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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
10/12/21

The first word . . .

“If you write about the things and the people you know best, you discover your roots. Even if they are new roots, fresh roots… they are better than… no roots.” —Isaac Bashevis Singer

Tuesday evening critiques . . .

Seven TWS writers flocked in a hybrid of in-person and Zoom critiques. Here is some of what was said:

— John Schneller (chapter 22, Precious Daughter) . . . Two needs were pointed out. Jaime pointed out that does not deal with regret at delaying the call for the village. It was something he (and the author) never thought about. (author’s note: he will have a lot more to regret in the next book). Jerry wanted more stumbling through the dark hold of the ship. Author will stumble through these revisions. Thanks!

Jaime Nelson Noven (chapter, New York, After All) . . . This week, we took a critical look at the opening line, removed some extraneous details that seemed to be related to things that they weren’t related to, and Jack provided some ideas on how to make the magazine ads section more powerful by leveraging the names of the advertisers. Thanks, all!

Jack Freiburger (poem, “Evening Ski”) . . . Not much as far as comments, but generally positive reactions.  Pretty simple semi-imagist poem.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
September, 20, 2021

The first word . . .

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
—Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday evening in person and on Zoom . . .

Presenters:

Amit Trivedi  

1. Jerry felt that it was incomplete. It need closure.
2. Bob and kashmira liked the Passage of time (dusk-night-morning)
3. Jack had quite a few suggestions
4. Mike and Larry thought the portrayal of the old men was realistic.

Thanks!

Kashmira Sheth (chapters 2-3, Nina Soni, Best Hostess) – Kashmira read from chapter two of Nina Soni, Best Hostess. Overall, the comments were positive. Larry liked how these chapters were progressing. Jack suggested tweaking a word to fit Nina’s word-loving personality and Jaimie and Larry had ideas on how to improve some parts of the story. Jerry wondered if Nina’s father going to be a list-maker like her and Amber wanted to know if the story will cover the entire six weeks of her grandmother and cousin’s visit. John pointed out that bouncy goes more with bunnies than flowers. Thank you.

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Writer’s Mail

TWS

September 7th 2021

First word

For me, where genre ends and literature begins doesn’t matter. What matters is whether a given novel hits me with high impact. If it does, it probably is fulfilling the purpose of fiction. It has drawn me into a story world, held me captive, taken me on a journey with characters like none I’ve ever met, revealed truths I’ve somehow always known and insights that rock my brain. It’s filled me with awe, which is to say it’s made me see the familiar in a wholly new way and made the unfamiliar a foundational part of me. It both entertains and matters. It both captures our age and becomes timelessly great. It does all that with the sturdy tools of story and the flair of narrative art.”
― Donald Maass, Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling

Here’s who presented Tuesday evening

Jaime Nelson Noven (part 2, New York, After All) – Jaime (New York, After All chapter) This week, we talked about New York as a character, conveying Charlie’s affection for the baby in a way that’s less detached than the rest of the narrative, leaning in to the imagined future history of New York, and the logistics of having a baby without warning (Is the baby early? Did Charlie miss the signals?). Great recommendations surrounding incorporating the river into the Ohio-Kentucky civil war and using bus ads to add to the metaphor. Thanks, everyone!

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesday with Story

August 17, 2021

First word…

Most humor depends on specificity. It’s funnier to say that a cheese steak tastes better when you’re leaning up against a Pontiac than when you are leaning up against a car.

– Calvin Trillin

Here’s who presented Tuesday evening…

Kashmira Sheth – (Chapter 1, Nina Soni, Best Hostess and chapter 10, rewrite, Nina Soni, Snow Spy)…I submitted the first chapter of Nina Soni, Best Hostess. The main concern was keeping things simple for new readers, using active voice, and maybe playing around with a different starting point. All were excellent suggestions. I also resubmitted a revised chapter of  Nina Soni, Snow Spy. There were no major concerns there. Thank you all.

John Schneller (Chapters 16-17, Precious Daughter)…Jerry wanted to clear up some disparity on fishing, both the numbers, and what ones does with a grub once it in your hands. Larry wanted clarity on how long the boys would help cooking. Amit pointed out too much falling in the dance, while Kashmira pointed out that it slows down when the dance routine was described twice. Jamie noticed Kotel was a bystander in the opening. These things can be fixed! Thanks to all for the keen powers of observation.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays With Story

August 3, 2021

The first word:

When I sit down in order to write, sometimes it’s there; sometimes it’s not. But that doesn’t bother me anymore. I tell my students there is such a thing as “writers block,” and they should respect it. You shouldn’t write through it. It’s blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven’t got it right now.

– Toni Morrison

Here’s who presented Tuesday evening:

Jaime Nelson Noven (Part 1, New York, After All)… Jamie presented a chapter from a novel in progress (a book within a book). It seemed most everyone liked the voice of the narrator and the humor. We looked at some troublesome scene transitions and the narrator’s casual reaction to a coworker going missing. Definitely will have to change the supermarket simile. Thanks, all!

Bob Kralapp (short story, “Don’t Take It Personally”)… The story was well received. Jack felt that having the basketball coach bet two grand on the upcoming game was excessive and that two hundred was more in line with the situation. Jamie was confused about having the story end where it did without resolving whether Coach was betting for or against his team. Most readers felt the story was incomplete and needed a second act to bring it around.

Amber Boudreau (chapters 24-26, The Dragoneer 2)… Amber read from chapter 24 of her sequel to The Dragoneer. Jerry had a question about the characters sitting around digesting. Jamie needed a little more information in one part concerning a character’s luck. John thought the description of Moira’s drowning was well done. As far as  chapter 26 goes, it may need some retooling or could be left as is to let the audience take from it what they will. In this chapter, Moira has a conversation with her father who’s dead but only because the Librarian is there as well and that may need to be made clearer.

John Schneller (chapter 4, Precious Daughter)… Kotel’s more light-hearted days will be a contrast to Nia’s troubles. The two stories will need to be interspersed earlier. Jack noticed the hints that Kotel was ascending into a new realm as he ascended the mountain. Hints of the change need to be delayed for a scene to coincide with his entry into the hidden village. The skunk scene was overworked. Jamie pointed out that Kotel’s half-truths will not be obvious to a new reader who has not read the first book. Thanks for all the helpful comments.

Jerry Peterson (chapters 22-24, Night Flight)… Jerry used the wrong church to integrate. The Baptists would not have permitted a black person in their church at this time (1927, the heart of the Jim Crow era). The Methodists might, several said. Jack found the shovel cake incident disconcerting. Rachel and Abraham Isaac work hard at doing everything properly, so they wouldn’t make shovel cake in the fireplace. That’s primitive. Rooster would, though. He can teach Rachel how this is done. Kashmira suggested Rachel has to have things to do that continually puts Rooster off from asking her to marry him.

Here’s who’s up on August 17

Amit Trivedi (chapter12, River Drops – working title)

Paul Wagner (Night of the Red Eyed Mad Man)

Kashmira Sheth (untitled)

Larry Sommers (short story, An Episode)

Jerry Peterson (chapter 25, Night Flight)

And riding back-up, John Schneller (chapter 5, Precious Daughter).

Our editor

Bob Kralapp returns to edit the August issues for Writer’s Mail. You have something you’d like him to include in our next issue? Email it to Bob.

Fifth Tuesday

It’s coming, the end of the month, August 31. Jack will host the group at his farm.

We do have a writing challenge. Here it is: Create a 30-second radio or television commercial for your new invention. Yes, we need a script.

Ron Popeil was a master of this. He invented or acquired and starred in his own commercials for the first Karaoke machine called Mr. Microphone, the Popeil Pocket Fisherman, the Veg-o-Matic, the Buttoneer, the Smokeless Ashtray, Popeil’s Electric Food Dehydrator, the Inside-the-Egg Scrambler, GLH-9 (Great Looking Hair Formula #9) Hair in a Can Spray, Rhinestone stud setter (later called the Bedazzler), and the Cap Snaffler. Look up his commercials on You Tube for inspiration.

A book for writers

New York Times reviewer Pat O’Connor said of comma queen Mary Norris’s memoir that it was a great read. “Hilarious…This book charmed my socks off.”

So why should we read it?

Norris has spent more than three decades in The New Yorker’s copy department where her job was to make sure every column and story maintained the magazine’s high standards for punctuation, spelling, grammar, structure, and the craft of writing.

Says the blurb, “In Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, she brings her vast experience with grammar and usage, her good cheer and irreverence, and her finely sharpened pencils to help the rest of us in a boisterous language book as full of life as it is of practical advice.”

So check it out.

Confessions came out in 2016. NPR, Amazon, Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal all named it a Best Book of the Year.

There’s more. Three years later. Norris brought out It’s Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen.

Says the blurb for this book, “Greek to Me is a charming account of Norris’s lifelong love affair with words and her solo adventures in the land of olive trees and ouzo. Along the way, Norris explains how the alphabet originated in Greece, makes the case for Athena as a feminist icon, goes searching for the fabled Baths of Aphrodite, and reveals the surprising ways Greek helped form English. Filled with Norris’s memorable encounters with Greek words, Greek gods, Greek wine―and more than a few Greek men―Greek to Me is the Comma Queen’s fresh take on Greece and the exotic yet strangely familiar language that so deeply influences our own.”

The last word:

Stories are for those late hours of the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember but the story. – Tim O’Brien, from The Things They Carried

Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays With Story Newsletter

July 6. 2021

The First Word

“. . . the correct intention, which is to provide the reader with an experience that is superior to the experiences the reader encounters in daily life.” From Stein on Writing

Here’s who presented Tuesday evening

Kashmira Sheth (chapter 9, Nina Soni, Snow Spy) – Kashmira submitted chapter 9 of Nina Soni, Snow Spy. Most of the comments were positive. One thing that several people pointed out that the ending was ho-hum. There were some suggestions to change the chapter ending to make it more exciting. 

Larry Sommers (three poems) – My three poems were met with genial puzzlement. The most puzzling was “I came to a corner that did not bend,” based on the central metaphor of a long-obsolete cash transfer mechanism in old department stores. Jack suggested a lot of words could be cut in all three poems. Jerry disputed the final assertion from ” In the land of my boyhood” that I never became one of the giants (adults). I thought it was a matter of viewpoint. Maybe objectively I joined the adult world but inwardly remained a kid. Thanks for all your comments and suggestions.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story

June 15, 2021

The first word…

“Character is the very life of fiction. Setting exists so that the character has someplace to stand. Plot exists so that the character can discover what he is really like, forcing the character to choice and action. And theme exists only to make the character stand up and be somebody.”

-John Gardner

Tuesday evening at Larry Sommers’s place…

Ten writers attended, six by way of Zoom link. Five writers presented work.

Mike Austin

Dumpster Fire (Work in progress)

“Dumpster Fire,” the first part of a short story work in progress, met with somewhat mixed but mostly favorable reviews. Jerry needed more of a reason to care about either character, while Amber thought that there’s room for redemption with one or both of them. And sowing that seed of doubt about who actually started the dumpster fire is a distraction, unless that’s part of the story. Which it ain’t. Also, the opening sentence has to go somewhere else. Or just go. I did lapse into first person narrative at least once. Whoops. I also need to use the “find” tool to avoid the repetition with some words. Thanks for all of the tips and encouragement!

Larry Sommers

One More Outlaw, an Izzy Mahler short story

Jerry and others pointed out many missed opportunities for plot excitement foregone in my quest to be faithful to true life experience. Jamie suggested Donny Bill might attempt to inveigle Izzy into a life of crime. Jack thought I could maintain the integrity of my “affective” approach (i.e., vignette style) but add meaning by explaining more of the social and economic context. Thanks, everybody. Points to ponder.

Amber Boudreau

The Dragoneer 2, Chapters 18-20

Amber read from the beginning of chapter 18 of her sequel to The Dragoneer. Jamie and others enjoyed the sequence with the goblins. Larry had a suggestion about the former occupants of their armor being ‘wearers’ instead of ‘owners’. Mike enjoyed the mentorship aspect of the later chapters while John suggested there might be a few places to reduce the amount of dialogue.

John Schneller

Precious Daughter, Chapter 14

Jerry found better wording for clarity in the opening of the chapter. Jamie asked if DinShaw is a redeemable character. He will eventually show his love as a father, but not for a while. Work is needed to show him as an honorable soldier, stressed and failing by present circumstances. Thanks for the suggestions.

Jerry Peterson

Escape to the Conch Republic, Chapter 9

The chapter stirred a world of conversation on how to improve it, ranging from Paf probing Thompson for a better explanation for how he chose to get involved in treasure hunting, to Paf accepting Thompson’s offer of a half share in the venture, to Thompson paying Gunn $500 for an introduction to the man who really has the treasure map—$500 for a treasure map is just too cheap, Jack and Larry said—to better lines about Shelby being drunk.

Fifth Tuesday

Yes, June 29. Larry and Jo Sommers will host us at their home in Madison. PLEASE LET US KNOW IF YOU ARE COMING. Larry and Jo will provide plates, cups, plastic utensils, and napkins. Pulled pork sandwiches will be served. Drinks will include iced tea, red and white wine, and two kinds of beer. Please bring a salad, dessert, or other dish to pass. Feel free to bring your own preferred beverage.

Per the usual, we do have a writing challenge. The prompt: Cemetery rules! Keep your mini-masterpiece to 500 or fewer words and email it to Jerry Peterson, with a copy to Larry, by Monday evening, June 28. Two stories are already in.

On the schedule for July 6…

Amit Trivedi (???)

Jaime Nelson Noven (Outsleep, chapter 14, part 2)

Paul Wagner (???)

Amber Boudreau (Dragoneer 2, chapter 21-23)

Mike Austin (short story, “Dumpster Fire”, part 2)

John Schneller (Precious Daughter, chapter 15)

Our July 6 meeting will be at Jack’s house in Fitchburg. Those who can’t make it can join via Zoom link, as usual.

Our editors…

Bob Kralapp edited this issue of Writer’s Mail. Next month—July—John Schneller takes on the assignment.

From Jerry…

Words in our state

That thing where we get a drink of water, in southern and eastern Wisconsin we call it a bubbler, not a drinking fountain. The State Historical Society teed off on this bit of language trivia with the t-shirt here that it sells. The back of the shirt reads ‘Fountains are where you throw coins.’

If you want to order an ‘It’s a Bubbler’ t-shirt, here’s the link: https://shop.wisconsinhistory.org/bubbler-tshirt

The last word…

“Be daring, take on anything. Don’t labor over little cameo works in which every word is to be perfect. Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.” – Joyce Carol Oates

Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story

June 1, 2021

The first word…

“I have written somewhere that there is only one story, but there are many stories in the one, and I like that idea.”

– N. Scott Momaday

Tuesday evening at Jack Frieburger’s place…

Eight writers attended, including Jerry and Kashmira via Zoom link. Five writers presented work. Jamie’s brother, visiting from the Washington D.C. area, sat in on the group.

Jaime Nelson Noven

Outsleep, Ch. 14 part 1

This week, we looked at the disorienting effect of telling a story out of its chronology, the shifting of the tone, and sugar highs. I will be looking at characterizing the security guard more as being small in stature, as I now see that him being wrestled by the doctor is a weird image if it’s assumed he’s intimidating in size. Thanks, all. It was so nice to see so many of you in person.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story

May 18, 2021

The first word…

“Begin to think of settings as characters in your story. A character plays against other characters, increasing tension, creating drama, and advancing the plot. A story about a man in a hurricane is about two characters. A story about a stepfather and a boy and a toy store is about three characters.”—Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction.

Tuesday evening on Zoom

Seven writers attended, four writers presented work, three writers, myself included, were occupied with hosting guests, which is a thing again.

Jaime Nelson Noven

Outsleep, Ch. 13 & Ch. 2 insert

We talked mostly about setting the scene in the outsleep unit by moving some of the description earlier, looking at what the objective description’s tone should be, and amping up the contrast between the plastic nature of the room and the freshly cut flowers. There was also a good suggestion of the patients (or their locations) having numbers in such a vast space. Thanks, all!

Jaime

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story

May 4, 2021

The first word…

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”—Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt.

Tuesday evening on Zoom

Eight writers gathered around the glow of their screens this past Tuesday evening to share their work and thoughts.

Jerry Peterson

Escape to the Conch, chapters 7-8

Shorten things and punch up the copy with jokes, particularly chapter 7, Jack said. Both John and Jack wanted the scene leading up to Paf taking after the seller of the fake chart to have a better build—Shelby giving a longer speech about the fake chart—so Ange charging after the seller becomes more believable. Kashmira asked for some chemistry between Shelby and Paf. Jack suggested a way to do that, by having Paf “get in touch” with Shelby by putting his arm around her shoulders during the ferry trips to and from the surfside restaurant.

Larry Summers

Freedom’s Purchace, chapters 9-10

The story of Daniel’s travails with the maroons is well told, but several people desired more depth in the characters, especially Daniel and Luc, and more feeling of background as exemplified by sounds, etc. Betsey’s instant willingness to go with Daniel needs a bit more context, and the vegetative screening of the new maroon camp ought to be mentioned. Thanks, everybody.

Amber Boudreau

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