Newsletter of the Berkeley BraNch, califorNia writers cluB

Write Angles


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author, cartoonist, ex-President and life member of the Berkeley Branch and inventor of the propeller beanie.

Ray FaRaday NelsoN,

Table of Contents
A Many-Sided Talent: Talking About Writing David Baker 1 The View From the Helm AL Levenson 2 Guidelines for the July and August Write Angles 2 Member News Anne Fox 3 Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln, A Novel by Janis Cooke Newman 4 Prevailing Winds 4 The 23rd Annual Fifth-Grade Writing Contest Lucille Bellucci 5 Tidbits 5 Make Sense! Ray Malus 6 Fiction Faults by Ray Nelson, Part One 7 The Chameleon in Grammar Janis Bell 8 A Sympathetic Character Struggles AL Levenson 9

a MaNy-sided taleNt: talKiNg aBoUt WRitiNg
Seeing your writing in print is an experience to treasure. How about seeing it published in more than one category? Janis Cooke Newman, our featured speaker for the May 16 meeting, has been published in three—historical fiction, memoir, and travel writing. Newman constructed Mary, a novel written in the first person, from notes composed by Mary Todd Lincoln when the assassinated president’s wife was confined in a lunatic asylum. Portrayed as a protofeminist, Mary seduces the sexually repressed Lincoln, nudges him along in his career, and alerts him to the issue of slavery. She is passionate, compulsive and, later, grief- stricken but perfectly sane. Her story, as told by Newman, became a Bay Area Bestseller and was chosen as USA Today’s Best Historical Fiction of the Year. The Russian Word for Snow is Newman’s compelling memoir about adopting her son from a Moscow orphanage just before Russia’s first democratic election. She and her husband engaged in a six-month struggle against a ponderous bureaucracy to bring the boy to the United States. Pressuring, cajoling, and bribing their intermediaries, as political fortunes shifted and anti-American sentiment ebbed and flowed, they knew elation and despair. Newman’s writing can be found in numerous anthologies, including Secret Lives of Lawfully-Wedded Wives. Her travel articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many other newspapers, as well as in Backpacker and Country Living magazines, and online at With such a broad range of experience, Newman knows how to coach other writers, which she does at Creative Caffeine, her online workshop, and through classes she holds in San Francisco. She’ll be coaching us at the May 16 meeting, so come prepared with questions. All genres are welcome. - David Baker

Cover Photo Series: Distinguished Writers of California Self-Portrait, Ray Faraday Nelson May 2009

May MeetiNg:
Saturday, May 16, 2009. Social Hour: 9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. Meeting and Program: 10:30 a.m. - Noon Event Loft, Barnes & Noble Book Store Jack London Square, Oakland. Write Angles 1

The View From the Helm
We are coming up on two annual cycles— elections of officers and membership renewals. It seems a good time to report on the state of the Branch. At the April board of directors meeting, treasurer Ken Frazer reported a bank balance of $3475.98. None of the costs of the Fifth-Grade Writing Contest have been submitted, but even after setting aside the projected expenses, our balance is healthy at over $2000. Ken also submitted a budget for our next fiscal year. The Berkeley Branch operates frugally. We pay no rent for any of our meeting spaces. Our primary income is from membership dues, 55 percent of which leaves the Branch and goes to the statewide California Writers Club. Our largest expense is the subsidy of our flagship activity, the Fifth-Grade Writing Contest; yet we operate within our income. Next year we will institute another ambitious program, The West Side Writing Contest and Chapbook. We predict we’ll need to subsidize about $600 of this event in its first year. By providing another activity to current members, another attraction to new members, the subsidy is an investment in the future of the Branch. Twenty-five members joined within the last year. Branch membership stands at 82, including five Life Members and five Emeritus members. At our May meeting the board will propose a slate of officers for next year. Has the time come for you to be proactive helping the branch to function? Please contact any board member to become a candidate for nomination. If you believe someone would be an asset to the board but is too bashful to step forward, please persuade that person to contact the board. Elections will take place at the June meeting. Memberships expire at the end of June. In the next Write Angles we will commence our drive for renewals. As a reminder, the Berkeley Branch is the only Branch that will publish its newsletter over the summer. The July and August issues will be devoted entirely to the creative writing of Branch members. Submission guidelines are in the left column of this page. And that is the view from the helm this month. - AL Levenson, President

Guidelines for the July and August Write Angles
Open to members of the Berkeley Branch only. Short pieces of fiction, 350-1000 words. Poetry to 175 words. Photographs and cartoons. All topics. No porn or gratuitous violence. Prior publication OK, with citation. Electronic submissions only to In the subject line, write Story Enclosed. Deadline for July issue is June 10; for August issue, July 10. Receipt of stories will be acknowledged.

May 2009

Write Angles


Member News
On Saturday, April 11, Bay Area News Group featured Laura Shumaker’s first-person essay, “Her ‘Rain Man’ brings out best in others,” in their newspapers’ Real Life column, which appeared in the Home & Garden section. (Essay contact person is Lisa Wrenn, Laura, our Program Chairperson, is the author of A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism (2008). September 2008 You can hear the interview of JoAnn Smith Ainsworth by Cat Johnson (All Romance eBooks) on (Registration may be necessary.) JoAnn’s April 4 book signing sold out all copies of her novel Out of the Dark. Another signing was scheduled for April 8 in Sacramento. You can network with JoAnn on Facebook and Twitter. Late-breaking news about Risa Nye, a co-author of Writin’ on Empty. In addition to receiving honorable mention in an essay contest sponsored by Skirt! Magazine, via WOW! Women on Writing, she also received from WOW! a collection of books and a hand-written note. Nice acknowledgment for her essay, “Making a Home From Scratch.” On a humorous note, Tina Marie Stinnett wins 1st place in actress/author Mariel Hemingway’s “Write My Cartoon Caption” contest, an online contest promoting the release of Hemingway’s new holistic cookbook, Mariel’s Kitchen: Simple Ingredients for a Delicious and Satisfying Life. Ken Frazer reports the great news that Sarah Sweeney, a winner in our Fifth-Grade Writing Contest last year, has gone on to win first place in the Diablo Branch’s Sixth-Grade Writing Contest. Definitely “Sail On!” events. Using language with his customary originality, W. E. Reinka expounds in an unexpected and tantalizing way on the word “published” in his essay “Prepublished,” which appeared in the March 2009 issue of Art Times (a literary journal and resource for all the arts, Another feather in the cap of Tatjana Greiner. She has been selected as one of the judges on this year’s Armenian Allied Arts Association Literature Competition ( Therese Pipe sent copies of two covers of books to Allene Symons for the CWC display at UCLA’s Festival of Books. One was of Lorna De Sosa’s book of poetry, Who Turned the Grass On; the other, of Fred Cody Award Winner Dorothy Bryant’s oral history, of which Therese was managing editor. With sadness, we announce the recent death of Lorna De Sosa, long-time CWC member. Lorna died on April 17 at the age of 95. A Memorial Mass was planned for April 24. Our heartfelt condolences to Lorna’s family. Attention, Members: Every month our Member News column proves that getting published or winning a contest depends on sending out your writing. Nothing magic about that. Extract that document from your desk drawer or from the bowels of your computer. Give yourself a chance to get the attention of agents and editors looking for something fresh, and keep us posted about your efforts. Consider the following grist to inspire CWC members: a letter to the editor, a filler, a puzzle, fiction, nonfiction, jokes, a book review, greeting cards, screen play, making a film, winning in a contest, appearing in an interview. Please send the memorable news to Anne Fox, May 2009 Write Angles 3

Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln, a Novel by Janis Cooke Newman
Abraham Lincoln stood so tall he could look into the top of the beanstalk without ever leaving the ground. Everyone in Lincoln’s life was a bit player. Those who remember Mary Todd Lincoln dismiss her as the crazy woman Abe was married to. But not Janis Cooke Newman, a Marin writer who believed Mary Lincoln’s story was worth three years of her writing life. I, for one, am glad Janis made the investment. Mary stands alone as the best book I read in 2008. Janis read from the book at the 2008 Squaw Valley Writers’ Conference. For her reading she chose the only sex scene in the book. Not very juicy as sex scenes go. I wondered if the choice was a shameless marketing ploy. I buy books that I am unsure about as a way to be a patron of the arts on the cheap. My uncertainty left after only a few pages into the book when the deft hand of the author was clear. Six hundred twenty pages flew by. From youth to old age, told in the first person (what a challenge that must have been), historical fiction written in the best manner of a memoir style of today. Awesome. - AL Levenson

PReVailiNg WiNds
The California Writers Club is now on Twitter. Follow us at

“31 Flavors” Summer Essay Issue
East Bay Monthly is now accepting short essays (900 words maximum) for possible publication in the July issue. Use “31 flavors” as a theme or as a jumping-off point for your writing, and see where your creative mind takes you. To submit, paste the essay into your email to and attach as a Word document. Deadline: May 14, 2009. These can be fun to try! - Risa Nye

WestSide Story Contest
The WestSide Story contest for short fiction is now in its fifth year. This year the Berkeley Branch of the California Writers Club has taken over the sponsorship of the contest. Tatjana Greiner, contest founder and BB member, will continue to serve as editor-in-chief. In past years the contest has drawn entries from all over the world. This year the contest will award $400 in cash prizes. The Berkeley Branch will publish a chapbook of the three stories winning cash prizes as well as the stories receiving honorable mention. All club members and everyone who submits a story will receive a chapbook. The submission window opens June 1. Detailed guidelines will appear in the June Write Angles. Abreviated guidelines: fiction only; 2200 words max; $11 entry fee. Help us publicize the contest and your club to nonmembers. - AL Levenson Write Angles 4

May 2009

On Saturday, May 23, at 10:30 a.m., California Writers Club, Berkeley Branch, will celebrate at Barnes & Noble the achievements of the fifth-grade participants in our annual writing contest. The response to the contest this year topped 280 entries, and their variety continues to be entertaining. Many of the stories demonstrate surprisingly mature effort. We have not seen for a long time a story as cheeky as the one about frying slugs and serving them up on toast, or about playing a ball game using a watermelon. As always, youngsters reflect the times surrounding them. Are kids growing up faster? Are current economic tensions forcing that growth? Is writing stories a way for them to express their worries? It would seem to be the case. One of my readers alerted me to a story that was somewhat disturbing. I left a message with the teacher to call me back for a discussion. This being the 100th Anniversary of the California Writers Club’s founding, the Berkeley Branch, along with sister branches, are launching several promotions to celebrate the event on radio and television. Under the guidance of Linda Brown, our PR Chair, the Fifth-Grade Contest will be highlighted as the Berkeley Branch’s ongoing community-service project. The Berkeley Branch will benefit from another enterprise in that our host, the Barnes & Noble Bookstore, will be donating 20 percent of their book-sale proceeds to the club on May 23, the day of the Awards Ceremony. We expect the first-, second-, and third-place winners to attend, as well as the 12 fourth-place winners. Their families and teachers will be present as the students read their stories. So come to meet and mingle with them. We might be recruiting new members for the CWC in the future. Again I thank my valiant readers, Betsy Hess-Behrens, Janice Armigo Brown, Ken Frazer, Sasha Futran, Willie and Manuel Rose, and Stan Sciortino, for their input as judges this year. - Lucille Bellucci, Chairman of the Fifth-Grade Writing Contest

Web Sites for Writers
The Writers Network News Clear Writing with Mr. Clarity

May 2009

Write Angles


Make Sense!
We experience life through our senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch; and through emotional reaction—joy, fear, pleasure, anger, revulsion, love, et. al. For me, the aim of writing is to evoke these emotions. But how can this be done if reaction is tied to sense stimulus? The answer is simple: through the use of imagery. As writers, we are all aware of this. The reader reads an image and experiences the same reaction as if s/he had experienced the event. (Note: s/he is my concession to the P.C. police’s insistence on he or she. Feel free to use it or ridicule it. I find it convenient.) This reaction to imagery can be as strong or stronger than the reaction to a real event, depending on the choice and vividness of the image, and can involve any sense. Once reading is fluent, it doesn’t seem to matter much whether the brain gets the images through the senses or through reading about them. They enter and are processed in much the same way. Most fledgling writers focus on sight images, describing events visually: “The dog walked into the room.” This describes the event, but the reaction is limited. As writers mature, they start to include other sense images: “The clacking of dog claws on the hardwood floor pricked my attention. The dog ambled into the room. He moseyed insolently over to me and snuffled his snout into my lap. His warm nose belied the pungent odor of wet fur that rose from him. I reached down and let my fingers dig through his dank coat, feeling his warm body within. The world was better.” Not only does this involve more of the senses, but the adjectives and verbs cue the desired emotional responses. A dog could be a pet or a guard animal. But vicious pit bulls don’t amble or mosey; they stalk and prowl. Pets amble. A pitfall here is to write vividly but not verbosely. We’ve all heard, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But it’s also true that “The right word is worth a thousand pictures.” Look back over literary styles. Our collective attention span is shrinking. Everything is getting shorter: books, chapters, stories, sentences, words. Writing needs to be distilled, concentrated. So, how to strike a good balance between tepid writing and arduous writing. The answer has to do with the senses again. If I were to ask you which sense is most important in reading, you would probably answer “sight.” But most paragraphs are about as visually interesting as bricks in a wall. I think that “hearing” is the real key. As we read, our mind’s “ear” acts as a gatekeeper. If it is comfortable with what we’re reading, it passes it on to the mind with no comment. But let it be jarred, and the process stops until it is comfortable. So, one of the best keys to successful writing is reading your work aloud. If you can’t read at open mikes, read aloud to yourself. You’ll discover ungraceful passages, unfocused images, weak plot points. You’ll be amazed at what you think you wrote but didn’t, and what you did write but didn’t mean to. - Ray Malus “Make Sense” is reprinted with permission from Ray Malus. The article originally appeared in In Focus, the newsletter of the West Valley Branch of CWC, which meets in Woodland Hills. Although he writes commentary, short stories, and poetry, Ray Malus is primarily a playwright. He’s “fascinated by character and dialog.” He’s had six plays produced in Southern California. Asked his favorite, he grins and says, “The next.” Ray welcomes correspondence from other writers at May 2009 Write Angles 6

Fiction Faults by Ray Nelson, Part One
IN THE BEGINNING, I DO NOT LIKE: Premature flashbacks. Suggestion: Don’t tell me about the past until I am worried about the Present. Action or dialogue in a vacuum. Suggestion: In the opening paragraph unobtrusively tell me where we are, whether indoors or outdoors, the location of people and important objects, particularly doorways, windows, stairways, furniture which will be used, important props, etc., and most vital of all, how the scene is lit. Characters I can’t visualize. Suggestion: Immediately after each character’s entrance, begin telling me his or her age, sex, social class, major mannerisms, race, physical type, etc., feeding me everything in little bits, not all at once. And make sure I know, at least in a general way, how the character is dressed. Narration in the present tense. Suggestion: Though some modern writers use it, they pay for it in obtrusiveness. Stick to the simple past tense unless you have a very good reason not to. IN THE MIDDLE, I DO NOT LIKE: An inconsistent emotional tone. Suggestion: If you have begun in a comic mood, continue in a comic mood. If in a fearful mood, grow more fearful; if in a tragic, remain tragic. A touch of contrasting emotions is all you can allow yourself, never a total change of tone. Missed opportunities. Suggestion: Make good on every implied promise you have made the reader, and let the big scenes take place on-stage, not off stage or after the story ends. Showers of trivia. Suggestion: Determine the point of the story, then ruthlessly cut what is not relevant. AT THE END I DO NOT LIKE: The “Little Nemo” ending, in which it turns out “It was all a dream.” Suggestion: The reader has been kind enough to suspend disbelief. Don’t tell him he needn’t have bothered. The Paper Tiger ending in which we learn “It was all a misunderstanding,” “He wasn’t really murdered,” etc. Suggestion: Surprise me by giving me more than I expect, not less. The unresolved ending. Suggestion: Tell me frankly if your protagonist wins or loses or draws, or what the solutions are to your puzzles or mysteries, if any. A Protagonist who ends in apathy, suicide or insanity. Suggestion: There are so many ways someone can solve his problems there’s no excuse for these arty cliché non-solutions A false surprise ending. Suggestion: Early in the story, plant enough information so a few really alert readers may guess the ending, and the others will kick themselves for not guessing it. Ray Nelson joined the Berkeley Branch in the early ’60s. He is a Life Member of the Branch and served as its president for many years. Next month, Fiction Faults, Part Two, from Ray.

May 2009

Write Angles


The Chameleon in Grammar
Why is it that Americans remember what an adjective is yet can’t define other parts of speech? Not that we need to, actually, unless we’re learning a foreign language. Still, it’s odd. Ask anyone what an adjective is, and you’ll get an answer. Ask anyone what another part of speech is, and you’re likely to get a nice long silence in which to plot your next short story. The other day a student of mine called to ask me what an adverb is. I said that it’s usually a word ending in ly that describes a verb—as in learns quickly or speaks slowly. He then asked whether all adverbs end in ly, and I said, “No. Consider well, as in writes well, or fast, as in think fast.” In case he was starting to get it, I added that not all descriptive words ending in ly are adverbs, either: we’ve got adjectives, like curly, surly, and ugly, hanging around on corners, trying to look like slick. Like adverbs. “What about just,” my student asked. “Is that an adverb?” I hadn’t thought about just recently, so I put it in front of a verb to see whether it worked—just say no, just improvise, just do it. “Yes, I said, “it’s an adverb.” Then I thought of just beautiful. “An adverb,” I had to tell him, “can also describe an adjective: just perfect, just delicious, just enough.” My student, for some reason, hung up. Yet my mind continued to roll. Just splendidly, just desserts—the little four-letter word can be an adverb before another adverb or an adjective before a noun. Just isn’t any one part of speech. It’s a chameleon! It can travel across a sentence, change colors at every stop, and affect a writer’s meaning. Take a look at just doing, well, just that: Just Quakers waste time thinking about oatmeal. Quakers just waste time thinking about oatmeal. Quakers waste just time thinking about oatmeal. Quakers waste time just thinking about oatmeal. Quakers waste time thinking just about oatmeal. So what’s the role that just plays? It all depends on where you find it. Look to the right—if a verb, adjective, or adverb is coming up, just is an adverb. If a noun, pronoun, or noun substitute is coming up, just is an adjective. Now, what the heck is a noun substitute? Something less caloric than a noun? A person, place, or thing that kids give no respect to? Time to plot your next short story. - Janis Bell Janis Bell is the author of Clean, Well-lighted Sentences, A Guide to Avoiding the Most Common Errors in Grammar and Punctuation. An English professor and writing consultant in San Francisco, she’s been teaching writing in schools and businesses for over three decades. You can contact her at

May 2009

Write Angles


A sympathetic character struggles against overwhelming odds to achieve a worthwhile goal.
I have this elegant formula on an index card push-pinned on the cork board at my writing desk. From a writers’ magazine of decades past, this deceptively simple plot outline describes many of the great novels and stories of all time. Watching Susan Boyle on YouTube, I was struck by how perfectly her story interprets the writing recipe. In an April week, thirty million people watched a four-minute narrative arc that had everything: A plain woman, a simple dream, an unsympathetic audience, an enormous talent, a stunning triumph. Susan, looking ever so much like a sacrificial lamb selected by the pseudo-tastemakers for one of the humiliation-based TV shows, came on the Britains Got Talent show. At 47 and never-been-kissed, she wants to be a professional singer. The panel of judges led the audience in a couple of minutes of snickering and eye-rolling before Susan sang “I Dreamed a Dream.” Twenty seconds after the first notes, she owned the audience. She sang for two more minutes to continuous applause from an audience that was on their feet. Her performance was emotional for the audience and the artist alike—something every writer I know yearns for. Once again I am reminded of the basic elements of story. When I study the comments of my critique group that are of the why-doesn’t-the-story-work variety, I hold the comments up against the maxim on the index card. Is my hero uninspiring? Is his conflict minor, his challenge lame? Is his achievement unremarkable? Is his goal insignificant? If my recipe misses one of these ingredients, I have a cake that won’t bake. - AL Levenson

May 2009

Write Angles


Berkeley Branch Officers
President: AL Levenson Vice President: Dave Sawle Secretary: Ken Frazer Treasurer: Carlene Cole Program: Laura Shumaker Membership: OPEN Children’s Contest: Lucille Bellucci Newsletter Editor: AL Levenson Copyeditor: Anne Fox Publicity: Linda Brown Webmaster: Stan Sciortino Delegate to Central Board: Linda Brown Co-Publishing Committee: Anjuelle Floyd
P.O. Box 15014 Oakland, CA 94614

The CALIFORNIA WRITERS CLUB is dedicated to educating members and the public-at-large in the craft of writing and in the marketing of their work. For more information, visit our Web site at Copyright © 2009 by the California Writers Club, Berkeley Branch. All rights reserved. Write Angles is published 10 times a year (September - June) by the California Writers Club, Berkeley Branch on behalf of its members. CWC assumes no legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, process, product, method or policy described in this newsletter.

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