Thriller guy has, reluctantly, agreed to let me, his alter ego, Allen Appel, step in on occasion and do a guest entry. So TG has been stuffed back in his box for the moment while I continue my earlier discussion, found directly below this entry, about my writers group.
TG, ahem, or rather I, have been asked to explain the name of the group: Squatting Toad, and the origin of the rest of the logo: Spawned in Bilge Water Since 1991. Sometime in our first year of meetings we were discussing terrible first lines from novels and stories. One of us had a favorite line, taken from a story in Redbook Magazine, which used to publish a lot of fiction: “The squatting toad of hatred settled slowly on her shoulders.” We all laughed and somehow the phrase kept coming up in conversation and pretty soon we just applied it to the group. One year at the beach we were watching a terrible movie late at night, a popular pastime with us, and a grizzled old sea captain referred to a group of bad guys with the bilge water line, which became a catch phrase from that year's Beach Week. Then, a few years ago, we decided to set up a line of products at Cafe Press so we could order Squatting Toad coffee mugs, T-shirts and sweatshirts. I designed the logo you see at the head of this column. If anyone would like any of these products, mugs, shirts or thong underwear bearing the logo, let TG know here on the blog and I will resuscitate the Cafe Press account.
One of the Squatting Toad members, Anonymous, sent in the following comment after the original writer's group piece, found below this current entry, was posted. I think it nicely catches the spirit and closeness of the group. I always recommend that writers and folks trying to be writers find other like souls and start a group. I don't believe that most writers need the business of reading work to each other and commenting on it. One can get good feedback, I guess, by doing this, and God knows the Iowa Writers Workshop has turned it into good business, but I believe just being able to talk about the terrible, lonely, unprofitable, difficult job of being a writer, and yes, the unparalleled joys, sometimes, of the job, is what is really important.
I am one of TG's group, a founding and persistent member of the Squatting Toad. I am the one who wrote one book, had a taste of success, mishandled his writing career and took a real day job (of course, my agent mishandled my career, but I'll blame myself anyway). I think I earn more than the others, yet I view myself as a failure because I'm not sweating over my next project. Instead, I've been sweating over the same incomplete novel for years. Like all of us, my life has had its twists and turns, at times full of pleasure, at times full of sorrow. But for the past ten years, the most contented time for me, the time I am most at peace with myself, is during the beach week described by TG. His description gives the week as much justice as one can with the written word. Yet it does not do it justice at all in terms of the spiritual effect beach week brings to us all. Our connection is as familiar as brothers, the camaraderie as thick as members of a tight-knit athletic team. Underlying it all is our love of writing. I once tried to leave the group over a perceived slight. They refused to let me leave. Lucky for me they did, for it would have been one of the great losses of my life. As to how we started, my recollection is that we were all invited to a Library of Congress dinner honoring mystery and thriller writers living in the Washington, D.C. area. Tony Hillerman was the keynote speaker. We started getting together after the event, and had a rather large group, comprised of men and women at one point. The ones who remain are the equivalent of the 300 Spartans, tenacious, dedicated, unduly loyal and largely insane. But like the Spartans, we would take on - and defeat - a larger army. There is an intangible quality to our group that I can't adequately describe. But the underpinning is the writing, the love of books and the clinging to the age when bookstores and coffee shops were mom and pop operations.