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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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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

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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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Tuesdays with Story
April 26, 2021

The first word . . .

“Imagine a reader you can trust.” –Verlyn Klinkenborg

Tuesday evening on Zoom . . .

Eight TWS writers came together this week. Here’s what was said.

John Schneller (chapter 8, Precious Daughter) . . . Kashmira suggested ending the second scene earlier. Larry pointed out the 1st and 3rd scenes could be combined. Jaime initiated the thought of paying attention to the gender of the reader. Would a young male reader need a little less fashion discussion? I promise that fashion will be intertwined with blood and bruises and dark escapades very soon. Thanks for all the comments!

Mike Austin (“Dog People,” short story) . . . I received some excellent feedback and suggestions for “Dog People.” There were suggestions that there would not be the hiss of tires on wet pavement so soon after the melon was run over. There could be more indication of the narrator having an interest in being a mechanic, or at least a history of it somewhere. And perhaps the story could come full circle, with Darlene looking past Ralph to Charley. Jerry, had some; input for me. Regarding proper punctuation. Also!!!! I use too many exclamation points. What?!?!? I have to admit, it’s true. Thanks everyone! 

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Tuesdays with Story
April 12, 2021

The first word . . .

Research is a wonderful word for writers. It serves as excuse for EVERYTHING.” –Rayne Hall

Tuesday evening on Zoom . . .

Six TWS writers came together this week, with a couple bow-outs for health reasons or heat reasons, one notably to “cool the dog,” which, we decided, would be a great name for a story. Here’s what was said.

— Amber Boudreau (chapters 9-10, Dragoneer, Book 2). . . Amber chose not to read from the massive number of pages she sent, setting the tone for the evening. Jerry questioned where she chose to end one chapter in particular: the middle of a scene. Amber struggled with how to add more of a pivot or change to the chapter ending and Kashmira suggested highlighting the main character’s emotional response at that moment might help. Larry brought up a good point about the description of the tyrant and where it fell in the ms. John wanted a little more description of the rat golem. Jerry enjoyed the way Amber reintroduced the book and the Librarian back into the story at the end of the chapters sent. 

Kashmira Sheth (chapter 2, Nina Soni, Snow Spy) . . . Kashmira submitted 2nd chapter of her Nina Soni, Snow Spy. Jaime and Larry thought it was age appropriate and true to Nina’s character. Amber suggest to bring in Jay to the keep that thread going.

Jaime Nelson Noven (chapters 10-11, Outsleep) . . . Jaime started with a question about the temporary shift in tone, and it was generally agreed that the shift wasn’t too jarring. We discussed how funny Rice’s comedy act should be, given her internal monologue is funnier, that she’s not a very successful comedian, and that her focus has been shifting from telling jokes to politics. We also talked about Rice needing an emotional thought toward the end of ch. 11, since this is the first time she’s seen anyone in this “dead” state. And we pontificated on society’s motivation for supporting the outsleep program. Thanks, all!

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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
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 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

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