Listening to Stories

I am a student in the Low Residency program at The Institute for American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

The Low Rez program is amazing. I have had several kind and amazing writing teachers. I’ll go more into that in a later post.

My mentor this semester is Tommy Orange. His debut novel, There There, will come out form Alfred A. Knopf on June 5, 2018. You should pre-order it from your local independent bookstore now.

In our brief time working together, I have learned so much from Tommy. Lessons that are making my writing better.

One of his suggestions was to listen to a Podcast made by The New Yorker. I’ve listened to some great fiction on this podcast. I love being read to. Some of the most fun bits are when writers choose a story by another author, talk about it, and then you get to hear the story. The craft of writing is on the dissection table. But it’s fun.

Tommy was featured on the podcast recently. I have heard Tommy read before and he never disappoints. Tommy Orange reads “The State” from his forthcoming novel, There There.


Go do stuff

Sadly, a certain amount of benign neglect makes for an interesting life. Feel stupid having bought my family this book when l went to school and left them alone for 9 days in a cabin in the woods. You know. On a mountain. With no phone. No electric.

It would have felt irresponsible to say, let them run wild and take a nap. But honestly, that’s why kids in the 70s had a great time, when they didn’t go missing…

So, all this is to say, go do stuff.

Writers Read

above/top: Cover of 4 Kids Walk into a Bank.

Directly above: quote adapted from Scorsese’s Mean Streets, ” You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it in the home. The rest is bullshit and you know it.”

4 Kids Walk into a Bank was unputdownable. My only complaint is the publisher should have included a Cracker Jack box with a magnifying glass prize so you can read one character’s word bubbles because they are font size 3 or something.

This book is pretty much what the cover says it is, “a torrid tale of child crime.” Think Scorsese directing 11 year olds foiling, then planning a Bank heist.

I can’t take credit for finding this on my own. Stephen Graham Jones over at is a writer who consumes a lot of cool things. And then he writes a lot of cool things. I don’t think he sleeps.

Order it at your favorite comic book store or book store or wherever you like to buy stuff.

Flashback to the Present

Native writers at Kweli’s Color of Children’s Literature Conference in April 2016
Front: L to R: Charlene Willing McManis (Grand Ronde); Andrea L. Rogers (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma); Marcie Rendon (White Earth (Anishinaabe) Nation)
Back: L to R: Natalie Dana (Passamaquoddy); Laura Kaye Jagles (Tesuque Pueblo); Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation); Joseph Bruchac(Abenaki); and Kevin Maillard (Seminole)

Two years ago, I got to hang out with all these lovely writers at KWELI’s Color of Children’s Literature Conference in New York. And this year, I’m going back!

But today I wanted to share an interview involving two of the cool people I met there.

Traci Sorrell interviewed Charlene Willing McManis on her goal to be a children’s writer.

Back Door Book Shop

This place had achieved urban myth status for me. I had heard it existed but no one could give me an address. “Hole in the wall.” “Hidden green door.” “Quaint.” “Fantastic used book store.” “Great prices.”

When my work recently moved downtown, a Moroccan Coffee place within walking distance was recommended to me. Curious, I went in search of tea and coffee.

And stumbled upon the green door. Actually, I seriously did stumble into a planter while trying to get the photo that included the corner sign, banging into the concrete planter along the street and scraping my leg in the process. I bleed for art.

The Back Door Book Shop has expanded recently. There are many rooms of used books and it’s cash only. The hours are from 11-3, Monday through Friday. And, my dear reader, I’m going to give you what no one else had given me, an address: 901 Throckmorton Street, Fort Worth, Texas. Phone number is 817.336.1021 It’s like having the latitude and longitude of the Holy Grail’s storage room.

Casablanca Coffee next door is fabulous, as well.

Start a Book Club

You’ve devoured the book.  All done, right?

Wrong.  A great meal tastes better when you tell someone about it.

Books are the same way.  Talking about books allows you to experience the work in a different way.  It forces you to think harder.  You are no longer passively absorbing story.  You are interacting with the work.  You have to defend, explain or vilify the characters, the story, and sometimes the author.  It’s what I miss most about school.  I love being in a place where ideas and books are currency; where watching television can’t be the default because you have only one week to finish The Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela (507 pages, 1.8 lbs).  For a time, it was recreated for me through a wonderful book club I was invited to in Dallas.  When I moved to Fort Worth, that book club was left behind.

I found I really missed talking about story.READ

I decided to start a new book club in Fort Worth.  I had no idea how long it would take.  I thought I could just tell people about it and it would happen.  Alas, it took more work than that.  I made announcements at my neighborhood association meetings.  My aunt got interested.  I posted a sign-up sheet at a neighborhood picnic and several people signed up but then didn’t respond to my e-mails.  I placed an announcement on the neighborhood electronic bulletin board and in a newsletter.  My aunt’s friends got interested and invited some of their neighbors.  We organized via e-mail and telephone and conversations at neighborhood meetings.  Titles were suggested and books were passed around.  A year after I first put my desire out into the universe, I had a new group of friends with whom I could discuss books.  

What surprised me most is once the book club started, it was it’s own child.  It didn’t belong to me.  It’s over two years old now.  From the start, the titles weren’t from my personal book bucket list.  And that was okay.  If I was the only one who couldn’t make it to a meeting, it happened without me.  And that was okay.  My aunt sent out e-mails, kept track of titles  read, suggested works and whose home we met in.  That was even better than okay.

Recently, I considered skipping a night because I hadn’t had time to read the novel.  I was worried it would be awkwardly obvious.  Then a young woman in my neighborhood died suddenly.  It was sad and tragic and completely unexpected and it happens every day.  I realized that, though I started book club because I loved books, book club was also about relationships.  It is important to make time to be with people you love who love books and love you.  If not now, when?

It was more than a book club.

Books gave us a place to travel together, a table where we got to know each other.  Our community of book lovers wasn’t just a literature class.  It was something the other women looked forward to and appreciated.  Instead of simply satisfying my selfish wants, it fed a need I didn’t know I had and an absence in my community.  When you hear about a book through someone else’s eyes and heart, you learn a lot about that person.  Each person experiences the same book differently.  Book club allows us to critique the meal and express our hunger or satiation.  Sometimes we find we have tastes in common.

And then there’s the food.  That’s another post altogether.

Half Price Book Barn

I love this little bookstore. It’s in a house just South of the Justin Boot Factory parking lot. Today I scored a Dracula comic book from 1974 for $3 for my husband as a Valentine’s day gift. And a pulp novel with an pulp cover for $1. I spent about $50 and the owner was happy. You spend $50 at a big book store and you won’t see this much joy. They truly appreciate your business and have great prices.

They’re open Tuesday through Friday from 10:30 to 5:30 at 321 Hemphill in Fort Worth, Texas. It’s owned by Jean Rance and Bobbie Brown. You feel good spending money here and you’re sure to find something you love.

Fort Worth famous author trivia, Patricia Highsmith’s Grandmother owned a boarding house between the store and the Justin Book Factory. The author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train spent a good deal of her early life in Fort Worth. I can’t help but wonder which amusement park she was thinking of in the climax of Strangers on a Train.