In Memoriam: Gale Albright

 

Posted by Kathy Waller

Gale Albright

Gale Albright, November 2016

Gale Albright, 2016 president of Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas chapter, a member of Austin Mystery Writers and the Writers’ League of Texas, an author, and our dear friend, died on November 19.

Gale was born in Tyler, in the Piney Woods of East Texas, where her family has lived for generations. She attended the University of Texas at Austin, and in the late 2000s completed a degree in English Writing and Rhetoric at St. Edwards University.

In an interview posted on the Austin Mystery Writers website, Gale spoke of how important her East Texas upbringing was to her writing:

“I always have to write about Texas. I had many conversations with older people in my family when I was a little kid, so I heard a lot of stories about hard times picking cotton, taking a lunch to school in a lard bucket and going barefoot until it was time to start school in the fall. I am fascinated with the Great Depression and the WW II years, all from an East Texas point of view. I love Southern story telling, all the rhythms of language and colloquial expressions.”

Gale had a fine ear for language. One of her stories, Eva, winner of the 2008 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest for Young Adult Fiction, and based on her aunt’s childhood in East Texas, demonstrates her ability to duplicate the rhythms of East Texas speech on the page. You don’t just read Eva; you hear it.

In the following passage, for example, the main character, twelve-year-old Eva, describes the new boy at school:

Mama had raised me to be polite and not stare at folks, but it was hard not to stare at this boy. He looked like he had slept in a mud puddle. His overalls were patched and filthy and his shirt collar was ragged. The shirt was so dirty I didn’t even know what color it used to be. And he was barefoot. Now, some of the farm boys kept on coming to school barefoot, at least as long as the warm weather held, but this boy’s feet were solid black! …

West Jonah was a small town in East Texas. Everybody knew everybody else. Where had this boy come from? It had been three years since the hard times started, but things kept on getting worse. It was 1932 and we still had hungry strangers coming through, looking for jobs, looking for a meal. Whole families sometimes, in beat-up old cars with furniture piled high and kids sitting on top of the furniture. But I had never seen a boy my age on his own.

By lunch time, everybody was calling the new boy “Dirty Billy.”

Gale Albright check for grant from the national SINC to Lake Travis Community Library Director, October 2016

Gale Albright presenting check for grant from the national SINC to Lake Travis Community Library Director, October 2016

Gale’s first ambition was to be an actress–she said by the time she was three years old, she was singing and dancing for an audience of women in her grandmother’s beauty shop. Years later, she played the role of Stella in a little theater production of Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire. But for a profession, she turned to writing and editing. In a training program at the Chicago Tribune, she learned to typeset news and proof galleys when the technology involved hot metal. Later she worked for twenty-three years at the University of Texas as a typesetter and an administrative assistant, first for the Petroleum Extension Service, and later for the School of Engineering, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and finally, the School of Law. After retiring, she wrote and edited for the Hutto News.

Gale loved her family: her husband, Joe; her daughter, Sarah; her brother, Stuart Inman, and her sisters, Molly Inman and Dawn Holmes. She loved her friends and co-workers at UT; the members of her Sisters in Crime chapter and of Austin Mystery Writers, and many others.

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AMW members Kathy Waller, Laura Oles, Gale Albright, and Valerie Chandler, outside Habana Restaurant.

She loved the butterfly garden she was building in her yard in Hutto; Pashmina shawls and scented soaps; reading crime fiction; going to writing workshops–“I’m a workshop junkie,” she said; organizing workshops; going on writing retreats, especially those held in Alpine, Texas; and her cat, Maggie, a rescue cream tabby she adopted from Austin Pets Alive!. Maggie supported Gale’s writing career by spending a goodly portion of her time meowing to be let into and out of Gale’s office. (Gale spent a goodly portion of her time opening and closing the door).

Gale loved the Hutto Public Library and belonged to Friends of the Hutto Library. She volunteered, wrote about the library for the Hutto News, and took Spanish and drawing classes there.

And Gale loved writing.

She did say, now and then, that she’d been avoiding working on a piece because writing was hard, and that she knew if she just started writing, the words would begin to flow, and what had been torture would become fun; and that she was so frustrated because she avoided doing something she would inevitably enjoy. Actually, I usually said that to her and she agreed. But for a person who admitted to avoidance, she put a lot of words on paper.

She loved National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWrimo). Every November, she focused on writing 1667 words a day–a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. Last year she organized two NaNoWrimo Write-Ins at the Hutto Public Library, and this November, she hosted another for the 2016 round. She proudly wore the tee-shirt proclaiming her a NaNo winner.

I met Gale at a Writers League of Texas meeting dedicated to helping members form critique groups. We read a few pages of each other’s work, decided we could work together, and agreed to meet once a week. Of course, we wanted to be published, but we’d been told writing just to be published wasn’t a good idea–because publication is an iffy thing–our reason should be deeper, more philosophical. So we chose a reason and a name to match: the Just for the Hell of It Writers. At the time, Gale was working on a mystery novel entitled One Small Monkey. It was set in the 1970s Austin music scene, a time she remembered fondly.

Austin Mystery Writers: Gale Albright, Scott Montgomery, Laura Oles, and Valerie Chandler.

Austin Mystery Writers: Gale Albright, Scott Montgomery, Laura Oles, and Valerie Chandler.

A year or so later, we dissolved JFTHOI and joined Austin Mystery Writers. In the larger group, we read more manuscripts, heard more comments about our own work. Gale was a discerning reader. She focused on the positive elements in a manuscript and gently pointed out negatives. She explained how she learned to critique in a blog post: “Critic or Critiquer?”

In 2015, Austin Mystery Writers published its first crime fiction anthology, MURDER ON WHEELS. Two of Gale’s stories appear there: “Aporkalypse Now” and “Mome Rath, My Sweet.” Both showcase her ability to infuse suspense with humor.

“Aporkalypse Now” is the story of a woman obsessed with pork ribs and pistachio ice cream, and resentful–and suspicious–of her husband’s sudden obsession with his bicycle.

In “Mome Rath, My Sweet,” she merges Lewis Carroll, the Brothers Grimm, and Raymond Chandler.

Gale Albright and novelist Marsha Moyer at the MURDER ON WHEELS book launch, BookPeople, August 2015.

Gale Albright and novelist Marsha Moyer at the MURDER ON WHEELS book launch, BookPeople, August 2015.

The story begins, “Joey Dormouse was dead and I was heading for a fall.” With that terse statement, private eye Jacob Grimm turns down the brim of his fedora, leaves his dingy office, and tangles with turquoise-eyed women and tough-talking men to rescue Alice Wonderland from the clutches of the gangster Mome Rath.

This story is probably the only example of noir fiction featuring a dormouse.

Gale joined SINC Heart of Texas in 2009. As vice president for programming, she introduced the chapter to many local authors. She edited the chapter newsletter. She coordinated the annual Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event. She helped facilitate a writing workshop co-sponsored with BookPeople bookstore. She moderated a panel at the Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference, and, with host Hopeton Hay of radio station KAZI 88.7, interviewed mystery author Sue Grafton. For the December 2015 party, she wrote, produced, and acted in a radio play, “Holly Through the Heart,” in which Sherlock Holmes meets Tiny Tim. Gale brought  new energy to the chapter. And her involvement wasn’t going to end after her presidency–there were other projects she wanted to pursue.

Cast of "Holly Through the Heart": Alex Ferraro, Kathy Waller, Dave Ciambrone, Gale Albright, and Valerie Chandler; Book Spot, December 2014.

Cast of “Holly Through the Heart”: Alex Ferraro, Kathy Waller, Dave Ciambrone, Gale Albright, and Valerie Chandler; Book Spot, December 2014.

And there was her own writing. At the time of her death, she was working on edits of two stories to be included in Austin Mystery Writers’ second anthology. She was also revising Eva for middle grade readers.

Gale is survived by her husband, Joe Albright; her daughter, Sarah Hathcock; her brother, Stuart Inman; and her sisters, Molly Inman and Dawn Holmes.

She also leaves behind many friends. We miss her.

A memorial service for Gale will be held on Saturday, December 10, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., at the Northland AA Group, 2809 Northland Drive, in Austin.

Memorials may be sent to Friends of the Hutto Library or to SINC Heart of Texas chapter.

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Read more of Gale’s writing at her personal blog, Crime Ladies, and at the Heart of Texas chapter’s newsletter, HOTSHOTS!

Watch a production of Gale’s “Holly Through the Heart.”

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Some of the information in this post was provided by Gale’s husband, Joe Albright. Some came from the linked sources, above. Most came from memories.

Bouchercon 2016: New Orleans

For those who love to read mysteries as well as write them, Bouchercon is where you will find your people– and they will most likely be hanging out in the hotel bar.

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Cafe Du Monde-a must in New Orleans!

The 47th Bouchercon World Mystery Convention found its home this year in The Big Easy. The combination of a compelling locale along with some of the biggest names in crime fiction created the largest registration to date. Over 1,900 guests flocked to New Orleans in search of panels, book signings, author sightings and fabulous food, along with intentions of connecting with old friends and making new ones.

I found all of those things.

This was my first Bouchercon as previous attempts to attend havelauravalerie been thwarted by schedule conflicts, work issues and school events. This year, somehow, we made it work. Embarking on a road trip with fellow AMW member Valerie Chandler, the two of us packed the car and hit the road, following IH-10 all the way across state lines and into the heart of New Orleans. Nine hours in a car sounds like a chore, but we fared pretty well. We found each other to be entertaining company–and the snacks were pretty good, too. A successful road trip hinges on these two things–the right people and the right munchies.

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Laura Oles & Harlan Coben

Walking into the hotel on Wednesday evening thrust us in the middle of a party already in progress. The bar area bustled with animated conversations and activity. Clearly, people were already in the “laissez le bon temps roulez” frame of mind. Writing is such a solitary process that it was a wonderful thing, seeing these mystery lovers together sharing stories and spirits. The bar served as the community meeting center for the conference, with people coming and going (and some staying all night). It was an event in and of itself.

Registration to Bouchercon includes a trip to the conference bookstore. Shopping in the Bouchercon Bookstore was a real treat. Along with our registration goodies–T-shirt, tote bag, water bottle–each attendee received six coupons for free books. The store was stocked with all the latest titles (and a few ARCs) from authors attending the conference. It took some time to make my selections, as I debated which titles to take home. These books now sit on my nightstand waiting for my attention, which I fully intend to give them after I complete the latest round of edits on my own novel.

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Michael Connelly interviews Harlan Coben

On Thursday morning, Michael Connelly interviewed Harlan Coben, and it was one of the best exchanges between two powerhouse authors I have ever witnessed. They tackled the realities of writing vs. the fantasy of it and shared the stories of their successes with humor and humility. Harlan explained that it was his tenth book that finally garnered him some success–his TENTH. So, for those of us who do not yet have that number as a backlist, his advice is to keep writing. And when you’re done, write the next one. Tough love, people.

The panels were fantastic and the conversations afterward were equally interesting. On

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Hank Phillippi Ryan moderates a panel discussion–very well as always!

average, there were six panels offered in each key time slot, making it difficult to decide which ones to attend. My conference schedule was highlighted and notated as though I had been preparing for an exam.

Bouchercon encompasses a wide variety of sub genres, and it was interesting to hear discussions related to so many different kids of mysteries– how they are constructed, how they are marketed and how they find their way to readers. I think that this broad scope of inclusion is one of the elements that makes Bouchercon so unique. It doesn’t narrow itself to a small slice of mystery. It’s about the entire pie.

palacecafeSpeaking of dessert, I would be remiss if I didn’t spend a moment fawning over the New Orleans cuisine. The dining options were vast, varied and with rare exception, all excellent. We found the Palace Café, located on the foot of the French Quarter, and loved it so much that we returned again a second time. The atmosphere was very NOLA, with its sharply dressed waiters, white table linens and black iron spiral staircase. The shrimp tchefuncte was fabulous and flavorful, and I still miss the bananas foster. It was that good.

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Bananas Foster at the Palace Cafe

Sisters in Crime celebrated 30 years at the conference, and the breakfast meeting brought some of the most talented–and supportive–crime writers working today. The breakfast, held on the 41st floor of the NOLA Marriott, was elegant yet casual, the view of the city through the hotel windows serving as the perfect backdrop for the conversations taking place. This group of women and men, who come together for the purposes of promoting equality in the field of crime fiction, have accomplished a great deal in three decades. While there is more work to be done, it is clear that their commitment has created substantial progress.

Having time to spend catching up with friends, many of whom I only see once or twice a year, was a true treasure. Those connections and conversations are experiences I bring home and keep with me as I return to the daily work of writing solo. They remind me that, even though I write alone, I am far from it.

I now return to real life, and it’s nice to be home. Still, I wish I could find a way to bring the community of Bouchercon and the New Orleans food with me. The memories will have to do, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to attend. So, friends, until next time. Maybe I’ll see you in Toronto at Bouchercon 2017?  –Laura Oles

Interview With AMW Member, V.P. Chandler

 

10407893_1010906502272011_8835198574869839611_nThis is the last installment of the AMW member interviews. Who did I leave out? Me! So some of my fellow members have asked me questions. I must admit, I was a little nervous. Ask me anything! I’ll give you an answer. And this goes for you too, reader. Ask me anything. I’ll try to answer what you throw at me. *Gulp!*

 

Kaye George (former member but still active in many AMW activities!)- How long have you been writing toward publication?

VPC- I plead the fifth. (Already!) Okay, I’ll answer. I’ve been working on my book, in its many incarnations, since about 2009. It’s had big changes and I’ve also worked on other projects in the meantime.

 

KG- Do you find it hard or easy to fit writing into your schedule?

Pomodoro timer

Pomodoro timer

VPC- Most days I can fit in some writing. It’s the days that have unexpected challenges, like an emergency trip to the vet, that make it hard. And on some days, like today, I’m doing things like writing a blog post. Lots of things take time away from working on book projects.

I’ll also fess up that I’m also a procrastinator, so I sometimes have to trick myself into working. “I have to work at least 20 minutes.” Then next thing I know it’s been 3 hours and I got a lot of work done.

 

KG- Do you work outside the home?

VPC- I volunteer for my church. I do the website and sometimes fill in for the secretary. I also help with websites, Facebook pages, and projects of organizations like Writer Unboxed and our local chapter of Sisters in Crime.

 

KG- How many rattlers have you actually killed?

VPC- LOL! I know you’re asking me this because you’ve read a draft of my book. The answer is, a lot. Back when we lived at our ranch, I wondered the same thing and started counting them up. At that time the number was about 150. When I got to number 200, I bought myself a gun charm for my charm bracelet. I figured I deserved it! So all in all I’d say I personally killed about 250 snakes.

Charms to celebrate moving to central Texas, shooting rattlesnakes, writing my newest story about a Texas Ranger, love of rabbits, joining AMW, and writing Rota Fortunae.

Charms to celebrate moving to central Texas, shooting rattlesnakes, writing my newest story about a Texas Ranger, love of rabbits, joining AMW, and writing Rota Fortunae.

I have a picture of the dead snakes that we killed on our busiest day, but I won’t post that here. If anyone is interested, I can post it in the comments. We killed 18 snakes that day. It was just after Thanksgiving and that’s the time of year that they are mating and looking to hibernate. I can tell you more about that day later, if anyone is interested.

An added note: I know some people will be upset that we killed rattlesnakes. There were thousands of snakes where we lived and we didn’t kill any of the nonpoisonous one. AND our son was only three years old so it was a matter of life or death. Again, I can discuss more about that in the comments if anyone wishes to.

 

Elizabeth Buhmann- Your settings always have a wonderful Texas feel to them. You are a native Texan, surely, but hasn’t your family been here for a while, too?

VPC- Yes. I have a direct ancestor who arrived about 1834. It’s funny that I’m descended from a Winters and I moved to a town where one of its earliest settlers was a Winters, my

Winters house. www.wimwic.org

Winters house. http://www.wimwic.org

4x great uncle. (I think that’s the right number of greats.) When I learned that, I figured it was meant to be for me to live here!

 

 

 

 

 

EB- Your father was a criminal justice professional, wasn’t he? Tell us a bit about him and how he has influenced your writing.

VPC- He was a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State and he influenced me greatly. I believe his specialties were criminal history and organized crime. He loved to tell stories about cases, including those he was involved in during his time as Director of Public Safety in Corpus Christi. He and my step-mother were also avid readers of mysteries so we often talked about those too.

My father’s parents also had an influence. My grandfather was a pathologist, the first one in South Texas. And my grandmother was an accomplished photographer. She worked with him by taking the photos to document his findings. Both were friends with Erle Stanley Gardner and he sometimes asked their advice on forensics. 144432He mentions them in the Foreword in his book, The Case of the Careless Cupid.

I didn’t get a chance to know them back in those days, but I’ve heard many stories about what they did and accomplished.

 

 

 

 

EB- Are you a Texas history buff? Your first novel (which I had the privilege of reading in draft form) is set about a hundred (?) years in the past. What sort of sources did you use to paint such a realistic picture of what Texas was like then?

VP- Thank you! I used to hate history. I thought it was so boring. And, like many things, the older I got the more I found it interesting. I like learning about people and how they overcame obstacles. One of the best resources I’ve found is the Texas State Historical Association website. It’s incredible!

Other sources were just various things I could find by using Google and asking friends who are knowledgeable. My Facebook friends are great! I also collect hard to find, out of print books about Texas.

 

Gale Albright- Has being a member of Austin Mystery Writers improved your confidence in your writing?

VPC- Yes! Tremendously. I can’t imagine where I’d be if it wasn’t for this group and the feedback and support we give each other.

 

GA- Can you tell me the pros and cons of being a member of a critique group?

VPC- One of the best things about a good critique group is getting honest, and polite feedback. Another plus about AMW is that we are a group of people with a variety of backgrounds, so we can approach a story from different experiences. We also have different things that we notice in a story, like punctuation or pacing. So we can give a variety of suggestions on how to make a story better.

 

GA- Austin Mystery Writers’ short-story anthology, Murder on Wheels, recently received a Silver Falchion Award at Killer Nashville. What’s your reaction been to that?

VPC- When we were nominated, I was like, “Whaaaat?” LOL It didn’t sink in for about a day. I didn’t want to let myself get excited. Then when we won, I couldn’t believe it. I was very pleased. I’ve been telling everybody!

 

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GA- You have a big interest in historical novels. Do you think you’ve found a niche for yourself, or do you plan to branch out to other types of writing?

VPC- Good question. This is something I think about a lot. I love historical fiction, and plan to write a series set in Texas. Hopefully my first book, Gilt Ridden, will be the first in a series. I have about five other stories planned out for my characters. I like the idea that my antagonist, Kay Stuart, solves current problems (murders), by finding the answers in Texas history.

I also have an idea for a series using one of her best friends, Jessie Reese, who is a modern deputy sheriff. Those will be straight up mystery/suspense with no history.

BUT I also love to write horror. I’m working on a story that may be a novella or novel that is sci-fi/horror.

So I guess my answer is that right now I’m focusing on historical fiction/mystery with a side jaunt into horror. But I find I’m having so much fun writing horror, it may be more of a focus of mine in the future. I plan to just write what is fun to write. And when I do that, the writing is better anyway.

 

GA- What’s the most fun part of writing for you? What is not so much fun?

VPC- I love writing squeamish or emotional scenes. I like the idea of making the reader laugh or cry. Such power! Bwa ha ha ha ha ha !

On the other hand, I hate it when the plot or the scene just isn’t coming together. It’s excruciating! I literally have to get up and walk around. Sometimes I have to stand at the table to write. I also don’t like long descriptions. I hate reading them and I hate writing them. I like to get to the point.

 

GA- Do you have any fun research trips planned?

VPC- I wish! I will be going to Bouchercon in New Orleans next week with fellow member Laura Oles. I guess I’ll keep my eyes open for inspiration. I’ll also be going to the Writer Unboxed Un-Conference in November, which (witch?) will be in Salem, Massachusetts. Kathy Waller will also be there with me. Maybe we’ll find some ghosts!

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Salem trip to Writer Unboxed Un-Con in 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for all of the questions! I love being a member of AMW. I can’t imagine going through this journey of being a writer without their support and guidance!

 

Does anybody have anymore questions? Bring ‘em on!

Questions

Mystery Workshop At Book People

Last Saturday I attended a writer’s workshop at Book People, sponsored by Mystery People and the Austin chapter of Sisters In Crime. I honestly didn’t think I’d learn much new. But I was wrong. *Note- Between classes we had drawings for giveaways like books and tote bags!

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41VaFJ3tHPL._UX250_It started with George Wier speaking about writing action scenes. He’s literally a pro at this. Just read any of his books. (www.billtravismysteries.com) It wasn’t about how to describe a blow-by-blow fistfight. It was more about how to add tension to a scene, how to make it move along. I don’t know about you, but I like bullet points. So I’ll share my notes in that manner.

 

  • Before you can add action, you must put the reader in the moment. They won’t follow anything if they aren’t there. To accomplish this, describe the lay of the land and the surroundings.
  • What are the results of the action? There should be consequences or the reader won’t care.
  • The scene must have a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Don’t describe things in terms of time. (aka- three hours later). Believe it or not, that doesn’t do anything for the reader. Time isn’t as tangible as distance. “They walked down a flight of stairs.” Is much easier for the reader to see and instantly understand.
  • Perception is everything. Use all the senses. Have your characters be aware of their breathing, their surroundings, sounds, pain, everything.

The idea of writing about distance instead of time interests me. All of the things listed above make sense, but the idea that the reader can intuitively understand distance better than the concept of time is fascinating.

Scott Montgomery of Book People recommended the book, The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. He said it was a good example of what Wier was talking about.

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Cutting up between classes. Friend and author Billy Kring dropped by. He’s trying to distract me while George Wier looks on.

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The guys behaving for Terry’s talk.

 

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Next at the workshop was Terry Shames. She gave us many tips on how to writing compelling settings. And she should know. She does an excellent job of describing the Texas town where her Samuel Craddock series takes place. (www.terryshames.com) I came away with the concept of interior settings and exterior settings. No, not what a living room looks like, interior as in what’s going on inside a character. (More bullet points!)

  • Treat your scenes as characters.
  • The way to make your story interesting is to show how the interior setting (of characters) intersect with the exterior setting. How would someone from a Texas ranch interact with the people and setting of New York city? How would that same person act in their own hometown?
  • The devil is in the details. Immerse the reader in the setting. You don’t have to do an information dump. (Please don’t.) But you can provide things like smells and sounds.
  • If you aren’t familiar with a place, research it. Talk to people who know the place.
  • Above all, know how your characters would interact with the setting. Someone who almost drowned would have a different reaction to falling in the water than someone who is an Olympic swimmer. So Know Your Characters!
  • Every scene should try to have-
  1. Action
  2. Dialogue
  3. Physical description of setting
  4. Physical description of characters
  5. Internal thinking
  6. Internal physical descriptions.
  • A good rhythm of a scene would be: 2/1/2, 4/3/5, 6/2/1. Try it and see what happens.

 

 

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Brent and James. Looking forward to reading their books.

After lunch we gathered for the last class about collaboration. Brent Douglass and James Dennis, two of the three authors who make up the persona of Miles Arecenaux (www.milesarceneaux.com), led a funny discussion on their journey of collaborative writing. They started their first book back in the days before email. Thank goodness the days of mailing a manuscript back and forth are gone. Thank you email! So what are their tips?

  • Don’t be afraid to be honest with each other. Actually, they said to be brutally honest. Treat each other like siblings.
  • Play up to your partners’ strengths. You are different people with different experiences. You that to your advantage.
  • Work to maintain “one voice” for your book. It will get easier with practice but it will also take many edits to achieve this.
  • Defer to people with experience. (Again, take advantage of your partner’s strengths.)
  • It helps to build accountability. If you know that you’re expected to get your part done by a certain time and the others are counting on you, you better do it.
  • Broadcast gratitude. Not only show gratitude to your partners, show gratitude to other writers.

 

(Collaborating sounds interesting. I think I’d like to take a stab at that just for fun.)

 

P1010257 (3)The last event was a panel discussion that was very informal. It was about publishing, marketing, and networking. Honestly, I was so caught up in listening, I forgot to take notes! All the speakers were charming, personable, and informative. It was worth every moment that I was there.

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Gale Albright helped put it all together and did the raffle.

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George answering questions between classes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Terry and Scott

 

 

I’d like to say thank you to Book People and Scott Montgomery of Mystery People for hosting us!

 

Celebrating Mystery Author P. D. James

0kathy-blogWho’s your favorite mystery author?

A Sister in Crime recently posed that question.

I told her my favorite mystery author is–

Agatha Christie / Donna Leon / Josephine Tey / Margery Allingham / Ngaio Marsh / Ruth Rendell / Mary Roberts Rinehart / Sarah Caudwell / Sophie Hannah / Ellis Peters / Elizabeth Peters / Elizabeth George / Dorothy L. Sayers / Patricia Highsmith / Minette Walters / Mary Willis Walker / Kaye George / Terry Shames / Karin Fossum / Cammie McGovern / Laura Lippman / Anne Perry / Ann George / Joan Hess / Faye Kellerman / Daphne DuMaurier / Carolyn Keene . . .

And others too numerous to mention.

That’s typical. When asked to choose a favorite, I come down somewhere between wishy-washy and overwhelmed. There are so many writers whose books I enjoy, each for a different reason.

I like Josephine Tey for her ability to keep readers feverishly turning pages of a mystery in which there’s not even a hint of murder.

I like Sarah Caudwell for her wit and for her erudite narrator, Professor of Medieval Law Hilary Tamar, who couldn’t solve a crime if the answer jumped up and bit her.

I like Donna Leon for her vivid depiction of Venice, and for Commissario Guido Brunetti, increasingly cynical about the possibility of dispensing justice in a corrupt society, who finds refuge in his home and family.

I like Ruth Rendell for her complex and amazingly tight plotting, and her ability to drop in one more revelation when the reader thinks all questions have already been answered.

I like Daphne DuMaurier for–well, for the reasons everyone else likes her.

My Sister, however, pressed me to give her only one name. The reason? She had an idea for a SINC ~ Heart of Texas Chapter (HOTXSINC) program focusing on a mystery author, a celebration of that writer’s life and work.

To that, the answer was both immediate and obvious: P. D. James, acknowledged by both critics and readers as the premier writer of mysteries in the English language.

I like James for her complex plots, and for characters so fully realized that their lives seem to extend beyond the pages of the book. I like her because she plays fair with the reader, hiding clues in plain sight. I like her for her clean, elegant prose and her literary style. James feels no need to start with a murder on page one, but takes her time, introducing characters, establishing relationships, orienting the reader in time and place. Her pace is leisurely, and the reader who tears through a James novel, intent on learning the identity of the villain and moving on to the next title on his To-Be-Read stack misses half the pleasure her mysteries offer.

In addition to the skill and stature that make James a perfect choice for HOTXSINC’s program is the fact that a television adaptation of her latest novel, Death Comes to Pemberley, based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is scheduled for airing on PBS Masterpiece Mystery! at the end of October.

Finally, there’s the fact that on August 3rd of this year, James celebrated her ninety-fourth birthday. The birthday of a favorite mystery writer certainly merits a party.

The Sister who came up with the idea for the celebration is Sarah Ann Robertson, past president and treasurer/membership coordinator for HOTXSINC. As is only fair, since it was her idea, I asked her to coordinate it. As always, she’s done an excellent job.

The program will feature presentations by members on James’ life and work, including Youtube videos of interviews with the author. Special guests Maria Rodriguez, Director of Programming for KLRU-TV, will present an overview of KLRU/PBS “Mystery!”, based on mysteries by female authors, and Linda Lehmusvirta, KLRU Senior Producer for Central Texas Gardener and a P. D. James enthusiast, will speak about P. D. James’ televised mysteries on KLRU/PBS.

sinc teapots web 2014-08-27 007 After the program, members and guests will be treated to a traditional afternoon Texas-style English tea.

The celebration will take place at Recycled Reads, 5335 Burnet Road, Austin, TX 78756, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., on Sunday, September 14. The meeting is free and open to the public.

Please join us.

*****

For a bibliography of P. D. James’ publications, click here.

To read about the traditional English afternoon tea, click here.

*****

Kathy Waller blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write (kathywaller1.com).

 

 

When Books Were Love

by Gale Albright

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Aunt Marjorie Nell was a big fan of mine.

That’s why I figure she may have embellished stories about my alleged brilliance when I was a tot. She taught me to read when I was just three years old, because I told her “I want to read like you do, Jaumie.”

She was thirteen years old when I was born and she spent every minute away from school taking care of me. She was the only one I allowed to wash my hair (without squalling), and apparently, teach me to read.

I don’t know if I was really that young when I learned to read. I think Aunt Marjorie gave me too much credit, but I learned early and fast. I loved words. All kinds of words. I talked them, sang them, heard them on the radio. I found them in conversations and I found them in books.

Books were magic. Books were love. Books meant I was sitting on Jaumie’s lap while she read to me with her gentle East Texas twang. They took me to magic, foreign places while I was cuddled and safe with my biggest fan.

When I got big enough to read books by myself, I rode my bicycle to the Carnegie Library in Tyler, Texas. I loved the smell of the library. There was a sun-dappled holiness about the place. People spoke in hushed whispers as light streamed through the windows, illuminating the ivy plants perched on the windowsills.

Books—their touch, their smell, their heft–meant I was immersed a safe, happy place where you could fly to the moon; go on adventures with Freddy, the talking pig; witness the struggles of Black Beauty; go on the run with Tom Canty down the mean streets of Tudor London; and travel with Doctor Dolittle.

Fast-forward about a million years or Time Marches On.

My lifetime love affair with books turned me into a true Luddite, scoffing at electronic readers, literally clasping hard copies of books to my heaving bosom, filled with the sweetness of self-righteous indignation. I swore, repeatedly, that never would any &%$*# electronic reading device darken my door (you get my drift).

Until I listened to Mindy Reed speak about containers versus content.

Ms. Reed was the featured speaker at the June 8 Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas program on current publishing trends. The meeting place was Recycled Reads, a part of the Austin Public Library. Recycled Reads keeps books and other materials out of landfills once libraries have weeded them from their shelves. It is part of Austin’s Zero Waste Initiative.IMG_3097

Ms. Reed, Recycled Reads manager, librarian, editor, and co-proprietor of The Authors’ Assistant, said readers have had a “romance with the book. There’s a romantic connection with books–we love them. But you can’t love all of the many donations of bestsellers that go out of style.”

The store recycles between twelve and fifteen tons of material a month. It has recycled 865 tons in the six years since its inception. How, you may ask, do we get so many recycled books?

According to Ms. Read, look to the New York Times bestseller list. Publishers strong-arm book stores to pre-order books. The list is based on the numbers of pre-orders sent out to stores. Some are sold. Many others are remaindered, resulting in a colossal waste of resources. These publishing practices make a negative impact on the environment. It is a bad, old-fashioned distribution mode for books

Ms. Read pointed to a display of plastic cups, glasses, coffee cups, etc. assembled on a table in front of the audience. “If you are thirsty, you want water. You don’t care if you get it from a fountain, bottle, or glass. They all contain water that will quench your thirst. Think of that when you talk about the rise of the digital age in publishing. Does all of that need to be put in this type of container? It’s about content as opposed to container.”

I do have a romance with the book. The sight, feel, and smell of books trigger endorphins, for all I know. I associate them with escape, peace, and happiness.

E-readers don’t exercise that special magic, but they do have what kept me coming back to books all those years ago. The stories. Or, as Mindy said, content versus container.

I thought I would never give in, but I have decided (one of these days soon) to buy an e-reader. Can e-books help save the planet by making less waste for us to pour into landfills? Yes. Is that important? Yes.

I don’t feel romantic about e-readers, but, when you’re thirsty, do you care if you drink your water from a crystal goblet, bucket, dipper, or paper cup? The first priority is to get some water. Or some words.

If using e-readers will help save the planet, I can do my part by giving back some love to the universe instead of extra trash.

A Good Time Was Had by All

IMG_3022By Gale Albright

There was much happiness on display at the tenth annual Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event (BBSAWE) on May 18 at Recycled Reads in Austin. People were talking, laughing, eating, exchanging e-mail addresses and phone numbers, eating, reading out loud, giving gifts, taking pictures–did I say eating?

The BBSAWE was created in the spring of 2005, after the tragic death of Ms. Smith, who was a published cozy mystery author. She was past president (International 1999-2000) of Sisters in Crime and was known for her helpfulness to other writers. Dynamic, energetic, and talented, her loss was greatly mourned by her family and the Austin writing community. To honor her memory, the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation was dedicated in her honor to support and provide a mentoring community for aspiring mystery writers.

Every year Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter calls for submissions of the first 500 words of a mystery story or novel from unpublished authors. The aspiring writers are then matched up with published mystery authors for mentoring.

This tenth BBSAWE was a joyous occasion. Six mentors and seven aspiring writers were introduced to the audience. The writers read aloud the synopses and first 500 words of their submissions. We were treated to a diverse and imaginative display of literary talent.

W.D. Smith, son of Barbara Burnett Smith and head of her foundation, presented certificates to mentors and aspiring writers, as well as copies of his mother’s mystery novels. Russ Hall, prolific mystery writer and all-around Sisters in Crime volunteer, spoke about mentoring, calling on his long-term experience at the job.

“In life, you will realize there is a role for everyone you meet. Some will test you, some will use you, some will love you, and some will teach you. But the ones who are truly important are the ones who bring out the best in you. They are the rare and amazing people who remind you why it’s worth it. I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”bbs photos 006 IMG_2971 Sinc tx cookies sinc tx hearts

After readings were completed and gifts awarded, we adjourned to enjoy a bountiful feast of fresh fruit, raw vegetables with dip, lovely finger sandwiches and wraps, crackers, cheese, and hand-crafted desserts.

It was inspiring to see people socializing after the program, doing the aforementioned laughing, talking, conferring, and eating. Writers were networking and making plans to start critique groups.

The event took several months of work and planning to put together, but to echo Russ Hall, it was worth it. I’m looking forward to the eleventh annual BBSAWE.

Following is a list of mentors, aspiring writers and their biographies:

Elizabeth Buhmann mentored Sue Cleveland and Dixie Evatt for Shrouded.

Elizabeth Buhmann is originally from Virginia and lived several years abroad while growing up. She graduated magna cum laude from SmithCollege, Northampton, Massachusetts, and has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh. For twenty years she worked for the Texas Attorney General as a researcher and writer on criminal justice and crime victim issues. Her first novel, Lay Death at Her Door, (Red Adept Publishing) reached the Amazon Top 100 bestseller list (paid Kindle) in 2013. She is currently working on her new mystery, A Monster in the Garden. Elizabeth now lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, dog and two chickens. She is an avid gardener, loves murder mysteries, and has a black sash in Tai Chi.

Sue Cleveland was born in a hunting lodge in England. She is a widely traveled writer and award-winning artist. A member of SCBWI, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime and Writers’ League of Texas, Sue is eagerly awaiting the publication of her short story, “Decoy,” in Minerva Rising Literary Journal. She hopes to find a home for several manuscripts: Shrouded, which she wrote with Dixie Evatt, and two middle-grade mysteries.

Dixie Evatt has more than 35 years professional experience in news reporting and public relations, including experience in political and government affairs. Dr. Evatt also taught at Syracuse University, Baylor University and The University of Texas at Austin. Her academic publications include a book about communication practices of small enterprises called Thinking Big. Staying Small. Although they’ve yet to be published, she and her writing partner, Sue Cleveland, have completed two mysteries and are working on a third. One takes place in Egypt, one in Italy and another in the Southwest. They make it a point to travel to each location for research.

 Susan Rogers Cooper mentored Lindsay Carlson for The Origami Murders.

Susan Rogers Cooper has been a published mystery writer since 1988 and has had a total of 26 books published.  She’s garnered rave reviews and was nominated for an Edgar.  Her newest E.J. Pugh mystery, Gone in a Flash, is available now, and a new Milt Kovak will be out in the fall, entitled Countdown.  Her back list is now being uploaded to e-books.

Lindsay Carlson currently splits her time between being a legal drug dealer (aka pharmacist) and a writer.  In her “free time,” she feeds her fortune cookie addiction and collects books to add to her to-read pile, which currently is taller than she is.

Helen Ginger mentored Shelby O’Neill for Truth or Dare.

Helen Ginger is an author, freelance editor, and book consultant. Her first fiction book, Angel Sometimes, won a USA Best Book Award and her new mystery, Dismembering the Past, is coming out soon. Actively involved in the writing community, Helen was the Executive Director of the Writers’ League of Texas from 2003-2005. Currently, she serves as a Committee Chair for the Texas Book Festival. In February of 2012, Helen took over as the Coordinator of Story Circle Network’s Editorial Services.

Shelby O’Neill is a writer and editor who lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and their two pets. Her first novel is currently a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, and she is hard at work on her second book, a teen cyber-stalking mystery.

Jan Grape mentored Jane Shaughness for The Invisible Detective.

Former owner of Mysteries & More bookstore in Austin, Texas, Anthony and Macavity Award-winner Jan Grape’s first mystery novel Austin City Blue was nominated for best first novel at Bouchercon 2002. Dark Blue Death is the second in her Zoe Barrow mystery series set in Austin about a female police officer. Found Dead in Texas is Jan’s first short story collection.  She wrote a stand-alone called What Doesn’t Kill You and co-edited two anthologies with R. Barry Flowers, American Crime Writers League, Murder Here Murder There and Murder Past Murder Present and has a short story in each.  She is currently finalizing her books for Kindle and Nook.

Jane Shaughness retired from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013 where she had worked for almost thirty years in the areas of student affairs, architecture, and most recently, compliance and ethics. Last fall, after giving herself six months of “free” time in which she entirely overscheduled herself with volunteer work, Jane began to work seriously on her mystery novel. In addition to writing fiction, Jane enjoys writing for her blog “55 AND COUNTING . . .” where she highlights free events in Austin of interest to the literary autodidact. Jane lives in Hyde Park with her husband, her two dogs, Jake and Champion, and her cat Pumpkin.

Russ Hall mentored Alex Ferraro for Ramona.

Russ Hall is author of more than a dozen books and co-author of numerous other books, as well as short stories and articles. He has been an editor for major publishing companies, ranging from Harper & Row (now HarperCollins), Simon & Schuster, to Pearson. He lives in Lago Vista, where he hikes, fishes, and tends a herd of deer that visit daily to peep in the office window and help with the writing.

Alex Ferraro was born in Denver, Colorado. At the age of five, he stole a horse and rode to Texas, where he has lived ever since. In 2011, he graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a dual degree in business and drinking. When he isn’t writing or watching entirely too much TV, he performs standup comedy in and around Austin. He also co-hosts a podcast about writing called Do the Write Thing, which can be found on iTunes and at WriteThingPodcast.com

Caroline Shearer mentored Eileen Dew for Invisible in Austin.

Caroline A. Shearer is the creator of Absolute Love Publishing. A bestselling author, Caroline’s popular books include, Dead End Date, the first book in the Adventures of a Lightworker metaphysical mystery series. In addition to her own projects, she founded Spirited Press, an assisted self-publishing imprint that operates under the umbrella of Absolute Love Publishing. Spirited Press supports authors in sharing their own messages with the world.

Eileen Dew is a former English teacher who writes about mother-daughter relationships which are unique and yet the same, regardless of the time or the location.

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The Halls of Mystery

by Gale Albright

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The April 13 Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas program will feature “The Halls of Mystery” with authors Joan Upton Hall and Russ Hall. They will present mini-workshops on everything you ever wanted to know about writing. Bring your questions! Be ready to listen, take notes, and interact. It should be a lively meeting.

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Joan and Russ, who have a number of books under their belts, have always been more than happy to help fledgling writers learn the craft of writing. They will share their personal experiences on getting published and keeping the right mental attitude. Both have received Sage Awards from the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation. The award is given to an author who demonstrates an outstanding spirit of service in mentoring, sharing and leading others in the mystery writing community.rx book doctor

A former English teacher, Joan Upton Hall is an author, editor, writing instructor and speaker. Her books run from historical nonfiction to urban fantasy and the paranormal. She offers sample chapters and more on her website. Her books include The Shadow of Excalibur, Dream Shifters, Just Visitin’ Old Texas Jails, and RX for Your Writing Ills. http://joanuptonhall.com/home

Russ Hall

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Russ Hall has had fifteen novels published, including: The Blue-Eyed Indian, Wildcat Did Growl, Island, No Murder Before its Time, Goodbye She Lied, Talon’s Grip, Bones of the Rain, and South Austin Vampire. He has also co-authored (as well as ghost written) numerous non-fiction books. Russ is a frequent mentor and judge for writing organizations. In 1996 he won the Nancy Pickard Mystery Fiction Award for short fiction. http://www.russhall.com/russ hall bk2

“The Halls of Mystery” program starts at 2 p.m., Recycled Reads at 5335 Burnet Road in Austin, TX.

 

Who Was Barbara Burnett Smith?

By Gale Albright

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According to author Bill Crider in his post of February 20, 2005:

Barbara Burnett Smith died in an accident in San Antonio Saturday night. Barbara and her husband were there to rescue a dog, and when they visited Remember the Alibi (bookstore), the dog ran from their car and into the street. It was raining and dark, and apparently Barbara stepped into the street to catch the dog. She was hit by a car and died in the hospital.

I’m still in shock over this. I’ve known Barbara for at least 15 years, and she was one of the nicest people you’d ever hope to meet. She was lovely and perky and a very talented writer. She was also the former daughter-in-law of another fine mystery writer, Thomas B. Dewey, whom she credited with helping her quite a bit when she was starting out.

I don’t really have much more to say, except that the world is a poorer place without Barbara in it. (Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine)

Bill’s comments about Barbara Burnett Smith are similar to everything I’ve heard about her. She was well-known and well-loved in the writing community.

Barbara was a member of several writing groups and served as the president of Sisters in Crime (International 1999-2000). She was a writer of cozy mysteries, including the popular Purple Sage series featuring heroine Jolie Wyatt, an amateur sleuth and radio newscaster in a small Texas town. Shortly before her death, she began a new mystery series with Bead on Trouble, whose main character, Kitzi Camden, was an amateur sleuth and beader. Her second book in the series, Beads of Doubt, was completed by fellow Sisters in Crime member Karen MacInerney.

W.D. Smith III, Barbara’s son, wrote a tribute to her in the May 2011 edition of the Sisters in Crime newsletter, Hotshots:

She always had the drive to be at her best and asked that those around her did the same. After she started writing and got out of the corporate world and took on the training game, she started to change. She wanted to give back to people and hope they had a better time of it than she did, trying to succeed in a man’s world. After a few years in the training game and running a successful business (or at least one that paid the bills), she really started to shine. She saw people for who they were and wanted to help in any way possible. I don’t think she ever watched Oprah but I believe she garnered sound bites from her show. She used a quote from Maya Angelou: “People will not remember what you said to them, but they will remember how you treated them.

On March 13, 2005, A Celebration of Barbara Burnett Smith was hosted by the Heart of Texas Sisters in Crime chapter. The Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation was established in her honor to support and provide a mentoring community to help budding writers.

We are now approaching the tenth annual BBS Aspiring Writers project, to be held during May Mystery Month at Recycled Reads, on May 18, 2014, at 2 p.m.

As BBS project coordinator, I’m calling for submissions of the first 500 words of a mystery story or novel by an unpublished writer. After the submission deadline of March 31, writers will be matched with published mystery authors for mentoring. The mentors will introduce their aspiring writers at the Sisters in Crime meeting on May 18.

For more information about submission rules, go to the Events/News section of this blog.