Friday, September 27, 2013

Win a Copy of YA Novel BAKER MOUNTAIN by Doyle Suit

To celebrate the release of my critique group writing pal Doyle Suit's historical fiction YA novel, I'm giving away my advance reading copy. Baker Mountain is a Cactus Country novel published by High Hill Press.

Here are the blurbs from the back cover, including my own:

"This man puts a whole lot of himself into his books. His years spent wandering the Ouachita Mountains were not wasted. Baker Mountain tells it like it was for men and their families during and after the Great Depression." Dusty Richards

"Set during America's Great Depression, Baker Mountain by Doyle Suit harkens back to days of hard work and hard times. Through Suit's crisp and clear prose, vivid descriptions, and skillful painting of an era gone by, we learn the story of sixteen-year-old Gary Hill, whose life is turned upside down after the death of his mother. While Gary's father travels around the world in search of work, Gary moves in with his grandparents on their farm in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas. In the shadow of Baker Mountain, city-boy Gary learns about farming, hunting, horseback riding, bootlegging, and falling in love. Baker Mountain is an entertaining coming-of-age novel of historical fiction whose message about the importance of education, self-reliance, and courage still resonates today." Donna Volkenannt

"Doyle Suit is a great storyteller with a smooth writing style, which is more than evident in his historical fiction YA,  Baker Mountain. From page one, my heart went out to poor Gary, having to leave his home in New Orleans to move to the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas. But what he experiences in his new home will have you laughing out loud at times and crying with him at others. This book is especially wonderful for any library, classroom, or home school program." Margo Dill

To win a copy, just leave a comment between now and Oct 2. Winner will be announced Oct 3.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Retreat to Bunker Hill and Surrender to Your Passion for Creativity, October 4-6

Accord to ancient Spartan law, there motto was, "No retreat, no surrender!"

So, why am I suggesting writers and other creative types retreat and surrender?

Well, what better time than the glorious fall weather in Southern Missouri to go on a weekend retreat and surrender to your passion for creativity?

That's what I'll be doing October 4-6 at the third annual Missouri State Teachers Association Creative Retreat for writers and photographers.

The retreat will be at the scenic Bunker Hill Retreat Center in Mountain View, Missouri, and I am  excited to be a faculty member for the retreat.

Here's a synopsis of the topics included during the retreat:

Writing: Donna Volkenannt, will present "Think outside the book: writing short stories and personal essays." During workshops participants will be guided through writing exercises to get their creative juices flowing and keep them motivated to continue.

Publishing: Lou Turner will present "Let the adventure begin!" She will share her step-by-step plan to get writers from their first word to their book signing.

Photography: Angie Carmack will encourage photographers to "explore your passion for photography." Workshops will be for both beginners, mid-level, and advanced photographers.

Gates open Friday at 1 p.m. to check in and enjoy leisure activities. From 5-7 there will be a "Make and Take" class for card making with Daphney Partridge. The meet and greet begins at 7 p.m. on Friday followed by meeting with faculty for overview and assignments.

Weekend fees ($215 for MSTA members and $250 for non-members) include workshop fee and Friday lodging, three meals on Saturday, Saturday lodging, and breakfast and lunch on Sunday. You do not have to belong to MSTA to attend.

According to the welcome letter I received from MSTA's Sarah Kohnle, during the weekend retreat, writers and photographers can "unplug from the outside world, soak up inspiration, and create."

If you would like to sign up or for more information, e-mail Sarah Kohnle at skohnle @ (Remove spaces in Sarah's e-mail address when writing to her.)

Or, e-mail me at dvolkenannt @ (without spaces) and I will send you a PDF file of the retreat brochure, which includes what participants need to bring with them to the retreat.


Friday, September 20, 2013

John Searles, author of HELP FOR THE HAUNTED, in St. Louis next week

Talk about timing: Yesterday I received an e-mail from St. Louis County Library that John Searles, author of HELP FOR THE HAUNTED, the book I reviewed on my blog earlier this week, will be in St. Louis County next Friday.

The SLCL Foundation presents John Searles, Author of "Help for the Haunted" Friday, September 27, 7:00 p.m., Library Headquarters - Auditorium (Doors open at 6:00 p.m. Seating is limited; early arrival is highly recommended.)

Presenting Sponsor Maryville University.

Here's a link to the SLCL site for more information.

Darn the luck. Why is it that when I want to attend one of these type events I've already got something planned?

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Raise your hands is you like ghost stories.

HELP FOR THE HAUNTED by John Searles is a mysterious ghost story with a murderous twist.

Sylvie Mason is an unusual teen with a special gift. She belongs to a family of Christian ghost hunters and healers living in Maryland. But all is not well, and all is not as it seems, in the Mason family.

After Sylvie's older, rebellious sister Rose goes missing, her parents receive a mysterious call on a snowy night to meet in a church if they want to find out where Rose is. Sylvie is told to wait in the car, and she does for what seems like forever. Finally, she traipses inside the church. When she discovers her parents have been murdered, she is grazed by a bullet that whizzes by her ear.

Flash forward: A year later, Sylvie is being "raised" by her negligent sister Rose, who barely provides food or clothing for Sylvie. In high school, Sylvie's life is unbearable, except for the school counselor who does his best to help Sylvie cope with her shattered life.

Who is the mysterious person who leaves casseroles on the doorstep at night, but which Rose throws out because she tells Sylvie they could be poisoned. And what's causing the unexplained noises and happenings in the basement?

After the man originally charged with the murder of her parents is cleared of the crime, the police reopen the case and question Sylvie. Forced to relive the horrible night, Sylvie is determined to find out who killed her parents. But that knowledge will reveal deep family secrets that could put Sylvie's life in jeopardy.

Narrated by the haunting voice of Sylvie, HELP FOR THE HAUNTED is a well written and satisfying ghost story that is surprising and a bit creepy.

Monday, September 16, 2013

10 Writing Contest Tips and Strategies

Talk about timing.

As it turns out I'm judging two writing contests this month, and this past Saturday I gave a seminar at UMSL on tips and strategies writers can use to help them do better in writing contests.

Before I gave the seminar I solicited input from some of my writing friends (you know who you are) because they are so smart, plus I figured the students wouldn't want to hear only my opinions. 

While I shared 25 tips with the students during the seminar on Saturday, according to the KISS principle I've decided to pare the 25 tips down and combine them into ten.

1. Do your research. Understand the contest category you are entering. Know yourself and your target. Know who is sponsoring the contest. Know what rights you are giving away when you enter. Avoid scams. Invest wisely. Find out the name of the judge, if possible, and see what type of writing the judge prefers.

2. READ CAREFULLY AND FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES PRECISELY. Just about everyone I asked for comments mentioned this. That's why I put it in bold and all caps.This should be tip #1 because it is so important, but I wanted to list the tips in chronological order. Anyway, if you're uncertain about the guidelines, contact the Contest Chair.  As part of the guidelines: DO NOT EXCEED THE WORD LIMIT-- not even by one word (titles don't count). Know which category you are entering. (If the category is fiction, don't send an essay or a memoir. It's frustrating for the judge to pick a winner when more than half of the entries are well written, but they're nonfiction and the category is fiction.) Print out a copy of the guidelines and keep it handy.

3.  Just write it. Get your thoughts on paper and edit later. One prize-winning writer suggested, "write what you want and find a contest for it." If the word count is 1000, it's okay to write twice as much in your first draft. That gives you room to edit out weak or unnecessary words and keep in the best when you revise.

4. Use proper manuscript format. This gets back to #2. If the guidelines state double-spaced on plain white bond one side of the paper, be sure to do that.  Beyond that, proper manuscript format calls for the way your story or essay is laid out on paper. If you're unclear about proper manuscript format, check with the Contest Chair, or do some research. Here's a site one of my experts suggested:  Writers Digest online also has helpful information about formatting.

5. It's all about the writing. The above tips will get you started, but it's the writing is what will win the prize. Keep in mind the following: Titles matter, so always include one (unless it's a haiku). Unusual titles can catch a judge's attention and get them to take a closer look. The first line should be an attention grabber to get the judge to read more. Don't load up the beginning with backstory or too much description. Word choices are important. Nouns and verbs should be the workhorses of your manuscript. Eliminate passive or weak verbs (is, are, was, were, would, have). Ease up on adjectives and adverbs. Eliminate filler words (just, very, only, little, so, that). Watch out for clich├ęs. Use vivid writing, including using the five senses (but not too much). Use concrete nouns (e.g. ox-eyed daisy is more concrete than flower.) Don't let description slow down the action. Take a unique approach. Judges get tired of reading the same type of story. Dare to be different, as long as you follow the guidelines. Use dialogue to make scenes come alive. Dialogue should sound natural. Dialogue is for conflict, not for meet and greet or agreement and not as an info dump. Orient your reader to time and setting. Character, voice, action, and conflict are important. A memorable character or a unique voice will stand out among other entries. In fiction: no conflict, no story. Watch out for tense shifts (from present to past and back again). Don't confuse your reader -- or the judge.

6. Pay attention to grammar and technique. Everyone makes mistakes, but take some time to correct spelling, punctuation and the like during editing and revision. Avoid using exclamation points. They're like screaming on paper, or as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke." One of my writing friends despises semicolons and suggests writers "never use semicolons in dialogue."

7. Endings are important. Endings should be satisfying, yet surprising. Know when to stop. Too often stories go on too long and become repetitive or preachy. Read some short stories by famous writers. See how they end their stories. Here's a famous ending from The Great Gatsby. "so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." According to Pat Carr, "The last line of a story should be an action, a piece of dialogue, or an image."

8.  Edit, re-edit, revise, repeat. Print out a hard copy and proofread away from the PC. Read it out loud. Sure, your dog might think you're crazy, but you'll be amazed at the mistakes you'll pick up. Read it backwards (from the end to beginning--not sitting backwards in a chair) to catch double words and even more missteps. Don't rely on spell check. Set it aside for at least a week. Read it out loud again and edit and revise as needed. Truman Capote wrote, "Editing is as important as the writing. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil." So cut, cut, cut to make your work shine, shine, shine.

9. Re-read the guidelines. Catch anything you might have overlooked. Don't wait till the last minute to submit. Send in early to give the judge more time to consider your work. Be sure to include the contest fee and sufficient postage. Mail to the correct address. Keep track of your submissions. Before you submit, check the contest website in case there's a change to the guidelines--it happens. One of my experts mentioned that if a deadline is extended it might mean there aren't a lot of entries, which could increase your chances of winning. Submit and move to your next project.

10. Attitude matters.  You can't always win, so be a gracious loser. Accept the fact that judging is subjective. You didn't win this time, but there's always the next one. Accept a loss, be grateful for an honorable mention. Learn from your near misses. Be a gracious winner. Celebrate, but don't gloat. Celebrate when your writing buddies win too. Send a thank you to the contest sponsor, especially if you win. If you get an opportunity to judge, jump at the chance, even if you don't get paid. You'll learn a lot about writing by being a judge, plus it's a good feeling to give something back, especially to small organizations that don't have a budget to pay judges. Never quit! (Okay, I used an exclamation point, but I think it's appropriate here.)

But wait, there's more . . .

If you want to read about how winning a literary prize can change your life, Alan Rinzler's blog, "The Book Deal," has an insightful interview with several prize-winning writers.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Games Writers Play: Tag, You're It

Earlier this week, Cathy C. Hall tagged me in a game called, "Tag, You're It!"

What fun! And how interesting.

The first thing I did was read Cathy's answers to the questions, and I sure did learn a lot about what she's working on and what got her started on her project!

Answering the questions also helped me focus on how I need to manage my time better and focus on my long-term goals rather than short-term ones.

So, here are my answers, and at the end of my answers I've tagged three other bloggers whose answers I would enjoy reading--and I think others would too.

Here goes:

What are you working on right now?

The long answer to that question is: At the beginning of 2013, after being a freelance book reviewer for about five years, I decided to switch gears and focus on my own writing. My checking account balance has dwindled, but my stress level from delivering so many reviews on deadline has also decreased.

One project in the works is the first-ever Coffee and Critique Anthology. I’m collecting and editing short stories and essays for an anthology showcasing works from members of Coffee and Critique, a writers’ group a friend and I started six years ago.
The elephant in my office is my self-imposed challenge to finish a first draft of a novel by the end of the year. I have two ideas in mind and am mulling over which project to tackle first. I dug out a rough outline and a synopsis for a paranormal thriller that’s been lying dormant in a works-in-progress file. I also have the beginnings of a YA paranormal mystery novel that keeps calling my name. Right now I’m leaning toward the paranormal thriller.

How does it differ from other works in the genre?

Probably the setting and characters. The action occurs in Missouri and Germany and has an international cast of characters—both good and evil.

The genesis for the story is: Several years ago I bought an antique rocking chair for an unbelievably low price at an estate sale in a rural area of Missouri. While I was bidding I wondered why local residents weren't outbidding me. Afterwards, the auctioneer told me I had gotten the deal of the day.  The idea that the chair was possessed – and not in a good way -- took off from there. I’ve sketched out some thoughts about where the story should go and have drafted a first chapter, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten.

Why do you write what you do? 

Now that I’m not writing book reviews, most of my time is spent writing personal essays and short fiction. Writing essays and short stories is a quick fix which satisfies my need to see my thoughts and imagination take shape on paper. Still, I want to stretch myself as a writer and finish a novel while I'm still vertical. 

What is the hardest part about writing?

Time. I never seem to have enough of it. I’m easily distracted and need to focus. What was the question? ;-)

Now it’s my turn to tag three writers. My picks are Sarah (the Practical Historian), Pat (Critter Alley), and Claudia Mundell. If you click on the links you’ll find their awesome blogs.

I hope they’ll agree to participate because I’d love to read their answers to the questions.

So tag, you’re it!


Monday, September 9, 2013

On the Matter of Tense Shifts

Yesterday I sat in on a works-in-progress critique group. One writer's manuscript was interesting, had some nice description and a creative premise, but the writer shifted from past to present tense several times and changed points of view at least once.

While the POV shift was a minor distraction, I found the tense shifts confusing. I couldn't tell if the action was occurring today or yesterday or in the future.

While this isn't an excerpt from the work-in-progress, it is a crude example of what I mean:

"What's going on," he said.

"Not much," she answered.

"Do you think we'll get out of here alive?" John says.

"I hope so," says Ann.


The first person to comment picked up on the tense shifts and pointed out where they occurred. Before she could finish with her remarks, another person chimed in that wasn't quite right because the second person had read a book explaining it's okay to mix tenses when the writer is summarizing the scene.

I spoke up in favor of using one tense in a scene and sticking with it to avoid confusing the reader. I believe that whichever tense a writer uses, she should be consistent. 

Although I didn't get time to elaborate or give exceptions, such as if a writer adds in backstory or has a flashback, now I'm wondering if I mislead the other writers with my "be consistent" advice.

Okay, you expert writers. What are your opinions on tense shifts?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Write Stuff Program at the University of Missouri at St. Louis

Are you searching for the "write stuff?"

The University of Missouri at St. Louis is offering a "Write Stuff" program for students desiring to take courses and receive a Chancellor's Certificate in Writing.

The program requires completion of 50 contact hours, which includes two core courses (one fiction and one nonfiction) as well as choosing from seminars covering a wide range of writing-related topics.

I'm scheduled to give a seminar on "Write to Win: Writing Tips from a Contest Judge" at the J.C. Penney auditorium on the UMSL campus on Sep 14 from 1-4 p.m.

During the three-hour seminar I'll share tips and strategies I've learned over years of entering and judging writing competitions. I'll also conduct an exercise where participants judge contest entries to determine if their picks match those selected as winners in a national writing competition.

UMSL Write Stuff Program seminar topics given by other instructors -- including Margo Dill, Dianna Graveman, Bobbi Smith and others -- will cover: research, marketing, publishing and more.

Writers who aren't interested in completing the entire program for a certificate may take individual classes and seminars.

Cost for individual seminars is $65.

To register, phone 314-561-6590.

Here's a link to the UMSL Write Stuff Program site, where you can find more details.

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...