In Memoriam: Gale Albright

 

Posted by Kathy Waller

Gale Albright
Gale Albright, November 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Gale loved writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She also leaves behind many friends. We miss her.

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

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

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

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

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

My Writing Library: Nancy Peacock’s A Broom of One’s Own

Advice to writers?

There’s a lot out there, some good, some bad.

Back up your computer. Back up all your files. All the time. That’s good advice. It comes from every writer friend I have. Recently I learned what truly excellent advice that is.

A Broom of One's Own - Nancy Peacock - Harper Perennial, 2008 - PB & Kindle
A Broom of One’s Own – Nancy Peacock – Harper Perennial, 2008 – PB & Kindle

Someday I’ll regain enough emotional stability to talk about it without twitching like a frantic Deputy Barney Fife.

Friends sometimes give bad advice, however. The one who told me I had to outline every scene before I began my manuscript had me stalled for months. The method worked for her but tied me up in knots. Don’t worry–he won’t recognize himself.

If you’re interested in writing. you’ve no doubt browsed the section of the bookstore or library for books about how to write. Shelves are packed with them. I’ve bought them for years, compulsively. Some have helped me, but some–not so much.

The least helpful preach rules that must be closely adhered to:

>You must outline before writing.

>You must get up an hour early to write before you go to work.

>You must write for a set time every single day. Even days when you sleep through the alarm, and the boss makes you stay late, and you get home and have to cook dinner, and then your five children tell you they promised you would make homemade brownies for their class Halloween parties, and the sixth says she’s given away her mermaid costume because now she wants to be a duck, and the stores don’t have any duck costumes, and you couldn’t make that child look like a duck if your life depended on it. And your husband is working in the Azores and won’t be home till Thanksgiving.

>And my #1 favorite: You must describe each scene of your projected novel on a 3″ x  5″ note card, and stack the cards in sequence, before you begin the manuscript. At any point, you may stack them in a different order, but you must never jump ahead and write a scene out of sequence, before you’ve written the scenes before it.

That Very Specific Commandment appeared in a book by a prominent author and teacher, so I thought I had to obey. For months I kept the paper companies in business by buying note cards, describing scenes, becoming seasick every time I tried to write, throwing the cards away–and buying new cards. I recently read the author now uses popular software when he composes. He didn’t mention note cards.

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As I said before, some advice is good, and some isn’t. Each writer gets to decide for himself which is which, to find his own process and establish his own rules. We’re all different.

For that reason, the books I like are primarily descriptive rather than prescriptive, not How to but How I… Books in which authors tell stories about their own experiences, success and failures, methods, and beliefs about the writing life. If they slip in some How to…, it’s usually worth considering.

Perhaps the best-known and -loved of his genre is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, a humorous and heartfelt memoir of her development as a writer and as a human being. Stephen King’s On Writing is another, a story of persistence crowned by his wife’s pulling the manuscript of Carrie out of the wastebasket and insisting he continue trying to get it published.

But there are other fine books that, though not so well known, are worth anyone’s time and attention.

The first came to my notice for a Story Circle challenge: Write and post a four-sentence book review. I chose a review copy of Nancy Peacock’s A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning, & Life. From cleaning the houses of a variety of clients, Peacock extracts truths about about writing. Below is my original review.

English: Broom Suomi: Luuta
English: Broom Suomi: Luuta (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“I like Nancy Peacock’s A Broom of One’s Own: Words About Writing, Housecleaning & Life so much that it’s taken me over two months and two missed deadlines to untangle my thoughts and write this four-sentence review, an irony Peacock, author of two critically acclaimed novels, would no doubt address were I in one of her writing classes.

“She would probably tell me there is no perfect writing life; that her job as a part-time house cleaner, begun when full-time writing wouldn’t pay the bills, afforded time, solitude, and the “foundation of regular work” she needed;  that engaging in physical labor allowed her unconscious mind to “kick into gear,” so she became not the writer but the “receiver” of her stories.

“She’d probably say that writing is hard; that sitting at a desk doesn’t automatically bring brilliance; that writers have to work with what they have; that “if I don’t have the pages I hate I will never have the pages I love”; that there are a million “saner” things to do and a “million good reasons to quit” and that the only good reason to continue is, “This is what I want.”

“So, having composed at least two dozen subordinated, coordinated, appositived, participial-phrase-stuffed first sentences and discarded them before completion; having practically memorized the book searching for the perfect quotation to end with; and having once again stayed awake into the night, racing another deadline well past the due date, I am completing this review—because I value Nancy Peacock’s advice; and because I love A Broom of One’s Own; and because I consider it the equal of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird; and because I want other readers to know about it; and because this is what I want.”

Since I’m not limited to four sentences, I’ll add that I appreciate Peacock’s integrity. In an afterword, “Writing Advice from the Author,” she rebuts ten pieces of “free advice she’s received about being an author.”

About #10, “You have to network, network, network, and never forget that everyone you meet is a potential source for something besides friendship,” she counters, “People are not commodities. Enough said.”

And under “bonus advice on developing your own writing life,” she says,

“Be kind. Do not write for revenge. Do not vilify. If you are writing a memoir understand that you will have to write about your own role in whatever event you are exploring. Nothing is ever everyone else’s fault. A part of being kind is seeing the complexities of life and people, finding what is human in your story. This does not mean being dishonest.”

In its own way, A Broom of One’s Own is as amusing as Bird by Bird. Much humor comes from Peacock’s description of her relationship with clients and of their idiosyncrasies.

Asked whether she has any housecleaning tips, she says, “My most valuable advice is to never hire a writer to clean your house.”

I planned to review three books readers might like as much as I do, but I’ve run on long enough.

So I’ll wrap this up with a paragraph about the author herself, taken from her website:

“Nancy Peacock does not have enough fingers and toes (it’s the standard issue of ten of each) to count the number of times she’s quit this confounded writing business. Yet somehow she always comes back to it, and has finally come to accept it is not only her lot in life, but a damn good place to be too.”

The authors whose advice I respect most are ones like Peacock: kind, thoughtful, understanding, honest, and generous, willing to share what they know and to admit they don’t know it all.

They also believe the writing life is “…a damn good place to be too.”

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Kathy
Kathy

Kathy Waller blogs at Kathy Waller–Telling the Truth, Mainly,
and at Writing Wranglers & Warriors.
Years ago she gave several stacks of her books about writing
to the library she directed.
She wishes she had them back.

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Live Without Water - Nancy Peacock - Longstreet, 1996 - HB & PB

Life Without Water
Nancy Peacock
Longstreet, 1996
Hardback & Paperback