Posts Tagged ‘Writing Critique’

Tuesdays with Story
January 3, 2023

The first word . . .

“The profession of book-writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”

John Steinbeck

Tuesday Evening . . .

Mike Austin (The Reed Gang, Chapter 1)

Chapter 1 of The Reed Gang (working title) was well received. I need to change some names. Red and Ned just doesn’t work. And I need to introduce the characters more, with descriptions. We had some discussion about the drunk girl, and whether she should be older. But having her younger has more of an impact. Nick’s involvement with the other four needs to be explained, and I’m thinking that I’ll move that introduction so it’s before this chapter. Thanks!

Kashmira Sheth (I Am From Here Too, first 15 pages)

Kashmira submitted the first fifteen pages of her novel in verse, I am From Here Too. The main thing discussed was how to weave a conflict or a hint of it earlier. The writing worked well for the most part. There was also a discussion about writing about Sikh faith and what kind of research was needed. 

Larry F. Sommers (Untitled, Chapters 1 and 2)

Larry F. Sommers, Untitled WWII novel, Chs. 1 and 2:  The main point all agreed on was that Jag, and to some extent, Hal as well, are not likable characters. Too cold and self-involved. More human facets of their inner lives need to be disclosed. It was suggested that the first paragraph, introducing Hal, be omitted to begin with the second graf on the coal-scooping action. John pointed out that tidying up the coal dust partway through the job didn’t make sense, and he suggested that Hal and Jag hold an active productivity competition. Great feedback, everybody, thanks.

Amit Trivedi (If Not for the Partition, Chapters 1 and 2)

Overall the revised chapters were received very well. A few changes were suggested regarding reducing the number of characters in the first chapter, changing the order of paragraphs and giving more details about the bazaar (scent and sounds) and a bit more explanation of the geo-political background.

Thanks all!

Judy Cummings (A Real Hero, Chapters 8 and 9)

The group gave overall positive feedback on these chapters, specifically the protagonist’s struggle between duty and young romance, the voice, and the emotional pull whenever the protagonist’s missing brother is mentioned. Larry suggested changing the German so it’s clear to the reader that the protagonist isn’t fluent in the language. Thanks for the feedback, everyone.

Who’s up next . . . 

Jack Freiburger

Amber Boudreau

Amit Trivedi

Judy Cummings

Kashmira Sheth

Suzanne Gillingham

For the good of the order . . .

Our Fifth Tuesday gathering will be held Jan. 31 at Jack’s place, Hickory Knoll Farm. It will be potluck. Jack will inform us what he’s providing and what we need to bring ourselves. 

The writing prompt is “The best prank ever.” Any form or format, 500 words max. Send to Larry by the end of Monday, January 30. 

The last word . . .

“Literature abhors the typical. Literature flows to the particular, the mundane, the greasiness of paper, the taste of warm beer, the smell of onion or quince.” 

Richard Rodriguez


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Tuesdays with Story

November 1. 2022

The first word . . .

Know something about the world, and by this I mean the world outside books. This might require joining the marines, or working on an oil rig or a hashslinger at a truck stop in Kentucky. Know what things smell like out there. If everything you write smells like a library, then your prospective audience will be limited to those who like the smell of libraries. From Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson

To zoom or not to zoom,

Four TWS writers gathered around the table. Others gathered around their screens from the east coast to the Mississippi. Here is some of what was said:

— Larry Sommers “Walt’s Mirror” Jack suggested drawing a parallel between the car mirror Walt broke and the mirrors that were originally installed on the first generation of F-4 fighters, to draw past and present together. John suggested moving material from the third paragraph up to the top of the story. Everyone agreed it was a very incomplete work.  Thanks, everybody.

  • Jamie Nelson Noven  New York After All Chapter 14
  • In this chapter, Jack thought it moved well, but he’d like more description of the place and clothing so that it feels more immersive. We talked about the strangeness of the humor checklist and whether there really is comedy going on at this club. Kashmira wondered what would happen if the clothing was reversed, if people were more dressed up than Charlie expected. Larry thought the tense change worked well and that her mental state reflects well her feeling of aging. We also talked about highlighting her choice of auditorium more. Thanks, everyone!

— Amber Boudreau  Second Act Chapters 17, 18 Amber read from the beginning of chapter 18 of her urban fantasy sequel Second Act, but all the trouble came in chapter 17. Jack wanted a bit more out of the fight scene. Not just description but more noise, especially if our protagonist is having a hard time seeing. Larry and John both recommended edits. Jamie wanted the alpha, Richard, to have another reason for sending our protagonist into harm’s way other than bragging rights. Kashmira wanted a better reason why as well.

  • Kashmira Sheth  Nina Soni, Miserable Traveler Chapter 1
  • Kashmira submitted the first two chapters of Nina Soni, Miserable Traveler. John wanted a more active beginning.  Jack wanted a faster pace and would like to see a Diwali scene later in the story. Larry thought the rain scene in the beginning was a little confusing. Jamie wanted Nina’s age mentioned right at the start of the story. Amber had a few small suggestions and Mike liked the story. Judy sent her comments saying that the plane scene was too long. Thank you all for your comments. 

Who’s up next . . . 

On November 15, here’s who will be presenting:

Kashmira Sheth

Paul Wagner

John Schneller

Amber Budreau

Openings available

Our editor . . .

John Schneller will edit our November issues of Writer’s Mail. He would appreciate your news. Email it to him and he’ll include it in the next issue.

Line Editing | written by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency
Today’s post is the second installment of definitions about different types of editing. If line editing, that means someone “fixing” the craft. Sometimes I receive submissions from authors who need more practice in craft. That’s okay! Even the most experienced authors can improve. However, once we’ve agreed to work together, you’ll know that I believe you have mastered craft and that your work is excellent enough to present to editors. I have listed below the most common areas for improvement I see from newer authors (and sometimes even in published books). I wrote the examples offered. None are either intentionally or unintentionally taken from any published or unpublished work: 1. Too many conversational tags. Maximillian sighed. “I wish you would think more of me before you go about making decisions that will affect our lives, Mimosa,” he said. Mimosa glared at Maximillian. “I will do what I want to do when I want to,” she shot back. Maximillian took a swig of his drink before answering. “In that case, we are through,” he declared. 2. Conversational tags that are too detailed. Unneeded adverb: “If only you loved me as much as I love you,” Sebastian told Verona sadly. Sarcasm (or other speaker emotion) is noted when the reader should intuit the context: “Well, Roxanna, you did get up at five this morning; wash four loads of laundry; iron Dwight’s oxford-cloth shirts; go to spin class; cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for six people; work on your novel; and teach school. I don’t understand why you’re tired,” Midge said sarcastically. 3. Conversational tags that aren’t doing the right job or doing the job right. “Give me the gun!” said Dorian. Try: “Give me the gun!” shouted Dorian. “Hand over the package or else!” said Axel. Try: “Hand over the package or else!” threatened Axel. “I don’t like you,” hissed Tawny. Instead, use hissing sounds with, “You slithering snake!” hissed Tawny. 4. Too much unnecessary description of places. When I started writing novels, an editor rightly suggested that I avoid too much travelogue. This tendency is tough to tame when a writer is excited about a recent trip. When writing a description, ask yourself how much the reader needs to know to feel the sense of place enough to believe the story. Accuracy is foremost. Be sure not to have wildflowers blooming at the wrong time of the year for the area, for example. 5. Asking the reader to invest too much emotion in a character who ultimately doesn’t matter to the story. If, as an author, you are giving too much time to a character, ask yourself why. Why has this character captured your imagination? Does the character need her own story? 6. Offer description as appropriate through logical characters. From a detective: The redhead with brown roots and freckles looked innocent enough, but he placed her on his mental list of suspects. From a love interest: Her long, auburn hair shone in the sunlight. Adorable freckles sprinkled her face as a testimony to long summer days spent on the lake. Can you think of other ways to improve your craft?

The last word . . .

Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day that says, “I will try again tomorrow.”

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Tuesdays with Story

The first word . . .

From the beginnings of literature, poets and writers have based their narratives on crossing borders, on wandering, on exile, on encounters beyond the familiar. The stranger is an archetype in epic poetry, in novels. The tension between alienation and assimilation has always been a basic theme.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Tuesday evening. . .

Seven TWS writers attended October 4 meeting.  

Suzanne Gillingham (Kaleidoscope, Chs. 1-2) The characters were interesting and for the most part likable. The first chapters had too much telling and not enough showing with too much info dumping though there were areas that needed more explanation, for example, souls vs emotions. Also needed was a conflict set-up. 

Bob Kralapp (Logical Realities of World)
(Logical Realities of the World, short story) The major observation was that the story felt unfinished, and left the reader with far too many unanswered questions. Judy suggested that the opening paragraph needed to be broken into shorter paragraphs for ease of reading. Amber commented on the tension generated in the concluding scene. Thanks one and all for the excellent comments.

Kashmira Sheth (Journey to Swaraj, Chs 26-27) Over all the comments were positive. John had suggestion to change the last sentence and also take out one trivial sentence. Judy pointed out to one verb that needed to be changed. Judy also asked about theme of the book. Amber said the story was coming of age. Larry suggested defining the word “swaraj” (self-rule) earlier in the story. We also talked about “theme” in general. Bob doesn’t start with a theme, Larry does. I have quotes about theme in this newsletter. Thank you.

Judy Cummings (A Real Hero, Chs. 3-5) In general, everyone liked the character’s voice and felt the plot was moving along well. Larry suggested putting the protagonist’s name and age earlier in the manuscript, along with correcting the use of military salutations.  Amber pointed out some confusion with unclear dialogue tags and John recommended tightening up the language in a few places.  Thanks for the feedback.

Larry F. Sommers ) Lost in the Woods) Larry F. Sommers, “Lost in the Woods”:  Everybody liked the general tone. A couple of “cute” bits in dialog could have been left out. Judy refused to believe that in eight years of marriage Genie had learned nothing of Gus’s personal history. There were some thoughts that the old man, Carl, may have reached out to Gus by letters or by sending woodcarvings.  Otherwise, it’s hard to see Gus’s motivation for re-establishing contact. Thanks for lots of constructive thoughts, everybody.

Presenter for our next meeting on October 18:

Amber Boudreau

Kashmira Sheth

Judy Cummings

Suzanne Gillingham

Please note that we still have two spots open.

The last word . . .On themes from the writing master class.

  1. 1. Put your characters in conflict with one another. Most themes center on controversial ideas that are a source of conflict for human beings. By putting your characters in conflict, you’ll create more opportunities for actions, choices, and conversations that enable them, and your readers, to tackle your theme head on.
  2. 2. Reinforce your theme with motifs. A motif is a recurring image or detail that highlights the central ideas in a story through repetition. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, for example, Gatsby’s constant, lavish parties emphasize the theme of excess, materialism, and the pursuit of the American dream. Use motif to shed additional light on the theme and also give readers a reminder of its existence.
  3. 3. Represent your theme with symbols. Symbols are objects, characters, or settings that are used to represent something else (while, again, supporting the theme). A symbol may appear one time, or be present throughout the story. In The Great Gatsby, a green light symbolizes Gatsby’s dream for a better life with Daisy. In the beginning of the book, he reaches toward it; in the end, it seems unreachable.

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Tuesdays With Story

September 20, 2022

First Word…

“There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.

—Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker.

Last Tuesday Evening with Tuesdays With Story…

Six TWS writers met via Google Meet to discuss the works submitted. Here is a summary of what was said:

—Jaime Nelson Noven (New York After All, Chs. 7-9) …Bob enjoyed the cinematic opening. Kashmira suggested getting more insight into her thoughts as she approaches. John suggested adding tension during this scene and in the dorm room. Amber noted that the teaser “after everything” is a good opportunity for backstory, since it doesn’t work well as foreshadowing. Judy recommended showing us something in the scene that “doesn’t feel right” instead of just saying it. Kashmira also suggested extending the scene to see her hesitate over her big decision in the end of the chapter. Thanks, everyone!

Amber Boudreau (Second Act, Chs. 13-14) …Amber read from the beginning of chapter 13 of her novel Second Act. Overall people seemed to like the chapters, but they thought there could have been more tension especially when the three characters go out for a meal. As John pointed out, we trust two of the characters, so the way to introduce tension would be with the third. Jamie wondered if the sound of the packing peanuts would drive a werewolf with sensitive hearing to distraction. Judy wondered how in control of his wolf the main character is. Answer: very. John wondered if the packing peanuts might have been tampered with.

Judy Cummings (A Real Hero, Chs. 1-2 and panels 1-8 of comic The Adventures of Captain Tharros) …In general, the group thought the protagonist’s voice was authentic and consistent with that of an 11-year-old boy. Amber questioned whether the name Captain Tharros might be too similar to the villain of the Marvel series. Jamie thought it wise to not feature the comic book too often between chapters, consistent with advice Judy received from an editor recently. Kashmira suggested further research on whether or not it’s appropriate to give art suggestions in the comic book sections, as this is typically not done with other types of manuscripts. Thanks for the feedback, everyone.

Kashmira Sheth (Journey to Swaraj, Chs. 24-25) …Kashmira submitted chapter 24-25 of JTS. Jaime felt that there was urgency in these chapters. Judy felt that chapter 24 had too much information in the beginning that readers might skim over. John suggested using metaphor for the death of 10 million people. Bob pointed out that characters have grown. Amber liked the present tense and wondered if Mayur and Jasubhai would return. 

Here’s who’s up on October 4…

Judy Cummings (A Real Hero, Chs. 3,4 and panels of comic The Adventures of Captain Tharros)

Suzanne Gillingham (Kaleidoscope)

Bob Kralapp (Logical Realities of the World, short story)

Kashmira Sheth (Journey to Swaraj, Chs. 24-26)

Our Editor for October…

Kashmira Sheth takes on Writer’s Mail for the next two issues. She is always on the lookout for good things to include, so if you have something you want her to include, do email it to her.

In Other News… 

Kashmira’s fifth book in the Nina Soni series will come out on October 18th, 2022. Here is the first review from Kirkus:

Nina, who enjoys making lists and sometimes has trouble focusing, is an earnest protagonist with classic worries about sometimes-intricate levels of friendship. Snow good! (Kirkus Review)

She also did a podcast with Reading With Your Kids.

The link is: https://traffic.libsyn.com/readingwithyourkids/Kashmira_Sheth.mp3

Last Word…

Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.

Barry Lopez (1945-2020) American author, essayist and nature writer.

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Tuesdays With Story

September 6, 2022

First Word…

“The important thing is not to offer any specific hope of betterment but, by offering an imagined but persuasive alternate reality, to dislodge the mind, and so the reader’s mind from the lazy, timorous habit of thinking that the way we live now is the only way we can live. – Ursula Le Guin, Paris Review, Art of Fiction, No 221

Tuesday evening…

Jack Frieburger (Three poems) Rende Moi:  Fluff at this point, but may eventually become a poem.

Je Suis Charlie:  Some phrasing was appreciated. Larry saw moral equivalence, which was not intended. I suggest Baader was correct in that there are no innocents, but the romance and high principle of terrorism is not what the person in the street feels. But there is the suspicion of those not of the same race, class, etc., that pervades the west.

Would that we could be Innocents.

Barbara Salisbury is either coming along or as far as I can take it. Previous readers saw an improvement.

Kashmira Sheth (Journey to Swaraj, Chs. 21-23) Kashmira submitted chapters 21-23 of JTS. There were some questions about how Dadima’s death would make Veena think of certain issues like fighting for freedom as well as British rule. There are few things that need rearranging. Also comment about expanding one critical scene to make it stand out more. One phrase was overused. Thanks everyone for your input. 

Bob Kralapp (Two poems) General response to Aria centered on its being warm and comforting, creating a feeling of peace. Larry liked the simile used in depicting the destitute man in Holborn Station. A few readers had questions about the choice of words used to characterize the narrators’ reaction to the man. Kashmira noted the haunting nature of the poem. Thanks for all comments.

Amber Boudreau (Second Act, Chs. 10-12) Amber read from the beginning of Chapter 12, the last of three chapters she sent to the group. (Apparently, we should only send 15 pages or so. Amber hastily makes a mental note). Everyone seemed to agree that chapters 11 and 12 were where things really picked up and started to move along. Larry suggested compressing Chapter 10 and saying the same thing, but with 75% of the words. Jamie has found the tension taking a roller coaster ride in these first chapters, but seems prepared to buckle herself in for whatever’s next. Paul wondered if werewolves could get fleas. Larry found the time it takes for our main character to change into a wolf fascinating at a whopping twenty-two minutes. 

Larry F. Sommers (Brothers, Ch. 1 rewritten, Hal view – possible opening chapter of a WWII novel) Jack and others thought the previous version, written from Jag’s viewpoint, was more robust and straightforward. Suzanne and others liked the Hal viewpoint. Point for the Hal viewpoint: Introduces the character from an internal viewpoint. Point for the Jag viewpoint: Hal will disappear for a while; better to start with a character we can follow for a few chapters and then go back to Hal.  Thanks, everybody.

Who’s up Next?

John Schneller (Precious Daughter, unnumbered chapter)

Jaime Nelson Noven (New York After All, chapters 7-9)

Judy Cummings (???)

Amber Boudreau (Second Act, chapters 13,14)

Kashmira Sheth (Journey to Swaraj, chapters 24-26)

New Members to TWS…

An invitation went out, courtesy of Jaime Nelson Noven, for anyone interested in joining TWS. Judy Cummings, Gregory Renz, Suzanne Gillingham, Mike Kern and Cheryl Vickroy answered the call. Welcome!

Last Word…

The challenge is to write about real things magically.” – Raymond Chandler

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Tuesdays with Story

May 3rd Meeting

“Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.”
–Virginia Woolf

Well, let’s just hope we don’t get as cynical as that.


Seven of us Zoomed in on Tuesday to share their writings to offer suggestions and comments on writing. Here are the summaries from the writers:

Jaime Nelson Noven (New York, After All, chapter 2)… Most writers agreed the chapter is working well in both introducing the characters and providing intrigue. For Bob, the detail of the chocolate on the breath of the nurse made the scene really come to life. Kashmira suggested that instead of telling Charlie’s intentions in the last line, I can show this by having her hesitate putting on her reading glasses. Thanks, all!

Amber Boudreau Amber read from the beginning of chapter 6 of her sequel, Second Act. Jaime seemed to take immense pleasure in deleting sentences and Amber can’t wait to see what she got rid of. John, who wasn’t with us last time, said he didn’t immediately like Jeremy as much as he did Mavis. Jaime suggested mentioning a role Jeremy didn’t get as a way to perhaps endear him to the reader. Bob wondered if Jeremy isn’t on the autism spectrum. Spoiler: he’s not. Kashmira was looking for a little more reaction from Jeremy concerning his old pack. 


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Tuesdays with Story

The first word . . .

I don’t start out writing to challenge stereotypes. I think that can be as dangerous as starting out to ‘prove’ stereotypes. And I say ‘dangerous’ because fiction that starts off that way often ends up being contrived, burdened by its mission. I do think that simply writing in an emotionally truthful way automatically challenges the single story because it humanizes and complicates. And my constant reminder to myself is to be truthful.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Tuesday evening. . .

Eight TWS writers attended the March 15 meeting.  

Amit Trivedi (If Not for the Partition, Chapters 1-2)

The revised chapters are a lot better than the previous ones but still need work.

The ‘Monkey’ scene needs to be expanded.

Try to incorporate two points of view (Kedar and Uma) in the first chapter. This will also give insight to their characters and make them more interesting to the readers.

Foreshadowing a bit about the partition is acceptable.


Bob Kralapp (Slow Dancing Under the Mirror Ball)

The story was well-received. There were several comments that the story ended on a strong note. Kashmira felt there were still places where Bernie’s emotions and situations from his past could be brought out further. Both Jack and Larry saw the burning of the disability check as a crucial moment, a turning point in the growth of Bernie’s character.

John Schneller (Precious Daughter, Chapter 32)
Varied response to this chapter. Larry found quite a bit of confusion in the action. Jack felt Oltan was a cardboard character as an antagonist and bad guy. Kashmira suggests condensing the scene and prodding Kotel into this fight with Oltan. And all think turtles need to learn more complete English or we won’t know who they foiled. Lots to consider.

Jaime Nelson Noven (New York After All, Ch.1)

We looked at the logistics of what Nathan is doing: How high up is he really, what is his job exactly, and what is he standing on? Several members thought Lindyhop’s exit from her scene could be stronger and show her personality more. Bob enjoyed “saxophone artist.” Larry pointed out that calling the press a “vanity” publisher at this stage is misleading. We spent some time discussing the cigarette Lindyhop smokes but doesn’t smoke: She would have to wave it to light it, and this may highlight her different approach to things. How popular is smoking in the future, and does this hint at her view of the world or how she doesn’t want to take responsibility for her alter-persona? Does she have an ashtray that tells us something? Thanks, all!

Jack  Freiburger(3 Poems) Please see the attached file from Jack.

Kashmira Sheth (Journey to Swaraj Chapters 6-9)

We will take this up next time.

April, here’s who’s on deck

Kashmira ShethJourney to Swaraj, 7-9
Dan Culhane 
John SchnellerPrecious Girl 
Bob Kralapp 

Our editor for the April meetings:

We do not have an editor for April. Any volunteers?

 Fifth Tuesday…

Fifth Tuesday will be at Jack’s, the writing prompt is “Those Darn(ed) Masks.” People can send their up-to-500-words efforts to Larry, by Monday, March 28, so he has time to arrange them and print them up.

The last word . . .

It’s a mistake that we divide art into popular art and fine, highbrow, high-quality art…It has no basis in reality. And it is a way to keep other people and other people’s taste at a distance. It is a way of closing oneself towards some kinds of reality. So I like to play with genres and to experience the thriller and the love story and to play with reality.

Peter Høeg

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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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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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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

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