Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Writing Groups Part II: The Biscuits

Last week I profiled my spec-fiction writing group, The Inklings II. This week is all about my literary writing group, The Biscuits. This group actually began as a writing contest between author Melinda Combs and me. Yep, you read that right, a writing contest—that’s how nerdy we are. It all started during a camping trip when Mindi and I started talking smack about which of us was more prolific as a writer (copious beer consumption probably played a large role in boisterousness). To settle things, Mindi suggested a competition, and just like that we were off. We came up with an overly-complex set of scoring rules and poneyed up some cash to make things interesting. I don’t even remember who won that first contest, but it sparked a new contest, and then another, and before long we were recruiting new blood and spicing things up with bigger cash prizes and embarrassing punishments for whoever came in last place. (I once had to sing Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” at a karaoke bar, for example, but the joke was on them, as the only thing my singing punished was their eardrums.)

Along with the scoring competition component, we integrated the traditional aspects of a writing group—workshopping, talking shop, offering up reading suggestions, etc.—and at some point, the contest itself got a little played out and we scrapped it. These days we meet once a month to workshop each other’s work and talk shop, barbecue, and enjoy craft brew. No more cash prizes or embarrassing punishments. We’re an eclectic group, which is good because everyone brings something different to the table and we’re always learning from each other. I can tell you that they have all been a big influence in helping me become the writer I am today. Thanks, Biscuits!

Melinda J. Combs mocks the corporate world, overzealous brides, and the paleo diet in her fiction, which has been most recently published in Gargoyle journal. When she's not doing that, she is working on a memoir about her complicated relationship with her father, a big game hunter. Although she doesn't hunt and finds the practice to be barbaric, she relishes the time with him in the outdoors, whether it be in southern Texas or Mozambique. Prior to working on her memoir, she helped Jack Lindquist write a business memoir about his 38 years with the Disney Company. In Service To The Mouse is currently available at major bookstores and online. To learn more about Melinda's work, check out her website at

Eric Scot Tryon shares the unique distinction with Garrett Calcaterra as being the only two people in both The Biscuits and Inklings II. His writing leans more towards the literary side (as evidenced by his publication in journals like Glimmer Train and Willow Springs), and therefore fits in well with the Biscuits, but Tryon also writes Magical Realism and is a big fan of Bradbury and Vonnegut, so the Inklings II are happy to have him too. For his full profile, check out last week’s post on the Inklings II.

Thanks to the brilliant input of his writer friends, Jeffrey K. Wallace's short stories and essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, and Family Circle magazine, among others. His "No One Saw a Thing” essay appeared in the Good Men Project anthology and was reprinted in Penthouse, but Jeff makes a big deal about pointing out that it had nothing whatsoever to do with sex. He's currently working on a colorful but crinkly quilt made of rejection slips—as well as several new stories.

Jennifer Carr is a novelist who learned she had to be a short story writer in order to sell a novel so is furiously writing away at short stories while finishing up her final novel revisions, because you can't be a short story writer without having a novel (at least if you want to sell a collection), so now, with a second novel started, the first novel in final revisions, she spends all her time as a mole-person writing short stories until they're ready to submit to a place that, according to the recent New Yorker experiment, has a low success rate unless you have a collection to enter into contests in the hope that the literary magazines that all rejected you will come knocking on your email soliciting for first serial rights to a short story from said collection. Jennifer Carr has recently taken up drinking obsene amounts of coffee and alcohol. Aside from attending Sirenland Writers Conference and Tin House Summer Writers Workshops, she looks forward to her future as a gentlewoman of leisure.

Abbe Levine is something of a fish out of water in the group, as the resident playwright/screenwriter in the midst of fiction-philes. Abbe's plays have received readings and productions throughout Los Angeles and Orange County. She is currently a part of a development workshop at the Ruskin Group Theatre and is developing a project through Fell Swoop Playwright's Collective for the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Her play, The God-Shaped Hole, was selected for a full production through the OC Centric Play Festival and, in 2011, her play, Puppets, was a semi-finalist (top 10) for the Samuel Goldwyn awards. In the world of film, Abbe has optioned a screenplay to the Hallmark channel and worked for several years as a reader for Lawrence Gordon Productions (the team behind Watchmen and Hellboy). She uses the writer's group as equal parts creative inspiration, group therapy, and a source for good beer.

John Matthew Fox grew up in Southern California and believes eighty degrees is the perfect temperature. His fiction has won the Third Coast contest, judged by Ann Beattie, and has also won the Shenandoah fiction award, judged by R.T. Smith. Other short stories have appeared in Bellingham Review, Arts and Letters, Cream City Review, Tampa Review, and Los Angeles Review. He's recently finished a short story collection about Protestant missionaries and is working on a novel set entirely on a cruise ship. At BookFox, a literary blog, he has covered short stories, novels, and literary news for the past five years, gaining accolades from The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, Utne Reader, Writer’s Digest, Publisher’s Weekly, and Huffington Post.

Joshua Jennings Wood: writer. That is category enough. Josh’s writing encompasses poetry, fiction, humor, and serious cultural commentary. He writes for both page and stage, screen and…screen. JJW is poetry editor of dirtcakes, a journal that explores themes suggested by the UN Millennium Development Goals to end extreme poverty by 2015. It's a lofty and sobering goal, but the writing inside isn't always. dirtcakes attempts to re-frame familiar words like hunger & doctor by compiling multiple perspectives on the words associated with each goal. The journal is a dedicated temporary endeavor, in the style of other short term activities like pop up restaurants, flash mobs—and attention spans. He blogs on cultural and literary happenings at the site, too. JJW's additional publications include The North American Review, Chaparral, DIAGRAM, SpiralOrb, and VOLT. He received a John Fowles Fiction Writing Award and was a finalist for the Pablo Neruda and James Hurst Poetry Prizes. Lastly and most importantly, he and his wife have two boys whose combined age is eight. A quick math quiz will show you why Josh's life is extremely fulfilled—and sleep-deprived.

-Garrett Calcaterra

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