Meet the Members: Amanda Waters

“There is such a supportive community of writers in Texas who are generous with their time, support, and knowledge.”

— Amanda Waters

A member of the Writers’ League since July 2019, Amanda lives in Houston.

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

Amanda Waters: Sweet Romance, YA

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

AW: Sally Lloyd-Jones. She’s a children’s book author, and seems like such a delightful person. The first question I’d ask her is what interesting thing she saw along the way to meet for our drink, because she seems to have a real gift for observing and noticing things, and I’d love to get a peek into her brain in that way.

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

AW: The first thing that popped into my mind is The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, because it would keep me entertained for a long time! Although if I could cheat a little and pick a whole series, I’d take the Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery.

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

AW: There is such a supportive community of writers in Texas who are generous with their time, support, and knowledge.

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

AW: I’d love to write and publish more novels that people enjoy reading and passing on to their friends — sounds simple, of course, but we all know it’s not! I’m currently working on a short story and a second novel starring minor characters in my first book, and I have an idea for some YA fiction that I’d like to branch off into one day.

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? 

AW: I really enjoyed the non-fiction book It’s a Love Story, by Houston based writer Lincee Ray. It’s part memoir, part collection of essays about love in many forms. The author grew up in a small town in Texas and writes some really touching and humorous stories that are so relatable and entertaining and very much capture growing up and living in East Texas. I like a book that makes me laugh, and this one definitely had me laughing out loud at times!

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

AW: My novel You Again is available now! It’s a sweet character-driven romance about a 62 year old widow who unexpectedly reconnects with her first love who broke her heart at 17. You can find out more information on my website along with book club resources and a link to my monthly newsletter where I talk about books I’m reading and other fun stuff. It’s also where you can hear about upcoming projects.

Thank you, Amanda!

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’re Reading Now:

Michael Noll, Program Director  

Bang by Daniel Peña
Arte Publico Press
January 30, 2018

In the intense national discussion of the novel American Dirt, one of the things that sometimes gets said is that the book would have drawn less notice–that its errors would have been less egregious–if it had been marketed as a thriller. But, of course, page-turners (whether they’re in the thriller genre or simply using conventions from it) should not be viewed as a wasteland of cultural appropriation. For example, there is Daniel Peña’s recent novel Bang. It involves characters who are undocumented and live on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. It also involves cartels, a plane crash, and an urgent sense of threat.
From page one, Bang demonstrates the ways that thriller conventions can be written into a very specific depiction of place, as in this opening scene of a woman waiting for her deported husband to return from Mexico:
“In her hands, she holds a portable transistor radio that she’s modified to pick up police radios, EMT radios, border patrol radios and twangy, redneck rag chew coming in over the CB waves. She listens for any news of her husband, trying to make sense of the garbled English blaring from the transistor’s speaker. The radio cuts in and out. Static.”

Evan Parks, Project Specialist

The Body Double by Emily Beyda
Doubleday
March 3, 2020

The Body Double by Emily Beyda (coming out in March from Doubleday) is a Hitchcockian thriller through modern day LA as our nameless narrator finds herself hired into one of the strangest jobs available, the body double for a celebrity who can’t handle the limelight anymore. Reading this novel calls to mind classics like Du Maurier’s Rebecca as our narrator struggles to maintain her sense of identity while assuming the identity of another. Filled to the brim with characters you don’t know if you can trust, the dark side of paradise, and intrigue, The Body Double earns the right to call itself a noir.

What We’re Reading Now:

Michael Noll, Program Director  

They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems by David Bowles
Cinco Puntos Press
November 27, 2018

I can remember a time when a novel-in-stories was an experimental concept, but thanks to writers like Jacqueline Woodson (National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming) and Kwame Alexander (Newbury winner Crossover), the form hasn’t just gone mainstream, it’s become an almost perfect form for middle-grade readers. A new book to add to the list of middle-grade novels-in-poems is David Bowles’ They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems. Bowles is a smart, astute writer, comfortable in linguistics (check out his tweet-threads about Spanish and Nahuatl), folklore (he wrote the book Border Lore Folktales and Legends of South Texas), and the humorous and fantastic (as his entry into the Unicorn Rescue Society series, The Chupacabras of the Río Grande, demonstrates).
They Call Me Güero does an expert, joyful job of creating a character who is at once tentative and uncertain and full of brash promises and desire. He’s also written a book that takes on politics directly, as in this scene where Güero’s family drives through a border patrol checkpoint on a shopping trip to San Antonio:
Dad, like he can feel the bad vibes
coming from the back seat, tells us to chill.
“It won’t always be like this,” he says,
“but it’s up to us to make the change,
especially los jóvenes, you and your friends.
Eyes peeled. Stay frosty. Learn and teach the truth.
Right now, what matters is San Antonio.
We’ll take your mom shopping,
go swimming in the Texas-shaped pool,
and eat a big dinner at Tito’s.
Order anything you want.”

Sam Babiak, Member Services Director / Program Coordinator 

Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Griffin
May 14, 2019

Set partially in Texas, Washington D.C., and London, this debut romance novel is both familiar and refreshing. Red, White, & Royal Blue follows Alex, the First Son of the United States as he falls in love with none other than, Henry the Prince of Wales. Witty, moving, and bubbling with chemistry, this book has everything you need in a romance. But while Alex is the First Son of the United States, he’s also the first Latino SOTUS. The intersection of Alex’s identity, paired with his sexual awakening in the world’s harsh spotlight, make for a dynamic read. This book explores the first woman president (Alex’s very Texan mother), the first (half) Latinx First Family, and a gay royal. This fun read is the perfect reprieve from our own political landscape and one of my favorite “enemies to lovers” romance. A must read!

Neena Husid, Leadership Austin Fellow 

The Roxy Letters by Mary Pauline Lowry
Simon & Schuster
April 7, 2020

The Roxy Letters, Mary Pauline Lowry’s romp through an Austin fast going corporate gets a thumbs up from this reviewer. Bravely, Lowry employs the occasionally besmirched epistolary form to give readers a window into Roxy: a horny, underachieving Whole Foods ‘deli maid’ who recruits an unlikely posse for an eco-grrl-graffiti response to the gentrification of her beloved town. But then, what else would a thwarted UT art major do?

In fast, funny, often pissy letters to Everett, her ex-boyfriend roommate, Roxy bemoans her city’s transformation in the whiny fashion of all who have lived in Austin over three years. How many Austinites does it take to screw in a light bulb? You know the answer.

For many of us UT grads that never left, The Roxy Letters can’t help but recall Sarah Bird’s breakthrough novel Alamo House-a smart, snarky send up of the frat house co-op wars of a pre-condos everywhere campus. But it’s hard to equate Lowry’s 2012 Austin with Bird’s eighties version. Or is it?

Since 1972 when I made my home in a city that had not yet audaciously dubbed itself the live music capitol of the world, we Austinites have been complaining. We complained when Armadillo World Headquarters fell, when Liberty Lunch was razzed,and when South Austin stopped being referred to as Bubba Land. Conversely, we cheered for ACL, SXSW, and the resilience of Oat Willies, Peter Pan Mini-Golf and a twice-flooded Whole Foods. And though Waterloo Records still stands proud, the object of Roxy’s fury, Lululemon, has truly swallowed up its video sister in a swath of see-thru yoga offerings. Pants that Roxy discovered during a reconnaissance mission, gave her the “ass of a vixen.”

What to do about an ever-morphing paradise full of old memories and new possibilities? Roxy has a plan for keeping it weird. Check it out and laugh as you try hard to forget Whole Foods is now a Jeff Bezo’s acquisition. You can pre-order this book now!


Meet the Members: Mark Billingsley

“I plan to be writing and publishing for the rest of my life.”

— Mark Billingsley  

A renewed member of the Writers’ League since January 2020, Mark works in Abilene during the week, but travels home to Leander on the weekends.  

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

Mark Billingsley: Professionally, I am a grant writer. I taught English and Journalism for 16 years, so all three areas of specialization have informed my writing. I began a fiction novel several years ago while attending a two-week New Jersey Writing Project training but did not finish it. I ran across rough drafts somewhere. Maybe I can resurrect it. I hope to write feature articles for magazines while also doing research and writing biographies in the short term. So both fiction and non-fiction would be the answer, I suppose.

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

MB: J.R.R. Tolkien. I would ask him what he thought of the movie adaptations of his books.

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

MB: The Bible.

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

MB: Well, I just started, so not much yet. I’m attending a training on Saturday, and my wife and I hope to take advantage of more opportunities in the future. Once I have a good draft of one of my books I hope to set up a one-on-one appointment with WLT for feedback. As soon as I see a workshop on publishing, I’m there.

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

MB: I’d like to make a living at it so I can fully retire. Regardless, I plan to be writing and publishing for the rest of my life. Traveling, researching and writing will make a nice retirement hobby.

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?

MB: I haven’t read a Texas-related book lately. Anything about the Beatles fits into the “unable to put down” category for me. In fact, a Beatles book is in my future, and since I’m a Texas boy, Texas will definitely be there.

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

MB: My wife is the more creative one. I’m a good wordsmith. Hopefully we can combine talents and really come up with a special book in the future.

Thank you, Mark!

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!

Meet the Members: Nikki Carter

“My overarching goal this year is to finish and publish a novel…”

— Nikki Carter 

A member of the Writers’ League since January 2020, Nikki currently lives in Copperas Cove, Texas. 

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

Nikki Carter: I’m a freelance writer, so I write a variety of content in that capacity and then personally, I write poetry, personal essays, and I’m working on my first fiction novel. My published work can be found here.

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

NC: I’m going to say Mary Gaitskill, because I love her prose. I would want to know all about her writing process! How does she stay organized? Does she schedule blocks of time to write? etc. 

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

NC:  This is a hard one. I’d probably just take something super long, so that I have something to occupy my time. Maybe it would be a perfect time to read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

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

NC: I just joined, but I’m looking forward to meeting other writers in the area.

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

NC: My overarching goal this year is to finish and publish a novel based on my personal experiences with toxic relationships. Sort of in the vein of “Normal People” by Sally Rooney. 

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?

NC: I admittedly have not read a Texas-related book lately, but am open to suggestions! I’ve been trying to read more women and people of color and I just finished On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and loved it.

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

NC: Outside of my freelance work, I run a weekly jobs newsletter for women of color. Oh, and my best friend (who is also a writer and lives in AR) and I are hoping to launch a writing retreat this fall!

Thank you, Nikki!

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’re Reading Now: January 14

Michael Noll, Program Director

The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas
Berkley Publishing
October 15, 2019

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!