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Featured, Lake Writers, Lifestyle, Point of View, POV, Sally Roseveare, Writing, Writing Style

Some Cliches Are True

January 9, 2017

It is said that when a writer dies, an entire library dies with her. It may be a cliche, but it is true. Take away a unique voice, and you lose all future books. Stories never told are lost forever. So when my dear friend, Sally Roseveare, lost her brief but intense battle with cancer at the end of 2016, I was heartbroken.

When my husband and I moved to Smith Mountain Lake, we knew no one. Not long after we settled into our new home, my husband found a notice in the local weekly for something called “Lake Writers” and a phone number. I called, spoke with the nicest man, Jim Morrison, and learned all about this club. Where it met. Who was welcome to join. How it functioned. I had just finished a draft of my first Mad Max novel, so I decided this would be a good group to join.

Sally was my first friend in the group, although we couldn’t have been more opposite. She was the quintessential Southern lady, soft-spoken, gentle manners, measured speech and a sensitivity that caused her to weep and laugh, sometimes at the same time. I was a free spirit from Southern California with a strong overlay of New York City snarkiness.

Sally offered to read my draft, which in my naivete, I thought was a final draft. She was kind enough to tell me it was all right as a first draft, but there were several things she thought should be changed. She said the voices of the two narrators were neither distinct nor compelling. She couldn’t tell who was telling the story without going back to the chapter heading to see whose point of view I was using. Really? Point of view? Well, maybe. Then she said I didn’t have a good hook at the beginning. I knew what a hook was, so I reread the opening chapter. She was right. No solid hook. Further, she didn’t like the way I presented the conflict. After all, this was the story of a marriage that dissolved because of the intervention of fate (an auto accident leading to traumatic brain injury) and a maniacal doctor who filled the wife’s head with ideas that weren’t her own. Hmm, no conflict? What about the fights the husband and wife had? Wasn’t that conflict? Lastly, she thought that maybe I had the wrong narrators.

Well, what did she know? Sally had only read the first fifty pages or so. The story really got rolling further along.

I continued attending Lake Writers meetings twice a month. Each time, I learned a bit more of my craft. When I was finally ready to confront my manuscript again, I realized Sally was right. No good point of view. Lousy voice. Conflict masquerading as wounded feelings without going much deeper. I needed a rewrite.

Once my main character claimed the story as her own–thank you, Mad Max, for yelling at me one night to tell the story your way–I undertook a total rewrite. Gone were the twin narrators. In was a single narrator, who had started life as a tertiary character. Gone was the conflict manifested at arguments; in came internal conflict about doing the right thing. A good starting hook.

Sally was gracious and read the rewrite, in spite of the fact that her sensitivity was challenged by my sometimes rough speech, a few f-bombs from one of the male characters, and some mildly graphic sex. She read and commented on the entire manuscript this time, questioning where I could write better, suggesting a tightening of the plot, beating me up to show the action and emotions, rather than tell them. And she was right.

And now, Sally’s great voice is silent. Her gay laughter gone, her gentle Southern accent adrift on the wind. This gentle grandmother who killed people in her cozy novels took her third novel and all her stories with her. We are left with her two novels, memories of her gentle nature, gestures of kindness that she wore like a second skin.

Rest in peace, dear friend. I will miss you always.

What do you think? Is she telling stories in Heaven, making people laugh, even as she recounts her research into the possibility of stuffing a fully-grown man’s body into a Porta-Potty? Probably.

Featured, Lake Writers, Lifestyle, Valley Writers, Writing


August 15, 2016

Over the past two weekends, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many writers and readers at two separate conferences. At both, I listened to people lament how at sea they felt when they moved to new communities and away from family and friends. That got me thinking about communities and villages.

We loosely use the word “community” when we talk about Facebook “friends,” many of whom we’ve never seen in person and who we will probably never see in person. We form mutable communities of people who enjoy certain activities. I have a circle of friends we see five Saturdays every year. They have season tickets for Navy home games. We’ve sat with them for nearly 10 years. That is a community bound by a football season. While we’ve tried to get together outside of the football season, our lives are so busy that we haven’t been able to find a weekend free. I’m looking forward to reuniting on September 3 at the first Navy home game against Fordham.

When Terry and I moved to Smith Mountain Lake, we promised ourselves that this would be the last move. We’d built the house of our dreams. (See above.) We furnished it with family treasures and squishy furniture that invites naps and lying around reading. I don’t think my husband really believed I was “here to stay” until I asked him to begin driving the packing boxes over to be recycled for other people moving around. Then, and only then, did he realize I meant it. I am “here to stay.”

That said, how to fit into a new area? My cousin Aleta Vail packed up and left the high desert of Southern California for Anchorage many years ago. We visited her after she’d been in residence for over a decade. Every place we went we met people who knew her. We wanted that experience. We wanted to make SML our village. But how to do that?

Terry was retired, and I was working three days a week as a consultant from a home office. Not exactly conducive to meeting people. Not being church goers, that obvious path was closed, so we looked around for places to volunteer or groups to join. Terry found a two-line announcement in the local weekly about a group of writers. A name, a phone number. I called. A week later, I went to my first meeting. I’ve been going twice a week ever since. That was nine years ago. From that group came an invitation to another writers group in Roanoke, about 25 miles away, an invitation to help with public relations for the local arts council and several other volunteer activities. I selected the two writers groups and the arts council. But what did Terry want to do?

One day, while out running errands, Terry came out of CVS to find a man on a motorcycle parked next to his. The local man didn’t recognize the bike and wanted to meet its rider. An exchange of phone numbers and now a group of retirees head out for day trips or week-long treks.

Terry also picked up interest in our local homeowners association, which led to the association of lake area associations (yes, there is such a creature), which led to involvement with a group of civic-minded individuals responsible for keeping our lake a clean place for recreation.

And so on, and so on, and Scooby-Dooby-Doo.

How do you become part of a new village?


Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and NobleI’m really excited that the trade paper edition of Uncharted Territory was released this week. Please follow me on my website, on TwitterFacebook and Goodreads.

Featured, Lake Writers, Valley Writers, Writing, Writing Groups

Writers Groups

May 30, 2016

Writers groups and book clubs are too frequently short-lived. Writers and readers come together with common goals, and after a while, life can get in the way. I’m in a newish book club, so I’m in no position to talk about them. What I am in a position to talk about is writers groups.

I’m in three, all of which I joined in the past ten years. I moved to my current home ten years ago and immediately wanted to get engaged with our community. I saw an announcement in a newspaper about Lake Writers, with a phone number and a name. Jim Morrison. (Okay, he’s not that Jim Morrison. I knew that Jim Morrison; in fact one of my girlfriends dated him before they made it big.) This Jim Morrison invited me to a Lake Writers meeting.

I was hooked. This group had several published writers who still came and offered critiques for snippets of writing. I started learning the first day. Three writers offered to read a manuscript I was so proud of. They didn’t like it. More important, they told me what didn’t work and how to fix it. I limped home, whimpered and went back to work. Jim suggested I meet with a group up in Roanoke. Different writers, similar focus. I did.

What does this have to do with how long writers groups last? Well, I thought you’d never ask. Lake Writers started in 2000 as the literary arm of the Smith Mountain Arts Council. Many of the same writers are still sharing their expertise and giving support.

Valley Writers celebrated its 35th anniversary in May 2016. We planned a cake, readings and critiques, and general hilarity. I brought a cake (see above. If you can’t read it, it says, “Valley Writers: 35 Years of Typos.” The bookmark has our starting date on it.) Now, we normally meet in the fellowship hall of a church. Not for our 35th. The man with the magic key was unable to come, so we met in the parking lot. It was a lovely spring evening. If you look close, you’ll see the cake is sitting on the trunk of a car on an army blanket. We cut the cake, ate standing up, took a group photo, and actually did some critiquing before the evening chill set in.

Writers have to be resourceful. We couldn’t make margaritas, because we lacked limes, ice, salt, tequila, etc., we had cake, a cake cutter, forks/napkins/plates, and big smiles. Writers are rarely put off when things don’t work out. We weren’t, although we would have enjoyed sitting down. Why this church doesn’t have picnic tables, I don’t know. Maybe Valley Writers can do something about that.

I mentioned three clubs. The other is The Virginia Writers Club, the state-wide organization for all writers in Virginia. And how old is this puppy, you ask? In 2018 we turn 100 years. That’s 100 years on consistent service to the writing community throughout the state. You’ll get time of me yapping about this before the anniversary events begin rolling out. Why? Because I’m in charge of them. I step down as president at the end of four wonderful years serving this terrific community. The incoming president asked me to work on the plans and execution of them for the next two years. It will be my honor.

Have you ever been in a writers group? If so, how long has it been around? Is it still around?


Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Please follow me on my website, on TwitterFacebook and Goodreads.
Karen Wrigley, Kathleen Grissom, Lake Writers, Sally Roseveare, Sedalia Writers Conference

Sedalia Conference Wrap Up

April 20, 2010

Once again, Darrell Laurent pulled off a terrific conference at the Sedalia Center tucked into the Blue Ridge mountains. A small group gathered on Friday for refreshments and “grip and grins.” We chatted over wine and cheese and got to know each other.

The “keynote” speaker, Kathy Grissom, has recently published her first book. She talked about how long it took her to write her novel, her trials with getting an agent, and finally getting picked up by Simon and Schuster. She read some selections and set the mood for the next day’s meeting.

And what was the mood? Almost otherworldly. It was clear that Kathy channelled a spirit who told her to tell her story. And what a story it is. When Kathy read the next day, she had many of us in tears from the beauty of her language and the seriousness of some of the passages she shared. I do not like historical fiction, but I bought two of her books: one for me, one for my daughter. I want to try and schedule Kathy to come and speak to my critique groups. She is willing.

The group here is Karen Wrigley from Lake Writers, Kathy Grissom, moi from Lake Writers and Sally Roseveare from Lake Writers. Aren’t we a clever group?

So, at the end of the conference, it was like saying farewell to old friends I just met. Awesome.

Lake Writers, Smith Mountain Lake, Writing

Writing on a Rainy Sunday Morning

August 2, 2009

I love rainy days when I can write and edit and rewrite to my heart’s content. Today was one such day.

I worked a bit more on tuning my first Mad Max novel, after a wee bit more feedback from one on my best friends. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have changed anything. Besides Mad Max 2 awaits in complete first draft.

Yesterday, four women writers took off on our boat for an afternoon of wine, writing, talking about plot and characters, and other mischief on Smith Mountain Lake. We had hoped for three more, but Sally Roseveare was doing her first book signing for Secrets of Sweetwater Cover, Becky Mushko was over at the Hanover Bookfest, and Claudia Condiff was coughing and hacking and didn’t feel at all well.

We had a perfect day of relaxing on and in the water before heading home for a barbeque with our husbands. And then the rains came. And came. And came. Oh well, I was already wet. . . .

So with yesterday’s inspiration and today’s rain to help, I tackled my query letter. And thanks to Sue Coryell, a fellow Lake Writer and YA novelist, I sent her the latest version for improvement.

August is query letter month. No but firsts.

Book Promotion, Lake Writers, Mystery, Shout Out

Shout Out to Sally Roseveare

July 11, 2009

My fellow Lake Writer, Sally Roseveare, is publishing her second Smith Mountain Lake Mystery next week!!! I was at her house two weeks ago when the last proof copy came in. Imagine two mature (all right, immature) women fairly dancing around her living room.

The book, SECRETS AT SWEETWATER COVE, is fantastic. It includes the same characters as her first book, SECRETS AT SPAWNING RUN. For those of us who live at Smith Mountain Lake, it’s like a tour of local places with a whole lot of mystery and danger thrown in. Aurora Harris, the protagonist of the first book, once again has to solve a mystery and save innocent people. But she doesn’t do it alone. She has King, her resourceful black Lab, and Little Guy, a neighbor’s intrepid Jack Russell terrier, to help.

If you are looking for something wonderful to read on the dock this summer, I strongly recommend both. I was honored to read the advanced copy and will definitely be at Sally’s first public reading.

Again, shameless promotion. Buy the book. You’ll get hooked on the characters.

Lake Writers

Writing News from Lake Writers

March 15, 2009

I have recently had the honor of working closely on manuscripts by two writers in Lake Writers. For the past several months, I have been an avid reader and concept editor for Don Fink, whose Escape to the Sky, is shaping up to a very good historical novel. He still has a couple of hundred pages left to write, but the plot is solid and the characters are very compelling.

I just concluded a line edit of Sally Roseveare’s second novel. Her first, Secrets of Spawning Run, has a devoted readership, which partially belies the idea that self-published fiction doesn’t sell. I think the next one will do as well, if not better. You can read more about Sally at her web site.

Now, we need Becky Mushko, with her middle grade novel, and Sue Coryell, with a young adult work, both picked up quickly by agents. I wish my fellow writers the best of good luck.

My fingers are crossed, although it makes typing very difficult jf;ljsd;lfjsd;l.

Journalism, Lake Writers, Politics, Reporters, Sound Bites, Truth

NPR and Me

October 8, 2008

I had been working on an essay about voting, spin, not believing what candidates say, and checking facts when one of my colleagues at Valley Writers suggested I send it in to our local NPR station, WVTF. At first, I was sceptical, but the more I thought about it, I decided I didn’t have much to lose. After all, nothing ventured, nothing sprained.

The long and short of it is that I recorded the essay below, Listen Carefully, on Friday, Oct. 3. It aired on Monday, Oct. 6, the last day for voters to register in Virginia. To access the recorded essay, please go to WVTF.

I believe in the power of words, written, spoken, and thought. I believe that freedom of speech is inviolate. I believe words can be helpful or harmful, supportive or hurtful, constructive or destructive. I believe my beloved grandmother was wrong when she said “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me,” because sometimes words can be ugly, demeaning, and misleading.

Words bind communities together and the same words spoken derogatorily tear communities apart. I believe as a crafter of words I have an awesome responsibility to know the difference.

We receive much of our information today intangibly – on television and on the radio. Less often, we receive it in written format, reading yesterday’s news printed on a dead tree with ink that stains our hands, but leaves little impact on our minds.

A few decades ago we began receiving dumbed-down messages — news stories became shorter, language became simplistic, reporting became entertainment. The “sound bite” has done more to damage our understanding than anything else. We rarely if ever hear the entire message.

It is difficult if not impossible to reach an informed decision from a sound bite. It is too easy to skew a message in less than fifteen seconds.

A dozen lake friends have met regularly this election season. We watched the early debates, the main convention speeches, and the most recent Presidential debate. We represent both major parties; several remain uncommitted. And we have been watching the political ads more closely this year than in elections past. I am horrified at the misrepresentations and outright lies fed to us as truth.

Last weekend, this group argued loudly after the final credits of the first Presidential debate faded from the screen. I was stunned at the number of my friends who still believed lies that had been debunked months earlier: the Obama Muslim hoax, the Palin “thanks but no thanks” misrepresentation, and McCain distancing himself from President Bush.

Suddenly, we became fixated on a political ad, a black and white picture of a bearded Tom Perriello, darkened and distorted with striations across his face. Each point the voice-over narrator made was accompanied by a crack like a gunshot. No mention was made of the fact that the photo was taken when Mr. Perriello was in Darfur working with refugees. And then came the tag line: “I’m Virgil Goode and I approved this message.”

The argument stopped. It didn’t matter whether we supported Mr. Goode or Mr. Perriello. We gaped in shock. We wondered if voters would check the facts or believe the fear factor clearly implied with this spot.

As sentient beings we have the onus to review and think carefully about the messages fed to us like so much mush. We have the responsibility to sound off, make our voices heard, and combat disinformation.

The Constitution provides us the right to freedom of speech. It does not provide us with the right to lie, misrepresent, or spin. It is up to us to listen carefully, check facts, and repeat what has been verified as truth.

I urge all of us to question the information we receive. When we embrace the truth, we can work as a group to regain the high ground we once held in the world. If we succumb to negativism and believe the lies, we belong in the mud. To prevent that from happening, I urge all citizens once again to exercise a sacred privilege and vote.

This I believe.

Update: On Oct. 9 I learned that this essay is being used in a Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University class on news reporting as an example of what everyone reporter should consider before putting fingers to keyboard. Thank you, Bill Loftus.

Lake Writers, Smith Mountain Lake, Writing

A Published Essay

September 29, 2008

It seemed as if I would never find an editor who would publish anything I wrote. Then along came Lake Life, a publication of the Smith Mountain Eagle. Lake Life is a semi-annual glossy dedicated to promoting life at the most beautiful lake in Virginia — if not in the world. The essay is called “Settlin’ In — At Smith Mountain Lake.”

Two years ago, November 2006, my husband, Terry Naylor, and I moved into our dream house at the lake. We had prepared for the move for years. First we found the right lot in 1999. We knew we were going to build a log home, so we interviewed several builders before finding one who would build the house we wanted, not the house he wanted. Finally we broke ground in 2000. By May 2001, the house was ready, but we weren’t. After all, we had jobs and lives in northern Virginia, so this became our weekend place.

The more time we spent here, however, the more we knew we wouldn’t be satisfied being weekenders. We wanted to be year-rounders. We debated when we would move, ultimately deciding that 2006 was it.

We made our lists, checked them twice and slowly weeded things we no longer needed from our formal Colonial. After we put it on the market, Terry quit his part time job at Home Depot and returned to full-time retirement from IBM. He spent most weekends supervising constructing the garage and finishing the basement. I made weekly trips down Route 29 in a car so full I couldn’t see out of the windows. Nothing rode for free, except our cat in her “condo.”

Then one day we were ready. The movers came, the final items were donated, and we said farewell to a great group of neighbors.

We unpacked and decorated for the holidays, even lucking out and selling our house “up north” on New Year’s Eve. Suddenly we faced with the ultimate challenge for everyone who moves: making new friends.

We used my cousin Aleta as a positive example. Ten years ago she left Southern California for Alaska where she knew exactly no one. Now ten years later she can’t go anywhere in Anchorage without meeting friends. We wanted to be like her.

I read the calendar section of the Eagle religiously, looking for activities. I’m not a crafter, so all activities like quilting and pottery were out. Because I love to read, book clubs looked interesting, but not interesting enough. Besides, I am driven to write even more than to read.

One day I saw a calendar entry for Lake Writers. I’ve been writing, and not publishing, fiction for years. I’d already had a couple of bad episodes with other writers’ groups, but I picked up the phone and called Jim Morrison who encouraged me to come to a meeting. I knew I’d found a home. I liked the people, the way they interacted and their supportive criticism of people’s efforts. I was inspired to keep fingers on keyboard and crank out pages.

I soon learned that around the lake when you join one group, you’ll soon be introduced to others with overlapping members. Again, Jim Morrison suggested I call SMAC, because it was looking for a press relations director. With a professional background in marketing, among other things in my overly crowded resume, it seemed like a logical fit, except I didn’t know what SMAC was. Don Fink, another Lake Writer, explained what SMAC does and handed me a membership form.

After meeting with the president, I liked what I heard and agreed to do PR. I met a great group of dedicated and passionate people who were deeply involved in all types of arts and at least one who ties to Lake Writers. I started running into them in shops and other places. Hmm, I began to feel more like I belong here.

Terry is a motorcyclist and enjoys long distance touring. He stopped one warm winter day in early 2007 for coffee at a local gas station. When he came out, a man was parked beside him, waiting. They introduced themselves, actually discovered they knew people in common back in New York, and exchanged numbers. Daily rides grew into road trips to motorcycle races. They’ve gone to the Mid-Ohio races two years in a row and are already planning for next year’s trip.

While I was busy raising my hand to volunteer, Terry joined the board of our local owner’s association, which led to ALAC meetings, which led to him becoming very concerned about the relicensing debate. Soon he will join me on the SMAC board.

Several months later, Jim Morrison mentioned a media relations opportunity for SMLA. By now, I’d been here long enough to know what that acronym meant and what the group did. I had another conversation with another president, attended a board meeting and was hooked. This time I would be writing articles about water quality, weeds, fertilizer and sewage removal for the Eagle. I had no idea how challenging it would be to make poop, um, fertilizer, and weeds, not weed, interesting.

Now, nearing the end of two years in residence full-time, Terry and I kept our promises to meet people and get involved. I made my husband a promise: if opportunity in the form of a call or e-mail from Jim Morrison arrives, I won’t answer.

I have to credit Jim with being a catalyst for where I am today at the lake. It’s all your fault, Jim. Thanks.

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