MEMBERS REVIEW

INSTANT WINNER

By Carrie Fountain

Published in 2014 by Penguin.

Instant Winner

Reviewed by Tony Burnett.

Having encountered the work of Carrie Fountain in several well-known literary journals I was pleased and enamored with her 2010 release of Burn Lake. I found her work to be intelligent and accessible with the feisty activism of youth and more questions than answers. Writing with a knife’s edge narrative that took no prisoners, she became one of the poets I tried to emulate.

Four years later we find a different Carrie Fountain. She has moved from the dry deserts of Southern New Mexico and made her home in Austin. She’s married and the mother of a young daughter. Her writing, too, has matured. Though she hasn’t lost her edge or accessibility, she has found some solace and some answers, though fortunately for us, not all the answers. The poems of Instant Winner reflect not only a truce with her surroundings but also a spiritual realization. Even the title suggests a more positive relationship with her environment. Though questions still abound, Instant Winner is more of a celebration; a celebration of motherhood, of releasing the angst and defining her place. She even tells herself “Nice Job”.

The work has four sections. Near the beginning and the end of each section is a poem titled “Prayer”. The poems struggle with relocation, adaptation, understanding and ultimately hopefulness. She hasn’t lost her ability to see things with a unique vision. Though she has even embraced domesticity to an extent, one might say she still has her moments.

“Today I am a spoon among forks.

Yesterday I was a fork among knives.

Sometimes I am the knife.”

If you have a passion for poetry that delves deeply into relationships with self, with the world and with spirituality while retaining an infectious energy and edge, pick up Instant Winner. Carrie Fountain will likely become one of your favorite poets, even if you have to wait four more years for her next release.

Tony Burnett has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2010 and currently serves on the Board of Directors. His story collection, Southern Gentlemen, will be released January 10, 2015. He resides with his trophy bride, Robin, deep in the heart of Texas.

MEET THE MEMBERS

Elizabeth Cowan has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas for twelve years. She lives with her husband in North Texas just outside of a mote-in-the-eye-of-God town called Blue Ridge.

CIMG4989 Liz Photo

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

Elizabeth Cowan: I write in the suspense/romance and humor genres.

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

EC: James Rollins, David McCullough, Donna Grant and Elisabeth Naughton. My beverage would be Iced Brandy Alexander Coffee.

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

EC: A humor book like Laughter is the Best Medicine or Kids Say the Darndest Things, something by  Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry. Laughter is healthy and will keep you from weeping over your plight.

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

EC: The Writers’ League is a great source of support, information, and organizes fantastic conferences and classes.

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

EC: I hope to retire from my day job and concentrate on writing novels and humor books. Time is a precious commodity right now, with my day job.  Also, I’m looking to sell one or more of my books to movie producers.

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

EC: I write a weekly humor column for The Norman Transcript in Oklahoma and for The Sierra Vista Herald in Arizona, writing as Elizabeth Cowan. Over the years I have written 500 columns and am still going strong.

I’ve published 2 humor books: Fractured Proverbs and Twisted Thoughts – adages and quotes with a twist.

Through the Keyhole: True Stories Not for the Faint of Heart – the stories are in the too much information realm. This is Volume 1 of what I plan to be an ongoing series.

I’ve also published 3 suspense/romance novels – Perception Series, writing as Liz Cowan. They are standalone stories with several characters appearing in all the books: The Dionysus Connection, Marathon Man, and Sins of the Father. I’m currently working on the fourth in this series: Retribution.

Please visit my website and sign up for my weekly humor column , The Laughter Club. Also, visit and “Like” my Facebook Page.

Don’t forget to sign up for the Newsletter!

MEMBERS REVIEW

REBEL YELL: THE VIOLENCE, PASSION, AND REDEMPTION OF STONEWALL JACKSON

By S.C. Gwynne

Published in 2014 by Scribner.

 rebel-yell

Reviewed by Trilla Pando.

Put a bookmark at the map “Jackson’s Theater of Operations: April 21, 1861- May 10, 1863” before you begin S. C. Gwynne’s Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson, for you will be referring to it often. The dates of the map also set the parameters for the book: the period of Thomas Jonathan Jackson’s military actions from the Battle of Manassas until his death from friendly fire at Chancellorsville.

This is not a full-blown biography but rather an examination of the extraordinary man and the war that brought him to the zenith of his life. He acquired the more familiar name of “Stonewall” at the battle of Manassas when, in the last hour of his own life, General Bernard Bee rallied his troops by calling “Yonder stands Jackson like a stone wall. Let’s go to his assistance.” Rebel Yell is certainly appropriately named since during that battle the “piercingly loud noise” of that yell first rang out.

Stonewall Jackson is as difficult to understand as he is to like. This devout Christian who prayed often, had no compunctions about sending troops to certain death nor executing a young volunteer for desertion, and then turning to write lyrical and witty love letters to his wife. The book looks at his childhood and early adult years as a mostly ineffective teacher as background for his transition into a charismatic and insightful leader on the battlefield.

Gwynne describes “an intricate game of martial chess.” The war raged across most of the continent but the focus here is on Virginia, particularly the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The exact descriptions of the smallest skirmishes and the enormous logistical problems bring the war into a reality books with a broader scope do not approach.

While the book is well and hugely researched, the text never bogs down into pedantics thanks to Gwynne’s fine writing and low-key approach. It does not describe happy events, but it is a pleasure to read.

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.

MEET THE MEMBERS

Jennifer Preiss has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since January and is registered for one of our fall classes. She lives outside the city limits of New Braunfels, in an area that she considers “the middle of nowhere.”

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

Jennifer Preiss: Contemporary Romance….toying with New Adult.

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

JP: Kristin Hannah! She sold me with her book, Firefly Lane. After that I read every novel she wrote. Picking apart her brain to see how she comes up with her inspiration would be a dream. This may take quite a few coffees and alcoholic beverages!

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

JP: I love Glennon Melton’s, Carry On Warrior. It made me laugh, cry and feel normal. As a mom, wife and woman there are times when I feel alone with my worries. She leveled me out.

Also, Leo Tolstoy’s, Anna Karenina would be a must have. They say it took him 4 years to write and this gives me hope that one day my novel will be complete. Plus, I love the intensity that he brings out with each scene.

And last but not least, Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. The story of friendship that spans over a lifetime never gets old.

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

JP: I could write a list a mile long on this. So, I will just give the highlights. 1.) I learned that I am not alone. There are other writers out there that feel the anguish, fear, and determination to put their words on paper. 2.) I learned opportunities exist everywhere but it is hard work and I should never give up.

I am glad my first step as a writer was to join the Writers’ League!

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

JP: I see my writing opening up. Does this make sense? Before this past year, I was barely scraping the surface of what I could do. Now I am just below the surface and excited at what I am learning about myself and my writing. I have hopes that I will be digging so deep that I will uncover layers of myself that I never knew existed.

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

JP: Well, I think of my life as ordinary. I have always loved to write and it flourished when I discovered a Creative Writing course in high school. This is when I had my work published for the first time. I had never felt anything quite as satisfying! So, I carried on with writing but allowed life to take hold and put it on the back burner until a few years ago. I wrote about this on a blog post: Going Up.

Here is a Summary from my About Me Page from my Website:

Most days I compare my life to the infamous Green Acres sitcom.  Raised all my life in the suburbs of San Antonio, I was transplanted way past my comfort zone by my loving husband. In time, I stopped complaining (as much) and realized that our family benefitted from moving to BFE. I have been adjusting to country life and learning to appreciate the tranquility that the Texas Hill Country offers. Our property is not as rural as the farm Zsa Zsa Gabor was subjected to, although I do own a pair of stylish mud boots, and have occasionally walked a pig or two. (Surprisingly, no leashes are involved BTW.) Despite all the glamorous temptation, I am still a city girl at heart.

Writing has been my anchor since I was young. But with raising three kids I focused on living my life as a mom, a wife, and working an 8 to 5 job in the Business world. This meant stowing away the poetry, stories and parenthood memoirs until the time was right. I am a determined realist and recently admitted (out loud) that I needed to pursue my goals for myself, while I still had my sanity. So in December 2013, I decided to dive head first into my dream and knew the blogging world would be a good place to start.  I began planning Pen, Paper & Parenthood, which I launched in January 2014.

I am currently working on my novel, Waiting to Breathe. It is a work in progress and I am anxious to see where the characters take me.

In the rare moments of calm, you can find me snuggled up reading, watching my favorite TV drama (on DVR, of course), or sipping a glass of wine.  Yes, there are times when I multi-task and attempt all 3 simultaneously…and likely more than 1 glass of wine.

MEMBERS REVIEW

SAVING TEXAS

By Nancy Stancill

Published in 2014 by Black Rose Writing.

Saving Texas

Reviewed by Kirsche Romo.

We all know Texans are quite unique, but is Texas once again its own country?

That’s the political platform of Tom Marr, a west Texas cattle rancher running for governor, and the dream of the triumvirate:  Marr and his two University of Texas buddies. Annie Price, reporter for the Houston Times, has been assigned to do a profile story on Marr, but her assignment puts her into the middle of both a dangerous plan for Texas to secede from the United States, and a romantic quandary.

In her novel, Saving Texas, Nancy Stancill has created a believable character in Annie Price, a young but ambitious Houston Times reporter who yearns to be on the Times’ investigative team. After being assigned to do a profile on handsome gubernatorial candidate Tom Marr, who plans to return Texas to a powerful country of its own, Annie finds herself in the middle of a dangerous plot being carried out by Marr’s two best friends, former CIA operative Dan Riggins, and President of Middle Texas College, Ed Gonzales. Home-grown militias, conspiracies with the Mexican drug cartels, and a hired female killer are intertwined in this interesting story which contemplates the rebirth of the Republic of Texas.

Saving Texas was engaging and well-written. The dialogue was convincing, especially between Annie and her best friend, reporter Maddy Daniels. Stancill’s writing flowed well and was easy to read, the plot suspenseful and unique in its premise of Texas seceding from the United States and its conjecture of how far some Texans would go to make that happen. I also enjoyed the novel’s numerous references to Texans, and to the unique flavor of Texas in general.

I would recommend Saving Texas  – the book is a satisfying read with a thought-provoking premise. What if Texas…?

L. Romo is a writer who lives with her family in Duncanville, Texas. She is currently querying agents to represent her newly completed novel – FROM GRACE I FALL – about a middle-aged empty-nester who’s suddenly transported back to 1907 Dallas, seeing the world through the eyes of a reformed prostitute. You can visit her at www.klromo.com.

 

 

October Third Thursday Wrap-up

Ghostwriting:
Unseen Authors Tell Their Tales

 

lari.bishopstephanieland-250x250Author Joni Rodgers

By Tony Burnett

As the edge of night approached our fair city on the Third Thursday of October, passionate souls from across the region converged in the cavernous upper room of BookPeople to share in a long celebrated tradition. Throughout decades of history members and guests of the Writers’ League of Texas gather every Third Thursday of all months not beginning with the letter D to study their craft. This meeting was special. Though every Third Thursday is known for the sharing of means and secrets to strengthen skills, on this night the panel included three editors who have crossed over…. into ghost writing.

We weren’t talking about horror, or even light fantasy. This panel was about secrets, the behind-the-scenes careers of writers who take on a project for others who have a story to tell or an idea to sell but who aren’t interested or capable of producing a tome. Our panelists were: Lari Bishop, an editor for John Wiley & Sons and Greenleaf Books who now owns Draft Lab; Stephanie Land, a former editor for Random House  and Penguin’s Portfolio imprint, who has collaborated with a National Book Award winner and a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist; and Joni Rodgers, author of the best-selling memoir, Bald in the Land of Big Hair and who often collaborates with high-profile celebrities, politicos and other extraordinary people. Though these panelists came to ghostwriting from backgrounds as diverse as bluegrass bands, theater and the financial industry, they all established themselves as editors before becoming ghostwriters. All panelists agreed that to make any project successful required that they not only be invested in the concept, but a have passion for the idea. Anything less would result in catastrophe.

Though their stories were fascinating and often complex, the one commonality in the panelists was their unwillingness, for the most part, to share the names of their clients or the works they collaborated on. It turned out there were legal reasons for this. In most cases ghostwriters are contractually bound to secrecy. Though a ghostwriter may be mentioned in the acknowledgments, it is rare that they make it to the cover.

All panelists agreed that working with a celebrity or a business tycoon not only helped the ghostwriter have a greater understanding of their client, but also helped them gain insight into themselves. They all mentioned the necessity of asking the hard questions: Why is this important? Why now? Who is your audience? It’s also important to push the client into a self-examination in order to authenticate the story.

Ghostwriting requires experience, the willingness to see the world from your subject’s point of view and a strong grasp of the market and publishing process. It’s not easy, but it’s not scary.

Join us November 20 at 7 PM for our next panel, Writing About Loved Ones: Telling the Truth Without Losing Your Place at the Holiday Table.

Tony Burnett has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2010 and currently serves on the Board of Directors. His story collection, Southern Gentlemen, will be released January 10, 2015. He resides with his trophy bride, Robin, deep in the heart of Texas.

Instructor Spotlight

Carol Dawson is both a novelist and nonfiction author whose books include the novels The Waking Spell, Body of Knowledge, Meeting the Minotaur, and The Mother-in-Law Diaries, all published by Algonquin Books, Simon and Schuster, Viking-Penguin, and translated overseas into several languages. Her award-winning non-fiction book House of Plenty: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of Luby’s Cafeterias was published by the University of Texas Press. She has taught creative writing and literature at the College of Santa Fe, as well as numerous workshops. In addition, her work has been published in magazines and journals, including Texas Monthly, Southern Living, The Oxford-American, and Parenting Magazine. She is currently working on two historical novels, and researching her latest non-fiction book, Miles and Miles of Texas: The Story of the Texas Highway Department, 1917-2017, to be published in Fall of 2016 by Texas A&M University Press.

On November 15, Carol will be teaching a class for the Writers League as part of our November Novel Writing Series called “Plot Vs. Truth: Find the Most Exciting and Suspenseful Path of Your Story” at St. Edward’s University. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Carol Dawson_thumbScribe: You have quite a wide variety of work – what is your favorite genre to write? 

Carol Dawson: I love to write both fiction and non-fiction. The pleasures of locating the narrative arc in any form is one of the joys of writing. I do enjoy historical fiction, and the historical non-fiction I pursue is often equal in dramatic breadth to any novel I could ever create, and involves even more character complexity–therefore it’s immensely satisfying. Pulling the seemingly disparate skeins of a story together to knit a whole meta-picture: what can be more fun?

Scribe: What is your basic process when trying to create a new fictional character; do you derive traits from real people?

CD: Fictional characters generally just show up. They start talking inside my head, describing their circumstances, or walk through the room in a blue flapper dress, or suddenly appear, trudging through a snow-filled forest, all from their own volition. The trick is to always keep your door open.

Scribe: Do you refer to any specific books that you feel have great, strong characters and plot? 

CD: No. Not when I write. There are many books I love and cherish, and frequently re-visit, but they and their appurtenances belong to their own authors, not to me.

Scribe: When you reach a bump in the writing process, what do you do to get over it? 

CD: I take a walk. A long walk. Sometimes just a short one–often it doesn’t take much. The point is to get away from the text, and let your mind go play. The solution will come with motion.

–Thanks, Carol!

Click here to see a complete list of our upcoming classes.