Monday, April 29, 2013

Thoughts on Writing: Writing with Joy

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a mini-retreat at my parish on “Serving with Joy,” led by Father Don Wester.
In addition to being pastor of All Saints, Father Wester teaches homiletics (aka the art of preaching) and was one of nine American religious leaders recently interviewed by Time Magazine online in the aftermath of the terror attack at the Boston Marathon. You can read his comments on preaching about hope amid disaster here.

             While the retreat lasted only a few hours, one thing Father stressed that stuck with me was: “Don’t let the simplicity of this day diminish the importance of it.”

             Much of what was shared during the retreat about serving with joy also applies to writing with joy.
              Some of the most memorable and moving words in history are simple and concise, yet powerful. “Let them eat cake.” “Jesus wept.” Blaise Pascal’s famous quote, which is often attributed to others: “I would’ve written a shorter letter if I had more time.” One slim and simple, yet indispensable, book on writing advice is Elements of Style by Strunk and White.  

             During the retreat we were reminded that we are the custodians of our own joy. As writers, we are custodians of our words.

             We were asked to reflect on what robs us of joy. As writers, criticism, self-doubt, and worry about what others might think about what we write can rob us of the joy of writing.

            Other reflections that hit close to home are “we learn something from our suffering. Compassion comes from our deepest suffering, and joy takes the shape of compassion.” We’ve heard stories about how writers suffer for their art. While that may be true for some, I believe that as writers we learn a great deal about ourselves through our writing.

             We were reminded that we are God’s masterpiece, his work of art. As writers, we create our own masterpieces with our words.
             Although my family and friends give me the most joy in my life, when I was asked during the retreat what gives me joy, I mentioned my writing.

             At the conclusion of the retreat, Father read to us Philippians 4:4-9. What touched me from that passage is: “. . . Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. . . Do not worry about anything . . . Keep on doing things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me . . .”

             I plan to keep writing and try not to worry about my own self-doubts or the criticism of others. In essence I hope to capture the joy that writing gives to me by sharing that joy with others through my words.            
            How about you? How do you find joy in your writing? 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Day of Symbolism (Part II) - The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis

Earlier this month I drove for my grandson's class field trip. In preparation for their receiving the sacrament of Confirmation, which took place this past weekend, we visited was the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

According to the visitor's guide, the Cathedral's "unique design combines architecture of Romanesque style on the exterior with Byzantine style interior."

The cathedral contains one of the largest collections of mosaics in the world, containing 41.5 million pieces of glass in more than 7,000 colors. The cathedral was designated a basilica in 1997 by the late Pope John Paul II.

The photo above is of the main altar. There is not enough space to describe the beauty and symbolism of the basilica, but I'll give a snapshot of facts included in their visitor's guide.

"In the sanctuary dome, mosaics picture the twelve apostles bearing symbols of their lives. The large structure over the main altar is the 'baldachino' whose top dome imitates the main exterior dome of the Cathedral. The white marble figure of Christ crucified dominates the sanctuary.

"The central dome includes mosaic panels dedicated to the Holy Trinity. At the base of the dome is a rippling wave symbolizing water. Sixteen angels represent eight archangels and eight commemorative angels. The lower wall in the narthex is buff marble, symbolizing the earth. The mosaic panels above are paves with scenes about the life of Saint Louis IX, King of France, and patron saint of the City of St. Louis. The vaulted ceiling is covered by a swirling green vine symbolic of Christ."

Here's a description of one of the four side chapels. "The Blessed Virgin's Chapel was created by Tiffany Company of New York in the Italian style. Panels in the chapel depict Mary's presentation, annunciation, visitation to Elizabeth, and the assumption."

Last Saturday we were at the cathedral basilica again for my grandson's confirmation. His sister was his confirmation sponsor. it was a lovely day and an uplifting ceremony. Both grandchildren are shown on the left in front of the sign for the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

If you get to St. Louis and want to be inspired, not just by beauty and artistry, but also from a sense of peace, visit the cathedral basilica at 4431 Lindell Blvd. (at Newstead Ave.).

Tours are available Sundays at 1:00 pm and Monday-Friday at 10:00 am and 3:00 pm. Masses and Confessions are available at varying times throughout the day.

If you can't make the trip to St. Louis, you can learn about the cathedral's history and see some of its beauty on the cathedral website.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Well Versed 2013 Cover Released

Hot off the press: Linda Fisher, managing editor of Well Versed, sent an e-mail yesterday announcing release of the cover (at left) for the 2013 issue. In her e-mail, she asked contributors to share the cover on their blogs.

Well Versed is an annual anthology compiled and published by the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild. Each fall, CCMWG holds a contest inviting all writers (members and non-members) to submit short stories, essays, articles, and poems.

Judges for fiction, poetry, and nonfiction pick their top three selections, along with honorable mentions. In addition to the judges' picks and honorable mentions, other works of merit are selected for inclusion in the anthology.

For the 2013 issue, Velda Brotherton judged fiction submissions, Mark Pearce judged poems, and Deborah Marshall judged nonfiction entries. 

I'm honored that my essay "Amo, Amas, Amat" was awarded second place in the nonfiction category, and I'm excited to share ink with several writing buddies.

Three Coffee and Critique group members, who also belong to Saturday Writers -- Karen Guccione-Englert, Jack Zerr and Marcia Gaye -- have works in the anthology, as do Saturday Writers members Lynn Obermoeller and Sheree Nielsen.

The launch date for Well Versed 2013 is in June.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Day Filled with Symbolism (Part I)

Last week I was a chaperone for my grandson’s eighth-grade class field trip across the Missouri River into to St. Louis -- or OTB (over the bridge) as one mom called it -- to the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica.

             Over the years I’ve driven for dozens of field trips, but this one was exceptional for many reasons. As a writer I was impressed by the contrasts and symbolism. As a believer, I was moved by the spiritual nature of both places.

             Our group of twenty-three students and six adults started off the morning at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in St. Louis County. Our docent for the tour was outstanding – articulate, passionate, knowledgeable, steadfast, and warm. She told us she had been a middle-grade teacher, so she welcomed our group of eighth-grade students as “her people.”

             She shared some history about World War II, focusing on the Holocaust. One fact that made an impression on the faces of the teens was the horrible truth that 1.5 million children were among the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

             The symbolism in the museum was stark, yet moving. Stars of David graced the walls of the reception area. One exhibit room was filled with photos of concentration camp victims. The room also held a Nazi flag, prisoner photos, and identification cards. Incased in a corner was a pair of striped pajamas worn in a concentration camp. One photo in a cracked frame showed the broken glass and damage during Krystallnacht; another photo showed books being piled up and burned.
             One wall displayed colored badges prisoners were forced to wear: Yellow for Jews, red for political prisoners, pink for homosexuals, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses, brown for gypsies, black, green, blue, and other color designations for groups targeted by the Nazis for extinction. Many of the photos and displays are replicas of those from the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.

             After weaving our way through the exhibit rooms, we were ushered into an auditorium where we listened to an elderly Jewish woman talk about her experiences as a young girl living in Romania during the Nazi occupation. The room was silent and somber as she spoke in a soft voice about how she made her way from Europe to the United States, which she described as “the best country in the world” because of its freedom. The message of both our docent and the woman were: be kind to others, no matter who they are or how different they look, and speak out if you see someone being bullied or abused.
            Our time at the Holocaust Museum was too short; I plan to return so I can explore more of the exhibits.  After I got home that night I visited the center's website and discovered that each spring the center holds an annual art and writing contest for middle grade and high school students. The 2013 deadline has just passed, but it’s not too early for students to think about next year.

            In my next post I’ll write about our visit to the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica and the rich symbolism there. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Suzann Ledbetter and The Walking Deadline

Last Saturday I attended Suzann Ledbetter Ellingsworth’s workshop on “How to Show, How to Not Tell,” sponsored by the St. Louis Writers’ Guild.

Suzann is a multi-published, award-winning writer as well as an editor. Her editing business is The Walking

 During her presentation she talked with conviction and humor about her philosophy on writing, revising, and editing. She was so impressive and funny that one guy asked her to marry him—she gracefully turned him down; she’s already married.

Here are some highlights of Suzann's presentation:

Do a synopsis! By doing so you’re telling your brain you mean business this time.

Always write forward. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling until you revise.

You don’t know your story until you finish it.

Every word really does count. Learn to recognize passive writing and revise to active.

Cut/banish repetitions. Delete indistinct, nondescript verbiage.

Suzann listed common repetitions and clues to passive constructions.  Here are some she mentioned: of, that, saw, walked, going to, only, very, just -- and the most common color references (brown/black/green/blue).

Rarity of an adjective will convey its importance when it is mentioned.

Revise on the printed copy – not on screen.

An editor should be able to tell you WHY something needs to change.

Language is story. Use it. Respect it. Put it to work.

The story is always the boss, and character is the boss of the story.

Keep a “Book-Book” – A spiral notebook for every book you write. Make notes on chapters, characters, etc.. Keep your list of repetitive words and phrases to be revised.

There's no secret to writing. Just sit down and do it.

To learn more about Suzann's editing business, visit The Walking Deadline website.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Call for Children's Chapter Books from Knowonder!

The other day I received an e-mail from an editor at Knowonder with a call for submission and guidelines for chapter books.

Here are highlights of what the editors are looking for in submissions:

* Imaginative, exciting, action-filled chapter book manuscripts for kids ages 7-9. Intended to be either read by kids themselves, or with an adult's help. The story should keep a young child's attention and move quickly.

* Beginning level chapter books generally contain up to 10 short chapters. Examples include The Magic Treehouse series, Junie B. Jones, and Ivy and Bean.

* Stories should be approximately 10,000-15,000 words in length

* Stories should fall within a first to third grade reading level. (Please provide the readability statistics from Microsoft Word or another similar program.)

* Stories must be fiction but can be any genre—fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, adventure, historical fiction, etc.

* Please submit a query letter and the first chapter of your work.

* Manuscripts should be double-spaced in a standard 12 point font such as Times New Roman.

* Allow up to three months for  response.

* Editors will contact author if they want to see the entire manuscript.

* Upon acceptance, author will receive a contract that explains in detail the terms of knowonder's royalty sharing program, which is competitive with industry standards.

* Chapter books will be published in both digital and print formats.

* If you're interested in submitting a chapter book to knowonder!, please follow these instructions.

* Go to this link to submit all chapter books:
* Click on the "+show guidelines" link to see the detailed submission guidelines, or, click on the "submit" button to submit your book.

* Note that author will need to create an account with Submittable to submit a story. If editors decide they would like to use your story they will contact author and provide thier legal agreement for chapter books.

* Please disregard the legal agreement on their website, which applies only to their short story collections.

If you have any questions about the submission  process, contact Kathy ( or Phillip (

I've never written a chapter book, but one day I hope to give it a try.

 For any of my visitors with writing skills in this area, this call out might be an interesting opportunity.

Monday, April 1, 2013

You Meet the Most Interesting People in Critique Groups

Belonging to a critique group has many advantages. Becoming a better writer is the primary one, which comes from learning about the art and craft and business of writing.

Another fun and interesting benefit is that some of the most fascinating people are writers. The members of our weekly Coffee and Critique group are no exception.

Two critique group members, who also belong to the St. Louis Chapter of Sisters in Crime (Jennifer Hasheider and Judi Moresi), were mentioned recently in an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Judi talked about her mystery novel-in-progress, which our critique group has heard snippets of in the past.

Ghost-hunter Jennifer spoke to the Sisters in Crime group about her ghost hunting adventures, including the tools and equipment she uses while pursuing slippery spirits.

At critique group just last Tuesday Jennifer read an essay about -- you guessed it --- a ghost.

You can read more about Jennifer and Judi in the Post-Dispatch article.

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...