Notes from the February, 2021 Tamale Hut Café Writers Group meeting

We had our one-hundredth (!) Tamale Hut Café Writers Group meeting on Saturday, February 13.  Thanks to Lisa, Salvador, Cary, Matt H, Jen, Brian, Kathy, and Aaron for joining me for another of our monthly get-togethers to talk about writing and stuff.  Thanks also to Jaime for his well-wishes on our milestone meeting, and I’ll repeat my usual reminder that the Tamale Hut Café is open seven days a week for your tamale and tinga pleasure.  Let’s keep supporting out local businesses as this pandemic grinds on.

As usual, I started with a few agenda items:
– I received an e-mail that Arts Midwest is looking for writers: “Arts Midwest is seeking contributing writers who are interested in covering stories about creativity, cultural leadership, and community vitality for our website, artsmidwest.org. Deadline is February 28th, 2021” – Details are at https://www.artsmidwest.org/news/2021/02-02/call-contributing-writers?fbclid=IwAR3KPOvieJBRiAxXK1cD2d9UDaaVOvefb8PGl_DpLtAay64Zy2W5OZOdBHU
– Dominican University is hosting Poet Laureate Joy Harjo (virtually) on Feb 18th at 7pm.   If you’re interested in attending, here is the link to register: https://www.dom.edu/arts-minds/st-catherine-siena-center/joy-harjo
– The North Riverside Writers Group also meets Thursday, Feb 18 at 6pm, and this month, Lizzy is planning to get into the ins and outs of Reddit with everyone! I don’t know much about Reddit but I understand there are areas that have some benefit for writers, and presumably Lizzy will also help us avoid the more seedy sections of the site. Details are at http://www.northriversidelibrary.org/event-new/writers-group-4/ Also, the Berwyn Library Writers Group meets Sunday, Feb. 28 at 7pm. Info is on the library web site
– The No-Shush Salon meets this month on Feb 25th from 6:30 to 9pm on Zoom with author KM Herkes.  There is an open mic afterward, limited to 10 minutes for each reader.  Details are on the No-Shush Salon Facebook page.  E-mail me if you are interested but are not a member of that service.
– Lisa mentioned that she read a recommendation from Dan Boyd, who runs https://storyluck.org, about getting into the habit of daily writing.  He recommended that anyone trying to do so should write a minimum of two sentences a day.  He suggests that everyone should be able to find time to write two sentences a day, and his idea that the two sentences should tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end.  Lisa contends that it should really be three sentences, and she’s been doing that for about ten days now and has been really enjoying it.  She said that some sentences are really long but some are short, depending on her mood that day.  It’s a good way to get into the daily writing habit.
– I have more details about that proposed Café Paul collection.  I spoke to my contact at Priority Print https://priorityprintbrookfield.com/ and he said that they don’t do any paperback-style perfect binding in-house, which would make that format would be more expensive.  He said the 8.5×11 page folded and stapled format that I proposed is actually the most economical for us, and the price per copy may come down a bit depending on the size of the order.  In the next few days, I will be contacting the six authors to confirm they are interested in participating, and to ask for an updated file and maybe a bio to include.  After that, I will let everyone know how much it will be per copy and take orders, then we’ll place one order for all the pamphlets.  There’s still time for you to submit a story to the collection, but you’ll need to hurry.  E-mail me if you want to participate.
– Cary told us that he saw his friend Robert the other day.  Robert had attended a few of our meetings before quarantine but lately has been too busy to join us.  He did wish us congratulations on our 100th meeting, and hopes to make time for us soon.
– During the current reading list section of the meeting, Brian mentioned that a few years ago, he heard the writer of the book he’s now reading speak as part of that year’s Chicago Humanities Festival.  As with most events of this type, it’s gone all virtual, but Brian recommends it: https://www.chicagohumanities.org/
– Last month, Lisa told us about a new card game that she got for Christmas, and thought it might be fun for us to play as a group, but she didn’t have time to prepare anything for the Feb meeting so we pushed that off to March.

We then went around the virtual table to get everyone’s current reading list:
– Lisa’s mostly just been reading vendor contracts and such for her new job, but she did find time to listen to the audio book of Martin Misunderstood by Karin Slaughter, which she enjoyed
– Salvador said that he got through another chunk of Technology’s Crucible by James Martin, and hopes to have it done in a month or two
– Cary read nothing of note this month
– Matt H read For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, as well as Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto, and he said he “could do without” either of them, but he said he’ll keep trying different things.
– Jen is reading Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction by Jay Lake, Orson Scott Card, and Philip Athans, partly for a class but also for inspiration for her own writing
– Brian highly recommended Inside Story by Martin Amis, for its blending of fiction with real people, a form the New York Times called a “novelized autobiography”
– For pure pleasure reading, Kathy really enjoyed Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce, which she said was a “fun story.”  She also read The Chosen People by Sidney L. Nyburg and East River by Sholem Asch for a book club, and she said that she learned a lot from each.
– Matt B enjoyed The Programmer by Bruce Jackson, a story written in 1979 about a computer hacker, well before that term was coined, and he is now reading Gary’s Book of Short Stories by Gary Doherty

The rest of the meeting was taken up with the usual general writing discussions and critiques.  At our January meeting, Lisa suggested that for our one-hundredth meeting, we should try to write a 100-word story.  Many of us ran with that, so that most of the 11 stories we discussed were 100 words each.  I assumed that this would make for a quick meeting, but the discussions were surprisingly in-depth for such short works.  We modified the format of the critiques somewhat after the January meeting, so that everyone had a chance to discuss the piece before the author was allowed to ask questions or comment on the conversation about their work.  This seemed to be to be a good balance between last month’s format of only the readers commenting on the pieces, and our usual way of having the writers fully engaged in the conversation.  This hybrid still puts more of the onus on the reviewers to be prepared to discuss the work, to which our attendees have stepped up admirably, but it also allows the writer to raise issues that may not have come up in the initial conversations.  While our old format worked well for 98 meetings, it’s sometimes good to change things around a bit, and this seems a worthwhile change.

Thanks again to everyone for joining me this month. Here’s the schedule for the next month or so:
– The Tamale Hut Café Reading Series is still on hold until the pandemic abates.
– around February 28, I will send a reminder to everyone 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, March 13 at 2PM on-line.

Thanks for your interest in the THC Writers Group. I hope to see you at the next Writers Group meeting and at the next Reading Series event, whenever that may be.

Stay indoors, stay healthy, stay sane, support some locally-owned restaurants (including the Tamale Hut Café) with carry-out orders (and don’t forget to tip!) and most of all: Keep Writing!

Matt B

April Update

Welcome to all of you who reached this site via the link on the Indie Authors Read site. If you don’t know what that means, jump over to indieauthorsread.com to hear some terrific stories read by the people to wrote them.

If you’ve watched the video I made, thanks!  You probably want to click on the Barnstormers link in the menu bar, because on that page is Chapter Two of the story.  I gotta warn you, though: Chapter Two ends in a bigger cliffhanger than Chapter One!

Barnstormers: The Adventures of Kiki and Bridget is my latest project, and the sales copy is below, but I’ve written some other books as well.  All the details are on the My Other Books page, and some short stories for you to read are on my Short Stories page, including the popular tales of the customers of the Adventure Comics Comics Emporium.  Check ’em out.


I hope everyone is staying safe and sane during this time of isolation, and that you are following proper social distancing instructions whenever you have to venture outdoors.  I’m still working from home, and Stephie and I are, so far, healthy and uninfected.

I’ve been using WebEx to keep in touch with friends and writer pals.  I’m looking forward to the April writers group meeting on-line, after we had to cancel the March meeting.  Some of us are discussing plans to have some kind of an on-line get-together to fill in for the temporarily-cancelled Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series nights.  If we get our plans together, I’ll mention it here and on social media.

I got an e-mail from one of the organizers of the 2020 Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention, to check if I was okay and if I was still planning to attend the new dates, September 11 to 13, because apparently there’s a long waiting list for tables.  I replied to him that I was looking forward to it.  I guess that I won’t be releasing any new books at the show, because I hope to have Barnstormers Book Two released in the next month or so, and book three might not be done by mid-September.  (Maybe I can do something for Book Two at Printers Row, if that hppens this year.)  I’m still looking to have book three released at the Tamale Hut for my Feature Reader spot in October.

That reminds me that I need to check with my brother to see how the editing on Book Two is going, and how he’s going to get me the pages once he’s done.  Because it’s not like this is essential or anything!  Then I need to get back to Book Three.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something fun to read while the people you live with are getting on your nerves because of being cooped up with you, my latest book Barnstormers Book One: The Adventures of Kiki and Bridget is available from Amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle.  It’s a tale of action and adventure, set in the early days of aviation and written as a homage to the cliffhanger serials of the first half of the twentieth century   Click here to read the second chapter.

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Share your toilet paper stockpiles with people that you love. I hope to see you all when we resume our regularly scheduled lives, whenever that may be.


Kristina “Kiki” Hansen and Bridget Doyle fell in love with aviation while in college. After graduation, they obtained one of the thousands of airplanes left over from the First World War and taught themselves the kinds of stunts that thrilled audiences all across the country, and that had made barnstorming one of the most popular forms of entertainment during the Roaring Twenties.

But by the middle of the decade, the U.S. Post Office began to hire private airlines to deliver mail, and the money involved in such contracts made certain undesirable elements of society take notice. Suddenly, the risks these daredevils faced were not only in the skies.

Follow our two intrepid aviatrices as they face action and adventure in this tale, set in the early days of aviation, and written as a homage to the cliffhanger serials of the first half of the twentieth century.

Barnstormers Book One is available at Amazon.com in paperback or Kindle.

March 2019 update – housebound!

Hi, everyone,

This corona virus threat really has knocked me for a loop.  We here are all safe and uninfected as far as I can tell.  I get to work from home for the foreseeable future, which I see as a blessing and a curse.  (I think I’m more productive when I have direct access to the people I work with.)

Worse news is that the 2020 Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention, where I was planning on debuting my next book, has been postponed until September.  As I mentioned before, I was planning to release book two in April at the Pulp convention, then release book three at the Tamale Hut for my Feature Reader spot in October.  I think I’ll have to rethink this plan.

The good news is that I don’t have to rush to get book two in print for the show.  The story is currently being edited and should be available to order in late-April or early-May.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something fun to read while the people you live with are getting on your nerves because of being cooped up with you, my latest book Barnstormers Book One: The Adventures of Kiki and Bridget is available from Amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle.  It’s a tale of action and adventure, set in the early days of aviation and written as a homage to the cliffhanger serials of the first half of the twentieth century   Click here to read the first chapter.

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Share your toilet paper stockpiles with people that you love. I hope to see you all when we resume our regularly scheduled lives, whenever that may be.

October 2019 Reading Series event

Thanks to everyone who came out to my THC Reading Series feature night on Saturday, October 19, 2019, I wasn’t sure that I would have copies of the book available to sell, but after a frantic call by me to customer service, Amazon came through and the box of books arrived the Thursday before the event.

I’m now working to complete book two of the saga.  It’s more than two-thirds complete, but will need some serious editing once done.  The first half of the book is set in the Chicago area, and I think I let my research get the best of me, with too much description getting in the way of the story.  Still, that’s what editing is for.

My plan is to have the second volume available in April, and to promote that, I’ve signed up for a table at the 2020 Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention!  It will be held April 17-19, 2020, and I’ll have more information as the dates get closer.

August, 2019 update

Happy Summer everyone!  The first volume of Barnstormers is being edited as you read this, and I’m still grinding through the first draft of the second volume.  I’m planning that my October featured reader spot at the Tamale Hut will be the book release party for book one of the saga!

We also have a big event coming up as Stephie will have her tent at the Bucktown Arts Fest on August 24 and 25, from 11am to 7pm both days.  We’ll have some of my books for sale there, and lots of Stephie’s art.  I will likely be there both days. The fest is at 2200 N Oakley in Chicago, across from Holstein Park.

The next THC Reading Series night will be on Saturday, August 24, and I will not be there, owing to the item above.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go!  The feature that night will be my fellow writers from the Tamale Hut Café Writers Group, and you will be amazed by what they’ve written.  I know, because I’ve read most of what they will read over the course of the last few meetings.  Don’t miss it!

Thanks for stopping by!

January, 2019 update

Happy belated New Year!  If the first two weeks of this year are any indication, 2019 is going to be as busy a year as 2018 was.  I hope everyone had a great holiday, and are already used to writing 2019 on their checks and other correspondence.

Looking back on my 2018 goals, I found that I didn’t accomplish most of them, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it.  I did get ahead on my Barnstormers story by writing the next stop for NaNoWriMo, and I’m really happy with the way that turned out.  The first chapter of Bridget and Kiki’s adventures in 1925 Chicago is attached below.

The Writers Group that I coordinate celebrated six years of monthly meetings with a featured reader spot at the THC Reading Series in October, and the story I wrote to the theme of the evening featured the characters from my Adventures Comics Comics Emporium series.  I figure I just need one short story with them and I would have enough to publish in book form.  You can read some of the stories on my Short Stories page.

I finally have a good idea for my next story in the Sleep Detectives universe, and since I’m far enough ahead on the Barnstormers piece, I feel I can take some time to write that.  I need to get back to those characters because I really like them.

And this year I am definitely going to submit a story or two for publication somewhere.  I have a few pieces that I thought were good enough, but when I went back to them, they seem to need more work.  This will be a priority this year.

The next THC Reading Series night will be on Saturday, January 19, but Stephie and I have another commitment and will not be going.  That doesn’t mean you can’t go and listen to some fine stories. There’s free parking, no admission, the tamales are excellent, and it’s BYOB.  They start at 7pm.  I do plan to be there for the February event, which will be on February 23.

I mentioned my Barnstormers story above, and if you’ve even considered joining my mailing list to read the full story as it comes out, now’s the perfect time to jump on, as the chapter I just sent begins with the ladies arriving in Chicago, where they have been hired to perform stunts over Riverview Amusement Park on the north side of the city.

I had done a lot of research for this story, because I want to make it as accurate as possible.  The story is fiction, but I’ve tried to make it as realistic as I could.  This is a bigger concern in this particular arc because I live in the Chicago area and many of my readers do as well, so the odds that someone would call me out on a factual inaccuracy are quite high.  I found a lot of interesting information while doing research for this chapter.  For instance:

  • The Checkerboard field where Kiki and Bridget keep their plane was located at the corner of First Avenue and Roosevelt Road in Maywood.  It was a major hub in the early days of air mail service, and one of the pilots who regularly landed at the field was Charles Lindbergh.
  • I wanted to have my characters drive down Cermak Ave, but discovered that it was called 22nd Street in 1925.  It was not known as Cermak until after the assassination of Mayor Anton Cermak in 1933.
  • Corruption in local government is nothing new, as I’m sure some still goes on today, but in the ’20s, it was not uncommon to lose your business license for refusing to have a mob-supplied jukebox or pinball machine, or to stock booze supplied by local organized crime figures, even though this was at the height of Prohibition..

I hope you enjoy reading Barnstormers: The Adventures of Kiki and Bridget as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thanks for reading!

December, 2018 update

NaNoWriMo is over for 2018 and like the last four times I’d attempted it, I was up to the challenge!  Here’s the graph of my progress:

I found this year much tougher going than in previous attempts, and I think it had to do with the story.  I thought that I would coast through, because I already had established characters, I had picked out familiar surroundings for the action to occur (although I’d need to adjust for the time period), and I was excited because I hadn’t attempted the challenge in three years.  I even scheduled some vacation time during the month to give me a buffer of time to write.

What I hadn’t counted on was that I would feel the need to do more research on location, because my initial readers would have the same familiarity and I didn’t want to have any obvious gaffes.  I also found it much harder to focus on writing in the evenings, my current commute being more arduous than during previous attempts.

But I think the biggest problem I had was the story.  By nature, I’m not a plotter but a pantser.  I typically don’t plan very much ahead, if anything only one or two scenes.  In past years, I’ve described my writing process as watching a movie in my head and typing it out as it unspooled.  The Barnstormers story is an homage to the Saturday-afternoon serials of the ’30s and ’40s, in which each weekly chapter ended with a cliffhanger, and theatergoers would return the next week to see the resolution of the cliffhanger.  That framework meant that I was constantly watching my chapter word count, and forcing myself to come up with some danger that one or both of my protagonists would find themselves in.  I found that very easy when I was working on the earlier chapters of the story, before NaNoWriMo, but back then I was writing roughly a chapter every three weeks or so.  The constant watching for the upcoming end of the chapter placed added stress on my writing process that I really didn’t need.

In the end, I completed the challenge, but I don’t have a sense of closure because the story is far from finished.  I had hoped to chronicle my characters’ adventures in the Chicago area, then move to St. Louis, to have them wind up in Texas (I hadn’t decided on what city yet) but at just over 50K words, I’ve only got as far as establishing them in St. Louis.  It’s a sense of accomplishment to have written so much in one month, but I have so much more to go, I just feel burned out.  I think I just need to take a few days to recover, then continue on.

 

July, 2018 Update

Hi, Everyone,

Summer’s here and the time is right … for sitting inside in the air conditioning and writing!  At least that’s how the song goes inside of my head.

I’d like to hope that I’m finally getting my act together to get back to writing.  This weekend, for instance, I’ve written a couple thousand words on a short story I’ve been planning for a while, I’ve finally finished the migration of our family site, stephanieandmatt.com, to a new hosting company, one who will hopefully notify me when I have a bill due, as opposed to relying on my noticing that the site has vanished from the ‘net because I didn’t pay my annual fee, which is how it was with the previous jokers I was hosting with.  Seriously, I owe you money.  Don’t you think you could at least send me an e-mail with that fact?

I’ve also sent out what I’ve been calling my monthly update but has actually been bi-monthly so far this year.  I’m caught up with all the correspondence regarding the writers group that I moderate, and I updated some software on Stephie’s PC.  Not bad for a weekend!  I just need to keep this momentum going.

Because of other commitments, the next THC Reading Series night I will be attending will be Saturday, September 15, and I will be reading chapter 10 of Barnstormers.  If you want to catch up on the story, you can read chapter 9 on my Barnstormers page,  but the best way to follow the story of Kiki and Bridget is to join my mailing list.  I send out an e-mail once a month with information about my writing and any literary events I might be at, and I include the next chapter of the Barnstormers story with each one.  I do post each chapter here after I read it, but subscribers to my e-mail list are already ahead of the game, as in May they will be reading chapter ten, which I won’t be reading at THC until maybe September.  And it’s all for free!  Join today!

Thanks for reading!

March, 2018 update

Hi, Everyone,

If you’re wondering what happened to February, so am I!  Extra stress at work plus a lingering head cold plus the strange weather we’ve been having all contributed to a mid-winter funk that was not really the best state for me to do much creative work.  I got some writing done, but other things like this e-mail slipped away from me.

The good news is that it’s a sunny March morning and I feel like I’m starting to get my creative drive back.  I’ve been struggling with a little writer’s block since the Christmas holidays, and while the writing is still not flowing like I would like, I have been writing, and I like what’s coming out.  I’m getting excited about the story again, and I hope it shows in the published results.

I have only a few items to pass along to you this month:

  • I’m well into chapter 10 of Barnstormers, and expect to have it done in the next day or two.  The jump in the story line seems to have thrown me a bit, plot-wise, but I feel I’m back on track.  You will see it in April if you’re on my mailing list.
  • The next THC Reading Series night will be on Saturday, March 17, and I’ll be reading an abbreviated version of chapter 7 of the Barnstormers story. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and listen to some interesting stories! There’s free parking, no admission, the tamales are excellent, and it’s BYOB.  We start at 7pm.
  • I finally have a hook for the next “Danny” story, and as crazy as it sounds considering the struggle I’ve been having making time to write, I’m thinking of trying to write it during April as part of the “Camp NaNoWriMo” challenge.  I always write best with a deadline, and the “Camp” part means that I can set my own word count goals, so I’ll shoot for a 10-15K novelette for the month.

Thanks for reading!

January, 2018 update

Happy New Year, everyone,

I hope everyone had as good a Christmas and New Year break as I had, and now I’m ready to get back to work.

Looking back on my writing output from last year, I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t write as much as I had hoped. I’m very happy with the eight chapters of the Barnstormers story that I’ve completed, and I think The Lost Ticket is the strongest of the three “Danny” stories I’ve written so far, but I have so many other stories I’d like to tell, and I’ve not been making the time to do that.

So I’m working on some goals for the next calendar year. Not “New Year’s Resolutions”, but goals. I want to get ahead on the Barnstormers story so I’m not scrambling at the last minute when I need a chapter for a writer’s group or to send to my mailing list. I want to write at least one more “Danny” story before starting on my next Sleep Detectives novel.

This year, I want to try to write a one-act play. I heard a guest on a podcast who is working in television talk about how he’d been writing one-act plays, and he put them together as a free e-book on Kindle that he uses as a kind of a resume. I downloaded it and thought the stories were awful, but I’m intrigued by the format. I really enjoyed converting the Sleep Detectives chapters for multi-person reading at the book releases (which you can hear on my Audio page), and I think I’d like to try writing something specifically for that format, rather than adapting something existing.

Finally, I’m going to try to submit a short story for publication somewhere, either in a magazine or an on-line publication. I have a couple of stories that most people haven’t seen, because they’re too long for a reading night and because I’m not happy with the endings. Maybe I’ll try to fix the ending and send them out into the world. Or maybe I’ll write something new. Either way, my goal is not necessarily to be published (which would be great, but not something under my control) but simply to submit.

Whatever I do, I plan to share it with you, and I hope you are entertained by it. If you have any comments, on the Barnstormers story or anything, please let me know.

I do have a few specific items to pass along to you this month:

  • I’ve been invited by one of my THC Reading Series pals to participate in an Open Mic event in Northbrook. While that’s pretty far from home, it’s only ten minutes from work, so I’m planning to go. It will be Tuesday night, January 23 at the Book Bin Northbrook,1151 Church St in Northbrook. The event starts at 7pm, and I think I might read an excerpt from one of the “Danny” stories, possibly the bar scene from The Lost Girl. I don’t know what to expect there, but I’m sure I’ll have fun. If you’re in the Northbrook area, join me there. There are worse places you can spend a cold January evening than at a book store listening to writers reading their work.
  • The next THC Reading Series night will be on Saturday, January 20, and I’ll be reading an abbreviated version of chapter 6 of the Barnstormers story. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and listen to some interesting stories! There’s free parking, no admission, the tamales are excellent, and it’s BYOB. We start at 7pm.
  • I’m well into chapter 9 of Barnstormers, and expect to have it done soon

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a great year!