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.


Loose Ends

British actress .
British actress Hermione Norris: Ros. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PBS is airing MI5 for—what?—the fourth consecutive season? and I’m watching reruns. Again.

Last week, Ros died for the second and presumably last time. Because I’d already seen the episode (often), I used only a half box of tissues. When Adam died, I wept a puddle, but Ros’ original demise prompted a deluge. Now the team is picking up the pieces and moving on with Ros’ replacement, another attractive blonde. I find it impossible to bond with her. I’ve nicknamed her Not-Ros.

I don’t care for explosions and executions and car chases, and if that’s all MI5 had to offer, I’d have turned it off before getting hooked. Interesting characters and tight plots have kept me tuning in. That, and the fact that violence isn’t at the heart of the show: it’s the suspense, the waiting for the clock to tick down, for the bomb to detonate—or not.

And the knowledge that, in the hands of these writers, no character is safe.

Back in the olden days, one thing was certain: when he strode into the dusty Dodge City street on Saturday night, his badge glinting in the sun, his six-gun secure in its holster, to face the man in the black hat, Marshal Matt Dillon would be alive at the end of the show.

No such guarantee for Sir Harry Pearce and Section D.

No guarantee for anyone in real life either.

This afternoon, in a grocery store parking lot filled with cars but almost empty of people, a young couple passed me. The man was shouting at the woman. He reached out and pushed her shoulder. She turned away slightly, made a half-hearted attempt to fend him off. They made their way across the lot—the man shouting the same unprintable insult over and over, pushing and shoving, the woman staying beside him, hardly trying to defend herself.

Leaving the path leading to the cart return, I followed them. I didn’t consider what I could, or would, do. I just had to keep them in sight.

They had reached the sidewalk when a young woman rolling a cart filled with groceries and a toddler in the child seat stopped beside a nearby car. She called to me. “Call the police.”

“I don’t have my cell phone.”

She dug in her purse for her phone, then dialed 911. She then reported the couple’s actions and described them: jeans, black shorts, yellow t-shirt, blue and gray jersey displaying the number 31, baseball cap. I moved to a better vantage point and fed her details.

While she was on the phone, another young man and woman ran across the parking lot and managed to separate the couple. The women crossed the street. The men walked in the opposite direction across the lot. I lost them when they got into a car and drove away.

I wouldn’t recognize them if I saw them again, but I have a feeling the fellow doing the shouting and pushing would recognize me: He left staring over his shoulder at me. I wasn’t comfortable standing in that gaze. Since he obviously knew what my new friend and I were up to, he might have been uncomfortable, too, but he appeared too angry to feel self-conscious.

With no suspect, the 911 call ended. My friend turned off her phone and dropped it back into her purse. I thanked her.

“That wasn’t right,” she said.


“She didn’t even try to get away from him.”

“I was worried about what would happen when he got her away from here.” I was still worried. He hadn’t had time to cool off, if that made a difference. If they drove around the block, found the women walking up the street…

“It just wasn’t right.” She thanked me and finished loading her groceries.

I wheeled my cart to the return, got into my car, and drove home.

Ever since, I’ve wished I could finish that scene, tie up loose ends, get everyone home safely, make them live happily ever after. But in real life, I don’t get to write the script.

And I don’t always get to know how the story ends.


Image of Hermione Norris by Hermione_Norris.jpg: Sam Knox derivative work: ukexpat (Hermione_Norris.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

#ROW80 11.13, NaNo, & Viral Accord

Ampersand in plain and italics.
Image via Wikipedia

NaNoWriMo / ROW80 update:

I’ve been working on Molly but haven’t been averaging the 1667 words per day required to reach the target by the end of November.

According to the NaNo stats page, at my current rate, I’ll reach 50,000 words on September 28, 2015.

But there is hope—if I write 2,753 words each and every day for the rest of the month.

Is it possible to write 2,753 words in one day? Of course. Call it a blog post and I’ll write twice that.


Sick of staring at Times New Roman, I switched to Accord SF.

Now MS Word 2007 asserts it independence by saving Accord SF in italics. The italics icon on the toolbar, however, isn’t highlighted, and no amount of clicking or unclicking it affects the text. Nothing affects the text. It’s in italics and it’s going to stay that way.

I think the dysfunction is related to repeated crashing of blog documents several weeks ago. I saved in Accord SF but after each crash reopened to italicized Accord SF. Why italics have leaked over into text documents, I cannot say.

If anyone can shed light on this case, please feel free. In the interim, and probably forever, I’ll be using Open Office, which I like better anyway.

Except for blog posts. I don’t have time or patience to read the OO instructions. And Word blog format is on its best behavior.


They say the secret to winning NaNoWriMo is Never Delete.

That’s not my way. I revise as I go. Like this:

Word word word word word word word Delete delete delete Different word different word different word Word word Delete Different word…

It’s slow, but my OCD feels comfortable with it.

NaNo, however, despises it.

NaNo likes something like the following:

Word word word word Wrong word Right word Word word word word Wrong word Wrong word Wrong word Right word Right word Wrong word…

Which just drives me up the wall.


I saved. Word crashed. I reopened to italics.

What it will look like when it’s published to WordPress I won’t try to predict.

Just once, I would like to live through a day in which I don’t have to eat my words, my hat, or a large portion of crow.

#ROW80 & Decency

Pink colour
Image via Wikipedia

This week I did not meet my writing goals, and I joined four groups.

The groups are activity-optional, so I can’t get too bent out of shape about signing up. One of them sends me recipes I have no intention of trying.

Although I didn’t achieve my target would count, I worked on plotting Molly. A couple of knotty problems appear to be unraveling. It’s about time.

I also offered to read and comment on three novels. I initially volunteered to read only two, but the one I left on the table had a very pink cover, and the face of the young man across the table from me was very pale. Because if I didn’t read the pink book, he would have to.

Sometimes you just have to give in and do the decent thing.

#ROW80 8/10 & Advice from The Help

We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity. ~Rejection Slip from a Chinese Economic Journal, Quoted in The Financial Times

Frank and Ravetch adapted many of the novels b...
William Faulkner ("Good God, I can't publish this!")--Image via Wikipedia

A writer friend e-mailed that her novel has been rejected for publication.

The editor declining the manuscript wrote a personal letter explaining the reason for rejection. The editor also encouraged the writer to query again when her next manuscript is complete.

That’s a good rejection. Not so good as the one quoted above, but better than a standard form letter—”Your manuscript does not suit our needs at this time”—which leaves the writer without a clue.

Is it the quality of the writing? The subject? A poorly developed plot? Too much graphic violence? Not enough graphic violence? Overuse of dialect? A boring first line? A typo on page 3?

Or that the manuscript really didn’t suit the publisher’s needs at that time?

The truth may hurt, but it at least leaves you knowing where you stand. And possibly the direction in which you should go.

I’ve heard that in the context of submission and publication, rejection isn’t an appropriate term. Editors who reject manuscripts are really bowing out and allowing other editors the opportunity to accept.

To me, that’s a bit like calling a scheduled test date Opportunity Day. But whatever works…

I haven’t received many rejections, not because my submissions for publication are universally accepted, but because I haven’t done much submitting. There are several reasons for that, among them that I haven’t written much short fiction and I haven’t completed a novel, so I’ve had little to submit. I’m working to rectify that.

If I’m successful, by this time next year, I’ll have rejection slips all over the place.

Every writer—and that includes all of us, not just those who’ve been published—has read about authors who have received negative word from editors before finally reaching print. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was turned down by twenty-six publishers. J. K. Rowling received a dozen rejections for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected twenty times.

Sometimes, editors’ comments stray into the personal.

On Rudyard Kipling: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

On William Faulkner’s Sanctuary: “Good God, I can’t publish this.”

The Help, Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel, was rejected sixty times before a publisher picked it up. Acceptance came after five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection. The movie adaptation of the book is slated for release this week.

“…I can’t tell you how to succeed,” says Stockett to others aspiring to see their works in print. “But,” she continues,

I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere. Or you could do what this writer did: Give in to your obsession instead.

Stockett racked up rejections because she was industrious enough, and brave enough, to put her work out there.

Instead of invoking the Muse, I’m going to start invoking Stockett. First thing tomorrow, I’ll print out her picture, clip it, and tape it to my monitor. When I’m working–or not–hers is the face I need to see; hers is the voice I need to hear.


Cactus at Big Bend National Park in Texas
Image via Wikipedia

Last night’s homework:

One page: Writer’s Diary.

One page: Clustering exercise

Five one-paragraph character sketches

Four one-paragraph novel beginnings (from photos taken this week)

One one-page novel beginning (from photos taken this week)

Optional but encouraged: Choose one short piece of writing to present at tomorrow night’s reading

And seventeen people call this a vacation.

P.S. I suspect this mammoth task has been assigned so we won’t have time to revise and polish. Beginnings are supposed to be bad. We have permission to write badly. But no one wants to turn in bad writing. So the instructor resorts to subterfuge.


Location: Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA
Big Bend National Park--Image via Wikipedia


Drove for seven hours, arrived only fifteen minutes before orientation, no time to change out of scruffy clothes before meeting instructor and classmates.

Dragged suitcases plus kitchen sink into a cabin at a 1950s-style motor court.

Foraged for food.

Prepared to fall into bed asap.

Picked up a novel, had to know how it ended, found out.

Turned out lights at 1:24 a.m.

Sat in class for five hours, writing, writing, writing.

Crashed in cabin, foraged again, crashed again.

Started on homework.

Homework. Honestly.

Who goes on retreat to do homework?

It’s been a pretty good two days.

ROW80 7/10, Short-shorts, and Emily Dickinson’s Ribs

One of the shooting place for Around the World...
Image via Wikipedia

It’s no longer Sunday where I am, so my report for A Round of Words in 80 Days is now late.

On the other hand, it’s Sunday somewhere, so no sweat. I have plenty of time.

(Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have written no sweat in anything but a letter to my nearest and dearest. And I wouldn’t have turned in an assignment, even a non-essential assignment, late. But twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have worn shorts to the grocery store, either, no matter the temperature. Things change.)

First the report:

I wrote another short-short story, shot for 200 words including the title, and made it. The plot already existed, part in a file and part in my head; finished, the story would have comprised several thousand words.

I’d intended to submit it last January to a contest for an online magazine. Unable to finish by the deadline, I set it aside and didn’t pick it up again. It was one of those things I could have worked on forever and never completed.

So, in search of a plot for a 200-word piece, I pulled up that one and stripped it to its bare bones.

The result was like an X-ray: for the first time, I saw the basic structure, what held the story together and kept it upright. Or what, in its previous semi-incarnation, didn’t hold it together.

In its earlier state, it meandered all over the place. Like what would happen if you removed the skeleton from a body: it takes more than a heap of muscle to get from here to there.

A word in my defense: I believe in over-writing. I start with some characters, a setting, and a couple of lines, and see what happens. I do not–cannot–know exactly what happens before it happens.

For me, writing is thinking.

But in this case, I had thought several thousand words. With that, I could start paring down.

Then, after letting the 200-word version sit for a day or two, I began to expand, a few words at a time. It’s now 250 words and, I think, fairly decent. When I finish here, I’ll e-mail it to my critique group for some less biased opinions.

Constructing the short-short was an exercise. I enjoy reducing word count, tightening the pieces I write. If I had time, I would cut this post. I may come back and tamper with it next week or next year.

Writing can be drudgery, but cutting is always reward.

In stripping away unnecessary words, however, I discovered an unexpected benefit: seeing the plot clearly will make it easier to write the story I’d originally intended.

If I ever write it. I’m so enamored with the undernourished version that I might leave it alone.

Another thing: I selected the photograph above because 1) it was one of the shooting places for the 1956 version of Around the World in 80 Days, and 2) it’s in the public domain.

But as I typed away about bare bones and skeletons, I remembered Emily Dickinson’s poem about the train:

I like to see it lap the miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step

Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare

To fit its ribs, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill

And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop–docile and omnipotent–
At its own stable door.

I read the poem to a class of sophomores when I was student-teaching, about a million years ago. We discussed Dickinson’s use of figurative language. The students were a savvy bunch and they had good answers and asked good questions.

One boy, for example, said, “What does it mean ‘To fit its ribs?’ What are its ribs?”

For me, that was one question too many. I’d never considered the ribs. I had no idea what the ribs were.

I stood before the class, mouth agape, understanding for the first time the true meaning of tabula rasa.

But before I could get a word out, another student said, “It’s the track.” Except the way he said it, it sounded more like, “It’s the track, dummy, can’t you read?”

I am indebted to those two boys: the answerer, for keeping me from looking like a dummy; and the questioner, for being a kindred spirit.

I addressed the “dummy” tone so the kindred spirit didn’t feel like a dummy. If I’d been teaching more than a week, I’d have said, “I don’t know. Anyone have an idea?” and delighted the entire class.

Kids like teachers who don’t know things.

A few years later, when I was “real,” a student wrote that I was the first of her teachers who had ever admitted being wrong. I suspect that was because I was the first of her teachers who was wrong. But however it worked, she thought the admission was pretty cool.

Having, like my unfinished story, meandered, I shall draw this bit of self-indulgence to a close.

Back to the report: Since Sunday, I’ve worked on the two short-shorts and finished editing the SinC Heart of Texas newsletter. And written this post. And tried to figure out Twitter.

To see how others are doing on ROW80, click here.


A Round of Words in 80 Days: Goals

Reveille, mascot of Texas A&M University
Image via Wikipedia

Another round of ROW80 begins today, and I’ve signed on. I would like to say I’m doing it because I was so successful the first time, but that would be overstatement bordering on a lie. In fact, it would be a lie. I became so tired of reporting that I couldn’t even remember my goals that I stopped reporting and just wrote whatever came to mind.

(Oh, joy. The Internet is down again and I must reboot the router. It’s okay. I get a lot of exercise walking across the room and toggling a little switch.)

Back to ROW80.

One of my CPs came across the following post on the blog Letters of Note. It’s a copy of a letter in which Pixar animator Austin Madison tells aspiring artists how to handle times of “creative drought.”

“In a word,” he writes, “PERSIST.”

So I dive into ROW80 once more because I’m persisting.

And because I want to. I discovered some interesting/entertaining/informative blogs during the first round, and I hope to discover more.

It’s also good to write in the company of others. Not to be accountable to them, but to share their energy. We’re all working toward the same thing.

Part of the ROW80 contract is a statement of goals. I’ll keep it simple.

  • During the next 80 days, I will spend a portion of every day WRITING. Not answering e-mails, not composing blog posts, not commenting on blogs. Not playing Bejeweled (I’m getting pretty good at it). I will WRITE (which includes revising, editing, organizing) something intended for submission, and not for self-publication. Five hundred words a day is a nice round number, and something to shoot for.
  • During the next 80 days, I will submit chapters to my critique groups. The other members haven’t threatened to kick me out if I don’t get back to writing, but they are beginning to look at me with a different expression. Sort of like the Aggies look at Reveille. As if they’re going to start giving me little head pats and perhaps a dog biscuit if sit quietly while they’re discussing their manuscripts.

My third goal is to eschew perfectionism, but I’ve been eschewing so competently that I don’t need to put it in writing.

I hope everyone reading this post will click over to Austin Madison’s letter. His ideas aren’t new, but they’re often forgotten. Sometimes we need to read them in new words, from new people, and we need to read them again and again.


Image of Reveille by Patrick Boyd (cropped from [1]) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The fault, dear Brutus

Astrology, Horoscope, equal houses, example, S...
Image via Wikipedia

A friend asked where I am in my Molly-writing process.

I explained:

My horoscope for June 7 read as follows:

June 7 – SCORPIO (Oct. 24-Nov. 21). You may not want to show people your work because you feel that it’s unfinished. But a project that is completely finished is lifeless. So show where you are in the process, and you’ll be enthralling.”


On June 7, I bought a new notebook. I have always believed that buying a new notebook will solve all my problems. That’s why I have so many notebooks and so little money.

I also bought some new Pilot Precise pens–black, blue, red, green, and some other color. Pilot Precise fits my hand.

I also bought 300 lined 3×5 index cards, plus a soft plastic card file that closes with an elastic band and contains more index cards and some clear plastic tabbed dividers.

The notebook and the card file are green. They don’t match perfectly, but I thought green would be the easiest color to see when they get lost among my other notebooks, books, and various other paper goods.

I will grapple the notebook and the card file (and a couple of pens) unto my soul with hoops of steel (when they’re not under a stack of something) so they’ll be available every time I have an idea or write a word for Molly.

That is where I am.

And that’s where I thought I was.

While proofing this post, however, I realized I had misread one word. I thought the astrologer meant that if I left Molly completely unfinished, the novel would be lifeless. That would goad me to action.

But it actually says

But a project that is completely finished is lifeless.

After rereading and pondering, I understand the meaning of the original statement. And it’s all right. I accept it.

But I like my way better.

So, with apologies to all concerned, I’m adding an un-.

June 7 – SCORPIO (Oct. 24-Nov. 21). You may not want to show people your work because you feel that it’s unfinished. But a project that is completely UNfinished is lifeless. So show where you are in the process, and you’ll be enthralling.”

Now, critique groups, prepare to be enthralled.


Scorpio for June 7, 2011 can be found at Horoscopes by Holiday by Holiday Mathis (or by clicking the link below). It also appears in the Austin American-Statesman, where I read it this morning before my eyes had finished opening.


Check on other ROW80 participants’ progress by clicking here.

ROW80 Sunday 5/22 Report

Day Services Unit waiting room
Image via Wikipedia

Let’s get down to brass tacks.

Wednesday=Stayed home. Electrician didn’t come.

Thursday=Stayed home. Electrician didn’t come.

Friday=Gave up and left home to take care of business.

Plumber did come. He is a delightful young man. I would adopt him except he’s already replaced just about every fixture on the property, both inside and  out, and he would have nothing to do. I hate to ask him to crawl under the house until absolutely necessary. On Monday, I ran into a snake in the yard, and you never know where his family might reside.

Renter did come. He is a delightful young man. It’s a pleasure to see him so excited to be living in the house where I grew up. Since he will be around anyway, I may adopt him.

In the half-hour between plumber and renter, I sat on the side porch steps and looked at the pecan trees across the driveway, and the brush pile that should be burned but can’t be until the burn ban is lifted, and my cousin’s new barn across the street. I relaxed, breathing in country air and quiet.

I took out pen and notebook and wrote the first lines of Chapter 5.

I crossed out and started over and turned pages and started over, and by the time I was finished, I had only three or four sentences. But I was back in the dream again, with neighbors gathered in a hospital waiting room, little girls listening to an old man telling stories, women gossiping, and men standing in the hallway, arms crossed, not saying much at all.

To see what other ROW80 participants are doing, click here.

AROW80 Wednesday 5/4 Report

Recent earthquakes from w.United States Geolog...
Image via Wikipedia

Write 500 words / day on Molly: Someone read the minor revisions and said she likes the way I’ve gotten around a problem with plot.

Exercise 30 minutes / day: I walked around a store yesterday, shopping for linens.

Go to bed by 11:00 p.m.: I went to bed at 10:00 p.m. last night.

Detail: That’s about it.

To see how other AROW80 participants are doing, click here.

Image by Julsep 6 ( [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

AROW80 Sunday 5/1 Report

Title screen for Burbank Films Australia's 198...
Image via Wikipedia

Write 500 words / day on Molly: progress

Exercise 30 minutes / day: hahaha

Go to bed by 11:00 p.m.: hahahaha


I’ve had a couple of minor epiphanies regarding Molly, and I was, when I broke off to post this, making some changes in Chapter 1 that will aid in plot development later.

I wish I were not OCD. I wish I could just make some notes about changes I need to make in Chapter 1 and then go on with writing Chapter Whatever. But I can’t. So I do it my way.

To see how other AROW80 participants are doing, click here.