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.

My Valentine to Writing

Five members of Austin Mystery Writers post here regularly, and I sometimes wonder whether you readers know which of us is which. So I’m going to clear up any questions  concerning my identity.

I’m Kathy. I write about angst. Any time you arrive here to find weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the writing life, it’s my teeth you hear gnashing.

Kathy

Kathy

I’m writing this at home, but home isn’t the only place I gnash. I do it at my office, AKA bookstore coffee shop, in full view of the public. I try to emote quietly, but muttering carries. People around me, many of them equipped with laptops and writing assignments of their own, receive full benefit of my outbursts: “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” “Noooo.” “What’s the word? What’s the word?” “^!*%&@% network.”

(I don’t really say ^!*%&@% , but that’s what I mean.)

I suspect other writers gnash, too.

Consider American poet William Cullen Bryant, author of “Thanatopsis.” I can’t imagine his interrupting himself with undignified emotional outbursts, but no one who holds his forehead like that is easy in his mind.

Today, though, there will be no gnashing. Today I depart from the usual tales of woe to say, I love writing.

I love the exhilaration I experience when words flow onto the page.

I love finding just the right word to express my meaning.

I love revising, moving sentences and paragraphs around, cutting excess–words, paragraphs, whole pages.

I love writing an entire blog post and then scrapping it and writing something different. (As I did for this post.)

I love filling holes to add clarity.

I love watching a story develop: beginning, middle, and end.

I love–oh, how I love–line editing, slashing words and phrases, discovering the one word whose omission makes the piece smoother, tighter.

I love the joy I feel on reading the finished product–and finding one more word to cut.

I love the satisfaction and the surprise of completing a task I didn’t think I could do.

I love making something out of nothing.

I love making art.

I love creating.

I love saying, “I write.”

I love loving writing.

*****

Lagniappe, Freebie, Pilon

William Cullen Bryant wrote “Thanatopsis” when he was seventeen years old. The title comes from the Greek thanatos (“death”) and opsis (“sight”), and has been translated “Meditation upon Death.” He initially hid the poem from his father because it expressed ideas not found in traditional Christine doctrine. In the concluding lines, which my mother memorized in high school and sixty years later could recite from memory, the poet instructs how to “join the innumerable caravan” of those who have gone before.

*

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Imagine Bryant reading those lines. He must have loved writing.

See the entire poem here.

*****

029

To Write Is to Write Is to Write

Kathy Waller blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write,which she plans to rename, and, every thirty days or so, with friends at Writing Wranglers and Warriors. She blogged at Whiskertips until cats took it over.

 

Tailoring, Treaties, and Tomatoes: 3 Techniques to Turn You into a Tenacious Writer

Italiano: Pomodoro grinzoso

Italiano: Pomodoro grinzoso (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Abbasnullius (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In a post that appeared here last fall, Austin Mystery Writer Laura Oles asked the burning question,

Can a technique named after a tomato serve as the answer to your time management woes?

Or, more specifically, what does the writer do when it’s impossible to devote a large block of time–several consecutive hours, at least–to writing?

Laura answered the question with a resounding Yes! and went on to describe her success using the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working in 25-minute blocks of time.

After reading her post, I put a Pomodoro on my toolbar. I like it. It helps me log my time, a necessary evil for professional writers, and gives me a feeling of accomplishment.

But my schedule isn’t demanding. I often feel I’m running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to just get through the day, but really–I have time to write.  Pomodoro works while I’m writing.

But procrastination–in my case known as staring into space and thinking about what I’m going to do . . . later–wastes time. I need a jump start in order to start writing.

Even the promise an old-fashioned homegrown tomato is not enough of a carrot to lure me to the page. (Sorry about that.) To move me, there must also be a stick. Fortunately, sticks are available.

One I’ve found helpful is a writing challenge: A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80), subtitled The Writing Challenge That Knows You Have a Life.

In ROW80, you set your own goals. They must be specific and measurable, but they’re tailored to your needs. The first day of the challenge, you announce your goals in a blog post; then you put a link to your post on the ROW80 Linky.

I won’t try to explain the Linky, but you can read about it in the FAQs.

There are four rounds each year, starting the first Mondays in January, April, July, and October. Each runs eighty days and is followed by several days off. You check in every Sunday and Wednesday with a blog post in which you report your progress. If you need to change your goals, that’s fine. Just state the new ones and go on from there.

Round 1 for 2015 began January 5. Too late to enter? No. Jump in tomorrow or Sunday, or next week . . .

Your obligations, in addition to writing the Sunday and Wednesday posts and listing them on the Linky are 1) to put a link to the Linky page on your post; and 2) to visit the blogs of other ROW80 participants, comment, encourage them.

ROW80 allows flexibility. You choose when and how much you write, and if you don’t meet your goals, you haven’t failed–you’ve learned something. No pain, plenty of gain. The challenge is a stick, but there’s a lot of carrot in it, too.

A slightly stickier stick appears on Ramona DeFelice Long’s blog, which is an excellent resource for writers. Ramona is a professional editor as well as a writer. She’s successful because she works at her craft. In this post, she describes the persistence and determination required of the serious writer:

Writers write. Writers who get published complete work and submit that work to agents and editors. It’s how it works. The way to write for publication is to commit to it. That means nothing–and no one–stands in the way of your writing goals.

Ramona invites readers to take “The Sacred Writing Time Pledge.” As in ROW80, you tailor the pledge to your own needs–within certain parameters. But after that, there’s no wiggle room. A Sacred Pledge is meant to be kept. It’s simple: You do what you said you would do, or you don’t do it.

The pledge is a kind of treaty, too–a formal agreement between the writer and other parties. In most cases, it takes a village to make a writer. You sign the pledge, but there are spaces for your villagers to sign as well.

What I like best about Ramona’s pledge is its focus on the goal most writers aspire to–publication–and its honesty about what it takes to get there.

Now for a summary: In this post, I presented for your edification three techniques:

 ROW80, which lets you tailor goals to your needs;

The Sacred Writing Pledge, which a comprises both a pledge and a treaty; and

Pomodoro, which is a tomato.

Singly, or in combination, these three can help turn you into a tenacious writer.

But Wait!

I just read over the paragraph in which I referred to Ramona’s pledge as a stickier stick, and I realize the stick part is a gross exaggeration.

The Sacred Writing Time Pledge contains much more carrot than stick. In the first place, publication is as good a carrot as any writer can aspire to. It’s the literary equivalent of carrot cake.

Also, Ramona reminds us that we take the Sacred Writing Time Pledge not to enter 2015 burdened with an overwhelming task, but with hands open, ready to receive a gift:

 Think of it as renewing a vow–or falling in love for the first time, or again—with what you want to write.

Falling in love. What could be better?

Falling in love is carrot cake with a dollop of ice cream on the side.

 *****

And now, for tenacious readers, a pilon:

Tenacious

Cowhide makes the best of leather.
It should. It keeps a cow together.

 ~ Ogden Nash (of course)

 *****

0kathy-blog

  Posted by Kathy Waller,
who also blogs at
To Write Is to Write Is to Write