Notes from the November, 2016 Tamale Hut Café Writers Group meeting

We had our fiftieth Tamale Hut Café Writers Group meeting on Saturday, November 12.  Thanks to Aaron, Marianne, Sean, Matt H, Cary, David, Beth, Salvador, Kathy, Steve, and Michelle for joining me on a blindingly sunny day to talk about writing and stories.  We also had a surprise visit from Alice, who didn’t stay for the conversation but promised to participate again soon.  And as always, thanks to Jaime for the comfortable environs.

We started with a few quick agenda items:
– Our group was the feature at the October THC Presents.  First-time readers Matt H and Beth did a fine job with their pieces, and I think around half of the stories presented that night during open mic were on our theme.  I posed the question of whether we want do another group project, and if we should reserve a Reading Series night next year to present the results.  General consensus was that we should do both, but Marianne suggested that we plan it so that we don’t interfere with any Cubs games.  (To be perfectly honest, I thought we had done that this year.)
– Speaking of projects, my compilation of the Serial story from earlier this year hit a Scrivener-related snag that was put on the back burner due to other commitments.  I’ll try to have it to the contributors before the next meeting.
– Reminder that the Soon To Be Famous Illinois Author Project is accepting submissions until January 7, 2017. Details at the link above or at your local library.  Remember, there’s a cash prize this year!
– I reported that the Writers Marketplace at The Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books in Waukesha, WI was disappointing.  The drive to Wisconsin was fine, the event itself looked to be well planned, but most of the people walking through seemed to have name badges from the event, meaning they were writers who were there to present and sign books, not necessarily buy any.  Don’t know exactly how many people showed up to buy books over the course of the day, but none of the writers around me reported any significant sales.
– The author next to me in Waukesha was Vivian Probst. She made the best of the lack of buyers by visiting other sellers and offering to swap books for reviews.  She went one step further by taking e-mail addresses from everyone who made the swap. and I’ve already had an e-mail from her assistant, reiterating that Vivian will be reading all the books she had and writing reviews on Amazon, and reminding me of my promise to do the same.  This seems to be a good way to build a network and get some reviews, which can only help sales, so it’s something to keep in mind for future shows.
– After talking about reviews, Matt H offered NetGalley as another option to try to cultivate reviews.  He said he has read many books for free in exchange for reviews from that site, although it looks like there is a fee for authors to submit their books to the service.  We also discussed Wattpad as a way to get feedback from strangers.
– Cary says that his NaNoWriMo story is coming along, but he’s a little behind in his word count.  He’s finding it more difficult than last year because he was not working then and he is now.  We wished him well in his effort.
– Steve highly recommended the Criterion Collection edition of the David Cronenberg film Naked Lunch, an adaptation of the
William S. Burroughs novel that was previously thought to be unfilmable.  He raved about the extras on the discs, which is a hallmark of Criterion.
– I mentioned that I find it sometimes helpful to have some context when reading a middle chapter of a story sent in for review.  Most of the time, it’s easy to figure out what’s going on, but there are times that I don’t remember the previous chapter (especially if it’s been a few months) and I appreciate a little “What Went Before…” paragraph to remind me.
– We discussed the 2016 Chicago Book Expo, but since the event has already passed, I’ll include a quick recap.  Marianne, Sean, and Steve accompanied me to Columbia College on Sunday, and similar to the Waukesha event, we had fun but sales were disappointing.  We handed out lots of business cards and flyers about the various arts-related offerings at the THC, so maybe we’ll have some new attendees to the Reading Series or the Writers Group, and maybe we’ll have some Kindle sales after the fact.

We didn’t go around the table and discuss what we are reading, but we did discuss the use of Goodreads.  I set up a group for us earlier this month, which currently has five members.  I think it’s a good start, but we need to figure out how we’re going to use this as a tool for our group.  My thought was to use the Bookshelf feature to isolate recently read books.  I thought that we could just add what we read to the group’s  bookshelf, discuss those books at the next meeting, then clear the bookshelf to make room for the next batch.  Past reviews could then be found on each individual member’s regular account.
There was a suggestion to use the Discussion feature of the site, and in fact, Salvador wrote up a nice overview of the meeting, which you can read here
It seems to me that this can be a powerful tool for us, but I think we need to figure out how best to utilize it.  If anyone has any ideas, please bring them to the next meeting.

Internet Notes –
– The Self Publishing Podcast episode 229 contained “Nine Movies All Writers Should Watch.”  Fair warning, though, that in order to discuss the stories, they pretty much spoil the ending of each of the movies.  The most recent film on the list is from 2005, so odds are this is not a problem
– The Creative Penn podcast had an episode about “How To Self-Edit Your Book And Avoid Common Story Mistakes” that I found interesting

The rest of the meeting was taken up with the usual lively conversation about writing and critiques of the submitted work.  As Salvador mentioned in his recap on Goodreads, there was a lot of discussion about the character sketch template that Cary submitted.  Most of us had not used anything like that, but thought it would be a useful way of really getting to know our characters.  Cary had submitted completed forms for two of his characters, and I saw that there were many fields that he had not filled in.  As an exercise, I took the empty template that he sent us (which I’ve attached here) and figured I would fill it out completely for one of my characters.  I thought I would just put in whatever spontaneously came to mind.  I found that first, it took a lot longer than I thought it would.  Second, and more interestingly, I found that I wrote things that I hadn’t considered before regarding my character, and that might significantly influence how he acts, should decide I incorporate the information into my story.  It was an eye opening experience, and I would recommend everyone give it a try with one of your characters.

Thanks again to everyone for joining me this month.  Here’s the schedule for the next month or so:
– The next Tamale Hut Café Reading Series event will be Saturday, November 19 at 7PM, featuring the winners of this years Short Story contest. Please check the blog or the group’s THC Facebook page for more information.
– around November 28, I will send a reminder to you to submit a piece for critique during our next meeting.
– as I get pieces, I will send them out as quickly as I can
– our next THC Writers Group meeting will be Saturday, Dec 10 at 2PM at the Tamale Hut Café

Thanks for your interest in the THC Writers Group.  I hope to see you at the next Reading Series event or next Writers Group meeting.

Matt B

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