Tuesday, October 31, 2017

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, Inc.

Lonnie Whitaker attended a two-room school in the Ozarks and Missouri University Law School. He retired as district counsel for a federal agency and now works as a writer and an editor. His novel, Geese to a Poor Market, won the Ozark Writers’ League Best Book of the Year Award. His stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, regional magazines, and anthologies. His children’s book, Mulligan Meets the Poodlums, will be published in 2017.

Dr. Barri L. Bumgarner is the author of a sci-fi thriller (8 Days), a psychological thriller (Slipping) and a YA novel, Dregs. Barri, an Assistant Professor at Westminster College, has also published seventeen short stories and hundreds of articles, both academic and teacher-education focused.   
Other publications include “Why Not Me,” now being completed as a full nonfiction manuscript. She has just completed a contemporary fiction manuscript, Fifty Cents for a Dr Pepper.

1. What sparked your writing bug?

Lonnie: Since I was a child I had the notion that I could write, but I was "officially" bitten when I submitted a short story to Missouri Life Magazine in 1999 . . . and they bought it.  A beginner's luck, perhaps, but it put me in the game.

Barri:  To quote Strickland Gillilan, “I had a mother who read to me.” While most kids listened to Dr. Seuss, I was hearing The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. When I was 7, I created a chapbook called The Works of Bumgarner. I’ve been writing ever since I can remember.

2. Please summarize your story in MOTO V.

Lonnie: A college student is called home because his mother has been admitted to a hospital for an illness, which seems suspicious to him. He suspected it was the recurring voices stemming  from her experimental cancer treatment. But seeing her fearful eyes made him almost afraid to ask.

Barri:   This autobiographical story is about my dad, who struggled with alcoholism, and how I learned about his problem. I first drafted the story during the Missouri Writing Project in 2006 and decided it was too close to home to publish at the time. Now, it’s time.

3. Where is your favorite place in the Ozarks? Please describe it.

Lonnie: On the Jack's Fork River, upstream from the Highway 17 bridge, there's a secluded gravel bar across from a limestone bluff that shadows a deep swimming hole. The spring-fed water is clear enough to see crawdads scurrying about, and there aren't many canoes or tourists. 

Barri:   I grew up in Lebanon, and had many favorite places: Bennett Springs, Wehner’s Bakery (eating crème horns with my dad), Lebanon Country Club (my summer hangout with Wilson and friends). When I moved to Springfield to attend SMSU, I discovered Lake Springfield. It holds a special place in my heart.

4. What writing accomplishment(s) are you most proud? 

Lonnie: Publication of my novel, Geese to a Poor Market.  It's a novel of the Ozarks, with one leg that wants to boogie, and the other planted on a pew. Or, "What do you get when you cross Norma Rae with Thelma and Louise?" –Jim Bohannon, Westwood One Radio.

Barri:  When I published my first novel, 8 Days, I was ecstatic that my dad found out before he died. That was truly special. I’m also proud every time my blog sparks conversation. There’s no point in having a voice if you’re not willing to use it to spark change.

5. Many of my blog visitors are also writers. What writing advice can you share with them?

Lonnie: Long sentences laced with modifiers are too wordy for commercial fiction. Replace some of the adjectives and adverbs with strong verbs. Karl Largent, a techno-thriller author, told me, “Never have your protagonist running quickly when he could be sprinting.” As Mark Twain said: “When you catch an adjective, kill it.”

Barri:   Write! Do it daily, if you can, no matter how simple the topic. Then connect with other writers. I stay involved with Missouri Writing Project, I’m in a writing group with colleagues at Westminster, and write every chance I get. Not writing, for me, risks stifling the creative juices.

Bonus Question: Where can readers find more about you? (Your website, blog, Facebook, etc.)

Lonnie: See my website www.geesetoapoormarket.com, or after October 2017 at www.lonniewhitaker.com with the publication of my first children's picture book, Mulligan Meets the Poodlums. And I am on Facebook.

Thanks for answering my questions, and congratulations on having your stories in Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V - Interviews with Johnny Boggs and Larry Wood

Several weeks ago, Jane Hale, president of Ozark Writers, Inc., forwarded names of contributors to Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V, who agreed to be interviewed on my blog.

I asked five questions plus a bonus question. First to reply were Johnny Boggs and Larry Wood. Here are their bios and responses:

Johnny D. Boggs has been a full-time novelist and freelance magazine writer since 1998. He has won a record-tying seven Spur Awards from Western Writers of America, the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, an Arkansiana Juvenile Award from the Arkansas Library Association and the Milton F. Perry Award from the National James-Younger Gang. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife, son and two dogs.

Larry Wood is a freelance writer specializing in the history of Missouri and the Ozarks. He is the author of fifteen nonfiction history books, two historical novels, and hundreds of stories and articles.  He maintains a blog at www.ozarks-history.blogspot.com, and is an honorary lifetime member of the Missouri Writers' Guild. Larry's co-author on "Charlie Cries All Night," the MOTO V story, is his long-deceased father, Ben L. Wood. Larry resurrected the story from his dad's unpublished files and made numerous changes, but the basic plot belongs to Ben Wood. Ben was an essayist and poet whose work appeared in publications ranging from The Ozarks Mountaineer to the Kansas City Star.   

1. What sparked your writing bug?
Johnny Boggs: Third-grade English. The assignment was "write a tale." I have no idea what I wrote, but I remember the feeling I got while writing it. This was my calling, I decided, and I still get that feeling when I sit down at my computer.

Larry Wood: I more or less drifted into writing by default during college when I ended up majoring in English because I made better grades in English than my other classes, but the idea of being a writer was probably planted much earlier, since my dad was also a writer.

2. Please summarize your story in MOTO V.
Johnny Boggs:The tongue-in-cheek "Meet the New Dick Powell" has the Ozarks-born actor returning home because his career is washed up in Hollywood. He's mistaken for a private eye, and, having just been rejected for the lead role in "Double Indemnity," decides to play a tough-guy in a real-life situation.

Larry Wood: My dad, author of the first draft of "Charlie Cries All Night," was a correctional officer at the Medical Center for Federal prisoners in Springfield. Thus, the idea for the story, about an escaped, psychotic convict who terrorizes a nurse working late at a doctor's office, although the story was not originally set in Springfield.  

3. Where is your favorite place in the Ozarks? Please describe it.
Johnny Boggs: The Buffalo River. Rented a cabin there for a long weekend in 1990, bought a wooden chest at a shop outside of Eureka Springs, drove back to Dallas. I put a dozen roses and an engagement ring in the chest, and when Lisa opened it, I proposed.

Larry Wood: The nature trail at the Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center just south of Joplin on Shoal Creek. It's not necessarily the most scenic place in the Ozarks, but it's a place I go regularly for relaxing walks in a natural setting.

4. What writing accomplishment(s) are you most proud?
Johnny Boggs: The seven Spur Awards from Western Writers of America blow my mind. I think I'm most proud of the first one, which I got in 2002 for "A Piano at Dead Man's Crossing," because that was for a short story, the hardest form of fiction to write. (Donna's note: Seven spurs--Wow! And I agree about short fiction being the hardest form of fiction to write.)

Larry Wood: As a longtime member of the Missouri Writers' Guild, I think that being named an honorary lifetime member of the organization in 2016 is probably the thing I'm most proud of in my writing career. (Donna's note: That is an amazing accomplishment!)

5. Many of my blog visitors are also writers. What writing advice can you share with them?
Johnny Boggs: Write. Write. Write. Read. Read. Read. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. And don't miss your deadlines.  (Donna's note: I agree, and I would add you were first to submit your interview responses, so you are serious about deadlines.)

Larry Wood: Have a writing routine and stick with it. It doesn't even have to be a routine in the sense that you write at exactly the same time every day for exactly the same length of time, but you have to have something resembling a routine that shows you're committed to writing. In my own case, I write every day, seven days a week, with very few exceptions, but sometimes I write an hour, sometimes four or five hours, and not necessarily at the same time each day. It's somewhat like my exercise routine. I don't walk or jog at the same time every day, but I don't feel the day is complete if I don't do one or the other some time during the day.   

Bonus Question: Where can readers find more about you? (Your website, blog, Facebook, etc.)

Larry Wood: My blog on regional history can be found at www.ozarks-history.blogspot.com, and I have an author Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLarryWood/.

Johnny and Larry, thanks for your replies.

Over the next weeks I will post responses of the other contributors. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

My Essay on How I Met My Husband is in Sasee's October Magazine

Photo, Oct 17 Sasee Magazine
"Melodies and Memories"
Cover Artist: Mike Daneshi
If you're curious how a nineteen-year-old teenage girl from St. Louis met a twenty-year-old airman/immigrant who was born in the German Bavarian Alps, you can read about it by following the link below.

My essay titled "Living the American Dream" appears in Sasee's October 2017 issue with the theme "Melodies and Memories." The beautifully vivid and evocative cover art is done by Mike Daneshi.

If you're a writer interested in submitting to Sasee, here's a copy of their guidelines.

Hope you enjoy!

Note: Next week I will begin posting interviews I've received from contributors to Mysteries of the Ozarks, V.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Interview with Jane Shewmaker Hale, President of Ozark Writers, Inc.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting interviews with contributors of Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V, the organization responsible for the Mysteries of the Ozarks series.

First up are ten questions for Jane Shewmaker Hale, author, entrepreneur, and president of Ozark Writers, Inc.

1. Can you briefly tell us a little bit about you--your personal background, professional       background, writing accomplishments, etc.?

My late husband Bob and I have four sons, ten grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren. I reside on the Hale family farm in Buffalo, Missouri, where I’m an active partner in our family businesses, including Hale Fireworks  I’m a columnist for "Buffalo...As I Remember it" in the County Courier. I’ve published a YA series of mysteries: Wonderland in 1997, Heartland in 1999, Foreverland in 2001, and Boomland, in 2003. My other books are Every Day Is Mother’s Day and Every Day Is Father’s Day. I’ve also published numerous short stories in anthologies.

2. What can you tell us about the history of Ozark Writers, Inc.?

 In August 2001 Ellen Gray Massey, Vicki Cox, Shirleen Sando, Carolyn Gray Thornton, Betty Cracker Henderson, and I formed Ozark Writers, Inc., a nonprofit organization with a 501c3 status. Our purpose was to encourage and promote writers from the Ozark region to publish their works and to educate and expand the reading public to the literature of the Ozarks. We held workshops in Missouri, Illinois, Connecticut, Washington, D.C. and Settle, Washington. In 2003, the first volume of Mysteries of the Ozark was published with 19 short stories by authors from the Ozarks.  In the fall of  2017, the fifth volume of Mysteries of the Ozark will be available, featuring 19 authors from the Ozarks.

3.  What inspired you to continue the legacy of OWI begun by Ellen Gray Massey?

From the beginning, I served as President of Ozark Writers, Inc. Ellen Gray Massey was our mentor. We learned to encourage others as she encouraged us. Our writing is stronger because of her insistence for perfection. As we traveled to conferences, we reread aloud from our writing. Ellen, pen in hand, noted corrections. Today, as I write, I imagine her watching over my shoulder, pen in hand, reminding me of her teachings. She spent a lot of effort compiling the first four volumes of Mysteries of the Ozarks. Ellen and I talked about Volume V before her passing.

I believe she would be pleased we were continuing her legacy.

4. The Mysteries of the Ozarks anthology is now on volume five. How did you solicit stories for this issue of the popular anthology?

In the fall of each year, I attend Ozark Creative Writers conference in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. There’s a lot of talent gathered at that conference. In 2016, I felt it was time to compile stories for Volume 5.  I mentioned to some attendees that I was open for submissions. Some authors who had been published in the anthologies before expressed interest. Others, I piqued their interest. Before the conference was over I felt I had the essence of the book.

5. How did the submission, editing, and publishing processes work?

After I returned home from the conference, submissions began to arrive. I solicited a few other authors from the area. By the first of the year, I had the magic number 19. I was fortunate to have Vicki Cox, a member of the original board, and Donna Volkenannt join the board and serve as editors. We had worked together before as members of the Missouri Writers Guild. Three former Presidents of MWG made for a good editing team. High Hill Press was the original publisher. Circumstances required us to move the anthology to Goldminds Publishing.

6. I love the cover. Who was the photographer, and where the photo was taken?

The cover is a beautiful barn photograph taken by Melba Prossor Shewmaker of Bentonville, Arkansas. She is an accomplished photographer, whose hobby is photographing old barns. She has published a collection of those photographs. (See dedication in book for more.) The black and white photo is striking. It was made, more so, by a mock up done by Donna Volkenannt. Her version featured blood red font to entice the reader to enter the pages of mystery.

7. What can you tell us about some of the contributors in MOTO V?

Each story is unique in the telling from the computer of Robert Vaughan, who has published over 400 books or more. Western writers like Johnny Boggs, Dusty Richards, multiple WWA spur award winners. Terry Alexander, Mike Koch, Lonnie Whitaker, McKenrdee (Mike) Long, Micki Fuhrman, Brenda Brinkley, and Donna Volkenannt, who were attendees at OCW. Marilyn K Smith, a columnist for Reflex Newspapers in Buffalo, MO. Larry Woods and his father Ben, who share the honors with their story. Barri Bumgarner, Mitch Hale, Regina Williams Riney, Vicki Cox, Carolyn Gray Massey, and myself. And, of course, the cover artist, Melba Prossor Shewmaker.

8. What kinds of stories are included in MOTO V?

As the title denotes, they are mysteries. But, oh, the variety. The anthology includes: time travel, old west, fantasy, horror, nostalgia, romance, and humor. Each story is unique and entertaining!

9. Where can readers purchase copies of MOTO V?

From the authors, of course. Goldminds Publishers has excellent distribution ranging from local, area, to international. Watch for them on Amazon and in bookstores like Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, etc.

10. Anything you’d like to add or final thoughts about OWI, Mysteries of the Ozarks, or anything else?

I’d like to thank everyone who helped make Volume V, Mysteries of the Ozarks possible. Our two local banks, Oakstar and O’Bannon Banking Company donated funds. The authors and copy artist, plus our board and editors, and to Goldminds Publishing Company, our ultimate vehicle to publishing, made it possible.

Thanks, in advance, to readers, who I know will enjoy our anthology.

And, yes, Ellen, I feel you, pen in hand, looking over my shoulder.  

Monday, October 2, 2017

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

In past I've posted about breast cancer awareness month, but this year it is more than an annual post. My life, and the life of my family, was turned upside down after I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February. I'm happy to report I'm now cancer free! By the end of the month I will be finished with radiation treatments, which should help keep the cancer from returning.

Over these months, I've been amazed by the love and support that has surrounded me.

When I decided to post about this topic, I wanted to keep it upbeat, so I'm focusing on some of the positive experiences I've had.

Shortly after I started treatments at the SSM Cancer Center, I was told about the Karen Weidinger Foundation. A member of the oncology staff escorted me to a room, where I was told to select any head coverings I would like, including caps, scarves, and a wig. Then, a week before my surgery, I received a call from the SSM Breast Center that they had a gift for me, courtesy of the Karen Weidinger Foundation. The gift was a certificate to take to a vendor to receive a special camisole to use after surgery. The generosity of this foundation, called Karen's Foundation, is amazing.

A second positive experience was the Look Good, Feel Better program from the American Cancer Society. I attended this session several months ago, and what a treat! Phyllis, the woman who applied make up for me, is herself a breast cancer survivor. She gave me the bag shown at the left. The bag, valued at $200, was filled with cosmetics donated by major manufacturers, including Estee Lauder, Christian Dior, Bobby Brown, Clinique, Lancôme, Ulta, and other well known companies.

The last item is something I found out about today. It's from the National Breast Cancer Organization, which is giving away a breast health guide in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

So, while this post is a reminder, it's also a testament to the spirit of generosity of groups and individuals dedicated to help people with breast cancer.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Voices from the Past Cemetery Walk at All Saints Parish in St. Peters

If you are interested in local history or like an evening where you can walk among the tombstones and listen to actors portraying long-ago deceased characters, you are in for a treat!

Once again, All Saints Parish in St. Peters will feature an evening of "Voices from the Past Cemetery Walk at All Saints." (If you click on the link you can see the cemetery in the background.)

This is the third time in six years the parish has offered the popular event.

And this is the third time I have written a script about a character buried in the cemetery.

The members of the parish Heritage Committee selected and researched the characters, then the Parish Administrator turned over their research to me to write the scripts. Writing a script stretched my skills, but it was a valuable learning experience.

My first script was about George Gatty, Revolutionary War hero and founder of St. Peters. He was an Italian immigrant who made his way to America, distinguished himself during the Revolutionary War, and was rewarded with a land grant that brought him out to the western frontier--all the way to Missouri!

Two years ago, I wrote the script for Aloys Schneider, sixth husband of Emma Heppermann, the notorious Potato Soup Black Widow.

Emma had the bad habit of poisoning her husbands and anyone else who got in her way. Unfortunately, Aloys got between Emma and a life insurance policy, and Aloys lost. His family and neighbors got suspicious after his death. They had no proof Emma did him in, but after Emma's next victim, Mr. Heppermann and his daughter (who survived), the Law stepped in. Emma was eventually tried and convicted of double murder.

The photo on the left shows the actor who portrayed the late Mr. Schneider referring to his script.

From reports, the actor's portrayal of Mr.Schneider was one of the most popular, and most talked about, characters of the walk.

This year, I wrote the script for Eva Kirchner, a German immigrant and farmer's wife. Eva was a resilient and determined woman who lived a hardscrabble life. She survived during the Great Depression by taking in boarders, and during Prohibition, she survived by ignoring the law. I gave her the name, "Bootlegger Granny."

This year the cemetery walk will be Saturday Oct 7 and Sunday Oct 8.Tickets for adults are $10, and children 12 and under $5. A reception will be held in the Parish Center after the walk, where visitors can enjoy light refreshments.

Unfortunately, because of the uneven ground of the cemetery, strollers and wheelchairs aren't permitted. And, because I'm still using a walker to get around, I won't be able to attend this year.

My sister Kathleen will be going and she has promised to report back to me on how it went.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

MWG Trivia Night: A Tisket, A Tasket, Coffee and Critique Donated Eight Baskets

In case you haven't heard, the Missouri Writers Guild is having a trivia night on Saturday, October 7th, at the First Congregational Church of St. Louis in Clayton, MO.

The details are on the flyer on the left. The writers in Coffee and Critique, the critique group I belong to, were informed of this by Marcia Gaye, our chapter's MWG rep.

Marcia mentioned the MWG was hoping to get each chapter to contribute a basket for the event's silent auction. Our small group of ten regularly attending writers was asked to donate items or cash to fill a basket.

With our writers group name of Coffee and Critique, we voted to go with a coffee and writing-related theme.

The response was outstanding. Our members donated enough items to fill not one or two or even three, but EIGHT baskets--almost one basket for each person in our group.

When I thanked Marcia for spearheading the MWG Trivia Night basket project, she responded with her usual humility, "It was a team effort."

She added that we had 100 percent participation. Marcia estimated the value of the eight baskets around $400!

Our generous contributors included: Sarah Angleton, Marcia Gaye, Jane Hamilton, Alice Muschany, Doug Osgood, Doyle Suit, Les Thompson, Donna Volkenannt, Pat Wahler, and Jack Zerr. A handful of our more talented members stayed after our meeting to assemble and decorate the baskets.

Les took photos of the baskets shown below. And I've been told Sarah did a marvelous job tying bows.

Donated items include a variety of coffees and teas, coffee mugs, two hand-made mug rugs, coffee-related items, tea cups and saucers, wine glasses, a bottle of imported German red wine, dark and milk chocolate (who doesn't love chocolate), scented candles, candle holders, several books written by our members, a copy of the Coffee and Critique anthology autographed by several contributors, journals, pens, office and writing-related items, baskets, ribbons, the Coffee and Critique brochure, and, DRUM ROLL, PLEASE:

TWO CERTIFICATES FOR DETAILED CRITIQUES (up to ten double-spaced pages) from our entire group.

Although I can't attend trivia night, I'll be there in spirit--and our critique group will be there in more than spirit--we will be represented by eight beautiful baskets.

If you attend MWG Trivia Night, please let me know how it went, and I hope you're high bidder on one of our baskets!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Did You Know It's US Constitution Week?

to the US Constitution
While visiting the Spencer Road Branch of my county's library yesterday, I was greeted by two friendly women dressed in colonial period costumes. Of course, that got my attention.

The women stood in front of a decorative display with a copy of the US Constitution available for visitors to sign. They told me they were members of the Daughters of the American Revolution and informed me that September 17-23 is US Constitution Week. I didn't know that!

They told me they were relatives of veterans who fought in the Revolutionary War.

I mentioned that several years ago I wrote a script about George Gatty, one of the veterans of the American Revolution, for the All Saints Cemetery walk.

The women told me they are attempting to locate gravesites of veterans of the Revolutionary War, so I told them where George is buried.

After I signed my name on their copy of the Constitution, they handed me a small copy of it, along with an American flag, and a bookmark with the Preamble to the US Constitution on it. There's a not-very-clear photo of the bookmark above.

I remember being required to memorize the Preamble and recite it in front of the class many years ago.

If you can't read the copy, here's what it says:

"WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Do you remember being required to memorize the Preamble and recite it? One thing I do remember is that I was nervous, even though I practiced it several times, and I didn't understand some of the words I recited, like domestic tranquility and posterity.

Do you still remember the Preamble by heart?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Green River Writers Contests - Lots of Categories (Mostly Poetry) with Small Entry Fees

Time to get busy and enter a contest or two!

Earlier this month I received a brochure from Green River Writers, Inc., located in Louisville, KY. I'm not sure how I first heard about this group, but a few years ago I submitted to one of their contests.

And I won the Jim O'Dell Memorial Poetry contest, which is for limericks, standard form (5 lines) wild and absurd.

I've never claimed to be a poet, but for some reason I'm drawn to this form of writing. Marcia G., the poetess in our group, says it's because of my Irish heritage. Maybe so.

I've decided to give it a go again. I wasn't able to attend critique group today, and our group doesn't critique poetry (with rare exceptions). So, I e-mailed three limericks (two I recently came up with and one I had already written) to our members and asked them to vote on their favorite if they had time. Did I mention how generous our members are?

The response was unanimous. Everyone selected #3, a poem I wrote a few years ago that won a small prize in a humorous poetry contest with a theme about summertime, sponsored by a Missouri poetry group.

I also dug out a short story I've polished and am revising a nonfiction piece I plan to submit--if I can finish in time.

Green Rivers Writers has a total of 15 contest categories, mostly poetry, but also short fiction, first chapters of novels, creative nonfiction, and scads of poetry categories--from country music legends, small town observations, the thing under the bed, and others.

Entry fees range from $3 to $5 for nonmembers.

If you want to find out more about Green River Writers and their contests, here's a link to the categories and guidelines.

Act fast; the deadline is September 30.

Good luck if you enter!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Enjoy the Moment

Although I haven't posted in a while, I have been keeping busy.

I received the wonderful news that the chemo treatments did their job. I'm cancer free!! Surgery went well. My surgeon is the best! I'll start radiation in a few weeks. I'm dealing with some nerve damage to my fingers and feet and toes as a side effect of the chemo, but I'm told it will fade eventually.

So, I'm finding joy in the everyday moments I've been given.

Several family members joined us at our farm in Central Missouri to view the eclipse.

My sister Bridget (at left) brought sandwiches and other goodies.

Niece Ashley brought salad. Alexandra brought the beer for those who drink.

We provided bottled water and soft drinks. Everyone had a great time and nobody went hungry.

Just sharing this special event with family members made me appreciate how blessed I am to have a large and loving family.

Even Harley got in on the eclipse action. Here's a photo of Walt helping Harley put on his safety glasses.

I was able to get free eclipse glasses from our local library. Just another reason I love our library!

Walt and I also enjoyed spending Labor Day at the farm.

He drove me around in the side-by-side, which Harley refuses to get into, so he ran behind us all the way.

I stopped to give Harley a break from running fast on a hot day and to snap some shots of the wildflowers growing on our property.

How beautiful they are and proof of God's glory!

Harley got hot and worn out and decided to take a mud bath. Walt hosed him down later, so he was clean for the ride home.

Driving down the road as we left, Walt spotted a coyote. Lots of critters roam our property.

One of the many gifts I've received after my breast cancer diagnosis is the gift of wisdom. I've learned not to take anything for granted and enjoy every moment I am given.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Old School Treasures in Missouri

If you look up the definition of "old school" in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, you will find "characteristic or evocative of an earlier or original style."

In many ways that describes me, but it also describes a few treasures I've stumbled upon from Missouri's past.

A few weeks ago I found this gem tucked away on a side street in Old Towne St. Peters. Actually, my sister Kathleen showed me where it was. The plaque between the two windows tells the story.
St. Peters Public School, built in 1869.

St. Peters District 31 Public School was built in
1869 and closed in 1951 after it became
part of Fort Zumwalt consolidation.

The old Hope School can be found in the Village of Hope. It's two miles down the road from our "farm" in Osage County. The building is no longer used as a school, but local residents host social events there.

I snapped this photo of a quaint silver and red telephone booth a few years ago while giving a creative writing workshop at the Missouri State Teachers Association retreat in Bunker Hill. Don't see many of these any more.

The final photo is of Irving School, an architectural gem in North St. Louis, which opened in 1871 and was expanded in 1891 and 1894. I attended Irving for a few years in the 1950s. The building is no longer used as a school, but it still holds its old-world charm, and most likely its brick-oven heat in the summer.

My third-grade teacher at Irving made a lasting impression on me. An essay I wrote about her, "Miss Tobin's Special Gifts," will appear in KC Voices (Vol XIV) from Whispering Prairie Press in October.

How about you? Did you attend a one-room school house or an architecturally impressive school? Have you stumbled across any old school treasures?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Beautiful Lilies and Proof of a Russian Invasion -- Russian SageThat Is

June is one of my favorite months, and not just because I turn a year older in June, but because everywhere I look I see the beauty of nature.

In my family I'm known as the sibling who didn't inherit my mother's green thumb.

But not so fast brothers and sisters, how do  you explain the gorgeous day lilies and tiger lilies that have bloomed in my garden the past few years?

This June they are especially vibrant.

And what about the Russian sage that is sprouting out all over?

With all the Senate committees searching for proof of Russian interference in the USA, I have proof of Russian invasion -- in my yard.

Here are photos of the Russian Sage that's taking over, although in some spots it's fighting for space with the blackberry bushes and spearmint plants.

How about you?

How does your garden grow?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Interview with Sarah Angleton, the Practical Historian

For the past few years, Sarah Angleton has been a valued member of Coffee and Critique, where she has shared her stories, wit, and wisdom with her fellow writers.

Photo courtesy of
Sarah Angleton
Sarah is a storyteller and history buff who has degrees in both zoology and literature and still isn’t quite sure what she wants to be when she grows up. A Midwestern girl at heart, she spent a brief time living and writing in the beautiful Pacific Northwest before settling near St. Louis where she currently resides with her husband, two sons, and a very loyal dog. Her first work of historical fiction will be available soon from High Hill Press. You can find her online at www.Sarah-Angleton.com.

Here are my interview questions for Sarah.

1. How did degrees in zoology and literature prepare you to create “The Practical Historian” blog?

I think it was learning how to combine my two fields of study that led me toward an interest in history, something I didn’t particularly enjoy studying in school. As a grad student in literature and creative writing I started doing a lot of research into the voyage writings of naturalists of the 18th an 19th centuries. Because of my background, I was uniquely prepared to approach their works as both literary and scientific, and so I discovered that one field nicely informed the other. They are linked by their shared history. I love discovering links. It’s what I do on the blog as well, though not typically between zoology and literature. Instead I look for the connections I might make between the historical and the modern. It’s just how my mind likes to work.

2. Where do you get your ideas for topics for your blog posts?

Topics come to me from all over the place. Some are sparked by events related to the date I’ll be posting. Others come from my experiences through the week leading up to the post, including places I’ve traveled, events I’ve attended, or even documentaries or podcasts I’ve come across. Occasionally friends and family suggest topics that turn into interesting posts. I’m always on the lookout for potential topics, and I tend to jot down a lot of notes and take a lot of pictures. I am always aware that even if the stories I come across don’t fit well into a post at the moment, they still might come in handy later.

3. How did you come up with the title for your blog?

When I started the blog, I had recently finished writing the rough draft of my first historical novel, a project that required a great deal of careful, thorough research. I once heard the difference between writing history and writing historical fiction is that with history, you have to write around the gaps, and in fiction, you can feel free to fill them. I love history, but I love story more, and I’m a big fan of filling in the gaps. So when I started the blog, I was very aware of the fact that I could not claim to be an expert historian, that I couldn’t sustain the level of research required to write with real authority week after week, and that I couldn’t refrain from gap-filling. It was important to me to be honest with my audience about that. I decided I wouldn’t focus the overly important, highly analyzed historical moments. Instead, I’d stick to the tales that painted a picture of the sillier side of the human condition, add a few splashes of my own personal story, and just make it a fun space to share practically true history that might not seem all that important in the big picture, but that might add a little interest to my readers’ days.

4. What process do you use to conduct your blog research?

That can vary a lot by topic. I’ve stated on the blog that I rarely use a primary source, which isn’t exactly true. I do generally start with the best hearsay the Internet has to offer, but some of these stories are just lifted from one site to another with no verification whatsoever. If there’s a reference to be chased down, like to a historical work, I chase it down and read it from the source. Sometimes that means the post falls apart because (and I know this will come as a shock) not everything repeated again and again on the Internet is true. Now, there are many times when it’s not possible for me to consult with a primary source, so I look for the most reliable source I can find. Though I joke about Wikipedia, and I do use it, I always seek verification from expert sources. And I hedge what I don’t know. As I stated before, I never want to speak with an authority I can’t rightfully claim and I always try to be honest with my reader about that. But I am a storyteller, and the blog is as much humor as it is fact, so when all else fails, I make stuff up.

5. What process did you use to select the posts included in Launching Sheep and Other Stories?

First, I looked for posts that were not overly dependent on a single event that though probably was very much in the minds of my readers at the time, is now most likely forgotten. I also needed posts that don’t rely too heavily on photos. I use a lot of photos on the blog, but didn’t want to go through the process of attaining rights for their use in the book. And then of those, I looked for the ones I enjoyed the most, the ones I still liked to read, even though I wrote them and probably already read them at least a few dozen times.

6. In one post you mention your zeal for the board game Monopoly. Do you have a favorite token? And, how do you feel about the planned replacement of the thimble, the boot, and the wheelbarrow with a Tyrannosaurus rex, a penguin, and a rubber ducky?

I’m definitely not as angry about the change as some journalists seem to be, or as willing to assign broad cultural meanings to the change. The boot has always been a favorite of mine and I suppose I’m a little sad to see it go. But what really determines the quality of a Monopoly token is its height. My favorite tokens have always been the ones that are easiest to grasp with a quick pinch. It looks like the T. rex and the penguin might fit the bill. I’m not as sure about the ducky, but I’d be willing to take it for a spin past Go! Hasbro left the fates of the game tokens in the hands of the public, and who am I to question the results? I still have a classic copy of the game and can pull out the boot any time I want.

7. How has watching the movie The Princess Bride affected your writing?

The Princess Bride taught me all of the elements of a truly great story: “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles,” and maybe just a little bit of kissing. But on a more serious note, I fell in love with the movie as a young girl because the characters are memorable and the dialogue is witty. I think if a writer can pull that off, then she’s probably gone a long way toward producing something worth reading.

8. What can you tell us about your lessons learned from the start-to-finish process of publishing a book, from research, writing, editing, revising, cover design, marketing, etc?

I suppose the biggest lesson I learned is that it’s not easy. There’s still a stigma associated with self-published books and though it’s lessening as the industry changes, I think it will always be with us. As an author who has worked with both processes, I can say with certainty that neither is especially easy.

The options for self-publishing can be overwhelming. There are many publishing companies that offer services from start to finish, from editing to cover design to marketing. It’s really easy to spend a lot of money to produce a final product and going that route definitely means you also give up some creative control. On the other end of the spectrum, there are services out there that simply provide the tools for authors to do everything themselves. Most writers are probably not equipped to handle every aspect of publishing on their own, so I think the important thing is to strike the balance that feels most comfortable to the individual author.

I opted to hire a freelance editor whose work was already familiar to me and a brilliant cover designer I already knew I could work with well. I did the book formatting myself after a lot of research into the various services available, and I admit, also a great deal of frustration. Really, the research is the most important part. The great thing about writers is that we tend to love to share our experiences and so I listened and read and learned and probably avoided a lot of pitfalls because I took the time to do that.

For me the hardest part has simply been figuring out the business end of marketing and selling books. I kept discovering little details (and hidden expenses) I never considered before, like the need to purchase isbns, start up a personal imprint, and prepare to handle sales tax. It’s been a long road, but by going through this process of self-publishing, and viewing the industry from another angle, I know that I have come out of it better prepared for a successful career in traditional publishing.

9. On the topic of marketing, what can you tell us about upcoming events, including your book launch, author talks, and book signings?

My first event will be a signing at 6 North Café in Wentzville (next to B&B Theatre) on Saturday, May 13 from 10 am to 12 pm. Friday, June 2, I’ll be at Our Town Books on the Square in Jacksonville, Illinois, from 5 to 7 pm. You can also catch up with me at Gateway Con in St. Louis the weekend of June 16-18, where I’ll be selling books and meeting readers.

10. What advice do you have for bloggers and writers?

Keep at it. I’ve found that blogging is, more than anything else, a great way to find a worldwide community, one that is committed to sharing and interacting with one another’s art. That’s a pretty special thing. It encourages me to always be writing. Some weeks are hard, but I know that if I don’t produce something new, there are people all over the country and as far away as New Zealand who will notice and wonder why. Keeping to a blog schedule also encourages me to work really hard to schedule writing time. I have goals for my fiction, and because I have to work around researching and writing a blog post, I’m much better at protecting my time on all my projects. Building a writing career takes time and effort. The first step is to just keep on writing.

11. What project are you working on now?

My first historical novel, Smoke Rose to Heaven, the one that I began all those years ago, is tentatively scheduled for traditional publication this fall, so I am working through the final steps of that process. I’m also polishing a novel that is a companion to that one. In addition, I’m working through a revision of the first novel in a young adult series that I’m hoping to start pitching to agents and editors soon. And of course, I’m blogging every week.

12. What’s the best way for readers to contact you with questions or if they would like to purchase a copy of Launching Sheep and Other Stories?

Both print and e-formats of the book can be ordered through Amazon or anywhere books are sold. Readers can contact me through my website, www.Sarah-Angleton.com, where they’ll have the opportunity to sign up for e-mail updates and will find links to my profiles on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads, as well as the latest post from the Practical Historian.

13. In homage to your post on page 113, “The Completely Rational Fear of Triskaidekaphobia,” here’s your final question—number 13: Do you have any final thoughts or anything you’d like to add?

How lucky that post wound up on page 113! I think the only thing I might add is that as much hard work as goes into writing and producing books I could not do any of this without the support of so many amazing people. Writing can seem like a lonely profession, but I know for certain I could never be successful if I treated it that way. I have been blessed to be a part of several professional writers’ organizations, critique groups, and workshops. I’ve been involved in online writers’ forums, attended conferences, and had opportunities to interact with writers from all over the world. Without the amazing energy of the larger writing community, I’d honestly be too frozen in fear to ever let another human being read my work. I am so very grateful to be able to do this.

Thank you so much for the thoughtful questions, Donna!

And thank you, Sarah, for your thoughtful answers!

Sarah will have her first book signing event at 6 North Café in Wentzville (next to B & B Theatre) on Saturday, May 13 from 10 am to 12  pm.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Writing to Heal

One way I’m coping with breast cancer—and the side effect of chemo brain, which causes forgetfulness and muddy thinking—is to write.  

I’ve been encouraged to journal and have received several journals as gifts (like the one on the left) from friends, but I haven’t used them yet. I’m not ready to record all the day-to-day events about my illness. It feels too raw. Plus the journals are so pretty, I’m saving them for happier times.

What I am doing is writing when I have energy and the mood strikes. Mostly I write on my laptop, but I also scribble notes in raggedy notebooks.  

A short story I began in January started as a romantic mystery to read at critique group for a Valentine’s love story challenge was titled “Time Will Tell.” Around the same time, I was invited to submit to Mysteries of the Ozarks (Vol V), a project of the Ozarks Writers Inc. I reworked and lengthened the story to highlight the mystery aspect, and the story was accepted just before my diagnosis. A few weeks later, I was asked to help with editing and proofreading the anthology. I agreed because when I first started chemo treatments I was having trouble sleeping and welcomed doing something productive. In addition to that, I was asked to become a member of the OWI board. It has been a positive experience in every way.

In February, I rewrote and expanded my essay, “Remembering Miss Tobin,” which was among the top ten finalist in 2014 Erma Bombeck human interest competition, but never published. I revised and renamed the new essay, “Miss Tobin’s Special Gifts,” and submitted it to Whispering Prairie Press for their KC Voices magazine. Earlier this month I received an e-mail that the editor “loved” my essay asked for permission to use it. Of course, I accepted.

Earlier this month, I pulled out an old essay about the day my husband became a US citizen. The expanded version corrected mistakes in the original and included the night we met at a USO dance. I wasn’t able to attend my critique group to read the story, so my good friend Alice printed it off and read it for me then called and relayed everyone’s comments. Using many of their suggestions, I cut the original version from around 1,000 words to 750, changed the title, and the end result resulted in a tighter and I think better story. It’s a long shot, but I submitted it to Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind Of America. I won’t know until June if "A Good Day for A New Citizen" is accepted. If I don’t hear by then I’ll know it isn’t a good fit, but I’ll remain hopeful.

Last week, my mind wandered to my childhood neighborhood in North St. Louis and a memory of an unusual boy who lived down the alley. He was a few years older than the rest of the boys on our block, who never invited him to play, so he usually stood and watched the rest of us have fun. I felt sorry for him, but he also made me feel uneasy, the way he stared and watched the rest of us. That memory resulted in a short story about a lonely writer/blogger/teacher who spies on his coworkers and students and uses what he learns about them to get ahead. It’s an odd piece and I’m not sure what will become of it, but it might eventually find a home.

More than a month ago, I started on an essay about losing my hair, but I’m not quite ready to finish that one yet.

I’ve put my novel aside for the time being, but who knows maybe if I get a burst of inspiration I’ll pick it up again. Now that I finished the “red devil” chemo sessions, have started on “chemo light” treatments, and will start physical rehab next week to get my strength back, I might get inspired.

How about you? Have you ever written to heal—from an illness, grief, personal tragedy, or for any other reason? If so, has writing helped?

Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V - Interviews with Lonnie Whitaker and Dr. Barri Bumgarner

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