Laurel Is Our Hero

Editors of journals and at publishing houses often ask writers to compromise before publishing stories and essays. Each writer needs to decide whether those compromises are justified or whether they need to hold a hard line on the integrity of their story.

Photo by Susan Chase Foster

Well, Laurel Leigh, an accomplished author/editor held the line. And Dogpatchers are so very proud of her decision. She published the version of her story she wants to tell on her blog, and we’ve linked to it below.

We’re also including images from a very special night, where Laurel received well-earned recognition for her contribution to the arts in the Pacific Northwest. But it’s really all about the community she has created for many writers, the knowledge and expertise she shares, and her generous spirit. Laurel, you are a kick-ass friend, and we love you!

From left: Shannon Laws, Me, Susan Chase Foster, Janet Oakley – some wine may have been consumed by this point

We would be honored for you to read her story. Thank you!



Filed under Rants

Steve Almond – Special Class Offer

Hello, everyone!

An update to announce that author and teacher extraordinaire, Steve Almond, has generously offered to give a 2-hour virtual class on Creating An Irresistible Narrator, with all proceeds going towards Dogpatch co-founder Laurel Leigh’s medical bills. YAY!!! In this class, Steve will upend what you thought you knew about narrators and make you reconsider how you go about creating characters that drive your story. Both Laurel and Sabine Sloley (another one of our organizers), have benefited from previous classes taught by Steve. He’s been teaching writers for years, including workshops for Seattle’s Hugo House and Portland’s Tin House Summer Writer’s Workshop. He is a gifted teacher who enjoys coloring outside the lines.

Steve Almond

Instructions on how to donate and register for the class are on the GoFundMe page set up by some of Laurel’s friends.

Class date/time: Wednesday, September 22, 5-7pm PDT (8-10 pm EDT)

I’ve registered, and am looking forward to seeing you all there!

Let’s raise a glass to Laurel’s health!


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Dogpatcher – Laurel Leigh

Hello, Dogpatch watchers, readers, and writers. I’m dropping in to let you know that one of our founders, Laurel Leigh, has been diagnosed with advanced-stage lung cancer.

Photo by Susan Chase Foster

She’s never been a smoker, so this hit quite unexpectedly. We in the patch are doing our best to lift Laurel up and help her make it through this illness and out the other side with a clean bill of health. But that’s not going to happen for awhile, because her treatment is extensive.

She’s getting chemo and radiation simultaneously, which makes it nearly impossible to work. This is pretty much how she’s feeling right now—on a good day:

And although she has health insurance, as a freelance editor and writer, her insurance doesn’t cover the bills, and her income has been hit hard.

We in the patch would be ever so grateful if you could do one or both of the following:

  1. Help out with her bills by donating to the Go Fund Me page some of her friends have made for her.
  2. And/or please send good vibes, prayers, healing thoughts, and maybe some chocolate in her direction. Right now, she’s in North Dakota, where her mother grew up.

Updates on Laurel’s progress will be made on the Go Fund Me page.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! From the bottom of our hearts.


Filed under Howling at the moon, Pack News, Rants

Section 14

Greetings from the Dogpatch!

We bring to you a weird, wild segment from Dogpatcher Wes Pierce’s novel in progress. Amnesty, the co-protagonist, looks for clues to her missing brother’s whereabouts, while trying to elude the investigators who are after him. Of course, she thinks about her mother! Here’s an excerpt, and what we had to say about the scene.

Photo: “Sad Rabbit” by Susan Newcomb.

“Every January her friend Deidre threw a white elephant party, where the guests were expected to bring gifts that had been given to them, usually the previous Christmas, that nobody, including they themselves, would ever want. It was a contest of sorts, with a prize given to the person who brought the weirdest, most wildly inappropriate gift: the kind of gift that no one in her right mind ever could imagine receiving from a loved one. Deidre had thrown this same party for years, and Amnesty had won the prize almost every time. It was like her mother had a gift for giving the oddest, most unappealing presents. After winning two or three years in a row, people began to accuse her mother of buying these weird gifts on purpose. When Amnesty told them her mother didn’t even know about the white elephant party, they didn’t believe her. But it was true. If Momma ever found out, she would never forgive her.

She took out of the box an antique illustrated book on sexual positions, written in German, that her mother had given her on her first wedding anniversary. Momma said it might help ‘spice up’ her marriage. Neither she nor Dean understood any German, but the illustrations were explicit enough to render any text unnecessary.”

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The Wedding Chapter

Image credit: “Cornfield” by Jean Beaufort.

Hello from the Dogpatch!

We’re having a wedding! A very bad wedding. In a cornfield. Please come!

Today we looked at a scene from Jilanne Hoffmann that dramatizes the aftermath of a dubious wedding. No one in the wedding party is really good. No one is really bad. They’re middle-of-the-road awful, and we loved it. Here’s an excerpt, and our discussion of the scene follows:


Desiree held on to her permanent smile, the one that showed off the teeth her mother loved. Teeth that her mother took every opportunity to say made a great advertisement for orthodontia.

Aunt Bella smiled back at Desiree from her wheelchair.

“I never thought I’d live to see the day,” she said, as Desiree bent over to give her a kiss on the cheek.

“Perfect!” the photographer said. “Now at me.”

Desiree and Aunt Bella smiled at the photographer.

Desiree’s lips stuck to her teeth. She’d forgotten the vaseline trick.

“I’m so proud of you,” said Aunt Bella. “You’ve landed yourself quite a fella.”

Desiree gave the old lady’s hand a squeeze.

“Just had a nice talk with his people. Decent farm people, even though he’s no farmer. Never dreamed you’d latch on to a man in blue.”

 “Funny how things happen,” was all Desiree could think to say.

“Best wishes to you both,” said Aunt Bella.

Desiree kissed her aunt’s cheek again, then her father grabbed her arm.

“A couple by the barn before the light goes,” he said to the photographer.

Desiree held on to her smile and nodded as her father swept her through the throng of guests and down the path to the barn. The photographer followed in their wake as wedding guests balanced paper plates piled with ham and potato salad and raised their glasses in salute.

Desiree knew that some were eyeing her belly, trying to judge its flatness through the layers of tulle. The cousins’ whisper network had made it through to her parents. Hers was the last of four cousin weddings that summer, but the others had been engaged much longer. She hadn’t thought about that, like she hadn’t thought much about saying “yes.” It was as much a relief as a thrill to get the chance to say “yes.” Who knew it would happen so soon?


Hi, Jil!

As I’ve said numerous times, amidst all else you are writing, I’m delighted that you have resumed work on the ‘Bobbie Story.’ This chapter prompted so much reflection and discussion! It’s a really great chapter to think about, both in terms of the wedding day scene and what that scene bodes for the larger story arc. First off, there’s a wonderful movie element to the opening, where the new bride Desiree only gets a minute to hide in the bathroom before Mom swoops in and fills the small space with her chattering—and, to me, the content of what Mom says seems to come from a confused space of love and dismay. We get the sense that she wants things to be perfect for her daughter, but she also perhaps hasn’t let go of some infant version of her daughter, and she also maybe hasn’t let go of her own girlhood, so we get this mix of critiquing and complimenting and fixing and hope mixed in with what seems to be years of reinforced behavior reflected in Desiree’s combined passivity and desire to escape her mother’s voice. In the midst of this, Mom totally nails the problem: Desire is going to regret her choice. But in this opening, because Mom is being Mom, we might tend to assume she is wrong, and it’s ironically delightful when we realize that beneath all of her “stuff,” Mom’s maternal instinct was actually firing in a right direction.

In this opening, we might be missing the briefest of establishing shots. I agree with the choice to start in the aftermath of the wedding, but we open with Desiree practicing her smile, as if she’s already emotionally super-tense. What we might miss is that brief moment of quiet relief she feels upon escaping to the bathroom before it’s time to practice her smile. Practicing a smile could be a fun activity of trying to prepare to put on the perfect bride show, but here we quickly learn she’s not having fun on her own wedding day. Which leads to the question of whether we are told much more than we are shown in the opening moments of the story. Deciding whether to scale back how thinky Desiree is in the first part of the chapter might be an issue of looking much later in the scene, at the moment out by the corn field where Desiree recognizes the intentional stance of Jerod’s friends. While reading, I wondered if at that moment, the chapter would pivot and we would suddenly reinterpret everything we’ve just seen. In other words, if we’re told a little less about how to interpret the first part of the chapter, and we just see stuff happening, we could have the fun of reading it knowing something was a little off-kilter but not fully realizing what or why until we come around the corner of the barn and see what confronts Desiree.

We’re told the setting is a farm amidst cornfields, so we might assume the Midwest. I really wanted to see that farm and the farmhouse in vivid detail. What does a wedding at this farm look like? Do we see hay bales decorated with ribbons and flowers? Is this a wealthy farm with a big, fancy house and a fresh-painted barn or a more modest working farm with lots of activity occurring in the background of the wedding. And where are the cows? Mom makes that awesomely horrible reference to buying the cow, and I, your reader, plead to then at least see one cow on the farm or some off in the fields or at least here them moving around inside the barn while Desiree and her dad are getting photographed.

Dad calling Desiree “Peaches” stuck out to me in the same slightly irritating way as when some people call girls or women “Princess” and reinforce some categorizing element that manages to be equally loving and demeaning in a way we can’t quite articulate. In other words, Dad doesn’t seem to see Desiree as a grown-up, even though he’s just handed her off to the groom. He seems to love his Peaches, but his attitude toward her is reinforced when he presents Jerod with the car title and Desiree’s name isn’t even on it. So, Dad’s a character of his era, or at least definitely not ahead of his era. To call this the wedding from hell would be a huge understatement. It’s beyond cringe-worthy, as we follow Desiree from ungodly moment to moment. I wasn’t sure how to receive the combination of these awful moments on her “un”-special day. On one hand, the experiences create the mesmerizing effect akin to watching a train wreck, and we can’t seem to look away. On the other hand, the piling on of awful stuff could risk diluting the shock effect of the final scene with the groomsmen, because we, like Desiree, might be overwhelmed and somewhat numbed by sheer quantity of awfulness by the time we reach that closing scene.

I think that either option could work, meaning 1) piling on the horrible wedding-day moments until it reaches a fever-pitch in the cornfield or 2) revising so that the scene pivots from sort of okay/not okay to suddenly really horrible when we round the corner and see the groomsmen lined up to play their not-at-all-funny joke. In the meeting we talked about leaving the reader hanging on the set piece image of the groomsmen in the corn (I won’t say what they do because anyone who reads the story should get to see for themselves, but it’s a totally unexpected event). The cornfield setting makes us recall every scary movie we’ve seen about cornfields, and I loved that effect. I expected something ominous to happen, but I would never have guessed what it turned out to be. It’s a spectacular effect for the close of chapter one. I think you have the action line of the chapter fully worked out, and any revisions will be in deciding how much of Desiree’s interior to reveal during the front of the chapter. And, as I said in the meeting, I suggest waiting to deep revise chapter one until you have the rest of the manuscript fully drafted. It may get easier to quickly see what else you want to do with chapter one once you have the ending of the book firmly in place.

We went on to talk about whether to use multiple points of view and how much of Jerod’s character arc to include in the story. I thought Wes nailed it with the suggestion to give Jerod the challenge of “passing” as one of the group he’s in when his upbringing has imbued him with a slightly different set of values and way of behaving. Including his point of view will lend yet another layer of complexity to the story; the more I think about it, the more I like that tactic. I’m a massive fan of the 1970s-’80s era as a story setting. It was such a wacky and wonderful couple of decades! Desiree’s wardrobe alone is going to be interesting. On a deeper level, this story is about what it was like for this young woman to become a blushing bride in an era arguably less kind to women, and then to come into her own in spite of obstacles put in place by time and place and family upbringing and social expectations. It’s a fun and interesting look back, and what I really appreciate about your approach to the story is that you don’t cast Jerod as the simple bad guy. Instead, he’s a good and imperfect person. In Jerod, we also get to see how a young man navigates the era, also facing challenges of society’s expectations for men and marriage. I’m excited to read more of this story, hurry up and write!

XO Laurel Leigh


Jil, This is the second version of the opening to your ‘Bobbie story’ that I’ve seen, and I find this the better of the two versions. For one, you introduce us to all the key players in this opening scene in the novel, a wedding scene — always a jackpot scenario for introducing a large number of characters all at once. And in this version you also manage to give a fuller portrait of each character, even though this opening is shorter than the first by a number of pages.

Congrats on the concision!

The chapter opens with Desiree in the bathroom on her wedding day, practicing her smile. She might be prepping for the wedding photographer. Or, more tellingly, she might be practicing looking happy. It even seems like she might be hiding there in the bathroom; though it’s not clear from whom, or what, she’s hiding. It may just be she’s overwhelmed by all the hullaballoo, which is typical in about any large wedding. Any way you slice it, though, it doesn’t signal the best start to married life for our hero.

From this inauspicious start, Desiree must navigate the usual minefield presented to any bride on her wedding day: overanxious parents, meddling or gossiping relatives, drunken guests. We see Desiree trying her best to maintain her composure, but this will prove near impossible. For example, early on in the scene, Desiree’s mother, while fussing over her wedding dress, will wonder aloud if her daughter has made the right decision marrying Jerod. Now this might be a mother expressing normal concerns about her little girl shoving off from the nest. But this is usually the kind of thing a mother expresses earlier on, during the courtship, not on the wedding day.

To do so on the actual day itself seems rude in the extreme.

I get the sense that Desiree is young, perhaps only a year out of high school, possibly even less. Perhaps this is why her mother is expressing reservations. I think it might help a bit at this point in the narrative to know exactly how old Desiree is. An eighteen or nineteen year-old marrying a vice cop is a whole other kettle of fish from, say, a 26 year old woman marrying a cop. The offset in the balance of power in a relationship between an eighteen year-old girl and an older police officer who has already established himself in the Vice Department — nobody starts out in Vice — is something that should concern any mother.

As the scene progresses, we get many of the elements one would expect from a wedding scene. And I will say that having characters with names like Mort and Shep tells me a lot about what time and place in American culture we’re talking about here. That being said, I don’t get a real, specific sense where the action of the story is taking place, other than on a farm in the Midwest in the late 1970s. I feel like you might be rushing the wedding scene a bit.

If there’s one place you might linger a little bit to allow for plot or character development, it’s at a wedding (SEE ‘The Godfather,’ for one cinematic example). I would like to feel the farm setting more. I want to hear and smell and feel what the surroundings are like. You know, the usual: hay bales for dinner tables, the odor of cows in the barn, the sound of the wind in the cornstalks.

And while the wedding scene has changed quite a bit from the version I saw earlier, one thing, thankfully, that hasn’t changed is the groomsmen all firing their guns in unison to, as they say, ‘salute’ the bride. This is as strange and disturbing a scene as one could imagine for a wedding. Naturally, I love it.

Yet in this version, the groomsmen, all police officers (except for Shep — love that name — who is the bride’s brother), fire their handguns into the cornfield instead of into the ground. I’m not sure which is more disturbing, shooting into the ground or into the cornfield, but there is some real metaphorical weight to the notion of a cornfield, which provides sustenance and life, absorbing quietly this toxic display of male violence and destruction — much as the new bride, potential reservoir for the nurturing and growth of the family line, one day may find herself having passively to absorb such random cruelty and violence.

Then again, maybe I’m reading WAY too much into this authorial choice, but cornfields just lend themselves to metaphor.

If I have a problem with the piece, it is the same problem I had with the original version you showed us — namely, the main character, Desiree, who is marrying a vice cop in 1970s Midwestern America, is not (yet) at this early point in the narrative the most interesting character. Now, say, if Desiree were simply a narrator, commenting on the action that is taking place all around her, that would be fine. But it seems as though Desiree, if not the main character of the novel, is one of the two or three main characters.

One thing that might help on this front is if the reader had a sense of how the other characters see Desiree. Was she the ‘smart girl’ at school? Was she the one people always thought would be the ‘first to get out of town’ after high school? Also, is Desiree the only daughter in the family? Or is she the youngest child? Or the oldest?

I bring all these questions up because, at this point in the narrative, I’m not sure what to make of Desiree. I know it’s only one short chapter, but Desiree doesn’t really DO anything — things are only done to her. So a little more context for the character might help shape my reaction to the character as she’s presented on the page.

In the final analysis, I don’t think I’ve seen a wedding, or an impending marriage, which appeared calmer and more composed on the surface, yet held clues to all the myriad ways it soon could (possibly violently) come apart at the seams. You could cut the sense of foreboding with a knife.

Awesome job, Hoffmann!



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The Uncooperative Character in Chapter Three

My name is Tracy “Smith.” I am twenty-six years old. I’ll be twenty-seven in April. I have been driving for several days, with no particular destination in mind, maybe someplace warm. After what went down in NYC I knew I had to clear out of town, but I had nowhere to go, no one I felt I could safely turn to. So I have adopted a new mantra. Let the dice roll. I threw my stuff into the car and started driving. I let the dice roll. They rolled south.

I kept driving south until there was no more south left. The road ended in Miami. I parked the car in front of the first bar I saw, the Flying Horse, and not knowing what else to do with myself proceeded to get drunk with the last of my funds, which meant I wasn’t able to get very drunk at all. The entire time I had the feeling I was being watched, but then I’d had the same feeling for weeks now, so I decided to ignore it and watched a game playing on a television above the bar for a while. The red team was winning.

Welcome to the diary of Tracy “Smith,” a guy on the run, who manages to simultaneously run away from and toward trouble. This excerpt from Wes Pierce’s gritty novel in progress prompted a thoughtful discussion of what to do when the character you create dares to defy the author’s plans for him. Here’s what we had to say about chapter three. It has a title, but we are sworn to secrecy on that detail:

Hey, Wes,

As I already told you, I opened the first pages of chapter three to take a glance and was so immediately drawn in that I read the entire excerpt right there and then. My first thought was: brilliant. Tracy’s first-person narrative voice is stellar in the way it hooks us in and keeps us entertained. We meet him while he’s driving, which isn’t such an original situation, and yet the way he tells it is original and pulls us right in, including perhaps my favorite bit where he decides to roll the dice, and the dice roll in a particular direction that seems to set the course of his unfolding fate.

Tracy is a complex and fascinating guy, and in him I can see hints of Huck Finn, Addie Pray, and Camus’s Meursault. At times, he seems to have the take-it-as-it-comes approach to life that we sometimes ascribe to Huck, although both Tracy and young Huck have an underlying agenda even as they take advantage of immediate opportunities to advance their goals. Then at times we get a more youthfully innocent point of view underscored by street smarts we might associate with Addie Pray, as when Tracy follows Claudia outside but then takes matters into his own hands after she abruptly departs. And finally, we occasionally see the apparent indifference of a modern-day Meursault in some of his choices and reactions, although Tracy ultimately seems to wear his heart on his sleeve both in response to Claudia’s femme fatale behavior and Emil’s (ultimately faux) fatherly demeanor. I didn’t want this excerpt to end, and I’m delighted to know that the chapter continues and we’ll get to follow Tracy around a while longer.

Tracy willingly goes off with two men who are strangers to him, and there’s a delightful sense of danger and sexual undercurrent to their initial encounter, where we see Emil and his companion drunkenly fawning over Tracy, at least until his new friends all of a sudden sober up in the cab. Continue reading

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The Bobbie Story

Have you ever met someone who completely changed your world view? You might not have realized at the moment how importantly they would factor in your life. It might not have been someone you were even that close to, but they affected you on some deep level, and afterward you were never the same. That’s the type of encounter that Jil writes about in what our group has informally dubbed “the Bobbie story.” Jil began writing this story years ago and to our intense delight, she’s pulled Bobbie out of the drawer and is working to finish the book. We got an early peek and are excited to share it!

Here’s an excerpt from a scene we talked about at our latest Dogpatch gathering:

When Jerod came home after his graveyard shift, he knew something was wrong. The crusted, empty pot of mac n cheese on the stove, an upturned carton of orange juice in the sink, an open and empty tuna can on the kitchen floor, and the lid to the bottle of tequila on the counter.

“Babe?” He called into what appeared to be an empty house. “Hello?”

There was no answer.

“Hello?” He called again, peering into the living room.

Bobbie and Desiree lay curled up on their sides on the floor like two bookends, enclosing the space in front of the empty bookshelf. All of the books that had been shelved now lay scattered between them, the empty bottle of tequila still clutched in Desiree’s hand. Punkin skittered from behind the pulled curtain.

“What the hell?!” Jerod said.

Bobbie woke with a cough and wiped the drool off the side of her mouth.

“What the hell?” Jerod said again. He nudged one of Desiree’s bare feet with the toe of his shoe.

“Hi, officer,” Bobbie said, “Did you come to arrest us? We haven’t been disturbing the peace, I promise.” She giggled and coughed again.

Desiree groaned, rolled on her side and pushed herself up into a sitting position. She looked up at Jerod, a tall, tall man, looking at her like she was a bad, bad girl.

At the Dogpatch, we share and discuss the stories we’re working on. Here’s our comments to Jil about the full segment of the Bobbie story she shared with us. Feel free to jump into the fray!

Dear Jil: I’ve said it already, and I’ll say again how delighted I am to read more of your Bobbie scenes. This story and these characters stick in the reader’s head, certainly mine. I think I first read the poker party scene nearly two decades ago, and when I opened the file it was like meeting up with an old friend I really wanted to see again. I don’t take it lightly when a story sticks with me for that long. As your reader, I think it means that you’ve spoken to something deep in me, and I’m responding by saving a special spot in my brain for your story. About that story: Bobbie is fascinating, but to me it’s ultimately Desiree’s experience of her world and of Bobbie that we’re talking about. There’s a great universalizing effect: Desiree’s experiences echo the reality of being trapped by the expectations of others and having to grapple with your own fears as you climb out of someone else’s world and into your own. I really want Desiree to win, and knowing her creator, I know that she will and, in fact, will live to tell the story. It’s the particular how she survives that is even more compelling.

Since Wes and I now have read the longer Bobbie “poetry scene” alongside a cluster of shorter scenes, including the troubling waitress-in-a-pizza-joint escapade, the unforgettable and equally troubling wedding scene, and the infamous poker party scene, it’s difficult not to comment on all of them at once. So, these comments hop around a bit, as I’ve been pondering the scenes as a set that will become part of the larger book.

Maybe we should tell Dogpatch readers that Desire is newly married to an undercover cop who seems to have a built-in set of expectations for how she should behave. He’s not a bad guy, in fact, he has a big heart, but he’s rigid. When Bobbie arrives in the midst of this young marriage, we get a love triangle of sorts, only instead of romance or physical attraction, the love is about what other person makes the deepest impression on someone’s psyche, in this case on Desiree’s.

For the scene that ensues when Bobbie first shows up—the “poetry scene” to give it a quick name, I thought that hindsight might enter the chapter a little too much. Does Desiree love her man? He’s presented as a hunky alpha male, but we seem to go right to her feeling of not belonging in the marriage without any sense of whether there is a good side to the relationship or whether there was any honeymoon phase. I kept wondering if it made sense to flip the balance, so we get great, great, great on the surface with the not-so-great feelings only starting to poke out while she’s getting drunk with Bobbie.

You are such an awesome writer, and the scene is definitely compelling. If being super hard on it, in a few spots, the skilled writing might mask cases where details and dialogue seem hyper-written, as if trying to get the reader to grasp exactly what’s wrong versus letting the dilemma unfold more gradually. But then we seem to skip over what might be a crucial transition in Desiree and Bobbie’s relationship; they go straight from total strangers to an hour later being drunk on alcohol and emotion, and they decide they’re sisters. I really want to see those missing hours unfold in the scene before we get down to the crucial disclosures. And then I wondered if Desiree would think versus say some of the key disclosures she makes. Is the point for her to tell Bobbie or to tell herself?

When we do get to the personal disclosures about family and self, they tend to sound like they come from more mature women. Desiree and Bobbie tend to speak in pretty complete sentences and with pretty standard syntax and diction. Would Bobbie’s diction be a little tangled or juvenile? Young people often know the self-talk terms and the emotional honesty catch words, but they sometimes cutely mess up words or the diction: I’ve heard things like “confide myself in her,” “he lacks genuinity,” “I don’t want to be disingenue.” And they’re often physical, moving all the time while talking. It’s like aerobic and cheerleading moves pepper any conversation while their metabolisms burn high.

That’s all a long way of saying that the action of the poetry scene, its arc and dramatic intention are all in order, but maybe you know that intention so well that you get us there in too hurried and direct a path.

Turning to the string of shorter scenes—the wedding, poker night, waitressing, grocery shopping, the crank caller, and the friendship with the cat—there my main comment is Wow! There is so much to admire about this unfolding story, and I’m super excited for you to finish it. In this string of shorter scenes, we’ve talked about which one would make for a shocking opening. I won’t say that here, so that readers can be surprised when the book comes out, but my main comment about the scenes is that the shorter scenes as a set seem to arise from a sort of thesis that the writer wants to deliver to the reader, with each of the scenes on some level functioning as “evidence,” similar to the series of family anecdotes Desiree tells to Bobbie when trying to explain her family history. The thesis underlying the scenes seems to be something like: This is why Desiree is the way she is, and here’s the dramatic arguments to back up that contention.

We’ve said in our discussion that most or all of these scenes are really key scenes, and we probably should see the build to each scene vs. having them occur without transitions. I don’t know that the order matters as much as the dramatic build to each scene and the connecting scenes between the key scenes. In other words, we might have the outcomes but not all of the contextualizing material. Each of the scenes right now has its own thematic payoff in Desiree’s life and history, but we don’t yet have enough of the container story to identify its overall shape. Is this book going to be structured as a series of memories and encounters, or are we going to feel like we’re experiencing Desiree’s day-to-day life? We seem to get a potential subplot with the crank callers and Jerod and his fellow officers having to deal with that, but we haven’t yet seen where that goes. Another way to say this is that each of these scenes feels significant enough to be the impetus for the larger story, but they all seem important, so I think it will be critical to decide not only the order in which to deliver them but the framework in which to position them. Once you’re settled on that, this story will be un-put-downable.

Thanks for the chance to be one of your readers.

XO Laurel Leigh




Wes sez:

The newlywed wife of an undercover cop in a medium-sized Midwestern city in the late 1970s encounters a young runaway who changes her life forever. That, in a nutshell, is the ‘Bobbie story,’ which I have heard described for years now by other members of the Dogpatch who have read it, but which I’ve never seen myself until now. I’m glad finally to be able to see what all the talk was about.

The first of the two chapters you have shown us lays out the wedding and the early weeks of the main protagonist Desiree’s marriage; the second chapter shows us the first meeting between Desiree and the young runaway, Bobbie, who is brought home to Desiree late one night by her undercover cop husband, Jerod, who has a habit of bringing home strays, human and otherwise. You gave us two alternate openings for the book — a scene in which Desiree, prior to her wedding, is working as a waitress at a pizza parlor, and a scene from the wedding itself, where the groomsmen, all cops, fire their handguns in unison into the ground to toast (or is it roast?) the groom’s new bride.

I vote for opening with the wedding scene.

Much is made in your narrative of the gender and social politics of 1970s America, a surprisingly benighted time for one rumored to be so open-minded and carefree compared to our own cautious and judgmental times. (As for myself, I have no memory of the 1970s, being too young at the time for any of the Me Decade to make an impression on me, he said, head turned aside and eyes cast downward, one hand covering his face from view.)

While I think the Pizza Joint scene is powerful — poor Desiree is sexually humiliated by a roomful of drunken men out on a bachelor party — and gives us a sense of how her mind works, it is similar in many ways to a later scene where her husband has his cop buddies over to the house for poker night. Desiree is afraid to leave the bedroom, where she is hiding, when Nature calls because the men are making rude, suggestive comments about her, and she is feeling too threatened and exposed to walk past the dining room table where they are all playing cards.

I think the poker night scene carries more than enough water within the story, making the Pizza Joint scene unnecessary, even redundant.

There seems to be a tendency in the story as it’s written now to rush through some of the scenes. The wedding scene which opens the story is one I especially would like to see drawn out a bit more. The cop groomsmen all firing their guns into the ground is an indelible image, but I feel you miss many opportunities to flesh out some of the other peripheral, but still important, characters. For example, I would like to see Desiree’s mother in action to get a sense of the type of female role-model our hero had growing up. We hear her father speak, but we don’t hear Mom say anything.


One question that hangs over the first chapter, as well as the later chapter where Desiree and Bobbie first meet, is, Why doesn’t Desiree love her husband, Jerod? He seems like a nice guy, for a cop; the kind of person who habitually brings home strays. He’s a bit bossy, sure. But then Desiree is only 19 years old and doesn’t seem to know much about life, which to a seasoned cop like Jerod might be adorable — or annoying, even infuriating

Portions of the narrative as it currently stands read like a series of semi-connected flashbacks, the through-line being Desiree’s increasing disenchantment with her new life as wife and homemaker. Also, the notion of escape figures heavily in Desiree’s teenage view of marriage and setting up house with Jerod. She is trying to get away from a stifling childhood home, within an enormous farming family that includes dozens and dozens of aunts and cousins all silently passing judgment on a teenage girl — Desiree — who is just trying to figure things out for herself, a girl for whom ‘finding the right words’ is something she’s not very good at.

What I think Desiree really means by this is that she is no good at advocating for herself, and that she has no clear idea what she wants out of life.

And so then we come to the chapter where Bobbie and Desiree first meet. This is another scene, like the wedding, that I would like to see play out a bit more. When Bobbie and Desiree meet for that very first time, they manage in no time at all to get stinking drunk. And yet the narrative moves from the cracking open of the tequila bottle to flat-out drunkenness in the blink of an eye.

This is a huge opportunity missed, in my opinion. I feel like the character Bobbie lives more fully formed in the author’s imagination than she does on the page. I really can’t get a clear picture of her in my mind yet. I would like more of an idea how she looks, how she moves in space, and what interests her, other than flouting convention (like most any teenager), drinking (ditto), and getting it on with her dad (ouch…and yuck). And so a scene where she gets progressively drunker with Desiree would be a good opportunity to make her come more alive on the page and to learn more about her individual quirks.

The male gaze figures prominently in the daily lives of these two women. But more so for Desiree, who is willing to play the role of traditional stay-at-home wife. For Bobbie, who apparently thinks nothing of turning tricks to earn some traveling money, the male gaze is merely an opportunity to exercise the power of her desirability; while for Desiree, it is something that batters her down and keeps her compliant to what men want of her.


Finally, the narrative voice is pitched quite high emotionally from the start — outrage and self-disgust being the primary emotions coloring the action of the story. The hyperventilating tone — we see and hear an awful lot of how Desiree feels about the injustice of her life — sucks a lot of the air out of the room and leaves little space for the reader’s own emotional responses to play themselves out as she sees the horrors our young hero must encounter in a world of callous, dominating, possibly violent men. For a novel that seems to be about the abjectness of women and the violent idiocy of men, I think it might be necessary to drop the emotional pitch of the narrative tone a few notches so that the POV of your protagonist can build up to whatever outrage will be necessary to move her through whatever is coming next.

And whatever that is, I feel like it’s going to be wonderfully terrible. Or terribly wonderful. Awesome job, Hoffmann!

header photo credit: Tumblr


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Call Me Crazy – NaNoWriMo

So I’ve been living in picture book world for a few years, now.

And while I’m still busy analyzing and perfecting my craft in that arena,

(Mini craft lecture: Great picture books are as compressed as poetry, containing a world in about 500 words or fewer, leave 50% of the story to the illustrator, are paced strategically through language and page turns, evoke emotion through image, active voice, and characterization, and end in way that’s surprising yet inevitable. Easy, right?)

I could no longer ignore that tiny voice in the back of my head that wasn’t a picture book character, but a character from a YA/new adult novel.

She’s been bugging me for years. And now that her whispers have turned to curses, I’ve decided to listen. Five years ago, I tried NaNo as a pantser. I failed. Miserably.

This year, with a little encouragement from another blogger and writing coach, Kate Johnston, I decided to take the plunge again.


Only this time with a little planning. I know who my characters are, but five years ago I just let them run wild. So that’s what they did. They rambled. They wandered. Aimlessly. They got lost.


I got lost, then I wadded up my Scrivener file and tossed it in the trash. Failure.

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This year, I’m going to start with a plan. A structure. A beginning, a middle, and an end. How I get there during November will look more like pantsing, but when I’m finished, that pantsing will be contained within October’s plan. Call it plantsing.

We’ll see how it goes. Wish me luck!


And I’ve gotta tell you, I’m afraid of failing. Gulp. But it’s like that with all challenges, right?

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If you, too, would like to take this on, give Kate’s website a look. I think you may find a tool or two to help you out.

Happy pantsing, planning, or plantsing! Cheers!


Filed under Craft, Howling at the moon

There Are Many Kinds of Scars

Dogpatch writer Laurel Leigh’s essay explores how as a child she experienced the scars of her mother’s mastectomy and how those issues of image and identity carried into her adult life. Here’s an excerpt of “Scars” and our comments about this deeply honest piece of writing.

The author’s mother on her wedding day.

The wound in my chest was open and wide, and I could see the layers of my skin disappearing into the circular black hole. As a kid growing up in the country and later an acrobat, I’d had plenty of scrapes and bruises, but I’d never had a cut that deep. I was engrossed by how deep the hole was—about an inch.

The doc came back to the table and explained that the wound leakage had just been fluid, but it likely would re-occur if he used liquid anesthesia. If I was tough enough to look at it and not get grossed out, then, asked the doc, was I tough enough to let him stitch me up without anesthesia? The incision would heal more rapidly, if so, he told me. I said okay.



Hey Laurel,

In your essay you look back on your childhood and examine your feelings, both then and now, about your mother’s mastectomy scars and what they meant to your own physical and emotional development growing up. Over the course of this essay you, as the narrator, come to understand that there are many types of scars an individual can incur over the course of a life — physical scars, of course, but also mental and emotional ones as well.

In many ways this piece is about self-acceptance versus others accepting us, but beneath this it is really a rumination on intimacy and mortality. The narrator is given three privileged glimpses in the course of this work: at her mother’s mastectomy scars; at the hole in her own breast after surgery to remove a tumor; and, finally, a clear, unimpeded view of the sky as seen through a hole in the ceiling after the constant rain of western Washington state eats through the roof of her house. All three of these privileged glimpses lay bare a sense of intimacy with the world, as well as a marked vulnerability to that same outside world.

The scars that life leaves on all of us can lead us to want to hide them from others. It is only natural for people to want to hide or camouflage their scars, just as we all want to hide or camouflage the uglier parts of life. But the narrator, over the course of this piece, learns to embrace her scars, to see their beauty instead.

I like the symmetry, or poetic echoes, you achieve with the various ‘holes’ we glimpse in the essay — how the deep, scarred depression left behind after Mom’s mastectomy mirrors and reflects the hole in the narrator’s own breast, which itself mirrors and reflects the hole in the narrator’s ceiling. As she considers her own feelings about her mother’s mastectomy scars, the narrator reflects on the scars two previous surgeries have left on her own breasts. Continue reading


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Amnesty Goes to Mass

Dani culture, Catholic mass, and sex with a photojournalist in a seedy hotel all come together in this excerpt from Wes Pierce’s novel in progress. In the Dogpatch, we do what we do, which is talk about writing. We had a lot to say about this riveting chapter and can’t wait to read more. Here’s an excerpt to help you see why we’re riled up:

She was also witness to a burgeoning — well, maybe feminist movement wasn’t the right word for it; but with pacification, and a marked decrease in the need for protection from neighboring hostile tribes, the role of women in Dani society had greatly expanded. Of course women still did most of the work, farming and mending what little clothes they wore and watching after the children, as well as the pigs (which, along with sweet potatoes, were the staples of their diet). But the men’s lodges, the center of all important discussions of a political or economic or social nature, and formerly off-limits to all married women, were now a place where everyone in the village gathered to talk and eat and tend to everyday chores in the company of their family and friends. The division between the sexes was not as clearly demarcated as it had been in the past, and women were rushing in to fill the void left by the enforced cessation of (formerly incessant) tribal warfare. Social gatherings focused less on the planning of attacks and the mourning of the dead, and more on the communal tending of the fields and the improvement of the settlement. And Amnesty was a witness to all of it.

The Dani made her feel like one of them; every moment she was there she felt more alive than she had at any time before in her life. When she was there among the Dani, she didn’t have to try to live. Then one day, near the end of her first full year at the Dani settlement, a wave of concern swept through the small village. She had never seen anything like it in all her time there. Some of the men looked scared, and they were muttering names that were unfamiliar to Amnesty, as they grabbed spears and other weapons long disused and gathering dust as old war trophies in the men’s lodges. It appeared to her to be something right out of the literature, with the men of the village gathering to repel a surprise attack on a remote outpost.

Wow! That was my initial reaction to this chapter. I honestly had to read it a few times before I could stop being simply fascinated and try to look at it critically. Wes, I find it very fascinating that your initial question to the group was whether there was enough action content to sustain this chapter. I sometimes think you are completely unimpressed by your own ability to mesmerize the reader as well as your ability to weave unique and complex content into a character’s on-the-page experience. Somehow you make it completely reasonable that a character would go to church, call to mind her time spent in the highlands of New Guinea, and regale the reader with tales of the Dani people that somehow link to her own need for both action and atonement.

For someone just joining this discussion, I’ll say loosely what unfolds in this chapter. A character with the unlikely name of “Amnesty,” who is non-religious, goes to Catholic mass because it offers a place to think without the usual interruptions. That’s wildly ironic because the cacophony going on in her brain is deafening. Amnesty is a little Hamlet, in that she’s kind of stuck in her life and subsequently tortured. On a past anthropological visit to the wonderfully bizarre Dani villages, she pulled a Captain Kirk and got way too involved in the daily goings on of the isolated modern-primitive Dani. Her bosses kicked her to the curb, and now poor Amnesty spends more time planning her next move than actually making it. Of course, in church she can’t help but turn her anthropologist eye on the rituals of organized religion, and her opinions are not surprisingly damning. If we read what she thought in an academic paper, it would be fascinating. But putting the character in scene and having her dissect the religious ritual as it unfolds is beyond riveting. But then it gets better, because despite her brilliance, we see how stuck in place she is. She’s rooted in that pew and rooted in place in her life. We think it’s because of her screw-up on the field trip; but as the layers of her life are further implied, we realize her dilemma goes much deeper. Having read other chapters, I also know that her wacked-out upbringing further ups the stakes for poor Amnesty having any semblance of a peaceful inner life.

Much of the time reading, I forgot we were in church and felt completely transported to the Dani village. That is a strength of the writing, although I ultimately thought you could consider leaking out the Dani story en route while Amnesty observes the mass ritual and letting the climax of the village story (which, sorry readers, I’m not gonna tell ya until the book comes out) intertwine with that horrific (from Amnesty’s perspective and mine as well) moment when the chanting priest holds the wafer aloft and all of Amnesty’s missteps among the Dani and her interpretation of the mass collide. That wafer waving moment is important in this scene, and I think you could slow the writing down to highlight it even more. That’s really my main comment: that I’d love to see the church scene and the village scenes told more concurrently until we hit that ultra moment of tension and imagery in both.

As for the interpretation Amnesty herself needs to take away. I would like to know whether you agree with the reading that even while Amnesty doesn’t believe in the religion she observes, her time in church is nonetheless akin to religious action. I find it drastically ironic that your non-believing character nonetheless enacts a sort of religious interpretation of the mass service: a prayer, inward meditation, an account of her past sins, and, finally, seeking atonement. It’s completely masterful, and I’m dazzled by your skills.

Finally, about said photojournalist: That’s an awfully sexy career, and I’m all in favor of wild sex in a cheap hotel with a thrill-seeking photojournalist. But I think the hotel romp adds too much of an ending to this chapter and sends it in a different direction. Once mass is over, I really think the chapter should be too. Of course, don’t cut the sex scene. Pretty please. It’s wickedly great. But consider moving it to another chapter and possibly separated from the mass chapter. Let us all wait to find out the bedroom coda to the conclusion of Amnesty’s day in church.

The only other thing I have to say is please hurry up and finish writing this book so everyone can read the whole thing. It’s going to be a hit.

XO Laurel Leigh

Geez, Louise. Laurel got to say all the important stuff before I could jump in with my 2 cents. Your initial question, Wes, was “Is it OK if nothing HAPPENS in this chapter?” Hmmm, I say, hmmm. Well, the way I see it, it doesn’t matter whether something physically happens in this chapter, but something darn well better happen to launch Amnesty into the search for her brother. I mean, I enjoyed learning all these things about the Dani people, BUT I’m not reading a book written by Margaret Mead (although I have read her work and enjoyed it). I’m reading a book about murder and the messed-up lives being lived by “Love” children, with a little side helping of Margaret Mead. So, while it’s all well and good (don’t you hate clichés, but they’re so useful) for you to include this info about the Dani, I think some of it should either leak through in earlier chapters, with the final leak being the moment with the hatchet. That will then deepen our understanding of the moment where we see Amnesty conclude that she must take ACTION. Use this chapter as the launchpad for the search.

I want to understand the scene where she’s moved to kill but thwarted by cultural taboos. As it is, I knew something had terminated the interaction, but I wasn’t sure what. It’s a critical moment in the story, and I’m not there yet. I DO understand that her interference got her fired, but I don’t understand how her interference completely altered the events between the two warring factions. Give me more there.

As an aside, I think you need to weed out those authorial intrusions that distract, you know, the ones where you can’t help but pass judgment on the situation or add a little pointed but subtle commentary, thinking that reader won’t “get it” otherwise. Some may be in there to elicit chuckles. And some may be in there just because you find them entertaining (or maybe you’re too close to see them). Kill them!!

Oh, and get rid of that sexy scene in the humid hotel room. It distracts and sends us off in a different direction, as Laurel said. OK, I agree with Laurel: put it elsewhere. It’s entertaining. But when I’m in church, I want to be in church or with the Dani. When the church scene ends, we should be following Amnesty into the heart of darkness, so to speak.

Nuff said. Now finish this sucker! I want to read the whole thing!

Cheers! Jilanne


Photo of cathedral interior: Pixabay.

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