Interview with Donna Volkenannt, Runner Up

Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Congratulations Donna!

Donna Volkenannt is thrilled to be a winner in the WOW! Women On Writing and Seal Press Spring 2008 Flash Fiction Contest. She has learned that entering writing contests and belonging to a good critique group are the best ways to polish her work, which has appeared in: A Cup of Comfort for Women, A Cup of Comfort for Christmas, Sauce,, Storyteller, The Ozarks Mountaineer, Mid Rivers Review, Mysteries of the Ozarks, Echoes of the Ozarks and Cuivre River Anthology.

She is a retired management analyst, a full-time grandmother and the website editor for Saturday Writers In her spare time she plugs away at a young adult novel set in historic St. Charles, Missouri. Through the grace of God--and with lots of caffeine--she hopes to complete a first draft by the end of the year.

In November, her story, “Welcome Home,” will be included in A Cup of Comfort for Military Families. She lives in Missouri with her husband and their two grandchildren, who fill her heart with joy. Contact her at

Read Donna's winning story, Ida's Rocking Chair.

WOW: You have some great publishing credits. Congratulations. Tell us how you feel when your stories are selected to appear in these publications. How did you learn about the WOW contest and how did you feel when you found out you were a finalist? Does it feel different to win a contest verses having your work accepted for publication?

Donna: I'm always excited to learn that something I've written has been recognized for an award or accepted for publication. That feeling never grows old. I learned about the WOW website and contests at a Saturday Writers' meeting. Saturday Writers is a chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild that meets near my hometown of St. Peters, MO. Margo Dill, one of Saturday Writers' founding members, brought in a handful of post cards about WOW to one of our meetings and placed them on our 'freebie table' in the back of the room. The freebie table is where members share with others submission guidelines, contest announcements, and other items of interest. Both winning a contest and having my entry published are exciting experiences. Being in the top 10 in the WOW contest is a double treat.

WOW: Isn't it great being a Grandmother? Tell us a little about your grandchildren. Do they influence any of your stories? One of your upcoming stories is going to be published in A Cup of Comfort for Military Families, do you have someone in the military?

Being a grandmother is a wonderful blessing. After my daughter Julie and son-in-law Mike were killed in a motorcycle accident almost four years ago, my grandchildren, Cari and Michael, came to live with my husband Walt and me. Raising Cari and Michael has been a joy that came from the tragedy of losing our daughter. So, Yes, Cari and Michael have a great influence on my stories--and my life.

No one in the military right now. The story in the Cup of Comfort for Military Families is about the Vietnam War experience.

WOW: We're so sorry to hear about Julie and Mike. Please accept our condolences.

WOW: The Saturday Writers website is very nice. I see in addition to being an editor, you are also one of the founders. Can you tell us your primary mission on The Saturday Writers website? I was delighted to see the children's contest you are running right now.

Donna: The motto of Saturday Writers is "writers encouraging writers." In January 2002, a few of my writing friends and I got together and founded Saturday Writers as a chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild. We wanted a place where local writers could meet each month to support and learn from one another or listen to guest speakers--writers, editors, agents or publishers. Over the years we've had New York Times best-selling authors, Pushcart Prize winning or nominated writers, and winners of the Western Writers of America Spur Award speak to our group. At selected meetings members also read from their works in progress, which is always a wonderful time.

Saturday Writers also sponsors an annual short story contest and a poetry contest for adult writers from across the nation--and overseas. To encourage local students in three rural Missouri counties to become writers, we sponsor an annual children's writing contest for grades 3 and 4 and one for Missouri students in those same three counties in grades 7-12. We also publish the Cuivre River Anthology, which includes stories, poems, and essays from award-winning writers as well members.

WOW: Tell us a little about your YA novel.

Donna: The YA novel grew from a series of bedtime stories I used to tell Cari and Michael to help them fall asleep when they were younger. While they're now able to fall asleep without bedtime stories--although they still getting tucked in each night after prayers--it's taken me awhile to get the crux of the main story outlined and down on paper. I'm still working on it but hope to finish the first draft early next year.

WOW: Missouri is a beautiful state. My company's main terminal is in Joplin. Have you always lived in MO? How does the state influence your writings?

Missouri is a beautiful state, and the people are genuine and welcoming. I was born in North St. Louis less than a mile from the Mississippi River and live about thirty miles from where I was raised. When my husband and I worked for the U.S. Government, I lived in several states, as well as overseas. No matter where I've lived, Missouri has always been home and a part of me. When we lived in Southern Arizona and in West Texas, I missed the four seasons--except maybe the bitter cold Missouri sometimes get in the winter. When we lived in Massachusetts and in Germany, I missed the St. Louis Cardinals and the hot summers--really!

WOW: Is Ida's Rocking Chair based on a true story? As I read your story, I cried tears of sorrow and then tears of joy. You did such a wonderful job in bringing the chair to life. Sometimes we say, "If only that chair or whatever could talk…", but you bought those emotions to life and I thank you for this wonderful, warm story. Do you have a rocker? I have a porch swing and every time I sit on it I think, what stories will this swing be able to tell.

Donna: "Ida's Rocking Chair" is a work of fiction, but the emotions in the story are real.

WOW: What do you believe the most important quality is for a management analyst? Did you use your writing and editing skills a lot during your career? Does retirement put a new slant on your writing career? Is it a second career, a hobby or a fulfillment of a dream?

Donna: As a management analyst, I guess the most important quality is to be organized and analytical. It's very much a left-brain career that involves skills such as data collection and analysis, which is different from using my right-brain creative side for fiction writing. I did a fair bit of writing and editing as a management analyst on projects I was assigned. That writing was mostly detail-oriented or related to studies and surveys; however, some of the managers I worked with knew I liked to write, so they frequently asked me to help them write awards for their employees.

Retirement has been a double blessing. I have more time to spend with my grandchildren and to write. Not to sound flip or arrogant, but writing isn't just a hobby or something I do; a writer is what I am.

WOW: How old were you when you started writing? Did you always want to write?

I got bit by the writing bug in Most Holy Name of Jesus Grade School when my eighth grade teacher (if memory serves, her name was Sister Mary Johanna) assigned the class of 63 students to write our autobiographies. In mine I wrote about my life and my dreams. On the front cover I drew picture of a girl walking down a path with a globe in the background. The title was not very original--"My World." But I do remember the first line. It started off, "The sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky . . ." Thus, began my writing career. I was one of two eighth graders selected to read my autobiography to the entire school. Afterwards, several teachers commented on what a good writer I was. In essence, what I thought was a writing assignment changed my life. In high school I wrote for the school newspaper, the yearbook, and was a reporter for a local teen magazine. After I got married, while my kids were growing up, I attended night classes in college, where I wrote term papers, but I took a couple of creative writing classes and got to stretch my writing skills there. So, I guess I've always wanted to write.

WOW: I'm sure you have a short term goal of finishing your novel, which at one time was probably your long term goal, so now do you have another long term goal? Other short term goals?

Donna: Someone once called goals "dreams with deadlines," and that's what this project has turned out to be. It's a dream I have, but the deadline keeps changing. While finishing my YA novel should be a short-term goal, because it's taking me so long to write it, the novel has taken a life of its own and become more of a long-term goal. In the near-term I hope to outline several other connected novels in a series. One immediate goal I have is to finish these interview questions (smile) and to work on a few deadlines which are due next month.

WOW: I'm smiling. We're almost done. I only have one more question. What advice or secrets can you share about winning contests and getting published in so many sources?

Though not really secrets, here are some tips I've learned over the years:

1. Follow the rules. This probably seems obvious and unnecessary, but I've not only entered contests but have also been a contest judge. The entries that follow the rules stay in the game. Same holds true for publishing; follow the submission guidelines.

2. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you're unsure of what you're supposed to do, ask, but don't be too pesky or pushy.

3. Be genuine. Write from the heart and put yourself into your work. Let your unique writing voice shine through. When you read your story and it makes you feel some emotion--whether joy, happiness, sorrow, fear, or love--it most likely will do the same for your readers.

4. Use active voice, strong verbs, and concrete nouns, but go easy on the adjectives and adverbs.

5. Don't rely on spell check. Print out your work to check for errors and read your work out loud before submitting.

6. Join a critique group or writers' organization. If you can't find one, start your own and invite other writers to join. Members of my critique group and Saturday Writers have not only helped me improve my writing, many of them have become cherished friends. Being around other writers--not just 'networking' which I think can be impersonal, but becoming friends with other writers and getting feedback and support from them and giving feedback and support to them--has enriched my personal and writing life.

7. Share with others. It really is better to give than receive. My experience is by giving I've received much more in return.

8. Respect your words, yourself, and others.

9. The true purpose of writing is to EXpress--not IMpress. That's a piece of advice I read somewhere that stuck with me.

10. Take your writing seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously. Be persistent, but have fun and be yourself!

WOW: Thank you Donna and best wishes in all your projects.


If you haven't done so already, please read Donna's award-winning story Ida’s Rocking Chair .

Interview by:
WOW Intern Cher'ley Grogg

To check out WOW! Women On Writing's latest contest, please visit: sponsored by skirt! books with guest judge, literary agent, Jennifer DeChiara.


Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

Congratulations, Donna!
Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
Ch. 1 & Book trailer are online!

Margo Dill said...

Congratulations on your win. Ladies, Donna is my personal friend and she is a great critiquer, too. I was lucky to find her and her critique group when I first started writing. Good luck with all your short and long term deadlines, Donna!!! :)

Cher'ley said...

It doesn't surprise me that Donna has so many friends, she seems so nice and I really did enjoy Ida's Rocking Chair.


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