What We’re Reading Now: January 14

Michael Noll, Program Director

The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas

The recent film Knives Out has become a hit in large part because it contains something that has been lacking in most crime and detective stories lately: fun. All of the actors—along with the writer, director, and set designer—are clearly taking immense pleasure at the wonderfully ridiculous conceit of the story. If you’re looking for a literary version of such a story, check out Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock Series. The fourth installment, The Art of Theft, was just released in October, and it contains all of the lightness, joy, and wit of the previous novels, with the addition of a stolen painting and a French chateau where nothing is as it seems.

Thomas takes every opportunity to use the clothes of the time period and the subterfuges of the genre to her advantage. In this passage, Mrs. Holmes (all of Doyle’s classic characters are women in this series) engages in some minor identity-shading:

In her daily life, Mrs. Watson was perfectly capable of seeing to her own toilette. But this was not daily life. She was a woman of more than half a century, roused abruptly from a heavy s lumber, her face pillow-creased, her hair askew, and she needed to look her very best since her wedding day. Which, of course, took longer than she expected, as she agonized over a choice of dresses.

“Ma’am, you look good in all of them!” said Polly Banning.

Yes, she knew that. But which one made her appear closest to her twenty-five-year-old self?

Meet the Members: Scott Semegran

“[The Writers’ League has taught me] that there are a bunch of kind, supportive, and very talented writers living and working in Texas.”

— Scott Semegran 

A member of the Writers’ League since December 2019, Scott currently lives in Austin, Texas. 

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

Scott Semegran: Up until now, I have written mostly Humorous Literary Fiction. My work-in-progress is what I would call Literary Suspense.

Scribe: What author would you most like to have a drink with, and what’s the first question you would ask them? 

SS: I talk to so many authors through my web series Austin Liti Limits. But the one author I really would love to talk to would be Larry McMurtry. I would ask him for some writing career advice, and maybe ask him to give some insights into his writing process.

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

SS: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.

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

SS: That there are a bunch of kind, supportive, and very talented writers living and working in Texas.

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

SS: I’m working on my ninth book, a literary suspense novel, so I hope to see it published in 2020.

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

SS: The last book I read that is Texas-related (and takes place in Texas) that I would recommend is Hollow by Owen Egerton. Excellent novel! Before that, Ain’t Nobody Nobody by Heather Harper Ellett, which is also excellent. I know that’s two books, but I love promoting Texas authors.

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

SS: My latest book, To Squeeze a Prairie Dog: An American Novel, was the 2019 Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Winner: Silver Medal for Fiction – Humor/Comedy and the 2019 Texas Author Project Winner for Adult Fiction. Buy a paperback at BookPeople or Malvern Books in Austin, TX or anywhere online. It’s available in paperback, hardcover, eBook, and audiobook.

Thank you, Scott!

If you’re a Writers’ League member and you’d be interested in being interviewed for our Meet the Members feature, email us at member@writersleague.org for more information. It’s a great way for other members to get to know you and for you to share a bit about what you’re working on!

Community Member Guest Post: ACC Creative Writing

“I used to be such a closet word-lover. Then, I took a fiction class at Austin Community College and realized, there a lot of people like me here. A whole world devoted to crafting stories slowly revealed itself to me.”

-Sol Wooten

Community membership with WLT allows businesses and organizations to support our programming and services. It’s also a great way for our community of writers to learn about the many valuable and varied services, programs, and opportunities available to them.

The Creative Writing Department at Austin Community College offers a wide variety of creative writing classes, each limited to 15 students. Sol Wooten is a student of the program, so Department Chair Charlotte Gullick invited her to share her thoughts on what being a writer means to her.

Sol: Imposterism is real. When I was invited to write this post, it instantly raised its horned head. Was I even qualified to talk about being “a writer” in Austin? My resume said, “Nope. Maybe after that MFA you’ve been going on about. And a published collection. And when writing gives you a livable wage.” But I decided to hush my snarky inner-resume. I write all the time. I am a writer. So, here’s my personal list of what that involves:

  1. Getting to know your local writing community. I used to be such a closet word-lover. Then, I took a fiction class at Austin Community College and realized, there are a lot of people like me here. A whole world devoted to crafting stories slowly revealed itself to me. I began sharing work at the monthly Literary Coffeehouses at Malvern Books and attending the Third Thursday panels that WLT puts on at BookPeople. Through the help of the Creative Writing Department at ACC, I attended the Texas Writes in ATX event and learned firsthand from influential writers. I’ve also had the great pleasure of interning with American Short Fiction and discovering what goes into creating a quality literary journal. You should be warned: With this level of involvement comes constantly adding to a never-ending list of things to read according to respected professors, literary heroes, peers, writing blogs, and library shelf browsing…
  2. Establishing a long-term relationship with coffee shops. Ritual has become increasingly important for my writing and work. On the toughest days when I want nothing more than to hit “STOP” on my morning alarm, having an established routine (wake up at 7am, get out of the house and away from the bed, insert coffee with coffee shop vibes, begin writing) has made all the difference in my productivity. An added benefit is the dialogue and strange human quirks I gather, many of which often find their way into poems and stories.
  3. Rejection letters. The writer who has never experienced rejection is missing out. There’s something about the tenacity it takes to receive letter after letter of “your story/poem/essay just wasn’t the right fit for us” that helps affirm your identity as a writer. At some point, you become mostly immune to the self-doubt that ensues each time you receive one of these rejections and learn to celebrate the not-so-flat-out-rejections that say something about the quality of your work and how you made it to a certain journal’s short list of what-might-have-been.
  4. Writing, writing, and more writing. One of the most challenging parts of writing is also one of the most necessary: consistency. Unlike some of my writer friends who appear to have the self-control of Olympic gold medalists, I often need external structures to move me to grow and produce. My hack has been to commit to learning and practicing by taking at least one online or in-person creative writing class at ACC each semester. Now, previous professors and fellow students have become irreplaceable mentors and trusted feedback-gifters.

The result of these confessions of a wannabe writer? My writing is sharper, I’m taking more risks, and my desire to continue through the writer’s labyrinth—riddled with sacrificial submissions and sphynx-like identity questions—is more resilient. That said, becoming a writer is not all monsters and riddles. I think the (non-monetary) payoff is definitely blog-worthy. Writers get to develop greater insight into the human experience, play with language in all of its simple complexity, and create characters and made-up worlds that matter, or share a particular way of understanding this world. Not to mention the unrivaled cocktail of good endorphins that are released when you extend the boundaries of language to capture something beyond what you were previously capable of—the shining product of all your yesterdays spent wrestling with this wily craft.”

Thanks, Sol and Charlotte!

For more information about spring courses, click here, and to learn more about enrolling through continuing education, click here. Or you can call or email the department chair, Charlotte Gullick, at 512-913-4479,cgullick@austincc.edu

Are you a business or organization interested in getting involved?

Community Membership is a great way to connect with the Writers’ League’s membership base and share news and information about writing-related services and events. For more information on Community Membership click here or call our office at (512) 499-8914.

Meet the Members: Dorothy Paredes

“This is an exciting, challenging, scary and completely new journey for me.”

— Dorothy Paredes

A member of the Writers’ League since November 2019, Dorothy currently lives in South Austin, Texas. 

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

Dorothy Paredes: I am currently writing a memoir. I do have a couple unfinished manuscripts that are short story, novel-esque. 

Scribe: What author would you most like to have a drink with, and what’s the first question you would ask them? 

DP: This is a hard one, there are several (of course) but the one that stands out the most, and it’s hard for me to admit this now because I don’t want to be “mainstream,” would be Margaret Atwood. I was first introduced to her through The Handmaids Tale back in the early 2000’s during a Woman’s Lit class and I was so struck by the story that I quickly began to read her other novels. My favorite is Surfacing. What is most impactful to me about her writing is her leading characters. They struggle to find and know themselves throughout the story. Regardless of the hardships faced, the character perseveres to attain a level of personal fulfillment and success. Therefore the first question I would ask is, when did she first start questioning herself?  

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

DP: If I were stranded on a deserted island, I would want to have Lucifer’s Hammer by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven with me to keep me sane.

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

DP: The value of the writing community to support (directly or non-directly) the mission of writing.

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

DP:  I see my writing taking me into the world of non-profits and motivational speaking.

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

DP: Okay so I’ll be honest, I haven’t read a Texas-related book that has come out within the past year (2019 Calendar Year). But, the one Texas related book that came out close to 2019 (October 2018) that I read in 2019 and couldn’t put down, was Dare to Lead by Brené Brown.

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

DP: I am currently working on finishing my very first book that I aim to self-publish/promote in February 2020! This is an exciting, challenging, scary and completely new journey for me. The book will tell my story of self discovery, disappointment, and survival in the trying times of cancer at the age of 26. Wish me luck and send vibes of perseverance my way (I am a bit of a procrastinator).

Thank you, Dorothy!

If you’re a Writers’ League member and you’d be interested in being interviewed for our Meet the Members feature, email us at member@writersleague.org for more information. It’s a great way for other members to get to know you and for you to share a bit about what you’re working on!

What We Read & Loved in 2019:

 

Becka Oliver, Executive Director


Evan Parks, Project Specialist 

What We’re Reading Now:

Becka Oliver, Executive Director  

Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas by Stephen Harrigan

I can remember moderating a panel discussion at the LBJ National Historical Park featuring Stephen Harrigan during which he talked about his then current project, a comprehensive history of the state of Texas. That was in February 2015 and, truly, that project – the 925-page Big Wonderful Thing – has been worth the wait. I’m not sure which I admire more – the unbelievably exhaustive research that must have gone into this book or the brilliant and beautiful prose that brings that research and the Lone Star State to life. As Harrigan so eloquently puts it in the Prologue, “Texas has a history that is of consequence not just to itself, and not just to the nations it was once part of or the nation it briefly became. It sits at the core of the American experience, and its wars, its industries, its presidents, its catastrophes, its scientific discoveries have never stopped shaping the world.”

Michael Noll, Program Director  

The Spectators by Jennifer duBois

When you spend years writing and reading like a writer (mentally analyzing passages and figuring out how you might do something like them in your own work), you can sometimes believe that you’ve lost the sense of magic that good writing holds. You see the smoke and mirrors, the trap doors, and diversions. And so when the wondrous sense of impossibility of a great passage hits you, the impact is even stronger. You understand the mechanics of good writing, and you still get a thrill from seeing it done at a level inaccessible to you.
That’s how I feel about Jennifer duBois’ writing, especially her dialogue. For so many of us, we’re happy if we can write dialogue that doesn’t include some version of “he said, looking at her.” But duBois turns those little physical descriptions between lines of dialogue into some of the most enjoyable phrases in a book.
In this passage, Cel, a young woman working for a Jerry Springer-like reality talk show must tell a guest that the episode has been canceled because it would juxtapose uncomfortably with news of a school shooting that day:
   “Oh, hey!” Cel says, and the devil-boy looks stricken. “I almost forgot!”
   She dashes to her office and returns, triumphant, with a gift bg.
   “Here you go!” she says–in someone else’s voice, possibly someone else’s lifetime. The devil-boy looks cheered, though he really should not; there is nothing good in the bag–just a Mattie M pen and beer cozy and T-shirt, always extra large. Cel cannot imagine anyone wanting it, and after six months with the show, she can imagine a lot of things.
   “Thank you,” says the devil-boy. According to his bio, he is from suburban Connecticut.
   “Sure,” says Cel. “So, Sara will be by in a minute and—“
   “It’s horrible.”
   “I’m sorry?”
   “It’s horrible.” The devil-boy is still staring into the gift bag, and Cel wonders if he’s talking about the beer cozy–or, just possibly, addressing it–but then he looks up at her, eyes shining.
   “It’s a tragedy.”
   Not the gift bag, then.
   “It is,” says Cel.

Neena Husid, Leadership Austin Fellow 

Girl Paper Stone by Laurie Filipelli

This review begins with a pair of disclaimers. The first owns that the author of Girl Paper Stone, Laurie Filipelli, once hired me for a job I adored. Disclaimer number two should be embarrassing but it’s not. Though I’ve done my time studying, reading, writing and criticizing prose, I’m significantly unschooled in the particularities of poetry. And, I kind of like being a form and function idiot. It allows me to take in verse in the same way my uneducated art eye absorbs gallery and museum displays-objectively, viscerally, ignorantly. For me, page after page of Laurie’s book was a dance of ideas and images that moved me in a delirious sway of nostalgia, understanding and surprise that may or may not have been the writer’s intent. But who cares? The joy of experiencing word paintings guaranteed to take you both inside of and beyond yourself is sublime and necessary. The smart, clear-eyed poems of Girl Paper Stone evoke a laconic urgency that’s both prescriptive and addictive. Long after I completed this little book I kept flipping back through, revisiting drugstore bikinis, claw-bottomed slippers, continents of cupcake stickers and the innards of paper scraps. I just needed more uninterrupted, uneducated time to continue feeling a heart inside a heart  and the uncertainty that’s uncertain like that.


Meet the Members: JoDee Neathery

“Writers’ League gives authors the ability to grow as artists and individuals…”

— JoDee Neathery

A member of the Writers’ League since 2016, JoDee currently lives in Mabank, Texas. 

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

JoDee Neathery: Literary Fiction

Scribe: What author would you most like to have a drink with, and what’s the first question you would ask them? 

JN: Pat Conroy. You have always said that four of the most powerful words in the English language are “tell me a story,” and you’ve given us many classics to enjoy. Do you have a favorite and if so, why?  

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

JN: Beach Music because the words are magical and allow you to read the same beautiful sentence a hundred times and never tire of it.

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

JN: There are many people and organizations that advertise their commitment to authors but few are as informative, supportive, and encouraging. Writers’ League gives authors the ability to grow as artists and individuals…like a 1400 member extended family.

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

JN: I have fulfilled a life-long dream of writing a novel and I thought that would be enough — it’s not. It’s evidently addictive once it gets in your blood. At my “young” age, I don’t imagine a career is on the horizon, but I’m going to write as long as I can still construct a sentence and who knows where that might take me. I’m currently engrossed in writing another novel, A Kind of Hush, and it excites me everyday to create something I love to do. One of my characters, a little four-year-old boy, came to me in the middle of the night and I knew he had to be in whatever I wrote next. I’m pretty sure he will be in my will! 

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

JN: I loved Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird!

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

JN: I’m a living testament that if you are not blessed with the perfect resume for anything you pursue, you should always strive to be the person you wanted to be before someone told you who you should be. My “author pedigree” is on display in what I write, not on a diploma that hangs on the wall. I was told I was not “college material” but I always knew there was something deep inside that would eventually surface and it did. I’m very proud to have my name on the spine of a book and I hope my story will help others who might doubt their abilities.

Thank you, JoDee!

If you’re a Writers’ League member and you’d be interested in being interviewed for our Meet the Members feature, email us at member@writersleague.org for more information. It’s a great way for other members to get to know you and for you to share a bit about what you’re working on!