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.

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...