MEMBERS REVIEW

WAYFARING STRANGER

by James Lee Burke

Published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster.

Wayfaring Stranger

Reviewed by Kendra Crispin.

How many writers can craft a story that spans well over a decade and hold reader’s interest? Apparently,  James Lee Burke can when the protagonist-meet- Bonnie-and-Clyde, rescues a resourceful Jewish woman from a Nazi prison and then handles the intrigues of the booming Texas oil industry. From the opening line about bewildering seasons, we accompany Weldon Holland on a journey where hanging on to what’s right can mean breaking the law – especially when envious and powerful figures are determined to ruin what he built for himself through his own skill, intelligence, hard work, and honesty. Holland stands firm to his moral compass to protect his wife and his friend, fellow veteran Hershel Pine.

The ideas within resonate with the modern reader as Burke brings the 1940s to life (very vividly). Full of characters whose own moral compasses are either faulty or broken (if they exist at all) and showing the consequences when those in power hate anyone different, Wayfaring Stranger is a story that keeps readers coming back and then picks up the pace as the stakes are raised. It also reminds us that you cannot change anyone else, but sometimes your own example can encourage others to rise to their own best selves – even when the odds seem to spell your own doom.

I had never read Burke before, and I’m glad I got the chance to review his latest. He is an author I would like to meet and talk with – about the book and the era. I will definitely check out his other works as he impressed me with this novel.

Having three novels to revise didn’t stop Oregon transplant Kendra Crispin from starting a non-fiction project on Doctor Who for Camp NaNoWriMo. An alumna of UT-Austin and Norwich University (Vermont), she loves reading and hopes to soon see her own books being reviewed on this site.

 

MEET THE MEMBERS

Lan Mai has been a member of WLT since 2012 and is attending the 2014 Summer Writing Retreat in Alpine next month. She lives in Killeen, Texas.

me

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

Lan Mai: I am currently writing a YA manuscript, but have written scripts and LGBT material.

Scribe: What authors would you like to have coffee or a beer with and which beverage?

LM: If I could go back in time, I would sit down and have some ale with Shakespeare. I’d have an ice cold Teds with Markus Zusak, sit down with John Green and ask him 20 questions over coffee and share a bottle of wine with Lauren Kate.

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

LM: I am currently reading Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy, so if I happened to be stranded on a deserted island before I finished the series, I would take Naamah’s Blessing with me. I have to know how it ends.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

LM: I entered the 2014 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest and although I didn’t win (maybe next year), the information I received from the contest score sheet was invaluable.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

LM: If I am letting my imagination run with this question, I see finishing my manuscript, having it published world-wide, made into a blockbuster movie and become a major attraction at a theme park. As I walk through a bookstore and peruse the shelves, I would eventually love to see my novel sitting among the bestsellers.

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

LM: I am probably one of the least likely people to self promote, but as I find out more about the publishing world, that will have to end. Learning more about the Author Platform everyday, I am aware of how much you have to put yourself out there. With a professional blog in the works and diving into the world of tweeting, it’s all sort of new to me. I am a new member of a writing group and we would love for you to visit our blog at novelideasgroup.blogspot.com.

If you’d like to learn more about our Summer Writing Retreat in Alpine or register for one of our workshops, you can find more information here:
http://www.writersleague.org/37/Summer-Writing-Retreat

 

MEET THE MEMBERS

Tanya Lukas has been a member of WLT since January of this year and will be attending the 2014 Summer Writing Retreat in Alpine next month. She lives in rural Palo Pinto County in North Texas.

Tanya Lukas's Head Shot

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

Tanya Lukas: My current novel, The Life of Barleigh Flanders, is Historical Fiction set in Texas, mid 1800’s, and involves the Pony Express; however, I also write Historical Romance and Contemporary Romance. My short fiction, Of Murder, Mayhem and Magnolias, the 2002 recipient of the Judy & A. C. Greene Literary Award for Texas Authors, was Contemporary Comedy. I like to dabble in different varieties of writing.

Scribe: What authors would you like to have coffee or a beer with and which beverage?

TL: I would love to have coffee with Larry McMurtry and tell him the story of how I came this close (show him my thumb and index finger centimeters apart) to stealing THE paper mache statue of the blue pig from his book store, The Blue Pig, in Archer City, Texas.  Thankfully (or not) my sister was less adventurous than myself and talked me out of it.  I thought it would be fun to take the pig on vacation, do the whole photo-journalism thing like folks do with garden gnomes, and send Mr. McMurtry pictures of all the interesting places his blue pig turned up.  How I wish I’d talked my sister into stealing that pig!  We would have returned it, of course, with a well-stamped passport and a “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” photo-book full to the last page.   And second, I’d love to share some Almondage champagne with Ken Follett.  While not technically champagne since it’s from California, it’s my favorite, and we could sip mimosas and discuss how the heck he went from Eye of the Needleand penning thrillers to The Pillars of the Earth and writing historical.  Brilliant authors, both, and two of my favorites.

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

TL: If stranded on a desert island, the book I would want to have with me would be the one I am currently working on, as writing keeps me sane.  Writing, for me, is therapy, and editing and re-writing would keep me occupied until the rescue boat arrived.   I might be tempted, though, to put my rescuers off until I found the perfect first word, the exact connective phrase, the most wrenching final paragraph, the ultimate hook, the best last word…

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers League?Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

TL: I have learned from the Writers League to put myself out there, to enter contests, to risk exposure, to not be afraid to “show and tell,” which is difficult for this introverted writer.   I’ve entered League contests and have received valuable feedback, and now I’m looking forward to my first Writer’s Retreat.  I’m anxious for a weeks immersion in the magical final editing process in order to prepare my manuscript for marketing to agents and publishers.

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

TL: The future of my writing will take me one step further to that of a published novelist.  I’ve experienced the joys of seeing my short stories, poems, magazine articles and plays published, and now I’m ready to see my first full-length novel on book shelves.  I envision walking through DFW airport, stopping at the news stand/book store to get a bag of almond M&M’s and a bottle of water for my international flight to some exotic destination, and pausing to straighten the shelf where my book is displayed, perhaps next to one of Follett’s or McMurtry’s.

Oooo – blatant self promotion here - what to say?  The first thing that comes to mind is what one says when walking into a twelve-step program:  Hi, I’m Tanya, and I’m a horse-aholic. Most of my writing, like my life, is closely intertwined with horses.  I’ve written for international equestrian magazines and have published stories and photographs about the “horsey lifestyle,” and I’ve been crazy about horses since I can remember first dreaming about them as a child.  I’m fortunate that my husband is similarly afflicted and understands this disease, for that is what it is, and the only treatment, as there is no cure, is to spend more time in the barn.  My current novel follows the trail of the Pony Express, and having personal experience with equine quadrupeds lends valuable authenticity to my writing.  I feel at peace walking into my barn and breathing in the wonderful smell of “horse.”  For those of you who know this smell, no explanation is needed.  For those of you who don’t know this smell and wish to, look for The Life of Barleigh Flanders, coming soon to DFW news stands – I’m positive.

If you’d like to learn more about our Summer Writing Retreat in Alpine or register for one of our workshops, you can find more information here:
http://www.writersleague.org/37/Summer-Writing-Retreat

MEMBERS REVIEW

THE TRUE AMERICAN

by Anand Giridharadas

Published in 2014 by W.W. Norton & Company.

True American

Reviewed by Helen Ginger.

The True American by Anand Giridharadas is one of those books that you want to keep reading into the wee hours of the morning.

Raisuddin, 27, comes from Bangladesh to America, or more specifically, to Texas, in 2001. He finds a job working at a mini-mart in Dallas. He loves America but at the same time, everything is so different from Bangladesh. Even so, he is determined to work hard and become an American. He had trained to command fighter jets. He was qualified as a Microsoft Certified Engineer. But his days are spent at the mini-mart, beginning at 5 a.m., selling soft drinks, candy and cigarettes. He hopes someday to work at a different job.

A few days before 9/11, a man walks into the mini-mart. He is not there for cigarettes or candy. Stroman is there to kill.  He shoots Raisuddin in the head, and two others.

Only Raisuddin survives.

Raisuddin’s life is forever changed. He can give up, go back to Bangladesh, or forgive Stroman. Or he can help others.

The True American is one of those books you can’t put down.  As much as this story is about Raisuddin, it is also about Stroman. It is, when you come right down to it, about you and me (the reader) and how s/he feels about Islam, about immigrants, about what it is and what it means to be an American.

Helen Ginger writes both nonfiction and fiction. She has authored three books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareer series. Her first novel, a USA Best Book Award winner, Angel Sometimes, is available on Kindle and in print. Helen’s next book, Dismembering the Past, a suspense, was released this month. Helen has served as a Board member and Executive Director of the Writers’ League of Texas and currently works as a Volunteer Chair for the Texas Book Festival. She is the Coordinator of Story Circle Network’s Editorial Services and an Owner/Partner of Legends In Our Own Minds®. What she gets asked about most often are her three years swimming as a mermaid at Aquarena Springs.

http://helenginger.com

http://straightfromhel.blogspot.com/

https://www.facebook.com/authorhelenginger

@MermaidHel

MEET THE MEMBERS

Michelle McAuley Olmsted has been a member of WLT since April of this year and will be attending the 2014 Summer Writing Retreat in Alpine next month. She lives in Cedar Park, TX.

MichelleOlmsted

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?  

Michelle McAuley Olmsted: I seem to gravitate towards memoir when I’m trying to write something that might be publishable one day. For a living, I write children’s fiction and nonfiction for educational publishers.

Scribe: What authors would you like to have coffee or a beer with and which beverage? 

MO: I would love to have cocktails with Gillian Flynn, and I’d invite Mindy Kaling along. In my mind, we would be the best of friends by the second round.

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane? 

MO: I’m torn between something by Deepak Chopra and Bossy Pants by Tina Fey.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League? 

MO: I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is to keep going. My story is worth telling.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future? 

MO: I hope that finishing my memoir is just the beginning. I’d love to write short stories, narratives, a novel…and have people actually want to read them.

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion! 

MO: I’ve heard writers say that they don’t necessarily love writing but they love having written. That’s how I feel most days. I’m easily distracted and can procrastinate with the best of them. Taking classes, entering contests, and going to the summer writing retreat has helped me in so many ways. I still haven’t reached my goal of a completed memoir, but I’m getting there. 

If you’d like to learn more about our Summer Writing Retreat in Alpine or register for one of our workshops, you can find more information here:
http://www.writersleague.org/37/Summer-Writing-Retreat

 

MEET THE MEMBERS

Newt Ronan has been a member of WLT since March of this year and will be attending the 2014 Summer Writing Retreat in Alpine next month. He lives in Dallas, TX.

Newt Ronan

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write? 

Newt Ronan: I have neither written nor published anything. I am writing out my experiences, recollections, dreams of my time as a young infantryman in the Vietnam War.

Scribe: What authors would you like to have coffee or a beer with and which beverage? 

NR: Homer — black coffee; Virgil — red wine; Dante — burgundy; Conrad — rum; Twain — beer; Hemingway — ice water; Vonnegut — scotch; Bukowski — vodka.

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

NR: Huckleberry Finn — deep but not dense.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League? 

NR: Nothing. Yet.  I’m hoping to learn from others’ writing experiences at the retreat.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future? 

NR: Recalling lost memories; creating something that my wife, children and grandchildren may use to know a bit more about me; something others might be interested in reading.

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

NR: I have much to be modest about. I’m expecting the summer writing retreat to help me get over that. I’m looking forward to meeting those folks.

If you’d like to learn more about our Summer Writing Retreat in Alpine or register for one of our workshops, you can find more information here:
http://www.writersleague.org/37/Summer-Writing-Retreat

 

MEMBERS REVIEW

GLORIOUS

by Jeff Guinn

Glorious Guinn

Published in 2014 by Putnam Adult.

Reviewed by Bradley Wilson.

Full disclosure: I’ve never read Zane Gray or Louis L’Amour. I am not an expert on westerns. However, none of that stopped me from enjoying Jeff Guinn’s latest novel, Glorious, right up to the end.

It’s the story of a smooth talking greenhorn, Cash McClendon, learning to live in the untamed Arizona territory of the late 1800s. He’s a St. Louis city slicker who’s never ridden a horse or shot a gun. But he’s got one thing in common with the folks he meets in the infant town of Glorious: McClendon is on the run from his past. It’s not an innovative premise, but Guinn’s empathetic characters and heart-breaking plot twists more than make up for the novel’s well-worn starting point.

Normally, I am not a fan of prologues; the YA writer in me wants to get to that inciting event ASAP. But Guinn’s intro pages are … well, glorious. I won’t give away page three’s revelation, but he immediately prepares the reader to forget about stereotypes and expect the unexpected.

Forgive me, but now I am going to give away one of Guinn’s surprises. SPOILER ALERT: In chapter three he gives McClendon’s complete backstory. I’m going to discuss part of that here. Skip to the next paragraph if you’d rather not read my spoiler. Here it is: Cash McClendon is a former industrial spy on the run from a St. Louis robber baron. I love that. Even better, Guinn uses McClendon’s growing disillusionment with his past life as an ongoing thematic critique of America’s unique brand of cannibal capitalism.

Don’t worry; Glorious is not some anti-corporate screed. Guinn doesn’t let his socio-economic angle take over the story. Instead he uses it to give his hero a compelling character arc. The Cash McClendon who arrives in Glorious at the start of the book is very different from the man who rides away at the end.

Which brings me to the books strongest point. Guinn’s a master of character building. Without exception, the people who live in and around his tiny prospectors’ settlement are more than well-rounded. Each is rendered with utterly unique quirks and foibles. The bartender at the local watering hole is a great example. Crazy George is a meek, mostly blind business owner whose epithet derives from his frequent, chivalrous, and berserker-like use of a lead pipe to protect the honor of the prostitutes who work for him.

The whole cast has that kind of refreshing complexity. I fell in love with all of them – even the villains have depth and nuance – and easily sympathized with their increasingly hopeless situation. And it gets about as hopeless as you can imagine. At one point, all the surviving good guys literally get herded into a shack to be burned alive at gunpoint. Guinn’s great at making it unbearably hard for his characters to triumph.

Which made the book’s ending all the more disappointing. Glorious just kind of cuts off. The payoff falls well short of the buildup. And the resolution feels rushed. Which is a shame because I had a great time reading Jeff Guinn’s Glorious right up until those last couple of pages. Hopefully the sequel will deliver a more satisfying end to an otherwise engaging and entertaining yarn.

After a twenty-year career in theater, Bradley P. Wilson returned to school in 2011 to pursue his passion for writing and editing fiction. He holds a Masters of Liberal Arts degree in Creative Writing from St. Edwards University and freelances as a writer, editor, and stagehand in Central Texas. Currently an Associate Editor at CBAY Books and the staff blogger at Yellow Bird Editors, Bradley also copy edits Stage Call, the quarterly newsletter of Austin’s stagehands’ union, and serves as the President of the Board of Directors for Physical Plant Theater. Manuscripts he has edited have garnered such accolades as Hunger Mountain’s Katherine Paterson Award for YA and Children’s Writing. Most mornings he gets up way too early to work on his YA fantasy novel, The Search for Stagehand Jesus. He’s the author of several award-winning plays, and his poetry has been featured in the Sulfur River Literary Review.