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We’ve Merged!


Blank Slate Press, Walrus Publishing, and Treehouse Publishing Group have joined forces!

We’re excited to announce our three publishing companies have merged to create Amphorae Publishing Group, and we’re looking forward to bringing you a growing library of great books, including our existing line up of exciting titles, many of which are award-winners. Our three imprints are currently accepting submissions, and we’re eager to discover the next new breakout author.

  • Blank Slate Press is looking for historical fiction, crime/mystery, commercial fiction, and literary fiction.
  • Walrus Publishing is looking for science fiction/fantasy, romance, regional fiction and non-fiction, and humor.
  • Treehouse is our children’s imprint publishing picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction and non-fiction. To submit to Treehouse (the website is under construction), email Donna Essner directly.

You can download our entire 2015 Amphorae Catalog.


And we’re starting out 2015 with some terrific and award-winning titles including:

    First Place Winner, Humor category at the 25th Midwest Independent Publishing Association.

The antics of Patrick Cantwell and his family, featured in the award-winning Never Hug a Nun,  return as they head to Grand Haven,   Michigan for summer vacation.

ISBN: 978-0985808600 – paperback
ISBN: 978-0985808655 – ebook





      2015, Winner, Silver Medal, Regional Fiction (North-East), Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs) from Independent Publisher.

Caroline Marcum thought she’d escaped the great mistake of her life by leaving Wellfleet harbor, but is forced to face it when she returns,       reluctantly, to care for her dying mother.

ISBN: 978-0985808617 – paperback
ISBN: 978-0985808624 – ebook



And we’re thrilled to announce that we’ve taken on the 2nd Edition of PAINTING FOR PEACE IN FERGUSON. The new edition will have more art and a more comprehensive list of the artists and community members who made the Paint for Peace project so successful.
      Awarded the 2015 IPPY for Outstanding Book of the Year & Gold Medal in the Peacemaker category!

      Through poetry and art, PAINTING FOR PEACE IN FERGUSON tells the story of hundreds of artists and volunteers who turned                      boarded up windows into works of art with messages of hope, healing and unity in the aftermath of the Ferguson, MO riots.

      ISBN: 978-0-9892079-9-7 – paperback | ISBN: 978-0-9963901-0-1 – hardback

And THIS OLD WORLD is a finalist for the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction. Learn more about Steve Wiegenstein and the award here.

After the war, James Turner and the other men of Daybreak return home to find that war has changed their Utopian community forever. Charlotte Turner, Marie Mercadier and the other women they left behind survived raiders and bushwackers, raised up children, and survived on little more than dogged determination. Now that the men are back-those who fought for the North and those who fought for the South-the community must somehow put the past behind them. But some carry scars too deep to heal, and others carry hate they have no intention of letting go.

ISBN: 978-0985808631 – paperback
ISBN: 978-0985808648 – ebook

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Slant of Light by Steve Wiegenstein - cover

THIS OLD WORLD by Steve Wiegenstein

Thanks to BSP author and former MWG president Steve Wiegenstein for allowing us to reprint this blog post. Steve’s is the author of SLANT OF LIGHT (2012) and THIS OLD WORLD (Sept. 2014). 

I’ve just returned from the annual meeting/conference of the Missouri Writers’ Guild, an organization I have had the privilege to serve as president for the last two years. I came away with several reflections that I will be sharing over the next few posts.

First, and most important from the personal perspective, I was reminded that all writers–all writers, I repeat–need to continually sharpen their craft. At the conference, we had beginning writers and authors with multiple books. But I think every one of us came away with something to remember. It’s easy to get stuck in a stylistic rut, or to grow insensitive to one’s weaknesses. A conference, with its wide variety of sessions and viewpoints, is a great way to pause and reexamine old habits. I was in a session this weekend with an insecure beginning writer who in the space of two minutes told us the most amazing and moving story, reminding  me that inspired thoughts can come from the most unexpected sources and that everyone deserves to be listened to.

I was reminded as well that writers, for the most part, are generous people with their time and thoughts. Throughout the conference, people gathered in hallways and side chairs, conversing and sharing. That’s where the real conference is taking place, as much as in the formal sessions and workshops.

It’s an ongoing, evolving art form, this act of writing, and a gathering of writers both humbles and refreshes. How much there is yet to know. How much there is yet to write.

You can find the original post on Steve’s blog.

We have some more big news here at Blank Slate Press! In addition to welcoming two new authors to the fold, Lynne Hugo and Deborah Lincoln, we’re also preparing to launch two new books from two tried and tested Blank Slate Press authors. The sequel to Kevin Killeen’s smash debut Never Hug A Nun is slated for release in July of 2014, and the second installment Steve Weigenstein’s timeless historical novel Slant Of Light will be released in September. As always, we’re incredibly excited about both novels, and we can’t wait to introduce them to the public. Now there’s not just warm weather and green trees to look forward to in the summer: there’s two more great books coming out from BSP.

Try to Kiss a Girl It’s July, 1969 and the Apollo Eleven astronauts are hurtling toward the moon, and somewhere down below,  two eleven-year old boys who meet on vacation launch their own mission — to try to kiss a girl before the week is over. Try to  Kiss a Girl is the title for the sequel to Killeen’s hilarious and heartwarming story of the misadventures of seven-year-old Patrick Cantwell. Here’s a snapshot of what’s in store for Patrick and his readers:

It’s a hot week in the Michigan resort town of Grand Haven, where Patrick Cantwell — the juvenile delinquent from Never Hug a Nun meets a new friend who reveals to him the secret of the ages… where babies come from. 

Astonished and ashamed that he has overlooked this hidden activity at work throughout history, an activity which apparently even Abraham Lincoln knew about, Patrick wonders what else he has missed and decides he needs to open his eyes and start living.

Shaking hands with his new friend Rex on a five-dollar bet, Patrick rockets into high orbit to try to be the first to kiss a girl before their vacation is over.

But it’s not that easy.  There’s Mr. Jawthorne, the protective father of the kissable, young Tammy and her ChapStick-loving friend Ginny.  There’s a biker just back from Vietnam on a road trip to no longer be a killer who meets two boys in Grand Haven he’d just love to kill.  And there’s Patrick’s big Catholic family whose puzzle nights, dirty diapers and warnings about sin and death threaten to cost Patrick five bucks.

Try to Kiss a Girl is Kodak snapshot of the station wagon era, when the simulated wood grain was unfaded, and parents were young and a cooler full of orange soda and WonderBread sandwiches prevented back seat anarchy.  Well, most of the time.

Up ahead — beyond the Burger Chefs, the Sinclair Dinosaurs and Stuckey’s – was a rental cottage with crooked floors and a lake view, a land of relaxed adult supervision and freedom.  A place where an eleven-year old boy could body surf on a red flag day, ignore thoughts of the approaching school year, work on his pinball game at the Khardomah Lodge and try to figure out someway, somehow… to kiss a girl.

This uproarious tale makes a great companion to the first, and Killeen’s laugh-out-loud prose will ensure that everyone else at the beach gives you plenty of funny looks while you read.

This Old World is the second installment in Steve Weigenstein’s historical series Daybreak. The sequel to the award-winning debut, Slant of Light,  follows the development of the utopian colony Daybreak, as James Turner and his wife Charlotte struggle to lead a group of people with noble ambitions but very human flaws.

Weigenstein resumes the story in the aftermath of the Civil War, which nearly tore the colony apart. Turner, along with the other men who survived, return to Daybreak. But unfinished business comes back to haunt them all and they discover that the wounds of war do not easily heal. Now the colony faces the same challenges as the nation at large: How to rebuild in the face of such devastation? Can the innocence and idealism that was lost ever be recovered?

The cover isn’t finalized, but we thought we’d give you a peek at where we’re going with it. What do you think?

working cover for This Old World by Steve Wiegenstein

We’re delighted to report that we’ve got a lot going on in the next couple of weeks. First, as described in our last blog post, we’re excited to participate in the Saint Louis Literary Consortium’s 2012 Holiday Book Signing at Left Bank Books on November 9, 10, 11th. We hope everyone in STL will come out and support a great independent bookstore, wonderful literary organizations, publishers and, of course, local and regional authors.

BSP authors Steve Wiegenstein (SLANT OF LIGHT) and Jean Ellen Whatley (OFF THE LEASH) will be in store to sign their books. Jean will be signing from 6 – 8 pm Friday evening, and Steve will be signing from 12 – 2pm on Saturday. This is the perfect opportunity to buy the best gift of all–BOOKS–for everyone on your holiday list! And, even though NEVER HUG A NUN and DRIVING ALONE won’t be available for in-store purchase yet, you can pre-order your copies at the register.

Next, we’ve got another wonderful event coming up for OFF THE LEASH

 Blank Slate Press author Jean Ellen Whatley, Subterranean Books, and the Human Society of Missouri are coming together to do a book signing and to promote pet adoption. A portion of all sales will go to support HSMO’s mission. Jean will have a great slideshow and talk about how her dog, Libby, inspired her to go on a cross-country journey to rejuvenate, reenergize, and reclaim her life. Libby accompanied her every step along the way and their already strong bond became even stronger. It’s amazing how much we love our dogs!

So, if you love your dog, if your dog inspires you with his/her love and devotion, plan on joining Jean and supporting the HSMO.
>> when: November 18, 1:00 pm
>>where: 1201 Macklind Avenue | St. Louis, MO 63110 | phone: (314) 647-8800
>> Here’s a blurb from  from the Riverfront Times about her last event at Subterranean Books. And a clip in which she talks about the importance of Libby in her life and on her journey.

And the buzz is building for Kevin Killeen’s NEVER HUG A NUN

We’ve got a number of events on the schedule to make sure you can get a copy of NEVER HUG A NUN for everyone on your holiday shopping list. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Yuletide, no matter what holiday(s) you celebrate, you’ll want a copy of this delightful book that celebrates the innocent mischievousness of being a kid.

>> KMOX Fontbonne Book of the Month Club with Charlie Brennan
> Tuesday, November, 27
> 7 to-9 p.m. at Nerinx Hall in Webster Groves
>  Featuring Kevin Killeen and musician John Pizzarelli, author of World on a String: a musical memoir
> Charlie Brennan will interview Kevin on KMOX on November 14th

>> KMOX Holiday Radio Show
> Monday, December 3
> The Rep on the Webster University Campus, Webster Groves
>  Featuring Kevin Killeen and the whole on-air KMOX crew

>> Booksigning at Webster Groves Bookshop
> Saturday, December 8 , 1-4
> 100 West Lockwood Avenue,  (314) 968-1185

>> Reading at the Newly Remodeled Central Library
> Tuesday, December 11 at 6:30 p.m., Carnegie Room (3rd Floor)
> 1301 Olive St., downtown – (314) 206-6779.


New Literary Group Announces Joint Book Signing
Holiday Event at Left Bank Books – CWE

The newly organized Saint Louis Literary Consortium is pleased to announce their first joint event to be held in conjunction with Left Bank Books. The event will host publishers and featured authors on the weekend of November 9, 10, and 11 at Left Bank Books’ Central West End location, 399 North Euclid Ave, 63108. While books from each of the organizations will be available the full three days, featured authors will be present for signings at various times throughout the weekend. (Store hours are: Friday and Saturday – 10:00 am to 10:00 pm; Sunday – 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.)

“Saint Louis has a long and rich literary history, and this event is a way to celebrate continuing that tradition of excellence. We’re delighted that Left Bank Books is hosting us and giving us the opportunity to showcase local publishers and authors just in time for the holiday shopping season,” said Winnie Sullivan, Executive Director of PenUltimate Press. “For readers who love small presses and who want to support local authors—and local booksellers—this will be a great weekend.”

“This is just the first event that our new group has in the works as we come together as publishers and organizations to promote the literary arts in the Greater Saint Louis area,” Nancy Hughes of the St. Louis Poetry Center said. Along with the St. Louis Poetry Center and the St. Louis Writers Guild, participating organizations include Blank Slate Press, PenUltimate Press, Stonebrook Publishing, and Walrus Publishing.

For more information about the event, contact Left Bank Books at 314.367.6731. For information about the Saint Louis Literary Consortium, contact any of the participating organizations or Kristina Blank Makansi at Organization website addresses are:,,,

Participating Authors

Over 40 authors will be a part of this event! A schedule of book signing times will be announced soon.

Qiu Xiaolong
Mary Ellen Howard
Tullia Hamilton
Catherine Rankovic
Matt Freeman
Curtis Comer
Angie Fox
TW Fendley
Cole Gibsen
Brad R. Cook
Peter Green
Linda Austin
Claire Applewhite
Leigh Savage
Brenda Neubauer
Liz Maloney
Faye Adams
Bill Adams
Pat Bubash
Bruce Lucas
Robin Tidwell
Steve Weigenstein
Jean Ellen Whatley
Hannie J. Voyles
Vicki Bennington
Daniel Brannan
Loretta Goebel
Wanita Zumbrunnen
Denise McCormick Baich
Steven Schreiner
Mary Ruth Donnelly
Jennifer Fandel
Susan Grigsby
Gaye Gambell-Peterson
Niki Nymark
John S. Tieman
Marjorie Stelmach
Glendall Wallace
Drucilla Wall
Eamonn Wall

This holiday season give the gift with a St. Louis touch, support your local authors!


It’s been a while since we’ve done a comprehensive update on what’s going on at Blank Slate Press, so we’ve got lots of big news and exciting events coming up. First up:
Blank Slate Press has joined forces with several other organizations and small presses to form the Saint Louis Literary Consortium. Our first collaboration is a book signing holiday promotional event at Left Bank Books in the Central West End the weekend of November 9, 10, & 11th. Along with featured Blank Slate authors Steve Wiegenstein and Jean Ellen Whatley, authors from the St. Louis Poetry Center and the St. Louis Writers Guild will also be on hand. Other publishers participating in the Consortium and the event include Penultimate Press, Stonebrook Publishing, and Walrus Publishing. For more information, contact Left Bank Books at (314) 367-6731.
Also, we’re pleased to announce that we’ve joined the Small Press United/ Independent Publishers Group team and that all our books will now be distributed through SPU/IPG. This is big news for a small press like BSP, and we’re very excited about the opportunities ahead.

Jean Ellen Whatley’s Book Launch @ Subterranean

October 29th, 7-8 pm, 314.862.6100

We’re delighted to announce that Subterranean Books in The Loop will host former KDNL/ABC-30 on-air personality Jean Ellen Whatley’s launch for her debut memoir, OFF THE LEASH. The event will held on Monday, October 29th from 7:00 – 8:00 pm. Call 314.862.6100 or visit for info or let us know you’re coming  on our Facebook event page.

Here’s the back flap description of the book:

From sea to shining sea and then some, Jean Ellen Whatley and her dog Libby set out from Saint Louis to drive nearly 9,000 miles across America to revive her life. But she’s got enough baggage to bottom out a truck: her ex-husband got out of prison just as she was getting the last kid through college, her mother and two brothers died inside a few years and she’s got another brother who she has never seen but needs to find.

With a family history of secrets and betrayals, addiction and abuse, survivor solidarity and abiding love, our unlikely heroine wrestles her life to the ground and hogties it as she frees herself from the traps of the past. What unfolds on this odyssey is nothing short of life-changing-aided and abetted by strangers on the highway, long-lost family members, cosmic playing cards and the ever-present comfort of Libby who reminds her to live in the moment.

Listen to her interview with St. Louis On the Air’s Don Marsh here. 

Jean is also going to be featured on McGraw Milhaven’s show on KTRS-AM, The Big 550 on Thursday, October 25th in the 9:00 to 10:00 segment.

Want to know more about Jean and her incredible journey? Check out her blog and watch her trailer here.


NEVER HUG A NUN goes to press & you’re going to want to buy copies for everyone on your Christmas list!

Our official launch for Kevin Killeen’s comic novel of boy hood antics in 1960s Webster Groves will be December 8 at the Webster Groves Bookshop, and you can preorder your copy now. Call the bookstore at (314) 968-1185 to reserve your copy for the December 8th signing, or preorder online at Blank Slate Press. The book should be available in time for Christmas.

Kevin’s book will also be featured at Charlie Brennan’s (KMOX) November Book Club and will be available at the KMOX Annual Holiday Show. We’ll send out an update with specific dates & times. In the meantime, Check out Kevin’s blog and see how he feels about his “baby” going to press. Hint…it’s funny.

We’re also delighted to have a couple of wonderful endorsements for the book:

“If Webster Groves were Hannibal, Patrick would be Tom, Ebby would be Becky, and the tracks would be the river. How often does a radio guy make you think of Mark Twain? Kevin remembers what it was like to be a kid. This is fun stuff and would be great for book clubs.” – Bill McClellan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Kevin Killeen’s utterly winning novel gives us the human comedy in full measure. Blessed with a genuine comic gift, Killeen manages to write with both hilarity and humanity. The book is a buoyant delight from beginning to end.” – David Carkeet, author of The Full Catastrophe

 “An engaging, funny, adventurous, warm and very nostalgic read. This is a book about memories, and why they never leave our hearts.” – Harry Hamm, KMOX Radio Entertainment Editor


Want to know more? Here’s the NEVER HUG A NUN back flap description:  

Fom falling for a girl with no-good-for-sports stick arms and beautiful penmanship, to jumping freight trains, smoking cigarettes, projectile vomiting, robbing the local Ben Franklin–and, in his spare time, trying to get to heaven–Patrick Cantwell is learning all about life at Mary Queen of Our Hearts parochial school. By the time Patrick graduates second grade, he’s practically a grown-up, complete with a broken heart, a police record, and memories of the Beatles at Busch Stadium.

Written with the same keen sense of comic timing Killeen brings to radio station KMOX’s “A Whole ‘nother Story” and the annual Holiday Radio Show, Never Hug a Nun is a sweet, laugh-out-loud look at the innocence of childhood in the leafy Webster Groves suburb of 1960s Saint Louis.


Know someone who loves the heat and grit of hard-edged southern gothic? DRIVING ALONE is the perfect holiday gift.

Preorder a copy for everyone on your holiday shopping list who loves a great love story wrapped in the sweltering heat of the damned. DRIVING ALONE is beautiful and not a little disturbing.

Here’s what early readers had to say:

“Driving Alone is a gorgeously grim new take on redemption and romance. It is unsettling and provocative, combining the classic romance of the open road with the claustrophobia of a morality play. If Hell is other people, Driving Alone has the devil riding shotgun.” - Jared Shurin, reviewer for Pornokitsch, director & literary judge of The Kitschies

“Hardboiled, hardbitten and haunting as well as lyrically libidinous and lovingly lascivious, Kevin Lynn Helmick tackles sex and death along the lost highway the way the damned do–alone.” – Jedidiah Ayres, author of A F*ckload of Shorts

“An intense nightmare that shimmers with beauty and darkness. Helmick broils these characters in southern humidity and human tragedy until the reader is left sweating, breathless, and amazed.” – Fred Venturini, author of The Samaritan

Here’s the back flap description:

Billy Keyhoe’s luck just ran out. After beating his girl to a bloody pulp and being shot at by the clerk of Earl’s ’66, Billy takes off in his Daddy’s beat-up 66 Caddy toward West Texas, leaving Waycross, Georgia and all his troubles in the rear-view mirror. At a crossroads, he picks up a beautiful hitchhiker who seems to know more about Billy than he knows himself. The farther they go, the more Billy is drawn to Feather until he realizes he has “fallen in love somewhere out there in the night, with something or someone, or just an idea, it wasn’t clear.” But unfortunately for Billy, he discovers that even true love cannot save him, and he finally realizes he might have gone too far to ever make it back.

Preorder your copy today. 

Kevin maintains a blog at


SoL Cover

Steve Wiegenstein makes it to the big leagues

Last but by no means least, Steve Wiegenstein’s debut novelSlant of Light continues to receive great reviews, and we’re delighted to announce that he has been invited to participate in the  Arkansas Literary Festival. We’re thrilled that Steve will be rubbing shoulders with so many amazing authors!

Besides the Left Bank book signing, he’s got several events coming up. If you’re in the neighborhood–and especially if you love historical fiction, Missouri fiction, and books about the Civil War–please stop by:

10/27 – signing at Main Street Books, St. Charles, 3-5 pm
11/13 – talk and signing, Daniel Boone Regional Library, Columbia, 7 pm

Get your copy of Slant of Light at your local independent bookstore, online at Amazon or B&N, or directly from us at .

PLEASE VOTE for the one SLANT OF LIGHT cover concept you like best. From the very abstract to the photographic to the historical, we’ve got very different design ideas to consider. Please feel free to share your comments–we’ll take all votes and comments into consideration. And if you vote and leave a comment (tell us in the comments which cover you voted for and why), you’ll be automatically entered to win a copy of the book when it’s released.

First, here’s the summary of the novel:

With the nation moving toward Civil War, James Turner, a charming, impulsive writer and lecturer, Charlotte, his down-to-earth bride, and Henry Cabot, an idealistic  Harvard-educated abolitionist are drawn together in a social experiment deep in the Missouri Ozarks.

Inspired by utopian dreams of building a new society, Turner is given a tract of land to found the community of Daybreak. But not everyone involved in the project is a willing partner and being the leader of a farming community out in the middle of nowhere isn’t exactly the life Turner envisioned.

Charlotte, confronted with the hardships of rural life, must mature in a hurry to deal with the challenges of building the community while facing her husband’s betrayals and her growing attraction to Cabot. In turn, Cabot struggles to reconcile his need to leave Daybreak to join the fight against slavery and his desire to stay near the woman he loves.

As the war draws ever closer, the utopians try to remain neutral and friendly to all, but soon find neutrality is not an option. When war finally breaks out, Missouri descends into its uniquely savage brand of conflict in which guerrilla bands terrorize the countryside while Federal troops control the cities, and in which neither side offers or expects quarter. Ultimately, each member of Daybreak must take a stand—both in their political and personal lives.

Remember, these are concepts–not finished covers. Let us know what you like and why, what would make you pick the book up, turn it over and read the back cover or thumb through the pages, and what would make you pass it by.

To see a larger version of the covers, click the cover.


And…now you can pre-order your copy of SLANT OF LIGHT and have it delivered to you as soon as the books are available:


(Updated 12.5.2011 – More proof everyone needs a proofreader. Thanks to Elena Makansi for pointing out my misplaced apostrophe.)

Blank Slate Press was founded in 2010. With the help of our Editorial Board, we selected our first two authors–who, incidentally, had NOT finished their books–and guided them through the publication process with both books coming out in early 2011. While it was a learning experience for all of us, we successfully launched two debut novelists to rave reviews. THE SAMARITAN by Fred Venturini, our first book out the door, has received more accolades than we can keep track of and our second book, DANCING WITH GRAVITY by Anene Tressler, continues to receive glowing praise for the beautiful writing, the unique protagonist, and the startlingly revealing journey through one man’s crisis of character and journey of faith.

Besides kudos for the writing, both books have won awards (DANCING WITH GRAVITY won the 2011 Literary Fiction category from International Book Awards and THE SAMARITAN won the Cross-Genre category from USA Book Awards) and now both have been included on notable end-of-year “Best of…” reading lists. Shelf Unbound magazine named THE SAMARITAN as one of its top 10 Small Press books of 2011 (a list which was picked up by USA Today) and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has included DANCING WITH GRAVITY on its round up of favorite books of 2011.

For those of you keeping count, that’s an amazing 2 for 2. Not bad for a debut publishing house. Not bad at all.

But that’s only the beginning!

We’ve got more great books on the horizon plus we’re launching a sister imprint — tentatively titled Treehouse Publishing — to offer curated, collaborative publishing to authors interested in forging a middle path between working with a traditional publishing team and the new financial opportunities afforded by going it alone through self-publishing.

Our next Blank Slate Press book, DAYBREAK by Steve Wiegenstein, is in production now and will be launched in the spring of 2012. DAYBREAK, set on the cusp of the Civil War, follows the story of charismatic author and speaker James Turner, his pragmatic wife Charlotte, and the idealistic abolitionist Adam Cabot as they work to build a Utopian society in the bottom lands of the Missouri Ozarks. While Steve does a fantastic job transporting the reader back in time and capturing the turmoil of the period, the thing that absolutely captivates me about this book is the amazing characters that populate it. Not only are Turner, Charlotte and Adam wonderfully drawn, but the secondary characters are so colorful and compelling that, even when they’re absolutely dangerous, good-for-nothing low-lifes and outlaws, you can’t help but love them. I can’t wait to introduce the world to Sam Hildebrand (a real-life Ozark outlaw), Harp Webb, Lysander Smith, and the men and women of the Daybreak community.

In short, DAYBREAK is fantastic.

And I can’t wait to tell you more about our first Treehouse title. I’ll be getting the revised manuscript mid-December and will write more about it then. For now, I can tell you now that it’s a fictional chronicle of one man’s experience in the Vietnam War. Torn between being a conscientious objector and doing his duty to serve his country, the main character ends up trained for the infantry but, at the last moment, he is pulled from his trip to the front lines and stuck in an office simply because he can type. It’s a look at running a war’s back office and is a bit like Catch 22 meets M*A*S*H meets The Office. If you’re interested in the philosophical pretzels we can twist ourselves into when it comes to war, this book is for you.

Stay tuned for more on this one!



We’re getting tantalizingly close to having ARCs ready for review. Set on the cusp of the Civil War, DAYBREAK is the story of James Turner, his wife Charlotte, Adam Cabot, and the founding of a Utopian community in the Ozarks of Missouri. It is a story of ambition and conceit, love and betrayal, loss and hardship and, above all, idealism and survival. DAYBREAK unfolds against the backdrop of Civil War agitation, abolitionism, and the hardscrabble life on the edge of the frontier. If you would like to read or review an electronic ARC, please send me a note at kbmakansi @ Scroll down for a preview of chapter 1 ….


Chapter One

August 1857

The keelboat moved so slowly against the current that Turner sometimes wondered if they were moving at all. Keeping a steady rhythm, Pettibone and his son worked the poles on the quarter-sized boat they had built to ply the smaller rivers that fed the Mississippi. Whenever the current picked up a little, Turner took the spare pole and tried to help, but although he was tall and muscular, with a wide body that didn’t narrow from shoulders to hips, poling a boat wasn’t as simple as it looked. He pushed too soon, too late, missed the bottom, stuck the pole in the mud, all to the amusement of Pettibone’s son, Charley.

“Limb,” Pettibone called. They all ducked.

Turner had unloaded his cargo at a steamboat landing in Arkansas and come the rest of the way on the keelboat, winding through the tangle of bayous where the rivers met, the countryside flat and swampy, the loops of the river indistinguishable. Pettibone claimed he knew the channel of the St. Francis, so there was nothing to do but trust him.

Turner wondered now about the steamboat captain’s advice to take a boat up the St. Francis instead of continuing to Cape Girardeau and traveling overland in whatever wagons he could rent or buy. Mosquitoes woke them before dawn and troubled them until the sun’s heat drove them to the shade, then troubled them again as soon as the sun declined. To give more purchase to their poles, they hugged the bank, but that meant fighting through overhanging brush all day. In the center of the boat was a stumpy mast, a four-inch pole draped with a canvas sail, fixed with a series of shaky-looking braces. Pettibone was constantly adjusting it, but most of the time it just hung slack in the hot, wet air. At night they tied up on the few solid-looking humps of land and slept on the boat for fear of snakes, netting draped over their bodies to slow down the mosquitoes. Even then Turner could not sleep well, dreaming of fat water moccasins slithering onto the deck.

On the eighth day a long low rise appeared before them. “That there’s Crowley’s Ridge,” said Pettibone. “Last piece of Arkansas you’ll see.”

“Thank God Almighty for that,” Turner replied.

The ridge sat to their left like a humped cloud bank on the horizon, but the countryside didn’t change. Arkansas on the left, Missouri on the right, it was all the same. Charley, a boy of thirteen, entertained himself by commenting aimlessly on everything he saw—turtles, herons, the stream of his pee into the river—until his father growled for silence.

The current strengthened as they rounded the ridge, and Turner had to wade ashore with a rope. At first he pulled directly on the boat, but Pettibone showed him how to snub the rope around a tree and keep it tight.

“Just take up the slack,” he said. “You don’t need to haul us upriver yourself.”

Turner filed away this information, as he planned to file away every piece of knowledge he gained for the next few years. He had to; this new chapter of his life depended on it. He was no farmer and had thirty years’ worth of experience to catch up on. But surely a man could pick up the tricks with attentiveness and study.

What in all creation am I doing here? he asked himself with every stroke of the pole. He didn’t know what he had been born to become, but by God it was not a farmer. He’d seen them every day back in Illinois, clumping into the newspaper office on their trips into town to hear the gossip, to sit around the desk and spit, leaving the editor’s boy—him—to clean up their misses. When he was small, he had disliked these men—their earthy smell, their beards, their ragged clothes. As he grew older, he saw that they were not dirty and ragged by choice, but by necessity, their lives swallowed up by their forty acres of ground, their debts, the prices handed to them by the local merchants and the railroad men. Of course they were ignorant of the larger world. Their world was no bigger than a quarter mile square, and that if they were lucky.

Even then, Turner knew he was not going to be a village editor like his father, listening with forced politeness to any son-of-a-bitch with a nickel, bowing to the county judges for the privilege of printing their legal notices. And now, if his father were alive, how he would laugh to see him on a keelboat, hauling a pile of tools and seeds into Missouri.

“Okay, jump on,” Pettibone said. “We’re crossing over.”

Ahead, the ridge finally came down to meet the river, ending in some low chalk bluffs. A ferryboat was tethered on the Missouri side where a wagon track ended in a ramp of packed dirt.

The ferryman, thin and toothless, walked out of his shed as they poled by. He was shirtless but wore a battered hat. “Well, Pettibone,” he called. “Come in and set. I got whiskey.”

Pettibone cast a sideways glance but did not stop poling. “My customer here is in a hurry. I’ll get you on the way back down.”

The ferryman touched the brim of his hat to Turner. “You’re welcome inside too, mister.”

“No thanks. Not even noon yet.”

“Where you headed?”

Pettibone interrupted. “Greenville, up by Greenville.” They were almost out of talking range. “Save me some of that old tanglefoot for when I come back.”

“I will, I will,” the ferryman called out, and turned back to his cabin.

They poled in silence until they rounded the next bend.

“I tell you what,” Pettibone said in a low voice. “That old bastard won’t cut your throat for your goods, but he knows people who will.”

By nightfall they had reached higher ground, and Pettibone’s mood improved. Ahead of them Turner could see the Ozarks rising up in the distant dusk, so low and hazy that they seemed like an illusion, no mountains, hardly even hills from this distance, but surely more than he had grown up with on the Illinois prairie. As they poled toward an angle of bank to tie up for the night, Pettibone, in the bow, suddenly dropped to the deck and motioned for Turner and the boy to be quiet. The boat drifted on, and as they floated to the bank, a deer came into view about fifty yards ahead, drinking.

Crouched behind the pile of supplies, Pettibone quietly removed a rifle from a box beside him. He tamped the powder and ball, wadded the barrel, and rested it across some sacks of flour. As soon as the deer raised its head, he fired. The gun made a deafening roar and sent a cloud of smoke across the boat, but when it cleared they could see the deer, dead, half in the river and half on the bank. It was a small doe, about eighty pounds.

Within half an hour they had the deer dressed and hanging from a tree limb. Pettibone set to butchering while Turner and the boy gathered firewood. Soon they had a foreleg over the fire.

“We’ll cook the rest tomorrow morning and take it with us,” the boatman said. “Get to Greenville, I’ll trade half of it for something. Full bellies tonight, boys.”

They were waiting for the venison to cook, Pettibone and Charley resting against a log and Turner sitting on an upturned nail keg, when a man on horseback appeared out of the darkness on the other side of the fire. He had arrived so quietly that he seemed to materialize out of the air. None of the three even had time to be surprised.

“I heard a shot,” said the man.

Pettibone and his son sat stiffly against the log. There was an awkward pause. So Turner jumped to his feet. A quick mind and a firm handshake had gotten him this far.

“Yes, indeed,” he said. “My friend here had some fine luck. Won’t you join us? We have plenty.”

The man glanced around the camp. He was tall and thin, with a narrow face and a long, bony nose. “Just you three?”

“Just us three.” Turner took a step toward him. He was a young man in his twenties, with black hair and an attempt at a beard. From his saddle horn hung a rifle in a homemade canvas scabbard. A rope trailed from his saddle, and in the darkness behind him, Turner could hear the snuffles and snorts of hogs.

“Don’t mind if I do,” said the man. He dismounted and Turner saw the glint of firelight on the barrel of a revolver stuck in his belt. He guessed by their frozen expressions that Pettibone and Charley had seen it too.

“James Turner,” he said, extending his hand.

The man shook it solemnly. “Sam Hildebrand.” He glanced behind himself. “I am taking some hogs to my cousin in Bloomfield. Hope you don’t mind a hog.”

“You are welcome,” Turner said. “Hog too.”

They settled by the fire and carved off pieces of venison with a long knife Hildebrand produced from a saddlebag. Turner introduced him to Pettibone and the boy; Pettibone muttered a greeting and shook his hand, while the boy stood mute.

“You’re a fine shot,” said Hildebrand, eyeing the carcass of the deer.

“I had a rest,” said Pettibone.

“You men afoot? I didn’t see no horse pickets.”

“We’re aboat,” Turner said. “Heading upriver.”

“The piggies will go after those guts over there, if you don’t mind,” Hildebrand said.

Sure enough, in a moment three big sows followed by a cascade of piglets came into the clearing and took to the heap of entrails, shoving and squealing over the choicest parts. The sows were tied together with intricate loops of rope that wound around their necks, behind their forelegs, over their backs, and then to the next hog.

“That’s quite an arrangement,” Turner said.

“Ain’t that so,” said Hildebrand. “A hog don’t like to be interfered with. That biggest one damn near cost me a finger, but I’ll get her back come winter. Fortunately, a hog cannot go backward with any strength, so even a small man can hold them with a rope. If they ever figure out this stratagem and start coming at us, we humans are in trouble.” His voice was soft, with an odd lilt, almost singing his wordsThe sows had finished off the deer guts and settled on the ground to rest, the little ones tugging at their teats. The smallest of the three got up occasionally and snuffed among the leaves for a missed tidbit.

“Enough of hogs,” Hildebrand said. He rubbed his hands on the grass to clean off the venison juices. “My curiosity is aroused. What brings you gents out here in the middle of creation on a boat?”

“I’m starting a settlement,” Turner said. “I’ve been granted some land upriver, in Madison County.”

“Granted? By the state?”

“No, a gentleman named George Webb.”

Hildebrand lowered his head and spat thoughtfully between his legs. The meal was finished, and he plunged his knife into the dirt to clean it. Pettibone and his son had inched their way to the end of the log, their eyes on Hildebrand’s revolver.

“I know who George Webb is. Good man. Never figured him for a town founder.”

“It’s not so much a town as a social experiment. I lecture on social reform, and Mr. Webb follows my ideas. All who come to join the community will own it together. All of our earnings will go to a common treasury, and we will decide democratically how to spend them.”

Another long pause. “Free country, I guess,” Hildebrand finally said. “Well, I better mount up. I can make another six, eight miles before bedding down.” Then he spoke more softly to Turner. “A word with you, sir.”

They walked to the riverbank, out of earshot. “You can read and write, then,” Hildebrand said.


“Could I trouble you to write a letter for me?”

“Of course.” They stepped onto the boat, where Turner fetched a pencil and his notebook from his bag. He saw Hildebrand cast an appraising glance over the mountain of goods. Turner sat on a stack of flour sacks and turned his notebook toward the firelight. “Go ahead.”

Hildebrand paced back and forth in front of him, his voice low. “The address is Mrs. Rebecca Hildebrand, Desloge, Missouri.” He cleared his throat. “Dear Mother, I hope you are well. I will reach cousin’s by morning. The gentleman who is writing this for me will post it in Greenville.” He paused. “You can, can’t you?”

“My pleasure,” said Turner.

Hildebrand nodded. “My travels have proceeded successfully and with no incident, although I am developing a dislike for hogs, or I should say one hog in particular. I believe my business may take me into Arkansas, Greene County or perhaps even farther. It may be more than a month before I return. Please give my fondest greeting to Father and brothers and keep a spot warm on the hearth for me. Your loving son, Samuel.”

He stopped pacing and watched Turner finish the letter. “The art of the pen is something I never acquired,” he said. “I do regret that at times.”

Back at the fire, Hildebrand shook their hands again. “Best of luck to you on this venture,” he said to Turner, and to Pettibone, “Thanks for the meat.” He twitched the rope on his saddle to get the hogs to their feet.

“I bet you stole them hogs,” Charley blurted out.

Hildebrand did not appear to move quickly; his motion seemed to Turner casual and deliberate. But it must have been quick, for in one moment he was twitching the rope and in the next moment he had his pistol out of his belt, leveled at Charley’s chest, the hammer back. Turner stood in the sudden silence, his heart thumping.

Hildebrand held the pistol still. “You are a boy,” he said after a long time, all the lilt gone from his voice. “A boy is likely to forget his manners. And this gentleman has done me a favor, so I will indulge your lack of manners this once.”

Then as quietly as he had arrived, Hildebrand disappeared into the darkness. Turner, Pettibone, and the boy watched the spot where he had gone.

“I didn’t—” Charley started to say.

Pettibone slapped his son across the cheek, hard. The sound echoed across the river. “Load up this meat,” he said. “We are sleeping upstream and across. That fella may decide to come back, and I do not want to be here if he does.” He kicked the chunks into the fire and walked to the boat without saying another word.

“Yessir,” said Charley, rubbing his cheek.

They poled across the river by lantern light, feeling their way upstream in the darkness, until Pettibone found a campsite on a sandbar. “No fire tonight,” Pettibone said. “Sorry you can’t write your letter to your wife.”

Turner squinted at the moon rising through the trees. “There may be enough light.”

“Suit yourself,” Pettibone said. “We’ll hail Greenville by noon tomorrow and reach your place the next day.”

Turner braced himself against his rolled-up blanket and angled his body so the moonlight fell on the notebook page. He’d made a practice of writing Charlotte every night since his departure and wasn’t about to stop now.

My dear Charlotte—

But what to say? We were very nearly robbed and murdered today, and left on a riverbank for the crows? I have no idea what I am doing? Hardly. There was no purpose served by adding to her fears, and besides, his principle had always been that the idea preceded the action. If he pretended to know what he was doing, and pretended to be unafraid, then soon enough he would figure out what to do, and the fear would go away. He must act as if he had a clear purpose, and soon enough the purpose would emerge.

We had a most interesting encounter with one of the native folk today, a real woods ruffian, although his manner was gentlemanly. We are out of the swamps and into the hill country, and I believe I can detect a change in the air already—

He laid the notebook aside. He couldn’t bring himself to write what was in his heart. I am afraid. I feel a fool. I never meant for people to take my ideas so seriously. I wish I was with you, back in Kansas.

He would have to finish the letter in the morning. As he rolled out his blanket on the rocky riverbank, Turner thought of the words his father-in-law had spoken to him before he left, trying to talk him out of this scheme: Man is a wolf to man.


We had two events this past week that featured our wonderful writers and that gave us a chance to give readers a peek at our upcoming release, DAYBREAK by Steve Wiegenstein. First, on Wednesday night, Anene Tressler read from her debut novel Dancing with Gravity at the Kirkwood Public Library. It was a well attended event and we even had a chance to sell some books thanks to Main Street Books in St. Charles.

Then on Saturday and Sunday, we enjoyed the beautiful weather at our first-ever booth in the Historic Shaw Art Fair. Thank you to the Art Fair organizers for letting Blank Slate Press participate and thank you to everyone who stopped by our booth to buy a book and meet our authors! Fred Venturini, author of The Samaritan, was on hand to sign books on Saturday (and sign 100 books those who participated in our Klout promotion!), and Anene was in the booth visiting with readers and signing books on Sunday. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect with old friends and make new friends among neighbors, art lovers, readers and writers from across the country. The weather was perfect, the conversation was animated, and besides some tired feet and aching backs, we had a fantastic time!