If someone asked what songs tell the story of the Rio Grande Valley, you may answer with a list of favorite Tejano, country or mariachi melodies. Fifteen Valley writers are singing a very different tune. Valleysong: An Anthology Echoing the Rhythm and Cadence of Life in the Rio Grande Valley is a collection of short stories and poems penned by this group, the Texas Rio Writers.

Their song begins with Jan Seale (www.janseale.com), accomplished writer, teacher and mentor, who has coached creative writers in the Valley for more than 20 years. Like the evolution of a story, the make-up of the group has changed over the years, with some members joining the group only during the winter months, others moving out of the Valley, new members appearing, and still others who have been with the group for more than a decade. They are nurses, teachers, homemakers, doctors, artists and businessmen and women. Like Seale, many of them have paper scattered throughout their homes so they can write down thoughts that pop into their minds throughout the day, knowing that one day those pieces of paper will form a story or a poem.

When members have works they want the others to read and critique, they bring copies of the piece to share. Everyone takes the stories or poems home and reads them, writing suggestions regarding such things as the pieces' mechanics, form, timeline and dialog. The next time the group meets, they share their critiques, a process known as ‘workshopping.' The writers take notes during the discussion and use those, along with the critiqued copies, to revise their works. Once revisions are made, they can bring the piece back to share with the group or bring another piece to have workshopped.

"We are caught up in the next paragraph or chapter, in the stunning childhood, in the lens of humor, in the weight of life circumstance, in the thrill of imagination, and even in the style of the writing," Seale writes in the book's foreword, "the structure of the sentences, the vocabulary, the dialog, the way we ‘put' ourselves on paper."

Three years ago, the Texas Rio Writers decided to showcase some of their pieces in an anthology. First, they chose their theme.

"one theme hovered always on the horizon," Seale writes. "That was experiencing life in this quixotic beautiful land near the Rio Grande which we call simply the Valley."

Next, the group went their separate ways to begin writing their tales of life in the Valley. They set a goal for completion.

"Christmas, 2008. We worked really hard and had it ready by Christmas 2009," Seale said with a chuckle at a recent reading and book signing at the McAllen Memorial Library.

As their book developed, they chose four sub-themes: Road to the Valley, Here In The Valley Already, Valley Life As We Know It, and Valley Portraits. They wrote, workshopped, revised and finalized, choosing the pieces that would fit perfectly in their anthology. The group decided to use a publish-by-demand service, taking advantage of electronic publishing. The hard part is behind them. Now they can share their Valley "songs" with those who attend public readings and those who choose to buy the book and read it quietly at home.

At the library event, Seale first called Virginia Villarreal Mann to the microphone to read one of her three Valleysong stories, this one about H.E.B. Mann shares lifelong memories of HEB, including one particular story she had forgotten until recently.

"Not long ago, as I cleaned out my closets I came across a paper with names crossed out that said, ‘thank you notes written.'" Mann read. "I flipped it over and there it was, my first grocery list to HEB as a married womanItems on the list included a mop, broom, ironing board, sponges, bread and milkAnd thanks to Texas Gold Stamps, we accessorized our little married students' apartment with new sheets, towels, a lamp, and rugs"

Another Texas Rio Writer, Olga Valle-Herr, worked with library personnel to organize the evening reading. Valle-Herr grew up in Laredo and moved to the Valley in 1973. One of her stories, "Papa's Best Lesson," was published in Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul. Four of her works are included in Valleysong. She read "The Wedding Gown," a piece both tragic and sentimental, about Aunt Lupita, the sister of Valle-Herr's grandmother.

"Her pale skin was fine-grained and unblemished," Valle-Herr read. "According to Mom she used only a light dusting of Coty face powder and a spritz of lavender cologne behind her ears."

When Aunt Lupita was 17, her boyfriend, a teacher, asked her to marry him. She made her wedding gown, but tragically, one week before the wedding, he died suddenly. Valle-Herr recounts a day she spent with Aunt Lupita, and how her aunt handed her the key to an armoire, telling her to open it. From the back of the armoire, her aunt pulled the most beautiful gown the young girl had ever seen.

"The dress was splendid and memorable because it looked like it had never been anywhere, like it was still waiting in the darkness of that armoire, waiting to be wornthe memory of that golden, almost magical afternoon so long ago often entered my mind like a Technicolor home video that I loved to replay," Valle-Herr read. "Why hadn't Aunt Lupita allowed herself to love another man?"

Next Valle-Herr, also a gifted poet, read her bi-lingual piece, "Borderland Blues":

"I'm from El Valle del Rio Grande, a place where

two cultures mix and sometimes disagree

‘Don't you care for la raza?" I'm often challenged.

‘Married a gringo? What's wrong with your own?'

‘Variety,' I say. ‘Multicultures'

Barbara Barens Ertl followed Valle-Herr with her story, "The Basilica, The Mariachi, And The Mass." Ertl describes the first time she and her husband attended mass at the Basilica.

"Members of the Mariachi Band took their places, backs straight, instruments raised with splendid formality" she wrote. "I had never heard a band like this anywhere, certainly not in church. I had never heard voices like those of these talented young menI came to realize this was the Rio Grande Valley at its best and most traditional."

B.J. Ewing captured the crowd's attention with her story, "My Bonus Tree," a lovely piece about her and her husband's purchase of their dream home, not realizing at first the deal came with a bonus, "a graceful lady ash tree I now call Bonus-Tree or B-Tree, for short."

Ewing feels certain the tree was strategically planted as if someone knew she would have the perfect view of it from the recliner in her den. Ewing lost her husband, but their cherished B-Tree still stands as a reminder of their bonus. In 2008, Hurricane Dolly caused B-Tree to lose one of her limbs.

"My sons told me it was time," Ewing wrote, "but I just couldn't do it, even though I know that death is as sure for B-Tree as it is for humans."

Ewing called the tree trimmer, telling him, "You may cut away anything you can't see from this chair," pointing to her recliner, the best seat in the house to view B-Tree.

Siân Taylor González wrote the first story in Valleysong, "The Immigrant 1973," about her move to the Valley from the United Kingdom with her husband, a destiny she had somehow imagined even before meeting him. The reality of the move hit her as they arrived in Edinburg.

"Her mind returns to the town that she has known," Taylor Gonzalez writes, as if it is a story of another woman, another man. "The brightly painted shop fronts; the bustling town centers with streets closed to traffic on market dayShe thinks of rivers and bridges and well-preserved buildings that add historical comment to modern life. All these she has left behind."

As she and her husband near the end of their journey to this place so far from home, fear grips her.

"She is seized with panic. It is time. It is time to meet people important in his life. His family. She thinks of her own family, now separated from her by three weeks of travel and over five thousand miles. The heart-searing pain of parting that she thought long healed by the adventure of their journey together now returns"

Taylor Gonzalez reminded the audience this journey happened 37 years ago, and she and her husband still live in this place of her destiny.

As the evening drew to a close, the Texas Rio Writers answered a few questions from audience members. Taylor Gonzalez said writers must be disciplined, carving out specific blocks of time to hone their skills. Valle-Herr shared that she has kept journals for years, her writings often transforming into stories or poems. Seale stressed the importance of re-writing and revising, a critical element of the writing process, and Mann encouraged the use of outlining.

In the final words of Seale in the Valleysongs foreward: "Whether the Valley is your homeland or your wayfaring station, we hope our writing will cause you to see this place with wonder, even astonishment."

Note: Valleysong can be purchased on Amazon.com.