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!

Community Member Guest Post: ACC Creative Writing

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

-Sol Wooten

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Sol and Charlotte!

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

Are you a business or organization interested in getting involved?

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

Meet the Members: Dorothy Paredes

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

— Dorothy Paredes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Dorothy!

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

What We Read & Loved in 2019:

 

Becka Oliver, Executive Director


Evan Parks, Project Specialist 

What We’re Reading Now:

Becka Oliver, Executive Director  

Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas by Stephen Harrigan
University of Texas Press
October 1, 2019

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

Michael Noll, Program Director  

The Spectators by Jennifer duBois
Random House
April 2, 2019

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

Neena Husid, Leadership Austin Fellow 

Girl Paper Stone by Laurie Filipelli
Black Lawrence Press
June 15, 2018

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