Meet the Members: Melinda Freeland

“There are a lot of friendly writers and people associated with the writing world, and Texas sure has a lot of writers!​”

-Melinda Freeland

A member of the Writers’ League since 2011, Melinda Freeland lives in Canyon Lake, Texas.

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

Melinda Freeland: Christian contemporary romance and women’s fiction​.

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

MF: Anita Shreve. Is any part of The Last Time They Met autobiographical?  (That’s my favorite book written by her.)​

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

MF: The Bible.  It’s long, so it would keep me occupied for hours. I would continue to learn some new insight each time I read it, and I could maybe figure out why G​od decided to stick me on a deserted island!

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

MF: There are a lot of friendly writers and people associated with the writing world, and Texas sure has a lot of writers!​

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

MF: My debut novel just came out in May, so I see many more years of writing novels in this genre and women’s fiction.​  If my writing could take me on a trip to the red carpet because my novels were made into a movie, that would be awesome!

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?

MF: I just finished reading My Hope Next Door by Tammy L. Gray.  It’s also a Christian contemporary romance like my debut novel and it’s also written about “real” people.  Like I say, “Christians are people, too!”  This author did a fantastic job of keeping me interested enough to read even when I was dead tired, making me really feel for the main characters, and portraying Christians realistically to show both their good and bad sides.

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

MF: If you love reading books that take place in Texas  and novels that are inspired by true stories, go to my website www.melindafreeland.com and check out the BOOKS tab. Love, Texas — Population 2 is a Christian contemporary romance novel inspired by my own true story of my life as a small-town reporter and photographer in Taylor, Texas; my reunion with my Austin high-school sweetheart; and my dynamic faith journey.  You can also check out the BUY tab on my website, where you’ll find a link to purchase a signed copy of my debut novel with PayPal or a major credit card. :)​

Thanks, Susan!

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.

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5 Questions for Screenwriter Jill Chamberlain

“Likeable characters are boring. You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you worry about making your protagonist likeable.”

-Jill Chamberlain

Jill Chamberlain is a screenplay consultant and founder of The Screenplay Workshop with Jill Chamberlain, which offers private script consultation and group instruction in Austin and via Skype. Her book from the University of Texas Press, The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting, is considered the go-to manual many professionals swear by and is on the syllabus for the acclaimed screenwriting program at Columbia University. Many of her students have achieved success in Hollywood with screenplays optioned, sold, and made into award-winning feature films.

On December 2, Jill will teach “Structuring a Successful Screenplay Using the Nutshell Technique” at St. Edward’s  University in Austin, TX. This class will cover eight essential elements for a successful screenplay. We asked Jill about the films she’s learned from, advice she gives often and advice she thinks is overused, and what people will take away from the class.

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

Paper Moon is about as perfect as a movie can be. Take the first shot: Moses drives up to a graveside funeral in progress and steals flowers off of a nearby grave to present to the bereaved. That tells you everything you need to know about this guy. He’s a con artist but also at times his heart is in the right place. It is a masterpiece, from the first frame to the last, and yes, that last frame is connected to the first one.

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

Last week, I was consulting on a screenplay for a major studio; this was for a movie with a huge budget. I can’t discuss any specifics about the project, but I’ll say generally that I discovered I was dealing with the exact same kind of story issues that I deal with when working with amateur screenwriters. At the heart of everything, a story is a story. It doesn’t matter if it’s ultimately a $150 million movie or a $150,000 movie or zero-dollar labor of love, you need to ensure the same story elements are in place and are structurally sound when you’re writing the screenplay.

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

If you want to be a screenwriter, you must read screenplays. Not one or two screenplays but tons and tons of screenplays, as many as you can get your hands on.

Is there a common piece of writing advice that you wish people wouldn’t put so much stock in or follow too closely?

Yes, that your protagonist should be likeable. This is the central precept behind the number one bestselling book on screenwriting, “Save The Cat,” and I couldn’t disagree with this idea more! Think of, for example, the Bill Murray character in “Groundhog Day” — he isn’t in the least bit likeable. The movie wouldn’t have worked had he been likeable. Likeable characters are boring. You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you worry about making your protagonist likeable.

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

Well, you’re going to take away a ton of things because the class is going to be absolutely jam-packed with information. But here is perhaps the most important thing: In my work as a script consultant, I have discovered that 99 percent of first-time screenwriters fail to tell a story. What the 99 percent do instead is present a situation. The most important thing I’ll show you is how to ensure you’re telling a story and that you’re not falling in the 99 percent who are merely presenting a situation.

Thanks, Jill!

 

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

Click here for our current class schedule.

Meet the Members: Susan Johnston Taylor, plus a special discount for WLT Members

“I love something Liz Garton Scanlon said during her recent WLT class. When revising her picture books, she thinks not about making them shorter but more potent. I think that’s a good way to approach revisions in any genre.”

-Susan Johnston Taylor

A member of the Writers’ League since September, Susan Johnston Taylor lives in Austin. She’s co-chairing the first Austin regional conference for the American Society of Journalists & Authors on February 3, 2018. It’s a full day of insights and inspiration for nonfiction writers with a keynote by Sarah Bird, sessions on the craft and business of writing, networking and much WLT members get a $20 discount on registration with the code TX18-WLT-TX. More details at tiny.cc/asjatx.

Read the interview to learn more about Susan.

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

Susan Johnston Taylor: After working as a freelancer writing nonfiction articles about personal finance and small business for almost a decade, I was starting to burn out, so I had the crazy idea to write a picture book. Several classes and manuscripts later, I’m now hooked and find that tapping into my younger self’s curiosity fuels my writing for grownups, too.

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

SJT: I’d ask Charlotte Brontë about her revision process. What was in the first draft of “Jane Eyre” that was left on the cutting room floor and did any of those scenes wind up in another story?

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

SJT:  Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. The subtitle (“Some Instructions on Writing and Life”) reflects how the book not only speaks to the craft of writing but also the challenges of being human.

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

SJT: I love something Liz Garton Scanlon said during her recent WLT class. When revising her picture books, she thinks not about making them shorter but more potent. I think that’s a good way to approach revisions in any genre.

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

SJT: I’m shopping around several picture book manuscripts (including a pun-filled grammar story), so I hope my writing leads to a publishing deal. I’d love to write an adult nonfiction book, too, but I’m still zeroing in on the right focus.

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?

SJT: Texas has so many awesome writers, it’s hard to choose one! I studied with Jason Gallaher at the Writing Barn here in Austin and loved his debut picture book Whobert Whover, Owl Detective, which came out this summer, so shout out to Jason and his awesome class. (He also spoke at WLT’s July Third Thursday this year.)

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

SJT: Yes, I’m co-chairing the first Austin regional conference for the American Society of Journalists & Authors on February 3, 2018. It’s a full day of insights and inspiration for nonfiction writers with a keynote by Sarah Bird, sessions on the craft and business of writing, networking and much more. WLT members get a $20 discount on registration with the code TX18-WLT-TX. More details at tiny.cc/asjatx.

Thanks, Susan!

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.

Community Member Q&A: Childress Business Communication

“Find a community of writers to keep you motivated and engaged with the latest developments in the field. WLT is a great place to make friendships with other writers. Find a group, and become active with them.”

-Cindy Childress, Ph.D., founder of Childress Business Communication

Childress Business Communication is a writing consulting firm based in Houston, Texas. Their mission is to empower their clients with engaging, effective communication strategies. They’re passionate about helping professional service providers and coaches develop a strong, consistent brand.

In addition, Childress Business Communication is a proud Community Member of the Writers’ League of Texas. Read the interview below with founder Cindy Childress, Ph.D., to find out more about her and her company.

Scribe: You have a Ph.D. in English. How did you decide to transition from academia to owning your own business?

CC: As I was in the last semester of my Ph. D., my husband got the opportunity to move overseas for his career in oil and gas. I have always loved to travel and was interested in living abroad, so we spent seven years in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Balikpapan, Indonesia. While overseas, I had a dependent visa, and I couldn’t find a job. I almost joined the faculty of the Islamic University of Malaysia, but the day after my final interview, Israel sank a flotilla of aid that was going from Turkey to Palestine, and there were protests at the American Embassy in KL. The university feared I would be followed by such protests if I joined their campus.

So, I returned to America having been President of two expatriate women’s groups and having gained experience in corporate sponsorships, events, and memberships. But I hadn’t done a single hour of paid work for seven years, so I couldn’t even get an interview for administrative jobs, must less anything befitting my education and experience.

I returned to my creativity and created my own job as a freelance writer to start building a portfolio. At first, my intention was to become competitive for a position as a ghostwriter in a book writing firm, but my business grew quickly, and now I create positions for other talented writers and creative professionals. I use all my skills from being a writing professor to train my team in the new genres of content writing and sales copywriting on digital platforms.

In graduate school, when my colleagues and professors said they didn’t think they could possibly function outside academia, I felt puzzled. The myth that if you’re too educated, you have to stay behind the walls of the ivory tower is absurd. Knowing exactly who my audience is and how I need to communicate in order to be effective means that I am where I should be–wherever I am.

Scribe: You are one of several team members at Childress Communications. Tell us a little more about your team members and their specialties.

CC: Clare Martin’s second book of poetry from Yellow Flag Press was released this year. I have known her since we were in an informal poetry critique group together in Louisiana, and she founded and edits the Mockingheart Review. Her skills in poetry and creative nonfiction are perfectly adapted to writing snappy ad copy and compelling, emotional prose.

Susannah Russell has a J.D. from the University of Houston and spent the last five years as a technical writer for a major company. Her experience in writing powerful, successful long-form prose made it a no-brainer to invite her to join the team. She’s doing a great job on our full-length book projects.

Donnette Brown is our Creative Growth Strategist, and she holds an M.B. A. She allows me to stay in my left-brain while she picks up the right-brain tasks for daily operations to make sure we stay profitable and maintain our relationships with clients. We created her title to reflect the many facets of her role.

We just added Morgan Mitchell to handle more of our social media and content writing needs, as well as to do some in-house writing for the business. She brings graphic design and video editing skills, alongside a strong desire to tell stories across social media platforms.

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

CC: Don’t measure your success by anyone else’s. Just keep writing and paying attention to your craft. Don’t be afraid to go outside the box and do something no one else is doing. Also, find a community of writers to keep you motivated and engaged with the latest developments in the field. One thing that happened to me overseas is that I was without a community for the first time, and that made it harder to keep writing. WLT is a great place to make friendships with other writers. Find a group, and become active with them.

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

CC: Writers need each other and need to support each other. If you write in isolation, then when you publish, even if it’s with a big publishing house, you will have a harder time promoting the book than if you had already been building relationships with groups like WLT, other writers, and the venues that are friendly to writers, like indie bookstores such as Brazos Bookstore and BookPeople.

Being a community member is about supporting the events and activities that WLT brings to writers across Texas. Meeting other writers and finding out about their writing processes and goals is helpful to my business, of which a fair part of it is editing manuscripts and creating author platforms, but it’s more about uplifting the entire literary community. For every writer that creates a better book and sells more of them, that helps all of us by further dignifying the craft.

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?

CC: Jamie Brickhouse’s Dangerous When Wet was delightful start-to-finish. [Editor’s Note: Brickhouse was the Keynote Reception Speaker at our 2017 WLT Conference. Find out more about the 2018 Conference here.]

Scribe: Anything else you’d like to share?

CC: Even while book publishing houses are struggling to find their place in the changing digital economy, the appetite for good writing and storytelling remains. Be brave, be bold, and don’t wait for anyone else to figure it out. Your stories need you to tell them.

Thanks, Cindy!

Click here to visit Childress Business Communication’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.

Guest Post: Sofie Darling, 2016 Manuscript Contest Winner (Romance Category), On Her Publishing Success Story

“The path toward publication is going to look different for every writer, and my journey won’t be the right fit for everyone. But, in retrospect, it’s clear that taking the initiative and entering the WLT’s Manuscript Contest was the jumpstart my career needed.”

-Sofie Darling

Editor’s Note: We’re thrilled to have debut romance novelist Sofie Darling write this guest blog post for us about the success she experienced after winning the 2016 Manuscript Contest in the Romance Category. You can purchase her book Three Lessons in Seduction hereThe 2017 Manuscript Contest is now open for submissions! Click here for more details. For the first time, the winners in each category will receive a complimentary registration to our annual Agents & Editors Conference.

Funny enough, my journey to publication started when my friend and critique partner, Kate Ramirez, won WLT’s Manuscript Contest in the romance category in 2015. Her win gave me good incentive to finish the book I was working on and enter the contest the following year, even though I was somewhat hesitant to do so.

I’d entered a contest before—that’s right, one contest—and it didn’t go anywhere. I took this “failure” as confirmation of my deepest fear that my writing wasn’t connecting with anyone, even though my critique partners were telling me differently. But they liked me. What did they know?

Still, I entered the WLT’s Manuscript Contest, and I won . . . to my utter and complete surprise.

In addition to the WLT win, I received a pitch session with the agent who selected my entry as the winner. We had a good chat, and she requested the full manuscript. Ultimately, she passed on it, but she did give me some good advice. In regards to getting the manuscript ready to send to her, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Be ruthless.”

Buoyed with a bit more confidence after the WLT win and full request, I moved past my fear of contests and entered two more. I finaled in both, and in two categories in one. While this led to conversations with editors, I was still having no agent luck. I made it pretty far down the road with another agent, but she, too, passed.

The process of querying agents and either getting rejected or never responded to led me toward a bold decision: I researched every single romance publisher who accepted direct submissions from authors and submitted to all of them. Out of the twelve publishers I queried, I received five requests for more material. Within five months, I had a signed contract with a boutique romance publisher.

I still think about the agent’s words, “Be ruthless.” It applies to the writing, of course—adverbs can be pesky little irritants—but it also applies to the career of the writer. It wasn’t until I decided to take my fate as a writer into my own hands and stop waiting for an agent—any agent, please!—to accept me as a client that I was able to forge the beginnings of a career. Entering contests and submitting directly to publishers was my way of doing this.

The path toward publication is going to look different for every writer, and my journey won’t be the right fit for everyone. But, in retrospect, it’s clear that taking the initiative and entering the WLT’s Manuscript Contest was the jumpstart my career needed. My debut novel, Three Lessons in Seduction, was published on September 27, 2017, just fifteen months after that inspiring win.

Visit Sofie’s website here.

Click here for more information about how to enter the 2017 Manuscript Contest.

Meet the Members: Bernadette Nason

“A rewarding element (mostly) of the memoir genre is that one is transported to the places one is writing about.”

-Bernadette Nason

A member of the Writers’ League since 1992, Bernadette Nason lives in Austin, TX.

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

Bernadette Nason: Memoir and YA so far, but I have a novel, already finished as a screenplay, simply screaming for attention.

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

BN: I’d like to drink wine with Italian author Andrea Camilleri (Inspector Montalbano series) and ask about the way he depicts Italian women in his books, and whether they’re based on people he knows. Italians have such distinctive national characteristics, which seem peculiar to that part of the world, that stereotypes have emerged. When I was describing my Italian colleagues in Tea in Tripoli, I feared they might come across as stereotypes, rather than the very real people they were to me.

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

BN: I think about this regularly (really) and have considered, variously, the dictionary, the thesaurus, and the Bible. At the moment, I’d choose The Forest by Edward Rutherford because it’s set in Hampshire in England and would remind me of my home. If I were allowed to take a series, I’d take Outlander because I’ve enjoyed a few of the TV episodes, but never read any of the books.

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

BN: Hard to list in a short piece like this, but when I think of WLT, I think of classes and community. When I joined in 1992, I was immediately connected with like-minded others, giving me an incredible boost when I was a flailing newbie. When I was close to my first draft of Tea in Tripoli, I rejoined after a long break, and, frankly, it saved my bacon. Not only did I learn a huge amount from the fabulous classes (memoir writing and many others), but I also met supportive people who were following the same path, and we picked each other’s brains and gave each other confidence. Even more important, when I’d been closed off at my desk for hours, days, weeks at a time, the writers’ gatherings kept me rational and somewhat coherent! On a day-to-day basis, the staff have always been there for me, answering quick (and neurotically long) questions, about everything from writing technique to how to find an agent. This all sounds a bit obsequious, but it’s true – I can’t imagine a better resource.

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

BN: A rewarding element (mostly) of the memoir genre is that one is transported to the places one is writing about. Having spent more than five years researching, revisiting, then writing Tea in Tripoli, I felt as if I were in North Africa for way longer than the fifteen months I actually lived there! In theory, chronologically, Dinner in Dubai is up next; it’s in “detailed outline” stage with many individual chapters completed. Since I did, in real-life, spend five years there, it’s a much more complex situation than Tea, and extremely difficult to sift through as far as what stays and what goes. My editor will have a field day when I present 700 pages of expatriate shenanigans! I’m leaning therefore towards a book of witty seasonal anecdotes about dysfunctional Christmases around the world, Stealing Baby Jesus, which is close to being a completed first draft.

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?

BN: My immediate thought was Bret Anthony Johnston’s Remember Me Like This, which I loved, but I think it’s more than a year old, so I’ll go with Houston author Apply Gidley’s compelling new novel Fireburn, a meticulously researched historical romance with a storyline involving class, race and gender. Set in St. Croix, Fireburn‘s release coincided with recent hurricane activity, and having read it at that time, I’m now rooting for the US Virgin Islands to make a valiant comeback!

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

BN: Although I’m known as an actor/storyteller/voice-over artist, I’ve been writing all my life. Tea in Tripoli: A Memoir is my first book, inspired by my expatriate adventures during Gaddafi’s turbulent regime, c. 1984-85. Running away from the UK, I took the first available overseas job and found myself in Libya working for an oil company with eleven other British secretaries. The book covers my attempts to escape my past on a sometimes comic, often perilous, journey of self-discovery.

Here are several reviews:

“Nason weaves her spell on the reader with her witty prose, conversational style and peerless storytelling…an utterly fascinating personal account of an adventurous woman…both amusing and frightening…” –Broadway World Book Review

“Drenched in the aftermath of colonialism, Tea in Tripoli is a coming of age tale like no other. Nason is a brave and witty travel companion who leaves you looking forward to the next trip.” –Donna Johnson, Author of Holy Ghost Girl: A Memoir

Tea in Tripoli was released by Brave Bear & Co. on August 21, 2017, and is available at Amazon, BookPeople in Austin and The Twig in San Antonio. To learn more about it and me, please visit my website: bernadettenason.com.

Thanks, Bernadette!

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.

Special WLT Events at the 2017 Texas Book Festival

We love participating in the Texas Book Festival every year, and we’re excited to announce some extra special Writers’ League events that we hope to see you at during what is always a pretty amazing festival weekend.

On Saturday, join us at 4 p.m. for a Writers’ League of Texas panel discussion in the Texas Tent (on Congress Avenue & 8th Street). We’ll be talking  to authors Owen Egerton, Amy Gentry, Skip Hollandsworth, and Michael Hurd about the enduring draw of the Lone Star State, and why writing about its unique landscape, complex history, and compelling people never gets old. Moderated by WLT Executive Director Becka Oliver, this “Obsessed with Texas” conversation promises to be fascinating. Let us know you’re coming on Facebook.

And if you’re free beforehand, join us at our booth (Booths 320-321, Exhibitor Tent 3) at 3 p.m. for a champagne toast to celebrate the 2016 Book Award Honorees. Every year, we take a pause during the busy weekend to raise a glass to our winners and finalists. Stop by, enjoy some bubbly, and support terrific Texas authors. Full list of honorees can be found here.

On Sunday, if you have little ones, head to the Children’s Activity Tent (on Congress near 9th street) at 3 p.m. for a fun watercolor activity with author/illustrator Salima Alikhan, sponsored by our Project WISE program. Salima will lead the children through a hands-on project to make beautiful art that mimics natural phenomena like snow, coral, leaves, and rain. Share the event with your friends on Facebook.

We’ll also have WLT members signing and promoting their books all weekend long. Check out the schedule below, and find more information on the signers on here and here.

Hope to see you there!

If you read this post and thought “I’ve published a book! I wish I could sign at the Texas Book Festival!” consider joining the Writers’ League! Signing opportunities at our booths at the San Antonio Book Festival and the Texas Book Festival are available to all current members. Space is limited, so sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about when we will start accepting applications for the 2018 San Antonio Book Festival.