Showing posts with label Jan Grape. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jan Grape. Show all posts

21 August 2017

Days Are Darker Without Bonnie

by Jan Grape

I'm not sure what I can write about today. A couple of subjects came to mind but nothing could jell. My mind is on Bonnie and her family.

I read "The Last Blue Glass" this afternoon and am once again touched by how Bonnie's characters are strong and vibrant. That is one of the best short stories I have ever read and believe me I've read many through the years.  Cathy and Frank Morrell.  I surely think I must have gone to high school with them. Didn't you?

I don't want to get too maudlin here but I want Bonnie's family to know that I also lost my love, my other half and I can feel some of your pain.  I wish I could give you words of wisdom but there aren't any. Don't believe it when someone tells you that time heals. It doesn't.

What happens is that time passes and as it does pass on by, the hurt lessens just a little. And then a little more. You never get over that hurt and that loss. You just go on day by day and keep getting up and getting dressed and doing whatever you can to keep busy throughout the day and that night as you lay down to sleep you are thankful that one more day has passed.

Bonnie BK Stevens
Bonnie BK Stevens
Tears help a lot and don't ever hesitate to cry. But laugh too. Think of all the wonderful times you've shared. Let the memories help sustain you. At times when you least expect it, a memory will come up and it might tear the scab off, but more often it will bring a laugh. Laughter is as healing as tears are.

I am truly sorry that I never met Bonnie. From what everyone says, I know I would have liked her a lot. But as a fan and reader, I will enjoy reading her books and stories. And I will remember her as one of our SleuthSayers family and the many times she made thoughtful or witty comments to my articles.

Yes, our days are a bit darker, but I honestly don't think Bonnie would want us to stay there. Get out in the sunshine and live every day. Read and Write and think good thoughts for Bonnie Stevens aka B.K. Stevens. Rest in Peace, Bonnie.

08 May 2017

The Song Remembers When

 Family Fortnight +  Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the tenth in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!

The following article is by my darling daughter, Karla Lee. Seems as if writing just runs in our genes. As for the song, Johnny Cash said it's one of the best ever written.
— Jan Grape
Karla Lee
Karla Lee— songwriter
The Craft of Songwriting

by Karla Lee

I’ve been dabbling in writing my entire life. I have a book of poetry that I wrote and illustrated when I was eight years old. It is handwritten on 3-hole loose leaf notebook paper with strings of orange yarn holding it together. At 12, I kept a diary (who didn’t?). At 16, I wrote poems full of angst, longing, and mystery. In my 20s, I started journaling about random thoughts, jobs, experiences, friends, heartbreak, happiness, which I continued when my life flowed its course into marriage, children, moving, divorce, personal challenges, triumphs, frustrations. In my 30s, I wrote a children’s book. (I received several nice rejections letters. I realized children’s books are much harder to write than one would imagine.) In my 40s, I took a creative writing class at my local community college. At the encouragement of my instructor, I submitted a few pieces to the literary journal and a couple of them were published. It was thrilling to see my work in print. Here I am in my 50s and I’m still journaling, currently in a five-year journal, which I find is a format that suits my lifestyle perfectly! It just takes a couple of minutes to jot down a few lines before I turn in at night. Writing has always been a large part of my life, but it has always remained just a hobby.

The writing format that has been my favorite since I was a teenager is the song lyric. I like the fact that it’s a short-term commitment. I can usually write a complete song lyric in a couple of hours, at least get the first draft finished. To me, it’s kind of like sitting down to solve a word puzzle, but with a lot of emotion thrown in. My mission is to succinctly convey a feeling or experience. Words are expensive in a song, so every one of them has to count. The meter has to work from line to line and it has to rhyme. If you’re lucky enough to play an instrument, you have the added bonus of being able to put music to the words, and suddenly, it’s alive! What a rush!

I live in Nashville. We have some of the best songwriters in the world. Writing GREAT song lyrics is a huge challenge. I’m not talking about songs that make us dance, although I love those too. I’m talking about songs that make us stop and listen. Songs that make us think. Songs that make us cry. Songs that take us and shake us to the core. Here in Nashville, publishers and recording artists are not looking for GOOD songs. They’re looking for knock-your-socks-off, stop-in-your-tracks songs. We have a saying in Nashville that a great song consists of three chords and the truth. It’s all about telling a believable story.

I don’t have any major “cuts”. But I’ve studied the craft of songwriting all my life and continue to write in my spare time. In Nashville, we sometimes say that songs aren’t written, they’re RE-written! It’s important to not be “married” to the first words/rhymes/lines that pop into your head. Yes, get them down on paper. But, once I have a first draft, it’s time to ask myself some tough questions:
  1. Will the opening line grab people and make them keep listening?
  2. Is the hook STRONG?
  3. Have I said something in a way that nobody else has ever said it before?
  4. Are the lyrics conversational?
  5. Does each line further the story along, or are some of the lines “throw away”?
  6. Is there a beginning, middle, and end of the story?
  7. Does the story make sense? Is it believable?
  8. Is it relatable in a personal and a universal way?
  9. Are the rhymes too predictable?
If I can’t answer yes to most of these questions, I need to keep working on the puzzle. A lot of songwriters settle for their first draft instead of taking the time to craft the lyric into something special. One song that I think is a beautiful example of someone taking the time to get it perfect was written in 1993 by Hugh Prestwood and recorded by Trisha Yearwood. Obviously, much of the “mood” is lost without the music (for full impact, pull it up on your phone or computer and listen while you read), but the wordsmithing is magnificent.


The Song Remembers When
by Hugh Prestwood
I was standing at the counter
I was waiting for the change
When I heard that old familiar music start
It was like a lighted match
Had been tossed into my soul
It was like a dam had broken in my heart
After taking every detour
Getting lost and losing track
So that even if I wanted
I could not find my way back
After driving out the memory
Of the way things might have been
After I'd forgotten all about us
The song remembers when

We were rolling through the Rockies
We were up above the clouds
When a station out of Jackson played that song
And it seemed to fit the moment
And the moment seemed to freeze
When we turned the music up and sang along
And there was a God in Heaven
And the world made perfect sense
We were young and were in love
And we were easy to convince
We were headed straight for Eden
It was just around the bend
And though I have forgotten all about it
The song remembers when.
I guess something must have happened
And we must have said goodbye
And my heart must have been broken
Though I can't recall just why
The song remembers when

Well, for all the miles between us
And for all the time that's passed
You would think I haven't gotten very far
And I hope my hasty heart
Will forgive me just this once
If I stop to wonder how on Earth you are
But that's just a lot of water
Underneath a bridge I burned
And there's no use in backtracking
Around corners I have turned
Still I guess some things we bury
Are just bound to rise again
For even if the whole world has forgotten
The song remembers when

Yeah, and even if
    the whole world has forgotten
The song remembers when.


©1992-1993
Trisha Yearwood

In thinking about lyric writing and the questions that I ask myself to make a song as strong as it can possibly be, I realize that these questions apply to all writing, no matter the format. Taking the extra time to dig deeper and search further is worth it. This is when the magic happens. It’s the difference between mediocre and amazing.



Karla Lee is an office manager for an engineering company in Nashville and has two grown sons. When she’s not working or writing, she spends time traveling and having fun with friends.

27 February 2017

Lockhart Texas Book Club

by Jan Grape

This past Friday, the 24th I was invited by my Sister-in Crimes friend, of over 20 years Janet Christian, to be the guest of honor at the Irving Book Club in Lockhart, Texas. The Irving Book Club, named after Washington Irving is the second oldest according to the Federation of Women's clubs, formed in 1896.  Lockhart is known as the BBQ capitol of TX but, that is disputed by several other Texas towns. Lockhart is also one of Austin's bedroom communities, thirty miles south and slightly east. Since I live 45 miles west and slightly north, it was a 78 mile drive one-way. (I know that's 3 miles short but I'm going by map mileage here and not actual driven miles.)

The book club meets in the Dr. Eugene Clark Library which has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating library in the state, founded in 1899. The members of the club brought finger foods including desserts, everything homemade. Many of the members wear hats and you are immediately reminded of the hats on display at the Kentucky derby. I have a Cowgirl hat and a black and a red hat that are sort of fedoras, Private-Eye style but, the weather was too hot for any of those.  I searched my closet shelves and found a lovely hat box with three hats inside that I had forgotten about. The hatbox and the hats I had inherited from my bonus mom and the one I picked was a black mini-pill box hat with a veil. It more or less sits right on the top of your head. You can pull the veil down but that didn't work for me. I pulled the veil to the back and only a small part shows on front and side.

I had fun talking about how I first starting writing and sold my first short story for $100 and how I'm so glad I didn't quit my day job because I didn't sell anything else for 5 years. Also how I was writing a female private-eye novel that never sold but, I sold probably 12-15 short stories with the characters, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn and likely made more with those that I ever would have with the novel.

Also told about how I took Citizen's Police Academy Training that was offered by the Austin Police Department which was set up to help folks who were interested in being part of the Neighborhood Watch Program. I applied for the program and was accepted. It was set up once a week for three hours, meeting for ten weeks and you learned a lot about each department of APD. Homicide, Robbery, Fraud, Firearms, and we got to ride along for a full shift in a patrol car with an officer. That's when I realized that every single call the police answered could turn-out to be dangerous. This was in the early 90s when police officers weren't being slain very often...at least not in Austin.

One fun thing after the ten weeks training we could join the Alumni Association and we could go out to the academy where the cadets were training and got to role-play and be a bad guy. Once I played a lady who had a warrant out for her arrest. The training officer who was watching the role-play had told me when the female cadet arrested me he wanted me to be rude to her, call her names and try do things to make her angry. The idea being that each cadet needed to learn to deal with a belligerent public and he wanted to see how she'd react. So when the cadet put the handcuffs on me, I cursed her up one side and down the other. I called her every name in the book. The only time in my life I got to cuss out a cop and get away with it. Then I told her the handcuffs were too tight. She finally loosened them one notch. Then put me in the squad car. I have small hand and wrists so I was able to slip the cuffs off. When they came to let me out of the police car I handed the cuffs to them. The cadets were not supposed to talk to each other but they did. All the remainder of the day, cadets put the handcuffs on so tight that everyone would have been mad at me if they had known it was my fault.

My next story was how while I was taking the Citizen's Police Academy training this woman named Zoe Barrow started talking to me in my head. Voices in my head happens to me all the time and the astonishing thing is no one calls the men in the little white coats to come after me. Zoe (rhymes with Joe) turned out to be an Austin Police woman and is the main character in my first book, Austin City Blue. In my second novel, Dark Blue Death the first chapter is almost word for word of a role-play scene out at the Academy. I was in a vehicle with a Training Officer and two cadets were out side. One on the driver's side and one on the passenger side...my side. They both stood back a bit from the vehicle. I could see the driver side cadet in the rear view mirror. When the training officer was asked for her name and phone number, she gave her name and then her phone number as 1-800-GOODSEX.  I could see the cadet trying to contain his laughter and almost choking.

The training officer had suggested I get out of the car and see what the cadet on my side would do. I opened the door and started to get out, the cadet says, "Ma'am, please stop. Police get back in the car. Please ma'am." I said, "I have to go to the bathroom." She said, "Ma'am, you must get back into the car." I said, "I'm pregnant. If you don't let me go now, I'll pee all over this car seat." Like I said, the ladies of the Book Club were so attentive and laughed in all the right places. They asked interesting questions and everyone told me afterward how much they enjoyed my talk.

These events are a lot of fun for me and you get inspired because people who love to read are there listening to you. I LOVE READERS  


13 February 2017

Great Short Stories Revisited



by Jan Grape

I've been reading short stories in anthologies published in 1990s and 2000s. I blushingly admit I have stories in them and it started as a project of rereading my stories. Some I had forgotten like "Whatever Had To Be Done" published in Deadly Allies by Doubleday in 1992 and Bantam paperback in 1993. This was the first collaborative anthology by the Private Eye Writers of America and Sisters In Crime. It was edited by Robert J. Randisi and Marilyn Wallace. This story was probably my second story ever published where I actually received money. I had published two or three stories for small indie magazines that were subscription only and I was paid in copies.

The very first short story I had published happened in 1981 or so and I got $100 for it. It was not a mystery but a Christmas story published in the Wichita Falls City Magazine. I don't even have a copy of it anymore because Elmer, our kids and I moved a few times I remember. I think still had copies  on the last move to Austin. When Elmer and I moved out of our house and into our RV full time we ran out of time and I have no idea where my copies of that magazine wound up.

I do remember the story pretty well. My main character was myself and it was about returning to a small town and in every store I entered, people were friendly and full of the Christmas spirit. If I made a purchase the store gift-wrapped my purchase for free. I compared that joyful attitude to major city stores in Houston where I lived at the time. I'm not sure how the story ended and I don't remember the editor's name, gosh it was  35 or 36 years ago. However, I'll never forget her phone call to me. "Jan, I'm calling to tell you we're publishing your short story." I remember gushing a bit and then she said, "Actually, the story has already been published in this month's issue and along with a check for $100 I'm sending four or five copies of the magazine."

I was beside myself as was my family. I had been trying to be published for a couple of years, had a private-eye novel almost finished and this was my big dream. Good thing I didn't quit my day job because I didn't publish anything else for FIVE years and then only a couple of small articles, which I was paid real money for but nothing over the hundred I had first received.

The first, second and third stories I sold happened all about the same time. In Invitation to Murder published first in hardcover by Dark Harvest in 1990, paperback by Diamond in 1993, edited by Ed Gorman and Martin Greenberg, featured my story, "A Bunch of Mumbo Jumbo." In  Mary Higgins Presents Malice Domestic, from Pocket Books in 1993, featured "Arsenic and Old Ideas."
I received verbal acceptance, contracts and money all around the same time although Mumbo Jumbo was actually published first.

After than I was in many theme anthologies, in about 10-12 Cat Crime, Partners In Crime, Deadly Allies 11, Lethal Ladies 1 & ll, Santa Clues, Midnight Louie Pet Detectives, Murder For Mother and White House Pet Detective. I was lucky in that I found editors, including Bob Randisi, Ed Gorman and Marty Greenberg who liked what I did and kept buying my stories.

My 1998 Anthony Award winning story, "A Front Row Seat," was in Vengeance Is Hers anthology, edited by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins published by Penguin/Signet in 1997, featuring all hard-boiled women writers.

Shortly after that I finally sold my first Zoe Barrow, Austin policewoman novel and have only written a few short stories since. I enjoy the short form and have been able to feature my female private-eye characters, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn in around ten stories. They were characters from my very first novel which never sold.

I am so proud that many of my fellow SleuthSayers are short story writers and are being nominated and winning awards. I think the short story will continue to thrive although at times we think the heydays are over. I do appreciate Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine & Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine who keep publishing wonderful short stories every month. Maybe one day soon I'll crack that market.

24 October 2016

In Memoriam

by Jan Grape

Two special mentors of mine have transitioned to another plane of existence, Clark Howard and Ed Gorman.

Years ago, before I was published, I saw a little notice in a Houston newspaper for people interested in forming a Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.  I lived in Houston then and definitely was interested and so I went. It probably was 1982. Not exactly sure about that. I honestly don't remember where this meeting was held, or even who all attended. This was the second meeting for the group and I know I missed the first meeting. I do remember four people who were there besides myself. Joan Lowery Nixon and Mary Blount Christian who both wrote Children's and or young adult mysteries and both women were very involved in MWA. There was a guy named John (don't remember his last name) who actually became our first Vice-President. Back then, that was the title used for MWA chapters. Not President although that's who was really in charge of taking care of business. I do remember one other gentleman who attended and that was Clark Howard. Clark had written a number of True Crime (or fact crime) books and had several short stories published. Mostly in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Somehow before I knew it, I was elected Treasure of the Chapter. I know when I got back home, my husband, Elmer Grape cracked up at the idea, I was never known to have a mathematical mind. In fact, my greatest strength was giving very accurate, very concise and very brief treasurer's reports.

"We had a little money, we spent a little money and we still have a little money." Everyone almost fell off their chairs that first time but, they were quite pleased each month instead of one of those dry reports such as..."we had 10 new members join at $25 each, $15 per person was sent to MWA-NY. I spent $25 on newsletter stamps...blah, blah, blah. Of course, I always gave our VP and the board members a written report with all the dry facts.

Now I must tell you a bit about my friend, Clark Howard (excerpted from EQMM on Facebook). As a boy, Clark grew up without parents and was homeless for a time. He would conceal himself in a bowling alley before they closed at night so he would have someplace to sleep. He told me personally that his mother was a junkie and he found her dead. I'm not sure if his father was ever even in the picture. He joined the Marines when he was 17 and served in Korea. I imagine that coming from such a tough background gave him the grittiness he needed to write such realistic stories. His painful
autobiography, Hard City  was published by Dutton in 1990.

One of the first things I learned about writing from Clark was his opinion about creative writing classes. He was not fond of them for good reason. After he was honorably discharged from the service, he enrolled in classes at Northwestern University in Chicago where he had spent some of those early days. One class he was taking was in Creative Writing. The professor in that class wanted the students to write a story and turn it in. The prof made copies of every one's stories and passed them to the students to critique. Clark said, everyone in the class including the professor tore his story apart saying it was terrible, they didn't like the characters, they didn't like the scenes, etc. Clark said he walked out and never came back. Said he had just sold that story and another on for five hundred dollars. I asked him later if he ever told the professor. He said, "No. I decided it wouldn't do me any good and it wasn't going to get me a good grade in that class. That maybe I knew as much about story writing as he did."  At any rate his advice to me was not to worry about taking creative writing classes. Learn your craft by writing and keep writing and hope you find a good editor who will buy your stories.

I have a feeling Clark Howard was right, he won a Edgar award from MWA for one of his short stories and was nominated for an Edgar five times in that category. He also won EQMM's Reader's Choice Award five times and was the recipient of the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer for Lifetime Achievement from the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

One other major thing I leaned from Clark was something that is useful perhaps more in life than in writing and it was something he learned in his own terrible upbringing and in interviews with many killers on death row in prisons all around the country. No matter how bad your childhood is or how many bad thing happened to you, at some point as you reach adulthood, you have to be responsible for your own behaviour. You can't continue to blame your parents or your teachers or your sad neglect. There is just you yourself to blame when you do wrong. And when you do wrong as an adult, whether it'd 18 or 19 or 20 years old you have to accept the consequences.

Ed Gorman bought many of my short stories and was very much a part of the publishing of my first novel. I had moved to Austin from Houston in the late eighties, 1987 as I recall. I had been elected Vice-President of the Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. I agreed to continue to serve as VP and would travel to Houston each month for the meetings. It was 150 miles one way but it was an easy drive, less than three hours and I could return back home on the same day. We actually met on Sunday and the traffic was not too bad until you got to Houston.

One day I got a telephone call from a man who identified himself as Ed Gorman. I knew of Ed mostly because I was also a member of the Private Eye Writers of America, a group started by Ed and Robert J. Randisi. Ed asked if I would be willing to write a column for Mystery Scene Magazine. I think I had a subscription and had seen three or four issues. The magazine came out quarterly. He and I talked for a while and I got a sense of what he wanted my column to be about. I was to report the news about writers in the Southwest Area. Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico and Louisiana. He said he'd pay me two cents a word, a carton of cigarettes and a box of condoms. I said I did smoke and could use the cigarettes but since I was married and had taken care of any accidental problems I wouldn't need the condoms.

We decided on the name, "Southwest Scenes" and he wanted a photograph. I enjoyed emailing, faxing or even calling mystery writers in the Southwest area and getting their news. When they had a book or story coming out or when they were appearing at a bookstore for a signing. Or even generally if they were getting married or having a baby or whatever was going on in their life. We had not decided to open a bookstore yet and I was writing a couple of short stories and sending my first novel out to see if I could get a publisher interested. I had sold a non-mystery story to a city magazine and had a couple of stories published in little subscription magazines. My first novel was never published but the two female Private Eye characters, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn had been in both of the short stories that were published.

I discovered Ed didn't like to go to mystery meetings like the Edgars or Bouchercon but he enjoyed talking on the telephone. We talked every week and sometime more. We enjoyed our conversations and my husband Elmer almost always knew when Ed and I were talking because I'd be laughing like crazy as we talked.

We opened the bookstore in 1990 and I was pretty busy but Ed and I still talked often and I was writing some non-fiction articles, one for Writers Digest and reviewing books for the Houston Chronicle. One day, Ed asked if I'd write a story for an anthology he was editing. Invitation To Murder. Of course, I said yes. Along about that same time, Bob Randisi asked me to write a story for a PWA anthology he was editing, called Lethal Ladies. Both books and stories came out about the same time and I actually don't know which came first but I think, INVITATION was first.

The rest as they say is history. A short time later Ed asked if I would co-edit a book called Deadly Women. My co-editor was to be Ellen Nehr. Ellen passed away before we were ready and we asked Dean James to take over in her spot. Dean and Ellen both had deep knowledge of the history of women in mystery. This book is by, about and informs you about women in mystery. We finished it and did a beautiful job, it was nominated for an Edgar, an Agatha and a Mccavity in the non-fiction category. Dean and I won the Mccavity but were so excited to be nominated for the Edgar and the Agatha.

It's been difficult for me to write about both of these mystery friends. Ed Gorman passed away on Oct. 14 and it was only after that I found out about Clark Howard who had passed on October 1st.
I had no idea it was going to be this hard but I can testify that it's not easy to type or even to think when you have tears. I'll have to finish my memories of Ed Gorman for the next time.

I'm one of the few writers who met Ed in person. When Elmer and I started traveling in our RV we made a point to go to Cedar Rapids, IA to meet Ed and had dinner with him. I met his lovely wife Carol a few years before at at mystery con in Nebraska. I loved both men as brothers and as mentors and I miss them both. May they RIP.

22 June 2016

Writers League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference

by Jan Grape and Velma



22 June 2016



Footnotes


In This Issue
2016 Agents & Editors Conference
2016 Summer Writing Retreat
Quick Links
Follow Us


See You 
After the 4th!
fireworks-summer.jpg
The WLT Offices will be closed due to
post-conference fatigue syndrome from June 27-July 4. We will reopen on
Tuesday, July 5 at 10:00 am, fully recovered.



Members Only
"Members Review"
Interested in reviewing books? Contact us at member@writersleague.org with "Members Review" in the subject line and we will respond with more details. 

"Meet the Members"
Want
to be profiled on our blog? We are looking for willing subjects for our
weekly Q&A posts with current members. If interested, write us at 



Member News

Are you a current WLT member interested in submitting to Member News? Email your 50-word blurb (with links!) at member@writersleague.org. For a full list of guidelines, click here.



 Texas Writes
 
Our next Texas Writes event will takes place at the Marathon Public Library on Saturday, July 16 at 1:00 pm.
We're just starting to schedule our next round of events. The 2016/2017 schedule, available on the Texas Writes page on our website, will be updated as we add new libraries.


 Our Next Open Office Hours
July 14, 2016

Registration closes June 13 at 12 pm

Members: Meet one-on-one with a WLT staffer (in person or call in).

Click here for guidelines and to sign up. Current members only.  


Manuscript Contest

Congratulations to the 2016 Manuscript Contest winners and finalists! Click here for the list.

If you entered the contest and have not yet received your written feedback, please email our contest coordinator at sara@writersleague.org so that we can confirm your contact info and resend. All critiques have been sent as of May 20.



2016 marks the Writers' League of Texas' 35th Anniversary. 


To celebrate this milestone, we're asking members to consider renewing
their membership in 2016 at the special Anniversary Level or one of the
Premium Levels.

Details on the various membership levels and associated benefits can be found HERE.

Share Your Writers' League of Texas Story!

We're collecting stories, memorabilia, and photos from our members past and present to celebrate our 35th Anniversary.
We've created a form to make it easy to share stories or photos from our history. Click here to submit your contribution. 

For more information on our 35th Anniversary plans, click here.  



Support the Writers'
League at Your 
Local Randalls!






You can support the Writers' League of Texas when you shop at your local Randalls through the Randalls Good Neighbor Program.
Since 1996, The Good Neighbor Program has offered their customers an
easy way to donate to their favorite nonprofit organization.  
Read more about the program here and follow the link to the form. Be sure to include the Writers' League's Charity Number: 277.



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2016 Agents & Editors Conference

Countdown to the Conference:
THREE DAYS TO GO!

It's not too late to join us this weekend in Austin.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday

June 24-26, 2016
Hyatt Regency Austin


The boxes are packed. The tote bags are stuffed. And the weekend ahead promises to be pretty amazing. In just three days, the Writers' League of Texas' 23rd Annual Agents & Editors Conference kicks off -- and we can't wait.

If you've been waiting to purchase your ticket to this year's event, the time is now and we do have a few spots left. You can find the full conference program on our website, including the weekend's schedule (Friday through Sunday), bios and photos of our visiting faculty, information on preparing for the many networking opportunities, details about the Hyatt and dining & entertainment options nearby, and the full list of our panelists, presenters, keynoters, moderators, exhibitors, and more.

We've also made available on Soundcloud our podcast of last week's June Third Thursday discussion, "Practice Makes Pitch Perfect." Whether you're planning to attend the conference (or another event) or you're looking to improve your query letter, we hope you'll listen to the recording (featuring a former literary agent and current publishing sales director) and take away some tips and tricks for both in-person and written pitches. LISTEN HERE


 
See you in Austin on June 24! 
And remember that we're here for you and happy to answer any and all questions ahead of time, so please do reach out. 





2016 Summer Writing Retreat

2016 Summer Writing Retreat: 
Seats Are Still Available!

 

Ever want to get away from it all and spend a week immersed in your
craft, taking in a truly breathtaking setting, and meeting fellow
writers?

Here's your chance with the Writers' League of Texas 10th Annual Summer Writing Retreat at Sul Ross State University in scenic Alpine, deep in the heart of West Texas.
Kicking off with an orientation the evening of Sunday, July 17, five classes are taught simultaneously by five terrific instructors, Monday, July 18 through Friday, July 22.

For additional information about this one-of-a-kind event, CLICK HERE. Seats are still available in two of the five classes!   


ONLY 4 SEATS REMAINING!

Writers who attend this class will come away with a clear sense of the distinct elements of effective storytelling to focus on for a revision as well as a definitive map for tackling the process and meaningful strategies to get (and stay) unstuck. Read a Q&A with Charlotte Gullick here, and visit the class page for more information and to sign up for her class.

Charlotte Gullick
is Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Austin Community College. A first-generation college graduate, she received her AA from Santa Rosa Junior College, a BA in Literature/Creative Writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a MA in English/Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis. She earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the Institute of American Indian Arts in May
2016.

Charlotte's first novel, By Way of Water, was chosen by Jayne Anne Phillips as the Grand Prize winner of the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Program, and a special author's edition was reissued by the Santa Fe Writers Project in November of 2013. Charlotte's other awards include a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship for Fiction, a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, a MacDowell Colony Residency, Faculty of Year from College of the Redwoods as well as the Evergreen State College 2012 Teacher Excellence Award.


ONLY 1 SEAT REMAINING! 

With a winning combination of morning instruction & discussion and afternoon writing assignments, as well as personalized feedback from the instructor, this course will give you the basic tools to write lengthy, narrative-driven stories that are moreabout attitude than objectivity, more about getting at the heart of a story than just the facts. Visit the class page for more info and to sign up for this class.

Michael Hall graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1979. Before joining Texas Monthly in 1997, he was an associate editor of Third Coast magazine and the managing editor of the Austin Chronicle.
He won a Texas Gavel Award in 2003 for his story about capital punishment, "Death Isn't Fair," which was also nominated for a National Magazine Award. Hall's stories have appeared in the
Best American Magazine Writing, the Best American Sportswriting, the Best American Nonrequired Reading, and Da Capo Best Music Writing. He has also written for Trouser Press, The New York Times, Men's Journal, and the Austin American-Statesman






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The Writers' League of Texas
is a non-profit corporation, funded in part by the Texas Commission on the Arts.                
 
This project is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department.


Writers’ League of Texas, Suite 200 A-3, 611 S. Congress Av, Austin, TX 78704
512-499-8914 • wlt@writersleague.org

28 March 2016

Research Schmesearch

by Susan Rogers Cooper

I'm not an outgoing person. I'm not like my partner here on SleuthSayers, Jan Grape, who never met a stranger and can and will talk to anyone about anything and has friends all over the world. That's not me. I picked writing (or writing picked me) because I thought it was a solitary endeavor. I knew nothing about conventions, and book signings, and publicity. And all I knew about research was: Get in the car, go to the library and pick out a book on whatever I needed to know. Then along came the internet, and it was even easier. I didn't have to get out of my PJ's or put on shoes. My late husband told me everything I needed to know about guns, and, because he was the exact opposite of me when it came to interacting with people, I used him to make telephone calls and go visit people when necessary. He developed a friendship with the Travis County ME and even got an excellent murder device from Dr. Biardo that I used in a short story. Of course, I never met the man.

Recently I was able to use the internet for intense research into China Marines. My father had been a China Marine – U.S. Marines stationed in China in the 1930s before and during the Japanese invasion. My bad guy in the newest E.J. Pugh mystery DEAD TO THE WORLD, was not the upstanding jarhead my daddy was, but I took him to China and on to the Philippines, following the plight of the many who fell under the forces of the Japanese. Luckily my father was not among them. But this became a very personal research project and one I enjoyed immensely. Also, I didn't have to actually talk to anyone.

But that brings me back to the one book I wrote where I became totally involved with people and their stories, and their sights, and their sounds, even if I was being pulled into it yelling and screaming. Quietly, of course.

Back in the 1990s, I wrote two books with the character of a stand-up comic named Kimmey Kruse. In the second book, FUNNY AS A DEAD RELATIVE, I decided to take Kimmey to a place I knew. Port Arthur, Texas. Now I only knew this town because it was sort of an in-law. It was where my husband had been born and bred and where all my in-laws (and there were a lot of them) lived. My husband was part Cajun and that had always intrigued me (although my idea of a first married Christmas dinner was not goose and dirty rice dressing, but that's another story entirely). The story of DEAD RELATIVE was that Kimmey was called upon to deal with her Cajun grandfather who had broken his leg down in Port Arthur. Me-maw, his wife, had thrown him out many years before, so the cousins all took turns when it was time to deal with Pee-paw. Which meant, that although I knew all about Port Arthur – that it smelled of rotten cabbage from one refinery and dirty socks from another and that it had mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds – I really needed to spend a weekend researching the place.

And my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were happy to take on that challenge. They drove me all over the town, by the ornate homes of the ship captains who had started the town, to the beautiful Buddhist temple in the part of the city that housed mostly Vietnamese immigrants. They took me to a wonderful spot under the Orange Bridge (the bridge isn't orange but it connects Port Arthur to the city of Orange across the Sabine River) with funky restaurants and even funkier homes – Quonset huts and RV's and shacks decorated with art work made of junk. And I knew that this was where Pee-paw now lived.

While wandering around under the bridge, we saw some shrimp boats tied up there on the Sabine. I innocently said to no one in particular, “Gee, it would be nice to see the inside of one,” where upon my mother-in-law (from whom my husband inherited his tendency of never meeting a stranger) shouted out to a man on said shrimp boat, “Hey! Y'all! My daughter-in-law's a writer and she wants to see inside your boat!”

To say I was mortified was an understatement. Unfortunately my complexion lends itself to turning colors under stress, so I could feel the heat of the bright red shade I'd suddenly turned. But, having no other choice, I followed my family members onto the boat, shook hands with the captain and his wife, and got to see all there is to see on a small shrimp boat, and learn all about their lives and the vulnerability of fishing for a living. Thanks to my in-laws, I met several people that weekend, all with a story to tell.

That trip opened my eyes about research and what it can do. For one thing, it made it clear to me that Port Arthur, Texas, was more than a smelly place with big mosquitoes. It was the home to many, many refineries, with containers full of oil and gas and other flammables. It was only a stone's throw from the town of Texas City that had experienced the ultimate nightmare of living in that kind of world. The people of Port Arthur were brave souls, I discovered, living under the constant light of flames shooting from the pipes of the refineries, going to work, taking their kids to school, falling in love, getting married, having babies. Just living their lives, knowing that the horror of what befell Texas City could happen to them, at any time, in any of the many locations. So they drink a lot, eat a lot of sea food, and make bottle trees and paint tires white and bury them half way in their front yards. They listen to very loud zydeco music and still think Justin Wilson is the best comedian who ever lived.

I try to remember that experience when it's time to do research. I try to remember how ultimately good it really was. But I still need a little shove, a push in the right direction. That's where Jan Grape comes in. She shoves hard.

22 February 2016

Too Many Cooks...er,Uh...Characters

by Jan Grape

I love to read good books with characters I can care about, root for or at last give them a chance to grow on me enough to keep turning pages and finish the book. Sometimes I think an author gets carried away or else so many characters keep talking that he has to write them all down before they quit talking and he doesn't know what to do.

There are many, many books that have characters that I like so much I'll keep buying that authors books forever. Even in hardback because I can't wait for the next installment. Lee Child's books starring Jack Reacher is one. Child starts off many times giving you a bit of background, a bit of scenery or immediately telling you the problem that Reacher is facing. You may read twenty or thirty pages with only three or four characters introduced. There might be two or three other names mentioned but they probably aren't going to be major...like a sheriff who picks up the walking Jack Reacher or Navy lieutenant who will escort Reacher to a private jet. Before long you've read the aforementioned twenty or so pages and you are right there into the story and know what is going on.

I looked at a half a dozen books on my shelf and discovered that was more or less exactly what Harlan Coben, Sara Paretsky, Michael Collins, Marcia Muller, James Lee Burke and Bill Pronzini do. In the first twenty or thirty pages they will introduce their main character and perhaps two or four other characters that may have something major to contribute to the story. They may even mention three or four other characters who probably only have a walk-in part but are necessary.

Recently, I read a book by an author I admire very much but had not read in years. Everything was fine in the first twenty-five or thirty pages but suddenly a new scene opened up with two new characters. Okay, I guess these two were necessary. Turned out they were what I might call minor/major characters.

They showed up every so often and were important to the story but before I could turn around twice another major/minor showed up and then three more major/minor folks and this happened in the first fifty pages. And the real major character was lost in the shuffle in my opinion.

Honestly, it seemed to me as if the major character should be the one introducing in these other characters and not handling them all out at once. I more or less got so lost that I lost interest in the book. It took me weeks to finish it. And in between I read three other books.

No, I can't say I enjoyed that book as much and I doubt I'll ever purchase another by that particular author. The author did connect all the dots at the end but I mostly didn't care one way or the other. I may be the only one who feels this way but I don't think so. After thinking about it this week, I remembered when we owned our bookstore there were a few customers who complained about too many characters dumped on you immediately. I don't mind if you wind up with 79 characters but please don't dump them on me in the first forty or so pages. I confuse easily.

Which in turn led to my title...too many cooks spoil...er...uh too many characters spoil the book.

Let me know what you think. See you on down the road.