Saturday, December 19, 2015

Merry Christmas: Free 2016 Writer Calendar and Monthly Planner from Literautas

Just in time for Christmas and the new year, Literautas has once again offered free calendars for writers. 

Literautas is a writers' resource that offers "Notes, tutorials, exercises, thoughts, workshops and resources about writing or storytelling art."

Check out the Literautas blog for their two choices for 2016 -- a writing calendar and a monthly planner. And take time to leave a comment thanking them for their generosity.

As a added bonus, if you scroll down the blog to related posts you can a link describing how to create a writer's "Do Not Disturb" sign.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Season of Miracles

The December 2015 issue of Sasee magazine is aptly titled, "Season of Miracles."

I love the cover of this issue. It's eye-catching and memorable, with one woman with a broad stride who stands out from the crowd. The woman is dressed in black gloves, a red dress and matching shoes, with a tiny black-and-white bow on them. Just from looking at that cover, you can imagine that woman is going places.

I'm pleased that an essay I wrote titled "Sweet Memories" is included in this issue. The story might bring a tear to your eye, but it ends on a hopeful note. If you get some time, click on the link above and read it. Another local writer, Linda O'Connell, also has an essay in the same issue.

Here's wishing you a joyful Christmas season filled with sweet memories and maybe even a miracle or two.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

St. Charles City-County Library Local Author Event

Donna and Marcia
I'm a bit late posting this, but I wanted to make sure I shared these photos and gave a report on last month's local author event sponsored by the St. Charles City-County Library.

This is the first year the sixth annual event was held at the Spencer Road Branch in St. Peters.

In previous years the event was held at the Middendorf-Kredell Library in O'Fallon.

The change in location was because the number of authors has increased every year.

Pat, Marcia, and Donna

This year, with more than 100 mostly local authors (as well as many from as far away as Cape Girardeau and Rolla), the beautiful and spacious Spencer Road Branch was the perfect site for the event.

When I first read there would be more than 100 authors on hand, I wondered how the library would pull it off.

Doyle Suit
I was pleased and impressed how organized the venue was, with each writer assigned a specific table area and given help carrying their books and other materials inside.

The rooms were roomy and laid out to encourage foot traffic.

The snacks were plentiful, and the library gave away several door prizes.

The library staff and volunteers did an outstanding job with this special event.

Sioux Roslawski
It was my good fortune to sit next to two of my favorite writers, Marcia Gaye and Pat Wahler, both members to Coffee and Critique.

Doyle Suit, another C&C member, was not far from where we sat.

Sioux Roslawski and Candace Carrabus Rice were also nearby, and I was happy that I had time to chat with them and share a few memories and stories.

I'm looking forward to next year's event and meeting even more writers and readers. Hope to see you there too!
Candace Carrabus Rice

Monday, November 2, 2015

SELF-e Self-Publishing Opportunity from Library Journal

Image from the St. Louis County Library website
If you're a local author hoping to get your work into the St. Louis County Library's (and other libraries') e-book collections, here's something you might want to check out. 

According to the SLCL websiteSELF-e is "a discovery platform designed to expose your ebook(s) to more readers via public libraries locally and nationwide."

This initiative is a collaboration between Library Journal and BiblioBoard. Depending on the outcome of a rigorous review process by Library Journal, the SELF-e program permits local authors to upload their e-book: into Library Journal's SELF-e Select collection or (if not selected for the Library Journal's SELF-e Select collection) into the Indie Missouri collection.

Note: From what I read in the FAQs, there is no cost to participate -- but authors do not receive royalties either.  The chief benefit is getting your work recognized.

So, if you're looking for exposure (other than from frostbite) for your e-book, you can find complete details in the FAQ section, along with a link to the terms of agreement.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Tales: Our Haunted Farmhouse, Mom's Strange Brews, a Monster Buck, and Jack-o-Lantern Mushrooms

Road to the farm
My husband reminded me this morning that today is the 23rd anniversary of our buying our 89-acre farmland in Osage County.

It's not that we deliberately bought the property on Halloween; it's just that was the day we signed the paperwork. Some might say that was an omen, or it might be a coincidence that the old farmhouse, which burned down several years ago, was haunted.

One year, after my husband and several relatives went deer hunting, they returned with stories of strange happenings. They swore the old farmhouse was haunted by a ghost they named Gary because Casper was already taken.

The old barn is still standing
I attributed their stories to drinking too much beer around the campfire and over-active imaginations. I'd been to the farmhouse many times, but I'd never  seen  anything to make me believe the farmhouse was haunted -- until one Saturday afternoon. Let's just say after that experience I changed my mind.

Just the other day one of my sisters and I were talking about our mom's cautionary tales and home remedies, some of which might be considered old wives' tales.

Mom warned us not to go outside after washing our hair, tried to get us to eat fish because it was "brain food," and fed us chicken soup when we had colds. But that wasn't all she did to cure what ailed one of her brood.

While she didn't stir up ingredients as weird as a witch's brew like "the eye of a newt or toe of a frog," she did create some strange brews. She made onion poultices to cure croup or bad colds. She sliced an onion and sprinkled sugar over it then put the concoction in a small pan with a small bit of water then made a poultice. For warts, she sliced a raw potato in half, rubbed half on the wart then had someone, other than the one with the wart, bury the second half of the potato but not tell where it was buried. By the time the potato grew, the wart would be gone. Then there was iodine for swollen tonsils.

Oh, yeah, Mom was definitely old school.

On the topic of old school: Last weekend my nephew Paul downed a monster 15-point buck in St. Charles County using an atlatl. A what? That's what I asked.

An atlatl is an ancient weapon, basically a spear, a stick with a handle on one end and a hook on the other. You can see a photo of Paul, the monster buck, and his atlatl on the Missouri Conservation Department Facebook page, where you can also see a photo of Jack-o-Lantern mushrooms.

How about you? Any Halloween tales or spooky stories to share?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Notes from OCW: Brett Cogburn, Western Writer, Philosopher, and Contrarian Grammarian

During Brett Cogburn’s informal discussion at the Ozark Creative Writers Conference earlier this month, I was expecting a rough-and-tumble cowboy with a thick drawl and wise-cracking attitude. I was pleased to find a western writer-philosopher who seemed genuinely interested in sharing what he’s learned about the craft of writing while hearing from other writers about their writing processes. 

Here are some of Brett’s suggestions and words of wisdom I jotted down:  

 Start with action.

Don’t dump background at the front end of your story.

Dialogue needs to sound natural and can be used to provide background of characters.

Give snippets of background.

Just write. Edit later.

His advice on editing: Cut, Rewrite, Tighten. Take out what readers skip.

TMI? Gut something out of your story.

Every good writer has to be an editor. You have to be your best editor.

 You must make decisions and question everything you write.

Where is my story going?

Does it work?

How will I tell this story?

What scenes will I show?

What can I do differently?

Hiring a copy editor or proofreader is necessary.

Write a series to hook readers.

Writing is a business of comparatives

You have limited space to tell your story.

Paint a portrait with words, keeping in mind you are limited by the canvas size.

You can’t take the writer out of the story.

Dialogue is the hardest part of the craft.

Observe how others talk.

People don’t talk in complete sentences.

Use vernacular but not to the point of distraction.

How do others react? They’re not just talking heads.

Challenge yourself to write as said.

At the end of his talk, he summed up his approach to writing by saying, “I’m an old contrarian.”

He observed that, while some more traditional western writers spin stories about good guys in white hats defeating villains before riding off into the sunset, he likes to take risks and try different approaches with his western writing.

His last few words of advice were to:

Get out. Talk to strangers.

Be an observer of life and people.

Have a vision! Find You!

Step out of your bubble and start writing!

(Note to self: Be sure to try this before riding off into the sunset.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

More Notes from OCW: Tiffany Schofield on "The Unexpected Journey"

During Tiffany Schofield's second session at OCW in Eureka Springs, she talked about her unexpected journey into the world of publishing with Five Star and how her journey can parallel that of a writer.

Her discussion focused on three traits she believes writers need to succeed:
* Tenacity
* Dedication
* Community

* As an example of tenacity and persistence, she pointed out mystery writer Agatha Christie, who was rejected for five years, but who ultimately has had two billion books in print (second only to Shakespeare). Tiffany shared a story about a conversation she had during a writing event with best-selling author Jeffrey Deaver, who told her he received 138 rejections for his first manuscript. One rejection letter was even marred with boot stamps, as if someone at the publishing house had walked on his printed submission. Yet, Deaver never gave up. And the boot-stamped manuscript? It eventually got published, as did scores of other of his novels.

* To be dedicated, Tiffany said that a writer must do more than dream of becoming published -- a writer must "leap off that cliff and get started."

* For community, Tiffany encouraged writers to engage in fellowship with others with similar attitudes, interests, and goals. She suggested that writers connect with their readers, attend conferences (like OCW), join or start a critique group, give back to the writing community, and be part of something more.

She wrapped up with a few quotes from Benjamin Franklin. Here's one I jotted down: "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."

To encourage writers to "leap off that cliff and get started," she directed writers to pick up copies of handouts with Five Star's submission query guidelines. I picked up a copy and have summarized them below.

Five Star Publishing, a part of Gale/Cengage Learning:

* Does not accept or review a project based on a query only.
* Accepts and evaluates completed manuscripts that are unsolicited, as well as agented submissions, in the following genres:
  ** Mystery (set in any time period; manuscripts within 65,000-100,000 word count range). (Mystery subgenre examples: cozy, hard-boiled, private eye, traditional, psychological, crime, police procedurals, suspense, thriller, historical, humorous, contemporary Western mystery, romantic suspense, etc.).
  ** Westerns (set during 1800-1899; manuscripts within  55,000-100,000 word count range). (Western subgenre examples: traditional, lawman, action/adventure, etc.).
  ** Frontier Fiction (set during 1700-1920; manuscripts within 60,000-130,000 word count range). (Subgenre examples: historical thriller, frontier mystery, frontier romance, frontier women's fiction, frontier fiction with YA crossover ability (coming-of-age themes), alternate history, frontier SF/fantasy, pioneer settlers, etc.).
* Does not accept previously published materials (including print or eBook).
* Does not accept simultaneous submissions.
* Only accepts author's own original work.

** Five Star does not accept: nonfiction, poetry, memoirs, autobiography, short story collections, or children/YA literature.

E-mail submission query requirements:
* Send an e-mail to
* In the subject line type: SUBMISSION QUERY, Your book title by Author Name
* MUST include in body of your e-mail:
  ** Your full name (pseudonym if applicable)
  ** Address/contact info
  ** Manuscript title
  ** Manuscript word count
  ** Specific subgenre of your submission
  ** Short synopsis about your project

If you have any questions about Five Star's submission guidelines or need clarification of the above, e-mail 

Five Star Publishing is located at 10 Water Street, Suite 310, Waterville, ME 04901

Back to Tiffany's presentation. In addition to tenacity, dedication, and community, I believe writers need talent, patience, and timing to succeed.

How about you? What traits or qualities do you think writers need to be successful?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Notes from OCW: Tiffany Schofield from Five Star Publishing "We're Searching for Your Voice"

Last weekend I attended the 49th annual Ozark Creative Writers conference in historic Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I attended my first OCW conference about 20 years ago and attended faithfully for more than ten years, but due to family circumstances I've missed several of the annual conferences, but I was thrilled to make the trip this year!
If you've never been to OCW or visited Eureka Springs, you're missing a wonderful opportunity to hear from some amazing writers and publishers and see some eye-popping scenery.
After attending a writing conference like OCW I'm inspired and want to shout from the rooftops, so for my next series of blog posts I will share some of what I learned over the weekend. 
First up is keynote speaker Tiffany Schofield, from Five Star Publishing.
Tiffany is shown here wearing the sparkly red cowboy hat presented to her by Lou Turner, President of OCW.
In Tiffany's opening talk, she spoke with candor and enthusiasm about her love of writers and her joy in discovering new voices at Five Star Publishing. Her passion for books and writers was evident all weekend. She was approachable and knowledgeable -- and did I mention that she loves to talk to writers?
Here are some general comments I jotted down from Tiffany's opening presentation:
What you do matters
Literature has a way of finding us; story chooses its writer
Challenge the norms
Look for opportunity, not power
Be that rebel spirit
Put your own voice into the story
Write what you love and what that story is telling you
Writing is a solitary journey that can become part of something bigger
Don’t be afraid of the voice in your story
Listen to your characters
Pair the voice with the characters
Challenge the norms
Readers love to be challenged
Avoid head hopping
Don’t confuse your reader
Here are some of Tiffany's more specific remarks about Five Star:

Five Star is a niche market known for sales to libraries
Their books get reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, and Booklist
Their three genre lists are: Mystery, Western, and Frontier Fiction
Frontier Fiction is genre bending, combining elements of western and mystery, even paranormal and sci-fi. The setting is the American frontier, pre-1920
Frontier thriller is very popular in the library market
Fiction writers writing historical fiction do more research than nonfiction writers
Find an historical character and be sure to get historical details correct

** My favorite quote from Tiffany: “Books are better than chocolate, and I love chocolate.”
I'll post information about Five Star's submission process in a future post.    

Monday, October 5, 2015

Lights, Camera, Action - Live Theater in All Saints Cemetery

A chill spread through the night air and a slight breeze accompanied visitors who attended the second "Voices from the Past" Cemetery Walk at All Saints parish in St. Peters, MO.

After assembling in the gymnasium and being given instructions by Diane Valentine, producer of the night's event, our group of Bunco friends, former co-workers, family members, husbands, and new friends turned on our flashlights and followed Jo Ann Prinster, one of seven docents dressed in period costumes.

Our group's first stop was inside All Saints Church--the "newest" of our four parish churches, whose cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1874. The original church, founded in 1823, is the ninth oldest parish in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Inside, we heard about the parish's rich past and were able to get a close-up look at some historic documents and vestments, like the hand-stitched one shown here, which was on display for this special evening.

From the church, we trekked to the cemetery to hear first-hand accounts from actors depicting men and women whose lives shaped the story of All Saints. The characters included mothers, widows, farmers, immigrants, a Civil War soldier, a murder victim, a nun who began her religious life at 16 and served for 72 years, and the beloved pastor who founded the first school.

The noteworthy deceased portrayed during "Voices from the Past" and the years of their deaths were:  Gerturde Auchly (1920), Joachim Ohmes (1880), Aloys Schneider (1940), Sister Frowine Schneider (1931), Christina Schulte (1858), and Father Nicholas Staudinger (1883). If you noticed a lot of German names in that list, it's because many German immigrants and their families have a rich tradition in All Saints parish.

All the actors did outstanding jobs, but for selfish reasons I was especially interested in the performance of Aloys Schneider (on the left), played by Don Goeller. Don did an excellent job capturing the essence of Schneider's sad story.

Aloys Schneider had the bad luck of being husband number six of the infamous Emma Heppermann, also known as the Potato Soup Black Widow, who made headlines in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

While we were instructed not to take photos of the actors, I was given permission to take one of Goeller in the character of Schneider because he is the character whose script I wrote.

After the performance, I spoke with Goeller and told him what a great job he did as Aloys, and he told me how much he enjoyed playing the role. I have to admit, seeing and hearing my words and stage direction played out in a live performance was thrilling.

After our tour, we joined the six other groups of visitors, along with the actors, docents, and helpers in the Parish Center, where we were treated to hot apple cider and donut holes. Yum!

It was an inspiring and educational evening spent with many old friends and a few new ones. The proceeds of the special night will be used to help support the restoration work on the church and cemetery.

I'm already looking forward to the first weekend in October 2017 for the third "Voices of the Past" cemetery walk.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Writing about Death by Potato Soup and Other Curious Adventures

Have you ever read a story or heard a story and wanted to know more then you mentioned it to someone else and that person wanted to know more and before you knew it you were writing a script?

That's how I wrote a script about husband number six of the infamous St. Charles Potato Soup Black Widow for All Saints Parish's second "Voices of the Past" cemetery walk.

Let me back up a bit.

Two years ago our parish presented its first "Voices of the Past" cemetery walk. A few members of our parish writing group were asked to write scripts for historic characters who are buried in our parish cemetery. Actors, who also were parishioners, dressed in period costumes and portrayed the characters, using those scripts.

For our first cemetery walk I wrote about George Gaty, Revolutionary War hero and founder of St. Peters, Missouri. It was my first attempt at script writing, and although it was daunting, it turned out to be mind-stretching fun. Everyone who attended the October 2013 event said all the actors were remarkable. Unfortunately, I was out of town and unable to attend.

Earlier this year, during one of our writing group meetings, I mentioned an article I'd read about a farmer buried in our parish cemetery who had been murdered back in the late 1930s by the St. Charles Potato Soup Black Widow. Next thing I knew, I was doing research, interviewing a 90-plus-year-old parishioner who vividly remembered the event, and writing a script about Aloys Schneider for the cemetery walk.

Aloys Schneider was an unsuspecting farmer who had the misfortune of marrying a woman advertising her services as a housekeeper through a want ad in a St. Louis newspaper. The marriage to Aloys, husband number six, ended when he died shortly after their wedding. His family suspected his bride had poisoned him, but they lacked proof. It wasn't until a year later, after Tony Heppermann, husband number seven, died that the Potato Soup Black Widow was charged with double murder.

Aloys Schneider is one of many characters who will be portrayed during "Voices of the Past" cemetery walk on Oct 3 and 4 at 7 p.m. in the parish cemetery, 6 McMenamy Rd. St. Peters, MO. You can purchase tickets for $10 at the Parish Office, and more info can be found on the link above. Visitors are asked to arrive 15 minutes early and wear comfortable shoes.

I've already bought my ticket for the Oct 4 performance, and I can't wait to see all the actors play their roles.

If you are unable to make the event but are curious about Emma Sarana Heppermann, who laced her potato soup with arsenic and was suspected of murdering five of her seven husbands, one of her mothers-in-law, and even one of her own children, click on the link above.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Creating Mood in Fiction with Dr. Scott Dalrymple

Dr. Scott Dalrymple, President of Columbia College, spoke enthusiastically during his presentation at CCMWG's September meeting about creating mood in fiction.

Although presiding over a college is his profession, writing, especially short fantasy/science fiction pieces, is his passion.

His talk was casual, but his remarks were practical, thoughtful, and, at times -- deep.

Here are some notes/quotes I jotted down:
* The slush pile does get read, usually by an intern or an assistant. That's how his first short story got discovered.
* Having a good plot, especially in short stories, is not as important as having a good command of the language.
* If a story gets rejected, hold on to it for a while and revise and resubmit either that piece or a new piece to the same publication. (Editors move on -- or the same one might forget he/she read your story before.)
* He compared novelists and short story writers to carpenters.
  - Novelists are like framing carpenters with big elaborate structures (plots).
  - Short story writers are like finish carpenters (not to be confused with carpenters from Finland) who work on the smaller details (mood, language).
* He prefers to write shorter works -- but he enjoys reading novels.
* Editing is his favorite phase of the writing process.
* You've got to write something before you can edit.
* The "sound" of writing is crucial -- the cadence and rhythm (musicality, syllables, stresses).
* The rule of three is powerful (like the Holy Trinity). Dickens used it.
* Adjectives and adverbs are overused.
* The "reluctant hero" in modern fiction is annoying.
* Experiment writing in different persons; second person is tricky and some readers don't like it.
* Pick the one word that works; it can be an off-kilter word. (He prefers darker, bordering on horror).
* Think of  a stranger way to say it.
* "Not all good ideas turn out to be true."
* Great poets stun him (in a good way).
* In his opinion, Gene Wolfe is the greatest living writer and the "master of the casual revelation."
* Flash fiction pieces can convey a mood, and writing them is a good way to learn the craft.
* Huck Finn is the great American novel.
* "Endings are hard to write." (Dickens reportedly changed his for Great Expectations.)
* One of his advisors in college commented that "Real life doesn't have an ending -- it's unsatisfying."
* If others weren't there, what would we be?

How's that for heady stuff?

Although I typically don't read fantasy or science fiction, I'm going to check out Gene Wolfe, and I might even try writing something in second person.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Superstitions from Family and Friends

An unusual event happened at Bunco last month. It was strange because the Bunco group I belong to has been playing once a month for over forty years and this has never happened--at least not as long as I can remember.

The Bunco attendance prize was a cute and fancy watermelon knife, like the one on the left. (I had already bought an identical one at a local supermarket for me -- there was a super sale --- and another for my granddaughter to use in her new apartment.)

 Immediately after opening the Bunco gift bag with the knife inside, the prize winner hopped up from her chair, grabbed her wallet, and gave the hostess a penny.  When I asked the winner why she did that she told me it's bad luck to receive a knife as a gift. When you receive one, you're supposed to give whoever gave it to you some money. Curious about why it was bad luck, after I got home I did some research. Seems like there are several superstitions connected with knives.

The next time I saw my granddaughter I told her about the knife-gift superstition and reminded her that I had given her some money, along with the knife, so she was good. She looked at me like it was just another of my weird stories.

That reminded me of my mother's superstitions. Here are a few I remember:

If you spill salt, toss some over your left shoulder.
If your right hand itches, you're going to meet someone.
If your left hand itches, you're going to get some money.
Never put an umbrella on a table.
Never put a hat or shoes on a bed.
It's bad luck for a bird to fly into the house.
Don't let cats near newborns.
Don't cut a baby's hair before it's a year old.
Finding a coin heads-up is good luck.
Dreaming of muddy water mean bad luck. (My grandma would call everyone in the family when she had one of these dreams.)
Bad luck and good luck come in threes.
If it comes in three, let it be -- a warning to watch out for poison ivy and poison oak.

That's all I can think of right now.

How about you? Did your family have any superstitions?

Monday, August 31, 2015

2015 Tuscany Prize for Short Story Winners Announced

Last week I was thrilled after receiving an e-mail from Mr. Peter Mongeau, Founder and Publisher of Tuscany Press, notifying me that my short story, "The Judas Goat," was selected for an honorable mention in the 2015 Tuscany Prize for short story.

When I called Mr. Mongeau to accept the award, he congratulated me and asked me to tell him about myself and the background of my story.

During our forty-five minute conversation, he shared with me what he liked about "The Judas Goat" as well as why it didn't make the top five. I thanked him for the gift of his time and his candid comments and told him I'm looking forward to revising my story before it appears in the anthology.

The official announcement, which includes the names of the winning stories and bios of all the winners, was posted on the Tuscany Press blog yesterday. After reading the bios of the winners, I'm  humbled to have my story included among such an esteemed group of writers.

The publication date for the anthology, The Grove and Other Stories, is Spring of 2016. To share these stories with my blog visitors, I plan to give away a copy of the anthology some time next spring.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Got Flash in a Flash? MWG Semi-Flash Fiction Contest Deadline September 1

The Missouri Writers' Guild, which was established in 1915, is looking for original, unpublished works of fiction for their semi-flash writing contest. Semi-flash is a new term to me, but according to the guidelines, the length should be no longer than 1,000 words.
Writers do not have to belong to MWG to enter the contest. In fact, they don't even have to live in Missouri or the United States, but all entries must be in English.

Deadline: September 1, 2015
Entry fee is $10
First prize is $100. Additional cash prizes and other awards are detailed in the official guidelines
List of winners will be posted on the MWG website after November 1.


The general guidelines are listed below, and her is a link to the MWG contest site.
If you have questions, you can e-mail Judy Stock
Good luck if you enter! But act quickly, the deadline is September 1. 
General Submission Rules
1. Entries are open to all writers; there is no requirement to be a member of MWG.
2. Entries will be online and must be in English.
3. Entries must be original work of entrant and unpublished at the time of submission.
4. Each work must be treated as a separate entry. For each entry, use a separate cover
sheet/online entry form available at The cover
sheet includes the entrant’s name, address, telephone number, email address, and
a statement that entrant has read and signed the Terms of Agreement.
5. The deadline for all entries is midnight, September 1, 2015.
6. Entry should be double spaced, with a 1000 word limit, not including title.
7. Entries containing pornography, graphic violence, explicit or gratuitous sex, and
scatological content will not be accepted, nor will entry fee be returned.
8. Fees: Entry fee is $10 per entry. Payment may be made online through PayPal.
If entrants prefer, a check payable to MWG may be mailed to:
Missouri Writers Guild
Attn: Donna Essner, Treasurer
PO Box 2093
Saint Peters, Missouri 63376
9. MWG assumes no responsibility for misdirected entries.
10. May address any subject (except as noted in General Rule 7).
11. If you have questions, email Judy Stock
Terms of Agreement: Signing states the entrant agrees guidelines have been read and followed.
1. All submissions are judged by independent judges, whose decisions are final.
2. Judges may award up to three places, at their discretion, but will select at least one “Judge’s Pick.”
Entrants whose work the judges submit for Honorable Mention will receive certificates.
For a list of winners, check MWG website after November 1, 2015. Winners will also be announced in the MWG newsletter.



Friday, August 14, 2015

The Importance of Transitions - in Writing and in Life

Early in my writing career, my transitions weren’t obvious to my readers. In my mind, I knew where I was headed with a story or an essay, but on paper I didn’t always signal to my reader that something was about to change. Choppy, bumpy, and confusing were some hallmarks of my early works.

After learning about the importance of transitions, I tried to plan ahead and use transitions to make my writing clear, concise, and understandable. 
Just as smooth transitions in writing can help a reader find his way, planning ahead for changes in life is also critical. The past summer has been especially hectic and filled with some significant transitions in my little world.

Earlier this summer, my granddaughter enrolled in an online college course, which required dozens of writing assignments with short deadlines on her part and editing assistance on mine, also with short deadlines. While successfully completing her intensive course, she and I accomplished another important feat. We assisted family members in pulling off a surprise 50th anniversary party for one of my sisters. Also a success!

In the midst of that whirlwind of activity, everyone in our house pitched in for her big move back to her junior year at Mizzou, and her first apartment. Translation: hours of shopping online and numerous trips to several stores, along with packing and repacking and loading two vehicles.
During the move, her brother was a huge help. Not only did he help my husband load up her car and his own SUV and do the heavy lifting by carrying her belongings up two flights of stairs, he also put together her desk and chair.

As my grandson’s summer vacation came to an end, he got ready for his junior year in high school. He’s an easy shopper; we were in and out of the mall in less than an hour, and his entire back-to-school wardrobe cost about the same as his sister’s new comforter set.

The afternoon of his first day at school, we received a call from his guidance counselor that he had been accepted into a local tech school program.
That brought about a major change to his schedule.
Now, he attends morning classes at high school. Then, after a quick lunch break, he rides the bus with several of his friends to the tech school, where he will learn a skilled trade. He loves the outdoors and working with his hands, so he is excited about this opportunity to do something he enjoys that will also provide a promising future.

Transitions -- in writing and in life -- are not always easy, but they can help pave the way to smooth beginnings and happy endings.  

Friday, August 7, 2015

2015 Tuscany Prize Short Story Finalists and Notable Entries Announced

Earlier today I was surprised and thrilled when I received  an e-mail from the Tuscany Prize Committee notifying me that my short story, "The Judas Goat," has been selected as a top-20 finalists for the 2015 Tuscany Prize for Short Story.

According to the e-mail, the prize committee will select ten stories from the twenty finalists. The top ten will receive cash awards and their stories be published in an anthology from Tuscany Press.

Thanks to All Saints Catholic Writers and members of Coffee and Critique, who read an early draft of the story and offered comments and suggestions.

Even if my story doesn't make the top ten, it's an honor to be among the finalists.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

All Write Now! Conference Notes: Janet L. Cannon on "Building Your Writer's Platform"

When I first heard that the opening group session at the All Write Now! Conference at SEMO was "Building Your Writers' Platform," I thought, Oh, no. not that again.
It's not that I don't care about my writer's platform, I really do. It's just that I've read about that same topic and have heard speakers talk about it several times over the past few years. 
But, I'm happy to say I was pleasantly surprised. 

Whoever said "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," was wrong because I learned a few new tricks, courtesy of technology teacher, Janet L. Cannon, who gave an enthusiastic presentation, supplemented by questions and comments from the audience. 

Here are some suggestions which bear repeating:

* Know your audience

* Expand your public platform -- participate in social media, present workshops, win contests, join clubs, attend conferences/workshops, meet agents/editors/publishers and other writers

 * Expand your circles of interest (e.g., gym, church, volunteer activities)

 * Put your writer’s signature on your e-mails (Note to self: Do this!)

 *Make a plan (short-term, mid-range, long-term)

 * It’s okay to fail; if one way doesn’t work, try something else

 * Have a Plan “B”

 * Post questions and engaging content

 * Respond in a timely manner

 * Publish a small collection of your work

 * Focus, but not on sales; overselling turns people off

 * Use photos and videos in your posts

 * Have color wheels or call-to-action buttons (orange is a stimulating color--I didn't know that!)

 * Build relationships; have a circle of writers and friends (I love that the emphasis was on building relationships and not on "networking")

 * Don’t pay for followers (but it's okay to give away free stuff, like books or samples of your work)

 * Use #Hashtags to increase searchability (but your post has to be public, and don’t use too many #hashtags)

* It's all right to mix professional and personal information on your blog or website because your readers want to get to know you

* Show your personality

 * Your attitude determines your success

 * Always be professional, even if others are not (this was repeated three times)

How about you? Any words of wisdom to pass along about building your writer's platform?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Notes from Dr. Susan Swartwout on Writing Talismans

Last Saturday I attended the second annual All Write Now! Conference on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.

The opening keynote speaker was Dr. Susan Swartwout, whose gothic poetry book, Odd Beauty, Strange Fruit, will be available soon from Brick Mantel Books.

During her presentation, Dr. Swartwout spoke with wisdom, grace, and enthusiasm on the topic of writing talismans.

According to the dictionary, a talisman is "something producing apparently magical or miraculous effects."

Dr. Swartwout shared that during her career she was given the talismans of "persistence" and "crap shoot" by two writers, so she wanted to pass along a few talismans other writers can use.

* Write daily. "Don't ignore your muse." No matter if you journal, blog, or prefer another form of writing, find the will, desire, and drive to write every day.

* Write yourself. "Don't try to be your favorite writer." Write what you know, or what you can know, or what you want to learn more about.

* Never stop learning. Read! Reach outside your comfort zone and read works you wouldn't normally read. Enlarge your vocabulary. She quoted E.L. Doctorow, "Start from nothing and learn as you go."

* Spill it! Write as fast as you can. Let your ideas flow honestly. Don't listen to the voice of your internal editor, or your mother, or someone else trying to filter your words on the page. And keep in mind your first draft is your worst draft.

* Take risks. Don't take the easy way by avoiding uncomfortable topics, but also don't overshare. She gave an example of a man who wrote in too much detail about one of his body parts. She suggested keeping a dream journal to record your dreams as soon as you wake up so you can capture the "raw ghosts" wandering around trying to break through your subconscious.

* Write with enthusiasm! She compared writing with enthusiasm to smiling when answering the phone. Write with zest and have fun. The first thing a writer should be is excited!

She wrapped up her talk by suggesting writers use their superpowers for good, because, she said, "Nobody else can do it but you!"

So, how about you? Do you have a writing talisman to share?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

All Write Now! Conference Offers Writing Advice, Inspiration, and Publication Opportunities

I'm excited to be speaking at the Second Annual All Write Now! Conference next weekend, Saturday, July, 11, on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University in the historic Mississippi River city of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.!schedule/cl2i
Courtesy of All Write Now!
Registration kicks off at 8 a.m. July 11 on the fourth floor of the University Center (pictured at left).

The welcome address and introduction of the faculty begins at 8:30.

At 8:45,  Dr. Susan Swartwout, Professor at Southeast Missouri State University and Editor/Publisher of the SEMO University Press, will give the opening keynote address.

The opening group session starts at 9:15 with Janet L. Cannon, Technology Instructor, who will address the topic of  "Building Your Writer's Platform"

The luncheon keynote speaker will be New York Times best-selling author, Angie Fox.

Throughout the day, breakout sessions will cover a wide range of topics, such as: fiction, poetry, prose, personal essays, newspaper writing, children and YA, romance, networking, book cover design, and much more.

Breakout speakers include:
Eileen Dryer, New York Times best-selling romance author.
Dr. Allison Joseph, Associate Professor and Director of SIU-C Creative Writing Program
Bob Miller, Editor of Southeastern Missouri News
Margo Dill, Children and YA author and editor
Ellie Searl, Publishta and book designer
Catherine Rankovich, author, editor and teacher
Donna Volkenannt, writer, editor, and teacher

Afternoon pitch sessions feature the following publishers:

Amphorae Publishing Group, (which includes Blank Slate Press, Walrus Publishing, and Treehouse Publishing Group), with Kristina Blank Makansi, Lisa Miller, and Donna Essner

Brick Mantle Books/Open Books Press, Pen & Publish with Jennifer Geist

Deadly Publishing, LLC, with Sharon Woods Hopkins and Bill Hopkins

Rocking Horse Publishing, with Robin Tidwell

Conference co-chairs Mary Rechenberg and Donna Essner have done an excellent job planning and organizing this special event, along with Marcie Upchurch, who interviewed speakers for the blog; Laura Luttrell, who served as contest coordinator; and Janet L. Cannon, who designed their spectacular website. These women and everyone else involved with this conference are definitely first-class professionals!

The All Write Now! conference also features door prizes, contest announcements, and a mystery grand prize.

For complete details, visit the All Write Now! Conference website.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

News from the World of Publishing . . . THE HAPPY LIFE OF PRESTON KATT by J. J. Zerr

Congratulations to Jack Zerr, one of my critique group writing pals!

If you look closely at the photo on the left, you'll notice three things:

The smile on Jack Zerr's face
The logo on his tee-shirt that says, "I love the smell of jet fuel in the morning."
The copy of his latest novel, "The Happy Life of Preston Katt."

Recently Jack generously handed out copies of his novel to members of the Coffee and Critique writing group, and I read my copy right away.

Zerr's military fiction novel, which opens on the Island of Oahu on December 7, 1941, is the story of Seaman First Class Preston Katt's heroic adventures during World War II.

As the story unfolds, we learn about the daily grind of Navy life, as well as Katt's struggle with guilt and insecurities and his strong and sustaining faith.

As a Navy combat aviator and Vietnam veteran, Zerr writes with authority and compassion. His vivid writing, strong characterization, and attention to detail make The Happy Life of Preston Katt a compelling read.

If you would like to read my complete review of Jack's latest novel, visit the Coffee and Critique blog.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Exciting News and A Literary Controversy: Flannery O'Connor Gets Her Own Postage Stamp!

Image from US Postal Service
I was excited to read the news that Mary Flannery O'Connor, one of my top three favorite short story writers, is getting her own postage stamp. According to a report in Crux, the 93-cent stamp will be released on June 5.

Also according to Crux, the image is based on a black and white photo of O'Connor taken in 1945 when she was a student at Georgia State College for Women. The background image is peacock feathers, a signature symbol of O'Connor and representative of the birds raised on her home in Georgia.

The image the artist used of O'Connor has already created controversy.

According to an article in Entertainment Weekly, another favorite short story writer, Joyce Carol Oates, tweeted earlier this week that she doesn't think the stamp resembles any photos she has ever seen of O'Connor and wonders if the artist who created the stamp had ever seen an image of O'Connor or read any of the iconic writer's work. 

While I agree with Oates that the image doesn't resemble any I've seen of Flannery -- most photos I've seen show her wearing dark glasses -- I think the image is flattering.

And I will be in line next month to buy my O'Connor stamps.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I'm Back with a Quick Deadline Call for Submissions for Veterans and their Families

If you've been wondering where I've been for the past two months, I'm still around, although I haven't been spending a lot of time on social media this winter.

Earlier this year, after scrubbing my kitchen and bathroom floors, I was so out of breath I had to sit down and rest. Around the same time, my Internet service provider "upgraded" their system and threw my program speed and capability for a loop.

Frustrated with not being able to easily do what I used to do both physically and on line, I took some action.

I joined a local fitness center and began a nutrition and exercise program, and my husband figured out what was wrong with my laptop.

Now that I have more energy and my computer is behaving itself, I hope to blog more often.

I wanted to begin with this call for submissions because it's for such a good cause and there is no fee to enter.

Here are some details:

For all military personnel, Veterans, and their families:
Call for Submissions for Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors volume 4
Deadline: June 1, 2015
No fee
Prize: $250
Categories: Short fiction, Poetry, Interview with a Warrior, Essay, Photography
Writing must be by veterans, military-service personnel or their families.  Include the connection in your short bio.

You can find more information by clicking on this link from Walrus Publishing.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Dr. Richard P. Johnson's Workshop for Writers "Enliven Your Writing with an Understanding of Clinical and Spiritual Psychology"

On Saturday, Feb 28, I was among the more than two-dozen writers who attended Dr. Richard P. Johnson's workshop sponsored by Catholic Writers of St. Louis and hosted by All Saints Catholic Writers in St. Peters.

The topic of Dr. Johnson's workshop was how writers can enliven their writing through an understanding of clinical and spiritual psychology. 

Dr. Johnson is the former Director of Behavior Science at a large teaching medical center in St. Louis. 

You can also find further information and explanation in his book, Discover Your Spiritual Strengths.

Here are some notes I jotted down.

Writers and psychologists are kindred spirits -- both are observers of people. 

For writers, using accurate words to describe behaviors is vitally important.

Personality: The core of individuals; what makes them unique. 

Dr. Johnson's six Christ-centered functions of personality are:

1. Believing. What you think life should be like. “Beliefs are the mother of your actions and behaviors.” 

2. Perceiving. Where you place your focus. We take in data - physical, mental, emotional, and also spiritual. (body, mind, and spirit).

Transcendence - visible and invisible. How are you perceiving that which is invisible?

3.  Thinking- the meaning you make from your evaluations or assessments, We have an estimated 60K thoughts each day; we are constantly thinking. Thoughts create feelings.

4. Feeling. Feelings have a great purpose. They are the automatic emotions that flow from our thoughts. How your personality creates your emotional life

5.  Deciding. The choices we make in our lives are based on our feelings. Make choices as to what we are going to do: strategies, goals, objectives, FREE WILL.

6. Acting. Behavior, what we actually do. Actions move things, hearts, minds, and souls. Actions cause change; we change as a result of action.Some action is outward; most is inward.

He also discussed Spiritual Gifts and Attitudes: 

What are spiritual gifts? They are the essence of the person. 

What is attitude? Patients with healthy attitudes responded rather than reacted. 

Responding is something thoughtful

He passed out a list which displayed the above six functions of personality with corresponding Spiritual Strengths (virtues), Disturbing Compulsions (fears) and Instructive Shadows (absence of virtues).

Virtues are expressed as spiritual strengths received through the grace of God. For each spiritual strength or virtue (light) there is an instructive shadow (darkness) expressed in the absence of that virtue.  We use our compulsions (fears) to try to get out of the shadow.

For example: The spiritual strength of  HOPE, the absence of hope is some measure of Despair (from disillusionment to hopelessness). The corresponding compulsion is Presumption (taking things for granted). 
Spiritually healing patient expressed themselves through their: VIRTUES

What is a virtue? Manifestation of Christ in them

“Virtus in media stat” In the middle stands virtue.

Virtue motivates our behaviors, from the Christ-centered perspective.  

Shadow (the absence of virtue) is the fear that comes from darkness. Something is missing.

Compulsion: When our whole being is fearful.

 As authors, we try to describe the human condition. He suggested we use the model for fleshing out  our characters to go beyond the physical, mental, and emotional dimensions to the spiritual. For fully fleshed out characters, consider using the character's virtues.

After Dr. Johnson's presentation, Cathy Gilmore from Catholic Writers of St. Louis led participants in a brief exercise to apply what we learned. I was amazed at the creativity expressed during the readings offered by several writers. 

I left the workshop with a happy heart and a desire to learn more about spiritual strengths to use in my writing--and in my life!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Don't Let the Truth Get in the Way of a Good Story: When Facts and Truth Matter

In June of 1995, my sisters Kathleen, Bridget, and I toured Ireland. I have many memories of that trip, but the recent media flap over NBC news broadcast journalist Bryan Williams reminded me of a saying I first heard our Irish bus driver say twenty years ago: “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Our bus driver/tour guide was a cheerful and funny man with a "gift of gab" I’ll call Tommy. To quote the TV show “Dragnet,” Tommy’s “name has been changed to protect the innocent.”

During our daily trips, Tommy shared some history of Ireland and entertained us with jokes and long-winded tales. And usually, after one of his far-fetched stories, someone would ask him: “Is that a true story?” 

He would grin and wink then say, “The Irish have a saying: Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.” 

After hearing some of his stories, one might conclude that Tommy not only kissed the Blarney Stone, he went back for seconds.

As he skillfully drove down busy highways and wended across narrow roads, stopping for flocks of sheep, which he called “Irish traffic jams,” he would break out into song and encourage everyone to sing along. When one of the tourists complimented him on his singing, he smiled widely and humbly bragged that his voice wasn’t as good as his cousin’s, who belonged to the Irish rock group, “The Cranberries.” 

After I returned to the USA, I shared his don’t-let-the-truth saying with several writing friends, some who often quote it and a few who claim it as their own.

I’ve also used Tommy’s principle in my own writing--my fiction writing that is. In fiction, it is all right to embellish and change details or facts to fit a story. That’s why it’s called fiction.

But in non-fiction, facts are important, and truth is the critical element.  

When I write personal essays, I try to remain as faithful to the truth as possible, or at least as I remember it. 

But memories can fade, especially over long periods of time. Was it sunny or overcast thirty day years ago? Was I wearing a blue dress or a red sweater? Using vivid details can color a story and make it stronger, but they aren’t as important as the essence of the essay--the universal truth I’m trying to convey. And while those details might be innocent mis-remembrances, they aren’t deliberate falsehoods, like the ones Bryan Williams told when he reported that the helicopter he was riding in was shot at by RPGs.

Using dialogue in personal essays is especially tricky. I’ve often tried to recall conversations verbatim. For example, I've asked myself: Is that exactly what my mom said when I told her my teacher died? If I can’t recall the exact words, I stay true to my memory of how I felt and what I believe she said. On occasion I'll ask one of my siblings to compare memories.

So, while I’ll continue to embellish and not let the truth get in the way of my fiction writing, for my non-fiction, while I might occasionally “change a name to protect the innocent,” I’ll follow the advice of Sergeant Joe Friday on “Dragnet” and do my best only to use “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Free Writing Workshop by Dr. Richard P. Johnson on How To "Enliven your Writing with an Understanding of Clinical and Spiritual Psychology"

I'm pleased to announce that the Catholic Writers of St. Louis and the Catholic Writers Group of All Saints Parish in St. Peters, MO, are co-hosting a Special Presentation and Writing Workshop on Saturday February 28, 2015.

The workshop title is: “Enliven your Writing with an Understanding of Clinical and Spiritual Psychology" presented by Richard P. Johnson, Ph.D., PCSG, LPC, NCC

You can learn more about Dr. Johnson here.

When: Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hospitality 8:30 a.m. 
Workshop 9:00 - 11:00 am

7 McMenamy Rd.; St. Peters, MO

This special event is free, but registration is required. 

* Bring a pen and notebook and invite a friend, but be sure to let us know that you'll be there!

** RSVP to: dvolkenannt at or post in the Comments section below that you will be attending.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

As Seen on Dr. Oz: The Doctor Oz Effect on Book Sales

Yesterday, the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel, was featured on the Dr. Oz show. The title of the segment was "Proof of Angels: Can They Heal Us?"

Dr. Oz interviewed Gabrielle Bernstein, who wrote the foreword to the Touched by an Angel anthology, and he posed the question: How do angels help us heal? 

As a believer in angels and a contributor to the anthology, I was curious to hear both Gabrielle's explanation and Dr. Oz's thoughts on the matter. 

Dr. Oz spoke about neurotheology, which was a new term to me, so I looked it up in the dictionary. 

Neurotheology (also called neuroscience) is defined as "the scientific study of the neural correlates of religious or spiritual beliefs and practices." 

To demonstrate, Dr. Oz showed side-by-side graphics of a brain, which showed how much more active the frontal lobe is during prayer or meditation. Fascinating!

The segment also included interviews with three women who were contributors to the anthology. They shared their personal stories of their encounters with angels. Inspiring!

From my point of view, the feature combined the best of both worlds --  scientific method and anecdotal evidence as proof of beliefs.

Before watching the program, I was curious to learn about how being mentioned on the Dr. Oz show would affect book sales. I had a gut feeling that having a book on his show would increase sales, but I wanted proof. So, I did a mini-analysis of my own. 

Hours before the show aired, I collected data from two major book sites then compared it to data collected within 24 hours after the show aired.

Here’s what I found.

Hours before the show was aired on Wed, Jan 28, here are the book's rankings:

On Amazon
Kindle: # 102,888 in the paid Kindle store
#55 in Angels
#63 in Spiritualism
#74 in Faith

Paperbacks: #81,392 in sales
#66 on Angels
#13 on Faith

On Barnes & Nobel the book ranked #94,235 in books. I didn’t check Nook.

Within 24-hours -- the day after the show aired, Thurs, Jan 29:

On Amazon
Kindle: #2,683 in the paid Kindle store
#1 in Angels
#1 in Spiritualism
#1 in Faith

Paperbacks: #736 in sales
#1 in Faith
#1 in Angels
#1 in Self-help

For Barnes & Noble it ranked #323 in books. Again, I didn’t check Nook.

So, just as Dr. Oz pointed out how the frontal lobe of the brain experiences a chemical effect during prayer and meditation, I discovered that a book experiences a positive “retail effect” after being featured on the Dr. Oz show.

My brain has been overworked from all this data collection, so I'm going to take a break--just in time to watch today's Dr. Oz show.

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...