Instructor Spotlight

Margo Rabb is the author of the novel, Cures for Heartbreak. Her stories have been published in numerous magazines and journals, including, The Atlantic Monthly, Zoetrope, New Stories from the South, among others. She’s contributed pieces to the New York Times and Slate and lives in Austin, TX. To learn more about Margo’s work, visit her website.

Margo will be teaching a class for WLT on September 6, called “Mapping Your Novel.” Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Margo Rabb  2014.-5Scribe: Nabokov once said, “Style and Structure are the essence of a book. Great ideas are hogwash.” Do you agree that structure is paramount in a novel?

Margo Rabb: I agree that structure is incredibly important in a novel, but I also agree with the Somerset Maugham quote: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” The novel is a unique and tricky art form, and all rules can be broken. That said, I’ve found that mapping out my novels as I’m writing helps me turn convoluted, meandering drafts into workable narratives.

Scribe: As a writer, what part of the “mapping your novel” process have you found the most challenging?

MR: Honestly, I find every part of writing a novel extremely challenging! I think the hardest part is to keep the faith that all my early maps, notes, outlines, and messy drafts will actually lead to a finished book. It takes a giant commitment to see the process through.

Scribe: You’ve written essays and articles for the New York Times and Slate, among others. Do these same structure techniques apply to nonfiction?

MR: The process of writing a novel is very different from essays and short stories, because you have to keep track of multiple characters, plot strands, settings, and events over the course of 300 pages. I don’t map out my essays or short stories before writing them, but I find it extremely difficult to finish a novel without a map–it’s like driving aimlessly for a thousand miles with no directions.

-Thanks, Margo!

MEET THE MEMBERS

Tracy Novinger has been a member of WLT for three years and is registered for one of WLT’s upcoming classes. She lives in Austin, TX.

TracyNovinger

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

Tracy Novinger: I am currently writing literary fiction and recently completed the fifth rewrite of a novel. I am a freelance writer and have written two nonfiction books on intercultural communication published by the University of Texas Press.

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

TN: I would like to have coffee–or more likely a “cream tea”–with Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling) of the Cormoran Strike series and on a separate occasion with Ken Follett. I would ask each of them to talk to me about their tight plots and unusual characters.

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

TN: I hope the Writers’ League realizes it is a form of torture to ask this question because it means having to contemplate going with just one book. If I must, taking particular note of the word “stranded” which might mean a very long time, I choose my unusual five-language dictionary which I will plan to memorize to make time pass faster–unless in the meantime I acquire a book on how to survive on a deserted island; it will need to include recipes for sea slugs. May I bargain for a blank notebook? And pens or pencils? I HAVE to write.

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

TN: a. That some good books may not get published simply because the writer wears out before it happens. b. That many successful authors have seen many years and an astonishingly high number of rejections before publication of a book. c. One of the Writers’ League class teachers has become my guru; I learned I need this connection because writing is hard and solitary work.

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

TN: I will seek an agent for my current novel. Next, I will begin writing the second. Each novel will be set on a real and specific tropical island where I lived for a long time. My goal is to see both books published.

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

TN: I am excited about my current novel as well as the second one I have planned. In each book I want to take the reader with me to an exotic time and place that I know intimately well. I built a website that will anchor the “online author platform” talked about so much at the recent (and excellent) Agents & Editors Conference here in Austin. Take a virtual trip to paradise: http://arubawinds.blogspot.com. I welcome your comments. Stay in your write minds. With the Writers’ League of Texas you are not alone.

 

 

MEMBERS REVIEW

ADVENTURES OF THE CHURCH LADY GANG: A CONSPIRACY OF CRONES

by George Arnold and Ken Squier

Church Lady Gang 

Published in 2014 by Eakin Press.

Reviewed by Trilla Pando.

I spent a few days last week roaming around Austin, and I didn’t even have to pull my car out of its Houston driveway. I poured a glass of lemonade, slid into my reading chair and—off to Austin. All over Austin with some new pals courtesy of authors George Arnold and Ken Squier.

We started off with an escapade at H-E-B in Oak Hill, then zoomed up Mo-Pac out to Great Hills; that was the beginning of my escapades with my new old-lady friends. It’s okay to call them that—after all, this transporting book is named Adventures of the Church Lady Gang: A Conspiracy of Crones.  The ladies live up to their name—they certainly have adventures and like true church ladies, they do good. But they do their good in such distinctive (and questionably legal) ways that they quickly involve the Austin Police Department.

Enter Detective Sergeant Craig Rylander and his wife/advisor Amy Clark-Rylander. The Rylanders may be familiar to many readers. This book is the fourth in a series crafted by Texas writers (and lifelong pals) Arnold and Squier. It’s the first for me, but my to-read list just got longer by three. I like their story, and I like their style.

The shifting point of view lets the reader know what’s going on with every one of the many characters. A list of characters helped me keep up and the handy map let me know where I was. Many thanks for this, I wish more authors did it. The story has an almost satisfying resolution. I have just a few questions left.

Good news! A new Rylander book is on the horizon, CLUSTER: Beyond Alchemy will be out soon; maybe those questions will be answered. I hope some of the church crones make it into the story. I do wonder what that gang will be up to next.

This book will be a great welcome-to-Austin gift to new residents. They can learn the territory while they wonder what kind of weird place they’re calling home.

Trilla Pando holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Houston; she taught in both Texas and Georgia. Her research focused on women in Texas and Houston. The Bainbridge (Georgia) Post-Searchlight published her weekly column on food and local history. She now lives and works in Houston.

August Third Thursday Wrap-Up

Coming of Age: Writing for Teens and Tweens

by WLT Intern, Jourden Sander

August Third Thursday

Our theme for this month’s Writers’ League of Texas Third Thursday event was YA and middle grade fiction. What better time to talk about teens and tweens than when they’re about to head off to school? We had a few distinguished young adult and middle grade authors on our panel, including, Kari Anne Holt. Kari Anne is a middle grade novelist who has written Brains for Lunch, which received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and was highlighted on the Texas Library Association’s Annotated Lone Star Reading List for 2011. She also wrote Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel, which was a nominee for the 2014 Connecticut Library Association Nutmeg Book Award, the 2013 Maud Hart Lovelace Award, a Scholastic.com Great Summer Read for Tweens, and was named a Random House Fresh Fiction from New Voices book in 2009. The panel also included Lindsey Lane, a distinguished playwright who is celebrating her debut young adult novel, Evidence of Things Unseen¸ which will be released in September. Next on the panel was Greg Leitich-Smith, an award-winning author who hails from Chicago but now lives in Austin, and writes middle grade/tween novels including Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo, which was the Parents’ Choice Gold Award winner and Junior Library Guild Selection. Our fourth panelist was Jo Whittemore, a tween humor novelist who wrote Front Page Face-Off and Odd Girl In.

After a few WLT announcements, the panel began with the authors describing what type of writing they do and why they write middle grade or YA. Kari Anne started off by saying: “I write what I want to write and hope someone wants to publish it.” She continued to say that she’s interested in characters who are searching for themselves or characters who at first want to fit in, but in the end, find out who they really are. Lindsey said she was interested in the question: “What would happen if…?” and how it affected her characters’ lives. All the panelists agreed that they wrote YA or middle grade because they related to young people better than they related to adults. Kari said that while trying to write adult fiction, the voice of a ten-year old boy would emerge no matter how hard she tried to write in an adult voice, so she decided middle grade was the direction her writing needed to take.

The authors continued by giving a few tips to aspiring YA and middle grade authors. Greg talked about the importance of reading, and how he has always been an avid reader. Jo, on the other hand, said she didn’t read much when she was younger but now finds inspiration for the young voice she writes in, by watching kids’ shows on Nickelodeon and Disney. Kari talked about the freshness of YA and middle grade, and how writers of the genre should be careful not to date themselves when writing. Lindsey said to ask yourself, “What is your character lying about?” and explained that characters with lies and/or secrets are more compelling than ones without. The authors seemed to agree that as YA and middle grade writers, you have to be listening and consuming youth culture constantly in order to create believable characters. All four panelists touched on the topic of “gatekeepers,” (librarians, teachers, and parents), because these are the people who decide what young audiences are going to read.

Next, the panelists talked about the writing process. For Jo, (and as it turns out, most of the panelists) taking a shower is a meditative process that allows a writer to think about their story, without distraction: “I take a lot of showers; it’s like being in the womb again…Everyone should shower generally, but it’s a retreat from the world. I will stand there and just think,” Jo said half-jokingly. Jo continued to talk about how she abides by a strict outlining process, while on the contrary, Kari said she prefers to fly by the seat of her pants and not get bogged down by strict outlines. Lindsey was a balance between the two, whereas Greg had a rather complicated “multiple proto type” procedure of writing that seemed unique to his own writing process.

After several other questions regarding series books, the genres, and market, Jo made a salient comment about both genres that spoke miles for what it means to be a YA or middle grade author: “Middle grade is how the world affects you; YA is how you affect the world.” For more discussion, and to get your writing and publishing questions answered by authors and folks in the industry, stay tuned for our next Third Thursday event!

Jourden Sander is a University of Texas senior, majoring in English with a minor in Rhetoric and Writing. While studying at UT, Jourden edits for Spoon University Texas and acts as a consultant for the University Writing Center. In her spare time she enjoys creative writing, hot tea, playing tennis, and walking her corgi.

MEET THE MEMBERS

James Eliasberg has been a member of WLT for over seven years and is registered for Margo Rabb’s “Mapping Your Novel” workshop on September 6 at St. Edward’s University. He lives in Austin, TX.

JAEZ

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

James Eliasberg: If I had to pick one, I would say dark comedy, but the first novel I hope to release in the next six months will be something between a murder mystery and a psychological thriller (though I sure hope it has some funny moments).

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

JE: I would love to get Jonathan Franzen and Tom Wolfe drunk and hear what they had to say.  I myself would stick to coffee so I could keep track of what they said.

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

JE: Probably Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.  It might take several months before I felt comfortable that I understood it!

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

JE: Some of the courses have been great and it has been a comfort and a joy to share the love of reading and writing – and some of the attendant struggles – with other good people.

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

JE: Over the next couple years, I plan to self-publish a novel and do my level best to promote it.  I will make an earnest effort to see if I can write for a living.

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

JE: I expect that my novel – Sick Twist – will be available within the next six months.  Blurb descriptions are challenging and misleading, but it’s something like Angel Heart meets The Search for the Manchurian Candidate – a murder mystery set in the context of the narcotic/hypnosis experiments conducted by the CIA in the 60’s.  I hope it’s engaging and fun. I hope it’s surprising.

 

MEMBERS REVIEW

HALF IN LOVE WITH ARTFUL DEATH

by Bill Crider

half in love

Published in 2014 by Minotaur Books.

Reviewed by Manning Wolfe.

What a hoot! Bill Crider’s 21st Dan Rhodes Mystery, Half in Love with Artful Death, had me curious and chuckling from amusing antics, including Sheriff Rhodes’ roping of donkeys on the highway to a man-friend’s discussion of low testosterone to a naked woman running around a rest stop. All this occurs within the light-hearted setting of Clearview, Texas, a small community with a struggling downtown and a mega Wal-Mart.

These shenanigans are going on while Rhodes is solving the murder of a local curmudgeon, Burt Collins. Collins’ “artful death” was brought about when his head was bashed in with a bust of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The sculpture later shows up at the local art gallery, and Sheriff Rhodes must discover who put it there to solve the crime. Clues along the way allow the reader to guess whodunit as the mystery evolves.

The murder occurs during the local art show and contest after some of the exhibitor’s paintings were vandalized. Collins had been accused of the property damage due to his incessant complaining about having the artists in town.  Public rioting, (which is more like a social gathering featuring a shoving match), is the vehicle Crider employs to showcase the possible suspects.

Crider does a good job planting enough red herrings to keep us wondering. The slow start is probably necessary to re-acquaint the delinquent reader, or to initiate the new reader, to the series. Once the murder occurs, Crider picks up the pace and keeps moving. He implements the simple cozy style, which downplays sex and violence and ramps up humor. The socially intimate community becomes a character itself, revealed during the soft-boiled tactics of the Sheriff and his band of local blundering characters. The never-ending dilemmas that Sheriff Dan faces keep the book moving while adding many opportunities for comic relief.

Although this book is my first read in the series, it is easy to see why Crider has had a following through twenty prior Dan Rhodes mysteries. The characters could easily become beloved friends in the vein of Stephanie Plum’s sidekicks or Kinsey Millhone’s neighborhood buddies, especially to the lover of cozies. Cute inside jokes and references to prior Sheriff Rhodes’ dilemmas serve these long time fans. There’s no need to go back to the beginning to start reading the series – just jump in anywhere. Half in Love with Artful Death would be a fine place to start this summer, maybe while on a plane ride or in a beach chair.

Manning Wolfe is a writer, attorney, and consultant residing in Austin, Texas. After many years of storytelling, Manning has recently begun a legal thriller series involving a Texas attorney based in Austin. The first in the series, Texas Lady Lawyer vs. Boots King was the winner of the 2014 Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest – Mystery Division. A graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, she specializes in business law. See her website www.manningwolfe.com for more information.

 

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!