What We’re Reading Now:

Sam Babiak, Program Director / Member Services Director

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
Penguin Books
September 25, 2014

Mary Karr said, “Memoir is not an act of history but an act of memory, which is innately corrupt.” This is true for all memories, but if you’re writing about traumatic events you’ve experienced, these memories work differently and will likely be much more difficult to write about. The Body Keeps the Score breaks down the way that trauma affects our bodies and minds and the ways that traumatic memories differ from other kinds of memories. For a memoirist writing about trauma, this is a must read. Untangling these memories and understanding their impact is an essential step in writing memoir, and although reading this book is by no means a substitute for therapy, it is an incredible companion to have on this journey. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. I first heard of this book in November 2019 at our Texas Writes in ATX event. The wonderful memoirist Rachel Starnes gave a presentation on memory in memoir and recommended that anyone writing about trauma should read this book. Then a few weeks ago, this book was recommended again. This time, by Jessica Wilbanks in her Memoir 101 class. This book keeps popping up for a reason and although it was published in 2014, the human experience, our minds and bodies after trauma, the core of writing memoir, that is all timeless and that’s why I’m recommending The Body Keeps the Score once again.


Evan Parks, Project Specialist

Rules for Being Dead by Kim Powers
Blair Publishing
May 12, 2020
Almost immediately in Rules for Being Dead, Powers roots the reader into the setting and narrative. In it we follow Clarke, a third-grader, as he struggles with his mother’s death during the ’60s. That’s a fairly standard plot, however Clarke’s perspective is followed up with the perspective of his mother’s spirit as she watches over him, and the rest of the small Texas town where they reside. There’s a mystery surrounding her death, and it’s one that haunts everyone. This book is drenched with the ghosts of movies at the drive-in, familial drama, and heartache.

Meet the Members: Melinda Wyers

” …[I]f I’m indefinitely stuck somewhere it would be nice to read about immortality.”

— Melinda Wyers

A member of the Writers’ League since February 2019, Melinda lives in Hutto.

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

Melinda Wyers: I currently write mid to late Victorian Historical Fiction.

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

MW: Virginia Woolf. “Why would you try to cook eggs in bed?”

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

MW: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, if I’m indefinitely stuck somewhere it would be nice to read about immortality.

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

MW: I’ve only started but hope to attend a few of the events this March and get to meet folks.

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

MW: I’m hoping to write at least two more books in the same genre or with the same characters, then move on to write about something more modern.

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? 

MW:  I haven’t read one that has come out in the past year, most of what I read was written a while back but I’m starting research on Galveston in the late 1800’s (before the hurricane) so I’m about to jump into Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson.

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

MW: My current book, The Widow of Redbriar has been out for a year now, and is available in print and ebook. To get updates on my work and other projects you can visit my website.

Thank you, Melinda!

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 Q&A: The Writing Consultancy

“I have gained so much knowledge and wonderful friends volunteering at Writer’s League events, watching authors grow at the annual A&E Conference and witnessing so much talent make its way into print.”

– Britta Jensen

The Writing Consultancy offers mentoring and coaching for stories in development, a range of editing services for fiction and non-fiction, and literacy tutoring.

In addition to supporting and promoting authors, The Writing Consultancy is a proud Community Member of the Writers’ League of Texas. Read the interview below with founder Britta Jensen to find out more.

Scribe: Tell us a little about the Writing Consultancy and the work that you do.

Britta Jensen: I started the Writing Consultancy to meet the needs of writers who might fit into one of the following three groups: authors seeking to get published, writers pursuing indie publishing, or aspiring writers wanting to improve their narrative skills and voice. For fifteen years I taught secondary creative writing and literature. In the evenings, I worked with authors I met at writing conferences on developing their manuscripts. Years of working with both these populations spurred my desire to blend my favourite parts of teaching and editing to create a holistic approach I felt was missing from a lot of editing services. Some writers want a more hands-on approach: a mix of editing and writing instruction. Others want incisive, honest feedback on their manuscript to get it published, while others need mentoring: a mix of writing instruction and project planning to guide them through finishing a book that otherwise may linger on their hard drive for years without finishing the book. I wanted all three of these services to be available to writers, but also at a price that would allow as many authors as possible to achieve their publishing dreams.

Scribe: What is the biggest takeaway from working as a writing consultant, editor, and mentor? 

BJ: One of the biggest advantages of working with me is that there isn’t any middle man. The Writing Consultancy is just me, Britta Jensen. You get a lot of one-on-one attention as a result. I have a broad base of knowledge: characterization, plot, dialogue, thematic issues, story structure, and a huge treasure trove of exercises and techniques. It helps that I started out as a playwright/poet and had many years of Off-Broadway theater experience to solidify my knowledge of story structure (while reading novels by flashlight backstage). I make it my goal to first identify what is working well with an author’s developing voice and story and then focus on ways to restructure their narrative to bring clarity to the reader. Clients appreciate my honesty and high level of detail in my feedback. My primary goal is for my clients to go further than publishing a book: I want them to be the writer they envision becoming.

As a mentor, a lot of clients appreciate the accountability part of our relationship: I design deadlines that will work with their vision for their book, we create benchmarks for achieving those goals (often crafted around their job and life circumstances), and I check-in with them regularly before and after we meet. I love working for a longer stretch of time (usually for an entire book) with an author and watching them progress. As result, I feel like an advocate of their work: the relationship doesn’t end with the project’s conclusion.

As an editor and writing consultant, clients like that I sit down with them and answer all of their questions. Built into the cost of editing is a block of time for meeting one on one (either in person or via phone/video conference). Since half of my clients don’t live in the Austin metro area, the outbrief helps a lot with outlining next steps and clarifying anything that may have come up when they reviewed my edits. All editing clients receive a letter with their developmental or copy edit that summarizes my feedback to help them parse through all the notes in the margins and tracked changes (which can be really overwhelming without that editing letter).

To make sure that clients feel I’m a good fit for their project I always offer a thirty-minute free consultation via phone and offer a sample critique.

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

BJ: Develop a vision for your work. This might sound self-evident, but there can be a lot of conflicting advice about the writing process floating around if you aren’t thoughtful about where you want your writing journey to go. If you elucidate your vision, your individual goals (I’d love to publish ten stories by age fifty), and what benchmarks will help you feel successful, when the hard knocks come you still have a navigable pathway before you. Critique partners, professional editors and mentors can also help you refine your vision as you learn more about your process as a writer, which will be unique to your circumstances and skills.

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

BJ: The best thing about moving to Texas was definitely the Writer’s League. I wish I had known about it while I was still living overseas because you have so many great online classes! I have gained so much knowledge and wonderful friends volunteering at Writer’s League events, watching authors grow at the annual A&E Conference and watching so much talent make its way into print. Because my life has always surrounded literacy, it is wonderful to feel like I’m “with my people” and can support fellow writers, get new ideas for my books and learn from seasoned veterans. Writer’s League truly fosters a growth mindset in authors and that is essential in our careers! One worry I had when I moved to Texas, after twenty-two years living overseas, was that I wouldn’t be able to connect with people stateside. Writer’s League has such a diverse group of people to learn from. I’m so honored to be a member of this organization!

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? 

BJ: Two Texas author’s books I’m enjoying at present are: Nicky Drayden’s Escaping Exodus and Tears of a Trufflepig by Fernando A. Flores. I’m in awe of both these authors magnificent minds and wonderful prose.

Scribe: Anything else you’d like to share? 

BJ: A lot of writers ask me how I find time to write my books. My biggest discovery, when I transitioned from a playwright to novelist, was creating consistency of practice. I’m the daughter of a professional musician. As a kid I had an allotted time when I could practice voice and piano every day. And if I didn’t practice six days a week, I was in big trouble. When I took that same approach to my writing, it made it a lot easier to draft and edit. Consistent practice, even if it’s twenty minutes, means I don’t waste time forgetting what I edited, or having to spend hours reconnecting with a manuscript via my notes in Scrivener. (This has all been while working full-time). Early mornings tend to be golden. No one is awake to bother me and I’m free to get lost in my work. I’ve written five books as a result of seeking the best time to work, staying consistent in writing/editing my work 4-5 days a week and constantly looking at ways in which to be more efficient with my time. As a result, I feel like I have an aspect of my writing career that is within my control.

Thanks, Britta!

Click here to visit The Writing Consultancy’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:

Becka Oliver, Executive Director  

American Sherlock by Kate Winkler Dawson
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
February 11, 2020

Kate Winkler Dawson has been the featured author for our latest series of “WLT On the Craft of Writing” events around the state. Which means that I’ve been lucky enough to hear her talk firsthand about her wonderful new book, American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI, in Austin, Dallas, and Houston (with events in Georgetown and Waco still to come). Honestly, I could listen to her all day long and not get bored – and reading the book is just as much of a treat. During her research, Kate opened box after box containing the life’s work of Edward Oscar Heinrich – a forensic science pioneer who kept meticulous notes documenting his many breakthroughs – and managed to distill that enormous pile of information into a narrative nonfiction read that is suspenseful, surprising, and beautifully written. Whether studying the sand at a grave to determine its origins, or analyzing a pair of overalls left behind by a band of murderous train robbers, or testifying against Fatty Arbuckle in one of the most famous trials of the 1920s, Oscar Heinrich took forensics science into the modern age and forever changed crime scene investigation. His story needed to be told and I can’t imagine another author telling it as well or as thoroughly.

If you are a fan of true crime tales and police procedurals, this book is for you. If you’re a history buff and love discovering people you’ve never heard of who have made extraordinary contributions, this book is for you. If part of the pleasure of reading for you is the learning, this book is for you. If you’ve ever binge-watched CSI or Criminal Minds or Law & Order or, fittingly, Sherlock, this book is for you. (In other words, this book is for you!)


Kelsey Williams, Office Manager   

Harleen by Stjepan Sejic
DC Comics
February 11, 2020

After watching DC’s Birds of Prey in theaters, it struck me how much I love the character Harley Quinn but how little I’ve actually read about her. Cue me in a comic shop, scouring the shelves for more stories about my favorite anti-heroine. With great luck, I got my hands on Harleen – an incredibly beautiful graphic novel with story and art by Stjepan Sejic.

Sejic reimagines the origin story of Harley Quinn – if you’re not familiar, she’s a psychiatrist turned crime doer after becoming enmeshed with the Joker – and pays particular attention to the subtleties of how empathy and desire activate and diminish. Harley Quinn, or Harleen Quinzel, gets to tell her own story in this stunning work by Sejic. The artwork in Harleen is gorgeous, the story is moving and fits seamlessly into Sejic’s art style and graphic narrative pacing, and Harley gets the chance to be messy, complicated, ambitious, and fully realized.


Neena Husid, Leadership Austin FellowA Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
Candlewick Press
March 24, 2020
Riveting, rich and meaningful, A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat gets this reviewers enthusiastic thumbs up. Though set in a fantastical Southeast Asian dystopia where light is doled out by a suspect Governor, this middle grade fiction shines lights on such heady issues as truth, justice, ownership and power. The story follows Pong, and escaped prison waif, through a series of experiences, often white-knuckled, which lead him beyond a need to survive and into a  realm of understanding the hard choices a woke citizen, and friend, must make. Inspired by Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Soontornvat’s A Wish in the Dark, is peopled with characters no less inspired. Pong, the misunderstood fugitive, Nok, the girl who wrongly pursues him and Somkit,a resourceful best friend who never disappoints all illuminate the bleakness of a dark world with a fire that won’t be extinguished. Not by despots: not be circumstance; and not by fear. This is a wonderfully written, smart book you won’t want to miss.

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!