April meeting: Linda Kass

Linda Kass
Linda Kass, author and owner of Gramercy Books

We had a fantastic visit in March with author and professor Katharine Weber. For our next meeting, we have another treat – author and owner of Gramercy Books Linda Kass!

Linda Kass is the founder and owner of Gramercy Books in Bexley, Ohio, an independent bookstore that opened in December of 2016. She grew up on Columbus’ east side. After receiving an MA in Journalism from Ohio State, she spent her early career as a reporter for regional and national magazines. She worked in Detroit and New York in corporate communications, then returned to Columbus three decades ago where she resumed her writing career, in both nonfiction and fiction. Her work has been published in TIME, The Detroit Free PressColumbus Monthly, Full Grown People, and forthcoming in The MacGuffin. Her first novel, Tasa’s Song, set in eastern Poland during WWII, garnered widespread praise following its May 2016 publication. She has served, and continues to serve, in numerous leadership roles in the education, arts and literary communities, while building her bookstore into a destination for people throughout central Ohio.

Linda will join us April 20 in the Bexley Public Library, conveniently across the street from Gramercy Books. The meeting begins at 12:30 and wraps at about 2:30. We hope to see you there!

An interview with Katharine Weber, our March 30 guest

You know, sometimes we get lucky and find a famous writer who agrees to spend a Saturday afternoon with us.  On other occasions we’ll get a well-established professional who decides to share their wealth of knowledge out of some personal magnanimity, altruism or simple desire to move it forward.  This time we managed to get both; for some reason known only to the writing gods, we somehow secured for March (wait for it) . . . Katharine Weber.

Katharine is in her 7th year as the Richard L. Thomas Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College, and previously taught at Yale and Columbia as well as writing workshops in Paris, Mexico and Ireland.  In addition, she’s written several books praised by the New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and L.A. Times.  And if that’s not enough, her most recent novel, Still Life With Monkey, made the Washington Post’s list of ’50 notable works of fiction in 2018.’

And now, on March 30th, she’s going to be speaking to BCW about crime writing in popular fiction, from books such as The Great Gatsby to the more recent Mockingjay.  Touching on subjects such as what makes great crime fiction, why it’s important/enduring, how it’s influenced other genres, etcetera.  So if you feel the need to jump-start your creative juices and get some fascinating insight into the history and mechanics of crime fiction, this is a no-brainer.  What next?  Go open up Outlook, pencil in your calendar or write on your forehead the following:  Katharine Weber, Gahanna Library, Sat. 3/30/19, 12:30 – 2:30.  And per usual, please feel free to hang with Katharine and the crew for lunch at a nearby restaurant afterwards, where we’ll discuss the mysteries of life (like why does the waitress always wait until you’ve got a mouthful of food to ask if you need anything), and other existential conundrums.  Until then, keep writing.


In advance of the March 30 presentation, our president, Patrick Stuart, conducted an interview with Katharine Weber about her recent book Still Life With Monkey). Read on below!

PS:  OK, let’s set the scene:  you are Katharine Weber, the Richard L. Thomas Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College (who also taught at Yale and Columbia), and the author of several critically acclaimed books including Still Life With Monkey, which was picked for the Washington Post’s list of “50 notable works of fiction in 2018.” The novel involves Duncan Wheeler, an architect in Connecticut at the beginning a successful career when a horrific car crash renders him a quadriplegic, not to mention killing his young apprentice.  Duncan’s wife Laura discovers an organization in New England that trains capuchin monkeys as helpers for people with spinal cord injuries, and they adopt Ottoline to help with Duncan’s daily needs (turning pages, picking up dropped items, etc.).  So how did you come up with the storyline?

KW:  A friend from high school, Andy Zerman, one of the book’s dedicatees, became a quadriplegic some 25 years ago in a boating accident that took someone else’s life. His circumstances and choices in life are completely different from Duncan (Andy was a gay Broadway show casting director, who lived and worked and continued to work for many years after his accident in New York City).  But Andy’s situation, and the day to day needs, were familiar to me. I first heard about monkey helpers long ago. As a novelist, sometimes the spark that ignites is the juxtaposition, no matter how unlikely, of two separate things that I find intriguing and filled with narrative possibility. For me, developing plans for a novel is never one single moment of aha! but the gradual accumulation of ideas and situations, many aha!s, and then comes the gathering feeling of the need to bear down on something particular in a particular way.  Andy died in January, very unexpectedly. I am very glad I had seen him just a couple of weeks before, and that he lived to see publication of a book dedicated to him. He was an avid reader and he was very willing to answer questions from me about everything from the function of a tenododisis grip (which he called his “teena” — I can show you what this is and why it matters with damaged hand function) to his depression when he was first recovering from the accident — he told himself “I’m going to give this a year.”  That was an aha! moment for me — my ticking clock!  All fiction needs a ticking clock.

PS:  Full disclosure:  I have an architectural background (as well as a son named Duncan), so this novel hit home for me.  The amount of detail in Duncan’s background is spot on (well beyond the typical Wikipedia/Google search), as well as an important part of his character.  A similar amount of detail was evident with the fictitious Primate Institute where Ottoline was trained (based on an actual organization), Laura’s job as an art curator, and other areas.  Exposition is important in establishing realism in a story; what’s your process for gathering such detailed background information?

KW:  Wikipedia? Please!  For one thing, I worked in an architecture office (Richard Meier) as a ghostwriter and general office and archive clerk of the works. I have intimate knowledge of art restoration.  I read deeply into monkey behavior studies, and I spent time behind the scenes at Monkey College, where Helping Hands, in Cambridge Mass, trains capuchin monkeys. They are the real thing on which my fictional Primate Institute is based.  When I don’t have personal knowledge, I certainly do read deeply, but I also ask people questions, I delve into the personal relationships with professions or circumstances as much or more than I gather concrete information.  If you operated a garbage truck I would want craziest/best/worst/stories, I would want to know if you dream about your work, as much as I would want to know how you actually operate the truck.

PS:  The novel shifts perspectives between Duncan, Ottoline, his wife Laura and his twin brother Gordon.  There isn’t so much a linear path as several views from different vantage points.  Was this intentional or did the story structure grow this way organically?

KW:  It was both intentional and organic. I am not being coy. I very much wanted to write in the close third person, what kids these days call free indirect discourse. Most of my previous novels depend on first person narrative much of the time, and here the only true first person narrative comes late, in Duncan’s long farewell letter to Laura.  The close third person isn’t limited to one point of view as much as a first person story really is. I also wanted to write in a male perspective, which I have not done before.

PS:  (Spoiler alert to readers:  this question involves the ending):  Duncan’s identical twin brother Gordon is the polar opposite of Duncan’s personality.  Whereas Duncan is independent, Gordon is dependent on everyone around him.  Duncan is controlling and driven to succeed, whereas Gordon prefers his daily routine and is a bit of a ‘squish,’ etc..  But after the accident they seem to switch places, and Duncan is forced to rely on others as Gordon steps up to become more responsible for his brother.  Duncan can’t make the adjustment and eventually takes his own life; definitely a tough subject, but in Duncan’s eyes he did what he thought was right.  Was this always Duncan’s ending, and how did their dichotomy play a part in his decision?

KW:  I am very interested in copies, mirror images, matched pairs that can never really be perfectly matched. We can discuss the role of these twins, the way Duncan isn’t content at all, and maybe despite his enjoyment of all sorts of things he was never fully content, given his deeply hidden (from himself too) homoerotic attraction to Todd, while Gordon is content with his life in ways others don’t recognize. What is a successful life? Gordon and Duncan would define very differently. I am interested in the limits of how much we ever really know about other people, what we think we know, the difference between the inner life and the outer life.  

PS:  Chekhov came up with that great quote about a gun being shown in the first act of a play necessitating firing by the second act.  One potentially unfired gun in SLWM (in my highly subjective opinion) involved Todd Walker, the apprentice killed in the car crash.  There appeared to be something beyond a working relationship developing between Duncan and Todd.  But then the accident happened and the issue kind of disappeared.  Intentional?  Unintentional? 

KW:  It didn’t disappear. It drove Duncan’s desire to end his life. Nothing unintentional here. Just subtle. Starting with the scene riding back on the ferry, with Duncan gazing at Todd (a close paraphrase of a scene in Death in Venice, when Von Aschenbach is gazing at Tadzio (Todd, todt = death in German).

PS:  And lastly, in a blatant rip-off of James Lipton and his t.v. series Inside the Actors Studio, what is a) your favorite word, and b) your favorite (literary) curse word?

KW:  My favorite words may vary from one day to the next, but today:

Favorite word: lunch

Favorite literary curse word(s):  numpty fuckwit (I spend a lot of time in England and Ireland) 

Our next event is BYOB!

(You’ll see why in a moment.)

Hi, everyone! Did you enjoy our first winter blast? Ready for the next one? The good thing about all that snow is, it’s a great time to stay at home and get some writing done.

And if you happen to be writing a murder mystery, and someone happens to get, ahem, poisoned, then our next event is right up your alley.

Dan Baker is the Chief Toxicologist at the Franklin County Coroner’s Office. Mr. Baker earned a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science from Youngstown State University, a Master of Science in Pharmacology & Toxicology and a Graduate Certificate in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense from Wright State University, Boonshoft School of Medicine. Mr. Baker is a Board Certified Fellow in Forensic Toxicology by the American Board of Forensic Toxicology. Mr. Baker has co-authored publications in The Journal of Analytical Toxicology, Case Reports in Medicine, and the journal Clinical Toxicology on subjects such as opioid related deaths, novel psychoactive substances, carbamazepine metabolism, and fentanyl intoxication.  Mr. Baker has 18 years’ experience in various toxicology specialties including postmortem toxicology, human performance toxicology, pre-employment drug screening, probation/parole compliance drug testing, and professional sports doping control.

This event will be held Feb. 16 at the Bexley Library. So please, join us, and… BYOB! 😉 (But seriously, folks – this is a public library, so make sure it’s non-alcoholic. Just in case!)

On March 30, we have Katharine Weber, the Richard Thomas Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College. She’ll be with us on March 30 in the meeting room of the Gahanna Library. And April 20, Linda Kass, founder and owner of Gramercy Books, is coming to visit.

As always, our meetings are from 12:30 to 3 p.m., with a lunch afterward in which we ask our guests all the questions we were afraid to ask them in front of people, but are perfectly fine with discussing over, say, food. Mark your calendars!

Flash fiction winners: December 2018

Congratulations to this year’s winners of our flash fiction contest! The writers had 200 words to incorporate five words – icicle, sleigh, batter, regift and pine, or variations thereof – into a delightful little murder mystery. Our esteemed panel then narrowed down the field, and the winners were Alicia Anthony (first prize) and Eileen Curley Hammond. Congratulations! Here are their stories:

The Elf’s Revenge, by Alicia Anthony

The scent of pine assaulted my nose. Why these idiots kept moving me around, forcing me into embarrassing positions – sometimes involving a Barbie doll – I’ll never understand. Tonight I sat immobile in the center of the wreath, a prickly spike of evergreen stabbing me in the ass. Humans were ridiculously brutal, battering my arms and legs this way and that, turning and twisting them into whatever position they deemed worthy of Facebook.

Mr. C couldn’t have had this in mind when he assigned this mission. The Elf Workers Union had filed complaints, but so far, the big guy just, “Ho, ho, hoed,” his way out of the conversation. The world would regret ignoring us, manipulating us, regifting us when kids got too old. Tonight, I’d end the abuse.

I swung from the wreath and onto the mantle, sliding in my red onesie down the fancy woodwork to the floor below. The thump of sleigh runners against the roof launched me into a sprint. I yanked an ornament from the Christmas tree before tucking myself among the logs in the darkened fireplace. I braced the ornament between my hands. Exhilaration mounted. The metallic icicle speared straight up, waiting for its target.

(Untitled), by Eileen Curley Hammond

The twelve-inch icicle glistened in the sun. Fat water droplets slid down its length, falling to the bluestone patio far below. I shivered as I shut the window. There was so much left to be done. Michael was in the living room, feet up, watching a rerun of the World Series win. I squinted at the TV. Derek Jeter was the batter.

I picked up the wooden sleigh and some ribbon. With a quick bow, hot glue gun, and several pine cones, a passable centerpiece stood complete. The punch bowl landed on the table, surrounded by small cut crystal glasses. I glared at Michael. “Some help would be nice.”

He grunted, “Where’s my sister?”

“Probably puffing away outside. Would you please find her? It’s not like you don’t know the ending.” He hit pause and ran down the stairs.

I lifted the bright yellow scarf from Aunt Margaret. Definitely not my color. I slid it back into the box and wrapped it. Nothing wrong with a quick regift. Sort of like the thirty second rule.

Michael yelled from downstairs. “Come quick. It’s my sister. She’s outside. I’m not sure what happened, but she’s dead.”

I smiled.


2018 BCW Holiday Writing Contest!

Hear ye, hear ye:  in addition to the 2018 BCW holiday party, which will include all the events in the aforementioned post (see for additional details), there will be a WRITING CONTEST for those interested.  For any who may have followed the infamous Janet Reid site, the rules are surprisingly similar:

  • 200 words maximum.
  • Must involve the following 5 words: 1) regift, 2) batter, 3) pine, 4) sleigh and 5) icicle.  All 5 words must be included in the story, although plurals and transmogrifications are accepted (e.g., ‘batters’ and ‘regifted’).  Words may also have more than one meaning or may be used to substitute for similar-sounding words of different spellings.
  • Participants can be BCW members or interested non-members, but you should plan on attending the holiday party (12/8).  Significant others, relatives and/or friends who also attend may also participate.
  • Keep in mind:  we’re mystery writers, not pastry chefs.  So the more murdery (murderier?  murderiest?), the better.
  • Submit entries to buckeyecrimewriters@gmail.com no later than 11:59 p.m., Thursday, 12/6 (please include the name of the author).  One entry per attendee, please.  Top finishers will be presented at the holiday party Saturday, 12/8, with awards of indeterminate value (i.e., cheap) presented at the holiday party to the top finishers.  And the winner will be published on the BCW website (yeah, baby!).

So on the count of three . . . one.  Two.  Wait for it:  three . . . start scribbling.  See y’all 12/8.

Holiday Party 2018!

That’s right – it’s time to take a break from the wrapping of presents. Or, if you haven’t bought them yet, a break from shopping.

Or, if you aren’t THERE yet, a break from bugging your relatives about what they want for Christmas. You get the idea.

That break comes on Saturday, Dec. 8, from 12:30-3 p.m.! We’ll be at the Rusty Bucket, 180 Market St., New Albany, to commiserate on the sad state of our shopping swap tales of our writing successes and generally have a good time! We have a party room reserved, but you’ll still be responsible for your own lunch.

And, at the risk of giving you one more present to think about, here’s one more! It should be easy, though, and you know going in that you’ll get one in return. Please bring a book to exchange! We have a highly-complicated, ritualized, patent-pending method prepared that will ensure you don’t get the book you brought. Ok, it’s not that complicated, we don’t believe in rituals, and patents are overrated. Other than that, it’s exactly as described. Anyway, bring a book that has some meaning for you – a new author, a great story, whatever works for you. It doesn’t have to be new, as long as it’s in good shape.

And that’s it! Hope to see you there!

Everything you wanted to know about publishing…

. . . and were afraid to ask?  Well, ask away, compadre!  Cuz that is exactly what’s happening at our next monthly meeting.  I know we say this a lot, but this time our next event will be extra, extra special.  An event of biblical proportions and spectacular bandwidth, as it were.  Because, ladies and gents, children and small house pets, for the first time ever Buckeye Crime Writers will be combining with another central OH writing group, the Ohio Writers’ Association (formerly Columbus Creative Cooperative), to form a DUAL MEETING as our speaker will be none other than OWA founder Brad Pauquette, who will be expounding on, wait for it:  publishing.  Among the items he will be discussing:

  • The three primary paths to publishing (self-publishing, small presses and traditional/big 5).
  • The advantages, expectations, costs and compensation of each of the above.
  • Scams, red flags and false promises to avoid.

So where are you going to be Saturday 10/27/18?  Sprawled on your couch watching OSU football?  NO (it’s a bye week anyway).  You’re going to be at the Grandview Library (1685 W. 1st Avenue) from 12:30 – 3:00, learning the process of turning your written words into filthy lucre.  Because if anybody knows a thing or two about publishing, it’s Brad.  Not only has he written a book about self-publishing (The Self-Publishing Handbook), he’s consulted with clients from professional athletes to New York Times bestselling authors, and he’s also the founder of the Columbus Publishing Lab and the Columbus Press.  In addition, Brad has edited several anthologies, authored a book on the water crisis in India (Sejal:  The Walk for Water), and when he’s not doing any of the above he spends his time thinking up stuff to do on a farm in Zanesville with a wife, four children, and several adorable critters.  So block out the aforementioned Saturday and come loaded with questions for an event you don’t want to miss.  Per usual, we will try to corral the speaker at a local restaurant after the meeting for some extra input, so feel free to join if you are able.  And since this is a combined event, two groups will be occupying one space, and the space holds up to 60 people.  Do the math.  In the meantime, keep writing.

So, Tell Us About Your Book.

How do you summarize your 90,000-word novel in two sentences or less? Or even in just a page? Can you summarize what your book is about quickly, before the listener begins to glaze over or lose track of what you’re saying? If any of these questions vex you, you need to come to our next event. We’re holding a workshop to help you write your log lines, elevator pitches, query paragraphs, and short synopses. Writing a book is hard enough; writing something succinct is an altogether different challenge. Our own Connie Berry, fresh off her own new book deal (yay, Connie!), will lead our session from 12:30 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Bexley Public Library, 2411 E. Main St., Bexley. Be prepared to learn to promote your work-in-progress, or if you’re between projects, use one of your favorite books as an example. This is an interactive session, so be ready to participate! See you then!

The lawyers are coming! (And that’s a good thing!)

Hi, everybody! We had a great visit last month with Michelle Pretorius; she did a great job of talking us through some writing tips and sharing some of her process. Here’s more about Michelle.

And now we’re looking ahead to our next event! For our next Buckeye Crime Writers meeting, we’re going from writing tips to practical tips on how the criminal justice system works, and we’re hearing from the experts.

Our visitors will be Melanie Tobias, Director of the Criminal Appeals Unit, and Annie Murray, Domestic Violence Director of the Domestic Violence and Stalking Unit, both in the office of Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein. They’ll talk about what they do, share information about interesting cases they’ve handled, and share their perspective on the things that authors get wrong and right about attorneys and legal issues. (We personally can’t imagine anyone would mischaracterize lawyers or the justice system – would they?)

So if you’re involving prosecutors in any way in your next story – and even if you aren’t – you won’t want to miss this! Join us at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Old Worthington Library, 820 High St., Worthington. See you there!

Just sommer . . .

No, that’s not a misspelling for ‘just summer.’  ‘Just sommer’ is a South African phrase meaning ‘just because.’  As in, why should you attend the next SICCO meeting on Saturday, 7/28/18, at the Worthington Library (2280 Hard Road, Worthington) from 12:30 – 3:00?  Just sommer, my china (‘just because, my friend’).  Just because, as in South African writer Michelle Pretorius will be our guest speaker.  Eish,* how do we find these people?  Because we’re kief**, duh.   Michelle is not only a doctoral student at Ohio University, but she’s also the author of The Monster’s Daughter (Melville House; novel of dystopian crime fiction in South Africa) and a winner of the Friends of American Writers award (previous winners including Toni Morrison, Celeste Ng and Gillian Flynn).  She’s also a winner of Ohio University’s John Cady Graduate Fellowship, and is currently working on a 2nd novel titled Where the Devil Turns (also taking place in South Africa).  Michelle, an up-and-coming author you DON’T WANT TO MISS, will be talking about fiction writing, apartheid, South Africa and a whole lot of other stuff.  And per usual, we will be gathering at a local restaurant/watering hole afterwards for additional discussion, questions and camaraderie (location to be decided).  So waste some time with us on Saturday and revel in our leker indaba ***.  Oh, and keep writing.

*exclamation of surprise

** wicked cool

*** great discussion

 

You can also find us on our SiCCO Facebook Page!