The Missouri Writers’ Guild – Part 3

Finally, one of the most memorable experiences at the MWG conference – an experience that I have had for several years now – is watching the legions of volunteers who make it all come together.

These volunteers are all busy, successful people: publishers and writers, for the most part, people who would benefit from attending workshops or meeting with agents and editors. Instead, they choose to work the conference, helping attendees find their meeting rooms, shepherding speakers to and from the airport and around the hotel, setting up the webpage, and all the many other necessary tasks. Why do they do it? I think it’s because they recognize the importance of what they’re doing, and they have an instinctive desire to help others. The conference volunteers are a fantastic group.

Do yourself a favor, and do them a favor, by visiting their websites or blogs and checking out their books. I bet you’ll find some to your liking. Volunteers included Lisa Miller, conference chair, from Walrus Publishing of St. Louis; mystery writer Tricia Sanders; writer Deborah Schott, who managed our treasury; award-winning YA author Brian Katcher; publishers Kristy Makansi and Winnie Sullivan, who handled the bookstore; YA author Sarah Whitney Patsaros; St. Louis Writers’ Guild president Brad Cook; writer, editor, and reviewer Jan Cannon; MWG secretary, now treasurer, Donna Essner, who also serves as president of the Southeast Missouri Writers’ Guild; and a whole bunch of people who served as shepherds. I’m sorry that I didn’t jot down the names of all who served as shepherds, but I did spot authors Peter H. Green and T. W. Fendley.

Check out these links! You won’t regret it!


The Missouri Writers’ Guild – Part 2


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What does it take to be a writer? I think one of our speakers summed it up best last weekend: “You have to want to do it more than you want to do anything else.”

Writers are like artists of any sort: They go into it knowing that the odds of becoming rich or famous are long indeed. But they do it anyway, not because they imagine themselves immune to those odds, but because they feel compelled to express themselves.

Many of the attendees at the conference were unpublished or barely published. Yet they chose to spend time and money learning from experts and professionals, an admirable commitment to their craft. Some of them may never get published. Some of them may have found the spark, or the bit of advice, that will trigger success. But all of them made the effort.

In one conversation, some attendees chatted about the most annoying thing they heard about their efforts. Heads nodded all around when someone said, “It’s when somebody at a party says, ‘Oh, I’ve been meaning to write a book, too,’” as if the task is equivalent to cooking a nice meal or sorting one’s snapshots. It’s annoying but also motivating. Go ahead, flippant party-attender. Give it a try, and see if you don’t come out with greater respect for that unpublished author who has at least taken the time and expense to devote to the goal.

The Missouri Writers’ Guild – Part 1


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I’ve just returned from the annual meeting/conference of the Missouri Writers’ Guild, an organization I have had the privilege to serve as president for the last two years. I came away with several reflections that I will be sharing over the next few posts.

First, and most important from the personal perspective, I was reminded that all writers–all writers, I repeat–need to continually sharpen their craft. At the conference, we had beginning writers and authors with multiple books. But I think every one of us came away with something to remember. It’s easy to get stuck in a stylistic rut, or to grow insensitive to one’s weaknesses. A conference, with its wide variety of sessions and viewpoints, is a great way to pause and reexamine old habits. I was in a session this weekend with an insecure beginning writer who in the space of two minutes told us the most amazing and moving story, reminding  me that inspired thoughts can come from the most unexpected sources and that everyone deserves to be listened to.

I was reminded as well that writers, for the most part, are generous people with their time and thoughts. Throughout the conference, people gathered in hallways and side chairs, conversing and sharing. That’s where the real conference is taking place, as much as in the formal sessions and workshops.

It’s an ongoing, evolving art form, this act of writing, and a gathering of writers both humbles and refreshes. How much there is yet to know. How much there is yet to write.

More on the Riverways


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As reported by the River Hills Traveler, the Missouri Department of Conservation filed a comment with the National Park Service opposing its proposed changes in the Ozark National Scenic RiverwaysDraft General Management Plan. There were a number of odd things about this move.

First, the comment was filed on February 4, only three days before the closing date for comments on the plan. The timing of this comment suggests one of two things. Possibly, the Conservation Department was acting under instructions from the Conservation Commission to go on record opposing the plan in order to keep state politicians off their neck, but to do so in a way that would not call attention to the opposition and thus not pose a serious threat to its adoption. The Conservation Department and its voter-approved separate source of funding (which I talked about in an earlier post) are subject to periodic attacks by those who would like to bring it under more political control, or who are reflexively opposed to government in general. The result has been that the Conservation Commission usually displays a fanatical caution when treading in political territory. Hollering about the National Park Service is the current favorite sport of Missouri politicians. The House Budget Committee recently set aside $6 million in the state budget to operate the Riverways as a state park, just in case the federal government decides to return the Riverways to state control. So perhaps the Commission felt the political need to add its peep to the chorus.

The other possibility suggested by the timing is that the Department didn’t want to allow enough time for its objections to be considered fully. I doubt this, but suppose it’s possible. The department’s objections range from weak to potentially meaningful but not significant, and some discussion of them would be good. But now that the comment period has closed, all discussion is presumably after the fact. But what the heck, let’s do it anyway.

The Department has five objections (actually four, since #1 and #2 are two parts of the same thing). They are: 1. current regulations on unauthorized trails, access points, and uses of the park are not being enforced. We should set up a working group to resolve the access issue. 2. designating part of the Big Spring area as a “wilderness” would hamper fire control. 3. restricting parts of the river from motorboat usage would hamper wildlife monitoring and conservation enforcement. 4. you should let people hunt, fish, and trap basically everywhere in the Riverways. Point 1 is the “we don’t need new laws, we just need to enforce the ones on the books” argument. It’s one of those statements that is both true and beside the point. The whole idea of drafting a plan and having public hearings was to air ideas. If the Department had wanted to contribute its opinions it could have done so, rather than proposing a “working group that includes local community members, resource agencies, and other interest groups”–i.e., us and our allies. Point 2 should be considered, because nobody wants to hinder fire management efforts. But would the plan actually do so? No. The plan states,”Wildfires would be controlled as necessary to prevent loss of life, damage to property, the spread of wildfire to lands
outside wilderness, or unacceptable loss of wilderness values.” Point 3, as I understand it, seems to be that the department doesn’t want to have to get out of its big motorboats to do game law enforcement and wildlife research. Oh, come on. If the person catching over the limit has to be in a canoe, do you really need a motorboat to catch him? Couldn’t you just call ahead to the next downstream access point–or paddle faster? Point 4 is a general “we like to hunt and fish” statement that doesn’t address any of the specific provisions of the management plan.

The Conservation Department has a history of doing good work for the citizens of Missouri, and I’m always inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. But this “comment” is just weird. The fact that the department didn’t even bother to issue a statement or news release about its comments in opposition, and that the Traveler had to ask twice before getting a copy of the letter, makes me think that they would just like the whole discussion to go away.

Favorite Ozarks Places – 13


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Markham Springs

Markham Spring Lodge

(photo from US Forest Service)

Markham Springs is off Missouri 49 between Williamsville and Ellsinore (much closer to Williamsville). When I lived in Piedmont, long ago, I visited here occasionally. It has a beautiful mill pond, as you can see, with six different springs that feed around five million gallons of water into it each day. There’s another spring, a “bubble spring” with a constant flow of air bubbles, nearby.

When I visited the spring years ago, the house seen above was a vacant wreck. It had been built in the late ’30s and early ’40s, but when its owner sold the land to the Forest Service in the ’60s, the house was left empty and began to deteriorate. But in 2010, the Forest Service, recognizing the historic value of the house, entered into an agreement with a group of craftspeople. They restored the house at no cost to the government, and in return they get to use it for a vacation home. When they’re not using it, they rent it out.

I have very fond memories of walking the campground loops at Markham Springs. Its remoteness and its lack of developed facilities make it comparatively unfrequented, but it’s a beautiful location along the Black River. And any day I get to dip my feet in the Black River is by definition a good day.

Favorite Ozarks Books – 4


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Three Ozark Streams

This is undoubtedly one of my most prized possessions – an original edition of Ward A. Dorrance’s Three Ozark Streams from 1937, describing his floats on the Black, Jacks Fork, and Current rivers.

Ward Dorrance was an important literary figure in Missouri during the first half of the twentieth century. A collection of short stories that he co-wrote was the first book published by the University of Missouri Press. He was on the faculty at Missouri until, in a shameful display of 1950s bigotry, he was hounded off the faculty and out of the state because of his sexual orientation. You won’t see anything about this disgraceful episode in the “Mizzou” alumni publications, that’s for sure – they go in for the warm nostalgia of Tiger football and the Shack. But Ward A. Dorrance is the true Missouri treasure, and it’s a sad thing that his work has been so neglected over the years.




Juggalos in the Ozarks


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From the news today comes the report that the fans of the rock group Insane Clown Posse, collectively known as Juggalos, will be holding their annual Gathering at a campground near the Lake of the Ozarks. Prepare for the general wailing and gnashing of teeth, followed by promises of good behavior, followed by excitable media reports of wild behavior, devil worship, and who knows what else.

Fact is, the Ozarks have long been thought of as a convenient hideaway for anti-mainstream activity, from Jesse James on down to Schwagstock. As long as the miscreants don’t impinge too much on the lifetime locals, the usual tendency is to wring our hands, thunder from the pulpit a bit, sell the outsiders some supplies, and then wave goodbye. I wouldn’t expect much different this time. When I was a youngster, it was the Rainbow Family that supposedly collected somewhere in the national forest for a few summers, although I never actually saw any of the purported members. They were always in the next county over, or the next.

I don’t expect the Juggalos to have much trouble, or to be much trouble. I’ve met a couple, and they were harmless enough guys with painted faces. The campground they’ve chosen is conveniently across the Osage River from the main swing of things at the Lake, down a long county road. The address is Kaiser, but it’s really more like trans-Bagnell. Besides, the Lake has developed a history of toleration for drug-addled obnoxiousness, although the more common drug is alcohol. I’m sure all the Casey’s General Stores on Highway 54 will be stocking up on Faygo.

I hope this doesn’t sound too cynical, but it often feels like the prevailing attitude is “Come, leave your money, and go. We’ll smile at your face and talk when your back is turned. Have your fun, but remember, we always lie to strangers.”



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I have completed all but a few minor edits for the next book, the contract is all signed, and we are kicking around cover ideas. And yes, after more than a year I’m getting excited to see it come out.

The title of Book #2 is This Old World, a phrase that I borrowed from a song I grew up with:

This old world is full of sorrow, full of sickness, weak and sore –

If you love your neighbor truly, love will come to you the more.

The tune of this hymn, as I learned it anyway, is an old shape-note song that goes by the name of “Restoration,” which has had any number of verses put to it. I thought the song captured many of the themes I am trying to work into this book, not to mention the fact that the tune is haunting, and I wouldn’t mind if it stuck with readers for months!

The novel is indeed a sequel to the Slant of Light, but at the same time I was in a different mental place when I wrote it, and I think it will hit people differently. I’m working on the third book of the series now, and it too is very different. The thing about reading sequels (and I’m as prone to this as anyone) is that people approach them with the same expectation that they had with the previous book–and usually in the case of genre novels, this is a reasonable expectation. But in my case, I’m hoping that readers of the series will follow me through a set of books with widely varying themes, tones, and styles. Let’s hope that people don’t let sequel-expectations get in the way of an open experience of the new book.


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