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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
March 28, 2021

The first word . . .

“Fiction is not life, It needs to reflect life if it is to be believable, but virtually all readers unconsciously seek out novels for an experience of human life that is admirable, amusing, hopeful, perseverant, positive, inspiring, and that ultimately makes us feel whole.”  ~ Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel.

Tuesday evening on Zoom . . .  

Amber Boudreau (Dragoneer 2, Chs. 6-8)

Amber did not read from the massive amount of pages she sent but jumped straight into comments. Jerry liked the witty banter between two characters at the start of chapter six. Jaime wondered if Moira might not offer Urion a ride on Zephyr if they have very far to go. Answer: Urion is a halfling and does quite well on his own. He can find his own dragon if he wants a ride. John brought up a good question about Zephyr’s scales being overlapping and how Moira might have found a toe-hold on his back. Bob and Amit were looking for more in at least a few spots. 

Jack Freiburger (Poem: “Halloween Fire”)

I send in Halloween Fire, a found poem that I apparently wrote sometime in the past and filed in the  “to be forgotten” file.  It’s a slight effort but some found some value in it while I felt more like a reader than the author

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
March 8, 2021

The first word . . .

“Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”  ~ David Foster Wallace

From Jerry

A thank you . . .

The second food gift from TWS—a box of premium oranges, apples, and pears—arrived safely on Jerry and Marge Peterson’s front porch. Say both Marge and Jerry, “TWS friends and colleagues, thank you so much for your kindness.”

Tuesday evening on Zoom . . .  Six writes shared their works. From picture book to short story to synopsis to couple of chapters from the next best sellers.

Kashmira Sheth (Go to sleep)

 Kashmira submitted her picture book, Go to Sleep. Jerry had comments about the logic of the story and a few suggestions to improve it. Amber also offered a few tweaks. Larry thought that the illustrations were easy to visualize. Thank you.

Jack Freiburger (Synopsis)

Multiple comments on synopsis needing serious revision and discussion of rewriting firs three chapters into one, as the chapters are very short and publishers ask for a first rather than a sample.

— John Schneller (Chapters 1 and 2, Book 2)

More work needed to orient the reader in the first chapter. This became obvious with many thoughts about where the action started. Word choices also played a deceptive role. Alley indicated a more urban scene. Nia’s motivation needs to come through early enough for the reader to like her. Chapter 2 was more favorably received as the relationship and personalities emerged (again, Nia’s motivation for stealing needs to be revealed). Great suggestions. Quite a bit of work to do!

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
February 16, 2021

The first word . . .

Whatever you’re writing today do it with the confidence of a four year old in a batman T-shirt. 

Tuesday’s With Parkas . . .

Some members of our group proved they are mere mortals this week, succumbing to illness or household calamities. Subzero weather outdoors, Covid lurking in nooks and crannies, the rest of us gathered via zoom. Here is some of what was said:

Kashmira Sheth   Kashmira will present her chapters next week as she got knocked down by her Covid vaccine booster. Fortunately she reported doing considerably better on Wednesday.

— Amit Trivedi (Poem: When I Think of You Now I Smile) . . . Poem received mixed reviews. Jack felt it did not make much sense whereas Larry felt it was simple but complex. John and Jerry mentioned a few words changes and suggested rewriting a sentence. 

Bob Kralap (Poem: Everbearing) . . . The poem “Everbearing” got a mixed reception. Jerry liked it, especially the line about a morning that hums with bees. Although Larry liked its rhythm and sensibility, he was uncertain, because of details relating to weather, whether it was set in early summer or late. Jack focused on line breaks, as well as the imagery used. 

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
February 2, 2021

The first word . . . Panegyric

Some of us don’t use the word blessed much anymore. Maybe too complicated, used by some, misused by others.

But I’ll use it anyway:  Tuesday with Story has been blessed to have Jerry Peterson as its leader/administrator/guru/guide/inspiration/add your own panegyric, for the last God knows how many years. 

Author of at least six novels and novellas and as many short story collections, and according to him, a suitcase full of early rejection letters, Jerry gives hope to all of us who envision invitations to book fairs once our successful book is published.  He’s been our under spoken friend, mentor, and guide.  Some of the success obtained by the published authors in the group, and those authors who have left for England or ceased attending due to age, must be attributed to Jerry.

The life of TWS has been usually friction free for the two decades or so that I have attended.  We offer each other critiques without criticism, stretch from our own literary venues into the strange worlds others are creating, to participate and email endless notes of advice and encouragement to one another.  That too is a reflection of our leader.

So define blessed:  VENERATED:  Not yet, he’s still too young.   HALLOWED: Close, but it would be an overstatement that Jerry would edit out.  OF ENJOYING HAPPINESS:  That’s a good one.   Despite our endless wrestling with words, the community Jerry has formed and fostered with TWS provides the joy of solidarity and mutual support.  We are a bit like the fraternal organizations that once dotted all Wisconsin towns, local clubs and organizations with some sort of general goal that brought together men and women of disparate employment, culture and age to form a supportive community, providing not only some attainment, but also the pleasure of each other’s company.

For the joy we need to thank Jerry, blessed as we have been by his efforts.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
January 22, 2021

The first word . . .

“Don’t go into great detail describing places and things, unless you’re ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.”
― Elmore Leonard, Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

Tuesday evening on Zoom . . .

Nine TWS writers flocked together to work through the picture books, poems, and chapters of six of their colleagues. Here is some of what was said:

Kashmira Sheth (2 picture books) . . . For Aria’s adventure Amber and John suggested to use a book with a title about an elephant. Huckle pointed out two words starting with the letter H. For Being a Baby, Jack wanted to have a cadence in the text. Amber said to add people or a dog being in baby’s face all the time. Thank you all. 

Jack Freiburger (2 poems) …Read two poems.  Evening Ski and Effigy Mound.  Comments suggested they were accessible, once I corrected the typos.  I’d spent some time on Kashmira’S Baby story and suggested cadenced reading and discussed the history of Baldwin locomotives with Jerry and suggested that having a lynching without recognizing the history of terrorism against Blacks may be an issue.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
January 5, 2021

The first word . . . 

“Language is courage: the ability to conceive a thought, to speak it, and by doing so to make it true.”
― Salman Rushdie

 Six people submitted this week.

— Jaime Nelson Noven (chapter 5-6, Outsleep). . . A lot of important things to chew on this week, including illustrating what makes Rice tick, in particular why she hates outsleep and why she’s a standup. We looked at other low birthrate stories and stories where kids live their lives in the limelight and ask what makes my story unique. We wondered what the media’s and her parents’ expectations were for her, how she would have subverted them, and how that would have affected her life. I’ll be working hard at connecting all these dots! Thank you.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
January 1, 2021

The first word . . .

“The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, which belongs also to the child, and as such it appears to be inconsistent with the principles of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth.” –Carl Jung

When last we gathered . . .

That was back on December 16. A goodly number of us peered at our screens, at our colleagues, as we worked through the chapters and poems of those who had posted. Here is some of what was said:

—Kashmira Sheth (Chapter 23, Journey to Swaraj) … Kashmira shared a chapter of her novel, Journey to Swaraj.  The readers felt that the grief scene after Dadima’s death was too long. Jack wanted more details about the work Veena did with Taraben and Lalubhai. Also, most readers wanted to have Veena involved with the police after they beat up Lalubhai and other satyagrahis. Thank you all for your comments. 

—Huckle Rahr (Chapter 31, Wolf Healer)… This week most people had things to say on the first half of my chapter. The general consensus was that I needed to add more action to the argument. There was a lack of physical tension in the scene. I also needed to give more weight to Mr. Schneider’s side of the argument. The fight seemed to lack in intensity for something so serious. There were some suggestions on cleaning up some sentences and paragraphs as well as clarifying where characters were at different times. 

— Jack Freiburger (2 poems, “Barbara Salisbury” and “Burning Prairie”) . . .

—Amit Trivedi (Poem, “Looking through the Window”)… Poetry was well received by the group. A few word changes were suggested. Jack gave detailed feedback and Larry was very encouraging. Much appreciated. 

John Schneller (Chapter 32, Broken rewrite)… The discussion of chapter 32 focused on elements (music/mountain whisper occurrences….size of the character, SouthWind) that are easily interrupted by our fragmented reading schedule in TWS. Action was deemed slow by some. Can an eagle really cradle a lamb within its talons? All dynamics that earn a second look by this author.  Thanks!

— Jerry Peterson (Christmas stories, “The Christmas Angel” and “The Last Goodbye”, part 1)… The critiques were limited to “The Christmas Angel.” While Jerry thought he had posted the second story, he hadn’t. There was much discussion about whether the dishwasher at the Tiny Towne Diner truly was an angel—what caused her glow, what was the lighting like at the live Nativity, was she a miracle worker? Jack suggested a better line for Reverend Joe to The Fish. Rather than “your friend there is a miracle worker,” “your friend there has the touch.” John argued for keeping miracle worker as more appropriate to a Christmas story.

Who’s up next . . .

As, yes, January 5. Next week:

Kashmira Sheth (chapters 1-2a, Nina Soni, Book 5)

Jaime Nelson Noven (Chapters 5-6, Outsleep)

Mike Austin (???)

Amber Boudreau (Chapters 1-2, The Dragoneer 2)

John Schneller (Chapter 33, Broken rewrite)

Larry Sommers (Chapters 31-32, Dizzy on Wry)

Our editor . . .

Kashmira Sheth takes on the editorship for our two January issues of Writer’s Mail. If you have something you’d like her to include in the next issue, do email it to her.

Oh, for the really good quip or insult . . .

Few were better at coming up with them than Dorothy Parker, book critic, columnist, and writer at her peak in the 1920s and ’30s. She was a member of the then famous Algonquin Roundtable.

Literary Hub ran some of Parker’s best a couple years ago, and the article was reposted this week. It’s worth a read. Here’s the link: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/a-dorothy-parker-quip-for-every-occasion?utm_source=pocket-newtab

And now a sample, Dorothy Parker on being asked for writing advice: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” (originally published in a review in Esquire, 1959)

The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered . . .

Those of us on the call last meeting got to hear Larry read Clive James’s poem “The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered.” If you’d like to read it for yourself or pass it along to a friend, here it is in full.

Writer House Rules: Questions in Publishing . . .

Q: Should I go with Publisher A or Publisher B?

A: There are many considerations when choosing a publisher (the advance and royalties, marketing promises, etc.), but one thing you should do is check up on how they might present your book within the book industry.  

Did you know that you can look at the way your (prospective) publisher presents its books to booksellers and librarians? Log onto Edelweiss Plus (free to sign up) and do a search for one of the upcoming or recent books in your (prospective) publisher’s catalog.

Make sure the publisher is representing their books properly to the bookselling community: Do they have a full description, author bio, cover image, and comparable titles? If the listing is missing these basic things, that could be a red flag.

Do they have an illustrated banner ad above the book listing, at least for its biggest books of the season? If so, this could indicate they have some kind of marketing budget, as these placements, though not expensive, do cost money.

If you’re looking to compare publishers, have a look at their marketing plans on Edelweiss. They may even have downloadable sales material, such as a sell sheet or pop chart. Have a look at several of the publishers’ new books and make comparisons. Which publisher seems to be putting in more effort toward getting booksellers the information they need to make their purchasing decisions?

The History (and Myth) of Show Don’t Tell

An excerpt of the essay “Thoughts on Exposition” by Kim Stanley Robinson, as printed in Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer:

Nineteenth-century fiction contained more exposition than twentieth-century fiction. Often a prominent narrator would comment on the action, detail settings, or histories, direct the reader’s responses, ruminate philosophically, judge characters, report the water, or in many other ways generalize. One of modernism’s reaction against all this was to remove the narrator as a character and present stories without comment, as if by way of a “camera eye” (plus its audio recorder). This narrative stance meant that many kinds of exposition could not be done at all, and the usual work of fiction in this mode was made up of a string of dramatized scenes, which readers interpreted by following subtle or not-so-subtle cues. This was the moment when Percy Lubbock advocated “show don’t tell” (in The Craft of Fiction, 1921). Hemingway’s popularity might have helped spread the mode, Dashiell Hammett possibly helped it along; in science fiction, Robert Heinlein famously dismissed all the old-fashioned exposition of the Encyclopedia Galactica with his sentence “The door dilated.”

For a while after that, “camera eye” and its dramatized scenes dominated. Then One Hundred Years of Solitude, a novel with no dialogue or fully dramatized scenes, a tale told by a teller, was published and celebrated. “Show don’t tell” completely failed to account for its greatness, and there was a paradigm breakdown in that failure, and now we live in more open-minded times. Fiction still contains many dramatized scenes, but narrative methods have gotten a lot more flexible and various. Some writers have flourished using expository forms as frameworks, including Calvin, Lem, Ballard, Borges, Russ, Le Guin, Guy Davenport, Cortazar, and Coover. Stories have appeared in the forms of indexes, scientific reports, prefaces, glossaries, tarot readings, abstracts, constitutions, Post-it notes, encyclopedia entries, book reviews, racing cards, you name it.

The last word . . .

“Dialogue gives you the illusion of moment-to-moment sensual experience—after all, these are the words this character is speaking aloud in the moment—but in bad dialogue, all you’re getting is the information, exposition, or emotional declaration; and that’s where your summary, your generalizations, your abstraction, your analysis run and hide in plain sight. Beware of that as you work to get that unselected, unironic, there-for-information stuff out of your writing: it’s going to try to find a new home in the mouths of your characters.” –Robert Olen Butler, From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction

Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
December 4, 2020

The first word . . .

“It is wise to write on many subjects, to try many themes, that so you may find the right and inspiring one.” —Henry David Thoreau (Journal, 4 September 1851)

December already . . .

Nine TWS writers gathered Tuesday evening—yes, December 1—around their screens and worked through the chapters of five of their colleagues. Here is some of what was said:

— Kashmira Sheth (chapters 21-22, Journey to Swaraj). . . Kashmira submitted two chapters of her novel, Journey to Swaraj. The discussion centered around how much and what to include in Veena’s time with Lalubhai, Tarben and their friends. There was also discussion about how to weave some of Veena’s thoughts in dialogues with one of her family members or friends. Many liked the language and also where and how the story was proceeding. 

— Jaime Nelson Noven (chapter 4 pt 2, Outsleep). . . We discussed the audience’s reaction to Rice’s comedy-routine-turned-motivational-speech. More thought will go into how this particular society would feel hearing her words and how they would visually react to her set. We looked at a couple ways to rewrite the description of the bottles on the ledge in the green room. Larry expects to see repercussions for Rice’s speech. Thanks, everyone!

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
November 20, 2020

The first word . . .

“Perhaps if we recognize the pleasure in form that can be derived from fairy tales, we might be able to move beyond a discussion of who has more of a claim to the ‘realistic’ or the classical in contemporary letters. An increased appreciation of the techniques in fairy tales not only forges a mutual appreciation between writers from so-called mainstream and avant-garde traditions but also, I would argue, connects all of us in the act of living.”

—Kate Bernheimer, writer, editor, and critic

Zooming Tuesday evening . . .

Nine TWS colleagues gathered on their screens to work through the chapters of six of their fellow writers. Here is some of what was said:

Kashmira Sheth (chapters 19-20, Journey to Swaraj) . . . Most of the comments were how to pick up pace and maybe combine the two chapters. There were some discussions about how to use foreign words. Also, there was a suggestion about providing more details about the past massacre.

Mike Austin (short story, “Hunter’s Moon”) . . . My short story, “Hunter’s Moon,” was well-received, with only few comments, such as the changing werewolves should not have enough awareness to register fear on the victim’s face. And it needs to be shown that they head him off before he reaches his vehicle. Thanks everyone for a fun evening!

Jack Freiburger (poems, “Fall Fire” and “Snow Day”) . . . Two accessible poems this week seemed generally acceptable.  Considering the simplicity of them, non-literary, I didn’t expect much comment, but it seems readers liked them, which was the goal. Spent most of my editing time on Jerry and Amit/Kashmira offering, where I feel I actually can contribute something as a reader.

Amit Trivedi (chapters 3-6, Keeper of the Keys) . . . 1. Start chapter 3 with smoke from the train. 2. Remove like ‘living in the past’ replace it with  something like ‘do we need to repay all our debts’ or let the story convey the meaning. 3. Use water in place of river. Has broader meaning. 4. Sharing food in the train—why? Does not move the story.

— John Schneller (chapter 30, Broken rewrite) . . . Several words struck people as being inappropriate for the setting—kid, crazy—better words, better story.  Jamie wanted clarity on the new hawk that flew in and out of the scene. Everyone felt that Witomzil’s discourse on when to fight needed to be shortened or broken up. I agree. And who better to break up a speech than an impatient squirrel hating dragon. The general rule of fantasy . . . never waste a dragon.

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Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
November 6, 2020

The first word . . .

In an October 1935 article in Esquire “Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter”) Ernest Hemingway offers this advice to a young writer:

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.”

Tuesday evening on Zoom . . .

A fair number of us zoomed in to work through the chapters of six of our colleagues. Here is some of what was said:

Kashmira Sheth (chapters 16-18, Journey to Swaraj). . . One of the comments was explanation of foreign words. Other concern was to show Mayur’s concerns for Veena’s wellbeing. I will work on those things. Thanks so much. 

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