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LETTERS FROM THE WAR TO MY MOTHER

By Laura Elvebak

With the stay-at-home orders from the pandemic, my first thought was, “Now I have plenty of time to write that short story and the new Niki Alexander mystery as well as blog every day.” Instead, interruptions gave me an excuse to mute my good intentions. At first, my part-time job cashiering at Petsmart took me away from home and left me too tired to think about writing. Now my hours have been cut to four a week, if that.

More time to write. Right? Except I couldn’t force myself to sit my butt on the chair and crank out words. I found every excuse not to write. There were long-neglected projects to fill my time. I cleaned every room in the house, though I only had the energy to do one room a day. The next project was finding albums and filling them with all my stored photographs that have languished away. There were books on my table half read.

But the project that finally grabbed my attention and time, to the point of obsession, was the box of letters I recovered from the obscurity of an ignored cupboard. They were sent to me by my father’s widow after his death. Now the excuse of the pandemic offered me unlimited time with a history I had not explored. A chance to know the mother I barely remembered, the distant father of my youth, and the love that produced me. I had put off this journey into the past long enough.

My father and mother were married October 17, 1941 in Los Angeles. They had an unforgettable romantic honeymoon in a mountain hotel, and spent three months in wedded bliss in their little apartment. He worked during the day for an insurance company, she as a dental assistant. Together always when they weren’t working, they filled their nights wrapped in each other’s arms. (This was recalled ardently and frequently in his letters.) They were two people deeply in love and planning a life together.

Then came the call of the draft and my father was duty-bound to serve his country. He was determined to be the best soldier he could be and make his wife proud. They didn’t know it at the time, but Mother was already pregnant with me when he left. I arrived August 25, 1942, while he was in basic training at Camp Grant, in Rockford, Illinois. Despite his requests for a furlough to be with his wife for the birth of their daughter, his superiors and even his health had different plans for him. Surgery to repair a ruptured hernia was held in the army hospital following by six weeks recovery time. War in Europe cancelled many furloughs. Not until January 1943 were they able to spend time together and for him to get acquainted with me. Eventually he was transferred to the Medical Corps in Nashville, Tennessee, where he served as a medic technician and then as supervisor over the lab.

Their letters contain a love story that transcended time, war and death. Written with the passion of newlyweds, they covered the years from January 1942 to December 1945 and recounted the hardships of separation during wartime. Fortunately, my father was never sent overseas to fight, and wrote my mother every day during basic training and throughout his transfers that ended in Nashville. He only missed days when he was too exhausted from working day and night.

The letters were the only way he knew to be close to his beloved bride and if the mail from her didn’t come for a day or more, he would grow deeply despondent. They shared their thoughts, their plans, their money worries and, most of all, their love and desire to be once again reunited as a family. He was so proud of her, as a wife and as a mother. He loved hearing how she took me to the beach and the park and read to me, teaching me at an early age to count and know my alphabet.

They both smoked cigarettes. Even when he was recuperating in the hospital from his hernia operation, he smoked to relieve the boredom. On the other hand, he cautioned his wife about smoking in the house around their daughter.

He described marching for hours in the snow day or night, marching or building tents in the summer heat and humidity. It was an adjustment from growing up in Los Angeles with the mild weather. There was always the worry about money – he sent most of his $32 a month pay to my mother and made sure she got the allotment checks she was due. He worked hard to reach the stripe of sergeant for the increase in pay.

I loved reading of their constant affirmation of their love. Little things, like Mother sending him homemade cookies, cakes, stuffed dates, darning his socks he’d sent her, reassuring him of her love in return. The few furloughs he got, he spent with her and me. If he couldn’t get off base, Mother would travel anywhere to be with him. Although she returned to her home with family in North Dakota for my birth, she quickly returned to Los Angeles within three months to be with my father’s folks, even if it meant hitchhiking a ride with truckers.

My father was finally honorably discharged in December of 1945. Tragedy struck three years later when my mother died of cancer. I was five years old. As I reflect back on those times, I can’t help wondering how my life would have been different if she had lived.

I’ve been asked if I plan to use these letters as research for a book. I’ve thought about it, but this blog may be the only way I can write about them. I treasure the photographs relatives have sent me, taken during this time and I have filled albums with them.

Here is one of my favorite pictures.

On my tricycle:

 

Laura Elvebak is the author of the Niki Alexander Mystery series, three standalone novels, and multiple short stories. Her latest short story, Sucker Punch, was selected for publication in The Final Twist Writers Society anthology, Menu for Mayhem.

 

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Where to find material in the time of COVID-19

by Cash Anthony

 

We’ve all known of stay-at-home writers. They may not have identified themselves as that, but many fine authors and poets were moms staying home to take care of their children, finding time to write whenever they could. House husbands have been writers: Clive Cussler told how he got his start, writing at night while his wife was at work, after he gave their children supper and put them to bed. Many famous male authors stayed at home once they were willing to commit to their writing and give up their day jobs, enduring their share of months without income or relying on family, friends, patrons, and sometimes other writers’ generosity to get by until their writing provided an income.

So, what to write about now? How do we find something inspiring that doesn’t simply reflect the grim reality sweeping around the world?

This period when our nation is fighting a pandemic provides a rich source of material, and not just from the drama of those with positive diagnoses scared half to death, or those in ICU fighting for their next breath.

It’s also a time when emotions are high, and those are the stuff of ‘material’. Certainly there’s fear, both among the general population and especially among health care workers. But there are other emotions, too, generated by this time but not directly related to getting sick.

For example, young children are bewildered. They don’t understand why they can’t have play dates or use the fixtures installed in the park, if they even get to go there. A program on NPR this week discusses attempts to explain a pandemic to children on the autism spectrum. Not only are children perplexed, but their parents may well be uneasy and frustrated, yet trying to be protective, when giving these kids some kind of explanation they can absorb.

Teenagers are usually highly social humans, learning to take their cues from their peers and oriented toward wanting to belong, even while wanting their independence. Foolish and irresponsible teens have been shown on the beaches of Florida and Gulf states, partying in denial of the dangers of close contact. But others–far more, in fact–decided not to celebrate and instead are manning food banks, Meals on Wheels, restaurants needing drivers, curbside delivery volunteers, and their sewing machines as they learn how to make masks. Seniors, whether in high school or college, are uncertain about their futures and how they’ll reclaim their grade point averages, how admissions committees are going to rank them, how employers will look at their transcripts when the last semester of their education shows only pass-fail grades. This uncertainty is a crucible for hot tempers, despair, lashing out…the sort of emotions that engender arguments that turn into fights, slamming doors, aggressive driving.

Beyond explaining to young people what the pandemic is and why their movements are curtailed, parents are also struggling to home-school and entertain their children. If a parent doesn’t understand the material himself, this can bring up a barely disguised sense of inadequacy and even shame. Whatever the reason for not going forward to a higher rung of education–poverty, lack of emotional support in their own youth, indifference, boredom, failure to apply timely or uncertainty about how to gain entrance to an institution of higher learning–these situations can play on an adult’s sense of competence.

And there’s the consequence of isolation. Many writers know not merely solitude but also loneliness in the best of times. There was always plenty of fear here. Is my work good enough? Is this draft really better than the last one, or was I wasting my time trying to improve it only to make it worse? Who wants to read this stuff, anyway? Where is the support of my peers that might ease some of this concern, or don’t I deserve it? Where in the world can I buy a webcam and have it today, when they’re sold out everywhere? For while I’m holed up struggling to put words on the page, I’m missing out on the social network that I find so inspirational in creating characters, having to extrapolate from emotional scenes I remember, or imagining the worst reactions of others to a steady diet of bad news and worsening statistics.  Humans not only live in social environments for convenience and mutual aid and protection, they crave all the other benefits that satisfy their animal needs: hugs, pats, squeezes of their hands, strokes, sex, and the stimulation of non-physical connecting. They want to share comforting words and ideas, and they want to know what other people are doing. Gossip, bragging, sarcasm, subtext–these are indirect ways of expressing hostility, which may be more palatable than outright arguing when living in close quarters with people who will quickly let them know the consequences of lashing out.

Finally, there’s the other side of the coin.  That is, positive emotions. We still see them expressed, for instance when children get to play outside. The normal running around, chasing each other, making mud pies, collecting bugs, helping in the garden, riding their bicycles and skateboards give them some welcome excitement, exercise, and fascination. For adults, the taste of take-out from a favorite restaurant can inspire extra delight as a change from home cooking, even when it’s eaten without waiter service, over the sink. Liquor stores, which only the city of Denver foolishly attempted to close down (to massive protests) at a time when bars and clubs are shuttered, are still open locally and fully stocked, as are gun shops if your interest runs that way. Adults can also enjoy comedies and comedic moments in their favorite dramas on TV or in movies. Even without a live audience, some comedians are capable of giving us laugh-out-loud moments.

This past week, John Oliver presented one of the most unusual bits I’ve ever seen on TV:  showing a set of extraordinary watercolors that were sold on a 1992 TV art auction in south-central Pennsylvania. He was so taken with the last piece that he put out a plea to his audience to find the person who bought it then, so he can buy it now to hang on the wall behind him while he broadcasts from home.

What could inspire this offer?  RAT EROTICA! by a “furry artist” named Bryan Swords, of York–aptly nicknamed (I’m not making this up) Biohazard. If you watch the last seven minutes of the March 29th episode of Last Week Tonight, starting at minute 20:51, you’ll be at least amazed if not highly entertained. https://tinyurl.com/ttl9mgw.  You’ll have to wait through the first commercials before you can advance your cursor toward the end of the show, assuming you want to get away from Coronavirus news; and unfortunately the Internet version keeps trying to skip to other ads toward the end, but don’t touch your cursor. After a short break, Last Week Tonight will continue on its own to the end of the show. So, persevere.

I wasn’t guffawing, but I certainly grinned more than I ever have listening to Dr. Tony Fauci.

Stay safe, write at home but try not to stress if you don’t feel productive–and if you need material or just inspiration, you can write about what you wouldn’t expect to see on TV, when it suddenly pops up.

 

Cash Anthony Cash Anthony is an award-winning Houston screenwriter, author, editor, and director for stage and film. Her short stories have appeared in A Death in TexasDead and BreakfastA Box of Texas ChocolatesTwisted Tales of Texas LandmarksUnderground Texas, and Deadly Diversions. She holds a B.A. in Plan II and a J.D. from The University of Texas at Austin.

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From Plotter to Pantser (or Something In Between)

by Jack Strandburg

First, for those writers and wannabe authors who might not know the difference between a plotter and a pantser:

Plotter – plans out (outlines) their story before writing. Although this definition from Google states “novel” I substituted “story,” to include novella and short story.

Pantser – flies by the seat of their pants – writes with little to no planning.

I found a documented third type, a Plantser, who writes the story in blocks or stages with varying degrees of planning. This method, one that I’m striving to adopt, is an approach for writers who want to reduce the risk of wandering into plotless ramblings requiring significant rewrite and revision once the first draft is completed.

My journey to “Plantsing” began a month or so ago after some prodding, urging, and insistence from my writer’s group, that I stop plotting and start pantsing. I couldn’t blame them, because they were only responding to my frustration that my plotting approach was keeping me from accomplishing any (and I mean any) writing.

There are plotters and there are plotters. I am (or hope I can now say used to be) the extreme plotter, where I wanted to have my story planned out from beginning to end, with every event in between. Now, I’ve been writing for over 30 years and am experienced enough to know that story and character are more likely than not to change while writing, but I fell into a situation where my plotting was also functioning as procrastination. If I didn’t know my middle, or in most cases, had no idea how my story would end, I convinced myself I couldn’t start the story.

Whether I wanted it or not, plotting became my safety net. If I never started writing the story, I’d never fail, thereby preserving my belief that I was a great writer. Sounds crazy, but I’ve researched enough to know that many writers experience the same emotion and doubt.

I’d been working on a short story for an upcoming anthology, and had the majority of the story plotted out, but couldn’t come up with a satisfactory ending. I had several ideas, but different endings, at least in my mind, meant different steps to that ending. Here again, my need, no, let me be honest – obsession, to have steps A to Z firm in my mind, was keeping me from writing the draft.

One Sunday about two months ago, I and three other members of my writing group met at a friend’s home to discuss one another’s current projects, offer suggestions to help, and more importantly, hopefully provide much needed confidence to actually put our stories down on paper.

The session did provide a measure of confidence and for me, a kick in the butt. During the next week, I decided to go undercover and put on the hat of a pantser, certain nobody would recognize me.

I had enough of a story to start writing, yet still fought with my stubborn plotter mind to ignore the fact I had no satisfactory ending. I plunged ahead and, within two weeks, I finished the first draft of the story. The ending not only evolved with little to no anxiety, hives, or unidentifiable rashes, but to me, was an obvious way to end the story, and in my mind, fit the theme like a glove.

This experience provided me with much needed confidence and armed me with a lethal weapon to combat my plotter approach. I’m not likely to become a true pantser, because I’m going to plot and outline to a degree, especially when it’s a novel or novella, but now I realize I no longer need to wait until I have a flawless beginning, a strong middle, and a rock solid ending before I start to write the draft.

If plotting is keeping you from writing the story, if you have one or more characters with a goal in a location and a situation, ideally a conflict, trust me, you have enough to start writing. And the beauty is, the scene you write doesn’t necessarily need to be the first scene of the story.

I’m now a firm believer in the Plantser method, and only wish I could claim I came up with the term.

Give plantsing a try – you might find it’s in your wheelhouse.


About the author

Jack Strandburg is the 202o president of The Final Twist in Houston, Texas. He is a degreed professional who has been writing since his teenage years. His first published novel by Solstice Publishing is Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid, a parody of the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

He is an editor and proofreader for Solstice Publishing. Learn about Jack’s editing services here.

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Editing for Passive Voice

by Genie Olson

 

Editors are often overwhelmed. Imagine a desk and computer with an inbox piled high, filled with a steady stream of submissions. Like any mortal chained to a profession, shortcuts become the saving grace when wading through deep waters. Editors, young and old, develop techniques to quickly filter out manuscripts that will, to be blunt, require too much work.

The author may believe their work is the next best seller and an epic movie deal is on the horizon. It could be true, except . . . rejection.

One reason for a quick dismissal is the silent creep of passive voice. The editor simply does not have enough time or energy to comb through 80,000+ words and rearrange subject and verbs to remove passive voice. The manuscript ends up in the trash heap and the editor is on to the next one.

How does an author avoid this and hopefully gain more time with the editor?

Unless you are an English major and understand the mechanics of diagramming sentences, any talk of objects, prepositional phrases, subjects, and verbs, will likely have you cowering in the nearest corner. So, I’ll do my best to coax you out and teach you to appreciate, and not ignore, your word processor when it underlines passive voice.

What is passive voice? I’m going to give you two ways to identify and ferret it out.

First, it is generally the use of state-of-being verbs. Put simply, the use of the verb was. That said, not every use of was is passive, but it’s a good place to start when editing a manuscript. Conduct a simple search for the word was and evaluate the sentence for passive voice.

Second, look for instances where the subject of the sentence is caught in a prepositional phrase. Remember prepositional phrases from grade school? My teacher used a house as an example. She told the class, you can do it to a house, it’s probably a preposition. In the house. Across from the house. Over the house. At the house. (You get the idea.) A preposition indicates position, direction, or time.

When the subject becomes trapped in the prepositional phrase, the sentence is written in passive voice. In other words, the doer (subject) comes after the verb (action word).

Passive Voice:  The test was passed by the student.

Was passed is a state-of being verb. By the student is a prepositional phrase. The test becomes the subject because the student is trapped in a prepositional phrase.

 

Active Voice: The student passed the test.

The student is now the subject of the verb passed. The doer (student) comes before the verb (passed).

 

Here are a few more examples of passive voice, changed to active voice. I’ve italicized the subject to show it caught in the prepositional phrase and coming after the verb.

 

Passive: The files were thrown away by Robert.

Active: Robert threw away the files.

 

Passive: The holiday dinner was made by grandma.

Active: Grandma made the holiday dinner.

 

Passive: The decision to run the red light was made by Jim.

Active: Jim decided to run the red light.

 

Learn to seek out and destroy passive voice to increase your chances of gaining more than five or ten minutes of an editor’s time. This change will make your writing stronger, and the meaning more clear.

A bonus of active voice is that readers tend to identify more with the subject. Consider the last example. How many of us have been in a hurry and run a red light? Did you identify more with the decision (passive) to run the light, or with Jim (active), who actually ran the light? When you read the passive sentence, did you think Jim was foolish? When you read the active sentence did you think, yeah, unfortunately, I’ve done that?

Keep the emotion in your writing, and the editor interested, by making it more active.

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Event Postponed

Postponed! We are so disappointed. We were looking forward to meeting you and answering your questions. 

This is an update. The Final Twist Anthology MENU FOR MURDER has been POSTPONED due to health risks. When things nomalize, we will reschedule.
Meanwhile, MBTB has 20 signed copies and can be purchased for $12.95 by telephone at 713-524-8597 or through the MBTB website. Orders over $50.00 are shipped free of charge.
If we manage to figure out a way to live stream a panel event, we will let you know ASAP.
Houston’s Murder by the Book is open. If you need a few books to keep you entertained while home, this is a great place to find them.

2342 Bissonnet Street
Houston, TX 77005
713-524-8597

They may even have signed copies of the books you crave.

2017

 

2019

We Hope to See You Soon .

 

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These Six Houston Writers Want to Meet You

Author Signing Party

What has driven this normally quiet, unassuming group into a burst of seemingly blatant self-promotion? Have they lost their collective minds? Has the webmaster run amok? And who thought posting that photo was a good idea? Could it be an abundance of excitement over publication of their 8th anthology? Or is it the thrill of meeting readers at Houston’s Murder by the Book on March 14?

If you don’t yet have your signed copy of Menu for Mayhem, come join the fun. You may also be able to score a signed copy of Denizens of the Dark.

 

2017

 

2019

If you are dying to get your hands on signed copies and can’t join us on March 14, you can order your copy in advance by contacting the store.

2342 Bissonnet Street
Houston, TX 77005
713-524-8597

 

Which delicious mystery will you read first?

Texas Chili Cook-Off

Red hot chili fuels this rip-roaring tale.

 

Frozen World

Explores death and compromise in the hearts and minds of a young girl and her brother in northeast Texas in the late 1950’s, a world that is fast disappearing.

 

Sam’s Story

A father and child pursued by assassins. Can Eva Baum save them?

 

Dying for Corn

Biker and sleuth Jessie Carr is already working a case when she asks her partner, retired Texas Ranger Beau Marsberg, to help an elderly woman wrongly accused of murder in East Texas. Even the sheriff is having trouble figuring out how she did it, since the corn pudding she served the deceased passed all lab tests–but why did the victim want more and more of it?

 

A Tailor Serves Kyselo

An old Czech man will decide a young thug’s fate the traditional way: with a bullet to the brain or a hot bowl of soup.

 

Sweet Potato Pie

Serves up a suicide/murder bubbling over with the people and politics of Northeast Texas at a time when oil had a hand in everyone’s life, and sometimes, their death.

Mr. McKraken

What’s a Guardian to do when an unexpected guest views their hosts as a meal?

 

Hot Mulled Cider

When Emerson’s murderous brother Bryce visits for a holiday handout, Emerson prepares his ultimate reward.

 

Sucker Punch

When pro-wrestler Catrina Magdeleine learns she has a half-sister in California, she takes the first plane out of Mexico to protect her from their abusive father. But he’s not the only danger that awaits. Abandoning her commitments in Mexico was bad enough, but involving the Mexican Mafia could kill them all.

 

Recipe of Doom

Sabatier and Kern must travel to a demon-haunted dimension to save a boy’s kidnapped soul.

 

Just Desserts

An evil mother-in-law, an adorable daughter, and a meddling maid under one roof – what could go wrong?

 

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One Simple (and Fun) Way to Improve Your Writing

Full disclosure: This interview is last because it took me the longest to acquire. You might think getting your spouse to sit down and answer a few questions would be an easy task. In our case, you’d be wrong. I’m glad I persisted. I learned a few new things about my husband.

 

To what do you owe your success?

I live by Sherman Alexie’s advice, “For every page you write, read a thousand.” I’m a narrative junkie and biblioholic. When I can’t find exactly what I want to read next, I have to go ahead and write it myself. I enjoy writing, but I probably enjoy researching even more. For my science fiction novel, The Resqueth Revolution, I researched zero point energy and Nazi secret weapons projects for about six months and then wrote the first draft in just six weeks.

Which of your stories is your favorite?

I think I’d pick “The Fritz Ritz” in the Final Twist anthology, Underground Texas. It’s about a murder in a WWII POW camp in Fredericksburg, Texas.  I enjoyed researching the history of the camp and read several journals by guards and German prisoners. I wrote the first draft in a little bed & breakfast in Fredericksburg to get the feel of the place. I also enjoyed researching and writing “In the Darkest Deep” in the anthology Twisted Tales of Texas Landmarks. It’s a suspense story set in the abandoned tunnels of the Superconducting Super Collider near Waxahachie, Texas. I got to research illegal urban exploring and tunnel hacking and combine it with my experiences with SCUBA diving.

 

 

 

 

 

What are your top 3 short stories of all time?

“The Dunwich Horror” by H. P. Lovecraft. I took a half year and read S. T. Joshi’s excellent H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, simultaneously reading everything Lovecraft wrote as it came up in the context of his life. Cursed books of eldritch knowledge, unspeakable cosmic horror: what could be more fun?

 “A Study in Emerald” by Neil Gaiman. Now take the Cthulhu Mythos of Lovecraft and have a master storyteller like Neil Gaiman combine it with Sherlock Holmes. Oh, and it won the Hugo award for best short story.

“Glacial” by Alastair Reynolds. I like my SF hard and as cold as space itself.

 

You’ve also published two novels. Do you prefer writing novels or short stories?

 Each has its attractions. With novels I enjoy the room to explore themes, develop characters, and layer complexity into the plot. With short stories I enjoy the challenge of having to attain a laser focus on just the essential elements. Of late I’ve been experimenting with flash fiction of under a thousand words. I’ve also been trying out rarely used story structures: I just finished and submitted a story for an upcoming Final Twist anthology that uses a serial point of view structure I’ve only seen once before in Theodore Sturgeon’s Godbody.

 

Your Eva Baum novel was published in 2008 as “the first in a series.” It received great reviews. One reviewer said the book was better than sex! Will we ever see a second book? What has Eva been up to for the past decade?

There is a second Eva Baum novel written, but not yet edited or published. I particularly enjoy writing about Eva because I get to write her exploits in collaboration with my brilliant wife. While fans of Eva have had to wait for the next novel, Eva short stories have been appearing regularly in the Final Twist anthologies. I’m extremely happy with the way Eva has developed in the short stories, but we’re going to have to get the next novel out there because it contains some startling and dramatic changes in her life.

In addition to the short story singles shared above, you can find Mark’s stories in these anthologies from The Final Twist:

2008

2010

2009 Award Winning

 

2011

2012

2017

 

 

 

 

 

2019

e-book    paperback

 

One last question – who is the love of your life?

My wife, Charlotte, but I would vastly prefer she stop quoting that review about my writing being better than sex.

On that note, feel free to use the comments to ask your own questions of Mark H. Phillips.

Remember, you can meet members of The Final Twist Writers Society at Houston’s Murder by the Book (https://www.murderbooks.com/hours-and-location) on March 14, 2020. We look forward to meeting you!

Today’s question for our readers: When Is Severe Biblioholism a Bad Thing?

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Did Jane’s Amazing First Short Story Win First Place at Writer’s Digest?

 

Because I thought I knew Ms. Jane Sweet, I interviewed her without completing my usual background research. Shame on me! I went to her websites after the interview to pick up a bit of bio info for this introduction and learned all sorts of things I could have asked about. For example, Ms. Sweet is currently at work on a Victorian historical romance trilogy, a romantic suspense novel, a WWII novel, a sci-fi/fantasy novella, and a children’s book. She has published short stories and magazine articles, but counts poetry and songwriting among her most favorite things. Poetry and song writing? Pseudonyms? I will have more questions for Ms. Sweet in the comments and hope she checks in to answer. Feel free to ask your own questions, as well.

I did know about her writing awards and started our conversation there.

You may be The Final Twist’s most decorated writer. Tell us about your awards.

Yes, I’ve been really fortunate in the two awards I’ve received: The first was for “Night Vision” (First Place in the 2015 Writer’s Digest Fiction Contest, Thriller Category), and the second one was for “White Rabbit (Honorable Mention in the Saturday Evening Post’s 2017 Great American Fiction Contest).

Both made me extremely proud because I had to reach outside my comfort zone and my preferred genre of romantic suspense. Night Vision validated me as a writer. It’s hard to believe, but “Night Vision” was my first attempt at writing a short story! I’d written poetry, novels, news articles, even screenplays, but I had always shied away from short stories. Why? As my fellow writers and critique partners will tell you, I tend to overwrite (just a tad, mind you). I loved the conciseness of poems, and I couldn’t imagine writing fiction in under 8,000 words. Especially since it had to contain a mystery and hopefully a murder! I loved watching murder mysteries on TV and reading them by the armload, but writing one? No way. Without the encouragement and honing I received from The Final Twist, I would never have attempted it. An American sniper in Vietnam? Believe me, I was astounded it turned out as well as it did, and that’s why it will always be near and dear to my heart.

You worked in law for a while and then education. You wrote many stories, and even novels, while teaching, but didn’t get serious about publishing until after you retired. Why did you wait?

 During my years working in law firms, I was actually involved more in writing words and lyrics to songs. Sometimes, my music was the only thing that kept me sane, working full time (plus overtime) and raising a son on my own. Then, when I volunteered at a local library to teach English to adults from other countries, I fell in love with teaching. I took the upper level courses required for a certification in English and English as a Second Language, and taught high school for the next eight years. I wrote little during that time because (I quickly realized) teaching is 24/7. Even “summers off” never really materialized, because that’s when we had to take continuing education classes of our own. I was overjoyed when I was able to retire. It meant time to stare out the window and write in my head – I’m a pantser (big time). I often write better with a deadline to motivate me, but I still want that time to write in my head.

You are a member of multiple writing groups. What draws you to these organizations?

I’ve been with The Final Twist for five years, and my Thursday night critique group (WriteMinded) the same amount of time. I remember I was so shy about sharing my writing, my goddaughter had to take me kicking and screaming to both writing groups, and I’m so glad she did! I can’t stress what a difference the ideas and tough love I received from both groups made in my writing. Serious writers need to get off their duffs and find a group that fits them. I used to think I needed to join a romance group, but the two groups I tried just weren’t for me. Like I said, when you get outside your comfort zone, there’s no telling what you can do! The Final Twist and WriteMinded exposed me to the pros and cons of different genres, and with publishing and technology constantly changing, you need the sharing of information and tips just to keep up. It may take a while to get used to a critique group’s brutal honesty, but it’s because they want what you’ve written to be the very best it can be. Once you understand that, you’re good to go. If not for my writers’ groups, I would never have had the courage to blog or stand up in front of my fellow writers and present something on writing! One of the many reasons I admire Hemingway (not my cat, the writer) is what he said one time about writing is easy – you just sit down at the typewriter and bleed.

In addition to your award winning short stories, you’ve penned a few novels. Do you follow the same process for the two forms?

In writing poetry, short stories, and novels, I’ve found that the piece dictates the length. I write until it’s finished. Sometimes, it’s a novella. Sometimes, a trilogy. I never know, and I do tend to overwrite (just a tad, mind you). I wrote a poem years ago that morphed into a novella, and three years ago, I wrote a paragraph that turned into a short story that grew into a novel that ended up a trilogy. I know, you plotters are listening with varying degrees of fear and trembling, but the same thing can happen when you plot the entire short story or novel. Once you get it together, it may or may not be finished. I applaud Stephen King, who said if you already know the ending and you lay the whole thing out, where’s the fun in that?  Life isn’t color-coded.

Thanks, Jane.

Ms. Sweet’s short stories are available in Denizens of the Dark and Menu for Mayhem.

2017

 

 

 

Ms. Jane Sweet will join the other Menu for Mayhem writers at  Houston’s Murder by the Book (https://www.murderbooks.com/hours-and-location) on March 14, 2020. There just may be treats made from recipes in the book. Come join the fun, ask your own burning questions, and maybe acquire your very own signed copy of Menu for Mayhem.

Today’s Question for our readers: What is your favorite opening line of any story?

Join us tomorrow when I interview Mark H. Phillips.

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“Create a Box that Contains a Unique Universe” – Meet Our Favorite Story Junky

 

I recently sat down to chat with Natasha Storfer, self-professed story-junky and short story writer. Here’s what I learned.

I heard you have a technical or science degree and worked in a technical field. Many of your stories inhabit fantastical worlds. Is it fun for your scientific mind to go there?

My Industrial Distribution degree is a hybrid of business and engineering. I started off in the engineering department of a biotech company that synthesized small bits of DNA used for medical research. The technology and people involved fascinated me. Creativity plays a huge role in developing innovations, and I was surrounded by innovators. But, I prefer to create without the boundaries/limitations of science. Or at least bend them in fun ways. Science helps us understand ways to open the box and the volume it fills, but writing allows you to create a box that contains a unique universe limited only by imagination.

 

The meeting location for The Final Twist is quite a drive from your home. How did you find TFT and what draws you back every month?

My sister-in-law invited me to TFT meetings after she heard my book addiction had evolved to include writing. There are a few of us that carpool to monthly meetings. The accountability of that group (as well as monthly presentations, publishing opportunities, keeping abreast of the industry, and friendships) draw me back each month.

 

You are the sole author of “Mr. McKraken”, your story in Menu for Mayhem. In previous anthologies, you submitted stories jointly penned with co-author Becky Hogeland. Do you prefer writing alone or with a partner?

They both have advantages. A partner comes with accountability and helped me write while working through feelings of inadequacy. A good partner balances talents you struggle with and allows you return the favor. It can be a great way to learn from each other and motivate work. But it can be tricky to align busy schedules, which is why my more recent stories (“Big Bad Wolfe”, “Mr. McKraken”, and “Doppelganger”) were created alone.

No story of mine is written truly alone, though. I have an amazing critique group and lovely beta readers who are kind enough to be brutally honest.

 

You are the creator of one of our most popular participation presentations – Flash Fiction Writing, which was followed up by one of our most popular blog posts. Have you considered making that an annual event?

That blog was fun!

I used it as a springboard on my own blog and enjoy the way flash fiction hones words to the core of a story. I see a yearly reminder of the power of each word as a way to sharpen our tools as writers. I like the idea!

 

2010

2009 Award Winning

2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012

2017

2019

e-book    paperback

 

The members of The Final Twist Writers Society are looking forward to meeting you at Houston’s Murder by the Book (https://www.murderbooks.com/hours-and-location) on March 14, 2020. We may even bring cookies!

Today’s Question: How did you feel the first time your submission was read for a critique group?

Join us tomorrow when we meet the amazing Jane Sweet  and learn about the awards she’s received.

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Can 5 Readers Agree on the Best Sally Love Short Story?

Native Texan Sally Love grew up in Austin and spent more than twenty-five years as a financial writer and public relations/media relations specialist for financial and high-tech companies. She held bachelor degrees in English and Journalism from The University of Texas and an MBA in Marketing from the University of Houston. She was a long-time member of The Final Twist and we treasure the time we had with her.

Sally’s short stories have appeared in The Final Twist anthologies A Box of Texas Chocolates, Twisted Tales of Texas Landmarks, Underground Texas, Deadly Diversions, Denizens of the Dark, and now, Menu for Mayhem. Look for more of her stories in L&L Dreamspell anthologies, Mysteries, Dreams and Darkness, Mystery of the Green Mist, and Dreamspell Revenge II. Her dream was to become a NY published author and she was well on her way went fate intervened. We can’t interview Sally, so we asked her fellow Final Twisters one question: what was your favorite Sally Love story. Here are selected responses.

I liked all of Sally’s stories – her writing was always excellent, professional, and thought-provoking. In fact, as soon as I got my copies of the anthologies, I would read her stories first! She wrote from the heart.  – C.J. Sweet

It’s so hard to pick only one. I’ve known Sally since I joined TFT and for a long time she was in my critique group. If I had to pick, it would be “A Recipe To Die For” in A Box of Texas Chocolates. Her characters are so identifiable and Sally has to have the most delicious and satisfying ways of killing people. For the same reason, a close second would be “Hotline Homicide” in Denizens of the Dark. – Laura Elvebak

“Tunnel Vision” from Underground Texas holds a special place in my heart. Through our critique group, Sally shared her whole process – from cementing of the idea, through her research process, that first draft, critique and editing, to the final, polished product. It was a great learning opportunity for me. Thank you, Sally. – Becky Hogeland

My most vivid memories are from “Hotline Homicide” in Denizens of the Dark, but that story was so popular you may get the same response from everyone, so I’ll go with two of my favorites – “Leap of Faith” and “In the Shadow of the Raven,” both in Twisted Tales of Texas Landmarks. I enjoyed the great storytelling, of course. But I also learned tidbits about Texas that I hadn’t known before.  – Charlotte Phillips

I can’t pick a favorite! – Mark Phillips

Picking one is too hard! I’m grateful we have one more of her stories and can’t wait to get my copy of Menu for Mayhem so I can read it. – Tasha Storfer

 

2010

2009 Award Winning

2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012

2017

2019

e-book    paperback

 

You can meet members of The Final Twist Writers Society at Houston’s Murder by the Book (https://www.murderbooks.com/hours-and-location) on March 14, 2020. We look forward to meeting you!

Today’s Question: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met in a  writing group?

Join us tomorrow when we meet Tasha Storfer and learn if she really enjoys writing with her sister-in-law.

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