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.

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...