Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why I Watch C-SPAN's Book TV: Brad Metzler, Gina Kolata, et al

Most weekends you'll find me tuned in to C-SPAN's Book TV to see what's going on with top nonfiction authors and books. I admit; it's an obsession. Usually I wait until my family is otherwise engaged so I won't have to listen to their groans or comments like, "Oh, no. She's at it again."

Actually, I'm used to their teasing, and on occasion you might even find one of them on the couch watching along with me.

Where else but Book TV can you watch Brad Metzler, best-selling thriller author and host of History's "Decoder" series, give a passionate talk to a group of children about stories, books, and writing?

In addition to being a thriller writer, Metzler is also author of a series of children's books about ordinary people who changed the world and who bring out "the greatness of us all." Two books in his children's series are I Am Amelia Earhart and I Am Abraham Lincoln.

Yesterday, after being asked why he became a writer, Metzler contrasted the wrong and the right reasons for becoming a writer -- "the wrong reason is to achieve fame; the right reason is to tell stories." He went on to describe books as "the houses that he builds with his own hands" and great stories as "what could happen, not what did happen." He also thanked the adult readers present, and in Book TV land, for buying his thrillers because their support helps him write children's books. His words were humorous, humble, and inspiring.

Yesterday I also caught a rebroadcast of Brian Lamb's 2000 interview with author and journalist Gina Kolata on her book "Flu," about the 1918 great flu pandemic. Although the interview is 14-years old, it's still informative and fascinating.

Although I had heard about the 1918 flu pandemic before, yesterday I learned a lot of the details. It was the worst infectious disease in recorded history, with estimates of between 20 million-100 million deaths, and more than 99% of the people who died under age 65. Here's something to keep you up at night: Scientists believe it's not a question of if, but when, a flu like this will spread again.

What also made Kolata's talk about her "Flu" book interesting was it was more than facts and figures--there's the mystery of the search for the virus that caused the flu. Kolata mentioned visiting the U.S. Government's military warehouse (started by Abraham Lincoln) in Maryland where tissue samples and medical records are housed. Who knew this place existed?

The most emotional part of the interview was Kolata's reading of Thomas Wolfe's moving description of his brother Ben's death from the flu. Reportedly, his brother's death was Wolf's inspiration for "Look Homeward Angel."

She also spoke candidly about the competition to find viable tissue samples for research. One small group of dedicated scientists searched without fanfare and at personal expense. Another group, led by a female Canadian geographer, solicited and obtained millions from the U.S. government and corporate donations, and she was accompanied by a mob of media.

Can you guess which group was more successful?

Here's a hint: The contrasting approaches by the two groups of scientists reminded me of Brad Metzler's remark about the right and wrong reasons for writing. For both dedicated writers and dedicated scientists -- being successful is not about being famous.

I'll step off my soapbox now and get back other reasons why I think Book TV is so great: If I'm not able to watch on the weekend, I can catch up anytime on what I missed by watching a Podcast. And the Authors on Writing series is one of my favorite Book TV features.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Taking Leaps of Faith

As writers, we continually take leaps of faith. We pour our hearts, thoughts, and words out on paper then send them off, hoping they will get published -- or even better, touch the hearts and minds of others.

But sometimes, writing and being published are not enough.

A few years ago I realized something was missing from my writing life. For almost two decades I had belonged to several writing organizations where I found friendship and encouragement. I had been published and won awards, yet I felt an uneasiness in my heart. I yearned for something more.

That something more was finding like-minded writers with whom I could openly share my Catholic faith.

It didn't take long before I was blessed with two local groups to fill that void.

The first is the Catholic Writers of St. Louis, a group that meets several times a year at a local coffee house. The founder and leader of CWSTL is Denise Y. Montgomery, a mother of six, a home-school teacher, and an inspiring writer.

On the CWSTL blog, Denise posts book reviews, contest and conference announcements, submission opportunities, and other helpful information. In August 2012, CWSTL was featured in an article in the St. Louis Review, the newspaper for the St. Louis Archdiocese.

The second is in my parish group, All Saints Writers. In late 2011, with the help and encouragement of Diane Valentine, the All Saints parish administrator, I developed the group's mission statement, advertised in the church bulletin, and All Saints Writers was formed.

Our first meeting was in January 2012, and earlier this month we celebrated our second anniversary. During our monthly meetings we share poems, short stories, essays, memoirs, novel excerpts, scripts, and devotionals.

In our opening prayer, we call on the Holy Spirit to "open our hearts and minds so we may be attentive to the voice of God."

The first saint we recognize during our litany of saints is St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, authors, and journalists. The Catholic feast day of St. Francis de Sales is celebrated on January 24 -- today!

Members of All Saints Writers have been called on to share their gifts by assisting with parish writing projects.

Last year three members: Sally Baumbach, Diane Valentine, and I composed scripts for our parish's "Voices from the Past" cemetery walk. The October event was part of All Saints Parish's 190th anniversary celebration. For me, doing research and writing a script about George Gaty -- a Revolutionary War veteran and an early settler in St. Peters -- was a challenging and rewarding experience.

Belonging to writing groups that focus on spirituality and faith has taken a "leap of faith" for me -- but it's one I'm glad I made.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Submission Opportunity: Reader's Digest 100-Word True Story Contest

Looking for  an opportunity to win big in 2014?

Reader's Digest is featuring a 100-Word True Story Contest.

Here's what the judges and sponsors are looking for: "In 100 words or fewer, tell us a true story about you. One grand-prize winner will receive $5,000 and have his or her story published in our June issue. One runner-up winner will receive $500, and six finalists will receive $100 each."

Read more:

* The entry must not be lewd, obscene, sexually explicit, pornographic, disparaging, defamatory, libelous or otherwise inappropriate or objectionable, as determined by the Judges and/or Sponsor in their sole and absolute discretion.

* Entry period begins at 12:00 p.m. on 1/14/2014, and ends at 11:59 p.m. on 3/14/2014 Eastern time.

NOTE: Thanks to Cleve Sylcox for sharing a link to the contest on the St. Charles Writers blog.

Good luck if you enter!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Year - I've Already Missed One Goal for 2014

Happy 2014, everyone!

I try not to make New Year's resolutions because I have a hard time sticking to them. Instead I set goals. Apparently, I'm not so good at keeping goals either.

A few of my writing goals for 2014 are to: submit something at least monthly, meet all deadlines, and get to critique group early.

On the positive side, I wrote, edited, and submitted an essay for an anthology yesterday. Checkmark! That accomplishes one of my monthly goals.

Another on the positive side: Last October I taught at a writers' workshop. One of the things I asked the students to do was write down their three-month writing goals for October through December. I gave them envelopes to put their goals in and had them address the envelopes to themselves. I promised to mail the envelopes to them around the first of the year. Instead, on December 30 I put stamps on the envelopes and mailed them back to the students so they would receive them around January 1. I'm counting that one as being finished early.

Also regarding my goal to the meet all deadlines. The past couple months I've been judging a contest with two categories--fiction and nonfiction books. I was asked to have my selections by the end of December. There are twice as many novels as nonfiction books. I sent off my nonfiction selections this morning. I'm almost finished reading all the novels and plan to make my selections before my cataract surgery next week. So, I missed having all the books judged by the deadline, but that's not too bad because the awards ceremony isn't until the spring. I'm not getting paid to judge, but still I had hoped to make the first deadline.

About being on time.

Well, I had planned this post for yesterday but Dillard's was having a big one-day sale with 50 percent off sale merchandise.

Perhaps my biggest goal for 2014 should be to focus and not let distractions get in my way.

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...