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!

 

SilverFalchionAwardWinner_Web-300x300

 

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

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Kaye George comes to town

P1100023 (2)By Gale Albright

It’s been a treat to see Kaye George again.

She flew into town last week to visit grown children and to see us of course, her Austin Mystery Writers “branch” of the family.

We met at our BookPeople haunt last Thursday to hug and laugh and talk about many things, most of them involving writing. And a lot of other stuff.

I first met Kaye George several years ago through Kathy Waller, who had just joined Austin Mystery Writers. Kathy asked Kaye, who was the head poohbah, if I could join as well. It was a critique group with several members. But, as is often the case with critique groups, members faded away for various reasons, and at one point the group consisted of Kathy, Kaye, and me.

I remember the vicarious thrill I felt when Kaye’s mystery novel, Choke, received a publishing contract. After ten years of patiently slogging away at her writing, Kaye was a professional! We were all giddy with delight. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person.

When you have a really good critique group, the heartstrings are involved. It’s not just about writing. You start to genuinely care about all the people in your group in a personal and  professional way. Kaye’s victory was our victory as well.

FCSO cover smallEine Kleine MurderBROKE_final_webChoke by Kaye George

Kaye’s first three mysteries in her Immy Duckworthy series (Choke, Smoke, and Broke) were published, followed by three Berkley Prime Crime Fat Cat who-done-its (under the nom de plume Janet Cantrell), the Cressa Carraway series, the Neanderthal mystery Death in the Time of Ice (Untreed Reads), as well as various short stories. She was on a roll.

Unfortunately for us, she was also gone. First, she and her husband moved to Waco, then on to Knoxville, TN, where they now reside.

Kathy and I were members of a two-person critique group for a bit, but luckily we acquired fabulous new members for Austin Mystery Writers, gleaned from the ranks of the Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter—Valerie Chandler, Laura Oles, and Elizabeth Buhmann.

Now for the fun part.

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Thanks to Kaye, who had the original idea and pushed it to fruition, Austin Mystery Writers’ first crime anthology, Murder on Wheels, got published by Wildside Press in 2015. Flash forward a year. Murder on Wheels just won the Silver Falchion Award for best fiction short-story mystery anthology at the Killer Nashville writing conference for 2016.

On top of that, we are hard at work on our second crime anthology, whose title is a bit up in the air at the moment. It’s about Texas and crime. Enough said.

Although we all worked very hard on Murder on Wheels, I give Kaye the credit for riding herd on the project. I thank her for her vision and guidance.

We all wish Kaye would move back to the Austin area. She’s just too far away. But, thanks to the miracle of e-mail attachments, digital photography, and FB posting, we can still create our dreams together.

Death in the Time of Ice

 

 

 

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Killer Nashville 2016

Each writers’ conference has its own personality. If I were to summarize Killer Nashville, I would describe it as a broad embrace of mystery sub genres with an inclusion of indie, hybrid and traditionally published authors, all carried by an undercurrent of noir appreciation and a love of Nashville music culture.

I know. I’m casting a wide net.

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My favorite traveling companion..

The first night kicked off with a Wine & Shine event, which after a full day of hustling kids to school and flying from Austin, left me with more whine and no shine. My efforts in networking resulted in little more than two sips of merlot paired with a chocolate chip cookie while slouched on a chair in the hotel lobby.

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With fellow Claymore finalist Mercedes King

The next two days were packed with learning sessions and special events. Killer Nashville’s panel schedule offered five options per time slot, leaving many attendees to make tough decisions regarding which discussion to attend. Programs ranging from “How to Write Effective Plot Twists” to “Law Enforcement, Soldiers and PTSD” demonstrate the range in programming. Topics covering technique, marketing, publishing and collaboration were also offered, along with breakout sessions with bestselling authors Janet Evanovich, Anne Perry, Kevin O’Brien, William Kent Krueger and Robert J. Randisi. I attended as many panels as I could fit in my schedule and left with several pages of notes and insight. I still don’t know how Robert Randisi, co-founder of Mystery Scene Magazine and founder of the Private Eye Writers of America (and the coveted Shamus award), writes 25 books a year. Like many things in our profession, this remains a mystery.

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With authors Janet Evanovich and Gretchen Archer

Janet Evanovich’s lunch program was both fun and fascinating. She is open with her advice and opinions, both of which were appreciated by the audience she addressed. Her honesty about the empire she’s building–she currently writes or co-authors four books per year with the support of her husband and children– made me tired just listening to her talk about it. She. Never. Takes. A. Break.

The Mock Crime Scene was exceptionally well done. Its primary architect, Tennessee Bureau of Investigations Special Agent Dan Royse, composed a puzzle well supported by clues, evidence and online interviews. Attendees had their work cut for them out in identifying the culprit. The smile on Dan’s face told us all we needed to know–he was going to make us work. Hard.

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Laura Oles with author Anne Perry

The awards banquet was a sold out event and included a buffet-style dinner and some fantastic live music. I had the opportunity to meet several authors, including fellow Claymore nominee Mercedes King. Before long, attentions turned to the awards portion of the evening. I was honored to accept, on behalf of Austin Mystery Writers, the Silver Falchion award for Best Fiction Short Story Anthology, presented by Anne Perry.

The Claymore was awarded to R.G. Belsky for Forget Me Not. It was an honor to make the short list for the Claymore, and I was grateful to be amongst such talented writers. I’m interested in seeing how these authors’ careers unfold over the next few years. I imagine some fabulous stories will be shared, and I’m looking forward to adding them to my reading list.

SilverFalchionAwardWinner_Web-300x300With Killer Nashville 2016 now over, I’m back to my daily grind but with a new perspective on both my own work and the industry in general. Most important, I’m reminded how lucky I am to be able to tell stories and spend my time around others who love to do the same thing.

–Laura Oles

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Murder on Wheels Nominated for 2016 Silver Falchion Award

Posted by Kathy Waller

MURDER ON WHEELS, Austin Mystery Writers’ first crime fiction anthology, has been named a finalist for Killer Nashville’s 2016 Silver Falchion Award.

Best Fiction Short Story Anthology
Ramona DeFelice Long, Fish or Cut Bait
Kaye George, Murder on Wheels
Joe McKinney, Shrieks and Shivers from the Horror Zine
Josh Pachter, The Tree of Life

71QiKRIkj+LThe Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award™ honors “the best books published for the first time that are readily available to a North American audience in any format from the past year.”

The idea for MURDER ON WHEELS came from a late-night group e-mail session.  As Kaye George explains in her Introduction, she and her husband had taken a ride on a large commercial double-decker bus, the Megabus, that runs between major cities.

“I started thinking that the bus would make a good setting for a murder,” Kaye writes. “There was only one problem–where to hide the body.”

One night, when all the AMWs were online, Kaye mentioned the idea. That led to members suggesting other vehicular settings: Bopped on a Bicycle, Creamed in a Car, Vaporized on a Velocipede… The thesaurus got involved, wordplay began, and an idea formed–we would all write stories around the theme of wheels. Once momentum started to gather, there was no getting off that bus.

So we wrote. Each of us contributed one or two stories. We were pleased to have two guest writers, Reavis Wortham and Earl Staggs, contribute as well. Ramona DeFelice Long edited the manuscript. MURDER ON WHEELS was published by Wildside Press in April 2015.

The final line-up goes like this:

A NICE SET OF WHEELS, by Kathy Waller
FAMILY BUSINESS, by Reavis Z. Wortham
ROTA FORTUNAE, by V. P. Chandler
MOME RATH, MY SWEET, by Gale Albright
THE WHEELS ON THE BUS GO ROUND AND ROUND, by Kaye George
BUON VIAGGIO, by Laura Oles
APORKALYPSE NOW, by Gale Albright
HAVE A NICE TRIP, by Kaye George
DEAD MAN ON A SCHOOL BUS, by Earl Staggs
HELL ON WHEELS, by Kathy Waller
RED’S WHITE F-150 BLUES, by Scott Montgomery

We’re also pleased to announce that member Laura Oles’ manuscript, THE DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN, is a finalist for Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award.

Winners of the 2016 Silver Falchion Award and  the Claymore Award will be announced tonight at the Dinner and Awards Banquet at Killer Nashville Writers’ Conference in Franklin, Tennessee.

We’ve all heard, It’s an honor just to be nominated. In this case, it’s not a cliche. Austin Mystery Writers are honored to be nominated for these awards.

We’re also delighted, ecstatic, effervescent, excited, flabbergasted, frolicsome, joyous, jubilant, thrilled, thunderstruck… and in a veritable tizzy.

###

Kathy Waller blogs at MOW BOOK LAUNCH 003 (3)
Telling the Truth, Mainly and at
Writing Wranglers and Warriors.
Her short stories appear in
MURDER ON WHEELS and at
Mysterical-E

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Etiquette for Critique Groups

We thought this post by Elizabeth Buhmann about critique etiquette was worth reposting since Gale Albright recently discussed critiques. 

Austin Mystery Writers

We all know the importance of getting feedback from other writers, not just from friends and family. For many writers, that feedback comes from a critique group.

photo (16)Last summer, Sisters in Crime  hosted a meeting about etiquette for critique groups with special guest Tim Green, from St. Edwards University. Members of several local critique groups joined the discussion. The following guidelines and suggestions emerged.

Professor Green offered a general framework for face-to-face critiques. First the writer speaks, then readers take turns offering their comments. Finally, the whole group can engage in a general discussion, summarizing what they agree about and answering each other’s questions.

DOs:

  • The writer can introduce her work briefly, explaining what she’s trying to accomplish, whether her draft is rough or finished, and what kind of feedback she wants.
  • Readers should begin with the strengths of the piece (‘What works for me is…’) and move to questions…

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Western Mysteries

Photo by Ladyheart

Photo by Ladyheart

I have a confession to make. I love westerns, all kinds of westerns. I like characters with a sense of independence, who live life by their own rules. I like studying that era of our history. It has everything you could want that makes a great story: evil-doers, heroes, the clash of cultures (Native American/European, city/country, poor/rich), people trying to make their lives better, people trying to hold on to their heritage. You name it.

I also like modern westerns. They still hold the same sense of character and grit as the older ones.

So it’s no great surprise that like western mysteries. I thought I’d delve into that subgenre and look for books to add to my TBR (To Be Read) shelf and take you along with me.

 

That's Craig and me eating BBQ with friends.

Craig and me eating BBQ with friends.

Craig Johnson

Those of you who know me know that I’m a fan of Craig Johnson and the Longmire series. The way he captures the essence of the west and the clash of cultures while respecting both sides is masterful. The books are full of drama, humor, and history. The characters grow deeper by each book. (As they should.)

At the moment I’ve only read the first three books in the series. I have a lot of reading to do! But I’ve watched all of the TV episodes. If you haven’t seen them, check them out on Netflix. It’s one of my favorite shows. All of the actors are excellent at their jobs and they’re nice in real life. And Craig Johnson is as nice as could be too.

Check out his website for all the info. http://www.craigallenjohnson.com

 

 

Billy Kring

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Manning Wolfe, me, and Billy Kring. We like Mexican food!

 

Most of his Hunter Kincaid series takes place in Texas and along the Mexican border since Hunter is a border patrol agent. I’ve read the first one, Quick, and let me tell you, it’s good! It’s a page-turner. I will say it’s not for the squeamish, but Billy tells me (since he’s a friend of mine) that the others aren’t quite so graphic. But it didn’t bother me since I kind of expected that, considering the topic.

I think it’s interesting that Billy’s a big cowboy (former border patrol and anti-terrorism expert) and the Kincaid books are told from a woman’s perspective. And he writes it well!

Go check out his website and book list. It’s impressive! He also writes other genres. There’s something for everyone. http://www.billykring.com

 

 

J.A. JanceJanceJA

And just so you don’t think I only read books written by big burly cowboys, (Yes, I’m partial to them) I want to tell you about J.A. Jance. She has a special place in my mystery reader/writer heart. She is one of the writers who inspired me to pick up a pen and write. Her Joanna Brady series is very good. It takes place in Arizona and Joanna is a sheriff in a small border town. She’s a full and complex character that deals with all sorts of horrors and problems, big and small.

Jance also writes a Detective Beaumont series, some of which I’ve read and it’s very good too. http://www.jajance.com

 

Those are my favorties, but I wanted to know more. So whenever I have a question about mysteries, I turn to my friends. And the person I know who’s the most knowledgeable is Scott Montgomery, mystery coordinator at Book People in Austin. He pointed me to Tony Hillerman and Peter Bowen.

**Scott gave me an extra tidbit of info. “The first hardboiled detective novel, Hammett’s Red Harvest, is about a detective coming into a corrupt Montana mining town and playing both evil interests off one another like A Fistful Of Dollars (inspired by Yojimbo, which was inspired by Red Harvest)”

So there you go.

 

 

Tony Hillerman 27hillerman.large1

You can’t talk about this genre without talking about Tony Hillerman. He’s famous for his Navajo Tribal Police Series. The series starts with The Blessing Way (1970) and goes to the 18th one, The Shape Shifter (2006). The series features Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, Navajo police officers who solve mysteries with their knowledge of the people and knowledge of the area. The two first work together in the seventh novel in the series, Skinwalkers. (I can’t wait to read some of these!)

Hillerman was such an accomplished writer that his books have won numerous awards and he’s considered to be one New Mexico’s foremost novelists. TH is no longer alive, but his daughter, Anne, has continued his legacy. http://www.annehillerman.com

 

 

Peter Bowen Peter Bowen

Bowen lives in Montana and is known for his Yellowstone Kelly historical novels (fictionalized stories based on a real person) and the Gabriel Du Pré mysteries are set in modern Montana. All of his books sound rich with characters and place. You can find out more at his website: http://peterbowenmt.com.

 

 

 

Dusty Richards 

Since I’m talking about Westerns, I have to tell you about Dusty Richards. He doesn’t write mysteries but he writes darn good westerns. How did I come to discover him? My husband was a co-op engineer and Dusty serves on the board of his electric co-op. They were both attending a conference and got to talking. My husband told him about me and Dusty said, “Hold on a moment.” He went up to his room and came back with a signed copy of his book to me to wish me well in my writing endeavors.
Since then my husband has read many of his books and said they are great. (And this is coming from a guy who compares EVERY book to Louis L’Amour.)

Since then I’ve followed Dusty on social media and I see that one of his books is being made into a movie. Yay! I like it when good things happen for good people.

He also has a literary quarterly that’s always looking for western stories, modern or historical. If you’re interested in submitting, the website is: http://saddlebagdispatches.com

And his regular website is: http://dustyrichardslegacy.com

 

Well, thanks for moseying along with me on this trail. Since I’m partial to this genre, it’s no surprise that I’ve written some Western short stories (Suspense and Horror) and the novel I’m working on (Suspense) is set in West Texas. I hope to make it the first in a series, or two.

 

So happy trails and vio con Dios! Hasta luego!

At our Double Mountain ranch where we used to live.

At our Double Mountain ranch where we used to live.

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Critic or Critiquer?

Lately, the topic of critique groups has reared its head. Valerie Chandler represented both Austin Mystery Writers and Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter at the Third Thursday meeting of the Writers League of Texas at BookPeople on July 21.  Valerie was invited to join local critique group leaders/members to make announcements about their organizations before the main panel discussion of the evening.

again val with mow

I was privileged to moderate a panel of local authors and members of Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter on our July 10 meeting at the  Yarborough branch of the Austin Public Library. Included in the wide-ranging discussion was a ringing endorsement of critique groups and how they helped writers. The panel was composed of writers Doris Christian (writing as Sara Caudell), Francine Paino, Noreen Cedeno, and Martha Carr.P1030005 (2)

Below, see a post I wrote some years ago about the difference between being critical and being helpful in a critique situation. It appeared in one of the Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter’s HOTSHOTS! newsletter. I thought it would be helpful to resurrect it.

By Gale Albright

I grew up admiring critics.hutto oct. 1 2014 023 (2)

Critics like Dorothy Parker and Rex Reed. Their comments were witty, dry, often acerbic. For many years, Rex Reed has been known for his acidic movie reviews. Just a small example among many is this one, from the New York Observer, July 13, 2010:

“At the movies, incomprehensible gibberish has become a way of life, but it usually takes time before it’s clear that a movie really stinks. Inception, Christopher Nolan’s latest assault on rational coherence, wastes no time. It cuts straight to the chase that leads to the junkpile without passing go, although before it drags its sorry butt to a merciful finale, you’ll be desperately in need of a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card.”

Pretty funny, eh? And then there’s the iconic Dorothy Parker, whose critique of a youthful Katharine Hepburn’s performance on Broadway has become legendary: “Miss Hepburn runs the emotional gamut from A to B,” Miss Parker was supposed to have said to a colleague during the play’s intermission.

So, naturally, I thought you were supposed to basically heap scorn on books and movies and performances you didn’t like. As long as you were witty, dry, and often acerbic. A good critic made expert use of sarcasm and unkind jokes and metaphors.

I thought the critic was the center of attention. The bringer of wit and laughter.

I learned that the origin of the word sarcasm was from Latin for rending the flesh. Apt indeed.

The trouble is, when your flesh is rended, it doesn’t feel very good. As a person who thought cheap shots and ill-considered comebacks were the height of wit, I discovered how devastating it was to be on the receiving end of those oh-so-clever comments and witticisms.

Especially when it involved something I had written.

When I went back to college after intervening years of Real Life, I decided to major in English Writing and Rhetoric. To my chagrin, I had to take some classes in which, among other things, we had to learn the proper manner of critique. Critique etiquette, as it were.

I found I was not the second coming of Rex Reed or Dorothy Parker. Nasty, witty comments were strictly taboo. I had to learn how to give constructive criticism to classmates.

At first, I had a very hard time. What if I just hated what the other person wrote? What if it was stupid, boring, idiotic, or insane? Too bad.  And I had to do it over and over again. In short, I hated it. I felt totally out of my depth.

It was pure torture. Witticisms leaped to my tongue, only to die a stillborn death within my mouth. It was discipline. It was a change of habit. It was hard.

Then I understood. A critic is a star. She is the center of the universe. She earns her money by saying clever, often unkind things. But a person who offers a critique is not a star. To offer a critique is to offer a somewhat educated opinion, encouragement, and suggestions. One endeavors to be honest without being cruel or funny. I had to learn that I was not the director of the show. My lofty pronouncements did not come straight from Mount Olympus. I was merely a handmaid in the service of some other writer’s creative birthing.

At school I was told to start out a critique by telling the writer “what worked” in the piece. Sometimes I had to look pretty hard to find something “that worked.” It was like your mother telling you that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Except, the catch was, you couldn’t abstain. You had to give feedback.

After stressing the positive parts of a piece of writing, the critiquer would then write down “What didn’t work so well was ….” And say it without making a cruel comment at the writer’s expense.

All the critiquer has to offer is a personal opinion. It is to be hoped that critiquers in writers’ groups are people who love reading and writing, so that their opinions might have some literary weight. But it’s still just a solitary opinion.

As a critiquer, I’m not writing a syndicated column. I’m not an agent or an editor. I’m a fellow writer who needs another pair of eyes to look at my work. I want feedback, gentle feedback. It’s a balancing act.

I can’t lie and say something is great when it’s not. That’s evading one’s responsibility as a critiquer. But I’m not mean. The aim, I should think, of a writing group, is to keep the writers writing and coming back to the critique group. You don’t want to be so witty and sarcastic and cruel that a writer quits the group, shreds all her writings, shoots her laptop and treks off to Tibet in search of the spiritual peace of which you robbed her.

If a writer seeks out a critique group, obviously said writer, number one, wants to be read and, number two, wants feedback. Number three, said writer probably wants to continue writing.

A writer puts his heart and soul and ego on the page. A writer needs tender treatment. Tell the truth, but do it in a constructive manner. To critique is to help a fellow writer improve, not implode.

What goes around comes around. Yesterday’s witty, cruel comments may come back to haunt you when your own heart and soul are exposed on the page.

Writers.  Handle them with care.

 

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Write What You Know: A BookPeople Event with Martin Limón, Manning Wolfe and Billy Kring

A lawyer, an Army clerk and a border patrol agent walk into a bookstore…

BookPeople, our much beloved independent bookstore here in Austin, hosted a panel of crime writers this past week, and the discussions kept us laughing, interested and entertained the entire evening. Scott Montgomery, BookPeople’s Crime Fiction Coordinator, moderated the panel, although it quickly evolved from a formal Q&A session to a fascinating conversation amongst colleagues and friends.

Martin Limón, Manning Wolfe and Billy Kring gathered together to share how each of them has taken their professional experiences and used them as foundations upon which to build successful crime writing careers. The program was titled “Write What You Know,” and it’s clear that each author has executed this writing tenet with substantial skill.

martin_manning_billyIt seems that a solid sense of humor is a requirement in each of these fields, as Billy, Manning and Martin shared stories that were equal parts heartbreaking and humorous. Like any profession that is also a passion, the work is made easier by the love for it, but the injustices are more painful for the same reason. Manning’s debut mystery novel, Dollar Signs, is loosely based upon one of her cases while working as an Austin attorney, and the nuances of that case are brought to life, mixed with a healthy dose of savvy storytelling.   When asked what had prompted her love of reading during her childhood, Manning gave credit to a librarian in her life. “Once I started, I just took off and read every book in the library. Books were a way for me to escape my small town and expand and travel in many ways, all while just sitting in my room.”

Martin’s fascination and respect for Korea and its culture was evident during this panel discussion as he shared how some family and friends were puzzled by his desire to stay in Korea during his time of service. As he explained to Scott Montgomery, “Culturally, I realized early on how different Korea is from the West. Not only are the buildings and the food and the clothes and the music and the art much different, but also the way people think. I was fascinated by this (and I still am).” His attraction to the culture and the time period in which he served is evident in his latest release, Ping Pong Heart, which takes us into the heart of a North-South Korea espionage mystery.

When asked what drew him to reading, Martin admitted that he hadn’t been much interested in reading when he was a child. He’d found it difficult to find stories that captured this imagination. Then along came Jack London, whom he had discovered when he was fourteen years old, and To Build a Fire converted him into a life long reader.

panel_bookpeople1.jpgMartin shared with us that, while he would have loved to have spent his entire military career in Korea, the Army decided to send him back to the States to serve as a recruiter. It was during this time that he decided he would use his spare time to write. “I had wanted to write for twenty years, and at that point, I decided to give myself permission.” That decision was the catalyst that sparked a successful writing career, one that has allowed Martin to share his fascination of both Korea and time period in which he served in that country.

Billy Kring’s latest novel, Tonton, features female border patrol agent, Hunter Kincaid, throwing her into a South Florida case involving a Haitian community and vodou. When asked if some of his villains were based upon actual people he had encountered during his time working border intelligence and security, he replied, “Yes, and I haven’t even used some of the worst offenders yet.”

Are you scared yet, readers? You should be. Billy paints an effectively frightening villain within his book’s pages, and it has been recommended that this latest book is best read during the daytime. The opening scene of Tonton is based upon an actual experience of Billy’s while working border security. “Well, everything but the shark, but the shark is from another case,” he explained.

billy_manning.JPG
Billy explained that he truly enjoyed the work he did, which meant that he came late to the writing game. He had once had a bank job and he hated it, living each day in a cubicle and not being out in the world. He loved the fact a career in border security meant that each day brought new challenges and experiences. “I never knew what was going to happen next, and I liked that part of the job.” Like Martin and Manning, Billy then realized he could take his enthusiasm and experience for his work and bring it to a life writing fiction. Billy also shared the nuances that ripple across our borders. “There are two distinct cultures that have changed and merged over many generations, and it’s important to recognize that and bring those elements to the story.”

One thing is clear after spending an evening with these three authors–each one of them brings their experiences to life in ways that are engrossing, entertaining and compelling. While an evening with their books is fantastic, an evening with the authors behind those books?

Even better.

–Laura Oles

 

 

 

Posted in Conferences and Classes, Interviews, Mysteries, Uncategorized, Writing | Leave a comment

ROW80: The Writing Challenge That Knows You Have a Life

Posted by Kathy Waller

It is a truth universally acknowledged that to accomplish anything of worth, one must first set goals.

English: 85. Functions and Use Scenarios Mappi...

English: 85. Functions and Use Scenarios Mapping to Requirements and Goals (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Richard J. Mayer and others [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But goals drive me crazy, and that’s no secret either. Periodically, fellow Austin Mystery Writer Gale Albright pulls out her notebook and says, “All right. Let’s write down our goals.” Her goals, my goals, goals for us as a team. She’s serious about goals.

As soon as she says the magic word, I start a major case of the fantods. I can come up with goals, but when I see them on paper, claustrophobia sets in. I dig in my heels and think, “I will not do [whatever I’ve written that I will do]. And you can’t make me.” Sometimes I don’t just think it–I say it.

I’ve said it to Gale so often that now when she pulls out her notebook, she begins with, “I know you don’t like goals, but…”

I don’t think she knows I have a long history of goal-setting–I love trying to organize myself. And there are so many goals out there just itching to be adopted.

Writing challenges lurk all over the Internet: Write every day, write a thousand words every day, keep a journal, do morning pages, do evening pages, write for an hour-two hours-three hours every day, produce a 50,000-word novel in November by writing 1,667 words a day…

That last, which you no doubt recognize as the goal of NaNoWriMo, really drives me up the wall. Every year, I register. Then, every October 31, the fantods set in, and there goes my chance of winning. I’ve given up all hope of getting a NaNo tee-shirt.

row80logocopySeveral years ago, however, I discovered a writing challenge I can live with: A Round of Words in 80 Days: The writing challenge that knows you have a life.

It goes like this: Each year, there are four 80-day rounds. On the first day of each round, participants decide on goals and post them on their blogs. Then they put links to their posts on a ROW80 Linky for a ROW80 blog hop.

For the rest of the round, participants report their progress on Sundays and Wednesdays, and publish their links on the day’s Linky.

If they’ve met their goals, that’s great. If they haven’t, that’s life. Participants are free to change goals and post new ones.

Anyone who wants to join is welcome, and it’s okay to jump in at any time during the round–just post goals on the next Sunday/Wednesday check-in day and go on from there.

I’ve done ROW80 several times without even a hint of the fantods. The secret, I think, is in the subtitle: The writing challenge that knows you have a life.

I have a life. And sometimes it gets in the way. Cedar fever, company coming, hauling cats to the vet–so many things can bump writing down to second or third or tenth priority. When I  set out to write every single day, or one hour every single day–or adopt any goal set by someone else–and then don’t meet that goal, I’ve failed. And I’m likely to stop altogether.

But ROW80 not only allows me to set my own goals, it also acknowledges I might need to set them aside. It allows me to tweak them, change them, and if I need to, scuttle them and start over. There’s no pressure to conform or to make excuses for lapses. I’m in charge.

Now, here’s the evidence that I’m a little crazy: No matter what goals I set or what challenges I face, I’m always in charge. No one stands over me holding a machete to make sure I write one hour a day. No one pins a Scarlet F-for-failure on my tee-shirt when I don’t write in my journal.

Nobody. Not even Gale.

But there’s a flexibility to ROW80 that somehow makes goals easier to live with. I’m free, free, free… In addition, I’m not in this alone. At present, fourteen bloggers have registered on today’s Linky. Tomorrow there will be more. Reading their posts is instructive as well. Participants don’t make excuses; they evaluate, consider what didn’t work and what might work, and go from there.

Yesterday I drafted some goals, posted them on my blog, and registered on the Linky. On Wednesday, I’ll report on my progress, or possibly on my not-progress. But when I’m part of ROW80, I usually make some progress, even when life gets in the way.

Rules for A Round of Words in 80 Days, appear here. Information about how ROW80 started appears here. Find the ROW80 blog here.

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fantod: Usually, fantods. a state of extreme nervousness or restlessness; the willies; the fidgets (usually preceded by the)

I came across the word fantods in a story by O. Henry and liked it so much I decided to have the fantods as often as possible.

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Kathy Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly
and at the group blog Writing Wranglers and Warriors
as well as here at Austin Mystery Writers.
Her short stories appear at Mysterical-E
and in Murder on Wheels

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

Pets and the Fourth

 

Today we have a guest blogger who is a former AMW member, Kaye George.

 

If you’re reading this, you either like to read or to write, right? Or you’re a loyal friend of one of the Austin Mystery Writers. I’ve seen an odd connection between lovers of the written word and the love of animals. Or maybe that’s just a universal thing, or a thing with people who hang around in cyber space. Anyway, I’d like to appeal to those of you who love animals.

running dog

If you have a dog or cat, take care of it tonight! Please don’t leave it outside. Between July 4th and July 6th, animal control services nationwide see a 30% rise in missing pets!* If you live in Texas, among many other places, fireworks will start well before the 4th, so you’ll need to take precautions in the days leading up to Fireworks Day, as well as the days afterward.

 

If you have an animal that is overly anxious, you might want to give him medicine to soothe him during the height of the booming. Hugging or wrapping tightly can help some dogs. If you can distract your pet with other noises, that might help. Also, it’s good to have at least an ID tag, at most a chip, just in case he gets out and runs away, confused and frightened by the unusual noises.

 

If you should see an animal running loose and scared, you can report it here:

https://www.petamberalert.com/report-a-pet-sighting/

 

One more if. If you’re fortunate enough to have a laid-back furry buddy who can ignore fireworks, count yourself lucky and enjoy the holiday. Happy Fourth!

 

*https://www.petamberalert.com/blog/keeping-your-pets-safe-on-the-4th-of-july/

Posted in Guest post, Reading | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments