Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Writer’s Holiday Gift

By Ginny Padgett

Even though I consider myself a veteran writer, I have just been published for the first time under my own name in the Petigru Review, SCWW’s literary journal. So I guess, technically, I am considered a newbie in the writing/publishing game. I use the word, “game,” as euphuism for an artless business driven by the greed for cold cash.

I attended my first writers’ conference in October, and this is my ‘Aha Moment:’ I may be writing in the wrong genre. How can I tell? The answer seems to me that no one has yet bought what I have previously written. The story snippets I heard during a slush-pile session made me realize I may not be a story teller. Perhaps I’m more of an observer/reporter. Whatever the designation, I claimed myself a writer. Discovering my self confidence was worth the price of the conference registration.

Recently Janie Kronk sent out some words of wisdom to our chapter email group from a writer who knows his stuff. Probably most of you have seen this, but this is my holiday gift to those reading our blog and wondering if they are writers, if they could be writers, if they should try to be writers. We can all use the encouragement and inspiration all year long. Happy Holidays!

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. - Ira Glas

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Rock and the Element of Surprise

By Kimberly Johnson

Not the one off the southern tip of Spain. I’m talking about the former pro
wrestler, Dwayne Johnson. He’s an element of surprise.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a formidable foe against Randy Orton and John
Cena. As The Rock, he entertained screaming fans in the squared circle with
24-hour trash-talking, power-drill moves and bulging biceps. Plus, he’s a good looking guy. With a killer smile. The Rock shifted away from body slams and into a pink tutu. Dwayne Johnson played the tooth fairy along with Julie Andrews. So, when Dwayne Johnson took the driver’s seat in the flick, Faster; I wanted to ride shotgun.

I’m a sucker for the who-dunnit genre and its first cousin, I-didn’t-know-he-dunnit.

In this movie, Dwayne plays a vigilante hunting down the gangsters who murdered
his brother. It’s the classic cops ‘n’ robbers theme—with a twist. Dwayne’s fresh out of prison with a mean streak a mile wide. He drives a vintage ride that all the men in the theater cheered for during the chase scenes. Billy Bob Thornton plays the slime ball, red-neck cop who is addicted to heroin. He’s on the trail of this vigilante, hoping this capture will bring him redemption. His partner thinks he’s a creep. His ex-wife thinks he’s a bigger creep. His pudgy son doesn’t know what to think.

Billy Bob turns out to be the bad guy. I didn’t see that one coming.

After leaving the theater, I wondered: How did the screenwriters keep me
guessing? I answered that question with Internet research. The Writers Digest website posted an article by Simon Wood ( It lists nine tricks to writing suspense fiction. Here are the highlights:
* For a good suspense story to work, what’s at stake must be stated at the
* Let the reader see the viewpoints of the protagonist and the antagonist.
* Create a really good villain. The bad guy is very visible. The best ones are
smart and motivated.
* Create dilemmas that keep the protagonist in awkward challenges.
* Pile on the problems. Give the protagonist more things than he can handle.

Not bad advice, Mr. Wood. So, I clicked over to crime novelist Michele Martinez.

Martinez is a former New York City federal prosecutor ( Martinez shares her struggles in a refreshing manner. Here are some observations that improved her writing:

I realized that generally the suspense novels I found the most engrossing were written in the third person and frequently told the story from more than one viewpoint. I had been working in the first person, but ultimately this felt too limiting technically. I wanted to show the reader action beyond things that
happened directly to my protagonist.

I realized I just hadn't structured my book carefully enough. I needed to pay more attention to the transitions between chapters, to give the reader that burning desire to keep turning the pages. I needed to hold back more, tease more.

Now, I know the secrets that Joe and Tony Gayton, the screenwriters for Faster, know. They employed point of view techniques and then reworked structural elements to produce the quintessential I-didn’t-know-he-dunnit flick. If I read about those techniques earlier, then, I would have figured out that Billy Bob was the bad guy.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


By Laura P. Valtorta

Nobody needs an excuse to travel. It’s just a mind-blowing thing to
do. Marco, Dante, and I went to visit our daughter, Clara, and her
fiancé, Ross, over the Thanksgiving break. It was my second trip to
Texas and my first to Austin, the capitol city.

LANDSCAPE. From the airport to the University of Texas college campus
the ground seemed open, flat, and dusty. I expected to see tumbleweed.
The cab driver was taciturn until Marco asked about the football
stadium at UT that seats 102,000. The cabbie looked South American but
spoke American English.

We hiked in the northwest hilly region and encountered cacti and
mountain bikers. The landscape was littered with limestone.

Bonnell Park, with its 99 steps above the lake, was a good place to
view the Austin skyline, big-ass houses with pools situated on
handkerchief-sized lots, and modern architecture. We imagined that
Sandra Bullock lived there.

The weather was temperamental. One afternoon as Clara and I walked to
the grocery store, a front blew in. The temperature dropped from 80
degrees to 50 degrees in about 30 minutes.

AUSTINITES. We saw a good mixture of Anglos, Asians, Hispanics,
foreigners, and a loud family of Italian-Americans. Very few African-
Americans in sight. The school district where Clara and Ross live is
about 80 percent Asian.

Downtown, my favorite Texans were the cowboy metrosexuals: like the
tall, tan smiling white man who greeted us at Manuel’s restaurant and
made the five of us feel welcome. Lots of large Texan women at the
local Target.

ALLEGATO. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we ate dinner at a
Japanese place that was not overly crowded. Japanese chefs, Japanese
waitress. Clara and I ordered sushi (tropical roll, spicy avocado
crab, and some other roll). It was possibly the best meal I have ever
eaten – certainly the best sushi. Ross, Marco, and Dante played it
[too] safe and ordered tempura.

DOWNTOWN. I could live in one of those apartments. The city needs
more public transportation. The sidewalks were wide, clean, and
inviting. All of the mendicants hang out alongside the highways. We
went to a hat shop; I purchased a hat for Dante.

Next visit – music at Antone’s! This place was recommended by the
taciturn cabbie.

IDEA FOR SHORT STORY. A cowboy metrosexual working at a Mexican
restaurant has a cheerful attitude toward life until he meets a woman
from South Carolina.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Writer


I hail from Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, and I’ve loved writing (stories, essays, journals, anything) for as long as I can remember. This past spring, I graduated from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where I majored in English and Creative Writing and worked as a writing tutor. I spent a semester abroad living next to an extinct volcanic mountain in Edinburgh, Scotland and surprised myself by developing an affinity for haggis (ground-up sheep organs). During my senior year, I turned my guilty pleasure of reading melodramatic novels about creepy old manors with ominous secrets into a senior thesis about ghosts in Gothic literature.

Residual wanderlust from studying abroad and a desire to try and make the world a better place inspired me to apply to an AmeriCorps volunteer program in a part of the country where I’d never been before. That’s how I ended up working with City Year Columbia, where I spend my days doing literacy tutoring with eighth-graders, in the hopes that I can share my passion/addiction for reading and writing.

Besides reading and writing, my hobbies also include arts and crafts, baking, smoothie-making, running, board games, and exploring new places.

Amanda's first post follows.

What I Learned in College

By Amanda Simays

I knew going in that college would be a growing experience, and sure enough, by the time I left, I’d picked up a whole slew of new life skills. I learned how to whip up an impromptu batch of chocolate chip cookies without a mixer, mixing spoon, measuring cup, or a cookie tray. I’d mastered the art of shaving my legs while wearing flip-flops and standing in dorm shower the size of a welcome mat. But if I could pick the one thing I learned that changed my life the most, it would be the skills I picked up as an English major…a deeper understanding of how to read and write.

Of course I didn’t enter my freshman year illiterate, but college transformed how I thought about reading and writing. I became fascinated with the way I could pick up a seventeenth-century poem, seemingly composed of stale words frozen for centuries on the page, and then by taking notes and writing about it, the text would magically come to life before my eyes, pulsing with energy and possibility. I used to think you did the learning first and then writing second, but in my undergraduate years, I learned how you can learn while you write.

I’ve always kept journals, but in college I developed a fuller realization of why I’m so addicted to the activity. It’s not just desire to have a written record of my life as it happens, but a desire for clarity. When I’m confused about anything, when I have a big decision to make, I always write about it, and somehow the translation into black and white letters on the page makes even the stickiest problems seem more manageable.

I learned that I—and humans in general—see life through stories and make up narratives all the time. This awareness added a whole new dimension to my journal-writing habit…I realized I was turning my life into a story, not just in my head, but in a much more literal sense, translating these random thoughts and real-life occurrences into concrete stories on the page. Likewise, when I set out to deliberately make up my own stories in the form of fiction-writing, I began to notice how, on some level, I was still using writing as a vehicle to puzzle out topics I wanted to better understand. My fiction is never strictly autobiographical—it’s too much fun to explore situations I’ve never been in with characters doing things I would never do—but the stories I write often become fun house-style distortions of the issues that are on my mind at the time of writing.

I still have so much to learn about the writing process and what it means to put words on the page, but I’ve come a long way in the last four years. The act of writing brings me joy for lots of reasons, not least of which being the magical power it has to bring sense and order (or at least a more understandable chaos) to the world around me.