Our next visit is with Donna Volkenannt. Donna has been published in several volumes of essays, including more than one issue of the famous Chicken Soup for the Soul. She has also won the Erma Bombeck Global Humor Award. Take a look at her interesting interview.
You have such a long list of publications! When did you start writing, and what was your first project?
Going way, way back, the first project that sparked my passion for writing was an eighth-grade English assignment. Sister Mary Johanna assigned our class of some sixty students (class sizes were huge back then) to write our autobiographies. Tapping into my thirteen-year old memories and hoping for a good grade, I used my best grammar, vocabulary, and penmanship to complete my project, which included a hand-drawn front cover. My autobiography was one of two selected to be read to all classes. Several teachers told me what a good writer I was, and when I showed my completed project to my parents, they told me how proud they were of me. My sense of accomplishment, along with those words of praise, introduced me to the joy of writing.
Decades later, after my mother’s death, I inherited her cedar chest. Inside, I found my birth certificate, baby book, report cards -- and my eighth-grade autobiography. I remembered how proud my parents were when I first showed it to them and took finding it all those years later as a sign for me to start writing again.
Approximately what percentage of manuscripts that you send out are accepted for publication?
That’s a good question, but not an easy one to answer because it requires math skills, so I’ll summarize.
When I first entered writing competitions I spent more money on entry fees than I made in winnings, which convinced me not to quit my day job. I realized I needed to improve my craft and keep trying. My first win was an honorable mention for a short story printed on perforated paper using a dot matrix printer, but the thrill of having my name announced and receiving that parchment certificate made me feel like I’d won the Pulitzer Prize.
When I first started submitting to print publications, which most publications were back then, I received many form-letter rejections. And, although I faithfully included a standard SASE with every submission, some times I received no response at all, which was even more disheartening. But the first time I received a rejection letter with hand-written editor’s comments encouraging me to submit again, I was elated. After joining a critique group and rewriting, revising, and resubmitting my manuscripts, I eventually got published -- and paid.
Over the years, the number of my acceptances and wins has increased, but one thing that hasn’t changed is that success still excites and rejection still stings.
Do you keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas as you get them?
Oh, yes! I have several. I keep a small one in my purse and have larger ones scattered throughout the house because I never know when inspiration might strike. If I’m out somewhere and don’t have a pen handy, I type notes on my phone. Writing in notebooks and journals helps me recapture my thoughts and impressions and remember important details that otherwise might be lost through the passage of time or the haze of forgetfulness.
On your blog, you mention a writing calendar. How has planning your writing for 2015 worked out?
Each year, one of my standard goals is to get more organized. Having a planning calendar helps me do that, especially at the beginning of the year. By July, I’m not as organized or as dependent on my planning calendar, but I do refer to it from time-to-time to help me get back on track.
What is your schedule like on a typical day?
Although I try to maintain a schedule, I can’t say my days are typical. For the past ten years, my husband and I have been raising our grandchildren, who have given us immeasurable joy, as well as bringing about major changes in our lives.
During the school year, I get up around six a.m. and wake my grandson. While he gets ready for high school, I fix his breakfast, which usually involves making sure he has his favorite flavor of Pop Tart. Then I feed our dog, have a cup of tea, and check e-mails. After my grandson leaves for school -- he’s driving now which makes me a bit nervous -- I send a “Good morning” text to my granddaughter, a student at Mizzou.
I love my quiet time in the morning when I can collect my thoughts undisturbed. I read or write until around 8 or 9 a.m., when my husband wakes up. Mid-morning, we have breakfast and talk about what’s going on that day. He does most of the cooking and laundry, which is a huge help, especially if I’m “in the zone” or working on deadline. Tuesday mornings are set aside for critique group.
At the beginning of the year, I started an exercise program around the same time I cut back on social media. Several days a week I attend classes to improve my balance, flexibility. Staying active has increased my energy level and helps me stay focused. A downside of cutting back on social media is I don’t visit other blogs or update my own blog as often as I used to.
At the end of the day, I read, write, rewrite, or revise. If my grandson needs help with homework, I’ll help him, and if the Cardinals are on TV, I take time to watch the games.
In 2012 you won the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition with a cute essay. Describe your reaction and thoughts when you found out you’d won.
The morning I received the call from the contest administrator, at first I thought I was having a wonderful dream. Then reality hit. To make sure I heard her right, I asked her to repeat exactly what I’d won. When she told me again I’d won first place I must’ve said “I don’t believe it,” several times because my husband looked at me like I was crazy. During “the call,” I was given information on the judges’ comments as well as details about attending the Erma Bombeck celebration and conference. Eventually, I grabbed a notebook and jotted down what she told me so I wouldn’t forget. After hanging up, I whooped and jumped for joy -- but not too high because of my bad knee.
What hobbies do you enjoy in your spare time?
We have a country place -- a house and acreage in Osage County -- where I enjoy spending occasional weekends, although not during hunting season when the guys do their thing. Being out in the country is both calming and invigorating, especially when no one is shooting at turkeys or deer. It’s also a great place to write and take walks in the woods. Several times a month I volunteer at my local church. I also enjoy spending time with family and friends and taking day trips to area churches or historic places, which can be wonderful sources of inspiration.
Give us a small preview of what you will discuss at the All Write Now! Conference in July.
I’m excited to be part of the All Write Now! Conference, and I’m looking forward to meeting other writers.
During my presentation, I’ll discuss the immense satisfaction and commercial benefits that writing and publishing personal essays can bring. I’ll start with an overview of the basic elements of this form of writing and share my thoughts on why personal essays matter. Writers will be guided through an exercise to spark their creativity to help them turn their experiences into extraordinary essays. I’ll hand out resource sheets with markets, contests, and publications and provide tools writers can use to remain inspired after the workshop. Time permitting, participants will be invited to share their work.
Thanks, Donna. This sounds like a workshop I will want to attend. Your comment that “success still excites and rejection still stings” shows your ability to handle whatever happens while you keep on working. That’s something we all need to remember, and use.