Welcome to the second edition of Writing Festival Friday, a blog event where you can connect with other writers, promote your books and blogs, and possibly become the featured writer next Friday. It is easy to participate. Just leave a comment to this article, telling us about yourself, your writing, and whatever else you want us to know. Please include your site and blog links if you have any. Writers of all genres are welcome to join in.
You can post here any time between Friday and Wednesday morning to be included in the next random drawing. The winner of the drawing will be sent a short series of interview questions via email, and will be featured in the next Writing Festival Friday posting.
Please visit the websites and blogs of your fellow writers to give them the support they need to keep on writing!
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Donna Alice Patton
Today’s winner is Donna Alice Patton, a novelist living in Ohio. Donna has a blog: Layers of Life. She won Honorable Mention for middle grade novels in the 2007 Write It Now! competition. She’s written in a variety of genres and co-writes a monthly syndicated newspaper page for children. Her first novel will be published before the end of this year.
Linda: Congratulations on having your book chosen for Honorable Mention in the Write it Now! Competition at Smartwriters.Com. Please tell us about your book and the series it is part of.
Donna Alice Patton: The book that won the Honorable Mention is The Cattle Rustling Catastrophe. It’s the second book in my series about ten year old, Jenny Cameron. This book (along with the first, The Hooky Playing Fiasco) takes place in 1890’s California. I grew up watching westerns on TV and I love the Old West so it was a natural choice. What I try to do with the books (while still being historically accurate) is to take problems all children face and let them see the consequences of making choices. It sounds like a lofty goal (and somewhat boring) but the books are anything but ho hum!
In the first book, Jenny and her best friend, Brose, decide to skip school to see a circus train. Having lost her three brothers in a fever epidemic, Jenny will do anything to keep Brose’s friendship. Too often staying friends means taking dares to prove how brave she is. When events spiral out of control, Jenny comes to realize it isn’t taking dares that makes a person brave, but standing up and saying no. At the end of the book, she gets a lesson in true bravery when she has to save not only her life, but her father’s.
I love how the book also had a built in lesson on peer pressure, a problem kids today face too.
With The Cattle Rustling Catastrophe, Jenny and Brose are up to mischief again when they borrow a dime novel from the Cameron family cook. Sent to pick up the family’s wash from the washerwoman, they make an amazing discovery. Miss O’Leary matches the description of the female outlaw, Annie O’Banyon, from the dime novel.
Never one to sit still when there is a problem to be solved, Jenny is determined to help “capture” the cattle rustling female and help her family. Pretty soon, she’s in over her head and an adventure follows. This book deals with lying, spreading rumors and what happens when you “cry wolf” once too often.
Sometimes, I think of Jenny as a cross between Tom Sawyer and Maverick !
There are two more books planned for the series but I’m still doing research on book three, The Ghost Town Gamble.
Linda: What was it like to be part of that contest? Would you recommend it to other writers?
Donna Alice Patton: This was the third year I’ve done the Smartwriter’s Contest. The first year, I submitted a Jenny short story, The Quilting Bee Calamity. While it didn’t win, it did go on to be read and evaluated by Blooming Tree Press for an anthology. The story didn’t make it, but I got some nice feedback from everyone involved.
Last year, the first Jenny book didn’t place. This year, I got the Honorable Mention for the sequel.
I think the Smartwriter’s in a great contest to have your writing validated. Even if you just enter and get a critique, you can get some positive feedback and know where you missed the mark. While some writers don’t think contests have much value, I’m a firm believer in contests. I enter quite a few and am always glad to have the critiques. (Not that I don’t yell and fuss and kick a few tables for a couple of days at the bad ones! But, eventually, I get over it and either agree or disagree with the judges.)
Linda: Tell us about your writing journey; when did it start, and how did you grow as a writer?
Donna Alice Patton: I always tell people I was born to be a writer. There isn’t really a time when I didn’t KNOW that’s what I wanted to be. Not that getting started was easy. Even though I scribbled little stories, or made up millions in my head (usually sequels to my favorite TV shows), I didn’t know that real people were writers. In my mind, writers were some great, exalted creatures gifted with this rare talent. They weren’t someone who cut out coupons or sat around in their pj’s plotting a novel.
I was about eighteen when I first started to take my writing seriously. The first piece I ever had published was a Letter to the Editor. In those days, I was always protesting something! A lovely older couple called me on the phone to tell me they loved the letter and agreed. My first fans!
Since then, I’ve written probably millions of words. Honestly. I wrote short stories, articles, and just about anything else. Happily, I’ve been published in quite a few magazines, online sources, etc. Probably the best thing to happen to me is that I read somewhere a writer should try different types of writing. I never limited myself to any one genre.
For several years, I wrote all the PR for the Autistic Society in a nearby big city. Not that I knew anyone who had an autistic child, but they asked for a volunteer and it sounded like good writing practice. I wrote several books (never published) but I think I gained more skill with each book I wrote. At first, I wrote Gothic romances (which dates me, I’m sure) because those were what I loved to read. Later, I started to read more children’s and young adult books because I remembered how I’d loved them as a child. Books were always the doorways to adventure for me.
After awhile, I realized that I wanted to write more for children than any other age group. (Although I do have two grown up novels in the works too.) My first book, The Search for the Madonna, will come out by EcceHomo Press sometime toward the end of this year. It’s a historical mystery set during the Depression on a small Ohio farm.- I also write a monthly newspaper page, Cookies and Milk, with two friends I met at a writing group. We just published our first full year and are syndicated in several other papers (with a tentative promise to be syndicated in more this coming year.) Several short Jenny pieces have made their print debut in the newspaper. Which proves, even in a small mid-western town, there are great opportunities for writers!
I know you didn’t ask, but it’s a question I always like to know from other writers — what’s your favorite piece of advice? Mine would be try a lot of different writing. Diversify. Switch genres or time periods. Try something totally different. I spent one year happily writing educational worksheets for an online provider. It was great practice on being concise and sifting out what’s really important in biographies. It also gave me tons of material to recycle when I began to write for the newspaper. You’ll never know what you’re best at until you try.
Donna Alice Patton: The picture is of me sitting on the porch of one of my favorite authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was taken on a visit to Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri
Linda: Donna Alice… thanks so much for participating in Writing Festival Friday. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to get to know you, and look forward to reading your books.