Interview With AMW Member Laura Oles

In continuing my series of interviews of fellow members of AMW, I’d like to introduce you to Laura Oles.

Austin Mystery Writer Laura Oles

VPC- Welcome, Laura! Tell us a little about your background.

LO- I grew up in an Air Force family and moved a number of times growing up.   I graduated from Texas State and met my husband while I was in college. His parents were both professional photographers and entrepreneurs who introduced me to the world of photography. At the time, I didn’t know an f/stop from a bus stop, but I loved the industry almost immediately. We were working in the time of early digital photography and had built a business that did some pretty cool things in that space. I also started writing for digital photography magazines—both consumer and trade— and did that for about fifteen years. Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met work behind the camera. It remains my first love, although I detest having my photo taken. Ask anyone—the camera comes out and I duck behind a tree.   If awkward smiling were an Olympic sport, I would bring home the gold.

LRO-sanfran

Laura hiding from the camera.

VPC- I can vouch for that, readers. It’s true! So you’ve had some success with publishing nonfiction, why are you interested in writing fiction?

LO- Yes, I wrote Digital Photography for Busy Women back in 2005 and was so happy to see the reception it received in the photography field. Technology books become obsolete pretty quickly, so while it served its purpose then, it’s outdated now. Part of the cycle. Still, it came out an important time in the industry when people were leaving film for digital and had no idea what to do with their photos once the image had been taken. I had been covering related technology for industry magazines and the book was an extension of that education.

Nonfiction has its own challenges but I love it as much as I love fiction. I grew up reading fiction at an early age, getting lost in Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High and Judy Blume, Reading fiction was the perfect escape for a kid that kept relocating to a new school, a new city. While I enjoy many genres, mystery, suspense and thrillers remain my favorites. Not only do I love getting lost in the worlds other people create, I also love creating my own worlds and occupying them with interesting personalities. My husband once told me that I talk about these characters like they’re real people. I guess for me, they are real people. Is that weird?

I also like reading both fiction and nonfiction. I often bounce between reading a business book and a mystery at the same time. So, right now I’ve got Charles Duhigg’s Smarter Faster Better and Mark Pryor’s Hollow Man in progress. I find it hard to commit to reading one book at a time. Both books are excellent. And my TBR list is a little out of hand at the moment.

 

VPC- I know that you also have three kids. Two of them are twins! How do you juggle writing, working and raising a family?

LO- I think one of the challenges of loving your work and loving your family is that you never feel like you’re excelling in either arena at the same time. Other people may have tamed this dragon but I have yet to do so. I try to compartmentalize as much as possible, but it’s difficult. My time is often split into small segments so I work at piecing them together to create something meaningful. For example, I’ve started and stopped answering these questions several times already because of a soccer tournament, Prom, and NHS volunteer projects. Granted, it’s easier than it was when my kids were little, especially when my twins were in the pre-school stages. I don’t think I drank of cup of hot coffee for a couple of years. With three teenagers, it’s a different kind of busy. My job is largely driving, coordinating schedules, counseling and proofreading my kids’ English papers.   I am very fortunate to have an awesome husband who, despite a demanding work and travel schedule, still makes most of the sporting events, concerts and other things that are important. If he has to drive from the airport to a volleyball game, he’s there.

With respect to writing, I think one of the most difficult things is shifting my brain from multi-tasking to creative mode. I have found that it is so important to protect that sacred space of allowing your imagination to roam, to get lost in the ‘what if’s of storytelling so the story has time to grow and take some turns. I really have to work at protecting that space. It’s very easy for real life to intrude and lay claim to it. (Link to Laura’s article about making the most of your time via the Pomodoro Method.) OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

VPC: What aspect of writing do you enjoy the most?

LO: I have a fond affection for dialogue. I love writing interactions between characters, trying to find the proper beats where the back-and-forth feels authentic. Elmore Leonard remains one of my all time favorite masters of dialogue. He said, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” I think that’s very good advice. I also enjoy editing, maybe even more than writing the first draft, because it’s my opportunity to shape the story and figure out what works and what is getting in the way of the story moving forward.

 

VPC- How did you come to be a member of AMW?

LO-I met Kathy Waller and Gale Albright through our local Sisters in Crime chapter and was part of the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentor program in 2012. They invited me in and I have enjoyed their company and critiques ever since. Writing is a solitary process, so having like minded writers who want to discuss plot points, character development and setting is a wonderful thing. I would probably bore my non-writer friends out of their minds but the AMW people get me. And I’m grateful for it.

 

VPC- What are you working on now?

LO-I am currently revising my second mystery, Point & Shoot, which was named a finalist in the Writer’s League of Texas manuscript competition. I’m also working on a few short stories, including one for an anthology being put together by AMW for publication next year. I continue to write for the photo industry, although I’m taking a hiatus for a bit to focus on my fiction (no pun intended). I’m leaving for Malice Domestic this week (in Bethesda, MD) and am looking forward to spending time with some of my favorite writers and friends.   I’m also finally making it to Bouchercon this year in New Orleans. Other than that, I’m just trying to find time to write each day so I can keep my imaginary friends alive. They suffer if I’m gone too long. And I do, too.  I’m cranky if I’ve gone a bit without writing.  Even worse than when I skip coffee, and that’s saying something.

 

Hank & Laura

With Hank Phillippi Ryan at MD 2014

Malice laura and kaye

Laura and Kaye George at Malice in 2014

 

 

Article about Malice Domestic 2014

 

 

 

 

Thank you for the interview, Laura Oles! I’ve enjoyed these interviews. I like showing the world how diverse we are in AMW.

Interview with Manning Wolfe

One of the perks of being a writer is having interesting and talented friends. Today I’d like to introduce you to Manning Wolfe.Manning Wolfe Headshot 2

VPC – Manning, welcome to the AMW blog and congratulations on your debut novel! Can you tell us a little something about it?

 

MW –Yes, it’s called Dollar Signs:Texas Lady Lawyer vs Boots King. It’s the first in a series and this one is set in Austin, Houston, and Port Aransas, Texas. MERIT BRIDGES, an Austin attorney and widowed mother with a lot of sass is the lead protagonist. She works hard, drinks too much wine, and sleeps with younger men. When she goes after a shady corporation threatening her client, she finds Boots King, a hired gun, threatening to kill her.

VPC – I know you’re a lawyer. In what ways did you use your legal background to write the book?

MW – The plot idea for Dollar Signs came from a client that I had several years ago who had gotten involved with an unscrupulous Outdoor Advertising Company (Billboards). Of course, I departed from that scenario fairly quickly in the book as the characters began to develop and the story took on a life of its own. I felt badly for that client and always wished he had gotten a fair shake. In Dollar Signs, I get to have the story turn out as I would have liked in real life. I’ve never practiced litigation although there are some courtroom scenes in the book. I wanted to show the other side of law – the business of it and the strategy that is involved.

VPC – Have you always wanted to be a writer?

MW – Yes, since I was a small child I’ve been spinning yarns and telling tales. I wrote my stories down as drawings, and then in narrative as soon as I was able to write. I loved Nancy Drew growing up and always wanted to write stories with a strong plot. I had great teachers who encouraged proper basic writing habits, so I received a good foundation early on. Much later, I wrote the screenplay of the life of Buckminster Fuller and found that I like combining cinematic style with novel structure. That blend has led me to the way I write today – fast paced legal thrillers with a strong visual component.

VPC – Where did you grow up and how has it affected your writing?

MW – I grew up in a small town just north of Houston called Humble. By the time I was in junior high, I had read every book in our public library. I still remember the wonderful librarian there and her interest in my constant reading habit. My father often asked me to do research in the courthouse archives in Harris County.  Those two things led not only to my legal career, but my writing career as well.  Property and business issues in the law are like a puzzle to me.  I always loved games and still enjoy online games and cards. Sorting out legal problems in real life or in a story is like a puzzle to my brain. I enjoy figuring things out and documenting that in writing.

VPC – Do you have any favorite authors?

MW – I read a lot and across many genres, but my favorites are thrillers. As far as legal thrillers, I like the early John Grisham novels, as well as Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller series starting with The Lincoln Lawyer. Patricia Highsmith, who wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley, is a master of suspense. John Ellsworth’s Thaddeus Murfee series is very exciting, too. I think Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, that was made into a movie starring Harrison Ford, is one of the best legal thrillers ever written. And, of course, most people forget that Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, another favorite of mine, was a legal thriller.

VPC – So what’s in store for your next book?

MW – The next book in the series is Green Fees: Texas Lady Lawyer vs Browno Zars, about a young golfer who wants to play the PGA tour and gets snagged up with a dastardly con man. It also was inspired by an actual client who was a golf pro. I’m editing it now for release later this year. I have about a dozen Texas Lady Lawyer novels in mind, some of them are outlined and some are just ideas.

VPC- Sounds good! Thanks for dropping by today and good luck on your new book. 🙂

DOLLAR SIGNS Final Ebook Cover 04

To keep up with Manning and her writing, you can go to her website at manningwolfe.com

 

Pieces of Time

“After you learn – and if you’re good and Gawd helps ya and you’re lucky to have a personality that comes across – then what you’re doing is, you’re giving people… little, tiny pieces of time… that they never forget.”- James Stewart, explaining to Peter Bogdanovich what actors do

Three paragraphs into a post about the importance of motivation in character and plot development–working title: “What Do You Want?”–I remembered hearing that As Good As It Gets would be on television. I’d like to see it again, so I checked the schedule for the network that airs oldies.

As Good As It Gets wasn’t running, nor was anything else I wanted to see, but while I was there, I went on to see what’s playing today, and tomorrow, and the next day, until nearly two weeks were planned out. Because it’s so easy to forget these things, I prepared a schedule:

Cropped screenshot of Claudette Colbert and Cl...

Cropped screenshot of Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable from the trailer for the film It Happened One Night. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Trailer screenshot, from DVD It Happened One Night, Columbia, 1999 (It Happened One Night trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, December 15
5:45a It Happened One Night
8:00p The Desperate Hours (I love Frederic March and Humphrey Bogart)
10:30p Compulsion (based on the Leopold and Loeb case; Orson Welles as the DA)

Wednesday, December 16
3:40p Come Back, Little Sheba (always wanted to see it, never have)
5:45p Let No Man Write My Epitaph (Burl Ives, always wonderful, and Jean Seberg, ditto)

Thursday, December 17
6:20a Blueprint for Murder (don’t get to see Joseph Cotton much any more)
5:25p Stalag 17 (William Holden and Gary Merrill; what’s not to like?)
8:00p Twelve O’Clock High (Gregory Peck and Gary Merrill; see above)

Friday, December 18
8:00a The Bells of St. Mary’s (Ingrid Bergman; her smile in that last scene makes me reach for a second crying towel; worth getting up early for)

Saturday, December 19
5:15p The Rainmaker (Katharine Hepburn; no comment needed)
8:00p Roman Holiday (Audrey Hepburn; two Hepburns in rapid succession–modified rapture!)
10:40p Father Goose (Cary Grant; well, d’oh)

Sunday, December 20
11:00a The Cheap Detective (Neil Simon’s script, Sid Caesar, Dom DeLuise, John Houseman, Madeline Kahn, Fernando Llamas, Phil Silvers, and on and on…)
8:00p Cheaper by the Dozen (seen it several times, but I love Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy)

And during the rest of the week, there will be opportunities to see Tootsie, Bye Bye Birdie, The Keys of the Kingdom, Oliver Twist (1933 version, with Dickie Moore), Let’s Make it Legal (Claudette Colbert and Marilyn Monroe), That Touch of Mink, and Barefoot in the Park.

And the Shirley Temple Christmas Day marathon, or at least Captain January, might be fun…

I’d be happy to watch nearly everything that network has to offer, one after the other.

(Except The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. After seeing that one a half-dozen times, I know who shot him and don’t need a review.)

But now, a reality check. The movies are uncut, and they’re interrupted by numerous commercials, so each runs about three hours. Watching the ones named above, minus Captain January because it’s a maybe–would take sixty-three hours. If I watched for sixteen hours straight–nothing else, just sat there and watched–the film binge would take four days. Watching eight hours a day would use up eight days. I hate to admit it, but lying on the couch all day, eating Hershey’s Kisses, watching old films… I could do that. But I won’t.

Because how much time have I spent over my lifetime lost in the fantasy on a small screen? How many hours have I sat and watched instead of taking up pen and paper–or laptop–and writing?

Too many.

James Stewart didn’t make all those marvelous little pieces of time by lying on his couch, watching Charlie Chaplin on TV.

Stories are pieces of time, too, and I want to make more of them. But it’s not going to happen while I’m mesmerized by Hollywood. I have to turn off that television and write.

***

 

Kathy Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly12376007_1178023688877814_9154670791884953413_n (3)
and at Writing Wranglers and Warriors.
Two of her stories appear in the anthology
MURDER ON WHEELS (Wildside, 2015).
She’s now working on short stories
and on a mystery novel set in a town
very like the one she grew up in.

 

Join AMW for MURDER ON WHEELS Launch ~ August 11

Please join

Austin Mystery Writers

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

as they celebrate the launch of their first crime fiction anthology

MURDER ON WHEELS:
11 Tales of Crime on the Move

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

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

BookPeople Bookstore
6th Street and Lamar

Austin, Texas

“There is something for everyone…” ~ Amazon Review

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

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

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

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That Would Make a Pretty Good Story

When Howard was four, he and his baby sister were playing in the living room, while his mother and his grandmother sat at the kitchen table just around the corner. A few days before, while staying with his grandmother, Howard had said something cute–he did that a lot–and today, over coffee, his grandmother told her daughter about it.

Immediately after Grandma finished the anecdote, Howard piped up from the other room, “That makes a pretty good story, doesn’t it?”

That’s a four-year-old thinking like a writer. Thinking, in fact, like James Thurber, who filled entire books with cute things. Thurber said this about his works in progress:

“I often tell them at parties and places. And I write them there too….I never quite know when I’m not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, ‘Dammit, Thurber, stop writing.’ She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, ‘Is he sick?’ ‘No,’ my wife says, ‘he’s writing something.'”


Writers never stop writing. We may be immersed in experience and emotion, and at the same time be standing outside ourselves, thinking, That would make a pretty good story.

For the purposes of this post, I’m now going to tell a brief story. When you finish reading it, there will be a test:

A couple of weeks ago, I was riding the Washington, D. C. Metro, going from Reagan International Airport to Bethesda, Maryland, for Malice Domestic, a convention at which fans and authors celebrate the traditional mystery.

My plane had arrived late. Darkness had fallen and seeped into the rail tunnels. Signage was… lacking. I couldn’t see names of the stops, nor could I understand the voice announcing them.

I’d already wasted time by taking the YELLOW LINE instead of the BLUE LINE, because, on impulse, I decided my way would get me to the RED LINE just as easily as the BLUE LINE would. And it would have, if the YELLOW LINE I boarded hadn’t been going the wrong way. If I missed my stop now, there was a distinct possibility I would have to sleep on the Metro, which is considered taboo.

Now, each Metro car has one map beside one of the doors. At a stop near mine, I decided to move to the front seat so I could see and count the stops preceding mine. I rose, pushed my humongous suitcase into the aisle, and somehow managed to position it between me and the front of the car. So I pulled up the handle and tried to turn the case so I could roll it behind me. At the same time, I tried to exchange places with it. I think.

That is when the suitcase attacked me. Rocking back and forth, it threw me off balance, and I fell backward, full length, into the aisle. On the way down, I thought, I’ve never fallen this direction before. Then my bottom hit, and after that, my head.

When I realized my head would hit the floor, I had a nanosecond of worry, but I hardly felt the impact. That surprised me, because my head is protected by far less padding than is my bottom. It was such an easy fall, very much like lying down in the aisle, without knowing you’re going to.

End of story, almost.

Here’s test question #1: How does this not-so-pretty-good tale about a train ride relate to thinking like a writer?

Because when no one ran to help me up, and I realized I was alone, surrounded by dark, unfamiliar territory far from home, where anybody and his mean dog could enter the car at any time… I lay in the aisle, smiling, gazing at the ceiling, and thinking, This will make a pretty good story, won’t it?

Unfortunately, this obsession–the word is an exaggeration, but sometimes it feels like obsession–with story isn’t necessarily welcome… because we can’t switch it off. It follows us into the sickroom and stands with us at the graveside and makes us feel ashamed, because one small corner of our minds is nearly always detached, removed from real life, observing, remembering, writing. 

We speak about the subject among ourselves. But when we speak about it to non-writers, we concentrate on the lighter side. The other part we prefer to leave in darkness.

Only the relative anonymity of the blogger allows me to write about it here.

Test question #2: Do you write all the time? Do you know when you’re not writing? Have you had an experience that would make a pretty good story?

 ***

Note: Imagine the child in the portrait above with blond hair… That would be Howard.

Note: Metro riders who knew where they were going were so very helpful in assuring me that, yes, the YELLOW LINE would stop at Gallery Place. I think I asked at least a dozen of them over the course of the evening. A transit worker carrying a broom yelled at me, but I’m sure he was doing the best he could, bless his heart. I am sorry to say I raised my voice a couple of decibels in return (righteous indignation), but, bless my heart, I was doing the best I could, too. It’ll probably make a pretty good story.

***

You can read Kathy Waller’s personal blog here, and once or twice a month she posts at Writing Wranglers and Warriors.

Kathy

Kathy

Two of her stories appear in AMW’s MURDER ON WHEELS, published by Wildside Press and available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Our anthology!

Our anthology!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Writing Process: The Wisdom of Darrell Royal and Lessons from a Jack Russell Terrier

Most people don’t believe it, but I was almost thirty years old, and had been teaching English for seven years, when I discovered I possessed a writing process. I learned about it in a special summer program for teachers of English at the University of Texas – Austin–the Hill Country Writing Project.

Author Anna Castle addressing SINC ~ Heart of Texas Chapter, March 2015

Author Anna Castle addressing SINC ~ Heart of Texas Chapter, March 2015

A certain writer of fiction for middle grade who spoke at the Texas Library Association’s Bluebonnet luncheon several years ago was even older than I when she found out about hers. I won’t mention her name, although I’ve just discovered she lives in Austin and am wondering whether she might accept an invitation to speak at one of my Sisters in Crime chapter’s meetings–But I digress.

This author said children she met at school visits started asking, “What is your writing process?”  When they explained to her what that was, she thought a while and then described it in roughly the following way:

 

Hit the alarm button, roll out of bed, throw on robe, drag out of bedroom, bang on son’s door in passing, go downstairs, make coffee, pile dirty towels in hall, bang on son’s door and yell “Get up,” dress, put towels in and start washer, go to office, turn on computer, inhale coffee fumes until eyes open, pull up file, stare at monitor, drink coffee, stare some more, check on son . . . 

This author’s process isn’t exactly what the UT scholars meant but it’s worked for her through nearly sixty books (the last time I counted).

About a month ago I reviewed my own writing process–I’d been trying and failing to complete (which means I couldn’t even begin) a 100-word story for Friday Fictioneers, and I believed analyzing my process might offer insight into the source of the problem. I did my best to remember how I had written the first three short-short stories, which had practically composed themselves.

The next three paragraphs provide a rough description of what went through my mind as I wrote those stories, which were based on picture prompts. I’ve included links so you can see the pictures and also, if you wish, read the final versions of the stories.

The second story: “Lovestruck.” Prompt–picture of old boat. Know nothing about boats. Grandfather’s old wooden boat on river. Friend’s husband surprised her with boat; she wasn’t pleased. Husband and wife. He wants boat. She sees flaws, thinks he’s crazy. He sees possibilities. Probably unrealistic. She’s patient. He doesn’t listen? What’s the end? Oh–he loves the boat–a love affair, name boat. No, lust. Ending? ???Too long. Quote Coleridge–develops wife’s character, she reads. Oh–have him intro boat-girlfriend to wife–first line–hook reader. Ending? Cut more. Oh–she wants something, boat is leverage–imply–end? suggest they look at–what?–sewing machine. She wants him happy–but–what’s good for gander. Both smiling. Cut.

The third story: “‘Shrooms.” Prompt–picture of mushrooms. What the heck I do with that? Poisonous. Lord Peter Wimsey–victim killed w/ deadly Amanita. Wife cooks mushroom gravy–End, poisons husband. How trite. Keep them talking about mushrooms. Tease–he won’t eat mushrooms, never does. Afraid of mistake–toadstools. She picked them. Husband–horrified! Create character, aunt–knows mushrooms–helped pick. Okay. Tastes, yum. Aunt pops in–new glasses–poor vision picking mushrooms–imply. End ambiguous. Accident? What did husband eat? Whimsy, understatement–Might want to spit out. Not trite.

First story: “Nothing But Gray.” Prompt: Man looking out window at courtyard? stone walls on all sides, no visible exit–b&w except for pot plants, red flowers. Boxed in, trapped, stone, gray. Start–boy, not man, place him staring out, gray stone, his POV. Easy–put him at window. Consider table, 4 plates, one boy. Guests for dinner? A brother. Mom comes in. Gray. Death. Mom in denial. 4 plates. (Note: Really, I’m not sure how I wrote this. Serendipity. Started writing and tripped over a miracle.)

That isn’t exactly what the scholars meant either–they talked about pre-writing, writing, revising, editing, polishing, nitpicking,** things that can be taught in a formal classroom setting.

English: A whole and split Cadbury Creme Egg.

English: A whole and split Cadbury Creme Egg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Evan-Amos (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m talking about the process unique to the individual, the brain state during which neurons explode at the mere thought of outlining before you do anything else or outlining at all, the state during which you either eat five pounds of Cadbury eggs or handcuff yourself to the birdbath so you can’t reach the box. Or, the state in which you’re relaxed, productive, focused, enjoying the act of creation despite the confusion and uncertainty creation entails.

To be continued…

Join me for Part 2 to discover
the Five Truths of the Writing Process,
how to make your writing practice more effective, and
What Darrell Royal and a Jack Russell Terrier Have to Do With Anything

 *

  • Nitpicking isn’t an official part of the writing process, but some people throw it in anyway.
  • To become a Friday Fictioneer, read instructions here: https://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/friday-fictioneers-2/. Then check Rochelle’s main page for the photo prompt, here: https://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/ You’ll probably have to scroll down to locate the correct picture. The projected date of publication will be the title. The official publication date is the Friday after the Wednesday prompt announcement. However, as I understand it, that’s a Friday-ish deadline. If Friday is impossible, just put it online before the next prompt comes out. Any Fictioneers out there, please correct me if I’m wrong.

*

Kathy

Kathy

Kathy Waller blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write, and once or twice a month at Writing Wranglers and Warriors. Two of her stories will appear in AMW’s MURDER ON WHEELS, available soon from Wildside Press. Years ago, Kathy’s tongue got lodged in her cheek and she’s never managed to get it unstuck, so you can’t believe everything she says. Except about the writing process.

Writing, Thinking, Pantsing, and Miracles

Pantsing, when successful, lets you create a story closely resembling the spark that ignited it. ~Janalyn Voigt, Live, Write, Breathe

The first step in starting a blog is finding the perfect name. I wanted to call mine Contrariwise, as an homage to Lewis Carroll and to my ability to locate an argument in nearly any issue I come across.

Contrariwise was already in use, however, several times over, and I couldn’t find another literary allusion that satisfied, so I named it Whiskertips. It was my own invention, an homage to the two whiskered beasts with whom I share living quarters.

The next step is thinking of something to blog about. For most people, determining a theme would be Step #1. Reversing the steps led to a series of posts I like to think of as eclectic. In other words, I wrote about whatever came to mind. I also hosted guest bloggers. Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson appeared often. But after a while, nothing came to mind, and I began to fall back on the beasts. When they IMG_0832.1assumed complete control of content, I withdrew and created another blog. I took its name from Gertrude Stein: To Write Is to Write Is to Write.* In a note in the sidebar, I stated the purpose: I would write about the experience of becoming a writer. I would write about writing.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

But the best-laid plans of mice and men, etc. In only weeks–days–I had another eclectic blog on my hands. Why? Because I didn’t know anything about writing.

Or, to qualify that, I didn’t know anything writers–or anyone else–would want to read.

I know the basics: grammar, usage, mechanics, various elements of fiction, methods and techniques learned from reading, attending workshops, taking classes, reading articles, books, and blogs. But I had nothing to add.  Other people had gotten there first. And who wants to read another article about where the commas go?

The worst part was that most of the authorities claimed to have the One True Way:

Write fast. Don’t revise as you go. Outline–you have to outline every scene. Use index cards. Use colored pens. Tape butcher paper to the wall. Never share your work before you’ve completed it. Find a critique group. Write 1,000 words a day, and in ninety days you’ll have a completed manuscript. Write every day. Write morning pages. Keep a writing journal. Keep a bible for your manuscript. Query early. Query later. Have a platform. Establish a brand.

All good advice, I was sure. And frustrating, because I couldn’t seem to follow the rules.

Finally, I gave up. The experts were great at explaining how they write, but they weren’t so good at telling me how to write.

I had to struggle for a while, find my own way, develop my own process, set my own rules, and deviate from rules I’d outgrown.

Now, after years of wrangling with the experts, and with myself, I finally have something to say about how I write:

I don’t start with an outline. I start with a character and a line and go from there. I can’t construct a decent plot until I understand the characters, and I can’t understand the characters until I know their backstories. The only way I can know backstories is to write them, not in a separate document, but as part of the manuscript itself. Afterward, I go back and start putting the material in order. I may have to scrap some of the best parts–the darlings–but they go in a Darlings file so I can use them later if I find a place they fit.

This method is called pantsing–as in flying by the seat of your pants. Some plotters look down on pantsers. That used to make me feel like a failure. Then I read Writing Mysteries, a collection of essays edited by Sue Grafton, in which Tony Hillerman tells about his own pantsing. He said it takes longer, but in the end, he gets there. Since reading that, I’ve stopped apologizing for pantsing. What’s good for Tony Hillerman is good enough for me.

Let me make one thing clear: I revise. The condition of my first manuscript dictates that I revise a lot. The end product looks very different from the original.

Because I’m a pantser, the NanoWriMo program of writing a 50,000-word novel in thirty days doesn’t bring out the best in me. I write more slowly, and I can’t pound out a book on someone else’s timetable. For years I registered for NaNo and then wrote perhaps ten words. That’s called losing Nano.  Now I register and write whatever I want on my own timetable. I lose nothing, NaNo loses nothing.

(There’s another reason I don’t do well with NaNoWriMo. I don’t like to talk about it. But if you want to read about it, check Wikipedia under Passive-Aggressive behavior.)

The exception to my pantsing process occurs when a story comes to me already outlined. One such blessed event happened one night just after I’d gotten into bed and turned out the light: a story appeared, beginning, middle and end. I thought it would take about 600 words, but the final version turned out to be nearly 5,000 words. It included a little pantsing.

When I began this post, I knew only two or three things about writing, but now I realize I know more. Having already run on at length, I will leave the rest for another time. After I’ve pointed out one more thing:

Some writers, myself included, know (There’s another one!)–that writing is  a form of thinking, a way to generate ideas, to learn what we already know.

But I also subscribe to Gertrude Stein’s description:

One of the pleasant things that those of us who write or paint do
is to have the daily miracle. It does come.

I depend on the daily miracle. When I write, and keep on writing, it does come.

 *

*The entire quotation is “To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.” I presume it was not already in use because no one wanted it.

*

Posted by Kathy Waller 0kathy-blog

Kathy blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write and at  the group blog Writing Wranglers and Warriors.

Find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kathy.waller68.

 

 

Interview with Tim Bryant, author of Spirit Trap

I recently met author Tim Bryant at Book People’s Lonestar Mystery Discussion. He’s such an interesting person, I wanted to know more about him, his creative process, and his path to writing. Thanks for letting me interview you, Tim! Tim Bryant

AMW – When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

TB – I’m not entirely sure I ever wanted to be a writer. I just was one. My grandmother probably knew I was a writer when I was ten years old. It took me at least thirty more years to realize she was onto something. I dedicated my first novel to her. I was happy that she was able to see it before she died.

AMW – What was the first creation of yours that got published?

TB – Well, I had had music published because I came to fiction writing after many years as a musician. The first piece of fiction I got published was my first Dutch Curridge short story. It’s called “Bob Wills Is Still The King,” and it was published in REAL Regarding Arts & Letters Literary Magazine. I had written several other Dutch short stories and a lot of non-Dutch stories too, of course, but that was the one that pretty much started everything.

AMW – How long did it take for you to write your first novel?

 TB – The first novel was DUTCH CURRIDGE. It took close to a year from start to finish, although the real meat of the writing probably took four months. My original idea with it was that I would take the collection of Dutch Curridge short stories— I think there were six or seven of them at that point— and weave them together into novel form. It was a fine idea in theory, it just didn’t work. I finally ended up setting all of those stories aside and writing the novel from scratch. Some of the earlier material worked its way into it, but only here and there. The story about the migrating squirrels and that parts about Dutch’s marriage and divorce, to name two examples. The bulk of the story was new material and was much better for it.

AMW – Did anyone help you? Did you belong to a critique group?

 TB – Unfortunately, I didn’t have any kind of group during the writing of the first novel. I wish I had. That did come along almost immediately after, and a couple of the people are still with me today. My friend Brett Gaffney has been a huge help with workshopping and even helped co-write the book THOSE WHO KNOW US BEST DON’T KNOW US AT ALL. It’s a book of free verse, but it also has a dark, mysterious edge to it and actually shares a character with the Dutch books. Brett’s my first go-to with things, and I do think writers need that. My good friend Jen Moody edited “Doll’s Eyes,” which was part of the Subterranean Press anthology IMPOSSIBLE MONSTERS. She did such an amazing job on that, I asked her to edit the newest Dutch novel, SPIRIT TRAP. She’s top shelf when it comes to editing, and she’s a great fiction writer too. They’re both invaluable secret weapons to have as a writer.

AMW– Do you currently belong to a writing group?

TB – Yes. In addition to Brett and Jen, I have a local writing group that meets regularly. They’re librarians and teachers in addition to being writers, and they’re great motivators, supportive friends, and I owe them a lot as well. I also hang out with Joe Lansdale from time to time, when he’s in town. I’ve certainly learned a lot from Joe. Writing is such a solitary endeavor, I find I really need those connections, just to keep me focused…and sane.

AMW – Your recent book, Spirit Trap, is the third book in the Dutch Curridge series. Tell us a little something about Dutch.

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TB – Dutch is a private eye in 1950s Fort Worth who worked with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department until he realized he was too bad to be a good cop and too good to be a bad one. He identifies strongly with the down-and-out citizens of Fort Worth. He sees himself as one of them, where maybe the other guys on the force didn’t. Dutch has always been an underdog. He’s fought for everything he has (which isn’t much), and he’s ready to fight for every other underdog he meets up with.

On a personal level, he likes Jack Daniels and Dr Pepper, western swing and jazz music and a young lady who writes for the local newspaper. He has a bad ear, which is a leftover from a childhood illness, and a good friend named Slant Face, who hails from Manchester, England.

AMW – The series is set in Fort Worth in 1955. Why Fort Worth and why 1955?

 TB – Having a background in music, I wanted to extend some of that to the Dutch stories, and Fort Worth just has an extremely rich musical history. Especially, in that era of the 1940s and ‘50s. WBAP radio was broadcasting all over this part of the country. Bob Wills and Milton Brown were breaking down musical and racial barriers. Jazz clubs were hot, especially in the African-American neighborhoods. Fort Worth was a wild and colorful place, with Hell’s Half Acre downtown and Jacksboro Highway to the north. Dutch belonged in a place like that. He was right at home.

AMW – I’ve been reading the book and I can honestly say it’s what I call a “total immersion experience”. I can hear the music, the voices, and noises of the time. Did you have to do a lot of research to capture the era?

TB – Yes. I’ve done tons of research, and that research continues. I enjoy it so much, I hardly think of it as being research. I love reading about the history, personal accounts, pouring over maps, watching films and listening to recordings from that era and area. I’ve joked that I probably know more about Fort Worth than most people who live there, but it’s true. I’ve only visited a handful of times, believe it or not, but I’d love to spend more time there.

But yes, I did work to get the full effect of the time and place. The feel and the sounds. Fort Worth is much like a character in the books, so it was essential that I get it right.

AMW– Do you write other kinds of stories besides mysteries?

TB – Absolutely. In fact, I’m not sure I really write standard mysteries at all. The second book in the Dutch series, SOUTHERN SELECT, is probably the most straight-forward mystery I’ve written, and, although it’s quite important in the series, it seems to get overlooked a little. I tend to think of mystery in the larger sense. Not so much cases of missing heirlooms and dead bodies, even if those things do show up from time to time. To me, the best mysteries are the ones that are never solved. They get people thinking and talking. They’re the ones that draw them in, keep them up at night. So I like stories that ask questions more than I like stories that answer them. I think most of my stories ask the questions that intrigue me most.

AMW– You mentioned you’re a musician. What instrument and what kind of music do you play? Is your music available online?

TB – I’ve played music for most of my life too. I’m primarily a piano player, although I can fake a few other things enough to fool a few people. I play totally by ear, by instinct. I’ve been lucky enough to play music all over New Orleans, around Texas, on the same stage and in studios with some of my heroes.

My music is available on iTunes, most places you find music. It’s under either my name or 2Take Tim, which is a nickname I got down in New Orleans, or Ramshackle Day Parade, a cool international band that I put together. That band featured Steve Wickham, who plays with The Waterboys and Tatanka Ohitika— Strong Buffalo— a Dakota-Sioux poet. Almost all of my music  is available at TimBryantsUprightPiano.com.

AMW – What are the next projects you’re looking at? Another Curridge book? Something that’s been on the “back burner” you’ve been dying to get to?

TB – SPIRIT TRAP was the last major thing I wrote. Right before that, I wrote a non-Dutch novel called CONSTELLATIONS. A publisher in New York City is looking at that one. I have two other non-Dutch novels that I’m working on. I tend to alternate between the Dutch books and non-Dutch books, so I’ll most likely finish at least one of them before I return to Dutch.

One is indeed that big one that’s been simmering on the back burner. I think it might be time to bring it forward now. It’s set in the Philippines during World War II, and I’ve been researching that one for a good while now. I was going to say it’s one of those mysteries that’s not really a mystery. I think it would be closer to say it’s a non-mystery that really is one. Everything about life is a mystery, right?

I’ll return to Dutch though. He’s a friend too at this point. He always comes back around, and I’m always happy to see him. There should be at least two more Dutch novels. I think I’ll be back to him in 2015.

AMW – Thank you, Tim and good luck with the new book!

 

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.

James Michener Didn’t Object

By Kathy Waller

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Last week, Valerie wrote about why she writes. Here’s my take on that subject:

When I was four years old, I took a pair of scissors and a roll of red, gooey adhesive tape and wrote my name on the inside of the kitchen door. It didn’t occurred to me I shouldn’t, and my parents never said a word. I’m sure they discussed it, but I wasn’t privy to that conversation.  The crooked red letters stayed on the door for years. When they were finally removed, a heavy red stain remained.

When I was eight, my father gave me a ream of legal-sized paper. I produced a newspaper, one copy per issue, focusing on the social activities of dogs, cats, and horses in the neighborhood. I reported on the wedding of Mr. Pat Boone, my fox terrier, and Miss Bootsie, my grandfather’s cranky gray-and-white cat. Miss Bootsie was really Mr. Bootsie, but even then I knew the value of poetic license. Mr. Tommy, my cousin’s orange tabby, married someone, too, but I don’t remember whom or what gender. Or what genus and species for that matter.

For years, I loved writing—the paper, the pens, the ink, the facts, the improved facts, and the outright fiction.

The feeling lasted until high school, when I began taking courses labeled English. Writing became torture. What will I write about, how many words does it have to be, I don’t know anything about that, I don’t have anything to say. Through high school and two college degrees–in English–I produced the required papers but agonized over every word.

There were bright spots: writing the junior class prophecy, which made even the teachers laugh when I read it at the junior-senior banquet; composing a satire on life in the teachers’ lounge, issued serially on an irregular basis–whenever the Muse moved me.

Overall, however, my relationship to writing remained conflicted. I did my best to camouflage the discomfort, though. After all, I taught English.

Things began to change when I told a therapist about my early love affair with words. He responded, “I think you’d better start writing.” He suggested I join the Austin Writers’ League.

“I can’t,” I said. “James Michener belongs to the Austin Writers’ League. I can’t belong to anything James Michener belongs to.”

The next day, I joined. James Michener didn’t object. I started taking informal classes at nearby universities. An instructor invited me to a Saturday-morning writing practice group. The next weekend, I drove fifty miles, parked in front of the café where it met, watched people carry notebooks inside, backed my car out, and drove home. It took another week to build the courage to pick up my notebook to join them and become a regular.

The result of all this effort? Once again, I fell in love with writing. I also fell in love with a member of the writing practice group and, after a decent interval, married him.

In my romance with writing, I didn’t live happily ever after. I don’t have a long list of appealing topics. I don’t have a file of perfect first sentences. I still have to write to find out what I know and what I think. I still find myself writing furiously right up to the deadline. (Or slightly after, as I am now.) Starting any piece is difficult. But once I begin, the words flow.

I wouldn’t exchange that feeling for anything.

In fifteen years, I’ve come from, I can’t join the Austin Writers’ League to I’m working on a novel, attending Austin Mystery Writers critique group, writing short stories for publication in an anthology, blogging, writing every day.

And, contrary to the moans I make when asked how the writing is going, I love every second of it.