Life in Sweats

January 3, 2014

You’d think that I would have a lot of time to write, considering I have been “retired” since 2008.  I spend most of my days indoors either in sweats (winter) or jammy pants (spring-fall).  When summertime settles in, I am comfortable in whatever the spirit decrees.

Maybe that is what blocks my creative juices – I am just too damn comfortable.  I should rise at 4 AM, work out for two hours, dress in too-tight, starchy jeans, then get to work writing the next personal tragedy to top the charts.  Are you angst-ridden?  Perhaps you can share some of it with me?

I have news for you, fellow writer.  As this is the New Year, my resolution is to write more!  If you are a writer yourself, you may be familiar yourself with this proclamation.  But this time, for me as I cannot speak for you, this is real.  I absolutely, positively will write more.  And, I hope write better.  I’ll just throw out the garbage, and through attrition will succeed in preserving more quality sentences.  It’s simple if you follow the formula.

The problem is that I do not write mysteries, suspense thrillers, pot boilers, or bodice rippers.  There is no easy-to-follow formula to follow for what I write.  And there is probably no easy formula for you either.  Your writing is creative and unique, as is mine – I pray.  Formulaic romances or memoirs or mysteries is just not my thing.  Never enjoyed reading them and I can’t imaging why I would enjoy writing them.

Which brings me back to wearing my comfortable sweats and enjoying every moment as it comes along as if it were my last.  I suppose I am in good company with other celebrated writers who enjoyed every moment – does Oscar Wilde come to mind?  Like him, I can overcome this hardship of comfort and excess to write enduring works.  I will strap my belt too tight, sit in my straight-back chair, and plunk away on my IBM Selectric (well, it’s really a MacBook Air) for eight straight hours each day until my great American novel is complete.

Uh, good luck to you with that.  I just don’t have time…


Meet Our Own Melanie Denman: Southern Author of Visiting the Sins

November 19, 2013


VTS Front Cover


 Bloggers Note:  Melanie Denman will be speaking on a panel on Top Ten Tips based on her indie publishing experience at the December holiday banquet meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club.  The meeting will be on December 13, 2014 at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.  Cost is $20 members and $25 for guests.  Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm.  Reservations are required.  Contact Robin at or by phone 925 933-9670 by 12/10 to secure your seat.



1. In one paragraph, summarize your new book.

Set in the Bible Belt of Deep East Texas, Visiting the Sins is the story of three generations of women whose lofty social aspirations are exceeded only by their unfortunate taste in men and a seemingly boundless capacity for holding grudges. A legacy of feuding and scandal lurches from one generation to the next with tragic consequences that threaten to destroy everything these feisty but perennially dissatisfied women have sacrificed their souls to build.

2. Tell us about the signature drink that was developed for your book.

The “Pokeyteeny” is a drink named in honor of one of my main characters Pokey, the love-starved, pistol-packing matriarch of the Wheeler clan. Like its namesake character, the “Pokeyteeny” is nicely aged, a little dirty, and packing heat! It’s made with tequila and will liven up a book club discussion, for sure.

3. Who are your favorite authors?

William Faulkner, Larry McMurtry, Leon Uris, Paul Bowles, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. I like Katherine Anne Porter’s short stories. All of Mary Karr’s memoirs. And mysteries by James Lee Burke.

4. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?

Learning to appreciate criticism.

5. Where did you come up with the idea about your devil painting?

I grew up with a big painting of the devil hanging on the wall in our living room.

6. If you were to describe yourself as a type of southern food, what would you be?

My favorite southern food is Mexican food, so maybe I would be an enchilada with mole sauce.

7. What did you think the major advantages to doing a professional program like the Stanford Writing Program as compared to being involved in a critique group?

Actually the writing program and my critique group were both instrumental in the development of my book, just in different ways. In the Stanford novel program, we dissected a lot of novels and worked on improving specific aspects of our own novels, such as character development, dialogue, point of view, setting, and plot arc. It sort of forces you through a process that refines all aspects of your novel. Within a critique group, the writer chooses what to submit for critique, so you can really drill down and work on whatever aspect of your novel you think needs the most work.

8. How did growing up in east Texas influence your writing?

It probably infused me with the joy of storytelling. Humor, suspense, cadence, irony, the element of surprise.

9. Since you are writing about an East Texas family, do you fear any repercussions? Will anyone write you out of their will? Will you ever be able to go “home” for Thanksgiving after your book is released without someone trying to poison your turkey?

No, all my characters are fictional. But I think all my female family and friends harbor a secret wish that I will write a book about them that gets turned into a movie so they can play themselves and have a kissing scene with George Clooney.

10. What have you done (will you do) to broaden the appeal of your book since it reflects a specific area in Texas? Are there common themes or threads with which people in other States can identify?

In my experience, people enjoy reading about settings and cultures different from their own. Most people can relate to personal struggles with ambition, forgiveness, and self-destruction. And some things about human nature are universal, such as the ability of mothers and daughters to make each other homicidal.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Melanie Denman. Learn more about the book and purchase Visiting the Sins at

Verbal Mood: Subjunctive

September 24, 2013

During our WOTJ critique group, we discussed the use of the subjunctive verb as to whether the word “wasn’t” or “weren’t” was more appropriate. There was general agreement that the sentence in question should be rewritten because it is bound to seem wrong to someone.

At any rate, Elisabeth Tuck did a little sleuthing on the subjunctive. Here are the results:

In English, verbal contexts called moods can be one of three types (as noted in
• indicative – simple statement or question (Jill picks up the ball.)
• imperative – a command (Jill, pick up the ball!)
• subjunctive – a statement contrary to fact, a wish, a mandative (command) statement (I request that Jill pick up the ball.)

The site,, goes into far more detail about words that may indicate the need for subjunctive.

The following quotes are from

“Use subjunctive for times when you’re talking about something that isn’t true or you’re being wishful.”

“Although it’s not always the case, sentences that start with “if” are often also wishful or contrary to fact.”

When to use “was”, not the subjunctive:

“when supposing about something that might be true, use the verb “was.”
Ex: There was a storm in Mexico. If Richard was in Cabo, he could have missed the call.”

“The possibility that it happened is what makes this sentence need the indicative mood and not the subjunctive mood.” Grammar

The Good Writer

April 27, 2012

I am not a good writer.  Yes, my fiction and nonfiction pieces have won awards and a few have been published.  But that does not make me a Good Writer.  Yes, my stories have had occasional bursts of originality, humor, and even a bit of profundity at times.  But all of that does not add up to being a Good Writer.

You see, the Good Writer drops his or her butt in the chair in the wee hours and writes the whole day through, or at least until that chapter or article is complete.  The Good Writer, we have been told by many credible speakers at conferences and gatherings, has a work ethic that requires daily progress.  Don’t worry about the quality of the first pass writing, these credible speakers urge.  You can always go back and clean the mess up once your ideas have flowed down your arms and onto paper (or more accurately these days – into your laptop memory).  How are you ever going to write if you don’t – you know – WRITE?

This advice has posed a psychological dilemma for me.  I consider myself a writer, and I associate with talented, published writers who think I am a writer.  Some are convinced I am a good writer.  But my writing habits do not conform to the Good Writer I frequently hear about .  You know, Good as in, “Be a Good Boy and eat your peas”.

Sometimes I sleep in, enjoying the liberty of my vivid early morning dreams.  Often, I attend to other matters that the non-writing world considers “life”.  I spend too much of my time in my large garden, listening to my musical chimes sing in the wind, pulling weeds rather than spraying, lugging large quantities of homemade compost to the planting beds.  And then there is my family, both furred and non-furred.  All require my attention, it seems far more insistently than my writing muse – uh, named herbert, or sherbert, something like that. My hearing fails me sometimes, but he speaks in such hushed tones as well.

Why am I confessing to the fact that I am not a Good Writer?  Because I feel guilty about it, yes I do.  But also because I suspect I am not the only writer in this big writing community that feels guilty about less than ideal writing habits.

I need to feel inspired by a thought, idea, or theme to write.  I have tried to plop my butt into the writing chair at 6 A.M.  All I do is a lot of staring.  My mind at that time of day is as creative as a rusty water pump.  The ideal of the Good Writer does not work for me.  Am I the only one?  Let me know that there is still hope for me nonetheless.

Posting Stories: Make Your Writing Public

November 22, 2011

Last month I went to a Wattpad MeetUp in San Francisco.  Wattpad is basically a website for Young Adults and their stories.  It was started out of someone’s garage in Ontario, Canada, but the response has been fabulous.  Today, Wattpad has grown to over 1 million registered users with approximately 2 million stories to offer.   A Wattpad MeetUp is a social event for all Wattpadders, family, and friends to get together in person. 

I had no idea what to expect.  When the meeting was announced, comments came in from Africa and England begging the organizers to come to their neck of the world.  So I was intrigued, but also a little shy.  Would I fit in?   Would it all be young adults? 

The event was smaller than expected and a round table format.  The majority of the participants were teens and the parents that drove them to the event.  Nina led the event and was warm and gracious.  We had a good discussion and I enjoyed the event.  Nina indicated that Wattpad was interested in attracting professional writers and I even received a follow-up email for her, encouraging me to post my work on-line.

I have always been hesitant to post excerpts from my novel on Wattpad or any public form before it is published.  My logic is three-fold.  Why send out teasers and potentially spike reader’s interest in the book when I can’t deliver an option for my readers to finish the story?   On Wattpad, writers often publish the whole book over time.  However, this to me seems counterintuitive.  If you give your readers the whole story, why would they buy the book when it goes to press?   Lastly, and maybe most importantly, novel writing is organic.  What may seem like a critical component of the story during the development of the novel may end up in the circular file before the novel is completed.  

When I explained my hesitation to post on Wattpad, Nina indicated that agents have been known to troll posts on their website looking for new talent and for popular stories that have gotten a lot of hits.  She also said that writer’s often get valuable feedback on their work.  So there could be perks to making your work public.   While the idea of writing just for social media does hold some appeal, for now, I’ve decided to keep my novel nestled inside my computer and get input on my work from my critique group.  But, I am interested in hearing your viewpoint on this issue.

Have you ever posted your work on a social media website?  If so, have you shared excerpts or published the whole novel?  Was your work already published or did you use your posts to create interest before you had an agent/publisher?

Retreats – Proof That Writing Does Not Have to Be Solitary

September 13, 2011

My critique group organized a local writer’s retreat at Westminster Retreat Center last month. This was my second retreat experience. The first time I had joined a group where I knew no one. My productivity was fabulous, the setting was beautiful, but I did not experience a sense of comoraderie, so last fall I proposed the idea of a getaway for my critique group. The idea was well received and within a month we’d settled on a location.

A contract was signed, checks were written, and we issued a few invitations to expand our group to meet the required head count.

The lodge grounds were quiet and peaceful and the food was fabulous. We were fortunate to have mild weather and a swimming pool where we could cool off. At 5:00 p.m., we had a wine and snack gathering.

I suspect this will become the first annual WOTJ retreat. Participants had an overwhelming positive response by the morning of the second day. It was a privilege to spend time amidst talented, creative individuals. Not only did my novel improve in leaps and bounds, but I had a marvelous weekend.

Clothing for a Writing Retreat

August 1, 2011

I haven’t lived in Texas since January 1971.  However, Texas rules regarding dress requirements are so engrained in me that they still rule my life.  How else would I know if I were “Dressed to the Nines,” or not?

Yes, I still pack away my heavier winter clothes in the spring, even though I could wear the majority of them all year round here in Northern California.  However, I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing suede shoes after Valentine’s Day, or dark velour anything after Easter.  My lighter weight and lighter color clothes just would not do during winter months.  No, I don’t wear white shoes after Labor Day.  Tennis shoes do not apply to this exclusion.

The members of Writers on the Journey, my writing critique group, have put together a three-day writing retreat for August.  Meals prepared for us, and all cell phones on self enforced mute.  Three glorious days for me to work, uninterrupted, on my book, Maracaibo Oil Brat.  Naturally, my first concern was:  What Does One Wear to a Write-a-Thon?

I could find no fashion precedence for a writing retreat.  I resorted to What Would a Reasonable Female Person, Like Me, Wear?  I analyzed what I wore when I produced the most writing.  The answer?  Comfortable stuff.  With that in mind, I scoured my dresser and closets for such clothing to fill the bill.

Thus far, I’ve selected three tee shirts for specific reasons:  all are stained or faded beyond all usefulness.  I’ll bring my San Marcos Academy 2000 Reunion shirt,  My Oakland Ski Club shirt that I accidentally tossed into the washer with a new pair of jeans and now it has an irregular blue pattern throughout, and a Las Vegas Treasure Hunt shirt I won at Harrah’s in South Lake Tahoe.  I may throw in my long-sleeved Willie Nelson shirt if the weather station predicts cool weather.  My Texas Christian University hoodie will keep me warm in the evenings.  I’ll also bring two pair of jeans not fit for anything dressier than gardening, both with discreet holes at the knees and over-washed to death.   If the weather is warm, I’ll pack my ancient pair of $2.00 Salvation Army shorts, embellished with a paint blob.  I’ll wear my gardening tennis shoes, which are one step away from a toss into the blue garbage can.  My retreat clothing ensembles are in such decrepit state that Goodwill wouldn’t  take them.

Clothing and foot wear done.  What about jewelry?  Only the essentials.  I’ll wear my fake Mexican Rolex (don’t want to be late for meals), plain gold earrings, and my wedding ring.  No need for bracelets, necklaces or matched-to-the outfit rings since the retreat is not held at a resort or on a cruise ship.

Will I commit a fashion faux pas by letting comfort dictate my clothing choices?  I think not.  Might even make fashion history as the tackiest dressed writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.