Friday, December 30, 2016

2017 New Year Writing Goals: Get Organized and Seek Publishing Opportunities

If your New Year's writing goals include getting organized and seeking out publishing opportunities, here are two items that might be helpful:

The first comes from the Literautas blog, which offers a free download of a printable 2017 writer's calendar and/or writers' planner. The calendar and planner are easy to download, print, and use, especially if you like to hold a physical hard-copy planner to chart your writing progress.

The second is a reminder of the Rock Springs Review anthology contest, which includes an opportunity to win prize money and be included in the anthology. The contest seeks works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Due to the New Year's holiday, RSR editor Judy Stock has extended the deadline by one day. For complete submission guidelines, e-mail Judy Stock at

Wishing you and yours a joyous and prosperous New Year!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Advent by Candlelight and the Great St. Nicholas Day Debate

Celtic Advent wreath
Last evening our church (All Saints in St. Peters) hosted its eleventh annual Advent by Candlelight celebration for the women in our parish--and beyond our parish borders.

Advent is a time of anticipation and wonder. The Advent by Candlelight celebration is an evening of quiet reflection, prayers, music, and inspiration--along with the sharing of food and friendship.

In years past, our table has been filled with people I know; it's been a delightful and comfortable evening. This year was a bit different. A few women from our Bunco group (that's been going strong for 43 years) weren't able to attend, so we had empty spots at our table. What made the evening special was I met Diana and Mindy, two women who belong to our parish I'd never met before who sat with our group.

We all shared food and drink and stories and recipes. I brought chicken salad sandwiches on croissants and some port wine cheese. Cheryl brought raspberry moscato wine and a beef ball and crackers. My sister Kathleen provided all the table wear, and her rumchata pudding shots were a big hit. Everyone asked for her recipe! Geri brought dessert and some sweets to take home. Diana provided fruit salad with whipped cream topping. Mindy served cheese and salami and crackers. The menu was unplanned, but it all worked!

In between eating. listening to songs and music, and prayerful reflection, I spoke with Diana, a retired nurse who sat next to me. She had some wonderful stories to share, including one about how she and her husband met and how they love putting puzzles together and how the puzzles became so special to them and their marriage. She also told me about her miracle baby son, who is now in his early 30s. She also shared a few sad stories. Her eyes glistened with tears, so I listened and patted her hand. 

Everyone at our table also discussed St. Nicholas Day. Mindy asked what she should tell her daughter about when to put out her granddaughter's shoes. We talked about the origin of St. Nicholas Day and why we put out the shoes, but the great St. Nicholas debate continues.

Do you put out your shoes on December fifth so St. Nicholas can fill them up for the sixth, which is St. Nicholas Day? Or, do you put them out the night of December sixth because that's the actual day?

"Santa Wore Cowboy Boots"
Toward the end of the night a woman walked up and introduced herself. She asked if I was Donna Volkenannt, the writer, which surprised me. She told me she had heard me speak at a writing event several years ago and had read one of my stories and it inspired her.

It was a Christmas story called "Santa Wore Cowboy Boots" that I wrote about 15 years ago for a Cup of Comfort book. That story dealt with my depression about being homesick at Christmas time while living in Arizona so far away from my family and how my mood affected my children, especially my son, who that year taught me the true meaning of Christmas.

The woman had an unusual last name so I asked her if she was related to a man I used to work with before I was married, who happens to be her husband's uncle. Turns out it's a small and wonderful world, and we never know what to expect.

So, while the question lingers on when to put your children's or grandchildren's shoes out for St. Nicholas Day, the Advent season remains a special time -- of reflection and expectation and delight at our wonderful world.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Pulitzer Prize Winner T. J. Stiles Discusses Jesse James and the Civil War in Missouri

St. Louis Civil War Roundtable
On the last day of November, I accompanied my writing friend and critique group member, Pat Wahler, across the Missouri River from St. Charles to the Civil War Roundtable of St. Louis event in South St. Louis.

Until recently, I hadn’t heard about the Civil War Roundtable of St. Louis. The warm and welcoming group's motto is, “bringing history to life,” and I'm glad I found out about this hidden St. Louis literary gem.

Pat and I attended this special event to hear acclaimed biographer and two-time Pulitzer Prize winning writer and National Book Award winner, T. J. Stiles. His Pulitzer Prize winning works include biographies of Cornelius Vanderbilt and George Armstrong Custer, which also won a Spur Award.  

Stiles' Civil War Roundtable talk highlighted some of the guerilla battles that savaged Missouri during the Civil War. He spoke with clarity and passion about how that vicious fighting impacted the life of Jesse James, the subject of his biography, Jesse James: the Last Rebel of the Civil War.

I’m interested in Missouri history, and Pat has completed a manuscript about the wife of Jesse James, so having an opportunity to listen to Mr. Stiles talk about Jesse James, one of Missouri’s most notorious historical figures, was an exceptional opportunity for both of us.

T. J. Stiles on Jesse James
After dinner, Mr. Stiles began his talk by setting the stage of a deeply divided Missouri, a state with Southern sensibilities and which shared borders with three free states. Violence against Jesse's family and other Southern sympathizers in the western part of Missouri near the Kansas border fostered James’ deeply held anti-Union feelings. According to Stiles, James was not only an outlaw bandit and a killer, he was also a complicated man with strong political convictions. For Jesse, the war was personal. James' path was encouraged by his iron-willed mother Zerelda, who was once described as “the meanest woman in Missouri.”

Mr. Stiles’ fascinating talk was followed by a brief question and answer session.

I’m generally more of a note-taker and listener than a questioner, but I was curious to find out how Mr. Stiles selects his subjects for research and writing.  So, I stepped out of my comfort zone and raised my hand. Because he spoke directly to me when he answered my question, I didn’t jot down his answer, but here’s what I recall.

The subjects he selects are:   

            Something/someone he likes reading about

            Dramatic/complex characters

            Something about which he wants to say something original or to take a different approach

            Something that results in a change in emphasis or perspective about the subject

Donna Volkenannt and T. J. Stiles
Afterwards, Pat and I joined a long line of folks waiting to have books signed or wanting to chat with Mr. Stiles, who graciously stayed until he met with the last person in line.

He even posed for photos. The one on the left is of him and me, taken by Pat.

You can read more about T. J. Stiles and his critically acclaimed books on his website.

The Civil War Roundtable of St. Louis will hold its next dinner in January with guest speaker Molly Kodner, Archivist at the Missouri History Museum. I'm looking forward to that discussion.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Submission Announcement from Well Versed and Winner of Behind Every Door

The Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild is now open for submissions of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and flash fiction for their 2017 issue of Well Versed.

Logo courtesy of CCMWG blog
Here are a few basic submission highlights:

Unpublished entries only
Deadline January 15, 2017
Winners announced April 7, 2017
Release date June 4, 2017

Complete guidelines, including cost for entering and prize amounts for each category, can be found on the Well Versed rules and submission guidelines page. 

Drum roll, please . . .

Next, is the announcement of the winner of Cynthia A. Graham's novel, Behind Every Door from Blank Slate Press, an imprint of Amphorae Publishing Group. Thanks to Cynthia for her interview questions and to everyone who left a comment.

My random number generator, aka my husband, picked the number five. 

Commenter #5 is : K9friend, aka Pat Wahler.

Congratulations, Pat. I will get the copy of Behind Every Door to you soon.


Finally, later this month I will feature a guest post about "setting as character" from Dixon Hearne, author of the short story collection Delta Flats: Stories in the Key of Blues and Hope.

I hope you will return to read what Dixon has to say on that topic.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Interview with Cynthia A. Graham on Writing Behind Every Door and A Book Giveaway

During a conversation at the Ozarks Creative Writing Conference with an editor from Amphorae Publishing Group, "a small press with big books," the editor commented that she enjoys my reading blog and asked if I would be willing to interview a couple of their authors.

Before agreeing, I asked for some information about the authors and their books to make sure they would be a good fit for my blog visitors. And I believe they are. 

I am not being compensated for interviewing the authors, although I was given a copy of their books to help me formulate my questions.

Cynthia A. Graham
My first interview is with multi-genre author Cynthia A.Graham. The photo on the left is courtesy of Amphorae Publishing Group.

According to the Amphorae website, Cynthia was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but spent a lot of time in the cotton belt of Missouri, "where she grew to love the mystery and beauty of the stark, Delta Plain." Cynthia's short stories have won several awards, and her work has been published in various anthologies. 

I am giving away my copy of Cynthia A. Graham's Behind Every Door, published by Blank Slate Press (an imprint of Amphorae Publishing Group), to one of my blog visitors who leaves a comment on this post.

Here are my interview questions (in black) and Cynthia's answers (in red).

The primary setting for Behind Every Door is Cherokee Crossing, Arkansas. Is Cherokee Crossing an actual location or a fictional town?

Cherokee Crossing is a fictional town located in the northeast corner of Arkansas. It would most likely be in the real county of Lawrence. I wanted to create a town so that I could do with it whatever I wanted, geographically, racially, and politically.

Behind Every Door is your second novel, following Beneath Still Waters. What was the inspiration for Behind Every Door, and how does it connect with Beneath Still Waters?

Behind Every Door takes place two years after Beneath Still Waters and continues the life of Andrew “Hick” Blackburn as he becomes a husband and father. At the time I was (and still am) frustrated with how quickly we jump to conclusions – how easily we judge based on preconceived ideas and how these prejudices can make justice, for some, very hard to find.

Your novel takes place in the Deep South shortly after World War II, a time of great change and upheaval in the United States, not just because of the war, but also because of social norms and racial tensions. Why did you pick this time period for your mystery?

Hick Blackburn was largely born from various family stories of uncles who had gone to fight the war. These young men were not well-traveled; they perhaps had never been further from home than the mid-south fair in Memphis and were thrust into battle in a strange, faraway place. The inevitable disorientation this caused helped define Hick, it made him the perfect vehicle for questioning injustice as he had witnessed atrocity. He is no longer capable of blind acceptance or complacency because his world has been irrevocably changed.

Sheriff Andrew Jackson “Hick” Blackburn, the main character, is a well drawn and realistic character. He is a man of integrity and purpose, yet he has flaws and a wartime-past he would like to forget. How did you come up with him as a character?

I really wanted Hick to be a perfect storm of vulnerability – someone who would really think and process his experiences. I created for him a past of relative ease, but I gave him the sort of character that really questions things – from the abuse of a cat as a child to the horrific experience he had in the war. I did not want him to be just another John Wayne “hero” type character, but rather I wanted him to be a vehicle for questioning our own motives and actions, our assignations of who is worthy of life and who is not.

How difficult was it to write from the point of view of a man, especially one who has come home from a terrible wartime experience?

The greatest compliment I ever received was from a mentor who told me I “think like a man.” I honestly think there are fewer differences between the sexes than we perceive. Virginia Woolf and Samuel Coleridge both refer to the importance of an androgynous mind. The challenge was not so much in Hick’s masculinity as in his impotence to express himself – in his “mind forged manacles.” The wartime experience (which I have not had) exasperated this problem and was a challenge, but anyone can understand the frustration in wanting to express yourself on some deep level and being unable to.

I love the cover of your book and am curious about the title, both of which tie in to my question about your writing and publishing process. What can you tell us about how long it took and other aspects of the writing, editing, and publishing process for Behind Every Door?

I thought the title Behind Every Door tied in nicely with Beneath Still Waters and my publisher designed both covers and I think they perfectly complement one another. I was inspired when I wrote it and since Beneath Still Waters had been favorably received, I wanted to get it completed quickly. The whole process took about a year and a half which is amazingly rapid.

Other than being an entertaining mystery, what do you hope your readers will take away after reading Behind Every Door?

I hope that it will caution them to not jump to conclusions. Not only about crime, but about the people you meet on a daily basis. We have no way of knowing what kind of personal agony is dealt with behind every door. Perhaps I just hope it will inspire people to be careful with one another – to treat each other with kindness and respect.

In your bio, you mention that you belong to several writing groups, among them is the Historical Novel Society. What can you tell us about that group?

The Historical Novel Society is a group that has a quarterly issue of book reviews. They also sponsor a large conference every year. Last year it was in Oxford, England, and this year it will be in Portland, Oregon.

What are you working on now?

I have completed the third draft of Between the Lies, another Hick Blackburn mystery. As time marches on, Hick will find himself embroiled in more social issues, such as desegregation.

What is the best way for readers to contact you?

They can reach me by e-mail at

Visitors (from USA only) who leave a comment will be entered in a drawing to win my copy of Behind Every Door. The name of the winner will be announced on Monday, November 21.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles Book Launch

I'm excited to announce tomorrow's release date for Chicken Soup for the Soul, Angels and Miracles. The anthology, which is edited by bestselling writer Amy Newmark, contains 101 inspirational stories about hope, answered prayers, and divine intervention.

My true story, "On Butterfly Wings," can be found in the book's last section, "Love that Doesn't Die," and is the very last story in the book.

"On Butterfly Wings" is a story about a special visitor my grandson Michael encountered on a field trip to the Sophia M. Sacs Butterfly House in St. Louis County.

In conjunction with the book's release, the Chicken Soup for the Soul publisher is kicking off a Twitter Party at noon CST, Tuesday, November 1st -- which happens to fall on the feast of All Saints.

The hashtag for the Nov 1 event is #CSSAngelsandMiracles.

On a related note, on November 17, I will be among the many local authors participating in the Local Author Open House at the Spencer Road Branch Library in St. Peters from 6-8 p.m.

During the library event on Nov 17, I will be available to talk about the story. I will also have copies of the book available, as well as the other Chicken Soup for the Soul books with my true stories.

Here's a link where you can find more information about the Nov 17 event.

P.S. I plan to post a reminder about the library event in Mid-November.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Multigenre Writing Contest/Submission Opportunity: Rock Springs Review

Boonville author Judy Stock, editor and publisher of the Rock Springs Review, has recently announced she is accepting manuscripts for an anthology to be published in 2017.

Judy, who has edited and consulted on several anthologies for writers' groups, is using her editing and publishing knowledge and expertise to create opportunities for writers and poets to showcase their talent in this new anthology.

Here are limited details:

* Open to Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry submissions
* $10 entry fee (consult guidelines for details)
* December 31, 2016 Deadline
* $50/$30/$20 prizes plus Honorable Mention Certificates awarded
* Winners selected by independent judges
* Rock Springs Review (200-250 pages) will be published in 2017
* Each contributor whose work is accepted for publication will receive a contributor copy and a token payment.

For complete guidelines and questions about the Rock Springs Review, e-mail Judy at:

Rock on!

And good luck if you enter!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Reflections on the Ozark Creative Writers Contests and Judges' Comments

As I reflect on my role as contest chair for the 2016 OCW contests, I've learned a few lessons. 

It was rewarding, and at times challenging, experience. I got to read some amazing entries and meet some wonderful people -- sponsors, judges, and entrants. I also made a few suggestions to improve the process next year.

Not everyone who entered won, but everyone who entered showed their courage and determination. During a closing session on Saturday I shared some lessons learned and comments from a few judges.

Here is a sampling of those comments:

* It's more than getting words on the page.
* Put the reader right there with you.
* Be honest; it's not necessarily about making writers heroes in their own work.
* Let us see real people.
* Emotions should be relatable.
* Doesn't have to be surprising or shocking.
* Readers should be able to see something of themselves in the story.
* Judging is subjective (this was repeated by several judges as well as during the conference)
* More than one judge wrote they enjoyed every one!
* Do spell check, grammar check, proofread carefully.
* Don't rely on spell check.
* Read your work out loud.
* Thoroughly vet your work.
* The better entries were pretty immediately obvious.
* Stay on theme if there is one.
* Watch formatting.
* Most were formatted correctly.
* Stick to word count.
* Include a header on your work with title and page number (but not your name)
* Be sure your work fits the category.
* Title your work.
* Follow the guidelines!

Congratulations to everyone who entered the contests. Submitting to a contest is a wonderful way to focus on meeting deadlines, following guidelines, and gaining self-confidence as a writer.

Special thanks to the judges and sponsors who provided their time and monetary support for the contests. During the conference I even managed to solicit a couple new contest sponsors for next year!

Yesterday I forwarded a Word document with a complete list of the winners to Chrissy Willis, incoming OCW president, who promptly posted the document on the OCW website.

Here's a link with all contest titles and names of the winners.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Quick Poll: How Do You Feel When a Contest Deadline is Extended?

Last year I was asked to serve as contest chair for a conference occurring this fall.

In the past I've enjoyed attending this conference, have paid to sponsor contests, have been a guest speaker, and have served as a volunteer judge. So, I agreed to volunteer for the conference chair job, as well as help with registration.

One of the benefits of attending this conference is that anyone registered (except of course the board members and conference chair) has the opportunity to enter the dozens of contests -- at no additional cost.

The contest entries (two copies each) began to arrive in July. I was excited when they appeared in my mailbox and started sorting and organizing them right away.

Dozens of people entered multiple contests. (There were 31 categories in all.)

One person who entered several contests sent each entry in a separate envelope, which made a lot of extra work for me, and added expense for her. I wrote and suggested she bundle her entries together to save money but did not receive a response. Some folks included notes thanking me for being conference chair, which made me feel good.

The original deadline for entering fell a few days before the Labor Day weekend, so I suggested to board members that the deadline be extended until the day after Labor Day.

The only drawback I could see was the judges would have a few days less time to complete their judging. All but one judge was fine with the shortened time for judging, and that was because he was leaving for vacation the day the entries arrived at his house.

The biggest (and most hurtful) complaint about the deadline extension came from someone who felt cheated because other writers would have extra time to submit their entries and thus more opportunities to win contests she might've won. (Although she also had the additional days to submit more entries if she chose.)

I'm trying to keep a positive attitude, so I won't go into all the ugly details, but I would like to take a quick poll of my writer friends out there:

How do you feel when a contest deadline is extended?

Do you feel relieved to have a few extra days to submit?

Do you get angry if a deadline is extended?

Do you feel cheated that it's unfair to those who entered at the original deadline?

Have you ever been a contest chair and had to deal with an issue like this?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Missouri Resources, a Free Magazine with Resources for Writers

Image from the Missouri Resources magazine
Timing is everything, and this week the Fall 2016 issue of Missouri Resources magazine arrived in my e-mail box while I was in the middle of doing rewrites for a historical short story that features a teenage Sam Clemens. (Notice the subtle way I gave a writerly excuse for not posting on my blog for several weeks?)

Image from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Back to the magazine: Published by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the free magazine is filled with interesting facts, figures, and photos.

As a Missouri writer, I'm always searching for interesting tidbits about the "Show Me State" to weave into my writing or give me inspiration for a story or an article. And, as luck would have it, the fall 2016 issue includes the article "A Magical Tour on US 36."  US Highway 36 runs across the top third of northern Missouri and has been dubbed "The Highway of American Genius" because of some of the raw American talent with roots across that stretch of land. 

The "A Magical Tour on US 36" article features phots of the birthplaces or childhood homes of famous Missourians, including Samuel L. Clemens (aka Mark Twain) in Florida, MO; Walt Disney in Marceline, and General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing in Laclede.

Being a native St. Louisian, I also found the article "The Bricks that Built St. Louis," fascinating. This issue also includes a really cool photo from 1904, the year St. Louis hosted the World's Fair. The "Time Exposures" photo was taken in front of a shoe store in Old North St. Louis, which is the neighborhood where I was born and grew up, so that got my attention.

Did I mention the Missouri Resources magazine is free? Click here to read the latest issue.

A word of warning, reading this magazine can cause a writer to get lost in the fascinating articles and research material.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Field Trip to Monticello Sculpture Gardens, Through the Looking Glass

Who loves to go on a field trip? I do!

A field trip with friends is not only fun and relaxing, it also stimulates the brain.

This month I've gone on two outings, the first was a trip my friend and former co-worker Barb planned, which included a walking tour through the Monticello Sculpture Gardens on the historic campus of Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois.

The college's 2016 "Gardens Through the Looking Glass," Summer Garden show, celebrates the 150-year anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” books.

The college offers free guided tours, or you can do as our group did, and visit the sculpture gardens on your own at your own pace.

According to their website, "The Monticello Sculpture Gardens have been designated by Missouri Botanical Garden as one of their Signature Gardens in Illinois. Here, the traditional edges between art and landscape blend to create a seamless partnership between sculptor and landscape architect."

Here are some photos from the trip.

I'm taking a photo through the looking glass
with my friend Patty waving and looking on

Here's a lovely centerpiece fountain with an egret
and some of the many limestone buildings in the background

My sister Kathleen and I take time for a photo op

A fountain surrounded by flowers - delightful!

Breathtaking sculpture of Sacajawea
carrying her child on her back

A bit of history about the original Monticello Female Seminary,
founded in 1838 by Captain Benjamin Godfrey, who championed
education for females

Horticulture Manager Ethan Braasch took time to
highlight some features of the gardens
My friends and fellow co-workers: Fran, Nancy, JoAnn,
Judy, Barb, Kathleen (my sister), Donna (me), and Patty
For information about the garden tours, call Ethan Braasch, Horticulture Manager, phone: (618) 468-3140 or e-mail him at

If you're interested in learning about the history of the Monticello Female Seminary, here's a link to the Monti Memories blog.

After our sculpture garden tour we took a quick drive across the street and met up with two more friends, where we enjoyed lunch at the magnificent Josephine's Tea Room and Gift Shop, I had the special quiche, salad, and lobster bisque soup, after which I was as full as a tick. For dessert, I bought a slice of lemon meringue pie to go. On the drive home, we stopped at one of the many roadside farmers markets along the way, where farmers displayed freshly picked tomatoes, watermelons, peaches, and other delights.

The field trip to Godfrey with my friends was a wonderful way to feed my mind, body, and soul.

How about you? Have you had any interesting field trips or vacations this summer that inspired you?

Friday, August 12, 2016

October Delight: 50th Annual Ozark Creative Writers Conference in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

The very first writers' conference I ever attended was the Ozark Creative Writers Conference in beautiful Eureka Springs, Arkansas. That was twenty years ago. And the conference is still going strong. In fact, this year is the 50th anniversary of the conference! The friendly atmosphere, top-notch speakers, networking opportunities, and dozens of writing contests keep writers coming back each year.

This year's conference will be held October 6-8 at the Best Western Inn of the Ozarks in scenic Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

This year's faculty includes agents, editors, publishers, and writers, some of whom you might have seen on the History Channel or other television programs.

One of the most attractive features of the conference is that registrants can enter more than 30 writing contests.

There is no additional fee for conference registrants to enter the contests, and there is a contest for everyone, with thousands of dollars in total prize money. The awards are presented on Saturday evening, with a lot of hoots and hollers and applause.

In the past I've served as a judge for a few contests, but this year I'm excited and honored to serve as the contest chair. The entries have begun to arrive, with some folks entering more than a dozen contests, so that gives you a hint at how treasured winning one of these contests is for writers.

But wait. There's more: The Ozark Mountain fall foliage is eye-popping in October, and the drive from St. Charles County goes quickly. So, if you're looking for a fun, informative, and rewarding conference, I hope you will join me at the OCW 50th Anniversary Contest in Eureka Springs.

Monday, August 1, 2016

My Top Ten Takeaways from Jill Marr's "Exposition versus Dialogue" Presentation

One area I try to improve on in my fiction is hitting the right balance between exposition and dialogue.

So I was thrilled to listen to literary agent Jill Marr's suggestions on how to do that during her "Exposition versus Dialogue" presentation at the All Write Now! Conference.

Here are the ten takeaways I plan to focus on from list she discussed: 

* Write it down then go back over the telling part and change to show.

* Start as late as you can in the plot.

* Lock up back story and let out only when needed.

Don’t have two characters talking about what they already know.

* Don’t use quotes on an entire page.

* Fold exposition in like eggs into a batter.

* Don’t give up great heaps of information.

* Dialogue has to ring true.
Use italics for interior dialogue.

* Don't use he said/she said if it's obvious who is speaking.

How about you: Do you find any of the above suggestions helpful when writing fiction? 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

More Notes from the All Write Now Conference: Tiffany Schofield and David Armand

Here's another installment of my notes from the All Write Now! Conference earlier this month.

During a morning session Five Star Publishing representative Tiffany Schofield gave a presentation on how writers can challenge their characters.

Her presentation included a discussion on some of her favorite recent reads and how the authors challenged their characters.

Here are some notes from her presentation:

* Readers get invested in characters.

* Read twice as much as you write.

* Step out of genre.

* Keep a journal/note what stood out as a reader and jot it down.

* For character development, describe setting.

* For pacing, balance dialogue and narrative.

* Writers can take some liberties in historical fiction, but history buffs will call you out if you make a mistake.

Challenge your characters' boundaries (physical, emotional, spiritual, societal, and literary).

* Push through; challenge the norm.

* Question the status quo.

* Without failure, there is no growth.


During lunch, keynote speaker David Armand spoke about his writing journey from an adopted son in Louisiana to a college professor at Southeastern Louisiana University.

His memoir, My Mother's House, opens with the image of rotten peaches, bruised fruits left on the floor to rot. He felt the peaches represented his life as being discarded and bruised, but still bearing fruit. 

His remarks were inspirational and focused on how books saved him and made a difference in his life. Through books and writing he was able to live his grand dreams.

He recommended the book On Writing by Stephen King as one of his favorites

He also suggested writers:
* Do the work.
* Believe in yourself.
* Take the seeds from an image to create a story.

He closed with a line from the Robert Frost poem, "The Road Less Traveled."

Although his remarks were brief, they demonstrated how reading and writing can change lives.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Notes from All Write Now Conference (Part II): John Rudolph on "Don't Call the Lawyers: Understanding Publishing Contracts"

One of the most informative sessions at the AWN Conference was John Rudolph’s presentation on “Don’t Call the Lawyers: Understanding Publishing Contracts.”

It was apparent that Mr. Rudolph, an agent with Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is skilled on his topic. Here are a few tips he shared with the standing-room-only crowd:

* Hiring a lawyer might cost more than what an author makes on a book.

* Pay attention to who pays for ancillary materials (photos, indexing).

* Unless you’re dealing with a movie studio, don’t give up movie rights.

* Author should have approval over copyedited manuscript.

* Unless you accept a flat fee (work for hire), you own the copyright.

* Reserve the right to an audit and ask for an accounting statement at least once a year.

* Plagiarism and lawsuits are rare but expensive.

* Limit as much as possible the first look at next book option.

* Define Out-of-Print status.

* Agent commission should match original agreement with agent.

* Any rights not expressly covered by contract belong to you.

* Areas to negotiate: Advance, Royalty, Territory.

Remember, the publisher wants you to succeed. A contract is an act of good faith, not an adversarial relationship!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Notes from All Write Now Conference: Perfecting Your Pitch with Jill Marr

Sioux reads her winning pitch while Jill Marr listens

For the next few posts I'll share some notes and observations from the All Write Now! Conference last weekend at SEMO in Cape Girardeau, which was an amazing experience by the way.

The first event of the morning was "Perfecting Your Pitch" with literary agent Jill Marr.

During the session, Jill described what she considers to be the makings of a successful elevator pitch.

Jill stated the best elevator pitches can be done in about 60 seconds, so her first word of advice was for writers to keep it short and focused.

For fiction, the focus should be on your project, rather than yourself.

Here are some specific tips on pitches. Pitches should be:

* Concise (be brief)

* Clear (no acronyms or jargon)

* Correct (appropriate audience)

* Compelling (hook to ask for more)

* Conceptual (stick to high level, don’t give too much detail)

* Customize (be ready to improvise)

* Conversational (keep it flowing, not stiff)

Also, be sure to include: character, situation (inciting incident), objective (goal), opponent (antagonist), disaster (climax - blackest moment in time).

* For nonfiction, the focus is more on yourself. Why you are proposing this project? What is your personal story?  

When pitching, know your title and genre. Have two options in your head. Be prepared.

Jill has an issue with pitches starting off with a question; it usually doesn’t always work for her. 

After her talk, about a dozen brave souls volunteered to give their pitches to the entire audience. 

I was not one of those brave souls. Call me chicken, but I'm not one to volunteer to get up in public and read. But I did use what I learned during this session to polish my pitch for later that afternoon.

To encourage the audience to participate, Jill offered as a prize for the winner a ten-page critique.

My observation of those who gave pitches was that the best were concise, focused, and memorable.

The one selected as the winner was Sioux Roslawski’s. (Yay, Sioux!)

Sioux (pictured above) visited our critique group and shared her pitch last Tuesday, so I had a hint at what she was going to say.

When Sioux practiced her pitch to our group we blown away. Still, her pitch was fresh. To sum it up, I’d say Sioux’s manuscript is wickedly funny.

After this session I revised my own pitch so I'd be prepared to pitch my project later in the day.

And I'm happy to report that when I pitched my project to Jill she had positive comments. She loves my title and subject matter. She gave me her card and asked me to send the entire manuscript after I've polished it. She told me she'd rather have it polished than quick.

Hope this post is helpful to anyone who plans to pitch to an agent or an editor.

For my next post I'll share some notes from John Rudolph's session on publishing contracts.

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