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Monday, July 21, 2014

Coffee and Critique Book Swap

Several months ago a few members suggested that we have an organized C&C book swap as a way to give us a chance to read and enjoy each other's published works and support our members without breaking the bank.


So . . . if you have written a book or have a story in an anthology and would like to participate in the book exchange, feel free to bring your books with you tomorrow, Jul 22, or next Tuesday, Jul 29.


We will do the swap around noon, or earlier if we finish critiques quickly.


Participation is strictly voluntary.


If you'd rather not exchange your books, that's fine. I totally understand the need to make a living at writing.


If you aren't able to attend on either of those days, don't fret. We will have another swap in a few months. In fact, if there's still interest in doing the exchange, we'll try to do them quarterly.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Take Ten with Stan Wilson - Inventor, Grant Writer, and Entrepreneur

Stan Wilson has belonged to Coffee and Critique for several years. Many of his stories are set in southern Indiana, but others occur in out-of-this-world locations. Members of Coffee and Critique especially enjoy Stan's stories with strong science fiction elements, about which, he tell us, "the science part is true." He contributed two stories to the Coffee and Critique Anthology: "Whiskers and Whispers" and "Do-It-Yourself Fishing."
Stan grew up in humid southern Indiana, the land of beautiful hardwood forests, limestone cliffs with bubbling creeks and thousands of caves with hidden rivers and buried caches of gold or secret hordes of confederate treasures so some say. In college, he studied physics, electronics and engineering leading to a career as an entrepreneur, inventor and design engineer, often as the manager of the manufacturing firm producing his designs.

Married, with two grown sons, he enjoys writing for fun along with his many hobbies which include amateur radio, MG cars, model boats and airplanes.
Here are Stan's answers to the take ten questions:

1. What or who inspired you to become a writer?

 I really have no idea. I have written technical articles for DIY newsletters for years.

 2. What is your writing specialty?

Non-fiction grant and proposal writing -- developing creative solutions to complex design problems.  This is a total reversal from writing fiction.  A money-winning grant is written in first person and present tense. I take great pride in that over the years my grants and proposals have resulted in employment for several hundred people including myself.  

3. How would you describe your writing process?

My stories are always visible in my mind before putting them on paper. The same is true when I am designing a product. The story difficulty occurs in putting them on paper. The designed products sometimes lose my interest because they are already ‘real’ in my mind.

I spend a portion of ever day either in my writing attempts or inventing. Writing is more difficult.

Others might consider both are my hobbies.

 4. What is the best part of being a writer? The worst part?

The best part for me is seeing and feeling my characters come alive on the page.

The worst part about writing is I’ve had to learn enough English to convey my story to others.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?  The worst?

The best advice came from Nick Nixon who told me to listen for the story’s beat and to make it happen.
The worst advice, psychological, was from those who have told me I am wasting my time. But writing to me is like my dad’s fishing. Dad always said one didn’t have to catch fish to enjoy fishing. I don’t have to write a novel which will become a famous movie; I only need to enjoy the conversations with my characters as I tell about them on the paper. 
6. Which books on writing you can recommend for other writers?

In my case they are English manuals, both available in the used books on Amazon.com for about a dollar.

William Strunk and  E.B. White “The Elements of Style”

“Plain English Handbook”  by J. Martyn Walsh and Anna Kathleen Walsh.

 7. How has belonging to Coffee and Critique benefitted you?

Critiques are tough; however, they do improve one’s stories. At least I now know the difference between adverbs and adjectives. I still get my subjects and objects reversed and I hate writing in past tense.

On the social side, I have met many interesting and nice people via the C&C.

The fastest two hours of the week are those spent attending the critique.

8. If you’ve been published or have won awards, which are the most special to you?
 Five of my stories have been published in anthologies.

It is a toss-up on which of them, I like the best. “Bloody Good Da’ For a Picnic” was pure fiction, and I still feel the emotion when I read it, which I felt when I wrote it. The other one is a true story. “Tomorrow at Five” was fun to live and fun to write about.

9. What three words best describe you?
 Imaginative (I always think outside the box), have a sense of humor, and stubborn.

10. What are you working on now, and/or what is your writing dream?

I am cleaning up many of the stories I have written over the past four years. My goal is to get them to an editor by the end of this year and self publish.

Bonus question: If you could interview one or two famous writers or historic figures living or deceased, who would they be and what would you ask them?

I would love to have a conversation with author, Jules Verne from the 19th century. He was at least two hundred years ahead of others in his view of what the engineering world would become in the future.

It would be a thrill to talk to, Dr. Nikola Tesla, the world’s greatest inventor for even an hour. He invented our power grid with allows us to light up the world.  He invented the electric motor and generator. He even had a remote control boat before wireless or radio existed.

I often wonder, if men like them were actually time travelers.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to add?

I believe to become a great writer one has to be driven at a young age to learn the skills required which are many.

Thanks, Stan, for your insight into your writing process and thoughts on writing and life.




Thursday, May 29, 2014

William A Spradley's Book Signing at Rendezvous Cafe

This Saturday afternoon (May 31), William A. (Bill the Younger) Spradley will be signing copies of his recently released collection of short stories titled Interludes and Lunch at the Rendezvous Cafe in O'Fallon.

Although he looks serious in his author's photo on the left (courtesy of the Rendezvous Cafe website) Bill is a funny man with a hearty laugh who always manages to bring smiles to the faces of everyone in the group.

Bill has belonged to Coffee and Critique writers' group (which meets at the Rendezvous Cafe on Tuesday mornings) for a couple years and has two stories in the Coffee and Critique Anthology, which was published in 2013.

Bill has read many of the stories in his Interludes and Lunch collection during our weekly critique group meetings, and the guys are particularly fond of them. In fact, one of the guys told Bill that he was his hero.

Although some of the women in the group joke about Bill's "a guy walks into a bar in a foreign country and meets a younger woman" stories, we all recognize Bill's vivid descriptions, ear for dialogue, and eye for detail.

His signing will take place on Saturday, May 31, from 1-4 p.m. at the Rendezvous Cafe on Main Street in O'Fallon, Missouri. 

Bill is especially proud of the fact that his daughter designed the cover art for his short story collection. Note: thanks to Rendezvous website for the jpeg of the cover and author head shot.





Friday, May 2, 2014

Take Ten with John "Jack" Zerr - Pilot, Poet, and Published Author

Jack has been a most welcome addition to Coffee and Critique for several years now. He brings his wisdom, wit, and vast military experience to the table. Everyone in the group appreciates his writing talent, big-picture critiques, willingness to learn, and his humility. 

Most of all we appreciate the sacrifices he has made on behalf of our country. That's why we make it a point to tell him, "Thank you for your service!"

Here is Jack's bio:

John Zerr, US Navy rear admiral (Retired). US Navy pilot, and Vietnam veteran. 320 combat missions flying the A-4 Skyhawk. During his thirty-six year career, he accumulated 1017 carrier landings. Most memorable Navy assignment: commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV-64).

After leaving the service, he worked for a major aerospace company for eleven years.

Author of poems, short stories, and three novels: The Ensign Locker, Sundown Town Duty Station, and Noble Deeds. He and his wife, Karen, live in St. Charles MO.

Web site: www.authorjjzerr.com

Here are Jack's answers to the Take Ten Interview Questions:

1. What or who inspired you to become a writer?

I had a high school English/Lit teacher, Sister Matthews. On my mid-semester report card, junior year, she gave me an “F.” I went to her and said that I should have gotten a “C.” “No,” Sister said, “you should have gotten an ‘A.’ For the semester you will either get an ‘A’ or another ‘F.’”

One of her requirements was writing five pieces ranging from science to fantasy. I got a “B” and a hankering to write things from Sister. 

2. What is your writing specialty?

Fiction.

3 How would you describe your writing process?

On longer work, I outline. I have self-published three novels, and my outlining process, I tell myself, has matured from book one to number three. I will say, with the outline of the first novel, the only part of the outline that stayed the same from project launch to completion was the ending. I revised the outline a number of times when the writing process disclosed narrative strings that refused to weave together. I must have tried one hundred beginnings on the first one before I finally settled on one to go with. I have been writing seriously for six years now, and I think I have developed an ability to envision story structure for shorter pieces without a formal outline. Bottom line, my process is to plot the story before starting to write.

4. What is the best part of being a writer? The worst part?

The best part is getting an idea for a story. The worst, the absolute, totally sucks, part is finishing a book-length work. I get wrapped up in the characters, the problems they face, and I hate to let them go. It feels like a funeral.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?  The worst?

I’ve said this before, but in my first year with C&C, Lou said, “Your story is just a stupid men-drinking-in-a-bar story. I’m just not interested.” Which prompted me to revisit the question, “Whom are you writing for?” Which I hadn’t really answered properly for myself. It was frank, to the point, and majorly true.

I don’t consider any advice I’ve gotten bad. Some I don’t agree with, but I always think about every input I get. Even advice I totally agree with, I try to find other thoughts that spin off the original input. Good writing is harder than work, at least any work I’ve done before. My brain is majorly limited, so I am happy for every bit of critique that comes my way.

6. Which books on writing you can recommend for other writers?

I don’t have books on writing to recommend, but I do have a couple of books that I think are worthwhile to read for learning about writing. Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter, and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. I recommend reading them more than once.

7. How has belonging to Coffee and Critique benefitted you?

Coffee and Critique has been the world to me as a writer. Submit five pages to our group, and by the time the piece circles the table, it will be better, I don’t care how good it is at the start.

8. If you’ve been published or have won awards, which are the most special to you?

I published my third novel, Noble Deeds, in November, 2013. It is set on an aircraft carrier.

I had a poem published in Writer’s Digest 7th annual poetry competition. My input was chosen as number 10 out of 2000 + entries. That was cool.

9. What three words best describe you?

Lucky, blessed, short.

10. What are you working on now, and/or what is your writing dream? 

I am working on collection of short pieces, some of which, in my mind at least, are funny. Plus I am getting close to finishing a first draft of a fourth novel, a piece of historical fiction set on an aircraft carrier in 1971 deployed to Vietnam.

Bonus question: If you could interview one or two famous writers or historic figures living or deceased, who would they be and what would you ask them?

What I wish is that I could have been at the Sermon on the Mount. I would have liked to hear the words (in English, please). My mouth would probably have been hanging open. It wouldn’t have been able to ask a question.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to add?

I have a website at www.authorjjzerr.com


And yes, ma’am, thanks.

Thanks for your candid and insightful interview, Jack.

Note: You can listen to Jack talk about his inspiration for Noble Deeds on YouTube



Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Take Ten Interview with Pat Wahler

Next up is Pat Wahler, one of Coffee and Critique's original members. Pat attended C&C sessions when the group met in the evenings at Barnes and Noble. Because of the change to daytime meetings only and Pat's work schedule, she is unable to attend C&C regularly, but she still attends when her schedule permits, and she supports the group with her writing. 

Her humorous essay, "High Maintenance Woman," appears in the first Coffee and Critique Anthology.

Pat is a grant writer by day and writer of fiction and essays by night. Her work appears in many publications including the series anthologies Cup of Comfort, Not Your Mother's Book, and Chicken Soup. Pat, a life-long animal lover, ponders critters, writing, and life's little mysteries at http://www.critteralley.blogspot.com/

Here are Pat's answers to the "Take Ten" interview questions: 

1. What or who inspired you to become a writer?

I think anyone who is an avid reader dreams about the possibility of writing. My early efforts consisted of composing 10 page letters to friends and family. Then one day I sent an anecdote to the Reader's Digest "All in a Day's Work" feature. I couldn't have been more shocked when they mailed me a check for $300 along with a bumper sticker that read: I found money, fame, and glory. Reader's Digest bought my story!
H'mmm. Maybe I really can write. 

2. What is your writing specialty?

Fiction is fabulous. I love the freedom of creating a character and taking him/her on a journey of my own choosing. However, I write more personal essays than anything else. Essays are tougher because you must work with a specific situation, peel back the layers to examine them, and then figure out what it all meant. It's kind of like being your own analyst.

3. How would you describe your writing process?

I need structure. I start with a general outline and jot ideas as they come to me. The outline helps keep me on track, although I've been known to stray if the story leads me in another direction.

4. What is the best part of being a writer? The worst part?

There's an old Peanuts cartoon of Snoopy typing away on a story while thinking: It's exciting when you've written something that you know is good! That about sums up the best part. Of course, having a piece accepted for publication isn't too shabby, either.

The worst part is the amount of self-discipline it takes to be a writer. Self-discipline is not one of my strongest qualities.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?  The worst?

The whole NaNoWriMo experience taught me there's no such thing as writer's block. Just sit down and start typing. Once you do that, the words will come like crazy, and they don't need to be perfect. You can edit that lousy first draft later. 

I can't say anyone has ever given me bad advice about writing. I may not always agree with everything I hear, but that doesn't mean there isn't value to be found in the opinion of others.

6. Which books on writing you can recommend for other writers?

I love reading books about writing. A few of the many I've found helpful are:

Bird by Bird -Anne Lamott
Getting the Words Right - Theodore A. Rees Cheney
Between the Lines - Jessica Page Morrell
Naked, Drunk, and Writing - Adair Lara

7. How has belonging to Coffee and Critique benefited you?

I started with C&C at the beginning, when we met in the evening. It was my first experience with a critique group and I worried my manuscript would be torn to shreds by people with much more experience than me. But I soon learned that C&C members were talented, generous, and helpful. Fresh eyes saw things I hadn't noticed and the suggestions definitely strengthened my writing.

When C&C started meeting in the mornings, a few of us tried to keep the evening sessions going. Unfortunately we didn't have enough people to make that happen. But when retirement comes my way, I plan to be back!

8. If you’ve been published or have won awards, which are the most special to you?

Writing is a lonely pursuit, so anything that validates what I do is special to me.

For example, the first time one of my essays was selected for a national publication, Cup of Comfort for Cat Lovers, I couldn't have been more excited. I got to sign my first contract and received a nice check for the story. Sheer bliss!

9. What three words best describe you?

Determined
Resilient
Empathetic

10. What are you working on now, and/or what is your writing dream? 

I have three very rough manuscripts produced from prior NaNoWriMo years. I'd like to begin doing something with them. One manuscript particularly calls me. It's an historical fiction piece told from the POV of a famous outlaw's wife.

Bonus question: If you could interview one or two famous writers or historic figures living or deceased, who would they be and what would you ask them?

My hands down favorite novelist is Harper Lee. Her writing is vivid, poignant, and true. If a writer only produces one novel in a lifetime,  let it be one like To Kill a Mockingbird.  I want to learn how to do that.

My favorite essayist is Anne Lamott. It would be a wonderful experience to find out how she can turn an everyday experience into a lyrical one.  

Finally, is there anything you’d like to add?

I really had to think hard about some of these questions. Thanks for the opportunity, Donna!


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Take Ten Interview with Coffee and Critique Co-founder, Donna Volkenannt


Continuing with the Take Ten interviews, next up is Coffee and Critique co-founder, Donna Volkenannt. 


Donna is a writer, an editor, and a creative writing teacher whose stories, essays, reviews, and interviews have been published in hundreds of print and online publications. 

Her work has been recognized with more than 100 awards. She recently received notice that her true story "Remembering Miss Tobin" was a top ten finalist in the 2014 Erma Bombeck Global Human Interest writing competition category. In 2012, her true story "Honey, Can I Borrow Your Garter Belt?" won first place in the Erma Bombeck Global Humor writing competition category. 


Here are her take-ten questions and answers, which also appear in the recently published Coffee and Critique anthology:


1. What (or who) inspired you to become a writer?

My parents and the nuns who taught me in school.

I grew up the middle child of seven, surrounded by storytellers. Mom’s family were Baptists, originally from the Little Dixie area in and around Hannibal, Missouri. When we got together with her “relations,” the women swapped gossip, shared recipes for things like calves’ brains, and talked about their superstitions, especially when one of them had a dream of muddy water – a sure sign someone was about to get sick or die. Dad grew up in North St. Louis, in a large Irish-Catholic family. He served in the Army infantry during World War II. When we got together with his brothers, they drank a lot of beer, told stories about their wild childhood, argued about who saw the most time in combat, and whose first name was the most Irish. Those family memories have been fodder for my stories and essays. As a child I loved to read, and the nuns who taught me encouraged me to write.

2. What is your writing specialty? 

Good question. I write where my ideas take me and like to experiment with different genres.

3. How would you describe your writing process?  

I jot down ideas, snatches of conversations, titles, outlines, and such in a notebook or on scraps of paper. I believe there is a connection between the physical act of using a pen and writing on paper. When I begin to write a first draft I consult my notes as I type on my laptop, but the words seem to flow because I’ve already connected physically with my story or essay. Usually, I write several drafts then let my manuscript sit for some time before bringing it in for critique.

4. What is the best part of being a writer?  What is the worst part of being a writer? 

The best part is when I’m in the “zone.” It’s an almost spiritual experience when the words flow from somewhere deep inside. It’s magical when I write something then wonder, “Where did that come from?”

The worst part is not having time to write and losing focus.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received? 

Two memorable pieces of advice given to me from other writers come to mind.

The first occurred several years ago during one of my first work-in-progress readings. When I finished, I apologized for my work not being well written. Afterwards, an older gentleman said that he liked my story and encouraged me to keep writing. He told me, “Don’t hide your lamp under a basket.”

The second came from the late Nick Nixon during a critique group session. After I read a personal essay, Nick told me to put more emotion into my work and to not hold back. He wrote on top of my essay, “Take your gloves off.” When I got home I misread what he had written as “Take your clothes off.” His advice was inspiring and turned out to be humorous as well.

The worst?

“You need to change –  ” which messes with my writing voice. Equally harmful is when someone else tries to impose his or her sensibilities on my work. I’ve learned to ignore remarks suggesting I “need to change” parts of my stories or essays because they are too religious or too Catholic.  Just like a writer’s unique voice, a writer’s personal beliefs should be respected and left alone.

6. Which books on writing can you recommend for other writers?

My shelves overflow with books on the craft of writing. The fundamentals are: Elements of Style by Strunk and White, On Writing Well by William Kinser, On Writing by Stephen King, and Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd. I also have a large stack of college-level literature textbooks which contain short stories and essays from esteemed writers. Finally, I recommend reading books in the genre in which one wishes to write.

7. How has belonging to Coffee and Critique affected you as a writer?

Meeting once a week keeps me focused and energized. There’s no feeling like being around other writers to spark my creativity. I also have made several writer friends whose wisdom and encouragement are golden. No matter how much I revise and polish my manuscript, it is always made better after bringing it in for critique. The writers in Coffee and Critique are worth their weight in gold -- and ink!

8. If you’ve been published or have won awards, which are the most special to you?

The most special are two true stories about my late children. “Julie’s Gift” in A Cup of Comfort for Women is about the lesson of selfless giving I learned from my late daughter Julie while we were living in Germany. The second, “Santa Wore Cowboy Boots” in A Cup of Comfort for Christmas, is a true story about a lesson my late son Erik taught me about the real meaning of Christmas when we were living in Arizona. 

9. What three words best describe you?

Never stopped believing.

10. What is your writing dream? 

To finish the projects I’ve already started and continue coming up with ideas for more.

Bonus question: If you could interview one or two famous writers or historic figures living or deceased, who would they be and what would you ask them?


I’d interview Missouri writers Mark Twain and Kate Chopin. 

I’d ask Mark Twain what it was like to live in Missouri at the time of the Civil War. I’d also ask if he knew any of my maternal great-grandparents, who lived in Hannibal the same time he did.

I’d ask Kate Chopin how writing helped her overcome her grief after the loss of loved ones, and what it was like living in St. Louis during the 1904 World’s Fair.

Find more about Donna on Donna's Book Pub, where she blogs about writing, publishing, books, and the sweet mysteries of life.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

High Hill Press Wins a Spur from Western Writers of America

Coffee and Critique co-founder Lou Turner is kicking up her red cowboy boots and shouting, "Yee Haw!"

Lou found out yesterday that she will be among those receiving Spur awards from the Western Writers of America at their awards ceremony in Sacramento, California, this coming June.

As publisher of High Hill Press and editor of Cactus Country III, Lou will receive a Spur because the short story "Cabin Fever," written by Brett Cogburn and appearing in Cactus Country III, won a Spur in the Best Short Fiction category.

Another work published by High Hill Press, McKendree Long's short story "Chouteau's Cross," was a finalist in the same category.

Congratulations to High Hill Press publishers Lou and Bryan Turner for their commitment to publishing stories and books in the Western genre and for their tireless dedication in championing Western writers.