Book Review: Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and with Others — by Renee Kimball

 Written by Renee Kimball

 

Recommended Reading:   Writing Alone and with others, The guide that will beat the block, banish fear, and help create lasting work, by Pat Schneider- Writer, Poet-Healer, and Shaman. An instructional guide to self-healing through writing

Cover photo from Amazon.

Pat Schneider is a poet-healer, a guide and shaman who believes writing is the means to self-healing.   Writing Alone and with others is a writer’s guide to forgiving yourself and giving yourself permission to write your story so that you can go forward to a better you.

There are many gems of wisdom in Schneider’s book for writers and would-be-writers.  Each page speaks in a kind of firm best-friend voice.  It is directed to anyone and everyone, quoting Will Stafford, Schneider affirms: “A writer is someone who writes” – stating whether writing a letter, email, or merely a report, we all write (p. xxv).   If writing calls to you, you must answer the call, if you do not, you damage yourself – whatever your write, it is your art—your story– and your right to write.

 

“When we neglect the artist in ourselves,
there is a kind of mourning that goes on
under the surface of our busy lives.
 ~Schneider

 

If you are troubled and wish to heal, then the act of writing will heal you. And your story does not have to be shared in order for you to be whole.  Of course, there are those who want to share, and that is a good thing. But, whatever path is chosen, the medicine – writing- will heal you.

The very act of writing takes courage, it is an act exposing your most vulnerable self.  You know which writers’ stories relate to you.  If you share, it may be the story that irrevocably changes not only your path, but another’s path, you never know – it is a risk. Take the risk to write, whether you share or not, and you will heal.

 

“Writing is a scary thing to do and the bad news is, it never stops being scary.  Once I was at a luncheon with several writers and one of them had won the Pulitzer Prize.  And he said: “what in God’s name do you write after you’ve won the Pulitzer?”  And he was terrified. And I know someone else who has written book after book. . . and he’s miserable when he’s writing his next book, because he says, “I’ll never finish, I can’t finish, I can’t do this.  How did I get myself into this?”  So, a claim does not take care of the fear of writing.” (on-line interview)

 

Schneider’s book is a writer’s self-help book and an instructional manual for writing groups, it gives a firm but loving GET TO IT message, a message to GET ON WITH YOUR WRITING AND HEAL YOURSELF – Look into the dark corners of yourself and write them down, clear them out, banish them, shed them, become whole.

Schneider leaves no one behind.  She encourages everyone to “Write something that feels too huge, or too dangerous, to tell. Courage is not the special prerogative of those who have experienced some dramatic suffering” (p. 90).

This is a hefty book, a thoughtful book, and whether you are an old-hand at writing, a beginner, or simply seeking personal solace through writing, Schneider’s book will fill you up and just may be the start towards a new beginning.

By Deekatherine [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

To grow in craft is to increase
the breadth of what I can do,
but art is the depth, t
he passion, the desire,
the courage to be myself,
and myself alone.

 

 

 

 

 

***

GOING HOME THE LONGEST WAY AROUND

we tell stories, build
from fragments of our lives
maps to guide us to each other.
We make collages of the way
it might have been
had it been as we remembered,
as we think perhaps it was,
tallying in our middle age
diminishing returns.
Last night the lake was still;
all along the shoreline
bright pencil marks of light, and
children in the dark canoe pleading
“Tell us scary stories.”
Fingers trailing in the water,
I said someone I loved who died
told me in a dream
to not be lonely, told me
not to ever be afraid.
And they were silent, the children,
listening to the water
lick the sides of the canoe.
It’s what we love the most
can make us most afraid, can make us
for the first time understand
how we are rocking in a dark boat on the water,
taking the long way home.

~ Pat Schneider

***

For more of Pat Schneider’s poems visit, Pat Schneider.com. – http://patschneider.ca/pat/?p=47

 

References

Writing alone and with others. The guide that will beat the block, banish fear, and help create lasting work. Pat Schneider.  Available on Amazon.com, https://www.amazon.com/Writing-Alone-Others-Pat-Schneider/dp/019516573X  Photo contribution from Amazon. Com

Pat Schneider – Online Interview – On Writing
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQ1ukC0KWZI  Oxford Academic (Oxford University Press) Published on Apr 24, 2013

Pat Schneider.com http://patschneider.com/pat/

Pat Schneider – Online Interview – On Writing
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQ1ukC0KWZI  Oxford Academic (Oxford University Press) Published on Apr 24, 2013

Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed here are her own.

*****

A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate, fosters and rescues both dogs and cats from shelters, and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.

 

 

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Never Mind the Villain!: Dorothy Sayers and Point of View

 Posted by Helen Currie Foster

Okay, you know writers have to make choices. I began writing the Alice MacDonald Greer mysteries from a single point of view—Alice’s. As you all know, whether in first person or third, making this choice in an amateur sleuth mystery requires the writer to figure out how the protagonist can acquire and understand all the necessary clues.

Bronze statue of Dorothy L. Sayers by John Doubleday, located on Newland Street, Witham, England. By GeneralJohnsonJameson [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons
The magnificent Dorothy Sayers instead adopted a disciplined omniscience in her eleven Peter Wimsey mysteries (1923-1937). In the first, Whose Body (1923), we meet not only the main character but his companion investigators: his unflappable butler Mervyn Bunter and Inspector Parker of Scotland Yard, who carry through the entire series (with Harriet Vane appearing in the fifth mystery). These characters both enrich the books and add structural strength. Parker provides the window to the police, while Bunter possesses useful technical skills (photography, testing for arsenic). Furthermore, the companion sleuths (and others) shed light on Wimsey’s character by their own thoughts and observations—necessary because Wimsey, though a chatterbox, is notoriously introverted, plagued by his war experience.

Omniscience also gives Sayers flexibility in setting the opening scene.  In Strong Poison (1931), after the bewigged judge’s dry summation of the evidence against Harriet Vane, we’re privy to reactions not only from Wimsey but also newspaper reporters and the public. Busman’s Honeymoon (1937) opens with letters describing Wimsey’s marriage to Harriet Vane, written to or from unknown society matrons, Peter’s butler Mervyn Bunter, Peter’s prickly sister-in-law Helen, and Peter’s mother. These multiple points of view enliven both openings.

But after such openings Sayers typically narrows point of view to the clue-finders. In Strong Poison we’re mainly in Wimsey’s head, feeling his growing emotional involvement: “Wimsey walked down the dingy street with a feeling of being almost lightheaded.” “For the first time, too, he doubted his own power to carry through what he had undertaken.” Sayers lets us abandon Wimsey to accompany his “team.” We follow the resourceful Bunter into the kitchen of a London mansion where we watch him toast crumpets while eliciting critical evidence from the cook and housemaid:

By what ingratiating means Mr. Bunter had contrived to turn the delivery of a note into the acceptance of an invitation to tea was best known to himself…He had been trained to a great pitch of dexterity in the preparation of crumpets, and if he was somewhat lavish in the matter of butter, that hurt nobody…Nothing goes so well with a hot fire and buttered crumpets as a wet day without and a good dose of comfortable horrors within.

Later our heart pounds with that of Miss Murchison, whom Wimsey has persuaded to take a job as temporary secretary in order to burgle a lawyer’s safe.  “Miss Murchison felt a touch of excitement in her well-regulated heart.” We follow the elderly Katharine Climpson to a village where, she’s promised Wimsey, she must somehow find and read a dying woman’s will: “In a single moment of illumination, Miss Climpson saw her plan complete and perfect in every detail.” And so do we.

Given their moments in the sun these characters develop richly. We feel Miss Murchison’s excited terror as she presses the panel that reveals the safe in the suspect’s office. We feel Miss Climpson’s anxious discipline as she waits for the kettle to steam enough to loosen the glue on the envelope holding the will. We love Bunter’s roast chicken recipe and ability to extract critical detail from the housemaid and cook. And when Wimsey celebrates their information the reader enjoys the teamwork as well:

(Wimsey) “Have you brought us news, Miss Murchison? If so, you have come at the exact right moment…Have you had tea? or will you absorb a spot of something?”

Miss Murchison declined refreshment.

(Wimsey) “Tell us the worst, Miss Murchison.”

Miss Murchison needed no urging. She told her adventures, and had the pleasure of holding her audience enthralled from the first word to the last.

In the earlier (pre-Harriet Vane) Clouds of Witness (1926) we travel to Paris with Inspector Parker, in search of a cat-shaped diamond brooch. After a fruitless day, Parker decides to buy his unmarried older sister “some filmy scrap of lace underwear which no one but herself would ever see.” He finds help in one Parisian shop: “The young lady had been charmingly sympathetic, and, without actually insinuating anything, had contrived to make her customer feel just a little bit of a dog. He felt that his French accent was improving.” Somehow we like Parker even more—a good thing, since later in Clouds of Witness he’ll propose to Wimsey’s sister.

In Have His Carcase (1932), the initial point of view is all Harriet Vane’s: she discovers the grisly body. Then Wimsey arrives, and we follow him as he tracks down alibis (“Wimsey shuddered at the thought of roast mutton and cabbage on a red-hot June day”). At the end, we’re  with Bunter as he doggedly trails a suspect to find the key evidence, then sees the back of a man leaving the movie theater (“He had not followed that back through London for five days without knowing every line of it”). By the conclusion we’ve enjoyed the inner workings of all three minds—Harriet’s, Peter’s, Bunter’sin a way we couldn’t with a single point of view.

However, there’s one point of view Sayers refuses to share, despite her omniscience. Sayers never admits us to the killer’s point of view. We hear dialogue from the killer; particularly where a death was unintended, we hear the killer explain what happened; but Sayers bars us from following the killer’s thoughts.

She’s taken a position consistent with the first rule of The Detection Club which Sayers helped found in 1930: “The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.” (Indeed, she even follows this rule for the accused killer in Clouds of Witness; he’s innocent, but still we never hear his thoughts.)

Many mysteries break this rule (see, e.g., Tony Hillerman’s The Ghost Way (1984), where we enter Vaggan’s mind), sometimes to great effect.

But it’s a rule Sayers kept.

On May 19, 2018, at our Heart of Texas Sisters in Crime meeting, Ed Martin  told in fascinating detail how he helped determine who murdered Madalyn Murray O’Hair, her son John, her adopted daughter Robin, and Danny Fry, a co-conspirator in their murders. As he ended, Ed mentioned that the murderer David Waters had told of a nightmare in which he saw Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s hand sticking up from the grave. Ed said, “No conscience, but he had a nightmare!”

That comment intrigued me. It opened an unwelcome door into the villain’s thoughts. It was already too hard to understand the murders in the first place. Hearing about the nightmare made the O’Hairs’ deaths more painful. And yet—the murderer had had that nightmare. Maybe that’s a different story.

***

Photographic images of covers of Strong Poison and Clouds of Witness taken from personal copies.

***

Helen Currie Foster is the author of the Alice MacDonald Greer mystery seriesGHOST CAVE, GHOST DOG, GHOST LETTER, and GHOST DAGGER. She earned a BA from Wellesley College, an MA from the University of Texas, and a JD from the University of Michigan.

Having grown up in Texas surrounded by books and storytelling, she taught high school English and later became a prize-winning feature writer for a small Michigan weekly. Following a career of more than thirty years as an environmental lawyer, the character Alice and her stories suddenly appeared in Foster’s life. In her writing, Foster explores the interaction between history and the present and the reasons we tell the stories we do.

Married with two children, she lives north of Dripping Springs, Texas, supervised by three burros. She works in Austin, and she’s active with the Hays County Master Naturalists and the board of Austin Shakespeare.

 

 

Finding the Muse

Today Writing Wranglers and Warriors
welcomes a new blogger, 
David Ciambrone

 Posted by Dave Ciambrone

You will hear writers sometime say, “I can’t write right now, the muse hasn’t been with me.” They wait for the muse or the inspiration to hit in order to write. You can wait forever. Writers have also said that once they start, sometimes they will get “into the groove” and things really come, it seems to flow. Why does this happen? Is there a muse? What is the groove and how does it work?

Well, after studying hypnosis I think I have the answer. It is called self-hypnosis. There are those who don’t believe in hypnosis or think it is evil, but it isn’t. It is just an altered state of mind. Have you ever been listening to a replay of an old time radio show or listened to a book on tape in the car and you are transported into the story and you can “see” the action in your mind like a movie. Later you wonder how you got to the place you were headed and don’t remember driving? You were hypnotized. You did it yourself.

When you start to write something you are interested in, your mind gets into a state where the physical aspect of writing (the typing) is “mechanical” and your conscious mind lulls itself into a pattern activity. This means it “doesn’t have to think” and “goes to sleep” or relaxes. Your subconscious mind is the creative part of your brain, and because your conscious mind is “asleep,” the subconscious takes over and the story and characters and plots get to come to the surface and start to flow. You visualize things and see the story before your eyes and the writing is nothing more than documenting what you are seeing. You are “in the groove” or “the Muse is working.” It is your subconscious mind at work. You’ve been thinking about a plot problem but couldn’t figure it out. While you were doing your normal daily activities and your conscious mind was working on life, your subconscious mind was hard at work on your plot problem. When you “got into the groove” the problem was solved. That’s when your subconscious mind got to surface and told you the answer. Time becomes irrelevant, you are in the world of your story and the plot and characters become alive. You are under self-hypnosis.  People self hypnotize themselves without knowing it all the time.

You can get into this altered mind state by sitting down in a comfortable chair with your computer or word processor in a room or place that you like to write in, and relaxing. Take a few deep breaths and slowly let them out.  Now, start writing. Start on your story and just write what comes to you. Before long you’re “in the groove.” You can go back and edit later, just create. Let your mind go and just write. The results will surprise you.

***

“Brain Connections” by Jack Moreh is licensed under Equalicense 1.0 via Freerange.

***

Dr. David Ciambrone is a retired executive, scientist, professor of engineering, and a forensics consultant, and now a best selling, award winning author living in Georgetown, Texas with his wife Kathy.  He has published 20 books, four (4) non-fiction and fourteen fiction, and has news mysteries in work. He has also published two (2) textbooks for a California university. Dave has been a speaker at writers groups, schools, colleges and conferences and business conferences internationally.

He is past vice president of Sisters-in-Crime Orange County, CA, and past President of the Austin chapter of Sisters-in Crime; a member of Mystery Writers of America; past Member of the Board of Directors of the Writer’s League of Texas; Past President of the San Gabriel’s Writer’s League in Georgetown, TX; and a member of the Williamson County Coroners and the International Thriller Writers. Dave has also been on the Georgetown Library Advisory Board and the board of a local theater. He was Chairman on the Williamson County Appraisal Review Board and was on the board of directors of a Texas special utility district. He was also Chairman of the Williamson County, Texas Historical Commission.

Dr. Ciambrone has written three newspaper columns and a column for a business journal.

He is a fellow of the International Oceanographic Foundation and has a Bronze Trowel Award from the Archaeological Institute of America. He is also a member of the Order of Merlin of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

The Deep Dive

Today Writing Wranglers and Warriors
welcomes a new blogger,
Helen Currie Foster

Posted by Helen Currie Foster

I’m so used to the pressure of fast-moving fiction. “Does this scene advance the action?” “Should I pare down this description?” Now and then I’m reminded, though, of the need to take a dive. A deep, deep dive.

Interconnectedness is not something we always grasp. But in writing, we’re struggling to understand, to make sense of, the interconnections of people, events, timelines. A deep dive into nature can give new vocabulary. The Brits, never slouches at nature-writing, offer some virtuoso examples. One is Robert MacFarlane (The Old Ways, The Wild Places, Landmarks). My copy of The Wild Places is tattered at the back from mad attempts to scribble down just a few of his phrases. For instance, he quotes a friend’s description of the rare moment we’ve each sometimes felt while hiking, climbing, walking: the moment when “the great door, that does not look like a door, opens.” He reminds us that we must remember that “our minds are shaped by our physical experience of being in the world.” He urges exploration of “the undiscovered country of the nearby.”

And he can nail a description. Sleeping out one night in the moonlight he wakes to “millions of lunar photons pelting” onto his face, giving him “an eyeful of silver.” His description places humans right where we belong, on our planet and in the cosmos. A vivid, exact, resonant phrase.

Another deep diver is Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie. In Findings, fascinated one spring in the Orkneys by a pair of nesting peregrines, the male and female sitting separated by a dozen feet on their separate rock ledges, she describes the male: “when the sunlight glanced [on] his undersides they were pale and banded like rippled sycamore.” Yes, the mottled sycamore, silver, tan, gray. How did she seize that phrase, a tree for a bird? It is exact though. I see what she meant.

Salutary, a deep dive into worlds we can’t see. Behavior-changing, even. Never again will I plant a lone tree after reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. He calls trees “social beings,” where most individuals in the same species may share nutrients through their connected root systems. So J.R.R. Tolkien was prescient in describing the slow speech of his Ents at their Ent-moots:  apparently tree roots signal each other not only by chemical compounds sent through the fungal networks around their root tips, but by electrical impulses that travel at very slow tree speed: one/third of an inch per second, instead of the milliseconds humans would register. Beeches, spruce and oaks signal neighbors when bitten. So if an oak is chewed by insects, all oaks in the area begin to pump bitter tannin through their veins.

The Wildlife Management Plan we signed onto out here in northwest Hays County, where live oaks abound, requires planting native trees and oaks other than live oaks. The goal: reduce the risk of oak wilt. So, filled with virtue, we’ve planted one-offs of the chinquapin oak, eve’s lace, osage orange, etc., carefully fenced to prevent the deer from over-browsing. Now we know those trees have been pining (heh) from loneliness. Grab the shovel, sink the fenceposts, stretch the wire! Now the lonesome redbud has a new friend, not too far up the hill, and the lonesome chinquapin is sharing its little fenced enclosure with another chinquapin. Another deep dive into secret worlds. Trees have their own plans, their own slow conversations, their own social policies.

I’m seventeen, standing at the end of the diving board at Barton Springs, staring down at the bluegreen water. Yes, so clear, but also opaque. A brilliantly bluegreen surface, reflecting live oaks, bird flight, the endless blue sky of summer. Just a few feet out, the water shivers and shimmers, the only clue that from the door twelve feet down, opening the limestone floor of the springs, millions of gallons of water surge up to feed this pool.  A stray cumulus cloud passes over the sun as, one jump, two jumps, I dive, as deep as I can, until my face hits the uprush of water power, bubble power, shooting up from the door in the floor.

It’s a secret world, the water below the surface. The feel of that water opens the door to thinking about the depth of limestone with its chutes and ladders, cracks and fractures, caves and crannies, beneath Austin. This karst world holds such surprise that I could only blink when a matter-of-fact City of Austin employee—charged with spelunking and mapping the water channels—announced that though we’re in the Colorado River watershed, sinkholes in the bottom of the Blanco send water out of the Guadalupe watershed and all the way to Barton Springs.

At my back I always hear the reader’s impatience hovering near. But I long for the deep dive, the sitting still to watch and listen and wonder, and for a resultant precise resonant description that might connect a character with this minute and also cosmic star-time. Even, or especially, in a murder mystery.

***

Helen Currie Foster is the author of the Alice MacDonald Greer mystery series: GHOST CAVE, GHOST DOG, GHOST LETTER, and GHOST DAGGER. She earned a BA from Wellesley College, an MA from the University of Texas, and a JD from the University of Michigan.

Having grown up in Texas surrounded by books and storytelling, she taught high school English and later became a prize-winning feature writer for a small Michigan weekly. Following a career of more than thirty years as an environmental lawyer, the character Alice and her stories suddenly appeared in Foster’s life. In her writing, Foster explores the interaction between history and the present and the reasons we tell the stories we do.

Married with two children, she lives north of Dripping Springs, Texas, supervised by three burros. She works in Austin, and she’s active with the Hays County Master Naturalists and the board of Austin Shakespeare.

***

Photo of rock climbing via Good Free Photos, CC0 10, public domain.
Photo of peregrine falcon via Good Free Photos, CC0 1.0, public domain.
Photo of Barton Springs, Austin, TX courtesy of M. K. Waller, 

I Love Research and Nolan Ryan!

Today Writing Wranglers and Warriors
welcomes a new blogger,
novelist K.P. Gresham

 Posted by K.P. Gresham

Writing for me is both a compulsion and an exploration.  I know, I know, they say “write what you know,” but I’d add another clause on that. Write what you know and/or what you’d like to research.

The best book prompt that I know of is “What if?” For example, what if my heroine wants to become a professional baseball player?   (By the way, that is a cheap plug for my first novel, Three Days at Wrigley Field.) Even though I am an avid baseball fan, there’s no way I had enough baseball knowledge in my head to complete a novel on the subject.  More important than knowing that Nolan Ryan pitched seven no-hitters in his career (a record known by thousands of fans), I needed to know how he pitched those no-hitters. To that end, I purchased Nolan Ryan’s video on how he pitched. That information is integral to making the book work. (Side note: I’m nuts about Nolan Ryan. When I lived in Houston, I’d drive an hour to his hometown of Alvin just to get my hair cut. I kept hoping on the off-chance I would see this super-human walking down the street.)

Research for me is one of the most fun parts of creating a fictional piece.  For example, in my Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series, I do indeed write what I know. I grew up a PK–preacher’s kid (I prefer the term TO for theological offspring, but alas, that never caught on). I know a whole lot about what a preacher does, about how congregations work (or don’t work), about the ever-present pitfalls for even the most devoted. But I didn’t know anything about the Federal Witness Protection Program or how to own and run a sports bar. (I hope that’s a tease–what is my series all about??)

In the coming blogs, I’m going to talk about how and/or where I do my research.  A writer may write in a bubble, but IMO they certainly can’t research in a bubble. She has to join groups, go to conferences, hit the bars J, and talk to experts in the field. (Hence why I had to hit the bar.) She has to get the facts right, or she risks losing the trust of the reader. Why is this important? A “This is bogus!” reaction from the reader means they’re slamming the book shut never to pick it up again, and, worst of all, telling others not to read it.

Research is necessary, but fun! I hope you’ll enjoy my escapades into research that I’ll share with you in coming blogs.

***

Photo of Nolan Ryan:  This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Wahkeenah at EnglishWikipediaWahkeenah  grants anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

***

About K.P. Gresham

K.P. Gresham, author of the Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery series and Three Days at Wrigley Field, moved to Texas as quick as she could. Born Chicagoan, K.P. and her husband moved to Texas, fell in love with not shoveling snow and are 30+ year Lone Star State residents. She finds that her dual country citizenship, the Midwest and Texas, provide deep fodder for her award-winning novels. Her varied careers as a media librarian and technical director, middle school literature teacher and theatre playwright and director add humor and truth to her stories. A graduate of Houston’s Rice University Novels Writing Colloquium, K.P. now resides in Austin, Texas, where life with her tolerant but supportive husband and narcissistic Chichuhua is acceptably weird.

4-Sentence Review: A Broom of One’s Own

  Posted by M. K. Waller

 

A while back, I accepted a challenge to write a book review of  Nancy Peacock’s memoir A Broom of One’s Own in only four sentencesStarting well before the due date, I wrote the first sentence of the review over and over, and deleted it over and over. For a while I wrote the same sentence several times in a row. Then I made up a new sentence and wrote it several times in a row. After weeks of torment, I buckled down and produced the following review.

*

I like Nancy Peacock’s A Broom of One’s Own: Words About Writing, Housecleaning & Life so much that it’s taken me over two months and two missed deadlines to untangle my thoughts and write this four-sentence review, an irony Peacock, author of two critically acclaimed novels, would no doubt address were I in one of her writing classes.

She would probably tell me there is no perfect writing life; that her job as a part-time housecleaner, begun when full-time writing wouldn’t pay the bills, afforded time, solitude, and the “foundation of regular work” she needed;  that engaging in physical labor allowed her unconscious mind to “kick into gear,” so she could become not the writer but the “receiver” of her stories.

She’d probably say that writing is hard; that sitting at a desk doesn’t automatically bring brilliance; that writers have to work with what they have; that “if I don’t have the pages I hate I will never have the pages I love”; that there are a million “saner” things to do and a “million good reasons to quit” and that the only good reason to continue is, “This is what I want.”

So, having composed at least two dozen subordinated, coordinated, appositived, participial-phrase-stuffed first sentences and discarded them before completion; having practically memorized the text searching for the perfect quotation to end with; and having once again stayed awake into the night, racing another deadline well past the deadline, I am completing this review–because I value Nancy Peacock’s advice; and because I love A Broom of One’s Own; and because I consider it the equal of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird; and because I want other readers to know about it; and because this is what I want.

*

This review first appeared on Whiskertips. It was posted here in 2015. I received a copy of the book for review from Story Circle Network. My opinion is my own, and it’s as strong today as it was when I first read the book. I recommend it to anyone who writes or wants to write, and to anyone who likes to read about writers and writing.

***

M. K. Waller blogs at M. K. Waller–Telling the Truth, Mainly.  She has published short stories and is once again working on the novel she set aside several years ago. 

 

What Editors Want

Keri De DeoPosted by Keri De Deo

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about two different kinds of writing: writing with the door closed and writing with the door open. First, you write with the door closed. That means you write for yourself. After you’ve done that, you open the door and revise your writing with the audience in mind. This is the step you must make before turning your writing over to an editor (or anyone else).

When you turn your work over to an editor, you want to put your best foot forward. As a freelance editor, I work daily with writers, and I’ve compiled a list of what I look for in good writing. Of course, every editor harps on his or her own pet peeves, but for the most part, we look for the following components:

  • Exciting Content

Before you start worrying about word usage, syntax, grammar, etc., your writing must contain a good story. Give us drama, plot, and a rise and fall in action. Make sure to complete your research. Has the story already been written? If not, go for it! If it has, can you do it better or in a more interesting way? Writer’s Digest provides an excellent list of cliché stories to avoid.

  • Accurate Content

A good editor checks your content for accuracy. If they find inaccuracies, they’ll send it back to you for changes. You might think this only applies to non-fiction or historical fiction. But it applies for all writing. Even if you write fantasy novels, physics and scientific facts matter for readers to believe your story. Before writing my book, Nothing but a Song, I played with several phone apps to make sure the apps I described actually existed. I also did research about the Deaf culture and using sign language. It helped make the story more believable. (At least I hope so.)

  • Active Voice

We all have heard that saying “Show. Don’t tell.” This is where it comes to play. Rather than saying “she was smart.” Show me by using active voice. “She rattled off equations in a few seconds.” You also accomplish this by avoiding helping verbs (i.e. “to be” verbs). Don’t know what those are? See this list. You can’t avoid them every time because sometimes you need to mark a change in tense somehow, and helping verbs do this. However, if you can replace them, replace them. If they’re irreplaceable, leave them. For help in writing more active sentences, visit this link. (Yes, count how many helping verbs I used in this post. I tried to avoid them!)

  • Polished Writing

Nothing makes me put down a book faster than silly mistakes. Typos happen, but they can be avoided by having several people read your draft. Don’t pick a person who won’t be honest. Pick someone you know will give you constructive feedback. Embrace criticism! Avoiding it encourages bad writing. You need feedback if you want to improve. Also, if you read your writing out loud, many errors will show up. Then have someone else read it out loud to you. If they stumble, make that sentence smoother. If no one else has seen your manuscript, don’t send it to an editor. You might just get it back quicker than you think.

Editors care about your writing, but they also care about their reputation. They won’t put their name on something that fails to meet their standards. Some editors might return your manuscript if the writing falls flat. So, make sure to send your best work to an editor and prepare for changes. As my writing teacher always said, “It’s never done; it’s just due.”


Keri De Deo - nbs book coverKeri De Deo, owner of Witty Owl Consulting, lives in northern Arizona and works as a writer, editor, researcher, and instructional designer. She is author of the young adult novel NOTHING BUT A SONG, released December 5, 2017. She loves technology and finding innovative tools for a happy, healthy life. Keri spends her free time with her husband kayaking, hiking, and walking her two beautiful dogs: Maiya and Lilla. To learn more about Keri, visit her website keridedeo.com! You can follow her on Twitter @thewittyowl and on Facebook @authorkeridedeo.

 

From Lone Star Lawless: “When Cheese Is Love”

Posted by M. K. Waller

*

In November, Austin Mystery Writers, my critique group, published its second crime fiction anthology, LONE STAR LAWLESS. Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my story, “When Cheese Is Love.”

Lone Star Lawless (Wildside Press, 2017)

To set the scene: English teacher Tabitha Baynes has come to Fonda de Paz, the best Tex-Mex restaurant in Central Texas, at the invitation of Gonzalo, the owner, who moved up from Mexico last year. Tabitha has been giving him English lessons; she has also just finished a year-long medically supervised liquid-only diet, and as a result has skinnied down from XXL dresses to a Size One. She looks stunning, and she’s desperate to stay that way. She must be perfect, because Gonzalo is perfect, and tonight, they will dine together–alone. But first, she must do battle with an old enemy. We watch her cross the parking lot and approach the restaurant.

*

Taking a deep breath, Tabitha lifted her head, smiled, and walked down a pathway lined with trees twinkling with tiny blue lights, toward the evening of her dreams.

First, though, she must pass two serpents.

“Enchilada suizas” is licensed by Steve Dunham under CC BY-2.0.
The first stood in the dimly lit foyer: Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, rearing on hind legs, teeth bared, looming over the crowd waiting to be seated. Illuminated from within, he cast bright reds, blues, greens, yellows across the room. He shone beautiful and fierce—but not nearly so fierce as the serpent that guarded the dining room.

Ana Alvarado, tall and slender, wearing a simple black sheath, its severity lightened by a heavy turquoise necklace, stood at the hostess station. Her black hair was pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck. Like a Renaissance Madonna, she glowed with serenity and grace.

When Ana saw Tabitha, her Madonna smile turned into a smirk.

Buenas noches. You know, of course, that you are late.”

Skin-deep beauty and a fake accent, thought Tabitha. Everybody in town knew Ana was just plain old Alva Mae Allen, brought up right here in Bur Oak. Her mother was Hispanic and spoke Spanish fluently, but Alva Mae flunked Spanish in high school because she couldn’t conjugate irregular verbs.

Ana gestured toward a door to her right. “Because you are late, you must wait in the bar. I hope Gonzalo is not irritated with you.”

“Thank you, Ana. I’ll have a glass of wine while I wait.”

From first day of kindergarten to the night of high school graduation, Ana had made Tabitha’s life a misery. “Tubby Tabby,” Ana had called her. Twenty years later, she was still a bully.

But Tabitha had changed. She was the All New Tabitha Baynes, sporting a size one dress and a stylish coif, and her own serenity and grace reached all the way down to the bone. Nothing Ana said or did could touch her.

And tonight she would reap her reward: dinner with Gonzalo in El Nicho, the room he reserved for special, intimate parties.

Tabitha had never seen El Nicho.

“Sparkling water” is licensed by Marco Verch under CC BY-2.0

Seated on a high stool at the far end of the bar, close to the kitchen, she skipped the wine (rosé, 20 calories per ounce) and ordered a glass of sparkling water.

A waiter delivered her drink. “An appetizer, perhaps, Senorita? We have something brand new—cheesy Tex-Mex egg rolls—very tasty.

She shook her head. If there was anything she didn’t need, it was cheese. All her life, it had been her favorite food. Now she was trying to replace it with green vegetables.

The waiter winked and retreated. Tabitha looked down at her glass and drew her shawl close around her neck. She wasn’t used to men looking at her that way. It was flattering, but at the same time, unsettling. It made her feel she was nothing but a body.

Holding the shawl closed with one hand, she sipped her drink and calculated. For dinner, she would order a taco salad without the shell (420 calories). But maybe, after today’s extra-grueling workout, she could afford a real taco (571 calories). She wouldn’t even consider her favorite, the beef chimichanga (1580 calories).

The kitchen door opened and the aroma of onion, cumin, chilis engulfed her. Her stomach, which since last night had seen nothing more substantial than broth, gave a lurch. Oh, why bother, she thought. Gonzalo would serve whatever he wanted to, and it would be smothered in what he called his “signature ingredient”—cheese. And she would scarf down every bite.

She checked her watch. Gonzalo had said something about meeting with an architect to discuss plans for adding a new dining room. But what if there was another reason he wasn’t waiting for her? Maybe Ana was right, and Gonzalo was angry because she was late. Or maybe she’d gotten it all wrong, and they weren’t going to share an evening in El Nicho. In the past two months, since she stopped trying to lose weight, he’d treated her to dinner once, twice, sometimes three times a week, to thank her for teaching him to speak English. But she’d always sat by herself in the main dining room. Maybe that was the plan for tonight.

Tabitha had been giving Gonzalo English lessons at the library every afternoon for over a year. He had a good ear and learned fast. She dreaded the day their lessons would end.

Lately, however, there’d been signs he might be interested in extracurricular activities. Free meals at Fonda. Lingering looks. Hands touching when she handed him a pencil. Heads close together as they leaned over a workbook. The gleam in his eyes when she pasted a gold star on his progress chart.

She shrugged. Maybe she was here tonight because he liked gold stars.

She was tying the shawl around her neck when Gonzalo strode in. Her stomach gave another lurch. This time it wasn’t from hunger.

“Ah, mi amor.” Enfolding her hand in both of his, he gazed into her eyes. Her knees melted to the consistency of queso.

“I’m so sorry I was late—”

Mi querida, I would wait for you until the end of time.”

If Fred Schmidt, the high school industrial arts teacher who had been hounding her for weeks to go with him on Saturday nights to the Polka Barn, said he would wait till the end of time, she would laugh and ask if he’d been reading Wuthering Heights. From Gonzalo, the words sounded like a sonnet. . . .

***

A launch party for LONE STAR LAWLESS will be held at BookPeople in Austin on February 4, 2018, 5:00 p.m.  Authors will speak and sign. The book is dedicated to Gale Albright, AMW member and our dear friend, who died in November 2016.

Austin Mystery Writers: Gale Albright, Valerie Chandler, Kaye George, Laura Oles, and Kaye George (our valued emerita)

Friends who contributed stories: Alexandra Burt, Mark Pryor, Janice Hamrick, Terry Shames, Larry D. Sweazy, George Weir, Manning Wolfe, and Scott Montgomery

Kathy Waller, Laura Oles, Gale Albright, and Valerie Chandler
Kaye George

 

*****

M. K. Waller, aka Kathy, has published stories in LONE STAR LAWLESS, MURDER ON WHEELS, and DAY OF THE DARK (ed. Kaye George), and in the online magazine MYSTERICAL-E.

Here are links to her personal blog, Telling the Truth, Mainly,

to the Austin Mystery Writers blog,

and to the Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter’s newsletter/blog, HOTSHOTS!, which she edits.

I Started Writing…

Today Writing Wranglers and Warriors
welcomes a new blogger,
novelist and consultant Keri De Deo.

 

 Posted by Keri De Deo

I started writing Nothing but a Song at the age of 14. I played violin and sang in the choir, and my mom, a musician and music teacher, told me about Ludwig van Beethoven, who had gone deaf in his early 20s. Horrified, I wondered how anyone could survive such a tragedy. How did Beethoven continue making music? I couldn’t imagine being deaf and still being able to sing and play violin. I couldn’t imagine how life could continue.

With that in mind, I started writing the story of a fictitious girl named Rebecca Kendall, who would lose her hearing at the young age of 19. She was a musician, same as me, but she wanted to be a singer. “Not a rock star, but someone special,” she reveals to her friend Stefan.

I think at some point in all of our lives, we dream of being a rock star. We bring that brush or comb up to our mouths and sing along to our favorite song. We imagine the cheering crowd and the fame of being on stage. I wasn’t any different, so I gave a similar dream to the protagonist in my story.

She wrote her own songs, played piano and guitar, and sang in her church choir for as long as she could remember. I described how she struggled to come to terms with losing her hearing, and I showed her anger and depression as best as I could. I gave her technology to help her sing—to help her know whether she was in key or in rhythm. At the time, those tools didn’t exist—well, not like I had imagined them. So, I put the story away, figuring it would never see the light of day.

At 17, I picked up the story again and made changes to the character, the storyline, the ending. I played with the descriptions and the character. I crossed out lines and rewrote some of the songs. I read it to my friends who liked the story, but didn’t think a handheld computer that could listen to tones and keep a person on key was very realistic. Again, I put it away.

For over 30 years, I carried that story with me through countless moves across the country: Arizona, Nebraska, Sweden, Wyoming. Despite the fact that it was buried in a 50-gallon tub full of my notebooks and writing, the story stuck with me. In 2016, I dug it out again after mentioning it to a publisher.

“I need good stories,” she had lamented to me as we discussed the latest book I was editing for her. She hadn’t met her publishing goal, and she was looking for stories to publish. Hesitantly, I mentioned my story. “I love it!” She said. “Send it to me.” I did. I warned her it was in bad shape—that it was handwritten in the scrawl of a teenager. She didn’t care. She loved the concept, so I dug my story out of that box, scanned it into the computer, and sent it on its way.

I waited with increasing anxiety. I worried about it being good enough. Eventually I received an email with my manuscript typed up in rough form. The excitement began. But it needed a lot of work before it would be ready. There were plot holes, inconsistencies, misspelled words, and old clichés. I read it, made changes, updated the technology, and read it again. Now, a handheld computer wasn’t impossible. I gave my character a smartphone and researched apps that she could use. I added characters and more modern descriptions, and when I felt satisfied, I sent it back to the publisher. It took nearly a year, several edits, two galley proofs, and several Skype conversations, but I had a book. I never thought a story I wrote at 14 would be published.

I’m glad I didn’t throw it away. I’m glad I didn’t listen to my friends who said technology like I described in my story would never exist. I’m glad I didn’t listen to the negative voice in my head and the naysayers who said I would never get published.

I look at that 50-gallon tub in the garage and wonder what else is in there.

*****

Keri De Deo, owner of Witty Owl Consulting, lives in northern Arizona and works as a writer, editor, researcher, and instructional designer. She is author of the young adult novel NOTHING BUT A SONG, released December 5, 2017. She loves technology and finding innovative tools for a happy, healthy life. Keri spends her free time with her husband kayaking, hiking, and walking her two beautiful dogs: Maiya and Lilla. To learn more about Keri, visit her website keridedeo.com!

Wisdom and a Few Other Things I’ve Picked Up Along the Way

Yesterday a Facebook friend, the kind I’ve known all my life, posted about bits of wisdom she’s picked up over the years from ministers, school administrators, her parents, and others, such as to watch out for “clever devils,” not to buy cheap foreign goods that will “crack up” when you get them home, and “not to embarrass the family.” That started me thinking about bits of wisdom I’ve picked up over several decades, and I’m going to share some of them.

***

My mother didn’t say not to embarrass the family but I knew that’s what she meant from Day One, and I went ahead and embarrassed them anyway. She did say a lot of other things, though. I wrote a whole blog post about them and submitted it to Listen to Your Mother. I was called to audition but wasn’t chosen, which is a shame, because the audience, which includes viewers of archived videos on Youtube, would have gotten a lot out of it.

At my high school baccalaureate service, Dr. McIntosh, a professor from the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, said we are told to feed His sheep, but we have to do it wisely, because if we pick up a lamb with a broken leg or a dependency complex and press it to our bosoms, we can do a lot of damage.

Reunion of Lipscomb Rifles, San Antonio, Texas, ca. 1950. My grandmother, Mary Veazey Barrow, front row left, wearing a big black hat.

My grandmother Barrow said knowing how to spell privy two ways–privy and privie–is very good, but, of course, not the nicest thing a little girl could know how to spell… I was seven and should have known better than to go around spelling words not approved by Texas State Board of Education. The other grandchildren were socially acceptable, and privy/privie probably fell under the heading of embarrassing the family, although my mother thought it was funny and laughed about it after my grandmother went home.

My parents, Crystal Barrow Waller and Billie Waller, in 1942.

My father said to carry plenty of cash. I was the only 11-year-old who paid for the Saturday movie with a five dollar bill and returned the change, even though he said I didn’t have to return it (and sometimes I wished I hadn’t).

He also said to keep plenty of gas in the car, so the day we ran out on the way home from Seguin, about two miles short of our destination, and were stranded with nothing but a two-lane road, a river bridge, and about fifty acres of cotton between us and the nearest gas pump, I felt justified in smiling a sweet I-told-you-so smile, because I had asked if we shouldn’t fill up before we left Seguin and he’d said no, we could make it home and fill up there.

My grandfather Waller said to go pour the warm beer down the sink and throw away the can, and I did, but before I did, I stuck my finger in the beer and tasted it, and then and there vowed never to drink beer, and I haven’t, because it tastes nasty and smells worse.

My grandfather, Frank Waller, taking a break from house painting, ca. 1952. I’m the one trying to tip the chair over.

He also said that when he was a boy, he knew a man who had seen General Robert E. Lee sitting astride Traveler, and I knew from his tone of voice that he felt honored just to know that man, and I also knew he felt honored because the man saw Traveler, not because he saw General Lee. Horses were important.

I don’t think he ever gave me any advice. The Waller tribe seemed to assume I wasn’t planning to embarrass the family, and that I ate with a fork instead of with my toes, and they didn’t ask me to say Good morning to anyone, and they didn’t tell everyone I refused to say Good morning because I was shy, when it was really because I thought Good morning was a sissy thing to say, and that Hi was good enough.

I liked the Waller family, although I could have done without all the built-in supervision, because my parents got a report on every nickel I spent on ice cream when I was downtown by myself–downtown was one block long, with a filling station, a grocery store, an ice cream parlor, another grocery store, and a Masonic lodge on one side of the street, and a skating rink, a post office, a cotton gin, and a doctor’s office on the other, and my uncle was the post master and had a picture window so he could see the ice cream parlor and practically everything else, and my father’s cousin and his wife owned and operated the grocery store and had even bigger windows, and my grandfather frequently sat with the other old men on one of the benches outside the post office–and, anyway, what else did they think a 6-year-old who likes chocolate was going do with a nickel?

My grandfather did one time tell my father not to smoke behind the barn but to come on up to the house, which is why my father quit smoking at the age of ten.

My high school English teacher told me to start with a topic sentence and give plenty of examples, and to read The Red Badge of Courage, but I abandoned it about a quarter of the way through, and I’m sorry that yesterday, fifty years after the fact, I felt the need to confess, but I’m not sorry I abandoned it, because it is the most boring book ever written, lacking dialogue as it does, but I did finish The Scarlet Letter,  another novel that has little dialogue and that would have more boring than the other one if I hadn’t been in a sweat to know what happened to Hester Prynne, although I thought she ought to give little Pearl a swat on the bottom and tell her not to embarrass the family.

My first-grade teacher said that when I wanted to get a drink of water or visit the restroom, I should stand beside the door and look around the room to see if all the other students were there, and if someone was out of the room, to wait for him or her to return before I went out. I thought, and still think, that is one of the finest compliments I ever received, because it meant my teacher knew I, and all the other students, were mature enough to think and act independently, and to behave properly without constant supervision, and not to run away even though school was the last place I wanted to be, every day from the first day of first grade to the night of high school graduation.

I’ll stop now because I’ve run on long enough, but I’ve benefited from writing this post because when I began, I thought I remembered only a couple of bits of wisdom, but while writing, I remembered much more, and that proves that Writing Is Thinking, a bit of wisdom I picked up in the late ’70s from Professor Lamberg in the Texas Hill Country Writing Project at the University of Texas-Austin, which I participated in because my high school English teacher told me to, so I would be a better English teacher and not tell students to write the outline before writing the essay, the way English teachers have been (incorrectly) doing since the beginning of time.

If I kept on writing, I would think of more bits of wisdom, but, as I said, I’ve run on long enough.

And if you abandoned this post a quarter of the way through, that’s perfectly okay.

***

Note: The Red Badge isn’t the absolutely most boring book ever written. It’s tied with The Old Man and the Sea. I’ve written about that, too.

***

My high school English teacher is Patsy Munk Kimball. She’s the owner of River Bluff Cabin, on the San Marcos River above Fentress, Texas. It’s in a pecan bottom at the end of the road, peaceful and quiet, and only a mile or two to a convenience store that makes good hamburgers and real pizza, not the cardboard kind. Or they did the last time I stayed there. And the cabin is lovely. So anyone in need of a weekend retreat in that area might check it out.

The foregoing blurb was my idea, nobody else’s, and does not reflect the views of Writing Wranglers and Warriors, but I’m sure it would if the other writers had ever visited there.

***

M. K. Waller, aka Kathy, writes short stories and has published in MURDER ON WHEELS: 11 Tales of Crime on the Move, LONE STAR LAWLESS: 14 Texas Tales of Crime, and DAY OF THE DARK: Stories of Eclipse. She writes for her personal blog, Telling the Truth, Mainly, and at Austin Mystery Writers. She edits HOTSHOTS!, Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter’s newsletter/blog.