Monthly Archives: June 2012

Group Writing Critique: “No Vacancy” by Laurel Leigh

Welcome to the dogfight! Here’s a snippet from a short story by Laurel Leigh, followed by critical comments. If you want some context for this excerpt, you can read another story of hers, “Shoeless,” published in The Sun, in which the character Ralph appears. Dogpatch Writers Collective occasionally posts these excerpts of our group critiques of work in progress, and your comments are welcomed!

From “No Vacancy”

Ralph took a key off his belt ring, meaning to hand it to the guy. He’d been getting more used to them, but the floaters in his eye suddenly turned into lightning streaks and zoomed across the edge of his vision. He dropped the key, fumbled to pick it up. Then he stood blinking, feeling dizzy after the guy took the key and walked away. His eye hurt like hell. He rubbed the spot just below his eyebrow. He lit a Doral and took several long puffs. Back in his office, he swallowed aspirin and squirted eye drops in both eyes. Then he locked the office door, went into his back room and stretched out on the pullout bed. The aspirin started to kick in, but he still felt shaky and sick to his stomach. And tired—of everything. Of the pain in his eyes. Of worrying about it. Of guys like the one just now. Who made him feel even smaller than he felt most of the time. And those types of guy always got women by half trying, whereas Ralph was lucky to cop a feel once in a blue friggin’ moon. And a guy wanted more than that, you know? Someone to spend a night with, or even talk to. And, he was tired of waiting. One day, his uncle would have to retire and the motel operation would belong to Ralph, or so he hoped. But that day was a long ways off.
Comments from the Dogpatch:

Laurel, Love, love, love this story! It stands on its own, and fits almost seamlessly with “Shoeless,” the story published in The Sun. In this story, we’re looking at a man who longs to have something more in his life, to feel like part of a community instead of an outsider and to be with a woman he cares about, but he can’t quite figure out how to make these things happen. He can’t even make a doctor’s appointment or manage a small hotel. He’s so lost in his vague dreams, in the tiny aspects of his life that are beyond his management capabilities, that he’s only capable of taking action when desperate. And even then, his action is really inaction. What he ends up asking for (and paying for) lies far below what he truly desires. A heartbreaking story. You noted that you were struggling with the ending, and I’d have to say that I think the first ending is far superior to the alternate. But I would suggest that you cut the first ending slightly at the parts where you provide a little too much internal dialogue, Continue reading



Filed under Craft, Dogfight

Hey there Dogpatchers, Laurel posted a little snippet from the seminar she taught at Chuckanut Writers Conference on her blog. Thought you all might be interested in taking a look at how screenwriting tools can be applied to other genres. Laurel rocks!

Dear Writers

Dear Writers,
I was delighted to again serve on the faculty of the Chuckanut Writers Conference last week in Western Washington. Here’s a snippet from a session I taught on how writers can draw from film storyboarding concepts to create a text-driven version of a storyboard. In this moment, the discussion centered on the three-act structure paradigm.

Let’s turn to our friends the screenplay writers for a moment. It’s some of their tools that we are borrowing and modifying to make our stories. Looking at conventional film structure is useful in gaining a better understanding of story action and plot points.

The conventional three-act structure looks like this:

In Act I, is the setup. The character(s), the action of the story, the problem or question of the story is established.

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Filed under Rants

Here’s what Laurel’s been up to in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe she’ll give us the low down on how the 2nd Annual Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham, WA, went last weekend.

Dear Writers

Dear Writers,

We got mobbed by the geezer gang at open mic! Here’s who was there and what they read:

Her astrologer determined that CJ Prince would write about sex and death, so no surprise that she launched the night with pieces titled “One Night Stand,” “Hot,” and “Vanity.” After we broke for cold showers, Carol Hunter resumed with a very moving piece on the fallout of the drug war in Mexico. Dianne Meyer shared a beautiful and humorous tribute to a writing friend, “Ethel, When Last Seen.” Vince Laudi offered two protest pieces—”The Gun Lobbyist” and “Our God is Better than Your God”—along with “Coal Train,” a spoken song in search of a melody. Janet Oakley beautifully read “Technicolor Dreams,” published in the anthology A Cup of Comfort for Women.

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Dammed if he does . . .

Dear Writers:

“Reading Alex Kuo is best done twice.” — Robert Wallace

With characters on opposite sides of the Pacific, Alex Kuo’s The Man Who Dammed the Yangtze  may have some of its readers on opposite sides of its equations.

Published last year by Haven Books, if one chases the various reviews of this  mathematical novel with doppelganger protagonists—some love it, some damn it!—it was laughingly mentioned to me by the man behind the math that a comment thread starts to emerge:

What does the math have to do with it?, or, I didn’t get the math. Continue reading


Filed under Howling at the moon, What I'm Reading Right Now

A Banner Week for Women Writers – or Not?

Did anyone notice that the June 5th email list of The New York Review of Books online featured pieces written by no less than SEVEN women? out of TEN authors.

A blinding 70%!!!

If you’ve heard about the presumed big splash the VIDA Count made (scroll down their Website to view the damning PPT charts), regarding the dearth of women writers in major media outlets and literary venues, one can only hope that this is more than an anomaly.

But if you compare the online version with its paper counterpart, the June 21st issue, the picture doesn’t look as rosy. The paper edition features a paltry THREE women in a sea of TWENTY men.

Only 13%!!!!!

Now, dear reader, is the NYRB trying to hoodwink us? Do they think that they can appease the women who read online while catering to the old male guard who read the paper edition?

WHAT, I ask, WHAT is going on here?

Any ideas?


Filed under Howling at the moon, Rants

Group Writing Critique: “Can I Get a Witness?” by David J. Marx

Dogpatch Writers Collective will occasionally post excerpts of group critiques of work in progress. Here’s a snippet from the middle of a short story by David along with comments. Feel free to join the fray!

From “Can I Get a Witness?”

 (photo from

. . . I carried a different route every day and got lost several times in the first month. I’d just ask a shopkeeper or a bum on the street for directions. Most days nobody really cared when or even if I brought them mail. That is, except for first and fifteenth of each month, when welfare checks were scheduled to be delivered. On those days, the check recipients, who otherwise rarely rose from bed before noon, were up with the roosters, awaiting checks. Continue reading


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Fighting the Good Fight

California Rural Legal Assistance has released its 2011 annual report, featuring three of my articles. CRLA is a legal aid organization that fights for the rights of those in California who struggle to make their voices heard, often collaborating with many local, state, and national organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center.�

via Fighting the Good Fight.


Filed under Publication

Reading to Write

Where have you been all my life? I don’t know how I missed you as I was wandering my way through my MFA. I don’t know why no one talked about you, not a teacher, a fellow student, or my next door neighbor. I once was lost, was blind, but now I’m found. Hallelujah! Continue reading

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Filed under Craft