Speaking Events!

I’ve got a busy speaking schedule this fall and am really looking forward to connecting with people in a variety of settings. Here’s what I’m up to. If you’re in the vicinity, please come out and say hello!

August 19-21, “The Art and Craft of the Sequel,” at the Historical Writers of America conference in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.

September 13. “Rags and Meat and Hide and Hair: Violence in the Ozarks Master Narrative,” Ozarks Celebration Festival Lecture Series, Missouri State University, Springfield, Mo.

September 23-24, Ozarks Cultural Symposium, West Plains, Missouri.

October 22, Keynote speaker for the Festival of Painted Leaves, Bonniebrook Gallery, Home, and Museum, Branson, Missouri.

Our Ozarks


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Our Ozarks Cover

A new magazine is making a go at the Ozarks niche. It’s called Our Ozarks, and it’s published out of Ozark, Mo. So the name is propitious, anyway.

I’ve subscribed and will be interested in seeing how it makes its way through the shakedown months. So far, the photography looks good, but I think it’s still finding its way in the articles. Those who remember the Ozarks Mountaineer‘s long history will recall that it, too, tended toward very uneven articles . . . some terrific, some cliched. W. K. McNeil’s music history column was impeccable, and often the best thing in the magazine. The quality declined after Clay Anderson died in 2003, and eventually the Mountaineer succumbed. Larry Dablemont picked up the torch for a while with Journal of the Ozarks, which went its way in March of this year. It’s been followed by a magazine called Ozark Hills and Hollows, from Exeter, Mo., which now has several issues out. Haven’t gotten my hands on a copy yet, but from what I can tell, their photography looks very good. I looked at a copy online, and I was impressed by its range and by the professionalism of the design.


Both publications look great on the web. As my friends Emery Styron and Jo Schaper, formerly of River Hills Travelercan testify, publishing a magazine is a constant grind, and someone who enters into it had better love their subject matter. (RHT is published from Neosho, Mo., now.) Advertising is the great challenge for small-circulation magazines, and I wish all three of these publications well. All three of them have Facebook pages, listed below.


Ozark Hills and Hollows Facebook Page

Our Ozarks Facebook Page

River Hills Traveler Facebook Page



Living with Loss


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A while back I shared a guest post from Dean Robertson about “home” – her recollections of her childhood home, leaving it, and returning years later. Since then that meditation has returned to me on occasion as I work on my next book.

The third book that I have set in the same river valley takes place about twenty years after This Old World‘s end. Some of the characters are still there, some are gone, and new ones have arrived. I’ve been thinking about the complicated emotions we experience when we see a place – our place – occupied by someone else.

Whenever I travel to Quincy, I like to drive by our old house on North 22nd Street, the house my daughter grew up in. For a while it was an unpleasant experience, as the house fell into disrepair (seeing its occupant appear in the police report was the low point). But now it has a new owner, bright shutters, newly planted flowers. So the drive-by is a cheerful one once again.

Still, it’s not my house any more. And even the most dutiful of owners is not me. So even positive change involves loss.

These thoughts were prompted today by the folks over at Damming the Osage, who posted a poem written by a gentleman not of my acquaintance, Rod Cameron of Raytown, Mo. It’s a lovely poem, followed by a reminiscence, of himself and his neighbors losing their land to the building of a reservoir. It’s a darn fine poem. Take a read.

What can we do with loss? Loss is built into our existence. Some losses are inevitable, but others (like the loss in the poem) are not, and we fight like devils to prevent them. In G.B. Shaw’s Major Barbara, a character says, “You have learnt something. That always feels at first as if you have lost something.” Perhaps that aphorism can be reversed as well. When we lose something, we owe it to ourselves to learn from it – or at least to make it into a poem worth reading.

And so I return to the last few chapters of my novel-in-progress, thinking about my characters and their losses and their learning.

Close to Home


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Slave salebill

I belong to a Facebook group that shares thoughts about local history in and around Fredericktown, Missouri, the small town that figures in the setting of my novels. Most of the posts to this group are of the “who remembers that quaint cafe on the corner?” or “does anyone recognize the man in this photo?” variety, but yesterday, one of the members posted this sobering reminder that the little town we bathe in nostalgia also participated, like the rest of the slaveholding part of the country, in the great evil that tore the country apart. It’s disquieting to remember, yet with only the slightest effort, such reminders are all around. A recent moment’s idle curiosity into the origins of some old-time songs led to some intense discomfort at the astonishingly racist lyrics of turn-of-the-century popular songs. And I recall a time, some years ago, when I was editing a manuscript of the journals of an early citizen of the Arcadia Valley, reading with horror his childhood account of a lynching on the railroad bridge over Stouts Creek. The horror was particularized because this was a bridge I had idly viewed from my car window hundreds of times.

The task for anyone interested in history is to see it whole, not just the parts that reflect well upon our forbears. I’m reminded of that whenever I give a talk about Missouri during the Civil War, because just about nobody of that era comes out well in the moral light of the present day. People will tell me with an element of pride, “My family never owned slaves” or “My family owned slaves, but treated them well” as though those conditions made them exemplary. Let’s face it, owning a human being pretty much rules out the “treated well” claim, and the overwhelming majority of Missourians didn’t object to the practice of slavery, whether they owned slaves or not. Apart from a handful of abolitionists, and the slave families themselves, most Missourians accepted the practice either explicitly or implicitly, with even those who were against slavery holding only the vague hope that it would wither away somehow in the future.

What does this tell us? Not that our ancestors were evil, necessarily. But that they were flawed, and that they countenanced evil things…..just like us.

A Hundred Years of Parks, More or Less


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The National Park Service was established in 1916, a hundred years ago, and the Missouri State Park system has jumped on the bandwagon to celebrate as well. It was actually sort-of created in 1917 as part of the state fish and game commission, but the first actual park wasn’t created until 1924.

But who’s counting? It’s always a good year to celebrate our state park system, round numbers or not, and the parks department is doing so by offering prizes for people who get a “passport” and have it stamped at their locations. Will I get my passport stamped at all 88 locations by the end of October 2017 and thus be eligible for the best prizes? Probably not, but what the heck, it’s only five bucks and a fun challenge to take on.

The Missouri Legislature has not earned much of a reputation for intellect lately, with various harebrained proposals that just keep coming. But many are mere posturing for political reasons. What really troubles me lately, though, are the short-sighted attempts to interfere with the state park system and the Conservation Department, including efforts to prevent the purchase of land along the Current and Eleven Point rivers. Thankfully, the Current River park has made it through, but there are still efforts going on to derail the Eleven Point purchase. The opportunity to put this kind of land into public use comes very rarely, and once lost may not be regained for generations. I understand the concern of local officeholders about the loss of property tax revenue, but that’s a problem that can be solved. Most ironic is the argument that “we don’t have enough money to maintain the parks we currently have, much less additional ones.” And whose fault is that? The same kill-the-government legislators, of course!

If we want to see our state park system enter its second century with a positive outlook, we need to insulate its operations from political intrusions and see that it gets proper funding. Our park system is the envy of most other states and should be kept that way.

Parallel Universes


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I’m not learned enough in the sciences to genuinely understand the concept of “parallel universes” as put forth in theoretical physics, but I read enough in the popular scientific media to appreciate it. It occurs to me that we all live in parallel universes.

Let me call them the “chronoverse” and the “neuroverse.” The chronoverse is the world of brute reality, of time and space as we ordinarily experience them. Time moves on. We age. We live in one place, and then another. And then we die and are gone.

But the neuroverse is the universe created by the firing of our synapses and the electrochemical processes of our brains (thus the “neuro”). The neuroverse is the world of imagination and desire, memory and possibility, the hypothetical and the fantastic. In the neuroverse, I live here in Columbia, but I also live in Quincy, and in my childhood homes. In the neuroverse, I am a child and also a great-grandfather. My parents are living, and my grandparents and great-grandparents, and all my ancestors and descendants, because as I think of them, they are created in those neurochemical sparks.

The chronoverse is unforgiving and linear. The neuroverse is plastic and pluripotential. In the chronoverse, I know who I am and what I’m capable of, but in the neuroverse, these questions are always open, a prospect that is both exciting and scary.

It’s tempting to say that the one is “real” and the other is not, but what is real? What I perceive through the ordinary senses comes to me through neurological filters as well, and is similarly edited before I experience it as normal. Practicality and experience keep me in the chronoverse most of the time, functioning like a regular person. The longing for other lives, for realities beyond what is currently within my grasp, draws me to the neuroverse again and again.

As a fiction writer,  I spend a lot of time in my neuroverse. I have lived in the 19th Century for many years now and feel quite at home there. But I think all of us live in our neuroverses a lot. We dream, we fear, we imagine, we remember, we project. All of these states create alternate universes for us to visit, some desirable, some not. Whenever I am creating a scene in a novel, or thinking of a loved one who is not physically present, I am there in my neuroverse just as much as if I were there in “real life.” It’s just happening in a universe that others cannot perceive.

April in Missouri -for the Literary-Minded


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There are lots of literary events going on in Missouri next month, some of which I’m involved with, some not. If you enjoy reading or writing, climb in the car and take a spring road trip!

First, there’s the Afternoon of Authors with Blank Slate Press event April 2, from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Central Library in downtown St. Louis. I’ll be joining two other BSP authors to talk about writing and to read from our work. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll read from my most recently published book, This Old World, or from my work-in-progress, which I’m getting close to completing. I’m also looking forward to sharing some time with Cynthia Graham and John Ryan.

Next up will be the season-opening open house at the Bonniebrook Gallery, Museum, and Homestead near Branson on April 16. I don’t think I’ll be able to make that event as I have work-related travel, but I’m eager to get down there sometime this spring or summer. The open house runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will include exhibits, craft demonstrations and vendors, presentations, and musical performances. Here’s a link to an earlier post about that event, including a schedule.

Then the following Saturday is the Unbound Book Festival here in Columbia. This is the initial year for that festival, and it looks very promising.

Finally, at the end of the month, is the annual conference of the Missouri Writers’ Guild. This year’s conference is in Kansas City, and includes workshops, master classes, opportunities to meet with editors and agents, and nonstop networking! I’ve been going to the MWG conference for years and always come away with something valuable, whether it’s an insight on craft, a new thought on marketing, or an important contact. Anybody who wants to take his or her writing to the next level needs to check out this conference.

So change your oil and buckle your seatbelt! It’s time to hit the road for literary adventure.


Excellent Resource


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Civil War OzarksSomeone posted this link on Facebook a while back…..I had not run across this site before, despite having done a lot of research into the Civil War in the Ozarks. It’s a wonderful resource! Well organized, good looking, and informative.

Congratulations to the many organizations that contributed to this website. It’s a great example of inter-governmental cooperation – federal funding, administered by the state, and managed by the Springfield-Greene County Library. I just wish its county-by-county coverage ventured farther east!


Book Review – Postmark Bayou Chene

Recently published this review of Gwen Roland’s Postmark Bayou Chene in Nola Diaspora, a wonderful small journal devoted to the art and literature of New Orleans and southern Louisiana. If you enjoy reading historical fiction about the swamps of south Louisiana, this book is well worth a look. And all of Nola Diaspora is well worth a look too! Browse the back issues….lots of good stuff there.





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When I attended the Ozarks Cultural Symposium this fall, I got to hear a talk from Susan Scott, the president of the Bonniebrook Historical Society, about the Bonniebrook Gallery, Museum, and Homestead, housed at the former home of Rose O’Neill. Until that talk, I had only been dimly aware of Bonniebrook and Rose O’Neill at all, but I was fascinated to learn about the life of this transplanted Ozarker and to hear the story of how she came to create the home known as Bonniebrook.

Nowadays, this creative, free-spirited illustrator and writer is best known for her creation, the Kewpie. The Kewpie, which began as a cartoon and was later turned into a wildly popular line of porcelain dolls, was one of the first mass-marketed toys in America. But there was much more to the life and works of Rose O’Neill. A prominent illustrator who commanded top dollar for her work, a writer and suffragist, an artist and a supporter of artists, Rose O’Neill lived life on a large scale.

The Bonniebrook Historical Society maintains her home near Branson. It is one of the lesser-known attractions of that area, but definitely deserves to be better known. The season at Bonniebrook runs from mid-April to the end of October, and it begins with an open house and ends with a festival. Here’s the program for their open house:

And their end-of-season festival, The Festival of Painted Leaves, will be October 22. I’m excited to be the keynote speaker for that festival, and will have more to say about it and other October events in the coming months. But for now, if you’re planning a trip to Branson this spring or summer, check out Bonniebrook!


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