5 Questions with Allie Pleiter

You’ll come away with a system that takes your individual style and speed and plots your way to the accomplishment of your writing goal.

-Allie Pleiter

Allie Pleiter writes both fiction and nonfiction, working on as many as four novels at a time. The highly organized but slightly untidy bestselling author of over thirty books, Allie spends her days writing, buying yarn, and finding new ways to avoid housework. Allie hails from Connecticut, moved to the Midwest to attend Northwestern University, and currently lives outside Chicago, Illinois. The “dare from a friend” to begin writing has produced a seventeen-year career with over 1.2 million books sold. In addition to writing, Allie regularly speaks on faith, the creative process, women’s issues, and her very favorite topic—time management for writers.

On October 21, Allie will teach “Project Management for Writers: Finish Your Book On Time with Less Stress” at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. This class will introduce strategies for actually getting your writing done, not just beating yourself up when other people’s writing routines don’t work for you. We asked Allie about the books she’s learned from, challenges she’s faced in her own work, and what people will take away from the class.

What is a book that you recommend to people over and over? What makes it so compelling?

A book that has stuck with me since my first reading is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It’s a smart, inventive, totally unique tale about a magical circus and its performers and fans. Incredible characters, a great plot, and just an extraordinary voice from the author. Definitely among my top favorite novels of all time.

In your own work, what has been one challenge posed by the craft, structure, voice, etc., of a book that you’ve had to puzzle out?

I would be such a happier writer if I could plot well! My work is so character-driven that plotting never comes easily for me. It does reveal itself, a bit at a time, but I feel as if it would be so much easier if I could know it all ahead of time.I’ve made some improvements over the years, but it’s still the biggest struggle I have as a writer.

Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?

Excuse me? That actually happens to people?? Why was I not informed?

What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

Just do the work. Plant yourself in the seat (or in my case, at the treadmill desk) and do the work. There is no secret handshake or clever shortcut. The only way to get writing done, to get better at writing, and to build a career is to write. Simple, but most of the hardest stuff in life is, I’ve found.

What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

How to get the work done. And, done in a way that makes sense for you—not someone else. You’ll come away with a system that takes your individual style and speed and plots your way to the accomplishment of your writing goal. Fans of The Chunky Method have told me it is incredibly empowering and motivating to walk away with that system in place.

Thanks, Allie!

 

Click here to learn more about and register for Allie’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

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5 Questions for Varian Johnson

“My goal is for writers to really understand the power of the nonlinear narrative—how to employ and emphasize the strengths of the structure while avoiding some of the potential negatives. There are some real benefits of this structure that can make a book memorable, action-packed, and emotionally satisfying—if used correctly!”

-Varian Johnson

Varian Johnson is the author of six novels, including the Jackson Greene middle-grade series. The first novel in the series, The Great Greene Heist, was an ALA Notable Children’s Book Selection, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, and has been named to over twenty-five state reading and best-of lists. His books for older readers include My Life as a Rhombus and Saving Maddie, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book. Varian has also written for the Spirit Animals middle-grade fantasy series as well as short stories for middle grade and YA audiences. His newest stand-alone novel, The Parker Inheritance, is forthcoming in Spring 2018.

On October 14, Varian will teach “Crafting Nonlinear Narratives” at ACC’s Highland Campus in Austin, TX. This class will use strategies from published works to help writers structure narratives with multiple POVs and time frames. We asked Varian about the books he’s learned from, challenges he’s faced in his own work, and what people will take away from the class.

What is a book that you recommend to people over and over? What makes it so compelling?

Recently, I’ve been suggesting that both kids and adults read Holes by Louis Sachar. It’s such a great, complex book, with both humor and heart. You can read that book over and over and always find something new in the text.

In your own work, what has been one challenge posed by the craft, structure, voice, etc., of a book that you’ve had to puzzle out?

In the novel that I have coming out next year, The Parker Inheritance, I really struggled with the structure for the first few drafts. The narrative jumps back and forth in time, and I couldn’t quite figure out when to jump to the past, or for how long to stay there. I eventually stopped and reread a number of books that also employed a nonlinear narrative to help me sort it out.

Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?

Ha! That feeling of euphoria comes with every book, usually after the end of a long writing day. But that feeling is soon gone once I go back to the page the next day and read what I wrote.

What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

To read widely. Many writers only want to read one type of book—usually the type of book that they write themselves. By reading widely, we take the good from all different types of genres and bring them to our work.

What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

My goal is for writers to really understand the power of the nonlinear narrative—how to employ and emphasize the strengths of the structure while avoiding some of the potential negatives. There are some real benefits of this structure that can make a book memorable, action-packed, and emotionally satisfying—if used correctly!

Thanks, Varian!

 

Click here to learn more about and register for Varian’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

Community Member Q&A: Kallisto Gaia Press

“Be true to your craft but share your vision and your work with your tribe. Community will give you an anchor.”

-Tony Burnett

Kallisto Gaia Press is a nonprofit literary organization and publisher focused on supporting writers at all stages of their careers. They don’t shy away from experimental or unusual approaches to literature, and their goal is to promote finely crafted writing with an expressive and meaningful voice.

In addition to supporting and promoting authors, Kallisto Gaia Press is a proud Community Member of the Writers’ League of Texas. Read the interview below with founder (and WLT Board President) Tony Burnett to find out more.

Scribe: Tell us a little about why you founded Kallisto Gaia Press, the meaning of its name, and its mission.

Tony Burnett: Formed in 2013, Kallisto Gaia Press was originally intended as a hub for emerging writers of any age to find a venue for publication. In late 2016, with several other scribes and literary enthusiasts, we incorporated as a nonprofit and modified our mission statement. We seek to publish and promote writers from underserved communities alongside established voices while insuring that our authors are compensated for their art.

The name, Kallisto Gaia, originates in Greek mythology. Kallisto, loosely translated, means “most beautiful” and Gaia means “earth.” Of course, as in most myths, there’s a lot more to the story and it’s a nail-biter. On our website (www.kallistogaiapress.org) there is enough info about the origin to send you down that rabbit hole.

Scribe: What is the Ocotillo Review?

TB: The Ocotillo Review (TOR) is a literary journal in print format that publishes in summer and winter. Our desire is to give voice to an international sampling of journalists, storytellers, and poets from viewpoints that reflect diversity of culture and open lines of communication. Oh, and did I mention we pay? Details can be found on our website.

Scribe: How can writers submit to the Ocotillo Review?

TB: We take all submissions through Submittable. We charge a $3 reading fee that we split with the Submittable website. That allows us to receive an unlimited number of submissions and the software enables our all volunteer staff to manage the submissions effectively. It also helps pay the writers we publish. Submissions for TOR are open August 15th through October 31st and January 15th through March 31st. Guidelines are listed on our website and occasionally change.

Scribe: What is the Texas Poetry Calendar?

TB: Betty Davis and Lianne Mercer founded the Texas Poetry Calendar in 1999 as a planner/calendar/journal containing poetry from Texas-based poets and poems with Texas as their subject. It has featured work from Texas Poet Laureates and other award-winning poets along with emerging poets from many backgrounds. To my knowledge we will be the third publishing company to produce the TPC. We were fortunate enough to be chosen by Dos Gatos Press to continue this iconic Texas tradition. We are grateful to have Cindy Huyser agree to edit the first edition under our imprint as she has edited six of the previous ten Calendars. Submissions of Texas related poetry for the 2019 calendar will open December 1st 2017 and close February 10th 2018. Watch our website for further details.

Scribe: As a writer yourself, what is one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring writers?

TB: Be true to your craft but share your vision and your work with your tribe. Community will give you an anchor.

Scribe: What’s important to you about supporting the Writers’ League of Texas and being a community member?

TB: The word “community” says it all. I work with a number of writer-focused organizations and I can say from experience that not only is the WLT one of the premier writing organizations in America, it also serves statewide as an umbrella organization. The WLT works with other writer groups, universities, schools, and libraries to maximize the impact of its members’ focus, be it on craft, community, or the business aspect of our chosen art form.

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?

TB: That’s a tough one. This last year has been a banner year for Texas’ writers. One book I remember reading in one sitting is Owen Egerton’s new novel, Hollow. After reading it I took a short nap and started back at the beginning to grasp how he’d pulled it off. I’ve followed his career for years and each book seems to eclipse the previous masterpiece. I’m a fan.

Thanks, Tony!

Click here to visit Kallisto Gaia Press’s website.

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.

What We’re Reading Now: HAP AND LEONARD: BLOOD AND LEMONADE

HAP AND LEONARD: BLOOD AND LEMONADE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Joe R. Lansdale

Published in March 2017 by Tachyon Publishing

Reviewed by David Eric Tomlinson

The swampy bottom-lands of East Texas are the setting for Joe R. Lansdale’s most recent installment in the Hap and Leonard chronicles, Blood and Lemonade. It’s a “Mosaic Novel” of short stories, in which the older Hap Collins – a soft spoken, liberal-minded tough guy in a backwater town – and his best friend Leonard Pine – black, gay, and even tougher – reflect on the formative moments of their decades-long friendship.

Hap and Leonard are an odd-couple sort of crime-fighting team. Upon meeting, as teenagers – at a brawl, of course, where Hap holds a gun on a mob so that Leonard can get a fair fight against a single opponent – they immediately take a shine to one another. Nobody in this part of Texas understands their bond – not their uncles, not their lovers, not their supposed friends. The two of them couldn’t care less.

Lansdale writes convincing violence. The details are accurate and specific, and he has a great spatial awareness which keeps the reader grounded in any unfolding action. But he’s at his best when revealing the inner lives of his characters, such as when Hap sees Leonard a few days after that first introduction:

“As I came along the sidewalk, I saw Leonard coming toward me. He saw me and smiled. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, but when I saw him I knew I had missed him. He was like a stray dog that wandered in and out of my life, and I felt like when we were together that something missing was fulfilled.”

Racism is the unifying theme to this collection: how it segregates and divides towns, dehumanizes some while empowering others, breeding cycles of retributive violence.

Lansdale’s redneck Hardy Boys come up in this rough-and-tumble, working-class landscape, where “Dad was always greasy because he always worked,” where any argument worth having usually ends in bloodshed, and where racial tensions were high.

Because Lansdale’s novel was released as part of a marketing effort to promote the new Hap & Leonard TV series on Sundance, I wound up watching the first few episodes. In one scene, the aging but unflappable Hap – his once chiseled body now bloated with drink – is confronted by his ex-wife Trudy:

“What happened to you, Hap?”

“Life.”

To survive such an imperfect society, Hap and Leonard form a quirky, yet perfect friendship. Against all odds, it endures.

David Eric Tomlinson has been a member of the Writers’ League since 2013. He was born and raised in Oklahoma, educated in California, and now lives in Texas. You can learn more about his debut novel THE MIDNIGHT MAN at www.daviderictomlinson.com

5 Questions for Charlotte Gullick

“Ben Percy’s craft book Thrill Me, suggests writers should have NO BACKSTORY, which sounds shocking at first, but it has really helped me pick up the pace and urgency of my fiction.”

-Charlotte Gullick

Charlotte Gullick is Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Austin Community College. She holds BA in Literature/Creative Writing from UC Santa Cruz  and a MA in English/Creative Writing from UC Davis as well as a MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her awards include a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship for Fiction, a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, and residencies at  MacDowell and Ragdale.

On October 11, Charlotte will teach the online class “Honing the Spark and Mapping Out Your Revision.” This class will introduce strategies for assessing what you have in your manuscript, where you want to go, and how to connect the two. We asked Charlotte about the books she’s learned from, challenges she’s faced in her own work, and what people will take away from the class.

What is a book that you recommend to people over and over? What makes it so compelling?

Well, it used to be In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje because of the poetic prose, the exploration of class, and the rich rendering of characters. After reading Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, this book has become my favorite–maybe of all time. I love the main character so much–she got under my skin and lived there, and I couldn’t separate myself from her incredibly deep challenges, couldn’t separate myself from what race slavery did and does to the human psyche, to all of us. Whitehead covers vast swaths of distance and time with a deft, compelling narrative, and Cora is at the center of it all.

In your own work, what has been one challenge posed by the craft, structure, voice, etc., of a book that you’ve had to puzzle out?

In my own writing, I tend to bog down with backstory, so keeping a lively, intriguing plot at the forefront of the prose has been a challenge. Ben Percy’s craft book Thrill Me, suggests writers should have NO BACKSTORY, which sounds shocking at first, but it has really helped me pick up the pace and urgency of my fiction.

Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?

I have had a few epiphanies – and those have been great for about the ten minutes that they last. Mostly, they go like this: “I am a genius for being able to solve my craft challenge in this particular way.” And then, I’ve learned from experience to give the brilliance a day or two, then I can see the merits and weaknesses of the “solution” – then, with humility, I try again.

What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

It is almost my own cliche, “What do you want readers to feel/think/do when they finish your work?”

What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

A strong understanding that revision is a multi-layered process, and that enjoying this process allows for more possibility, more insights, more confidence.

Thanks, Charlotte!

 

Click here to learn more about and register for Charlotte’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

5 Questions for Stephanie Noll

“We’ll talk about how setting can be its own character and learn ways to write about the impact a place has on a character’s dialogue and motivations.”

-Stephanie Noll

Stephanie Noll studied fiction writing at Texas State University, where she earned her MFA. She is a frequent storyteller at The Story Department, a monthly fundraiser for the non-profit Austin Bat Cave, and has also told stories at Listen to Your Mother, Backyard Story Night, Hyde Park Story Night, and the Tellers. Stephanie has 18 years of teaching experience and works as a senior lecturer in the English department at Texas State where she recently was awarded an Excellence in Teaching award. Stephanie is the director of Old Books for New Teachers, an organization that helps first-year teachers build classroom libraries. She has written a novel about a standardized test cheating scandal at an inner-city Houston high school.

On October 7, Stephanie will teach “Character as Setting: Make Place More Than a Set Piece in Your Writing” at ACC’s Highland Campus in Austin, TX. This class will use strategies from published works to help writers bring setting to life and make a work of fiction or memoir unforgettable. We asked Stephanie about the books she’s learned from, challenges she’s faced in her own work, and what people will take away from the class.

What is a book that you recommend to people over and over? What makes it so compelling?

Plainsong by Kent Haruf. It’s a stunning novel that relies so much on place and is told from multiple points of view. It’s what some would call a “quiet” book–the plot is not terribly dramatic, but the characters and the space they occupy feel so realized.

In your own work, what has been one challenge posed by the craft, structure, voice, etc., of a book that you’ve had to puzzle out?

Determining how to move through time–that’s really difficult, especially when you are writing from multiple points of view. Figuring out where the story begins and ends in time and then determining how to structure each character’s story, with that timeline in mind, is definitely a challenge.

Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?

Ha! That feeling lasts until the next time you sit down to write and then you’re sure it’s garbage. But with my novel, I knew the big plot points and characters, but as I wrote, the secondary plots started to unfold, and I could really see the stories within the story.

What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

Set deadlines for yourself. Find places to submit your work, and find a writing group. And keep in mind that this is a marathon and not a sprint.

What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

I want people to see how, in their own work, setting functions more than just scenery. We’ll talk about how setting can be its own character and learn ways to write about the impact a place has on a character’s dialogue and motivations. Most importantly, I want people to leave feeling excited to return to a work-in-progress or ready to start something new.

Thanks, Stephanie!

 

Click here to learn more about and register for Stephanie’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

Meet the Members: Judithe Little

“I love the process of researching, writing, and joining the two together. In particular, I like to write about people or events in history that have been overlooked.”

-Judithe Little

A member of the Writers’ League since 2009, Judithe Little lives in Houston.

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

Judithe Little: Wickwythe Hall, my first novel out now from Black Opal Books, is historical fiction and was inspired by a little-known confrontation between the British and the French during World War II. I’m currently working on another novel that takes place in France around the turn of the 19th century. I love the process of researching, writing, and joining the two together. In particular, I like to write about people or events in history that have been overlooked.

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

JL: I really enjoyed researching Winston Churchill, who plays a part in Wickwythe Hall, and would love to go back in time and have a drink with him. I’d have plenty of his favorite champagne, Pol Roger, on hand. I’d make sure his glass was never empty and would sit back and listen to whatever came out of his head.

I’d also like to ask Anthony Doerr if he has any tricks for coming up with the unique descriptions in All The Light We Cannot See. He has a great talent for using adjectives in unexpected ways. As a writer it can be so difficult to come up with new and interesting phrases to describe the mundane.

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

JL: I don’t like reading books more than once. I’ve never read the Outlander series so I think I’d bring those. I’ve heard they’re good, they’re long, and there are a lot of them. Plus I’m a sucker for a Scottish accent. But if I hadn’t already read The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, or Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, I’d bring one of those to get me through.

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

JL: I’ve learned that having a community of writers and a resource like the Writers’ League that helps writers connect with agents and publishers and gain insight into the publishing process is indispensable. Also, an excerpt from Wickwythe Hall was a finalist in one of the WLT Manuscript Contests and that was a great confidence booster.

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

JL: I feel like it has already taken me where I’d like to go! I started working on Wickwythe Hall over twelve years ago. To be able to hold the book in my hand is a dream come true. Next, I’d love to see my current work-in-progress published and sent out into the world. A research trip to France would be nice too.

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?

JL: The Promise by Ann Weisgarber, a lyrical novel set against the Galveston storm of 1900. It came out in 2013 but experiencing Hurricane Harvey and seeing the massive destruction the storm caused here in Houston, my thoughts have been going back to the characters and haunting scenes in The Promise.

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

JL: Foreword Reviews says Wickwythe Hall is “a riveting and enlightening mix of history and fiction that puts a human face on the costs of war.”  It was released by Black Opal Books on September 30. River Oaks Bookstore in Houston is hosting a launch party on October 21 at 4 pm.  If you’re in Houston, come by! To learn more about Wickwythe Hall, please visit my website at judithelittle.com.

Thanks, Judithe

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! Please also email us, at the same address, if you’d like to learn more about WLT board service.