LONE STAR LAWLESS!

Austin Mystery Writers’
second crime fiction anthology
now available for Kindle!

Paperbacks coming soon

 

ONE MORE TIME by V. P. Chandler

WILD HORSES by Alexandra Burt

LIFE OF THE PARTY by Mark Pryor

ARCHANGEL TOWERS by Gale Albright

BAGGAGE CLAIM, Part 1: THE DEVIL’S LUGGAGE
by Janice Hamrick

BAGGAGE CLAIM, Part 2: CARRY ON ONLY by Laura  Oles

THE TEXAS STAR MOTEL by Terry Shames

POINT BLANK, TEXAS by Larry D. Sweazy

THE BLACK WIDOW by Kaye George

THE SANDBOX by George Weir

TEXAS TOAST: THE CASE OF THE ERRANT LOAFER
by Manning Wolfe

WHEN CHEESE IS LOVE by Kathy Waller

THE BIRD  by Scott Montgomery

LITTLE RED by Gale Albright

EDITED by Ramona DeFelice Long

Judith

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Yesterday evening we had the pleasure of attending a celebration of our friend Judith Rosenberg’s seventieth birthday.

We first met Judith several years ago when she joined the 15 Minutes of Fame writing practice group. Through both her writing and our conversations over lunch, we’ve learned that she hails from New York, that she earned a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, that she sings and plays the guitar, that she writes poetry, that she likes Indian cuisine, that she has thought of writing fiction based on her doctoral dissertation.

Now. Reading over the preceding paragraph, I’m struck by its inadequacy. I should have taken notes during the open mic segment of the party, when people who have known her for many years, worked with her, traveled with her to the Texas-Mexican border reminisced about their friendships, using words such as dedication, service, tirelessness, brazenness, and spirit of anarchy. 

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In fact, brazenness and spirit of anarchy make me wish I’d both taken notes and asked questions. I believe I missed some interesting stories.

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The Judith story I’ll share will seem trivial compared to what others have told, but it relates to something in her personality and character that I have personal knowledge of, and that appeals to me: Judith likes dogs. Not long after we met her, she adopted Chucho (Chuchi to his friends).

According to my research, chucho means dog, mutt, or mongrel. Depending on where in Latin America you happen to be, it can also mean long-eared owl, sweetheart, rawhide whip, jail, shiver and shake, gossipy, tamale, and custard-filled doughnut. It can mean something else, too, but I won’t go into that. It’s enough to say that Judith’s Chuchi is a sweetheart. There’s a bit of custard about him, too.

When Chuchi became part of Judith’s family, our writing group was meeting in the large back room of a small but popular coffee shop. We arrived early on Saturdays and took over a far corner, moved tables together to accommodate the usual six or seven people, and settled in for the next two or three–or four–hours. Because the City of Austin allows dogs on decks and patios of eating establishments, Judith brought Chuchi along. He was blessed with the enthusiasm of (large teenage) puppyhood, but he behaved admirably, especially when Judith was with him. When she went inside the main room to order breakfast, leaving David to act as dogsitter, Chuchi loosened up, danced around a bit, greeted strangers. David is not a strict disciplinarian.

While we breakfasted, wrote, and read, Chuchi lay on the floor beside Judith’s chair. Occasionally he took a stroll, bumping legs, poking his nose out from under the table, reminding us he was there, willing to accept all morsels that came his way, probably wondering why none ever did. Chuchi wasn’t allowed people food.

This pattern continued for the better part of a year, until one day a man with an air of authority about him approached Judith and kindly told her that Chuchi was violating a city ordinance: dogs are allowed on decks and patios outside. The room we met in had once been outside, but since the gaps in its concrete block walls and its partial roof had been closed, and it had been gussied up with paneling and A/C and a heater, it was now inside. He was sorry, but Chuchi could not return.

We were sad, but soon afterward we moved our meetings to a library, where dogs don’t even think about entering. So Chuchi wouldn’t have been able to stay much longer anyway. And since libraries don’t serve food, he probably didn’t regret his banishment. He enjoyed our society, but the aroma of sausage seemed to be the real draw.

We couldn’t get a picture of Chuchi last night because instead of attending the party, he went to a sleep-over.

All right. End of Chuchi story and back to his owner.

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Judith’s passion is social justice. She is board president of Austin tan Cerca de la Frontera, an organization that seeks to address conditions of social and economic injustice along the Texas/Mexico border particularly as they affect women and communities of color, and to find community-driven alternatives through transnational solidarity and fair trade. She’s also involved in Women on the Border, the Texas Fair Trade Coalition, and Fuerza Unida. She organizes delegations to travel to Mexico to meet with maquiladora workers in communities along the border.

You can read more about Judith and Austin tan Cerca’s activities at the ATCF website. Judith may show up again here as well. There’s still research to be done on that spirit of anarchy thing.

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Happy birthday, Judith.

Last Sunday’s poetry reading

Sunday evening, seven members of the writing practice group 15 Minutes of Fame were featured readers at Borderlands Community of Poets, sponsored by Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review.

We had a blast.

Instead of sitting around a table, we faced the same direction, watching as one by one our fellows approached the lectern. Instead of listening to short prose and fledgling poetry written against the clock, we heard poetry composed in solitude and revised, edited, and polished at leisure.

We learned our friends don’t just enjoy writing. We learned they’re poets.

After the reading, most of the readers and about half of the audience migrated down the sidewalk to the Fire Bowl for dinner.

What’s next? We don’t know. We’ve thought about a retreat. Spending a day or two in a quiet rural setting with nothing to do but write write write sounds attractive. But it will take planning.

I predict, however, that when we gather tomorrow morning, we’ll feel an energy that wasn’t there before. I predict more wordplay, more laughter, more of the spirit of fun that has attracted writers to 15 Minutes of Fame for the past fifteen years.

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15 Minutes of Fame’s longevity is due to the efforts of moderator Mindy Reed, who founded the group and has kept it going. Mindy hasn’t been able to write with us for a while, but we look forward to her return. Meantime, if you drop by Recycled Reads, she and her staff will be happy to give you an excellent deal on a used book.

Two days before the deadline

My partner in Just for the Hell of it Writers (JFTHOIW) and I delivered our submissions to a manuscript contest Monday–two days before the deadline.

I have Critique Partner (CP) to thank for that. I normally hand-deliver everything the last day, just under the wire. CP, however, tries to get her entries in early, and she set up a schedule that helped me get mine in early as well.

The truth is, if it hadn’t been for CP, I wouldn’t have submitted anything at all. I had decided to skip the contest. The first ten pages of my novel didn’t seem strong enough to merit submission.

CP, however, encouraged me. Once we’d agreed to enter, she initiated a plan of attack. Each Friday, we set ourselves an assignment for the upcoming week. When I didn’t meet my objective, CP kept me on track. In fact, she believed in me until I could believe in myself. I think somewhere along the line I began to encourage her as well.

We worked for two months. During that time, I reconsidered what my first ten pages needed to accomplish with respect to characters and plot. I scrapped previous drafts and wrote new scenes. I weighed words and images. I tightened, tightened, tightened, cutting wherever I could.

Throughout, I listened to CP. We share an ear for Southern speech. When my ear went tone-deaf, CP let me know. “I really don’t like that word,” she’d say. Or, “I just don’t think he’d say it that way.” Or, “If the readers know something about roses, that line would be okay, but if they don’t, I think they’ll be confused.”

Of course, I didn’t have to take her advice. Both of us make our own decisions about what we change and what we keep. When she felt sure of herself, however, she didn’t hesitate to tell me, sometimes more than once, and in no uncertain terms. “I still don’t like cranky there. It just irks me every time I see it.”

The third or fourth time I heard the same advice, I’d give up and start to listen more closely to my own words. Did I really want to say, “all five cranky feet of her”? Should I have Rhys tell Miss Agnes she “looks as lovely as the Bride’s Dream rose growing beside your door?” Or would he say, “My, don’t you look lovely?”

Granted, he’s soft-soaping her, but Rhys isn’t dumb. Neither is Miss Agnes. If he spouted all that rose talk, she’d probably take charge of the scene and whap him with her cane.

When we formed JFTHOIW, a couple of friends expressed reservations. Critique groups, they said, could be negative. I knew they were right. Some critics aren’t graceful in giving criticism; others aren’t graceful in receiving it. Some don’t have the best interests of the writer in mind. Some don’t have the expertise necessary to be helpful.

In addition, criticism of a work in progress can stifle creativity, especially if the critic doesn’t understand the writer’s intent and tries to substitute his own vision.

But CP and I haven’t run into problems. I think that’s because we do have each other’s best interests in mind. We respect each other’s feelings. We admit we don’t know everything, and we attempt to learn more. We want each other to succeed.

We’ve also become friends. I’d like to do well in the manuscript contest we’ve just entered. I’d like to be a finalist. Oh, let’s be honest–I’d like to win the thing. But I also want CP to do well. If she wins, I’ll be just as happy–well, almost as happy–as if I’d taken the top spot.  I believe she’d be happy for me if I won.

Writing in Helen Ginger’s blog, Straight from Hel, literary publicist Stephanie Barko said, “One of the best reasons to enter a contest is to evoke creativity. It is by exploring the unknown that we find our answers, not by having the answers before we explore. There’s nothing like serving yourself a problem to jar your synapses loose and bend your brain in ways it doesn’t normally move.”

When I read that, I understood what CP had done. By pushing me to enter the contest, she required me to push at the boundaries of my own creativity. She made me find new answers to problems I’d been trying to wish away. She helped jar my synapses loose and bend my brain in ways it doesn’t normally move.

And that jarring and bending produced ten pages that are much better than they were before. I submitted an entry that, win or lose, I could be proud of.

And I delivered it two days before the deadline.

Thank you, CP.

I’m good enough, I’m smart enough…

Before we go further, we have to talk about the P-word: publication.

I want it.

Now. Often. And accompanied by immense public acclaim and financial reward.

I want to go on book tours and do readings. I want to be wined and dined by the literati.

I want to be the literati.

I want a loft in The Village. I want a croft on the Isle of Mull.

I want it all. And I can have it.

The thing is, before I can have it, I have to finish a manuscript.

That last has become a bit problematic.

My critique partner and I have discussed the situation at length. We’re weary of writers who have a string of books to their credit advising us to forget about being published, to “just write for yourself.” Easy for them to talk.

Unfortunately, they seem to have a point. The more we obsess about agents, editors, and cover design, the flatter our prose becomes. And the more we feel like tossing our multiple revisions into the air and walking away.

Which would be a shame after so much work, and which would probably make the BookPeople barista, who’s been so nice to us, really mad.

So at a recent powwow we decided that from now on, we will write just for the hell of it.

We are now, officially, the Just for the Hell of It Writers.

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I should make clear that my critique partner has finished one manuscript and has won a manuscript contest, so she’s considerably closer to being literati than I am. She says, however, that her accomplishment hasn’t made manuscript #2 any easier to birth.