s been three months since I attended the MWG conference last April. After attending a conference or workshop I review my notes right away then a few months later look at them again with a fresh eye. After looking over my notes from last April, I came upon a gem.

During the conference, I attended a session given by award-winning author Nancy Pickard (The Scent of Rain and Lightning and The Virgin of Small Plains). As part of her talk on “Rewriting to Make Every Scene Come Alive,” she shared a template called CASTS which she uses during her rewriting process.

Here’s a brief synopsis of her advice for rewriting scenes using her CASTS method:

  • Conflict. Take each chapter and mark where you detect conflict. Conflict may be inward or subtle as well as external or overt.

  • Action. Movement stems from emotion. Emotion moves action and thoughts. Let the character feel.

  • Surprise. Readers love surprises. Surprise the Protagonist.

  • Turn. Something needs to happen to cause a shift—it can be small. If no change, nothing happened.

  • Senses. Put the five senses into your scenes. When reviewing your scenes, she suggested using a different colored pencil for each sense (scent, touch, hearing, smell, taste). Lots of stories and books open with food or the characters in the kitchen for a reason. And don’t forget to add color.

Nancy added a last letter --- P for Peak. Every scene needs one, although not the same degree in every one or it gets boring. The peak comes at the moment of turn.

She suggests using the CASTS (plus P) to look at each scene and ask yourself these questions:

Do I have these elements?

Are they good enough?

Do they seem genuine?

Nancy believes that scenes need to breathe. When you walk in you need to feel different when you leave. My favorite quote from her session was: “If you ever run into anyone who makes you feel like not writing, run in the opposite direction.”

After listening to Nancy, I wanted to run home--and start rewriting my scenes. Her talk was educational and encouraging. She breathed life into her talk and inspired me to “cast” a critical eye when looking at my scenes.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

That's What Friends Are For

At critique group on Tuesday a couple writing friends shared some good news I thought I'd pass along.

Drum roll, please . . . ! ! !

Marcia Gaye (our very own famous Marcia Gaye, not the other one) had a poem of hers included in the Top Fifty contest in connection with Writer's Digest. The judge/blog master is their poetry columnist and editor of Poets Market. His April Poem a Day challenge received more than 5,000 poems with more than 1,000 making the cut to the final judges. From that group he chose the best 50, and Marcia was in that top 50. Although we don't critique poetry, we do encourage poets, and according to Marcia, "being in our group is such a good push for me."

Claudia Shelton received two major awards for her romance novels:

*Courage and Azaleas took First Place in Mainstream w/Romantic Elements from Finally A Bride Contest sponsored by OKRWA (Oklahoma Romance Writers of America).
*Please Be Careful was awarded Second Place in Romantic Mystery/Suspense Contemporary Series (Unpublished) for the Daphne Du Maurier Award sponsored by KOD (Kiss of Death Chapter, Romance Writers of America).

While announcing her good news on Tuesday, Claudia thanked our critique group for helping her improve her manuscripts. She also spoke about how encouraging our critique group has been to her and her writing.

Now, that's what friends are for!

To wrap up today's post, I welcome my newest follower, Conda V. Douglas I hope you will stop by often, Conda, and feel free to leave comments. Please check out her blog when you get a chance.

That's all for today. Hope you're staying cool in this hot July weather.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy Birthday, Walt, Cup of Comfort for Military Families Giveaway

Today is my husband Walt's birthday.

Walt is a naturalized citizen, who served in the U. S. Air Force, and spent a year in Vietnam. The year from Jan 1970 to Jan 1971 was a long time for us both--and for our baby daughter Julie. When he left for Vietnam she was two months old, and when he returned she was already talking and walking--and running.

In honor of Walt's birthday, and since yesterday was Fourth of July, I thought it would be fitting to give away an autographed copy of A Cup of Comfort for Military Families, which includes "Welcome Home," a true story about Walt.

To be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment or a few words about someone you know in the military or who has served or just a thank you to our troops between now and July 11. Must be a legal resident of the US and be living in the United States--or have an APO or equivalent mailing address for anyone serving in the military outside the USA.

One winner will be selected at random. Winner's name will be announced on July 12.

Bonus entry if you are a follower of my blog or if you post about the giveaway on your blog--just let me know in your comments.

Good luck, and, Happy Birthday, Walt!

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...