Subscribe: Donna's Book Pub (DBP)
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade A rated
Language: English
breast cancer  cancer  day  family  fiction  friends  group  missouri  ozarks  school  story  time  writers  writing  year 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Donna's Book Pub (DBP)

Donna's Book Pub

Writing advice, publication opportunities, and thoughts on books, language, and life from Donna Volkenannt, winner of the Erma Bombeck Humor Award. Donna believes great stories begin in a writer's imagination and touch a reader's heart.

Updated: 2018-04-21T04:37:48.295-05:00


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 Pr[...]

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, 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 bl[...]

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.


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[...]

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.

(image) 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.(image)

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.[...]

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![...]

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?(image)

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!


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.[...]

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 in1869 and closed in 1951 after it becamepart 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? [...]

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?[...]

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 AngletonSarah 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 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 [...]

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[...]

With A Lot of Help From my Friends


A week ago last Tuesday, my friends showered me with love, words of encouragement,  prayers, and surprise gifts. Their generosity and thoughtfulness brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of the Beatle's melody, "I'll get by with a little help my friends," but for me it has been a lot of help from my friends!When my sister Kathleen and I pulled into the parking lot of the Rendezvous Café I commented that Jack's truck wasn't there and said I hoped he wasn't sick. Jack is always at critique group, so I guess I should've known something was amiss.Inside the restaurant, I got welcoming hugs from our always-smiling server, Kim, and fantastic cook, Sharon, who came out of the kitchen to greet me. Stephanie, the owner of Rendezvous, also gave me a welcoming hug. I was brought to tears at their moving gestures. But it couldn't compare with what awaited me when I entered our meeting room.Kathleen, Linda, Pat, Lynn, Alice,Donna, Tricia, Sarah, Jane, and MarciaThe back room of the Rendezvous Café was decorated with pink balloons and gifts, and many were dressed in pink. (I wore blue). The cake with the light pink breast cancer logo was lovely -- and delicious.A little birdie later on told me Alice was the ringleader, with help from my sister Kathleen, who drove me to Rendezvous Café. And several others helped Alice plan the party.Kathleen, Pat, Kim, Alice,Donna, Jane, Tricia, and MarciaI shed tears of joy when I saw the women gathered there. Besides our usual critique group ladies (Alice, Pat, Jane, Sarah, and Marcia), Linda, Tricia, and Lynn were there! I was told the guys were banished for the day. ;)Others who couldn't come but sent gifts and/or cards were Berta, Sioux, Barbara, and Mary. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning opening the many thoughtful cards and presents. Words can't express the gratitude in my heart for the kind gestures, generous gifts, and works of encouragement and support my friends have shown me throughout my breast cancer journey.Without a doubt, I know that I'll get by with (more than) a little help from my friends! [...]

RIP - Rock In Peace, Chuck Berry


I was saddened, but not totally surprised, to hear the news that St. Louis legendary music icon Chuck Berry passed away on Saturday. Chuck Berrywas 90 when he died in St. Charles County, Missouri, the same county where I live—about fifteen miles from my home.It’s strange how the death of one person can trigger memories that have been packed away for decades. Although I never met Chuck Berry in person, his music and presence touched my soul and influenced my childhood. Just about everyone in my North St. Louis neighborhood of the 1950s and 1960s knew about Chuck Berry and his music, including my mom.Mom loved music, and she loved to dance. Her tastes ranged from the Country music of Johnny Cash, the soulful melodies of Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams, and the rock and roll of Elvis, Chubby Checker—and, of course, St. Louis songwriter and musical icon Chuck Berry.My dad was a germaphobe, so it wasn’t surprising that Mom was an immaculate housekeeper. Music was Mom’s constant companion every day when she cleaned our house—make that rented flat—because my folks never owned a house back then.  Once a week, to the sounds of whatever was playing the radio, Mom would wash and wax the floors. After the wax dried, she got out Dad’s old Army blanket and my siblings and I took turns riding the blanket like a sled as Mom pulled us around in her butts-on-the-blanket buffer. In our cozy 1950s kitchen, Mom kicked up her heels and taught my sisters and me how to dance her version of the Charleston and Jitterbug to Chuck Berry’s songs such as: “Maybellene,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and of course, “Rock and Roll Music.” So, rock in peace, Chuck Berry. Thank you for bringing your gift of music to the world and a little bit of soul to my family. Lastly, thank you for sparking this memory of dancing in the kitchen with my mom. [...]

Dave Barry on Writing, Editing, Publishing, and Judging the Erma Bombeck Contest


This past weekend I caught an in-depth interview with C-SPAN's Book TV, featuring Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Dave Barry, one of our nation's premiere humor writers. As usual, Dave was funny and entertaining, but he also offered some helpful advice about writing, editing, publishing, and judging. Listed below are some notes I jotted down to share.On Writing:* Little decisions make writing better, not the big stuff.* Don’t quit, even if you’re not gifted.* It’s a process that takes work and practice.* He likes writing books more than columns.* He writes every day, although maybe a couple days he won’t.On Research: * Wikipedia is a valuable, but highly inaccurate. Cheap and easy and fast and general.* To nail down a fact, confirm with some other site.On Editing: * Dave knows what’s funny* Depends on his respect for editor’s advice, generally doesn't do major rewrites.* As long as you’re laughing, He's OK. Does it work? Does it make people laugh?On Publishing:There are two ways to get published and reviewed. Self-publish  - he doesn't think is the way to go. Easy to do, pay money to do it, but almost impossible to get distributed and reviewed. Basically no quality control over content. Some may be successful, but not from his experience. Traditionally Way - Get an agent, might want rewrites, they get it to the publisher. If publisher decides they have a sales staff and promotional people and get a review. On Judging:Someone called into the show and mentioned he was going to judge the Erma Bombeck Contest, which got my attention because I know what a thrill it was for my essay to win that contest in 2012. Dave knew Erma. She was one of those funny writers and funny persons. Dave said he hates judging because he wants to be nice even if he doesn’t like it. In the end, it comes down to what he finds amusing. ~~You can watch Dave's complete interview by clicking here. [...]

When PC Language Creeps into Historical Fiction


When I heard the historical fiction novel Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders was about to be published, my sister and I hurried to the library and put our names on the reserve list.Lincoln in the Bardo is set during the American Civil War in 1862 at the time President Lincoln lost his beloved son Willie. According to historical accounts, after Willie's death, Lincoln visited his son's gravesite on several occasions and held his son's body in his arms. Any parent who has lost a child (no matter what the child's age) understands the deep and dark sorrow President Lincoln must've experienced, so I was curious how that was handled.  I was also interested in the historical aspect of the story.After the library called that the book was in, my sister and I picked up our copies. That was two days before my first chemo treatment, so I've been reading a few pages at a time when I'm feeling up to it.The structure of the novel is creative and unconventional. The story is told mostly in dialogue through the eyes of the ghosts and without quotation marks. The speaker attributions appear on the lines beneath the dialogue passages.Because of the novel's unusual structure, my sister told me she couldn't get into the story.  I suggested she try reading just the dialogue and narrative and ignore the attributions centered below. She tried, but last I heard she quit reading.Yesterday I came across a tweet that George Saunders has written an article "What Writers Really Do When They Write" in The Guardian, so I checked it out. In the article, Saunders discusses the mysterious process of writing. He writes about revising one's work, moving from the general to the specific--"revising up to the reader" and respecting the reader. As a writer, that's advice I can use. As a reader, that's what I expect from an author.Last night I picked up Lincoln In the Bardo again, determined to charge ahead so I can return the book by its due date (today). Since there is a waiting list at the library I can't renew the book. I guess I could keep it longer and pay a fine, but that wouldn't be fair to the other readers on the reserve list, so I'm determined to return the book today.Back to the novel: I was willing to suspend my disbelief that ghosts in a graveyard hold conversations. I even overlooked the unusual structure and lack of quotation marks.I made it as far as page 73, when I could no longer suspend my disbelief. Not because of the ghosts talking, but because of what one of them said. On page 73 my mind whipped from the story to the words on the page. I wondered if, in 1862, a man (a ghost actually) would use politically correct language that is commonplace today.The ghost in question uses the term "his or her choice." Somehow, "his or her" doesn't sound right to me for a novel set in 1862. Wouldn't a man in that era simply use the term "his choice" even if women were involved? So, here I am this morning, wanting to finish the novel because of the reasons stated above, but knowing that rather than getting lost in the story as a reader, I will be looking for more PC creep.Perhaps, after I return the novel, I'll try finishing it at a later date.Or maybe I'll just give up the ghost.[...]

Beating the Beast


(image) Some of my friends already know what's been going on with me lately, but for those who don't, I thought I'd post about why I'll be taking a break from blogging.

Last month I went in for a mammogram, and a few days later I got "the call." It was definitely not one I expected. No one in my family has ever had breast cancer, so I thought I was immune. Shows how wrong I was. Several additional tests confirmed the diagnosis.

Last week I had my first chemo treatment, and it threw me for a loop. I'm not going to go into all the details of my treatment plan, but I've quickly learned that Cancer and Chemo aren't for Sissies!

I've found peace and comfort from family and friends and church members who are providing physical and moral sustenance and praying for me every day.  I'm also encouraged by the kindness of strangers who are including me in their prayers. Every kindness and prayer I've received has been a grace-filled blessing.

Today was a rough day, but this evening I'm feeling strong enough to blog. I'm not posting this for pity so please don't feel like you have to leave a comment, but if you're inclined to prayer, that would be a welcome gift!

I hope to get back to writing and blogging from time to time when I'm feeling better and beat this beast!


The Changing Face of Libraries


My, how libraries have changed over the years! What used to be quiet places to check out books and read in silence, are now hubs for socialization and a variety of activities. My local St. Charles City-County Library (Spencer Road Branch) has something going on just about every day of the week. Knitting lessons, author talks, tax preparation classes, and healthy living seminars are a few events held on a regular basis. With a few clicks of a mouse, card holders can reserve the latest books, e-books, CDs, or DVDs or sign up for classes or events. At the Spencer Road Branch Library last fall my sister and I attended a breast cancer awareness dinner co-sponsored by the library and a local hospital. The event included medical professionals and inspiring talks from survivors. Vendors, handouts, and a light meal were also available. The following month we participated in an eight-week class for senior citizens on better balance co-sponsored by OASIS. We learned how to prevent falls, were shown how to safely preform exercises, provided healthy snacks, and were given workbooks to refer to after class completion. At the end of 2016, my sister, one of my critique group friends, and I attended a “Book Buzz” presentation by a library marketing representative from Penguin Random House. Not only did the library provide snacks, the publisher gave each attendee a cool tote bag that read "Can't I'm Booked." Inside each bag was a free book. My free book was a copy of Always by Sarah Jio, which is on my to-be-read list.During the slide show presentation, the publisher's representative highlighted books to be released in the fall of 2016 and winter of 2017. Along with displaying copies of dozens of book covers, he gave a description of each book. One element I was interested in hearing about was the print run of the books, which generally is an indication that a book  will be in high demand. After hearing about so many fascinating books, immediately after the presentation my sister and I hurried to the check-out counter to add our names on the reserve list for books that were especially appealing. Although libraries have changed from the time I received my first buff-colored library card when I was in grade school,  one thing has remained constant in my life, my love for libraries and books will never go out of style. [...]

Dixon Hearne on "Setting as Character"


I'm pleased today to have acclaimed author Dixon Hearne as my guest blogger to speak about "Setting as Character." His works have been published widely, with his most recent, Delta Flats, published by Amphorae Publishing Group.Photo courtesy of authorDixon Hearne (photo on left) is the author of three recent books: Delta Flats: Stories in the Key of Blues and Hope (nominee, 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award) and From Tickfaw to Shongaloo (Second-Place, 2014 William Faulkner Novella competition), both set in Louisiana, and Plainspeak: New and Collected Poems. His website is Setting as CharacterI discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it. ~William FaulknerBeginning writers are often told: “Write about what you know.” Consequently, many of their first writings center on where they live and the people in their orbit. Once they have the basic elements of fiction (plot, character, setting, theme, and style), they typically feel more comfortable trying their hand at various genres. Fiction offers particularly rich ground for cultivating possibilities. Setting alone presents unlimited opportunity for experimentation. More than Backdrop (physical, social milieu)Setting must be as well fleshed out as any other character, by the use of specific and telling details. It can't be selected on a whim, with no purpose in mind; but it must feed into the story   ~Elizabeth George Literature is replete with examples of places imbued with human qualities—beyond mere personification, symbolism, or metaphor. Consider, for example, the characterization of the moors in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights—a dark, brooding entity, ominous and ever-present, more than simply a literary device to set the tone of the story. Consider also Scarlett’s Tara, more than mere symbol of strength and security. It beckons, nourishes, influences. She views Tara as a living entity—revels and wallows in its splendor, its spell. It is friend, healer, guardian angel. Similarly, Anne Shirley imbues Green Gables with life and joy-giving. Examples of “setting as character” can be found in any number of novels and in noir films set in New York City, New Orleans, London, and other places alive with their own personas—where setting speaks to the reader/viewer, sets the tone/mood of the story, and exerts influence and control over characters and plot. Place is carefully developed into an unforgettable part of the story. Nowhere are examples more clear and abundant than gothic tales and horror movies set in haunted places, settings portrayed as living entities that act and react with other characters. Southern writers seem particularly adept at featuring setting as character in fiction—from Dorothy Allison (Carolina) to Tennessee Williams (New Orleans) to James Lee Burke (swamps) to Faulkner (Yoknapatawpha County). Contemporary “raw South” fiction typifies the impulse of many southern writers to interweave place with other characters in their stories. Authors like David Armand (southeast Louisiana, The Gorge), Daren Dean (rural Missouri, Far Beyond the Pale), and Skip Horack (Gulf South, The Southern Cross) create settings well beyond the dimensions of mere time and place. They bring place to life. Examples from my own writing: Many of my stories spring from a single image, a place in my head. I almost immediately step back and consider how place might affect my char[...]

May Your Soul Rest in Peace, William Peter Blatty


I was sad to hear the news that author and filmmaker William Peter Blatty died yesterday at the age of 89. His novel, The Exorcist, was one of the most frightening books I've ever read, and the movie of the same name gave me chills.  Note: While the setting for the novel The Exorcist was Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., according to many, the story was based on an actual exorcism performed in 1949 in St. Louis, Missouri.  Several years ago, when I wrote book reviews for, I was assigned to review Blatty's novel Dimiter. In my Bookreporter review I described Dimiter as "enigmatic, compelling, and beguiling. Part mystery and part spiritual thriller  . . . rich in detail and written with wisdom and grace."At the end of my review I mentioned a minor detail in the novel that puzzled me. I wasn't sure if I should even comment on it. After all Mr. Blatty was an award-winning writer who won an Academy Award. Who was I to point out a mistake? Yet, I felt an obligation to readers to be completely honest in my review. A few months later, I received an e-mail from someone whose address I didn't recognize. I scanned the e-mail quickly then started to delete it. But I paused and read it a few more times before realizing it was for real.The e-mail was from Mr. Blatty himself, who thanked me not only for my review, but also for pointing out his mistake, which, he wrote, had been missed by him and several editors but would be corrected on the next print run.Receiving his e-mail made me realize what a gracious and talented writer Mr. Blatty was. May your soul rest in peace, William Peter Blatty. You were not only a gifted writer, but also a humble and generous man whose work inspired many.[...]

A Special Feast Day: Epiphany and The Three Kings


Today, January 6, is the Feast of the Epiphany, also known in many countries as Three Kings Day. Growing up, my family celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany as the official last day of the Christmas season. January sixth was the day we took down our scrawny Christmas tree, removed the silver tinsel, swept up the pine needles, rolled up the daisy-chain garland, wrapped the dime-store ornaments andbubble lights in toilet paper, and stored everything in a few shoe boxes.Oh, my, how times have changed!This year I began removing ornaments a few days ago. It's been a slow process. We have so many ornaments and decorations. The most cherished are those hand painted by my children and grandchildren. Other special ornaments were given to me by my family and friends over the years -- several from the White House collection, some with an Irish theme, others with sayings about sisters and friends, many from our family's annual Thanksgiving Day ornament exchange and from my Bunco friends at our Christmas party ornament exchange.  Each ornament tells a story and brings back a memory. There's one ornament that tells a story I wrote about in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Gift of Christmas. The story was called "Unexpected Joy." The ornament featured in the story was given to my family on the Feast of the Epiphany a few years ago. But the story didn't start there. It started on the first Sunday of Advent when our doorbell rang one night and I found a wrapped package on the front porch. Inside was a gingerbread house, which my grandkids and I decorated. The next Sunday another gift arrived, then another for each Sunday in Advent. I called family and neighbors to find out who left the gifts. No one knew and no one confessed. I expected someone to reveal themselves on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but it wasn't until the Feast of the Epiphany that a family from our parish knocked on our door and handed us another gift.It was a burgundy colored velvet box. Inside was a hand-painted "Li Bien" ornament. A small circle inside the box explained the meaning of "Li Bien" which comes from the Chinese meaning "inside." The Li Bien ornament showcases the age old skill of inside painting, which originated in the Qing Dynasty. The ornament was hand-painted through a tiny opening in the mouth-blown glass. Each image is painted in reverse. The ornament inside was of the Nativity scene, complete with the Holy Family and the Three Kings.So, on this Feast of the Epiphany, or the Feast of the Three Kings, I fondly remember the year a family treated us to these special gifts, and the act of kindness and generosity they shared with us.[...]

Commit to Submit: Paid Submission Opportunity from Whispering Prairie Press


Photo courtesy of Whispering Prairie Press websiteOne of my writing goals for 2017 is to submit to a variety of publications.  I'm not sure if someone in the writing universe picked up on that vibe, but in the past few days I've received e-mails announcing some submission opportunities.The latest one is from Whispering Prairie Press, which is seeking submissions for their magazine, "Kansas City Voices."If you're like me, you have questions:  Do I have to live in Kansas, Kansas City, or Missouri to submit? No, you don't. What are the editors looking for? Prose, poetry, and art of all media.Does it cost to submit? Nope. Submissions are free, but there is a limit on how many works you can submit.Does this publication pay? Yes. According to their submission guidelines: "If your work is accepted for publication you will receive a small payment and one copy of the magazine.  All payments are made in U.S. Dollars."When is the deadline? Submissions are accepted until March 15.What's the word limit? Details, including word count and formatting, can be found on this submissions link.Those are the bare bones of the call out. Be sure to check out the website to find out the specific requirements, and good luck if you send something.Now, I have some questions: Have any of my visitors ever been published in "Kansas City Voices?" If so, how was your experience?Also, do you know of any markets open to submissions?[...]

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


(image) 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!(image)