About Rose Gonsoulin

Rose Gonsoulin lives in the Sonoran desert with Chloe, Lucy and The Weasel. Like the poet, Wallace Stevens, she has spent the better part of her career in the Surety industry. Her first novel, Outside The Men’s Room, is available from Amazon. She is currently working on her second novel and a collection of short stories.

Reading Outside the Box

DSCF0545Sometimes we don’t notice the self-constructed boundaries we live within. Often it takes stepping outside the box to recognize the limitations we’ve unconsciously imposed upon ourselves.

My reading tastes lean toward biographies and classic novels rather than contemporary bestsellers. I can’t stand a movie like Coyote Ugly. And I wasn’t going to read Eat, Pray, Love simply because of my physique—it’s hard to relate to someone needing to travel to Italy to eat pizza and pasta for the main purpose of gaining weight. Never gonna happen to me.

As you might guess the creator of those two works, Elizabeth Gilbert, is not in my reading circle and I didn’t expect to put any of her books on my “want to read” list.

So it was through happenstance—a free ticket to hear her talk and a borrowed copy of The Signature of All Things—that forced me to step outside my normal reading box.

As a narrator, Gilbert is a bit heavy-handed, but she’s got a confident voice with an excellent command of language and imagery. Her style is too verbose at times—three similes where one would do fine. Yet I often found myself admiring her firm hand as a storyteller. The thread of ideas, the history and deep-dive into botany, biology, and the psyche of an inquisitive intellect give the story a rich feel. Which is a real feat considering the main character, Alma Whitaker, is dull of face, thick of body, and has a sharp but unimaginative mind.

Born in the late eighteenth century, half English, half Dutch, Alma grows up in a small, but prosperous Pennsylvania family. Living a largely cerebral life as her father’s companion in his botany trade, it is only late in life (post menopausal) when she meets Ambrose Pike. He’s much younger than her and while there’s an instant connection between them, the attraction is unbalanced. The failure of their relationship is what drives the plot forward.

It was the sexual element Gilbert wove into the story that caught me by surprise. I’m not a prude by any stretch but the self-gratification of her main character was creepy, and the word quim was especially disturbing for some reason. The homosexuality was awkward too. None of it felt authentic to me.

Perhaps it’s because Gilbert couldn’t quite eliminate the 21st century sensibility in her narrator’s voice. Or perhaps it’s because the women of science and exploration that I’ve read about all seemed to lack a strong sexual side. I might have mistakenly assumed it’s necessary to be a scientist first and a woman second to be successful in the world of scientific study. My personal bias didn’t want to give room to Alma’s sensual side. This was probably more my fault than Gilbert’s.

The story ends in Amsterdam in a form of reconciliation with her mother’s family whom Alma never knew. The ending is inventive and provocative, culminating in Alma playing a hidden role in the discovery of natural selection. This is the twist in the story that was particularly satisfying to me. It’s so true that women have been and continue to be an unseen force behind the exploration and discovery of science and nature. Many of the important advances of man stand on the shoulders of a woman’s work. Rosalind Franklin and the structure of DNA is an example from recent history.

This is why The Signature of All Things played to one of my fondest musings—that there’s a trove of unknown women explorers, adventurers, scientist and true lovers of knowledge out there just waiting to be discovered.

And, what’s really amazing is that the same author responsible for a fluff piece such as Coyote Ugly produced an interesting novel about an intelligent, pragmatic virgin.

Step outside your box. You might just discover something new about yourself.

Oh Please, Do Tell


Show, don’t tell. Put the reader in the moment. Activate the senses with detail. Be specific.

These are all necessary lessons and they’re repeated like a common mantra in just about every creative writing course. It’s not bad advice. There’s nothing wrong with learning how to show a character with action or set the theme with an image of the natural elements. But when writing is burdened with too much showy detail, it’s more distraction than illumination.

What if the slap of frigid cold air, the sting from the stench of rancid cooking oil, sweat dripping, palms itching, nose twitching and fingers fidgeting was all crammed into the first page of a story? Does the reader really need to be reminded of every bodily function a human being could feel in a ten second interval?


Gravy (Photo credit: Knile)

“Show, don’t tell” can persuade the beginning writer to add oodles of boring minutia, killing the pleasure of the story, and overwhelming the plot. It’s detail for detail’s sake and the results are typically clumsy and amateurish. I know because that’s the feedback I received from an early piece. It didn’t have details sprinkled or woven into the story. Rather it was image after image, ladled on like thick gravy covering the main course.

I had over-learned the lesson “show, don’t tell.”

Slenderly, languidly, their hands set lightly on their hips, the two young women preceded us out onto a rosy-colored porch, open toward the sunset, where four candles flickered on the table in the diminished wind.

This famous passage from The Great Gatsby is in the first chapter when Daisy and her cousin are sauntering out to the patio. It captures the setting wonderfully and deserves its place up on the literary pedestal of imagery par excellence.

chase: 100 pts: the great gatsby

chase: 100 pts: the great gatsby (Photo credit: emdot)

But well before this lovely sentence Fitzgerald had used a “tell”, so plain and effective, it laid the foundation for the showy parts to work their magic.

Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn.

The narrator had already pulled us into the story by telling us who he is, and how a certain man had altered his moral compass.

And this is the lesson I wish I’d heard early on—writing is all about how to balance show and tell.

Narration, exposition, stream of consciousness are needed to move the story along or reveal an internal frame of mind. Learning to write narrative that doesn’t sound like a lecture or feel heavy handed and intrusive, that skill is possibly the most important. Because a string of images needs a narrative spine to hold the story together.

... it was the season of Darkness

… it was the season of Darkness (Photo credit: Avital Pinnick)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …

Can’t you just see young Dickens in a creative writing class at his local community college? He turns in the first chapter to A Tale of Two Cities only to be told the opening lines are too general and excessively broad. The instructor hates the comma splices and suggests he try to give a specific example, to learn to “show, don’t tell”.

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How to Run a Writing Group: Gathering Members

The assorted authors on this blog belong to a writing group in Phoenix, Arizona, and we thought we would share some of our ideas and experience. This is one in a series of posts we’ve put together on The Care and Feeding of a Writing Group.

Gathering Writing Group Members

Image by Evelyn Saenz

Image by Evelyn Saenz

Every article or self-help book on becoming a writer suggests joining a writers group to improve your skills through feedback. If you’ve searched all the usual venues—local library, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers—and not found an existing writers group you want to join, then it’s time to start a new one.

The first step is to expand your network. In this case, you are searching for individuals with a shared interest in improving their writing skills. Networking can be as basic as when you’re at a party and meet someone who’s interested in books or as far reaching as posting a notice on Craigslist or Reddit.

An easy way to start is to head back to your local library, the community center, independent bookstores, and coffee shops and post an announcement about your writers group. Search the local papers and smaller press for open mic events featuring poetry. The venue hosting the event would be another excellent spot for advertising a writers group.

If you’ve already completed the first step—defining your group—this is where that whole process pays off.  Now you’ll craft your notice consistent with the group goals.  Whether your group is  a hard-core critique group, or a more nurturing creative endeavor should be clear in the ad. Are beginners welcome? Is the focus on getting published or as simple as getting started writing? Tags like Creative versus Critique will set the tone in your posting. Develop a clear message about the group and leave your contact information. If you post a notice in three or four places, you’re more likely to get a few responses.

Another place to find potential members is to attend a local book fair. Walk around and talk to the authors. Find out who lives in your area, and who might be interested in forming a new group. Sometimes the local chapter of national writers groups, like Sisters in Crime or the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, will have a booth or table at book events. Leave your contact information with anyone who shows an interest.

Many writers groups are formed by students who’ve met in a creative writing class at a community college. Relationships are formed during the course, and it’s only a matter of continuing the routine.  If you don’t have time for a full blown course, then check out a one day workshop. During breaks you can introduce yourself to others who seem to have similar interests and tell them about your writers group. And, you could join a national writers group, even if it’s not exactly your genre. It’s all about making contacts to find potential members.

Once you have some responses, even if it’s only one person, don’t be afraid to start small. Set up a time and place to gather, each bringing a short sample of writing. That’s your inaugural meeting. Let it grow from there.

Don’t stop looking for new members either. When someone comes along that fits the group, even if the group is a little big, welcome in the new influence. Because sure enough, Life happens and there will be members who drop out. The number of members isn’t nearly as important as the commitment of the people in the group—as long as everyone shares the same goals—that’s what counts.

As few as two people can be effective if it is a serious critique session. When both members are producing a steady stream of output to be reviewed, this can be an ideal set-up for completing a project with the goal of having a publishable product. A small group can be just the sort of intimate, deep-dive needed to get to the finish line.

As many as twenty members won’t be overwhelming if there’s sufficient time and an effective process to give everyone an opportunity to give and receive feedback.  A large group is a great setting if you are seeking a broad perspective for a new idea or working through a specific problem.

But, small or large, a group can get out of control when there’s an imbalance. This typically happens if there’s a hog in the group, hog being the person that must dominate every discussion, thereby crowding out other voices at the table. As the group founder, you’ll also be expected to facilitate the meetings. This means finding ways to keep the discussion moving and ensuring all the voices are heard.

Besides being the facilitator and the founder, you’ll also need to model the behavior of a good team member. A good member comes prepared by reading all the material. A good member provides feedback in a positive and respectful manner. Members who only show up when they have something they’ve written but never appear at other times aren’t contributing. And, likewise the purpose of the group is to encourage everyone to contribute new work, so it isn’t helpful having members who are only readers and not writers.

Writers groups are the most productive when all the members are giving as much as they are taking.

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Doomsday Book Launch: Outside The Men’s Room

Outside the Men's Room

Outside the Men’s Room

Last Sunday at our writer’s meeting, a forum which is part pat-on-the-back, part kick-in-the-pants, I announced that, barring any unforeseen obstacles, my first novel would be on Kindle with the final book cover and the last edit. Tim Giron quickly pointed out I had left lots of leeway for not getting it done with the qualifier about “unforeseen obstacles”. He wasn’t the only skeptical person at the table.

See, for the past six months, every time someone asked about the progress of my book, I held up my hand to show about half an inch of space between my index finger and my thumb, saying “It’s this close.”

But this time it was close. After an Editorial Review and the revisions that followed, then a Copy Edit review by an English teacher, and another fresh read by a friend who’d never seen the material before, and then reciting all 100,000 words out loud, I’d handed over the manuscript for one final Proof Edit.

My Proof Editor (aka The Nit-Pick) had completed her review. She’d sent her notes in a file format that was hard to read. We arranged to meet on Monday evening with the expectation there would be a quick once over of the changes, an exchange of funds and the book would be ready for publishing.

In preparation for this last step, I’d deciphered about two-thirds of the changes she’d recommended, and made the revisions. The rest were minor adjustments, style differences by and large.

I arrived forty-five minutes early, eager to get started, very much feeling the finality of soon to be ending this long drawn out process.

She arrived and announced that she lost all her notes in electronic format (don’t ask how). To compensate, she’d started re-reading the book. Then she explained that she had found even more things to question and had accumulated twice as many edits as before with less than half the novel read.

Once again I had fallen into Editing Hell.

Two hours into our review and I was losing my grip on reality. I looked down at the pages of the Nit-Pick’s tiny, hand-written notes about moving commas and word choices and realized we weren’t even through Chapter Six yet.

I grabbed her arm and said “It’s done. No more editing.”

So, stop reading this and go check it out. It’s live now, warts and all.

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Story Forge – A Soldier in Southfield

This is the second short story written from our Film Noir Story Forge layout. Our group each took the same layout as a starting point, but came up with very different stories. You can read all of our Story Forge pieces here.

Never Gonna Cry Again 2 by alphadesigner

Never Gonna Cry Again 2 by alphadesigner

It could have happened anywhere in the country but this particular incident took place in Southfield, Michigan. It’s a common enough story about a soldier returning home, leaving the war zone but not the war.

Not long after Lieutenant Colonel Chris Bradley retired from the Army, surviving three tours overseas, twice in Afghanistan and once in Iraq, he settled into the family home that his parents had abandoned for Florida. His childhood neighborhood didn’t exist any longer, now as foreign as the dry barren terrain of the Middle East. The houses on both sides were occupied by people from a different culture, the Islamic culture that had baffled him in its place of origin, and was even more puzzling here in the old stomping grounds of Southfield.

The house that was closest to Bradley’s was occupied by a couple from Pakistan with three children and a pair of parents, his mother and her father, all living under one roof. They were quiet and didn’t disturb anyone. The basketball hoop over the garage went unused and they were rarely seen, the women especially. Occasionally Chris would see the son walking home from school, a slender boy with a slight limp named Ahmed.

Only one other neighbor from his childhood hadn’t sold out. Mr. Vincent lived across the street. He sat on his porch most evening, luring Chris over with beers, a game of checkers and talk of the old neighborhood. It was ironic because Chris had been frightened of Mr. Vincent—years ago he’d seemed ancient and imposing to his adolescent’s mind.

Mr. Vincent wove story after story of the onslaught against the American culture, the threats to the Judeo-Christian heritage Chris had fought for. He sat listening to Mr. Vincent rail against the neighbors, his parents included, for moving away so they didn’t have to see the takeover of Islam.

One evening while they were on Mr. Vincent’s porch, there was screaming next door. A hysterical young woman, wearing a head scarf but with her face uncovered, came running out the front door screaming. Her clothes were on fire. On reflex, Chris stood up and ran to help. He pushed her to the ground and rolled her body in the grass, using his own body to extinguish the flames.  The smell of kerosene was unmistakable.

No one emerged from inside the house where the women came from. Mr. Vincent stood at the edge of his porch, looking on.

“Call 9-11,” Chris yelled. Others had come out of their homes but no one moved.

His truck was in the driveway. Chris scooped the young woman into his arms and rushed her to the passenger side of his truck.  The truck screeched as he backed out and swung around, leaving tire marks as he headed toward the hospital.

She wailed and moaned in the seat and when Chris tried to ask her in how it happened, all she did was scream and cry. The smell of kerosene filled the truck, but he didn’t ask, only staring at her face, twisted in pain.

There was a bronze tone in her skin and she had a long straight nose with close set eyes. There were flecks of green in the light honey colored pupils, flecks of beauty shining through the pain. Even in anguish she was lovely and he wanted desperately to make her pain go away, to see her smile.

Chris drove straight to the area where the ambulances dropped off the urgent cases. When the doctors began to ask what happened, she whimpered in what Chris recognized as an Afghanistan dialect of Pashto. He would find out later she was brought to Southfield by her husband and his family.

The only English the young woman spoke were fragments of worry that there was no money for doctors. His heart clenched like a fist, hating how their culture treated women, knowing the husband and his family must have abused this innocent young woman.

The police were called and when questioned, Chris revealed his suspicions, the smell of an accelerant.

He’d seen the family before, the men coming and going, the women covered when they left the house. There were at least a half dozen people living in the home. He knew the burning wasn’t an accident, but a punishment gone wrong.

Her name was Sabia; it meant pretty girl. He waited until she was in a room resting. The heavy clothes had protected her body. A yellowish ointment was smeared over her arms, chest and hands. Incoherent she jabbered and mumbled in a half sleep. He couldn’t understand all the words but he knew what her cries meant. For no rational reason Chris made a promise to himself that he’d keep her safe. He used the smattering of Pashto he knew to soothe her and then he left the hospital full of thoughts of how to take care of her after her release. She couldn’t go home and it didn’t seem wise to have her move into his house, directly across the street from the family who tried to burn her to death. Maybe a shelter for abused women.

When he arrived home, a police car was parked on the street and a news van from the local television station was in front of his house.

Mr. Vincent was still on his porch and Chris climbed up the steps, leery of the news crew. The other neighbors were out, mostly dark skinned men in small groups, smoking cigarettes and talking amongst themselves. He saw a woman in a burka move away from the window inside Sabia’s house.

Before Chris could ask Mr. Vincent what had happened, the police were walking a young man in handcuffs out of Sabia’s house. The man was being led out of the garage and down the short driveway toward a patrol car. The news team moved quickly, the cameraman jogging after the reporter as they tried to get a shot of the man whom Chris assumed was Sabia’s husband. He was short with a round belly, dressed in slacks and a gray shirt, with the same oily black hair and dark skin Chris had lived among for years, fought for their freedom.

Mr. Vincent popped the cap off another beer. After the police drove off, the reporter came into Mr. Vincent’s yard, the camera man in tow. Up close Chris recognized a veteran news caster he’d grown up watching. Soon it was revealed Chris was the hero who’d saved the young woman’s life. There were questions and comments, gushing of praise and pride in a hometown soldier making Southfield proud. Then it came out that the reporter had learned from the Muslim neighbors that the argument started because someone had spread rumors of Sabia’s infidelity. She’d been seen sneaking off to take English classes at the local high school. Pictures of her in the company of other men had been given to her husband.

Listening to the story, Chris felt more compelled to rescue Sabia from her barbaric husband and his vile family.

After the news team left and the neighbors returned to their homes, only Chris was there with Mr. Vincent.

The older man offered another beer but Chris declined. All he could think about was Sabia. He’d go early tomorrow to see her. His mind began planning for a future with Sabia—his heart had taken a leap he couldn’t retreat from now.

He’d have to sell the house as he’d need to get her away from Southfield. How far did would they have to go to ensure her safety?

“You should have left it alone,” Mr. Vincent said. “Why’d you have to go sticking your nose where it didn’t belong, soldier?”

Chris looked over, pulled out of a reverie of possibilities.

“What? She might have died, or been disfigured.”

“Yeah, well it happens all the time. Proves what heathens they are. Same thing happened just before you came home. Right around the corner—a man and his wife bludgeoned their daughter to death because she was seen dancing with a black man. Let nature take its course. It’s the only way we’ll clean up the neighborhood.”

Chris couldn’t believe what he was hearing, suddenly struck with the same apprehension towards Mr. Vincent he’d had as a child.

“He’ll be deported now at least. Time to move on to the next one.”

Chris stared at Mr. Vincent. He was sitting rigid in the chair, facing the street, his eyes sweeping over to the house next door to Chris’s place.

“You know that kid?”

Chris nodded.

“What’s his name?” Mr. Vincent asked.

“Ahmed,” Chris said.

“He’s a queer, don’t you think?”

“What makes you say that?”

“I can always tell. I knew that younger Kowalski boy was queer as a three dollar bill before he did. You can tell. It’s all over ‘em like flies on dog shit.”

“What are you saying?”

There was silence as Mr. Vincent lifted the beer can to his lips. He took a swallow and then slowly said, “It’s not too hard really, to use their own perverted culture against them.”


Story Forge is like tarot cards for creative writing. The Protagonist in this scenario was the Betrayal card and I couldn’t fix on a character with that description. Looking at the lay-out, the Officer card (7) sticks out like a handle. That’s where I latched onto the main character. The double-cross, the cruel twist of fate and the tragic outcome certainly pushed me to come up with a more complex story.  Up next is Jeff Moriarty’s version of this Film Noir Story Forge.

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