If you love St. Louis, you’ll love this anthology!
By Brad R. Cook, President of St. Louis Writers Guild
Here at The Writers Lens, Wednesday’s are for readers, so allow me to showcase some of the amazing writers that contributed to St. Louis Reflections.
I remember when we first decided to create the anthology. St. Louis Writers Guild was about to celebrate its 90th Anniversary. We had planned the Year of Festivals, a time to celebrate the long history of the Writers Guild and all the amazing writers who were a part of the current organization. With well over 250 members there was a lot of talent in our midst. For every significant anniversary over the last 50 years or so, St. Louis Writers Guild (SLWG) had created a members’ booklet. Back in the day, it would have held addresses, phone numbers, publications, but in our ambition we decided to do an anthology. The topic was never in doubt; I must admit that was the easy part. To celebrate our 90th Anniversary we would honor the city that had been the home and inspiration to every member of SLWG since its founding.
We sent out the call, and went about celebrating the Year of Festivals. The anthology was always designed to come out after 2010. We wanted to include as many members as possible in the list and knew it would take some time to put the collection together. It was probably better we didn’t know what it would really take to bring this book to fruition – we might have faltered or maybe waivered, but that never happened. As historian of SLWG, I volunteered to spearhead this project – it was of historical significance and I wanted the experience of putting together an anthology. I wasn’t alone, Mary Menke, who was VP of Operations at the time, agreed to help. Ah, we were so naïve, the saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ had never been more true.
It took months to collect all the entries, and then even more months to collect all the electronic ones, some of which we never received, so Mary typed many from the hard copies. Then came the initial round of editing. Then another round of editing, and another.
I took on the task of arranging the stories in order. Some were easy; Pat Bubash wrote a great piece asking the one question that St. Louis is famous for, where’d you go to high school, so that seemed an appropriate way to start. I like numbers, so Dwight Bitikofer’s poignant Seven slid perfectly into the seventh slot, and I took the thirteenth slot with my ode to Clayton. For me it’s a lucky number and I knew if I put anyone else there I’d probably choose someone with latent triskaidekaphobia. I ended the anthology with Faye Adams’ poem to St. Louis Writers Guild which seemed a fitting way to close, but that ended the easy part.
It took another month to get the order just right. The front cover and back cover came easily, our webmaster took the image of the Arch, and David Lucas, VP of Membership, snapped the beautiful image of the sun while at the annual SLWG picnic. Once everything had been approved by the board we pushed forward with the assistance of StL Books. Erin Robbins and Robin Theiss did an amazing job with the cover and getting the actual book ready for printing. We couldn’t have done it without them.
We scheduled the book release party and waited for the books to roll in, but nothing about this anthology was simple. The first proof came in and was a little off, but that’s why you always order a proof. Fixing the issue caused a delay. It ended up being the most successful book release without the book I have ever been too. We sold over 50 copies and luckily the books came in a day or so later.
We ended up with an amazing anthology, one that has been described as a wonderful nostalgia trip through St. Louis memories. It was our love of St. Louis that brought this book into existence. It might have been a pleasant struggle, but that only mirrors the city we were trying to honor. St. Louis is a town of FAN-atics, the residents have a deep passion for this city. Founded on the banks the longest river in North America, it has gone from being the gateway of westward expansion, the home of ragtime, to the spirit that carried Lindbergh over the Atlantic, and raised the tallest arch in the world.
So now that you know why we put the anthology together, here are some of the contributors reasons for writing the amazing pieces found within.
I asked – What inspired your contribution to St. Louis Reflections? Was it the personal nature of your story or did you feel it was something St. Louis needed to hear?
Pat Bubash – Not being a St. Louisan by origin, when the topic for the anthology was given, immediately, instantaneously, the question, "where did you go to h.s. came to my mind". People from other cities often ask me, "why is this such an important question for St. Louisans"? I think it is a question unique to St. Louis. As I noted in my submission asking this question and receiving an answer, gives a wide variety of information about the person.
Linda O’Connell – I felt that my personal essay had a strong St. Louis connection as Chuck Berry is an icon, but also there was a take away message: greatness is not in a name.
Claire Applewhite – Perhaps the story was both personal as well as a reflection on St. Louis neighborhoods. My contribution followed a book signing in the south St. Louis neighborhood in which I was raised. I had not seen many of the people who attended for nearly forty years, and was genuinely touched by the emotional impact of our reunion. Memories rushed back so vividly, it was as if I had never left. The people who significantly influenced me in so many ways were still there, the way I remembered them. St. Louis is like that. Neighborhoods are such a big part of life here.
Marcel Toussaint – Saint Louis needs to know its own writers and poets. The best way to do it is to have an anthology that will have a media interest rather than promote each writer or poet individually. Or the media would choose its preferences and leave some of them in the darkness of the unknown.
Niki Nymark – "Mama Mississippi": Written to right a wrong. I always thought it was a mistake to call her "Ole Man River," when I saw her as a languorous, sexy lady. My family had a business close by the levee and as a tiny child; I often sat on the cobblestones to watch her flow by.
"The Body": On later reflection, it amazed me that adults would be so caught up in a murder that they wouldn't notice a four year-old spectator when the police brought the body out. This really happened during the Depression in a hotel next to my mother's coffee shop. It didn't seem troublesome at the time (1938), just fascinating.
Billy Adams – It was just an old memory stored away that I thought would be of interest
Donna Springer – I sometimes write when stimulated by "prompts." I had submitted "Mid-time, 6 a.m. St. Louis, for a workshop at The Saint Louis Poetry Center," and had written about The Mississippi Mile for the Saint Louis Track Club's Track Time News in 2003. When The Saint Louis Writers Guild requested material about Saint Louis for its 90th Anniversary anthology, I felt a "prompt" to modify past writings to express my love and appreciation for Saint Louis, and for the Saint Louis Writers Guild. I continue to enjoy watching the day come in at six a.m. from a Saint Louis window, and have happy reflections about the runs across the Mississippi on the rehabilitated Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. Though I "went to high school" in Connecticut, I have lived in and enjoyed Saint Louis since 1975.
Jeanine Dahlberg – A nostalgic stroll back into time when St. Louis suffered under the Great Depression inspired me to write my story. The reader will learn the hardships imposed upon a very little girl and her family and how she coped with the experiences.
Lynn Obermoeller – I was inspired mostly by the personal nature of my story, "Hendel's Market." It was a huge part of my childhood. I feel not only did it reflect a part of St. Louis, but something that other communities in the U.S. or even around the world could relate to.
Debbie Fox – I enjoy a challenge in finding a story with a universal theme based on real events. I submitted my story because I am a part of the Guild and wanted to participate. Although my story was personal, it would appeal to a larger audience. It certainly wasn’t something St. Louis had to hear, but I believe people will remember the places I wrote about.
Hal Simpkin – Since the book was to be a memoir I dipped as far into my memory as I could. To a kid in rural St. Louis County, streetcars ranked high in importance. The cars are long-gone; those of us who enjoyed as well as depended upon them, are chasing steadily behind. The feel of kinship with fellow riders, with the motormen who made them happen for us, and yes, even the cars themselves, was real and should not be lost. I felt it imperative to leave what I could of that feel for future readers to perhaps internalize and enjoy for themselves.
Ross Braught – I felt that "A Scent of Honeysuckle" was a story St. Louis needed to hear. St. Louis is the center of not just the United States, but of the world of nature and the world of medicine. I tried to blend the two in my story.
As for myself – I grew up on the not-so-mean streets of Clayton, I went to Clayton High School which answers Pat’s question and should tell you a thing or two about me. It became a way to honor the little metropolis that raised me. My piece about the history of SLWG came out of all the work I did for the Legacy Project which continues researching our rich history.
In reflection, we found this city that fostered the writers guild over 90 years ago is still thriving, still overflowing with literary talent, and still coming together to form not only St. Louis Writers Guild but a true community of writers.
Now a little something extra for The Writers’ Lens
So I asked my favorite question – Which line did you struggle with more, the first or the last?
Linda O’Connell said, “Probably the first, it is not as attention-grabbing as I would have liked.” While Claire Applewhite had the opposite problem, “Probably the last, because I feel it needs to have the same emotional punch as the first line, and sometimes, it is hard to know where to stop to achieve that goal.” But my favorite comment was by Niki Nymark, “The endings of most of my poems have been re-written with a carving knife.”
Marcel Toussaint poignantly stated, “In Torn Flag in the Wind, the last line was the most difficult since it had to make an impact and still remain delicately graphic.” While Jeanine Dahlberg avoided any struggle, “I quoted from Charles Dicken's novel, A Tale of Two Cities, the last line of
the story came easily.” Lynn Obermoeller also found it easy, “I can't say I struggled with either. Not with this piece anyway. I just wrote from the heart.” But Debbie Fox found another problem, “Actually, I struggled with the second sentence—”a backdrop for first love.” It still sounds ditzy to me, yet I put the “backdrop” word in the last sentence. I always try to wrap up a piece neatly, often going back to the opening. I don’t think it worked well, but that was how it stood because I didn’t have weeks to let it stew and morph into something better.”
As for myself, “I struggled with the last line, the first came easily but the last was rewritten probably a dozen times.”
The Writers’ Lens is about bringing Fiction into Focus, so I asked the contributors what brought their writing into focus.
Pat Bubash – Personal situations, events. I am such a fan of Bill McClellan and Elaine Viets- their writing is the reality of what happens to people - I "know" these subjects because the situations they experience, I could or have experienced, These two authors have a way of bringing whatever point they are making come full circle as they finish the article. Absolutely
am a fan of both!
Linda O’Connell – My personal essays are written with authenticity but they also have to be written with creativity. I do love crafting words
Claire Applewhite – What brings my writing into focus, for me, is the interaction between and among the characters. The way that they interact and react to each other tells me who they are, where they're headed, whether they are growing and/or changing, and reveals plot points in the story. I have an outline, but sometimes, I suspect they do too!
Marcel Toussaint – Having been in Radio-Theater in my teens, I have been cast in interesting characters, stories as diverse as the writers’ imaginations, acting the crafted words that the authors excelled in using. So my answer must be all of the above.
Niki Nymark – I begin with a character, who tells me a story. Then I sample lots of words and use the ones that taste right.
Jeanine Dahlberg – I believe that the development of my characters to their potential to the plot
enhances the story line forcing me to craft my love of words in a descriptive manner, which engages the reader.
Lynn Obermoeller – This was a hard one after I gave it more thought. My first thought was the love of crafting words--because without that, there wouldn't be any stories. But if you didn't have the idea or story in your head, it couldn't be written. And then without characters, there isn't much of a story either. Seems like they are all tied in together. But you have to love to write, so I'm sticking with the love of crafting words.
Debbie Fox – To me, writing creative nonfiction is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I have to be sure everything fits well together, that I didn’t leave out a piece or construct a fuzzy picture. I love finding the perfect metaphor, theme, and transitions and then find the perfect words to hold everything together. I love to describe things, take it slow, use specific terms rather than vague modifiers.
I thank all the contributors for their amazing stories, poems, essays, and memories – it truly is an amazing tribute to this city that we all love.
St. Louis Writers Guild will be having a book signing for the anthology on Saturday, February 18 at 6 North Café, 14438 Clayton Rd. in Ballwin from 10am to Noon, and you can order the anthology anytime at http://www.stlbooks.com/ or any major online retailer like http://www.amazon.com/ or http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ – find out more about St. Louis Writers Guild and the anthology at http://www.stlwritersguild.org/
Also Don Corrigan wrote a great article about the anthology and the writers guild for the South County and Webster/Kirkwood Times, read more at http://www.websterkirkwoodtimes.com/hc.e.178697.lasso
Don’t forget – you can make a comment for your chance to win a free copy of the anthology!
Thank you and everyone at St. Louis Writers Guild hopes you enjoy our 90th Anniversary Anthology!