Monthly Archives: April 2012

Hot off the Presses! WIH Writers’ Roundtable (Part 1)

April 11, 2012

Just-published authors Susan Wright, Madelyn Kamen, Pam Daniels, Martha “Marty” Braniff, and Dr. Robert Stobaugh tell us about their writing and publishing processes. Mentors for these writers have included our own WIH professors such as Chris Woods, Susan Wright, and  Chris Rogers.

WIH Reporter: Can you tell us about your books that are hot off the presses?

Wright: My book is Coping With Transition: Men, Motherhood, Money, and Magic-Memoirs from the Lives of Professional Women. Our stories recall individual journeys and insights that enabled us to follow our own paths in love and work. We found challenges and complexities along the way, some tragedies and disappointments; some serendipities. 

Braniff: My novel, Step Over Rio, is about a teenage boy, a hard-nosed female reporter, and a federal agent who unite to bring down the kingpins of a child trafficking ring. The adventure begins in the fall of 2011, when Alex Sifuentes, an orphan, steps from the back of a human trafficker’s truck onto U.S. soil after fleeing Guatemala City where he was a witness to a death squad murder. 

Daniels: Finding Home is the story of my family life as a child and as a adult. We were what Fernando Casas (who teaches art and philosophy at the Women’s Institute of Houston) calls a “nomadic” American family. 
Kamen: My book, Crazy Lady in the Mirror, is a series of vignettes about my life and about the lives of my friends. The working title was “Slices of Life”, and maybe that explains it a little better.  At some point in time, I realized that a lot of the world out there, maybe all, is my perception of it. And there are times that my take is distorted. Thus, my title.
Stobaugh: My children and grandchildren were really interested to learn more about my life before Harvard Business School. First, there was the small town and the two-room schoolhouse. But it’s not the typical Depression-era story. My father was a relatively prosperous  businessman and my eccentric mother would take me out of school whenever she wanted company on a long trip or a shopping venture. My book, Starting from Arkansas, ends when we leave for Harvard.
WIH Reporter: Did you take off from your normal schedule to write the book? If not, can you tell us how you fit writing into your schedule?

Wright: What schedule? It destroyed much of my normal schedule, but I knew that would be the case, and I loved doing it. 

Daniels: I have been writing stories about my life for years. Finally, with the impetus of Susan Wright’s writing course, I sat down, put them together and finished the book.

Kamen: I never had to take special time. Getting ready for class assignments was part of my regular schedule. But, I am retired. It might be more difficult for some people who work full-time. I believe you have to write when the “Muse” visits you. 

Braniff: I recommend the six “P’s” of publishing. One of them - perseverance -  is to show up in front of your computer or writing tablet every day-regardless of whether you know what words you are going to put down on the page. If nothing comes, start writing a conversation with one of you characters or visit an actual site that appears in the book either in person or via the Internet. Something will happen, trust me.

WIH Reporter: What surprised you about the process or about anything associated with the endeavor?

Braniff: In answering this question, I will describe three of the many surprises I encountered while writing my novel. First of all, I originally crafted the story as a screenplay, and when I decided to write it as novel, I was amazed at how fluid the process became. I wrote another unpublished novel that was much more difficult since I did not have a screenplay for an outline. 

Secondly, the State Department agents and local gang experts were more than willing to assist me, and I was surprised at their interest and enthusiasm for this project. But my biggest surprise of all was when I found a publisher after five years of rejection letters from both agents and publishers.

Stobaugh: This was the first time I’ve written a personal story. It was more enjoyable than I expected, and it took longer. But I’ve written many books in my areas of expertise and not a one of them took less time than I thought!

Daniels: The writing came easily, but finding the appropriate photos in my boxes of photos seemed to take forever.

Wright:  We were surprised by such positive reactions from men! We were so focused on women as our target audience that the obvious never occurred to us.

Kamen: What has been most surprising is that the writing is only part of the process. There is editing, and working with others. There are the whole notions of selling and talking up the book and then, the business end of it. And there are blog and internet responsibilities. Did I say that you don’t take off your regular work schedule? Maybe not so much.
WIH Reporter: What attracted you to the genre and to the subject?
Braniff: I was attracted to this subject because through my professional experience, I have worked with kids who are victims of human traffickers, and I chose the mystery/suspense genre because it is the most popular literary form. Additionally, I want to create awareness about human trafficking, the second largest and most profitable crime in the world only surpassed by drug trafficking.

Daniels: I have stories that I wanted to tell and I wanted to bear witness to the people I have known and loved, the places I have been and the experiences I have had.

Wright: I recall being moved by Diary of Anne Frank,  and I was fascinated by my great-grandmother’s description of sailing from Norway at age eight, then giving her teacher after-school knitting lessons in exchange for correcting her English pronunciation. She and the other Norwegian relatives are responsible for my interest in family history.  The theme of transition more or less found me; I joined the Houston chapter of the Transition Network and was asked to start a writing group. I love hearing professional women tell how they manage the complexity of barrier-breaking careers and demands of their personal lives. In parallel, I am very interested in doing collections of memoirs on a common theme. Especially from people who are not professional writers. So I took this opportunity. I required commitment to publication and these women delivered with tremendous story-telling courage and writing talent. It’s so much fun to be celebrating a book with this group.

Kamen: The assignments we were given in Chris Woods’ class over time kind of clumped together. That was for me and not necessarily for my colleagues. I wrote about (1) getting old, (2) family stuff, (2) how we see the awesome and (or awful) world, (4) special people-some not in a good way. But almost everything is in fun.

WIH Reporter: Did you use longhand, typewriter, and/or the computer? Was there a routine in writing the book?

Kamen: Not the typewriter, but otherwise any place, any machine, any time. I had notes on paper napkins, junk mail that I would eventually toss after putting the thoughts on my computer. 
Wright: I created a project plan for the various phases of the work. However each of us got individually started, everybody ultimately had to work with computer and e-mail. We had deadlines, not only for writing, but for providing feedback to each other.   

Daniels: Often I lay in bed in the morning and composed in my head what I was going to write. Then I went to the computer and wrote it down. I prefer the computer because it is so easy to edit later. 

Stobaugh: After taking Susan Briggs Wright’s class, Legacy and Heritage, I engaged her as a writing partner. We have regularly scheduled meetings, and that keeps me focused and on track.

Our writers continue this roundtable in Part 2 of Hot off the Presses, in which they discuss such topics as writer’s block, publishing methods, marketing, mentors, and more. Stay tuned for the next installment, to be included in the next newsletter and blog.

Can you name 10 Women Writers Who Changed Literature?

April 11, 2012
Test your knowledge!

(List by Encyclopedia
Britannica in celebration
of Women’s History Month)




1. Russian poet – Died in 1966, considered the greatest women poet of Russian literature.

2. English writer – Born in 1882 who wrote novels known for non-linear approaches to narrative. Also wrote essays about the politics of power.

3. English writer – presented a comedy of manners in 18th century middle-class life showing ordinary people.

4. This French writer’s best novels are remarkable for vividly evoking the sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and colors of her world. She died in 1954.
5. Identify this leading American 19th century female poet who lived in seclusion but commanded a brilliance of style and an integrity of vision.
6. Identify the famous ancient Greek lyric poet who has been greatly admired for the beauty of her writing style.
7. The American writer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Pulitzer prize, and other awards, is known for her examination of the black female experience.
8. Can you name the Canadian short-story writer gained who international recognition with her exquisitely drawn stories, usually set in southwestern Ontario, peopled by characters of Scotch-Irish stock?
9. Do you know this American folklorist and writer, whose work celebrated the African American culture of the rural South.
10. She wrote the Tale of Genji, which is generally considered to be greatest work of Japanese literature and thought to be the world’s oldest full novel.


1. Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) At her death, the Russian poet was considered the greatest woman poet in the history of Russian literature.
A land not mine, still
forever memorable,
the waters of its ocean
chill and fresh.
Sand on the bottom whiter than chalk,
and the air drunk, like wine,
late sun lays bare
the rosy limbs of the pinetrees.
Sunset in the ethereal waves:
I cannot tell if the day
is ending, or the world, or if
the secret of secrets is inside me again
A land not mine 1964 (Translated by Jane Kenyon)


2. Virginia Woolf - (1882-1941): The English writer’s novels, through their non-linear approaches to narrative, exerted a major influence on the genre. While she is best known for her novels, especially Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927), Woolf also wrote pioneering essays on artistic theory, literary history, women’s writing, and the politics of power.



3. Jane Austen - Who hasn’t heard of Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice? The English writer first gave the novel its distinctly modern character through her treatment of ordinary people in everyday life, creating the comedy of manners of middle-class life in the England of her time in her novels.



4. Colette (1873-1954): The French writer’s best novels are remarkable for their command of sensual description. Her greatest strength as a writer is an exact sensory evocation of sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and colors of her world.




5. Emily Dickinson (1830-86) The American lyric poet lived in seclusion and commanded a singular brilliance of style and integrity of vision. With Walt Whitman, Dickinson is widely considered to be one of the two leading 19th century American poets.





6. Sappho (610-570 BCE): The Greek lyric poet has been greatly admired in all ages for the beauty of her writing style. She ranks with Archilochus and Alcaeus, among Greek poets, for her ability to impress readers with a lively sense of her personality.


7.  Toni Morrison (born 1931): The American writer, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, is noted for her examination of black experience (particularly black female experience) within the black community. Her Beloved (1987), based on the true story of a runaway slave who, at the point of recapture, kills her infant daughter in order to spare her a life of slavery, won a Pulitzer.


8. Alice Munro (born 1931): The Canadian short-story writer gained international recognition with her exquisitely drawn stories, usually set in southwestern Ontario, peopled by characters of Scotch-Irish stock. Munro’s work is noted for its precise imagery and narrative style, which is at once lyrical, compelling, economical, and intense, revealing the depth and complexities in the emotional lives of ordinary individuals.


9. Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960): The American folklorist and writer, whose work celebrated the African American culture of the rural South, was associated with the Harlem Renaissance.


10. Murasaki Shikibu (978-1014): The Japanese writer’s Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji) is generally considered the greatest work of Japanese literature and thought to be the world’s oldest full novel.

An Intimate Look at Houston’s Art Scene

April 11, 2012

Liz Anders, senior associate at Kinzelman Art Consulting, is teaching a course for all of us art enthusiasts who have long wondered about the nuts and bolts of everything having to do with art. She is happy to oblige with her new series, “Art Connection: Behind the Scenes” in which she takes us through the business side of art: auction houses, art collection, framing, conservation, appraisals, and more. This current semester focuses on visiting artists’ studios, but there will be ongoing classes in the future covering many other aspects of the art world. We recently spoke with her to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about your upcoming class and your art series in general?

Anders: This course is unique because the majority of the classes will take place outside of the classroom. For this first course in the series, we will be visiting artists’ studios. I find it exciting to interact with the artist and to view his or her work in person. The Art Connection series is also unique because we will explore Houston’s art scene and visit places off the beaten path. For example, we will visit collections that few participants have access to outside of our class.

WIH Reporter: We understand that your upcoming classes will be focusing on the business side of art. Can you tell us, for instance, the biggest misconceptions that people have about auction houses?

Anders: A lot of people are intimidated by the larger auction houses. As long as you are able to navigate the auction house websites, determine the appropriate specialist department to call for the property you wish to buy or sell, and know the right questions to ask,  it can be a quite fun and exciting process.

WIH Reporter: What are some common misconceptions about framing?

Anders: Sometimes people don’t realize how important framing and conservation is to a work of art.  If you have spent a bit of money on the artwork, it makes sense to spend a bit of money on the framing in order to protect the artwork and to extend the life of the art. You wouldn’t want a valuable print or watercolor to fade or deteriorate because you didn’t use glass or Plexiglas with the proper UV protection.

WIH Reporter: Will every class be a field trip?

Anders: No, not every class. I plan to begin each course with the first class meeting at the Women’s Institute, which will be an introduction to the course.

WIH Reporter: What books would we find on your night table?

Anders: Right now the following is on my night table: “An Object of Beauty” by Steve Martin, “Elizabeth Street” by Laurie Fabiano, Art Forum magazine and Art and Auction magazine.

WIH Reporter: Although your April class is filled, we understand you plan to offer courses on the multifaceted aspects of the art world in future semesters.

Anders: I hope to offer the course each semester.

The first of an ongoing series, Liz Anders’ current course is intended for art enthusiasts and those who are interested in the inner workings of Houston’s extensive fine arts scene. Her “Art Connection: Behind the Scenes” series will focus on the basic components of viewing and collecting art such as private and corporate collection tours, navigating art galleries, visiting non-profit and museum exhibition spaces, demystifying auction houses and learning about caring for your collection through framing, conservation and appraisals.

Our Special Treasure: Jimmie Lou Lyons’ 50 Years at WIH

April 11, 2012

Jimmie Lyons celebrates her 50th anniversary at the Women’s Institute of Houston. We spoke with her recently about her thoughts and experiences here through the years.


WIH Reporter: Tell us about how you came to the Women’s Institute?

Lyons: It was 1961 when I came to The Women’s Institute, when Miss Ruth Sterling was here. My brother worked here, and told me that the the lady that was working here had to leave, so I came to work here. I have always been well pleased working here. They have treated me so well.

WIH Reporter: You’ve seen a lot of changes. What was it like in the early years?


Lyons: It was a little house on Westgate. We had classes downstairs in the home of Dean Richardson. After Mr. Richardson passed away, the Women’s Institute bought the home and we had classes upstairs also.

WIH Reporter: It appears to us that people don’t know all you do behind the scenes here.

Lyons: There was a lady who brought some cookies from home. She asked Mrs. Webb about adding these cookies for classes at the Women’s Institute. Mrs. Webb said, “Go ask Jimmie, she’s the one who makes these decisions.”


I order all the cookies. I order all the soda and the coffee. One time, when I put one type of cookie on one end, and another kind on the other end, a lady came to me and said, “Jimmie, you are hiding my favorite cookies. You like the other class better. I’m going to have to have to join the other class to get these cookies.”

I’m a jack of all trades. If they need anything, I am here to help. I help in the office. I’ve helped with brochures, answered phones, stapled handouts, and my son Cornell and daughter Lisa have come in to help also. It’s all in the family!

WIH Reporter: Tell us about Sunday classes.
Lyons: Sunday classes are great! We all a have a wonderful time. I have worked Sundays for many years. The only time I was absent was when I had a stroke in 1997. I came back 2 months later, and started working half days. They were so kind to me.
WIH Reporter: We all feel very lucky to have had you here at the Women’s Institute for 50 years.
Lyons: I’ve spent so much of my life in this wonderful place. I am the mother of 11 children. Three of them were born during my time at the Women’s Institute. With one of my babies, Mr. Richardson joked that he would probably be the one to drive me to the hospital but it turned out that this baby was born on the weekend. I used to ride the bus to work and I could always leave in time to be there for my kids after school. It has been really a pleasure working with Mrs. Webb and I feel very blessed to be here.
Please join us for a coffee and cake to celebrate Jimmie’s 50 years on April 11th. The invitation is below.