Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story

The first word . . .

“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.”

–Charles Dickens

Tuesday evening. . .

Nine TWS writers came together on Tuesday to talk shop. Here’s the conversation:

Jack Freiburger (poems, “LAL Moon,” “Skeets”) . . . Nothing to report as there was not much feedback.

Kashmira Sheth (Journey to Swaraj, ch. 1-2) . . . Kashmira submitted the first two chapters of Journey to Swaraj. Overall, the response was positive. There were suggestions to fine-tune some sections, less narration by Veena about her family’s situation/history, and a few tweaks to strengthen the story. There was also a suggestion that “telling” could be omitted and that the same trees were mentioned in the front and back of the house!

Thank you all for reading the revised version.

Amit Trivedi (poem, “Nursing Home”) … Jack felt it was thought-provoking and liked the references to Van Gogh paintings. Jack also felt that western readers will not recognize the gods/angles of death in the last line. Larry thought it was an interesting tour of a typical end-of-live situation. Bob felt the situation in the poem seems real and intimae. When I thanked Jack for his comments/advice he said, “Semper laetus erit adiutori poetae!” I’ll let you figure it out using google translate.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story

The first word . . .

“One time, while I was at my day job of computer programming, I was working through a conversation two characters were going to have in my story. I mumbled both parts to myself as I walked. When I got to the door, I walked through and held it open for a moment. I realized I was holding it open for the ‘other character’ that I was talking to.”

―Andy Weir, author of The Martian, Artemis, and Hail Mary


Tuesday evening. . .

Nine TWS writers—including newcomer Dan—filled our screens this week for a lively critique session, which included an in-depth discussion on how and why crop fields are plowed, proving that this is a very Wisconsin writers group. Here is some of what was said:

Jaime Nelson Noven (chapter, New York After All) . . . John and Amber want Nathan to have stronger dialogue. Kashmira thought Nathan could have an inkling of memory of Charlie as being some kind of fisherman, and that we should see an example of Charlie’s resistance to letting other people hold her baby. Jack added some new jokes. Bob wondered if there is something else Charlie can notice about Nathan’s hand, other than no wedding ring. And where did that escaped Lifesaver end up anyway? Thanks, all!

Bob Kralapp (“Street Fair” and “Driving to Town”) . . . Larry felt that Street Fair had some interesting images, but lacked context. Jack commented on its conciseness, that it was almost a haiku. In Driving to Town, Jaime felt that there was a problem in not showing what the narrator sees in the field before going into the interpretation of what he sees. Helpful comments, all. Thanks.

John Schneller (chapter 29, Precious Daughter) … Kashmira was hoping to see Nia in this chapter. (Sorry, Kotel needs to keep moving for a chapter or two.) Jack and Larry picked up on a few word clarifications. Jaime noted Kotel used the horse character names before he was privy to that. A short discussion on what words/wording are appropriate for middle-grade readers. The dialogue of Guardian raised questions in some readers but was accepted as a part of his distinctive character. Many good suggestions tonight.

Larry F. Sommers (chapter 1-2, Untitled Memoir) . . . It was unanimous that the new Chapter 2, going from the recon flight to the Freedom Bird flight with memories of the Knox College failure experience, was more effective than the previous Chapter 2, which went back to infancy. More is needed on the return to Kenosha and on Joelle. Jack suggested that “Reconnaissance” could be a title for the whole memoir, not just Ch. 1, and pointed out that movements from one place to another are natural opportunities for flashbacks. Thanks, all, for your insights.

February 15, here’s who’s on deck

Jack Freiburger (poems)

Kashmira Sheth (Journey to Swaraj)

Amit Trivedi (???)

Larry F. Sommers (chapter, Untitled Memoir)

John Schneller (chapter 30, Precious Daughter)

Mike Austin (???)

Our editor

Jaime Nelson Noven is editing the February issues of Writer’s Mail. She’s always looking for good things to include. If you have something, do email it to Jaime.

Happy Pub Week, Amber!

TWS member Amber Boudreau celebrates the publication of her novel Second Nature, which the group helped critique not so long ago. Happy pub week, Amber! Second Nature is now available for purchase from Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/dp/1952919800/), and watch for a bookstore event with Mystery to Me Bookstore this May.

What goes into your Character Bible?

A Character Bible is a tool used by writers to keep their characters straight. It can be an outline of the primary characters in a novel that the author creates before beginning to write, or it can be a place to track details about a character as the story is being written, to prevent continuity errors down the line. So what should be included in your Character Bible?

In an article by The Writing Cooperative (https://writingcooperative.com/why-a-character-bible-might-be-the-key-to-your-character-creation-24650823ae99), they break it down into three sections: SKIN (physical appearance), FLESH (backstory), and CORE (psychology). If you’re missing any one of these three, your character is not well-rounded enough.

In a new interview, #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner, who uses repeat protagonists in many of her books, says that she includes in her Character Bibles details of the characters’ lives from the “resting” moments. If she has a detective protagonist, she thinks about who that person is when they’re not working. Family tree. Professional resume. What does their apartment look like? How do they dress? “Sometimes you can go on Pinterest to look at things. I have friends who are big on astrological signs for their characters. I have one writing friend who can define [their characters] by a flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.”


The last word . . .

“There is some confusion as to what magic actually is. I think this can be cleared up if you just look at the very earliest descriptions of magic. Magic in its earliest form is often referred to as ‘the art.’ I believe this is completely literal. I believe that magic is art, and that art, whether it be writing, music, sculpture, or any other form, is literally magic.”Alan Moore, author of Jerusalem, V for Vendetta, and Watchmen

Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story


January 18th, 2022

Flannery O’Connor

“I write to discover what I know.”
The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

Here’s who presented on Tuesday evening:

Kashmira Sheth (Nina Soni, Perfect Hostess, chapters 10, 11)

Kashmira submitted the last few chapters of Nina Soni, Perfect Hostess. Most of the comments were positive, including the ending. Mike wanted a scene when they drove back after dropping Nina’s grandma and cousin. John had a comment about popcorns vs popcorn. Amber had few small suggestions. 

John Schneller (Blessed Daughter, chapter 28)

We discussed the dynamics of using two story lines. While it is difficult to know the full impressions of a reader who is reading it straight through versus our biweekly breaks between chapters, there is a significant contrast between the two storylines. A larger volume of story is attached to Kotel while the more intense with Nia. Her segments would benefit from development of Nia‘s thoughts and emotions.

Amber Boudreau (Dragoneer 2, final)

Amber read from her final chapters of The Dragoneer 2, the first chapters of which she submitted to the group a year ago in January of 2021. John suggested getting right into the action and not even show Moira arriving at the room. Jamie had questions about Cal and the Librarian but applauded the book ending with such a solid mix of emotions. Also, he may not have liked the first lines of the submission, but John thought the last lines could stand.

Bob Kralapp (What Did You Think I Meant?, short story)

Both Amber and Kashmira made comments about the children at the pool and just how they fit into the story. Jaime suggested having more of Warren’s observations about the other characters and how their lives might continue after college. Mike felt that the characters were well done although Warren needed background. Great suggestions all.

Next Meeting

On February 1st, the meeting will be at Larry Sommer’s house. The meeting link is:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82771394742?pwd=QXlKWUNjTDVnYlVjUk83Vk1lVVNMdz09

For February 1st, the presenters will be:

Jaime Nelson-Noven (chapter, New York After All)

Bob Kralapp (?)

John Schneller (chapters, Blessed Daughter)

Larry F. Sommers (?)

Our Editor

Jaime Nelson-Noven will edit the February Writer’s Mail. If you have something good you’d like her to include in the next issue, email it to her.

A few thoughts from Ann Lamott on what it means to be a writer:

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
―from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story


January 4th, 2022

Geraldine Brooks
“Write what you know. Every guide for the aspiring author advises this. Because I live in a long-settled rural place, I know certain things. I know the feel of a newborn lamb’s damp, tight-curled fleece and the sharp sound a well-bucket chain makes as it scrapes on stone. But more than these material things, I know the feelings that flourish in small communities. And I know other kinds of emotional truths that I believe apply across the centuries.” (Writers on Writing, New York Times, July 2001)

Here’s who presented on Tuesday evening:

Kashmira Sheth (Nina Soni, Best Hostess) Kashmira submitted Chapters 7-9 of Nina Soni, Best Hostess. Overall comments were positive. Some felt that a little more clarification about the kid flying day and the Holi Festival would be good. There was also a comment about earlier interaction between Jay and Nina that I had not addressed. Thanks for all the feedback.

Mike Austin (Dumpster Fire, revision) I received a lot of great comments and conversation for DF. The picture of Dave is stronger, but still needs fleshing out, and read more like a novel, especially the beginning. There needs to be more reason for Grady to not like or trust Dave. And who the heck is Rachel? Why does Grady suddenly decide to side with her? Just because she’s angry at Dave? There needs to be more information about Dave’s father, and Grady’s relationship, or lack of one, with his own father. And do we know for certain that Dave is fired? Why is “Dumpster Fire” a relevant title? Is Grady’s life also a dumpster fire? Or everyone’s life? How? Everyone felt that the ending works but needs more of a change in Grady to back it up. Thanks so much!

Amber Boudreau (Dragoneer 2) Amber shared the next three chapters of her sequel to The Dragoneer. Kashmira thought she did a good job of describing the main character’s sense of grief upon waking but thought she could have let her stew a bit longer in her thoughts. Larry and John agreed on removing a few spots of too much telling. Jamie was confused by the handkerchief and hopes the character didn’t end up eating it. Mike thought the women in the story would have been more traumatized by their experiences and wanted to read more of that.

Next Meeting

On January 18th, Larry will be out of town, so TWS will gather on Google Meet instead of Zoom. The meeting link for the 18th is: meet.google.com/jjb-htiu-vnm

For January 18th, the presenters will be:

John Schneller (chapters, Blessed Daughter)

Kashmira Sheth (chapters, Nina Soni, Bestest Hostess)

Amber Boudreau (chapters, Dragoneer 2)

Bob Kralapp (short story)

Amit Trivedi (?)

Our editor

Bob Kralapp will edit the January issues of Writer’s Mail. If you have something good you’d like him to include, email it to Bob.

I keep coming across different opinions about this advice: write what you know. Some believe this is the worst possible instruction, and that the writer should write about what is not known. That is, I guess, what is not known but can be discovered by way of applying research to imagination (or the other way around). Or maybe just relying on flat-out imagination to render up a story into daylight. Many have had great success going this route. And I’m in favor of curiosity. And imagination. Especially imagination, because without that, what’ve you got? But on the other hand…

Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story

December 21st, 2021

Joan Didion, December 5, 1934-December 23, 2021

“You get the sense that it’s possible simply to go through life noticing things and writing them down and that this is OK, it’s worth doing. That the seemingly insignificant things that most of us spend our days noticing are really significant, have meaning, and tell us something.” – The Paris Review interview (2006).

Here’s who presented on Tuesday evening

Larry Sommers (Untitled Memoir, chapters 2-3)

Bob noted that I provided artists with all the records mentioned except “Yes! We Have No Bananas.” Amber questioned whether the narrative was well served by using bullet points in a couple of places to list particular memories. Kashmira thought the chapters following Chapter 1 could proceed in a time frame more appropriate to the Air Force narrative of Chapter 1, weaving in flashbacks to earlier times later on. All good thoughts. Thanks, everyone.

John Schneller (Precious Daughter, chapter 27)

Most readers wanted a bit more out of the scene at the mountain precipice. Kotel’s emotional response to his near death moment could match up with a the tempestuous weather. I recognize it is a common weakness in my writing to leave emotions untouched. Kashmira enjoyed the introduction to snow. The grizzlies were popular with all but Jack wanted more taunting. 

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story

Meeting notes from Tuesday (of course), December 7

“Collaborative workshops and writers’ peer groups hadn’t been invented when I was young. They’re a wonderful invention. They put the writer into a community of people all working at the same art, the kind of group musicians and painters and dancers have always had.” 
― Ursula K. Le Guin, Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew

Five writers presented their work at Tuesdays meeting. Here are some of the comments they received.

John Schneller

Precious Daughter

Most found the chapter engaging. Amit appreciated the change in tension when storylines jump from Nia to Kotel. Kashmira thought the dialogue should be given prior to the hawk catching the breeze and exiting. Larry noticed that I like to have minds ‘bounce’ a little too often. Thanks for reading.

Bob Kralapp

“Don’t Take It Personally”

Mike wanted to know if there was anything Kenny and the narrator respected about the coach that would make them feel his betrayal in betting on the game. Or if he was just another authority figure. Amber felt that the story read a lot more streamlined than before. She and several others agreed there should be something more at the end that would bring it around and make it feel more finished.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays With Story

November 16, 2021

A mistake for authors is defining their author platform as a list of people to market their next book on social media.

If you view your author platform as nothing more than transactional relationships, it will fail. If you view it primarily as sharing your heart and caring for a group of people, it will have far more value and possibly be responsive when you have a book. 

Dan Balow, Steve Laube Literary Agency

Here’s who presented Tuesday evening

Kashmira Sheth (chapters 1-2 rewrite, Nina Soni, Best Hostess) – Kashmira submitted two chapters of Nina Soni, Best Hostess. Most of the comments were positive. There were some questions about how to make the flow of a story better. This was a revised submission and overall the revision worked well. Everyone preferred the title Nina Soni, Best Hostess over Nina Soni, Perfect Hostess. 

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
November 2nd 2021

The first word . . .

Be polite. The editor you email today may be the CEO of  your publisher next year.

Here’s who presented this week

Larry Sommers (MemoirDebriefing) . . . My introductory chapter to a projected memoir, titled “Debriefing,” was generally well-received as a tentative start of something as yet indefinite. John felt the material between the initial aerial reconnaissance scenes and the final paragraph, looping back to the concept of debriefing, could be omitted. Jack felt the passage from Yeats’ “The Second Coming” may have been misplaced. Jack and Jerry suggested that the idea of having been born in a golden age could be expanded. Thanks everybody. Onward and upward.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story

The Halloween Edition

The first word . . .

“Most people think of Stephen King as a horror author, but his best work usually comes with a side order of nostalgic Americana.” ―Stewart Stafford

Tuesday evening Fully on Zoom Once Again. . .

Five TWS writers—Larry, Jerry, Amber, John, and Jaime—filled our screens this week for a fairly short but meaty meeting filled with great ideas on how to improve the novels and pitching assets that were presented. Here is some of what was said:

Larry Sommers (synopsis and blurb, The Maelstrom) … John suggested starting the blurb with the last paragraph, making the first graf less generic and more pointed, and he had some better language for the second graf, describing Daniel’s relation to Anders and Maria in more visceral and causal terms. There was agreement that the synopsis was much improved from last time, touching all essential plot points. However, it still needs work to tie the disconnected plot statements more closely to an overall theme agents and editors would look for, as noted by Jaime. Thanks, all, for your good ideas.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story

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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