Instructor Spotlight

David Meischen is a native Texan, writer, poet, and co-founder of Dos Gatos Press. He has taught English at the College of Liberal Arts at UT Austin. His work has appeared in The Southern Review, Southern Poetry Review, Borderlands, and Cider Press Review. If you’d like to find out more about David, you can visit his website. If you’d like to learn more about Dos Gatos Press, you can do so here.

On August 30, David will be teaching a class for WLT called “Before the Book: Getting Published, Getting Better, and Building a Writing Community.” Visit the class page and read the interview below to learn more.

David MeischenScribe: For a writer, getting their work noticed has always been a challenge. What are some new challenges that writers face today with getting their work to stand out?

David Meischen: Several years ago, when I was feeling really discouraged about getting my work noticed, a writer friend commented that journals these days are inundated with so much good writing that editors are snow-blind. I think the biggest challenge is persistence in the face of this fact. The only way to have your writing noticed is to keep sending it out.

Scribe: Writing is, for a lot of us, a solitary craft. Can you talk about the importance of building community and networking?

DM: I agree that the act of writing is solitary. When I’m working on a new story, I need peace and quiet. I need hours by myself. But when a story is done, I turn to other writers–an invaluable fiction group, individual writer friends whom I trust. I go to readings and workshops, and the occasional writing residency. This network of writers, this community, gives us a sense of belonging as writers. It encourages us to keep going. And we learn from others who are doing the hard work, the important work of writing.

Scribe: With the rise of online publications, there’s now a lot more options out there for writers to get their work read, which is wonderful, but can also be overwhelming. Where’s the best place to start?

DM: My advice is to start small. Submit work to a local or regional contest or festival. Submit work to several small and nearby journals. Read journals to find a good match. Ask writer friends about appropriate publication opportunities. Start with four or five places you might send your writing, and go from there.

Thanks, David!

MEMBERS REVIEW

BLOOD ACES

by Doug J. Swanson

Published in 2014 by Viking Adult.

Blood Aces

Reviewed by Kendra Crispin.

If you’re not an avid reader of Texas criminal or Vegas gambling history, you’ve probably never heard of Lester “Benny” Binton. Given how gangsters are money-making fodder for movies and television, this is an oversight. Binton overcame multiple near fatal childhood illnesses to join the ranks of the ruthless crime bosses, known as “The Cowboy”. He was illiterate and yet managed to evade arrest as he created his illegal empire, relocating to Las Vegas when the pattern of buying off the police began to fail in Dallas. While he took advantage of opportunities in Nevada, it took a protracted effort by the Texas authorities not bribed by Binton to finally nab him in the same way Al Capone was – and this was despite the sometimes less than helpful Federal efforts.

Yet how many gangsters have statues and are remembered for public charity? Or founded an event that’s gained national respectability? This gangster is the man responsible for the World Series of Poker. That is a feat unmatched by any other crime boss of days gone by, and possibly today. Denials are a way of life for organized crime members, but the Texas style of the Cowboy makes for a narrative worth reading. Doug J. Swanson has managed to craft a compelling addition to the true crime annals.

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.

Instructor Spotlight

Nan Cuba is the author of the award-winning novel, Body and Bread and founder of Gemini Ink, a San Antonio-based nonprofit literary center. In addition to being a novelist, Nan has worked as an investigative journalist, publishing articles in LIFE, and D Magazine. Other works have appeared in the Antioch Review, the Harvard Review, and storySouth, among others. You can find out more about Nan on her website. If you’d like to find out more about Gemini Ink, you can visit the website here.

On August 23, Nan will be teaching a class for WLT about how to work life experiences into fiction. Visit the class page and read the interview below to learn more.

 

Nan CubaScribe: Can you tell us a little bit about the mission of Gemini Ink and what kind of programming and resources the organization offers?

Nan Cuba: Gemini Ink began in 1992. A friend and I started what became Dramatic Reader’s Theater, shows of actors performing great pieces of literature. I left as executive director in 2003, but the organization has always served readers and writers, hoping to persuade the masses that well-crafted stories, poems, and essays should be valued. Gemini Ink has three major programs: Community Writing Classes, which, like the Writers’ League of Texas, offers workshops and classes that create a space for serious artistic, intellectual, and community-spirited dialogue outside of the academic context; Writers in Communities, which sends professional writers into diverse community settings — such as shelters, schools, neighborhood centers, and detention facilities — to work alongside students of all ages, needs, interests and abilities; and the Autograph Series, which presents writers of national and international stature, such as Margaret Atwood, Grace Paley, Ernest Gaines, and Ha Jin, in free public performances followed by audience Q&A and book signings.

Scribe: How has your time as an investigative journalist influenced your fiction?

NC: I had no training as a journalist, so several patient editors taught me the rudiments. Besides the expected education about meeting deadlines, pitching to an audience, mastering language, and shaping an article, my investigative work is the inspiration for my new novel, tentatively titled, He Didn’t Kill No One but Mom. In the mid-eighties, I bumbled into the story about Henry Lee Lucas, the serial killer who confessed to hundreds of crimes and then recanted, resulting in Governor Bush commuting his death sentence. My novel, of course, is fiction, but it’s loosely based on the fact that a man with a limited IQ could cause such mayhem.

Scribe: Your novel, Body and Bread deals with death and the process of grieving. As a writer, do you think of fictionalizing your life experiences as more of a way to enrich your writing or more as a way of putting together a personal narrative as a kind of therapy?

NC: I don’t think of fiction writing as therapy. My only goal is to discover a truth. The only way to do that when using autobiographical material is to reach into uncomfortable places and be honest about what happened. You must be objective and sympathetic toward all the characters. This isn’t a place for revenge or sentimentality. The class I’m going to teach will introduce techniques for accomplishing that.

Scribe: What do you hope your students take away from this class?

NC: I want them to leave with at least one story idea and an understanding of several ways to complete it.

Thanks, Nan!

Click here for more information and to register for Nan’s workshop.

MEET THE MEMBERS

Cathy Chapaty has been a member of WLT for four years and attended the 2014 Summer Writing Retreat in Alpine earlier this month. She lives in Austin, TX.

 Chapaty_Profile

Scribe:In what genre do you write?

Cathy Chapaty: I’m a memoir writer.

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

CC: I’d love to have tea with the Dalai Lama and coffee with Eckhart Tolle.

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

CC: I would want The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Huff by my side at all times.

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

CC: I can learn something from everyone, whether they write War and Peace length novels or poems on Post-It notes. I have great respect for those who choose to write, whether they’ve been working on their craft for fifty years or they just started a project yesterday. Either way, it’s not easy to put your soul on paper.

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

CC: I envision using my book to open doors in the martial arts industry, allowing me the opportunity to travel and mentor fellow instructors. I’d like my future projects to inspire others to look more closely at their martial arts practice to find deeper meaning—to see that the arts are more than simple kicking and punching.

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

CC: I’ve dreamed of becoming a writer since the third grade. This year, my first full-length book will finally be published. Dreams do come true, y’all, so never quit!

 

MEET THE MEMBERS

Olga Campos-Benz joined the Writers’ League in August of 2012, when she started working on her first novel. She recently began volunteering as a member of the Marketing Committee. She lives in Northwest Austin with her husband Kevin Benz, and their three dogs.

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

It’s News to Me, features a bold and beautiful Latina whose life is endangered by criminals, enhanced by sensuous encounters, complicated by loved ones and spiked throughout with shots of tequila and irreverent humor! This is contemporary women’s fiction with a Latin twist! Readers will be laughing and in suspense with this behind-the-scenes look of the real calamities I witnessed during my 30-plus years as a television anchor and reporter. After stepping down from the anchor desk, I couldn’t wait to share a fictitious version of life in the fast-paced world of t-v news.

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

The beverage of choice would be a margarita or wine and the authors of choice would be those from the genre I enjoy the most, Contemporary Women’s Fiction – Anne Tyler, Harper Lee, Julia Alvarez and Anita Shreve among others. I’d like to hear how they dealt with setbacks and disappointments; how they maintained their writing enthusiasm and their advice for navigating the publishing maze.

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

I would not want a book to read, but rather a blank, endless journal in which to write.

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

I’ve had the pleasure of learning that fellow writers provide support, friendship and encouragement and that the resources for writers are endless.

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

There are too many adventures – not necessarily all mine – in the world of t-v news to cram into one book, so I’m hopeful readers will want to follow my Main Character through future sequels.

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

I’m a huge fan of live music and films and serve on several boards including the Austin Film Festival, the Austin Film Society, and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. I’m a proud University of Texas graduate and am honored to be on the Advisory Council of UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. I welcome friends on Facebook, Twitter @CamposBenzNews, or email ocamposbenz@gmail.com.

 

MEMBERS REVIEW

ABOVE THE EAST CHINA SEA

by Sarah Bird

Published in 2014 by Knopf.

Above the East China Sea

Reviewed by Tony Burnett

Self-described mid-list literary novelist Sarah Bird raised the bar with her most recent release, Above the East China Sea. The novel revolves around two families from different cultures separated by more than a half century. The two families are similar in that they have two sisters (who are close), a strong mother figure, and an almost invisible father figure. The setting is Okinawa, Japan where Bird spent some of her formative years. The complex novel begins with the two families’ separate stories and slowly weaves the stories together until the fascinating and improbable ending. The novel relies heavily on the spiritual lives of the Okinawan people.

Above the East China Sea is not your standard summer beach read. To fully appreciate the book requires acceptance of uncommon mores and a cultural understanding that we Americans are not known for. That being said, I would consider this one of the premier novels of the year. If you appreciate a complex literary journey that has the ability to open your understanding of a world that you may not be familiar with, this is a novel for you. If you like political intrigue or religious tension, this is the novel for you. If you like superbly beautiful writing that can carry all five of your senses into a place you’ve never experienced, this is the novel for you.

Having read and enjoyed previous books by Sarah Bird I can honestly say that this is far and above her best effort yet and is likely to propel her above the mid-list literary writer into the company of such writers as Joan Didion and Ann Patchett. Her life may never be the same having written this book, and after reading Above the East China Sea, your life will never be the same.

Tony Burnett is an author, poet and journalist living in rural Milam county. He serves as a Director at the Writers’ League of Texas.

MEET THE MEMBERS

Trilla Pando has been a member of WLT since November 2013 and is attending the 2014 Summer Writing Retreat in Alpine this week. She lives right in the center of Houston’s action-packed Montrose neighborhood.

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

Trilla Pando: I’ve written about everything: stuffy academic economics papers, only because I taught it and had to keep my job, a fun food and history newspaper column, memoir, some short stories along the way and always poetry, but not enough. Lots of book reviews as well.

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

TP: I should have a cocktail party, there are so many. For a few, I’d have morning coffee with Molly Ivins and the papers, afternoon tea with Jane Austen and Dorothy Sayers along with Dorothy Parker nipping martinis in the background, and a bedtime hot chocolate with James Thurber.

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

TP: I’d like to say a complete Shakespeare, but I’d truly want a detailed astronomy book with the stories of the constellations. That way I could read myths in the day and figure how to get off the blasted island at night

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

TP: How many great writers Texas has and how supportive they all are.

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

TP: To new, fun, and unexpected places.

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

TP: Watch for more poetry after the Summer Wring Retreat with Scott Wiggerman!

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