Join AMW for the Launch of Murder on Wheels ~ August 11

Please join

Austin Mystery Writers

Gale Albright, Valerie Chandler, Kaye George,
Scott Montgomery, Laura Oles, and Kathy Waller
&
Earl Staggs and Reavis Wortham

as they celebrate the launch of their first crime fiction anthology

MURDER ON WHEELS:
11 Tales of Crime on the Move

“Eleven stories put the pedal to the floor and never let up! Whether by bus, car, tractor, or bike, you’ll be carried along at a breakneck pace by the talented Austin Mystery Writers. These eight authors transport you from an eighteenth-century sailing ship to the open roads of modern Texas, from Alice’s Wonderland to a schoolbus yard in the suburbs of Dallas. Grab your book, hold on to your hat, and come along for the ride!”

Tuesday, August 11, 2015
7:00 p.m.

BookPeople Bookstore
6th Street and Lamar

Austin, Texas

“There is something for everyone…” ~ Amazon Review

“…light-hearted (and occasionally black-hearted) collection of short stories… I thoroughly enjoyed it. … take your choice–historical, humorous, dark and light. Good reading for mystery fans.” ~ Amazon Review

 “… dialog that is realistic and makes the characters believable and three dimensional. There is something for everyone…” ~ Amazon review

“… a diverting read.” ~ Barry Ergang, Kevin’s Corner

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What I Learned from Ernest Hemingway, Plus a Photo of Gregory Peck, Plus Snakes

What if soy milk is just milk introducing itself in Spanish?*

***

To Write, etc., has been dormant for a while because I’ve been (a) playing spider solitaire, and (b) working on two pieces of literature:

(1) a story entitled “When Cheese Is Love,” which needs to be 5,000 words but is currently 6,200 words, necessitating radical surgery and the murders of a few darlings; and,

(2) a post for the Austin Mystery Writers blog that would have been online last Monday had I not suffered at tiny fall (and, no, I’m not going to tell how it happened), which rendered me indisposed for just long enough to figure out the post wasn’t coming together as I wanted because I was trying to write about two different topics at once.

I can’t complain about an indisposition that allows me time to realize the first half of a post I’ve drafted says one thing and the second half contradicts it.

My next project will appear right here on To Write, etc. It is tentatively entitled “Snakes I Have Known.”

I spent this evening telling snake stories on Facebook and suddenly realized–it’s like that chapter in For Whom the Bell Tollsno, it’s in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” actually–where Hemingway wastes a lot of material writing about what his character would never write:

Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. . .

***

He remembered the good times with them all, and the quarrels. They always picked the finest places to have the quarrels. And why had they always quarrelled when he was feeling best? He had never written any of that . . .

***

No, he had never written about Paris. Not the Paris that he cared about. But what about the rest that he had never written?

What about the ranch and the silvered gray of the sage brush, the quick, clear water in the irrigation ditches, and the heavy green of the alfalfa. The trail went up into the hills and the cattle in the summer were shy as deer. . . 

About the half-wit chore boy who was left at the ranch that time and told not to let any one get any hay, and that old bastard from the Forks who had beaten the boy when he had worked for him stopping to get some feed. The boy refusing and the old man saying he would beat him again. The boy got the rifle from the kitchen and shot him when he tried to come into the barn . . . 

So there it is. Hemingway threw away all those stories by putting them inside of a dying character thinking about the stories he will never write.

And Hemingway never wrote them either. He wrote about them. What a waste.**

Heaven forfend that I should meet a similar fate. I’m not going to write about those snake stories. I’m going to write them.

So watch this space.

In case you don’t care for snakes, don’t worry–I won’t include pictures of them. And no one will be bitten. All my snake stories are true, but I kept my distance while they were happening.

***

*The question is rhetorical and appears only because I’m feeling whimsical. And because this is  my blog and nobody’s grading it and I can do whatever I please. So there.

**For most of this post, my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek, but this paragraph comes from the heart. It’s sad that Hemingway left stories untold. It’s sad that any writer does that. And I guess they all do.

My Gratitude List: 12 Items, Girdles Not Included

Make no mistake:

I am grateful. For my husband, my family, parents who gave me a good start and kept on giving, my home, teachers, education, friends, time to use as I wish, the rights guaranteed to me by the Constitution, the freedom to pursue happiness, good health, and a host of other blessings.

But when I write about blessings, the resulting essay is maudlin, insipid, schmaltzy, and trite.* I just can’t do sincere.*******

So this post is about things not usually seen on Grateful-For lists.To wit:

Coffee shops with enough electrical outlets, appropriately placed, to serve nearly all the people who want to plug in. (There’s no way they could serve all of them.) And that say your car will be towed if it’s parked in their lot for more than three hours but don’t really mean it. (BookPeople. They probably do mean it, but I’ve never been towed. I think it depends on how full the parking lot is.)

Everywhere that provides free Wi-Fi.

   amw logo - roundCoffee shops that allow a critique group to sit around a table and discuss manuscripts, and moan about how hard writing is, and what their kids and their cats are up to, and what their dysfunctional families are up to, and that don’t mind when one member reads aloud a scene involving torture and murder** because both staff and other customers are entranced, listening and wondering whether they’re hearing part of a memoir. And that don’t tow their cars.*****

 Blogs. Mine allows me to write to write to an audience, real or imagined. I need that audience. So do most other writers, including students of all ages.

Books. I like them. I like to read them. I like to buy them. Unfortunately, I like buying more than reading, which is why I have so much to-be-read nonfiction on my bookshelves and elsewhere.***

Bookstore going-out-of business sales. Closing a bookstore is a terrible thing, but if they’re going to close anyway, I don’t mind helping reduce inventory. That’s how I acquired most of that unread nonfiction.

 

English: Borders in West Quay Retail Park, Sou...
English: Borders in West Quay Retail Park, Southampton (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Public domain.

Printers that work.****** Most of them work now, but years ago most didn’t. That’s why my students at the university turned in so many papers with text starting at the middle of the page and running diagonally to the bottom right corner. I told them they really couldn’t do that, and that they needed to do the work earlier and start printing days rather than minutes before leaving for class. But I knew if I used a printer, my papers would look like theirs. I was still using a typewriter. When I put the paper in straight, my pages looked okay.

Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, William Dean Howells, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Clyde Edgerton, Kathie Pelletier, T. R. Pearson, Olive Ann Burns, Fannie Flagg, Elizabeth Berg, Josephine Tey, Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, and the list runs on. If there are any questions about why I’m grateful, pick up some of their books. For Elizabeth Berg, begin with Durable Goods (her first novel, and yes, I despise her). For Clyde Edgerton get Raney, Walking Across Egypt, Killer Diller (WAE’s sequel), or Lunch at the Picadilly; the man is a genius. For Olive Ann Burns, read Cold Sassy Tree, her first and only complete novel; I feel about her like I feel about Elizabeth Berg, see above. I’d like to feel that way about Clyde Edgerton, but I can’t, because I want to be Clyde Edgerton.

Karleen Koen,**** writer and instructor, who said, “I can’t teach you to write, but I can teach you to play.” And she can. And she did. And I had the time of my life writing and writing and writing. Anyone who wants to write and has the opportunity to take one of her classes should sign up asap. See her blog, Karleen Koen – Writing Life, and her webpage, Karleen Koen. Find information about the courses she teaches at Karleen Koen – Courses. Karleen has published four impeccably researched historical novels, set in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the latest, Before Versailles, takes place in the court of Louis XIV, in the early years of his reign.

Karleen Koen
Karleen Koen

 

Three of Karleen Koen's novels on classroom floor at WLT retreat, Alpine, TX, 2014
Three of Karleen Koen’s novels displayed on classroom floor at WLT retreat, Alpine, TX, 2014. The little orange things in the lower right corner might be peanut butter cups.

 Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com, which I keep running in the background when I work. Dictionary.com gives me exact definitions of words. Thesaurus.com answers the question, What’s that word that means something like XXXXXXXXXX but not exactly, and it’s standing at the beginning of my hypoglossal nerve but refuses to sprint on down to my tongue, and I cannot finish this sentence without it? These sites are a godsend for people who hyperventilate at the thought of leaving a blank space and moving on.

 Bookworm. Yes, that one. The vile, disgusting, devilish online game that is a thousand times worse than solitaire, because if the Bookworm player is good enough, the game never ends. The player can sit mindlessly clicking on letters to make words, and if the letters he clicks don’t make a word, he just tries again, and he can play while he’s watching-listening to television, or petting the cat, or carrying on a conversation, or trying to think what his Main Character should do next because he’s painted her into a corner . . . Obviously, I know whereof I write.

 I’m grateful for Bookworm, however, because sometimes I need the comfort of a mindless, repetitive task. Playing Bookworm can be a method of avoidance, but it can also be a way of putting the mind on autopilot, giving it the freedom to figure out how to get the Main Character out of the corner she’s stuck in.

 Caveat: Playing Bookworm for too long at one sitting, day after day, month after month, can result in repetitive stress injuries. For example, the mouse hand and all that’s attached to it, right on up to the shoulder, can be rendered painful and practically useless until the light dawns and the victim realizes why she can’t raise her right arm.

 Readers. I’m grateful for everyone who reads my posts, especially the posts that are two or three times as long as blog posts should be. This one is four times as long. Contrary to my expectations, everything on the list relates to writing. I had intended to include Relaxed Fit Slacks and The Demise of the Girdle. But tomorrow is another day.

 (The Demise of the Girdle. Wouldn’t that make a marvelous title for a novel? Should it be mystery, romance, or science fiction?)

 

William Davis & Bookworm
William Davis & Bookworm

* See Thesaurus.com. That’s where I found all these synonyms for bathetic.

** Do I have your attention now? The book is Dance on His Grave; the author is Sylvia Dickey Smith. Sylvia no longer lives here, so Austin Mystery Writers meetings don’t draw as much attention from surrounding tables.

*** Don’t ask where elsewhere is. It’s not relevant.

**** This is not an advertisement, paid or otherwise. Karleen is an excellent teacher–few instructors can keep twenty tired adults happy for a whole week by assigning more homework. (See Morning Pages)

***** See Coffee Shops, above.

****** And printers that don’t drink ink.

******* Last summer, when I wept bitter tears because I couldn’t write what I was trying to write (not my usual practice, but I was having a bad summer), Karleen told me what to do instead, and before anyone says Hahahahahah, I’ll add she was quite nice about it, and said I should aspire to write like David Sedaris. Have you ever known of David Sedaris to do sincere?

 

My Writing Writing Writing Day: Yeah, Right

In the previous post, I announced my intention to get up, go to BookPeople, write for an hour on a project of not-email and not-post (because Ramona DeFelice Long told me to), and get off the laptop by 7:00 p.m.
Here’s how the day went.
IMG_2800
Ernest

At 8:00 a.m., I discovered Ernest experiencing grave digestive problems reminiscent of previous problems caused by eating string. No matter how careful we are, he’s always able to find string.

After practicing every sneaky tactic I know to wrestle him into the carrier, I hauled him to the vet, wrote a check, hauled him home, and spent the next twenty-four hours stalking him up hill and down dale, from litterbox to litterbox, to get an accurate picture of his post-doc activity.
If there wasn’t any, I would have to take him back to the vet today for reconsideration of the diagnosis of UTI to ingestion of string.
In addition to the X-ray, the veterinarian gave him a long-lasting injection of antibiotic so we wouldn’t have to catch him and fight over pills or liquid for a week. I could have chosen to start treatment without the X-ray and see what happened but wasn’t sure I could get him back into the carrier if the antibiotic didn’t work. Some things are not worth the effort.
Because we have two cats and two litterboxes, and because I knew isolation wouldn’t be possible, at least if I valued our doors, I sat up all night watching him. He slept. All night. Didn’t go near a litterbox. I played Bookworm.
David rose at 7:00 a.m. We changed shifts. I went upstairs for four hours of sleep. David stalked.
I woke at 11:00 to the news that Ernest had performed admirably. David had kept samples. I said I didn’t need to see them.
Ernest is in fine fettle. At present he’s lying on my arm, making biscuits where I wish he were not. I will tolerate this until the first claw penetrates my clothing and punctures my flesh. He means well.
In fact, he forgave and forgot as soon as we returned from the veterinary clinic. He swished around as if I had never betrayed him, sat in my lap, pinned down my left arm while I typed, lay on the footstool, gazed at me lovingly.
I’m grateful he doesn’t hold a grudge. In the fight for proper medical attention I nearly dislocated his shoulder. I’m trying to forgive and forget that my back and my right arm will once again have to be put right by the massage therapist. The carrier alone is heavy, and with Ernest inside it gains seventeen pounds.
Concerning the writing life: I did not go to BookPeople; I did not write for an hour; I did not eat breakfast or lunch until nearly 3:00 p.m. I did not do anything except be nurse and mama to a big, hulking guy tabby cat.
But hey–I got another blog post out of it.

The craziest thing is that it’s almost the same post I wrote two or three years ago, about the day I was

William
William

determined to write write write but instead spent the day lying on the floor in William’s bedroom, trying to coax an ailing Ernest out from under the bed and to the doctor.

Now the question: Do these things happen because I’m crazy, or am I crazy because these things happen?
What is the moral? (Must be a moral.)
  • Change in the Davis-Waller house doesn’t seem likely, at least while Ernest and I live here. Might as well accept that and go on.
  • I should never never never publicize my intention of writing writing writing.
  • Writing writing writing equals change. See first moral, above.
And failing to follow through is embarrassing. Especially reporting the failure, as is only fair. Readers deserve to know.
cropped-img_31112.jpgWhen this post is safely online, I shall throw things into a bag and head south to retreat with Austin Mystery Writers. I will have a cabin and a river and some pecan trees. I will not have Internet connection or decent TV reception. Phones will work only outside.
And for the next two days, I promise to sit in a porch swing and Write. Write. Write.

 ***

If paragraphs in this post are incorrectly spaced, please pretend they’re not. Today’s format is like Ernest–not under my control. It’s just one more miracle of modern technology.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! is for Publish

[Links are scattered throughout this post. If you slide your pointer across the screen, you’ll see where to click. In the meantime, I’ll choose a theme that makes finding links easier.]

In yesterday’s abbreviated post, I promised an announcement to end all announcements.

Confession: Kaye George was quicker than I. She made the announcement on another blog, whose title and URL I will display later in this post. I’d hate for  readers to click on that link and forget to come back here.

The Announcement: “Murder on Wheels,” an anthology of eleven short stories written by members of Austin Mystery Writers critique group and two of its friends, has been accepted for publication by Wildside Press.

It’s occurred to me that we might be sending out this news prematurely, that we should wait for the book to appear. But yesterday the contract, and self-restraint, went the way of the dial telephone.

I doubt we’d have had the energy keep the secret anyway. We’ve been on the verge of dancing in the streets ever since receiving word that Wildside would publish. When one AMW member heard the good news, she broke into song. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology and a husband who knows how to make an .MP3 file from a voice mail, I have a recording. I would share it, but I value my life.

The next question, of course, is WHEN? 

We don’t know. There’s a lot to do between now and the launch date. Before Wildside’s final acceptance come edits. The others have informed me it’s gauche to tell a publisher that your stories are already perfect. So I imagine compliance with the editor’s requests won’t be an issue.

I promised I would display the address of Kaye George’s official announcement. An Agatha-nominated author, Kaye has published a number of mystery stories and novels. Although she’s no longer around attend AMW’s meetings, she’s still our leader and our guide through this new territory. She writes about how the idea for “Murder on Wheels” came about. Her account of this Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! experience is more detailed and more interesting than mine.

Read Kaye’s version of the story at Judy’s Stew.

 

###

 

Kaye George blogs at Travels with Kaye.

Read more about Kaye and her books at http://www.amazon.com/Kaye-George/e/B004CFRJ76

 Find other AMW members’ blogs at–

 VP Chandler

 Elizabeth Buhmann

 Gale Albright (Crime Ladies)

 Scott Montgomery

 Laura Oles (Austin Mystery Writers)

 ***

Find other contributors to “Murder on Wheels” here:

Reavis Z. Wortham

Earl Staggs

 

Adventure in the Far West

Mural outside Los Jalapenos, Alpine, TX. By Kathy Waller.
Mural outside Los Jalapenos, Alpine, TX. By Kathy Waller.

A week in beautiful Alpine, Texas, to attend the Writers’ League of Texas Summer Writing Institute held unparalleled adventure for Gale and me.

It started with getting lost about twenty miles from home and ended with finding a dead banana at the bottom of my Austin Mystery Writers tote bag.

In between lay

  • being rear-ended at a red light;
  • missing a turn but arriving at our destination anyway;
  • finding the motel room severely deficient in electrical outlets;

    Outlet under bed. By Kathy Waller.
    Outlet under bed. By Kathy Waller.
  • wallowing on the floor, trying to plug an extension cord into an outlet installed behind of the leg of a bed attached to the floor “for your safety”;
  • abandoning my camera in the Museum of the Big Bend;
  • being informed that the hood of the car I’d just driven for seven hours through the Texas Hill Country and the Trans-Pecos, and into the Chihuahuan Desert, wasn’t properly latched;
  • finding the hood up again two days later;
  • recovering my camera;
  • losing my cash;
  • knocking the back off my mobile phone;
  • scattering my purse, my camera, a take-out box of Creamy Bolognese over penne pasta, and myself all over the sidewalk in front of La Trattoria;
  • wallowing on the floor wielding a broom and a flashlight, scraping my cash from under the far side of the bed;
  • abandoning my purse in the cafeteria;
  • recovering my purse;

    Porch of Hotel Limpia, Fort David, TX. By Kathy Waller.
    Porch of Hotel Limpia, Fort Davis, TX. By Kathy Waller.
  • leaving Alpine, missing another turn, and winding up in Marathon;
  • watching Gale lean out the window to ask a man where we could get petroleo;
  • being told petroleo was in Alpine (26 miles) or in Fort Stockton (58 miles), but not in Marathon;
  • on advice of residents (“There’s nothing out there”), giving up impromptu plans to swing through Del Rio;
  • retracing our steps to Alpine for petroleo;
  • on second attempt, not missing the turn;
  • arriving at home without further incident worth mentioning.

I will mention that

  • Karleen Koen’s class was up to her usual standard: As I’ve written before, she’s honest about what she can
    Karleen Koen's novels plus other incentives on classroom floor. By Kathy Waller.
    Karleen Koen’s novels plus other incentives on classroom floor. By Kathy Waller.

    and cannot do for her students, but she shows them ways to increase their own creativity;

  • the reading at the Alpine Public Library allowed student writers to share pieces written in the various classes, including a Sudan native’s account of learning to speak English, which was a scream;
  • evenings out with friends at El Paisano (Marfa), the Reata (Alpine), La Trattoria (Alpine), the Stone Village Market, and the Hotel Limpia’s Blue Mountain Bistro (Fort Davis) were fun;
  • having the Cowboy Plate at the Bread and Breakfast is a fine way to start the day;
  • the highway up to the McDonald Observatory is neither as winding nor as precipitous as I’d remembered;
  • thanks to recent rains, the Davis Mountains were green and, as always, very grand;
  • cool mornings and evenings felt wonderful (and hot days felt like something else but weren’t as bad as Austin’s);
  • we’re sorry our limited time didn’t allow us to visit Big Bend National Park;

    Inside view of Bread and Breakfast's front window. By Kathy Waller.
    Inside view of Bread and Breakfast’s front window. By Kathy Waller.
  • a mobile phone will work perfectly if the back is held on with a rubber band, and, when presented with said phone, a husband will laugh and reattached the back without a rubber band;
  • I was not responsible for the rear-ending;
  • Simple Green will probably remove dead banana muck from inside the Austin Mystery Writers tote bag; it will also probably remove the remnants of Creamy Bolognese from the outside of a camera case.
  • A package of Oreos lifts the spirits immeasurably.

Gale has just published a post on the Austin Mystery Writers blog about the Writers Retreat. She focused on what we learned in class.

But I prefer to focus on extracurricular activities. There’s an education to be had in them, too. Especially the part about the Oreos.

 

 

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AMW Workshop: Special Invitation for Procrastinators

Austin Mystery Writers spent Thursday making last-minute preparations for Anatomy of a Mystery, the free workshop it’s sponsoring today from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at BookPeople in Austin. I offer two photographs as proof. Some of the people in them are duplicated. (My assigned task was to cut up paper for the raffle. Mission accomplished.)

IMG_2550IMG_2551

This post, which is being typed around a large cream tabby who insists on operating the space bar, is directed to people like me–people who forget to register, to sign up, to RSVP. People who put things off.

Part of large cream tabby
Part of large cream tabby

The message is this: RSVPs are not required for Anatomy of a Mystery.

If you wake in the morning with an insatiable urge to attend a workshop about how to write the mystery novel, do not despair.

Come on down to BookPeople.

Authors Reavis Wortham, Janice Hamrick, and Karen MacInerney, all of whom have proved they know how to write–and have accepted for publication–multiple mystery novels, will share some of their secrets with other writers, aspiring writers, and readers.

It would be a shame to miss this opportunity just because you forgot to tell us you were planning to come.

It would be more of a shame to miss the great swag we’re handing out.  One example is pictured here. There are also some books and who-knows-what-else.

Swag
Swag

So take the advice of a veteran procrastinator: show up at Anatomy of a Mystery–and if you can’t stay all day, spend the morning or the afternoon with us.

And don’t worry about crowds. If the room is SRO, you can have my chair and I’ll sit on the floor.

Provided, that is, that you promise to help me get back up.

IMG_2439.1AMW- logo

Talking Turkey and Cooking Goose

In the previous episode, Kaye George, author of the Immy Duckworthy, PI mystery series, had just suggested members of Austin Mystery Writers publish an anthology of short stories. Her proposal sent me into paroxysms of insecurity and doubt: could I write two stories of acceptable quality in the time allotted? Or would I embarrass myself and slink away, ostracized from the group, never to plot again?

Now, the rest of the story:

The burning questions posed in She Cannot Get Away have been answered, in part. I can write at least one story in the time allotted me. I’ve already done so. Almost.

As with every project, the key is to start early. I started two years ago. In a retreat workshop sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas, I wrote a fragment beginning with the following sentence:

The day I found Mama stirring ground glass into the eggs she was about to scramble, I took the eggs away from her and called a family conference.

Some readers have seen that sentence before. They may be sick of it. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it, fizzing over what comes next. My critique group suggested it’s the beginning of a novel, but I don’t think the situation has the necessary elasticity. In my hands, a novel starting with four siblings plotting to “put Mama out of her misery” could end up reading like the story board of a Road Runner cartoon: Children drop a metaphorical anvil off a bridge, miss Mama by a hair, light the fuse on a stick of dynamite, miss Mama by a hair, find themselves hoist with their own petard. Over and over for three hundred pages.

Shakespeare, given the same situation, would no doubt have come up with something fresh and original. But Shakespeare didn’t see as many Warner Brothers cartoons as I have. If he had, his creative faculty might have been warped, too.

Well. On July 4 of this year, I posted here that I was optimistic about the chances of getting a story out of the ground glass. Today I report that the two-year-old fragment is now part of a short story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. At our meeting last week, Austin Mystery Writers gave it their approval. Except for one thing. And I knew before a word was said exactly what it would be.

“But nobody died,” said Kaye.

I said I knew that.

“But it’s a murder mystery,” said Gale. “Somebody has to die.”

The three critique partners sitting  the other side of the table nodded.  In unison.

“I was going for subtlety,” I said. “It’s a death of the spirit.”

They stared at me. I stared back.

“But somebody really has to die,” said Kaye.

And then five people said they didn’t understand the last line. I had written the entire story so I could use that line, and no one understood what it meant.

I continued to stare. A string of pejoratives ran through my brain, notably philistines, peasants, and bourgeoisie. Finally I spoke.

“Thank you,” I said.

Then my friends began throwing out ideas for endings they preferred to mine, in each of which someone died. I sighed repeatedly and said things like, Yeahhhh, and Okayyyy, and I guessss…

People who tell inconvenient truths are so irritating. Especially when they gang up on you.

We moved on to discuss someone else’s submission. We chatted a while. We gathered our books and papers and parted.

I didn’t mention they were correct: The ending as written was weak. It fell flat. When I walked into the meeting, I already knew it was wrong. And I knew they wouldn’t let me get away with it.

Thirty minutes later, I sat across town in a writing work group, staring at my laptop monitor and thinking, Kaye gave me the perfect ending. All the suggestions were good, but hers works on multiple levels. It’s so right. Why didn’t I think of it myself?

Oh, who cares about why. What matters is that Kaye thought of it, and that she and four other writers talked turkey and made me listen.

If they hadn’t–and if I hadn’t–I’d have had a bigger problem than the embarrassment of

not turning in a story for the anthology. I’d have faced the humiliation of turning in a story whose last line four highly literate women couldn’t decipher.

Critique groups meet a variety of needs: for inspiration, encouragement, advice, mentoring, ideas, retreats, gossip…and for talking turkey. Carefully. Kindly. Intelligently. Honestly. Firmly. Timely.

I owe Austin Mystery Writers–big time. Because I’m convinced that if they hadn’t talked turkey to me, my literary goose would have thoroughly cooked.

AMW- logo

(Okay, guys, what do you have to say about that ending?)

She Cannot Get Away

Kaye - testimonial - pictures - croppedIf you read the previous post, reblogged from Gale Albright’s Visions and Revisions, you know mystery novelist Kaye George attended the Austin Mystery Writers meeting last week. Kaye, who for a number of years served as AMW’s Grand Pooh-Bah, moved to Tennessee last winter, leaving Gale and me forsaken and forlorn.

At the Last Lunch, celebrated at the Elite Cafe in Waco, Gale and I presented Kaye a certificate declaring her Member Emerita. It was supposed to say Grand Pooh-Bah Emerita, but, distraught over her impending move, I forgot that part.

The bull pictured on the certificate is an homage to Kaye’s first published novel, CHOKE, in which heroine Imogene Duckworthy narrowly escapes death by goring. I don’t believe that’s a spoiler, since Immy later appears in both SMOKE and BROKE.

Gale and I were foolish to suffer so over our friend’s disappearance because, thanks to the miracle of email, social media, and the Eyes of Texas, which are perpetually upon her, Kaye cannot get away. She’s been gracious about our continued presence in her life. She even suggested AMW publish an anthology of mystery stories, and so we shall. Each member has agreed to write two stories related to a central theme.

The prospect of putting out an anthology is exciting for those of us who haven’t published widely (roughly four of the eight current AMW members), but for me it’s also stressful: What if I can’t deliver? What if I’m already written out? What if I have to tell Kaye George the dog ate my homework? She knows I don’t have a dog.

At this point, I should tell a story related to the questions raised in the preceding paragraph. But it’s nearly 4:00 a.m., David just exchanged sleeping on the couch for sleeping on a bed, and I’m left downstairs hearing, sort of by default, Marvin Hamlisch first say that the music of the ’80s exemplifies our country’s return to family values, and then introduce a very old person I don’t recognize to sing “Under the Boardwalk.”

In other words, I’m outta here. The story will wait until tomorrow.

***

Oh, jeez. Now they’re singing “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog.” Those family values just won’t quit. What are the PBS folks thinking? 

I have to retire now, before we all drown in sarcasm.

Kaye George Comes to Austin

Austin Mystery Writers were in a dither over a visit by Grand Pooh-Bah Emerita this week. Gale Albright supplies the gripping details.

Visions and Revisions

The members of Austin Mystery Writers were clustered at their literary haunt in the BookPeople café on Thursday morning, eagerly awaiting the arrival of famed author and Grand Poobah emerita Kaye George.

“Gosh,” I said to the group. “I hope she remembers the little people.”

august 15 bp 050I need not have worried. With all her usual charm and warmth, Kaye George appeared wearing a big fedora, carrying a giant magnifying glass, and blinding us with her dazzling smile.

We had missed Kaye George. Once a guiding beacon in AMW in Austin, she had moved to Waco, then Knoxville, Tennessee, too far away to attend the weekly critique group meetings.

However, that didn’t stop Kaye from being an active participant in AMW. She’s still a major player in the group, we’re glad to say.

august 15 bp 058Kaye George has been an inspiration to fellow writers. She fought hard to become a published author

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Retreating

Retreat
Retreat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am at a writing retreat with two critique friends, deep in the heart of Texas. Have been here since 11:30 this morning. Two other writers arrive tomorrow.

Have written some fiction for me, some nonfiction for my friend Em. Before e-mailing Em’s to her, I read over it, as every conscientious writer knows she should, and discovered the nonfiction may be more fictional than the fiction.

Em will just have to deal with that.

I am tired. Fatigued. Exhausted.

And the phone will ring at 8:00 in the morning.

I shall retreat to my bed, where I shall dream about sweaters.

Sunday’s expected high–66 F.

Things are finally looking up.

Napoleons retreat from Moscow
Napoleons retreat from Moscow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ROW80, AMW, Dorothy, & Tallulah

Promotional photo of Tallulah Bankhead.
Promotional photo of Tallulah Bankhead. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I owe A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80) another Wednesday check-in. Fortunately, I finally have something significant to report.

My original goals were to sleep (get to bed before midnight, I believe); eat well (get off the white stuff, processed foods, added salt, sweeteners); and show up at critique meetings with  something to be critiqued (in other words, write).

Before I discuss progress, I’ll note that Austin Mystery Writers (AMW) is alive and well. Several members have been on hiatus, dealing with other projects (such as work), another can’t attend regularly (again, work), and this week our Grand Pooh-Bah moved a hundred miles to the north. Only two non-Pooh Bahs remained to stay the course, and we considered four eyes insufficient to ferret out the flaws in our respective manuscripts.

Last night, however, concern vanished. Two new members joined us, a third has promised to drop in next week, and two others have listed themselves as maybes.

American writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
American writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being in a critique has been a good experience for me. In addition to ideas and advice, I’ve received  encouragement and support for my writing and for my personal life. My partners have helped me over some rough spots in the past couple of years.

I’ve also learned a lot. Since we’ve been together, one partner has published a novel and has more in line for publication. Two others have completed manuscripts. While in one sense I’ve been stalled–scrambling down bunny trails, trying to get my plot under control–I’ve learned about the business of writing.

As to my own WIP: Pieces continue to fall into place. Listening to a presentation at the Austin Sisters in Crime meeting last Sunday, I had a brainstorm–a detail that would make a central character’s motivation much more credible. I flipped to the next page in my notebook and scribbled it down. I’ve also had another idea about reframing the novel to update it a bit. When I realized that Molly hadn’t once, in nearly three hundred pages, gone online, I pulled out Chapter One and inserted Internet.

Today I retyped Chapter One. The experts say not to do that–especially considering the number of times I’ve rewritten it, trying to get the foundation right–but I’m not revising so much as remembering. It’s been through many incarnations, and typing requires me to read more closely than I would if only my eyes were involved. I’ll continue this process for three or four more chapters, inserting new segments where appropriate (I hope!). Projected changes add originality. They give Audrey Ann, a minor character, more opportunity for mischief-making. Audrey Ann is a hoot, and I look forward to spending more time with her.

(One of my critique partners suggested Audrey Ann would make a good victim, but she’s too much fun to kill. Very much like my first intended victim, whom I couldn’t bring myself to knock off. If this becomes a trend, I’m in big trouble.)

I’ve added a progress meter to the sidebar on the left. Five percent represents progress on the current draft–in other words, what I retyped today. I’ve been working on this project, and talking and writing about it, for a long time. I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve eked out just four thousand words.

Now, as to my plan for eating real food: Sometimes I have and sometimes I haven’t. I have, however, dropped nineteen pounds since the first of the year, so I claim at least modified success.

(Who am I trying to kid? I rock.)

Regarding sleep: It’s after 1:00 a.m. No excuses.

One last thing about Austin Mystery Writers: When the other left-behind critique partner mentioned we might need to put several of the coffee shop’s tables together to handle the potentially large turnout, it occurred to me that if we works things right, AMW could become the Austin equivalent of the Algonquin Hotel’s Round Table. A heady thought. Critique partner said I could be Dorothy Parker. She wants to be Tallulah Bankhead. I wish I could be the glamorous one, but with my evil tongue, Dorothy P. is right down my alley. More’s the pity. I’ll try to be nice.

*****

Day 9: Emoting

 

Austin Mystery Writers met tonight.

I was prepared. I bought frozen stuffed peppers Sunday evening and at 4:40 this afternoon turned the oven on to 350. David took it from there.

Frozen stuffed peppers is our Tuesday night default. David is the default preparer of frozen dinners and cleaner-upper of kitchen. For all this I am grateful.

I wasn’t prepared for the blog, of course. That slipped up on me. I’ve given myself thirty minutes to write and post.

The AMW meeting was productive. CP and I exchanged manuscripts–sounds a lot like fourth grade: “Exchange papers with the person across the aisle and we’ll check our answers”–and read and discussed them.

We spent most of the time talking about what wasn’t on the page: real plots and false plots, what our characters want, how to increase suspense, plot points and midpoints.

For at least the tenth time, we hashed out my structural dilemma.

Originally, I had a perfectly good plot. Then I decided to make a major change. I’m now dealing with fallout.

Periodically I say, “I can’t make this version work.”

CP shows me how I can make this version work.

I repeat, “No, I just can’t make it work.”

CP says, “Okay, then, go back to the way it was. Kill Mr. X.”

And I say, “But I don’t want to kill Mr. X. I want to kill Mrs. Y.”

That’s a classic strategy: I argue that I cant until my partner agrees with me. Then I argue that I can.

My mother and I spent most of the 1984-85 school  year engaged in that conversation. I was working at a university as an assistant instructor while writing my thesis. I was to receive my M.A. in August and then return a couple of weeks later as a full-time lecturer.

The catch was that by early July my thesis had to be approved, typed, signed, copied, and submitted for binding.

No thesis = no M.A. = no lectureship = no income.

Hence the weekly discussion:

K (wailing):  I’ll never finish my thesis in time to graduate.

M (in the soothing tone that was both patronizing and irksome):  Oh, you’ll get it finished.

K (louder wailing): No, I won’t. And if I don’t finish, I won’t have a job next year.

M (dropping the soothing tone and sounding frighteningly reasonable): Well, if you don’t think you can finish the thesis, maybe you should start looking for another high school job.

K (hysterical, offended wailing): You don’t think I can finish it! I’m going to finish it! I have to finish it!

Somewhere along the line, I think about March, my mother stopped bothering with words and began substituting, “Um-hmmmm.” Having heard predictions of academic doom since my freshman year (“I failed my biology test. No, really, I failed this one.”), she said her lines mostly to appease me. She knew I had to vent.

I suspect CP, like my mother, has figured out her role in the drama.

Image of Elisabet Ney’s Lady Macbeth by cliff1066, used under terms of Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.