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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

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?


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.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Some Items of Interest

Doyle overcame technical difficulties during his talk at Troy-Buchanan High School about being a writer. He highly recommends writers sign up for next year's event.

Jack answered questions from second graders at St. Peter school about writing, being a Navy pilot -- and why submarines don't have windows.

Donna gave a talk about the process of revision to members of the Columbia Chapter of MWG last Sunday.

Alice's laptop was DOA at the Best Buy "Trauma Center," and a replacement is on the way. She also has a new phone to replace the one she borrowed from her grandson.

Donna, Sarah, Jane, Bill (the Elder) and Alice have submitted true stories to the Reader's Digest 100-word story contest.

The Elder Bill's 100-word story is about not having a birthday party -- so we surprised him with one of our own!

Bill S. signed a contract for his series of short stories.

Claudia has a book coming out soon.

Marcia sent a reminder that the deadline for the MWG contests has been extended until March 15.

Margo Dill has a post about the release of her new book, Caught Between Two Curses, over on the Lit Ladies Blog.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Announcement: Meeting Change

Tomorrow we will meet in the Wine Room, rather than the banquet room, of Rendezvous.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hot off the Press: Coffee and Critique Anthology is Ready!

Hot off the Press! (I've always wanted to say that).

Lou Turner called this morning with the exciting news that the Coffee and Critique anthology will be finished today and will be available for pick up tomorrow at the Rendezvous Café.

Lou will be there at 10 a.m. to distribute contributor copies. 

Additional copies will be available for sale at a discount for contributors.

In addition to the wonderful stories and essays, the anthology includes photos and "Take Ten" interviews with several members, including the late Nick Nixon.

Bring your Sharpies so you can sign copies.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Cover Reveal: Coffee & Critique Anthology

Here's a sneak peek at the front and back covers of the soon-to-be published Coffee & Critique anthology.

This first issue of the anthology includes short stories, essays, and interviews from more than a dozen writers, all associated with the Coffee & Critique group that meets each week at the Rendezvous Café in O'Fallon.

Check back for details about the book's official release date.