Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review of Footprints in the Ozarks, A Memoir by Ellen Gray Massey

A few months ago, Ozarks writer Ellen Gray Massey wrote and asked if I would be interested in reading and reviewing her memoir, Footprints in the Ozarks.

It took less than a minute to reply, "Of course!"

At that time I had a list of books I'd already been assigned to read and review, along with deadlines for several writing projects, but Ellen's request was a no-brainer.

Full disclosure: I've known Ellen for about 15 years, and for as long as I've known her she has been an inspiration to me and other writers. She is kind and generous and wise, as well as a talented writer and storyteller and a respected authority on the Ozarks.

After explaining my workload whining about my workload, I wrote that most likely I couldn't finish my review until May. She graciously answered that would be no problem and promptly sent me a signed copy of her memoir. While Ellen gave me a copy of her memoir, she did not pay me to review her book, and I did not promise to give it a favorable review--just an honest one--by the end of May.

True to my word, on this last day of May, I am reviewing Ellen's delightful memoir.

Footprints in the Ozarks is a collection of short essays that capture the essence of the Ozarks, its people, its traditions, and its impact on American culture. Ellen's Ozarks story opens in December, 1944, with a story about her future husband Lane Massey. Dedicated to the memory of Lane, Footprints in the Ozarks is a  personal glimpse into Ellen's years as a wife, mother, teacher, writer, and Home Agent for the Missouri Farm Bureau.

The memoir is divided in three parts: Home Agent in Lebanon, The Farm, and Back in Lebanon. The book's primary setting is Laclede County, Missouri, around the town of Lebanon, Missouri, located along historic Route 66, now Interstate 44.

As you read about Ellen's life, you'll learn about Ozarkians, Ozarks customs and sayings, and a rural lifestyle in bygone days --- a time of Shivarees, homemade rag rugs, pie suppers, and one-room schoolhouses. The photos enhance the memoir and give an intimate portrait of Ellen and her family.

While Ellen Gray Massey's footprints mark her life's work, her memoir Footprints in the Ozarks will leave an indelible impression on readers who want to learn about the people and the place --- the mysterious, magnificient, Missouri Ozarks.

Monday, May 28, 2012

2012 Memorial Day Remembrances and the Poem "In Flanders Fields"

My Memorial Day post from last year has had several hundred visitors and is my most popular. In case you missed it, here's a repost of the text:

On this Memorial Day please join me in remembering those who died serving our country.

I am remembering two friends of my youth who lost their lives in Vietnam.

James Donnelly, a classmate at Most Holy Name of Jesus School in North St. Louis, took me to the eighth-grade dance on the S.S. Admiral, and bought me my first corsage (pink and white carnations). The eighth-grade dance in 1962 was my first "official" date where a boy asked me to go out. Six years later James lost his life while serving as an Army soldier in Vietnam.

Mike Blassie was my escort to the St. Alphonsus (Rock) High School senior prom. Rock High was an all-girls' school, so we invited the boys--and Mike graciously accepted my invitation. That night he talked about how excited he was to be going to the Air Force Academy after graduation. First Lieutenant Michael Blassie's remains rested, for a time, in the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery before being returned to St. Louis in July, 1998.

Please take time today to remember James and Michael, along with all the fallen who gave their "last full measure of devotion" while serving our country.

If you've ever wondered the connection between the red poppies you see on sale around Memorial Day, read "In Flanders Field," the poem by Canadian Army Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. The link to the Arlington National Cemetery also has an explanation about the writing of "In Flanders Field."

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Friday, May 25, 2012

School's Out and A Whole Lot of Streaking Going On in St. Louis

Yesterday was the last day of school for my grandson; my granddaughter's last day was a week ago. To celebrate the beginning of summer vacation, I took the two of them and my granddaughter's boyfriend to watch the St. Louis Cardinals play the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium. Our tickets were way, way up, on the first-base side, but it was a great night to have a hot time in the city. And I'm not only talking about the temperature, which was in the 90s when we rolled into St. Louis. 

We arrived downtown early to watch batting practice and enjoyed a free concert headlined by a very talented band called Griffin and the Gargoyles. After the band played for awhile we were in for a special treat when legendary Cardinal speedster Vince Coleman spoke to the pre-game crowd outside the stadium.

Coleman was known for his lightning speed streaking around the bases when he played for the Cardinals. During his talk he shared words of wisdom he learned from coach Whitey Herzog, "Give one-hundred-and-ten percent and show up on time."

During batting practice lots of baseballs streaked through the air, and a few landed near where we stood. I did a lot of ducking and covering my head with my purse every time I heard the words, "Heads up!" The Phillies players tossed a few baseballs into the stands, but none were caught by us. Maybe next time.

By the time we found our seats, I was tired. It felt great to sit, and it was a lovely evening. Then the game started. By the end of the first inning the home-town team was behind by four runs, then down six by the end of two innings. They rallied and made the game interesting later on but fell one run short.

The Cards have been hot, almost as hot as the weather, but their winning streak ended last night. And the Cards weren't the only ones who had an end put to their streak on the field. 

At the beginning of the seventh inning a naked man darted out of the stands onto the field, pursued by the grounds crew and police -- to the surprise and amusement of fans. At first I thought the guy had on a buff colored morph outfit like the blue men group wear, but my granddaughter convinced me the man was naked because she "saw his butt crack."

By the time I dug out my camera, the streaker was down on the ground. A groundskeeper threw a towel around him.

During the excitement I received a call from my sister, who was watching the game on television. She wanted to know what was going on because the TV stations didn't show the guy's romp on the field. I described the scene and told her I snapped a few photos to record the event for -- posterity. After the man was led from the field and no doubt on his way to being arrested, the Ray Stevens' song "The Streak" blared on the stadium intercom.

Anyway, the guy was led off the field in a pair of shorts someone recovered from his entry point. Today's news reported the guy ran naked onto the field because he lost a bet. I'd venture he lost more than that.

Later a helicopter with a spotlight lit up the sky near the stadium. My grandson noticed it first and pointed it out. He wondered if the police were trying to catch someone.  He was right. On this morning's news there was a report about a group of protestors painting graffiti on banks.

I won't describe the romantic encounteer we witnessed as we waited to exit the parking garage, but it was far worse than what went on with the streaker. Was there a full moon last night--or maybe it's the heat?

After sitting in traffic then driving the 30 miles to St. Charles County, it was almost midnight. The kids were more hungry than tired, so we drove through an all-night eatery and the kids polished up some fast food back in our kitchen. By the time I rolled into bed I was exhausted, but our night at the ballpark was a streak of entertainment I'm certain my grandchildren will long remember. I know I surely will.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Make Good Art!" Priceless Advice from Neil Gaiman

Have you ever heard or read or watched something so inspiring that you just had to share it with everyone you know?

That's how I felt earlier this week, the first time I watched this video of Neil Gaiman's keynote address to the University of the Arts Class of 2012 in Philadelphia on May 17.

During my first viewing I scribbled a few notes, thinking I'd stow them in my writing tips folder and read them later. But by the end of the video, I was so wrapped up in listening to what he had to say, I stopped writing. His words are so wise and witty and inspiring I had to replay the video.

I've watched the video again and again and have taken more notes.The video takes just under 20 minutes. Seriously, take the 20 minutes to watch it. It is well worth your time.

If you don't have the time right now and want a brief synopsis, here are some notes I jotted down:

* When you start out with a career in the arts you have no idea what you're doing. And that's okay because you aren't bound by the rules. If you don't know what's possible, it's easier to do the impossible.

* If you have an idea of what you want to do, just do it. Imagaine where you want to be. He didn't have a career plan, but he did have a list. He envisioned his goal as a mountain and kept walking toward the mountain. He learned to write by writing and turned down jobs that would've taken him away from his goal.

* Learn to deal with failure by developing a thick skin, but be proud of what you do. Freelancing is like sending out messages in bottles. You might have to send out hundreds of bottles before someone finds it or appreciates what's inside.

* Don't be afraid to make mistakes. He misspelled the name Caroline as Coraline . . . and we know what happened with that mistake . . . a book, a movie. Making art can be lifesaving. It can get you through good times and bad. When things go wrong . . . make good art.

* Be unique. Make the art only you can make. At first the tendency will be to mimic work of others, but take time to find your unique voice and talent.

* He shared some secret freelancer knowledge. Freelancers are successful because: their work is good, they're easy to get along with, and they finish their work on time. The secret is that any two of those three things will work. If you're not easy to work with but your work is brilliant and you deliver it on time, that's okay. If you are easy to get along with and meet your deadlines, but your work is not stellar, that will work too. You get the picture.

* Let go and enjoy the ride because your art can take you to amazing places.

* Luck can help. More than likely you'll discover that the harder you work and the smarter you work the luckier you will get.

* We're in a transitional world. The distribution channels are changing, but change can be liberating. Be as creative as you need to be to get your work noticed. The rules are changing, so make up your own rules.

* Be wise, because the world needs more wisdom.

* Make mistakes

* Break rules

* Leave the world more interesting for your being here


I'm sure my notes don't give his talk justice, so if you really want to be inspired, watch the video.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Well Versed 2012 Press Release

This afternoon I received an e-mail and a press release from Judy Stock, President of the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild, which I thought I'd share.

Local Author Published in Anthology

Donna Volkenannt (that's me) of St. Peters, Missouri, has had work published in Well Versed, Literary Works 2012, an annual anthology published by the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers’ Guild. Well Versed features poetry, short fiction and creative non-fiction.

Volkenannt's non-fiction work, "The Magic of Writing," was awarded First Place in the Nonfiction Category and selected by a panel of independent judges for inclusion in the anthology. Her second non-fiction submission, "A Fine Day in November," was awarded an honorable mention and also selected for inclusion in the anthology.

Due to a record number of submissions and acceptances, the 2012 edition is the chapter's largest to date. The volume is available online at (the group’s website),, and at Taylor’s Bake Shop in historic Boonville, MO.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Writing Contests for Teens

If you are raising teenagers or if you know of teens who love to write, here are two writing contests specifically for teens.

I found the link to the One Teen Story Fiction Contest posted on the Catholic Writers of St. Louis blog.  Teens between the ages of 14 and 19 can enter. The editors are "interested in great fiction of any genre--literary, fantasy, sci-fi, love stories, and horror. What’s in a great short story? Interesting characters, a unique voice, and of course, a beginning, middle and end." The winning story will be chosen by best-selling novelist Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay and Where She Went, and published in the May 2013 issue of One Teen Story. Contest winners will receive $500, 25 copies of the magazine featuring their work, and a 28” x 20” poster of the cover featuring their story. Click here for details. Deadline is May 31

The second contest for teens comes from Inspired by the "Another" series written by Daniel and Dina Nayeri, the judges are looking for stories which "reinvent a classic story or character, making it modern and, most importantly, making it your own!" Entries should be no more than 1,200 words. Contest is open to writers 12 years and older, and the prizes are quite nice. Click here for details. Deadline is June 15.

Note for Older Writers: In addition to the link to the One Teen Story Fiction Contest, you can find several other calls for submissions on the Catholic Writers of St. Louis blog. Denise Y. Montgomery, founder of the group, does an excellent job keeping members informed of submission opportunities.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Kindred Spirits Dine at the Boathouse in Forest Park

Yesterday I enjoyed lunch and conversation with a dozen women who belong to a group called "Kindred Spirits."

When everyone attends, the group consists of about twenty lovely ladies, almost all of whom have worked as civilians for the Department of the Army at some time during their careers. Most of us crossed paths while working for the Department of the Army and/or the Department of Defense on Goodfellow Boulevard in North St. Louis.

The group, which keeps growing each time we meet, is led by our creative and organized leader Jan, who managed to shy away yesterday every time I snapped photos--although you can catch a glimpse of her arm and wristwatch the picture above.  
Anyway, the Kindred Spirits get together several times a year at different locations. Last December we roamed the streets of historic Kimswick and ate lunch at the Blue Owl. In February we made the journey to Josephine's Tea Room in Godfrey, Illinois.

Yesterday was a lovely afternoon to be out and about, and it was a good time to catch up on what has been going on in our lives.

As we sat on wooden benches waiting for our table, I watched the young man in charge of boats feeding marbled rye bread to ducks and fish in the pond. He was later joined on the dock by families taking photos and youngsters who delighted in throwing more bread to the ducks and fish

I also noticed young ladies arrive from their graduation ceremonies still wearing their caps and gowns. Relatives and friends, bearing wrapped gifts, patiently waited for their tables.

The place was packed with graduates, families, dates, business people, runners dropping by for a quick bite--even folks with their well behaved dogs-- all soaking up the Boathouse's family-friendly atmosphere.

As expected with a large group, it took a good amount of time to get our food, but the server was very attentive and kept our beverage glasses filled. Everyone around me gave good reports about their meals. I ordered the spicy shrimp pizza. The pizza was definitely spicy, but the crust was a bit burnt. I only finished half; next time I'll try something else.

If you've never been to the Boathouse in Forest Park in St. Louis, add it to your list of places to visit, but get there early if plan to eat and want a table outside--especially if you have a large group.

Fun facts about the Boathouse in Forest Park:

* Boating has been available in Forest Park since 1876.
* Because of a 1894 campaign by the Post-Dispatch to raise money for expansion, the lake is called the Post-Dispatch Lake.
* Six thousand men registered to work on the project. (What? No women?)
* After the most recent restoration of Forest Park, the lake has been expanded to include new boating lagoons and an island devoted to wildlife conservation.
* The new Boathouse was designed by St. Louis architect Laurent Torno and is "reminiscent of Midwestern boathouse cottages in the early twentieth century."
* While boating on the lake you can see the Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Zoo, World's Fair Pavilion, Art Hill, Grand Basin and the Government Hill foundation.

The Boathouse is located on 6101 Government Drive in Forest Park.  Summer hours of operation (May-Oct) are:

Monday-Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.(open later on Muny nights)

Friday-Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Sundays: 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (Brunch is served from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) (open later on Muny nights)

Paddleboats and rowboats are available for rental for $15.00 per hour.

For more details, visit the Boathouse website.

Thanks, Jan, for planning another awesome adventure!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Links from my Good Stuff Folder

After checking my DBP (Donna's Book Pub) folder where I store my "good stuff" to be read --- articles, blog posts, announcements, writing tips, and the like --- I found it chocked full of, how shall I put it, Oh, yeah--amazingly good stuff.

Most of it is too good to keep to myself, so I thought I would share with you all.

Here goes:

NW Christian Writers has some helpful hints on "Preparing your Writer's Notebook."

You can find tons of helpful information and advice on the WOW! Women on Writing blog, "The Muffin," including Cathy C. Hall's May 16 article "The First Page," in which she shares what she learned during a panel's first-page critique session.

If you're a children's writer or illustrator wanting to learn from the tops in the industry, check out the Highlights Foundation's schedule of Upcoming Workshops, which includes "Books that Rise Above."

The fee-based Aesthetica Creative Writing Competition for poetry and short fiction is open for entries.

Poets and Writers blog has posted an interview with "Bill Clegg on Being Both an Agent and an Author."

Write Integrity Press is sponsoring a fee-based "Books of Hope" manuscript contest where "you could win cash and publication," including a three-book contract.

If you're looking for writing prompts to get you started writing, check out The Write Practice.

That's all for now, folks. I'm heading out for lunch with friends at the Boat House in Forest Park. If my camera cooperates I might have some photos to share.

Hope your day is chocked full of good stuff -- but take time to write!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sowing Seeds to Succeed

This spring, my writing career has blossomed because of writing seeds I planted in the cold, dark days of winter. 

One of my goals at the beginning of the year was to expand my horizions by submitting to more publications and entering more contests. I'm happy to announce that my plan has already begun to come to fruition.

On January 12, I entered an essay in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

On March 1, I received a call from Debe Dockins of the Centerville Library in Ohio informing me I'd won first place in the Global Humor Category. 

This photo was taken at the April 18 Erma Celebration.

From left are: Debe Dockins, Contest Coordinator from the library; Christina Cahall, First place winner, human interest, local; Tracy Beckerman, syndicated humor columnist and guest speaker; Donna Volkenannt (me), First place winner, humor, global; and Gina Sandoval, First place winner, humor, local. Winners received cash awards, the winning essays were published on the library's website, and the winners were honored guests at the Erma Bombeck Workshop at the University of Dayton, April 19-22.

Back to my 2012 Goals: On January 15, I submitted two nonfiction pieces to the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild Well Versed Anthology Contest. In March, I received notification that I'd won first place and an honorable mention in the nonfiction category of the contest.

On May 6, 2012, the 2012 Well Versed anthology was launched in Columbia, MO.

The photo on the left is Judy Stock, president of the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild; Linda Fisher, editor of Well Versed 2012; and Donna Volkenannt (me), first place winner in the nonfiction category.

During the launch, more than a dozen readers shared their poems, essays, and short stories with those present. The afternoon flew by, filled with friendship and food and fun.

Lou Turner and Marcia Gaye drove to Columbia with me. Two of Marcia's poems won in the poetry category, and she had a total of four poems included in the anthology.

Here's Marcia reading one of her poems.

Critique buddy Alice Muschany also won two prizes in the nonfiction category, both of her essays are included in the anthology. Alice couldn't make the trip to Columbia, but I was able to pick up her certificates and prize money.

I hope this post and these photos can inspire some of my blogging buddies to write, submit, and enter more.

Who knows? The story, essay, or poem you are writing today could blossom into a beautiful flower later this year.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day - Win Free Books From Bookreporter

Happy Mother's Day!

Bookreporter has some amazing giveaways going on this month, especially for women who love to read.

While I can't enter (darn it) because I'm a Bookreporter reviewer already, I thought I'd share a link and some details with my blog visitors who love to read, write, and get free books!

Here's a sampling of what they're giving away this month:

The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo - 200 specially formatted early reader editions to give away to readers who would like to preview the book.

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon - 25 copies to readers who would like to preview the book and comment on it.

The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall - 25 copies to readers who would like to preview the book and comment on it.

Visit the Bookreporter Contests page to find details on how to enter and even more chances to win!

Good Luck, and Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Erma Bombeck 2012: Dinner with Adriana Trigiani, author of THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE

Friday night dinner at the Erma Bombeck 2012 Workshop was an unforgetable experience. The reading by Andy Bombeck before dinner of his mother's column about his marching to a different drummer was a bittersweet moment that brought tears to the eyes of just about everyone in the banquet room.

After dinner, listening to Adriana Trigiani felt like sitting around the kitchen table with my sisters after a holiday meal talking about family, friends and  Hollywood celebrities. Adriana was open and funny and wise.

She spoke about her fondness for the Bombeck family, about leaving her shoes in Nashville, growing up in Virginia, her aunt's special holiday appetizer (cream cheese and crackers), going to school across town from Notre Dame, writing scripts for Hollywood celebrities, and lots more.

She joked with the audience--the "late responders" who were seated in the back--and with a few women who married into large Italian families. She answered questions from the audience, even the ones who crossed the line.  

Sadly, a couple attendees took the opportunity of being in the presence of a bestselling author and screenwriter to ask inappropriate questions. One guy asked her to dish out gossip on celebrities she'd worked with in Hollywood. She didn't rise to the bait; instead she deflected the question by sharing a humorous incident she had with Dolly Parton.

Another man asked Adriana to take a look at his manuscript and send it to her agent. Her response was graceful, yet pointed. She explained that legally she couldn't read his manuscript, but she promised to let her agent know the man would be sending his manuscript. She told us she liked to make her agent work hard and earn her money. Boy, would I love to read what Adriana wrote to her agent about the man's out-of-line request to fast-track his manuscript.

After her talk, a circle formed of people asking more questions. I didn't want to slow her down from getting to her book signing, so I missed my opportunity to meet her personally and tell her how much I enjoyed her latest novel, THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE. I had brought my review copy with me and planned to ask her to sign it, then I decided it would be tacky asking her to sign a book I got for free--so, another missed opportunity.

The Friday night banquet was the last workshop event my sister Kathleen and I attended. I was worn out and having shoulder pain, so we left early Saturday morning to drive back to Missouri.

Of all the workshops and conferences I've gone to over the years, the Erma Bombeck Workshop in Dayton has been the most memorable, and the banuet dinner with Adriani Trigiani the most fun. 

Don't you love the gorgeous cover of her latest novel, THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE? 

If you would like to read my review of THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE, you can find it on the Bookreporter website. In essence, THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE is a heart-warming tale about two young peasants who meet briefly before leave their separate villages in the Italian Alps at different times and are brought together in America through fate and faith. It's an epic family saga and a love story, which is based on the history of Adriana's family, and the book "she was meant to write."

If you visit the Bookreporter site you can also find an interview of Adriana. The book trailer will give you chills. No wonder THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE has been on the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks. I'm hoping there will be a sequel!

Oh, and to show you how gracious Adriana is, here's some feedback I received from my editor after I returned from Dayton. Adriana's expresses her thoughts on my review which appeared on the Bookreporter's newly re-designed website: "How beautiful- the review! the new site design! the layout! it's totally gorgeous and energized and easy to navigate. The review of The Shoemaker's Wife is absolutely lovely!"

Even though I didn't get to meet Adriana personally, her comments about my review helped me get over it. 

That's all for the workshop, except for some photos I received the other day from Debe Dockins of the Erma Event at the Centerville Library; I'll post most them most likely next week. 

Hope you all have a great weekend.   Ciao!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

More Notes from the Erma Bombeck Workshop - On Cash and Column Craft

One of the surprises of the workshop and one of my favorite speakers was Michele Wojciechowski.

The first night we arrived in Dayton, my sister Kathleen and I rode in a van with "Wo Jo" and her husband Brad to the Erma Celebration at the Centerville Library. What a delight! She was open and friendly, with a wicked sense of humor.

Going into her "Be Funny. Make Money" workshop I knew she was funny, but I had no idea what a smart and savvy businesswoman she is.

During her session, she spoke with wit, wisdom, passion, and an insider's knowledge of making a living as a freelancer.

Here are some highlights:

* Writing is a Product. Editors get paid, printers get paid--You should get paid.
* Don't write for free unless you can get something out of it.
* Some writers claim they do it for the exposure. Wo Jo says, "People can die from too much exposure."
* An example of when it is beneficial to write and not get paid: If you have a book coming out and want free publicity, it's okay to give free content because you are getting free PR for your book out of it.
* Writers should have a "Go for the Gold " Press Kit.
* Fight for your rights; keep as many as you can.
* Negotiate your rights. Editors usually keep a contract in their desk asking only for first rights - ask for it.
* Think in the future; look at the long-term.
* Look at reselling your content, but be careful about the market so they don't overlap.
* A good place to start is with local publications.
* "In the absence of a contract, you are automatically selling first or one-time rights. if you don't sign, you own all other rights."
* To avoid an editor misunderstanding that you expect to be paid when quering about a piece you want to write on spec, always include the statement "if you would like to purchase the rights to my ..."
* Most editors prefer writers to submit as text within an e-mail rather than as an attachment.
* Be polite and be persistent. Once you have an acceptance, send the editor a follow-up. "Thanks. May I send you more?"

She also spoke about how she copyrights her columns to protect her rights. For specific info on copyright, visit the Copyright Office website.

For all the naysayers, she had this to say, "Those who say it can't be done should get out of the way for those who do it."


The last full session on Friday was "The Craft of Column Writing" with W. Bruce Cameron, Connie Schultz, Craig Wilson, and Mary McCarty, moderated by Laura Pulfer.

The format was Q&A. With questions coming from the audience and the panel members responding, some parts were interesting, others not so much. A few questioners took advantage of the opportunity and focused on their own situations. Some panelists spoke more than others. A few times I felt like I was at a political rally when the answers were steered toward politics, but I did manage to jot down several tidbits about the craft of column writing.

* There is no substitute for talent
* Use your contacts
* Do the interviews first
* Look at future opportunities
* Print will find a way to survive
* Market your unique voice
* Don't give your stuff away
* Never write for free
* Use your resources
* Keep at it and they will find you!
* Be relentless
* Because of the Internet and blogs there are voices rising that might not have been heard
* Luck + Talent + Voice = Success
* Focus on quality
* Pay your dues
* Everyday things can be great material for a column
* Column length is usually 300-700 words
* The angrier you are, the funnier you should be.
* Avoid religion or politics (unless you are a political or religion writer)
* Be honest

In my next post I'll write about the fabulous dinner with New York Times bestselling author and screenwriter/producer Adriana Trigiani, author of The Shoemaker's Wife.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Notes from the Erma Bombeck Workshop - Plot, Character, and Self-Hypnosis

 Anyone who knows me knows what a note taker I am. Maybe it's because my first full-time job out of high school was as a clerk-stenographer for the Army then later as a secretary-steno for the Air Force, where I was a transcribing fool. Or maybe it's because I retain more when I write it down.

Any rate I have pages of notes from last month's EB Workshop, and going over them is like reliving my experience.

The first session I attended on Friday was Katrina Kittle's "Which Comes First: Plot or Character?"

Here's some of what I jotted down:

Get to know your character by asking relevant questions (not ones like what's her favorite color)
The point is to get to the character's motivation (her yearning, need, what is she fighting for?)

Understand character's motivation by asking questions:
Name of character?
What does she want?
If she doesn't get what she wants what will happen?
Make it matter more
Make it matter more

Create conflict to prevent her from getting what she wants
Example of Story versus not a Story:
The cat sat on the mat (not a story)
The cat sat on the other cat's mat (Story because of conflict)

Avoid predictability.
Life is never either/or; it's and, and, and, and, and/but, and/ or . . .
Avoid relentless pace. Give the reader time to breathe.

Make the ending inevitible, but take the reader by surprise

Show motivation right away, but don't state it. Make it clear by actions.
Don't overexplain.

Start with Change
Don't include a lot of back story up front.
Ask yourself: Does the reader need to know this? Does the reader need to know this right now?

Knowing your character means knowing your structure; therefore, Plot is Character.

Kittle recommended the book The Heroe's Journey to learn more about structure.

The next session I attended was "Hypnotic Recall fills the Creative Well" with Suzette Martinez Standring (on left).

Martinez Standring is the award-winning author of The Art of Column Writing and the TV host of "It's All Write with Suzette." She also is a formerly certified hypnotherapist who applies guided imagery techniques to writing.
At the beginning of the session she explained that because the conscious mind gets in the way of our creativity, by delving into the subsconcious, writers can be more honest, brave, and authentic in their writing.  Then she took us through a self-hypnosis exercise to tap into our creativity and emerge with vivid, five sensory details to use in our writing.

Some ways she suggested to unleash (no pun intended) creativity are taking the dog on a walk, meditating, daydreaming, listening to music.

Here are some notes I jotted down:
Don't own any negativity that surfaces
Gain from your memories
We remember what we know best
Mine your subconscious
The subconscious won't take you to a place if it's too painful
Surrender and let go; be open and be present in the moment
When an image or thought comes to the surface, ask, Why are you telling me this?
Writing has a healing ability.
Humor has a powerful healing ability (Tragedy over time can lead to humor)
Savor "Holy Ghost" moments when inspiration hits

Suzette's workshop was a powerful experience. While I don't know if I was hypnotized, I felt extremely relaxed. At one point I felt my head droop, but I became alert when someone behind started to cry and the back door in the room opened and closed a few times.

By the end of the session, my sister Kathleen discovered her shoes had fallen off, but she didn't feel them fall. The relexation exercise did work because afterwards I wrote down some vivid images that came to mind.

Question: Have you ever been hypnotized? If so, how was the experience for you?

P.S. In future posts I'll share more of my workshop notes and experiences. Because, note taker that I am, I need to type out my notes somewhere, so it might as well be on my blog.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Day Two in Dayton - Visiting Wright-Patterson Museum and a Warm Welcome from Alan Zweibel

After recovering from our just-in-time arrival for the Erma Bombeck celebration at the Centerville library the previous evening, our first full day in Dayton was exciting.

It was a lovely, early spring Midwestern morning. The weather was mild, the trees and flowers were in bloom, and my sister Kathleen and I were primed for an adventure.

Destination: the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Doyle, one of my critique group buddies, recommended visiting the museum when he heard I was going to Dayton. Thank you, Doyle. The museum was a delight!

After making a few U-turns, Kathleen and I arrived at the museum.  The day before had been the 70th anniversary celebration of the Jimmy Doolittle Toyko Raid, which we heard was magnificient. Although we missed the hoopola of the previous day, the museum was still abuzz. During our visit we saw replicas of the planes and read posters about the historic event.

The displays in the museum are quite moving, especially the World War II and the Vietnam War exhibits. Just about everywhere I looked I saw retired Air Force veterans dressed in blazers, all helping visitors. One veteran in the Korean War section made our day when he asked if he could help us and referred to us as "girls."

After leaving the museum, we managed to get lost again, but taking a road less traveled can lead to wonder. Our detour took us through an affluent neighborhood, where I snapped a few photos from my car. The mansion in the photo on the left was just one of the many lovely homes we saw. Fortunately, my camera cooperated that day. I think because the flash wasn't needed.

After returning the to the hotel, we changed before heading downstairs to register for the Erma Bombeck Workshop and Welcome Dinner. Bombeck's widower Bill and children Betsy and Andrew and a few other family and friends were in attendance. During each meal, as part of the celebration, one of the family members read their favorite Erma column. That night, Bill Bombeck's reading of Erma's column about losing her father at a young age moved me to tears.

Alan Zweibel was the special guest after-dinner speaker. An original Saturday Night Live writer. Zweibel was winner of 2006 the Thurber Prize for his novel, The Other Shulman.  In 2010 Zweibel was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Writers Guild of America. Zweibel's newest novel, Lunatics, is co-written with Dave Barry.

Preceding Zweibel's talk, we were treated to a hilarious video with Billy Crystal, Garry Shandling, Rob Reiner, Buck Henry, and Larry David congratulating Zweibel on his Thurber award.

During his talk, Zweibel shared memories of his first paid writing jobs and told us how he began his journey to become a comedy writer. In the early 1970s he wrote jokes for comedians who performed at resorts in the Catskill Mountains. If his joke got laughs, he received $7. If not, he was paid a lesser fee.

He also shared how he became close friends with Billy Crystal and Gilda Radner and how he got his start on Saturday Night Live. Zweibel's words about his friendship with Radner and the impact of her illness and passing on him and his family were especially moving.

Zweibel was warm and witty and funny and candid--a perfect speaker to kick off the workshop.

More about the workshop later . . .

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...