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September Newsletter: Writers Are Different

Writers Are Different By Richard McGee

Writers are always trying to improve their craft. They listen differently than other people; listening to a conversation often has little to do with the subject of the conversation but noting the ebb and flow of words so they can write better and more natural dialog themselves. They like to watch people perform routine tasks so their fictional characters will behave more realistically.

Writers even watch movies and tv shows a little differently. They are watching the interaction of characters, listening to dialog, and identifying plot points. My wife and I recently watched Grantchester, a Masterpiece series on PBS. We have enjoyed this series the last two years and looked forward to watching the third season. The show is a murder mystery with a police detective and church vicar cooperating to solve crimes.

The main character of the series, a church vicar, was replaced in this latest season. In the fourth episode, the new vicar asked the detective to accompany him to visit his family. Of course, a murder occurs, and they work together to solve the case. My wife loves murder mysteries and enjoyed the episode. Watching it as a writer, I was ecstatic. The show’s writer had revealed the new character’s backstory to his partner and to the viewers. It made me more empathetic to the character and it provided the depth to him that would provide many more story ideas in the future.

A good writer must build a good backstory for his characters and often struggles with how to share it with the reader. As a writer, I watched this show, fully appreciating how it was accomplished.

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September Newsletter Member Spotlight: Jodie Martin

Member Spotlight: Jodie Martin

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Jodie Martin writes contemporary Western fiction, and is glad to wake up in Texas every morning.

Spotlight Feature Article by Jodie Martin

Clyde lifted his head up from the sun baked earth. As he did so, he could feel something clinging to his cheek and temple area of his head. He felt an empty hole in the recent past and wondered what had happened to him. With his right hand, he gingerly stroked his face to feel all the debris which seemed to have attached itself there.

Sensing what felt like open wounds, he traced the edge of the areas with his fingertips. In doing so, he realized that he must have been on the ground for quite some time as the blood from the open wounds aside his head had dried, and blended with the earth and small pebbles where he had just found himself. His head throbbed like a bass drum, being beaten by an over exuberant high school band member.

He checked his essentials. He could still see, so he still had his eyes. His arms and legs still worked, as best he could tell, and he could still hear the hot summer breeze whisper out of his left ear. He checked, sure enough, his right ear was full of dried blood and dirt. He’d live, he finally decided, as long as he got his wounds cleaned out and bandaged up. Out here, a feller was more than likely to die from an infection, than a snake bite, truck wreck, or falling into a gultch. Though some had died that way. Clyde knew he just needed to get back to his truck and clean up, then maybe he’d figure out what that hole in time should be filled up with.

Stumbling to his feet, Clyde scanned the horizon to find the sun, and get his bearings. Seeing the evening sun, he started walking in the opposite direction, only guessing that he’d find his truck somewhere in the distance. Luckily, the cab of his old Chevy soon loomed into his vison. Salvation was his if he could get to it before whatever had attacked him caught up. As he stumbled his way forward over greasewood, prickly-pear, and all sorts of desert flora, the “boom, sboom” throbbing in his head was, thankfully, lessening. The thought of that cold water in the can in the bed of his truck began to call out to him more and more as he trudged along. He felt as though someone had taken a dry cotton rag and used it to wipe out every ounce of spittle out of his mouth. Even the sweat that he should be drenched in was completely missing. He instinctively knew that was a bad sign; he needed water, and badly. He’d lost much water in the bleeding he’d obviously done, and the heat of the day had not done him any favors.

Reaching up from the draw he was now walking down, he grabbed the root of a wild persimmon tree to pull himself up and out of the draw. His arms screamed out in protest, as he was not a young man. In his youth, he’d have already been at the truck, enjoying a cool drink, but instead he strained against pain in his body as he pulled himself up the steep bank. Just as he cleared the edge of the draw, a couple of voices pierced the hot evening silence, and Clyde froze, hoping he hadn’t been seen and wanting to hear whatever he could from the mystery persons.

“You think he’s dead?”

“I don’t know, why don’t you go back and check see?”

“I don’t think so! What if he ain’t? I may have to hit him again. Don’t think I’ll be able to sneak up on him again, if he ain’t dead.”

“Well, if he’s dead, you should be able to sneak up real easy.”

“If he’s dead, I won’t need to whack him again, you big dummy!”

“Just shut-up and get in the truck!”

“Dang it; he took the keys!”

“Who in the Sam Hell takes their keys outta their truck when they’re out in the brush?”

“I don’t know, but one of us has to hot-foot it back and fish them out of his pocket.”

“And I guess you want me to do it?”

“It was your idea to steal the truck in the first place, so get to it!”

“This is more trouble than getting a job and just buying a truck!”

“Maybe you shoulda thought of that before now.”

Clyde lay under a cedar bush in the shade, listening to the two would be bandits, argue. He tried desperately to identify their voices. His thirst was growing, but he knew they’d not go anywhere, as his hand patted the keys in his pocket. He knew either one or both of them would return to the scene of the crime, to find him gone. If only one returned, he’d have to fight the other for his truck, and that cool, cool water.

As he thought it over, he was a little surprised to find that he was sharing the evening shade with a Chicken snake; a black non venomous snake known all over the southwest United States. An idea occurred to Clyde as he thought out his dilemma, and an impish grin spread across his bloodied, crusty face. His idea almost made him laugh out loud. With surprising speed, Clyde grabbed the chicken snake just below the head and allowed the snake to wind around his arm. Knowing the snake was non-venomous made him somewhat braver.

Now Clyde couldn’t wait to get either one of these desperados alone. Soon, the loser of the straw draw headed back to get the keys. Just as he got out of earshot, Clyde leapt from his hiding place, screaming about rattlesnakes and flung the chicken snake at the remaining thief. It hit his chest, and wrapped around his neck, like a clinging vine. The young man passed out, and fell to the ground. Clyde now slowly walked up to his truck and got a piece of rope out of the bed and tied the young feller’s feet and hands. After a nice cool drink of water, he loaded him in the bed and started back to town. It was coffee time, and the sheriff would be there. No use wasting time hunting down the other desperado. The sheriff loved that type of thing; besides, Clyde was all out of snakes.

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September Newsletter: Critique Café Holds Art Contest.

Critique Café Holds Art Contest

The upcoming Fall issue of The Best of Critique Café will be a Children’s Edition. The group plans to use a child’s artwork for the cover and has issued a call for submissions to Fort Stockton’s children—Pre-K through Middle School—to create a piece of art with the theme “The Magic of Books.” The deadline is September 16. A child may enter up to three pieces of art, any medium, on a 4.25 x 5.75 piece of white paper (that’s a regular sheet of paper folded half—see the Texas Edition). Entries should be brought to the public library no later than noon on Monday, September 16th. Judging will take place at the regularly scheduled meeting that night.

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August Newsletter: Audio on the Go

Audio on the Go

Glenda Bonham

Many won’t be able to remember when driving while reading a newspaper was actually a fad. In the pre-audio days of the 70’s it was common to meet drivers on the highways in West Texas with a newspaper spread over the steering wheel. I used to stay on alert for a width of white, visible through the windshield of oncoming vehicles. The distracted reading-while-driving motorists would be cruising at speeds between 70-85 MPH on two lane highways reading the local news on the steering wheel. These were the days before seat belts, air bags, child safety seats, and electronic warnings in cars. If there was a state law on the books prohibiting reading-while-driving, I was never aware of it.

Fast forward to present day, and be thankful for the technology that delivers entire books on audio for drivers. Not only can you listen to a new book on a long drive, you can study a second language, dictate a letter, listen to a text message, get driving directions, and a score of other topics, without taking your eyes off the highway.

Downloads from the internet are inexpensive and many libraries offer audio books for check-out free of cost. There are new laws in place against texting and driving for good reasons. If you tend to get lonely on long drives, take along a better form of entertainment than your phone. You will be much safer and you might even learn something.

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July Newsletter: I Just Don’t Have Time to Write by Glenda Bonham

I Just Don’t Have Time to Write

Glenda Bonham

Have you ever said this to yourself? Most of us who write have probably said it at some point. We’ve said things like, “I’d just love to write, but I feel more important things demand my attention.” So, we procrastinate and tell ourselves “Maybe someday I’ll have the time to sit down and write something, but now I have children at home, or I have a job, or I need to do housework, or yardwork, or…” The list goes on and on.

There are in truth two major causes for us not to write. One is lack of self-discipline to sit and do it. The second is a lack of self-confidence and fear of failure. Which is your greater nemesis? If you can identify it, you can start now to overcome it.

Here is one solution to both stumbling blocks for starting to write. Set your alarm clock for one hour earlier than usual. For that one hour, your house is quiet and your brain is rested. Use the one hour as “my time.” When behind the keyboard, or with pen in hand, you have complete privacy and space. You are free of all demands of your daily life.

What you write need never be read by anyone else. These words are your thoughts, your imagination, your venting, your joy, and your reflections. Consider your writing time as your personal guiltless pleasure. There is no failure. You are the only editor, and the only judge of your work. The only failure is not to write at all.

I certainly won’t discourage doing research online, or reading other sources on the topic of creative writing. There is a wealth of information available, but reading about writing will never replace practical experience. If you want to learn to write, you must practice writing. To improve your writing, you must write.

If in time, you want to show your writings to someone else, that is your option. However, don’t try to write to please someone else. Write for yourself. In doing this, you will develop your skills and your own writing style. Be your own voice first. If in time, you get lucky and sell something you’ve written, and need to re-write to please a professional editor, only then be concerned about pleasing someone else. For now, just enjoy your writing time. Yes, you can make time to write. In doing so, you will discover one of life’s simple pleas- ures. You’ll also find a hidden piece of yourself.