Fifth Tuesday stories
May 30, 2017

Writing challenge: You are cleaning your house (apartment, dwelling space, etc), and you come on a room you have never seen before. What’s in it?

Max length: 500 words

Life on a Shelf

Lisa Jisa

I crouched down on the closet floor to shove the last box out of the way. Although I had moved in eight months earlier, this box hadn’t been touched since. As I placed my hands down for leverage to stand up, I noticed a small door. I pushed the box over a few more inches and twisted the door’s latch. It popped open easily.

I peered into the opening and discovered a small room no bigger than a twin-sized bed. I crawled in and saw a short wooden bookcase along the opposite wall. A white hurricane-style lamp with pink flowers sat on the top shelf, and to my surprise, it turned on when I tried it.

A Moroccan-patterned cushion rested next to the bookshelf. With one hand, I pulled it over to sit on while my other hand reached for a book. The spine of the salmon-colored cover said COURAGE. I crossed my legs and leafed through the pages.

My eyes rested on a page that said 1984. “Spanish teacher let me speak to our class about the meaning and purpose of life. I knew I had to do it after brother of another student took his life over the weekend.” That sounded vaguely familiar. I turned a few more pages. 1990. “First day at Woodland Elementary. 29 students, all in my care for the entire school year.” That was familiar, too. Was this book about me? Continue Reading »


Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
May 19, 2017

Tuesday evening

Fourteen gathered. One gentle soul was missing—and missed. There’ll always be a seat at the table for you, Judith.

Here’s a taste of the critiques:

Paul Wagner (prologue, part 1, Rise of the Serpent): No critique summary.

Pat Edwards (chapters 9-10, on purpose): “Pat received good feedback to look at how the myths and personal stories are used for examples in the chapters. The references need to be given enough explanation for those who are unfamiliar with the myth, but not bore those who are familiar. John proposed that one myth be used throughout so the reader can follow better. Most thought the stage synopsis at the start of each chapter was useful.”

Tracey Gemmell (chapters 8-10, Casa Something). “Chapters were considered well developed. Cindi identified some noteworthy turns of phrase. She questioned the notion Taylor hadn’t thought about her father in years, as she seemed to think about him often. Eva thought the work polished, but wished she liked Annie more. Larry said he would buy the book—if he weren’t reading it for free now. Jerry’s waiting for, more, belly, laughs, and, more, commas. The group diagnosed Tracey with a curtain disorder. Tracey will seek (window) treatment. She thanks you all for your concern.”

Amber Boudreau (chapters 18-20, The Dragoneer): “Amber had three chapters reviewed by the group as she attempts to finish up her rewrite by mid-summer. The note the Librarian leaves for Moira confused a lot of people. Some thought it referred to a combination of some sort, or directions, but it did not. The beginning of Chapter 20 went over well and people appeared to enjoy Moira’s discovery that her spell affected the forest. John thought two characters could be sparring while they talked at the beginning of Chapter 18 to give it some physicality.” Continue Reading »

Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
May 5, 2017


Tuesday evening at the old book shoppe

Fifteen gathered around a long, table set-up, so long that those on the ends had to shout to be heard by their opposites as we critiqued the work of seven of our colleagues. Here’s some of what was said:

  • Rebecca Rettenmund (chapter 2, Hunting for Dad): No submission.
  • Millie Mader (poem, “Texas”): “I don’t have much to submit re my poem. Mainly I was corrected on not using capital letters where required, plus some punctuation.”
  • Nora O’Reilly (chapter 11, Bill; McCormick’s Bliss): “It was suggested that I add more internal dialogue for Bill about his conflict between his ties as a monk with his growing attraction to Margo. We also discussed that I should enrich Bill’s inner dialogue throughout the first part of the novel to make it more appealing to readers. Finally, I need to reword the very last sentence with Margo asking where Bill was on the day of the Sterling Hall bombing. It sounds like an interrogation currently.”
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Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
April 22, 2017

Tuesday eve at B&N Westside

A dozen gathered around a table to critique the work six of their fellows. Here’s some of the comments of your colleagues:

  • Rebecca Rettenmund (chapter 1, Hunting for Dad) . . .
  • Pat Edwards (chapters 7-8) . . . Pat submitted two more chapters of her non-fiction book about the hero’s journey.  Most reviewers wanted more detail in the myths and stories, and ways to tie those stories to the advice in the chapter.  John had a good idea for including some unconventional mentors like cancer – for what people learn from them.  Pat also asked for input as to what to call those who complete a hero’s journey, as she doesn’t want to use the word hero.
  • John Schneller (chapter 12, Final Stronghold) . . . Final Stronghold chapter 12 drew a few good suggestions. Mike thought a weasel should be able to eat like a weasel. The idea that “these are the rules of the valley” seem a bit shallow so I have had to think through this dynamic. Jerry and Pat didn’t like similarity of names. I begged off on a one time appearance but to no avail. Rebecca  felt the scene should be described in more detail, and lastly, I was reminded to replace as many speech tags with actions, as possible. Great suggestions, one and all!!
  • Amber Boudreau (chapters 16-17, The Dragoneer) . . .Amber read from the beginning of Chapter 17 of her YA Fantasy novel, The Dragoneer. Pat thought the shame Moira felt at one point in the story was too much and suggested a replacement, such as discomfort because shame is such a strong emotion. Katie requested Amber read a particular paragraph from the end of the chapter. Amber, humbled by the request, complied as she wasn’t sure about the paragraph, as other critiques suggested getting rid of it.
  • Jack Freiburger (short story, part 1, “Jesus Walked into the IHOP”) . . .
  • Eva Mays (chapter 10, Dhuoda) . . . The consensus was that I achieved the high tension  that I was going for in Chapter 10. Jack put forth the word “caravan” to replace “cavalcade. Many people thought Rosamund’s broken arm should be more painful than the chapter currently shows. Jerry suggested I change a sentence where it makes it seem like the horse is running for longer than is physically possible. Thank you all for your input, I will put it to good use!

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Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
April 14, 2017


April 4 at the bookstore

We had 11 writers, including guest Katy Sullivan, around the tables at B&N Westside to critique the work seven of their fellows. Here’s some of the comments of your colleagues:

  • Millie Mader (poem, “Ballad of the Tower”) . . . Here’s my “3 sentences” re: my poem. I had submitted it once before—a couple years ago. It was well received, with a couple of word changes. I made the changes when I got home last night. Thanks for doing the newsletter.
  • Nora O’Reilly (chapter 9, Bill McCormick’s Bliss) . . . The group asked that I slash much of Bill’s internal dialogue (something I am doing currently throughout the rest of the book.) I was warned to be careful of switching my point of view between Bill and the omniscient narrator, and to cut my excessive food description. These suggestions as well as cleaning up the end of the chapter to leave a bit of a cliffhanger were also incorporated. Appreciate all the honest feedback, thanks everyone!!
  • John Schneller (chapter 11, Final Stronghold) . . . Chapter 11 was a chapter of working through a vignette on justice. The characters being mostly animals, were easier to follow, and the justice-logic worked for the group. The main discussion centered on names. How and why Jjosh is spelled (stuttering squirrel) and the possible means to remind e reader how Kotel acquired his name and what it means (Keeper Of The Lamb). Since this came out of book one, it might help to return to this early in Final Stronghold. Another useful note, your children’s names should not show up in the list of characters.
  • Mike Austin (chapters 1-6, Riding with the Reed Gang) . . . “Riding with the Reed Gang” was received very well by everyone, which is really going to put me on edge about the next chapters. We had some discussions about the alternating POV, and why Nick’s character is the only one not in first person, and if it worked or not. The consensus, if I understood correctly, is that it works so far. We also talked about making the era more clear in the beginning. There were very helpful and appreciated comments all around. Thanks!
  • Hannah Marshall (poems, “Second Daughter” and “Wintering”) . . . We had good discussion around both poems. The words “coal” and “barks” stuck out in “Second Daughter” as needing some reworking. In “Wintering,” we discussed that the first few lines were perhaps too spring-like for the rest of the poem which revolved around summer and winter.
  • Tracey Gemmell (prologue and chapters 1-2, rewrite, Losing It) . . . The prologue and introductions to Annie and Taylor were generally well received. Several group members found the writing to be tight and polished. Some tidying needed to clarify a few minor points. Mike found the prologue a little ‘stiff,’ but enjoyed the way the first chapter brought out Annie’s desperation without being melodramatic. Taylor is still not considered likeable, (Jerry has no sympathy for damaged Chanel shoes) but the backstory as to why she is like she is was helpful to readers. Hannah hated the idea of a character becoming more or less male/female in behaviors. Later story does get into how a man can be aggressively successful while a woman is simply a ‘bitch’ if she tries the same. Hey, I don’t make up societal rules ;). Many thanks for all your helpful comments and encouragement.
  • Jerry Peterson (short story, “Escape to Wenzhou”) . . . This was a fun read, kind of reminiscent of ‘Indiana Jones,’ said Mike Austin. Tracey Gemmell found the truck fixing scene a bit long. Also, said she, “I found the frequent use of ‘Sister’ [in referring to the nun] a little distracting.” Cindi Dyke and several others were confused by Boone’s knife-cut hand gesture. To Cindi, it was the throat-cut gesturing meaning stop, not a gesture meaning turn as Jerry intended. He said he’d fix it.

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Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
March 24, 2017


What you missed if you weren’t with us

For the third meeting in a row, we had 14 writers crowded around the tables at B&N Westside to critique the work seven of their fellows. Two of our 14 were guests, Lisa Jisa and Larry Sommers. Here’s some of the comments of your colleagues:

Jen Wilcher (chapter 3 rewrite, Hogoshiro Chronicles) . . .The chapter was well received. Several expressed that they found the drills easy to follow and visualize. Some asked to see a physical calming: a routine that carried her from agitated to calm and in control. A suggestion was made to allow her to exit without a reverse repetition of returning to civilian attire.

Pat Edwards (mentor and threshold chapters, What to Pack) . . . The group reviewed two of Pat’s chapters: Crossing the Threshold and Meet the Mentor. There was some confusion on the guardian’s listed — whether they were at the threshold or over it.  A few of the group did the exercises in the chapters and gave good feedback on them. Insightful notes from the group!

Amber Boudreau (chapter 14-15, The Dragoneer) . . .Amber sent out Chapter’s 14 and 15 of The Dragoneer to the group. Pat thought Moira argued with her mother in a very mature manner and wondered if that was intentional or not. Jerry read through the argument and found it fit with what his idea of the characters are like. Tracey suggested cutting a large bit of rehashed story from the beginning of Chapter 14 (which Amber did). Eva noted that the phrase, “on the fritz,” was used twice, once in each chapter, to refer to a phone not working but she found it a bit dated and wondered if there was a more current way to say it. Tracey was kind enough to text her daughter and informed the group she would probably just say it was broke. Continue Reading »

Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
March 10, 2017


Tuesday evening at ye olde bookseller’s

For the second meeting, we had 14 writers crowded around the tables at B&N Westside to critique the work seven of their fellows. Here’s some of their comments:

Jack Freiburger (3 poems, “Nostalgia I”, “Nostalgia II”, and “Half Moon Bay) . . .  Jack did his best Ezra Pound imitation Tuesday night, but with out the Fascist salute or praise for Mussolini, with two Imagist poems and one Imagistic dreamscape.  The poems were so simple and obvious that little criticism was offered, but jack did receive an anonymous email from one of the women in the group who offered to have a short affair with him as long as he memorialized it in similar Imagist poetic despair, once she ended it.

 Nora O’Reilly (chapter 10, Bill McCormick’s Bliss) . . . So for my out of order Chapter 10 from Bill’s Bliss: Some brilliant suggestions include to loose the omniscient narrator’s comments on page two (sounds too Hollywood and is distracting,) and to alter Bill’s body language in the final scene involving Joel and a park bench. Also the vote is out on whether my flashback works or not. I will leave it for now with some smoothing of the rough edges. A fun twist involving the alleged reporter from the Isthmus, Ali, is actually from the Madison police department. . .thanks, John! Continue Reading »