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.

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.

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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

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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.

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.

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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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Where Do You Find Hope?

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Posted by Kathy Waller

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This isn’t a kindergarten for amateur writers. I’m sorry, Mr Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” ~ Rejection from the editor of the San Francisco Examiner to Rudyard Kipling

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What makes a successful writer?

Aside from a working knowledge of the language and a certain amount of talent, answers generally include persistence, organization, initiative, professionalism, practice, vision, confidence, tolerance for criticism and rejection, vision, confidence, self-discipline, resilience, motivation, creativity, empathy, patience, courage, flexibility . . . Well, it’s a long list.

But Ralph Keyes, in The Writers’ Book of Hope, says aspiring writers need two basic things: a knowledge of how the publishing industry works, and hope.

Publishing has changed considerably since Keyes’ book was published just over ten years ago, and the Internet has made it easier to find what beginning writers want to know.

Hope is a different matter. There’s plenty of pessimism and discouragement out there. Where does a writer seeking publication acquire hope?

In my experience, much of it comes from other writers.

Last month I spent a Saturday morning in a class sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas and taught by novelist Karleen Koen. I first met Karleen three years ago, when she taught at the WLT Summer Writing Retreat, and I’ll see her again at the WLT retreat this August. Last month’s class was a “sneak peek” at the August class: “The Damned Rough Draft: Reframing and Reimagining Your Novel in Its Beginning Stages.”

I’m not the only one of Karleen’s students who keeps coming back for one more course. She’s a good teacher. What she knows, she shares. She also acknowledges both the highs and the lows of her own writing life. (The title of this year’s class–“The Damned Rough Draft”–is evidence of her empathy with students.)

Karleen doesn’t promise the people sitting in her classes will become novelists, but she makes the possibility come alive. She is generous. She offers hope.

Who are other hope-givers?

Members of Austin Mystery Writers, and similar groups, who read and critique thirty to fifty pages every week. Beta readers, who go through entire manuscripts–hundreds of pages–to offer criticism. Strangers who read blog posts and Like or Reblog or Tweet or leave comments. All readers who tell the truth–both positive and negative–in a way that says, “I believe in you. Keep writing.”

It’s your turn now, writers: Who gives you hope?