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Mrs. Larson and the Constant Flow of Thoughtful Books or, Meet Garth Stein at the Field’s End Writers’ Conference, April 28, 2007.

Garth Stein has published books, created documentary films, written a play, won an Academy Award and a prize from Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association. He embodies the best of many cultures, interests and education. His mother, a native of Alaska, is of Tlingit Indian and Irish descent; his father, a Brooklyn native, is the child of Jewish immigrants from Austria. He received both his Bachelor’s and his Master of Fine Arts degrees from Columbia University in New York City.

Couldn’t he at least be ugly? Um….Garth SteinSorry, I can’t help myself. I notice stuff like this. Did it have anything to do with Garth being tapped for the Field’s End conference? Ohferpetesake, it’s a writers’ conference. What do you think?

The novelist has worked in stage and film, directing and producing documentaries and short films, including the award-winning “When Your Head’s Not a Head, It’s a Nut,” which documents his sister’s brain surgery for epilepsy. Some of his other notable films include “The Last Party,” starring Robert Downey Jr.; “Philadelphia, Mississippi,” and two music videos which he produced that were directed by Johnny Depp.

Garth’s first novel, Raven Stole the Moon, was published to critical acclaim and was translated into German and Italian. His second novel, How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets, was published in 2005.

The Boy Who Returned From Heaven is a sequel to his first. He also has written a full-length play, titled Brother Jones, which was a finalist for the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference, a finalist for the Northwest Playwrights Competition, and was selected for the 2004 Shenandoah International Playwrights Conference. The work at the Lyric Hyperion Theater in Los Angeles, and was hailed as “brimming with intensity,” by the L.A. Weekly.Garth S

The accomplished writer and teacher reports that he’s “totally psyched” about his next book. “It’s currently titled The Art of Racing in the Rain. The story is told from the point of view of a dog named Enzo, whose master is a race car driver. It’s funny, poignant, observant….the Jonathan Livingston Seagull for dogs, if there could possibly be one.”

One of Garth’s early influences was a school librarian. “When I was a freshman in high school, the school librarian, Mrs. Larson, stopped me one day. ‘We just got this book in,’ she said. ‘I think you’d like it. Why don’t you check it out before I shelve it?’ I did, and I liked it very much.

“A few weeks later, I was leaving the library after finishing my afternoon homework, and Mrs. Larson stopped me again. ‘Have you read this yet?’ she asked, holding up a book. I hadn’t, so I checked it out and read it.” Over the next four years of high school, Mrs. Larson sent books my way. Most of the time, I really enjoyed them–but not always. Still, she provided me with a constant flow of thoughtful books.

“Sure, I’ve forgotten many of the books Mrs. Larson gave me. But many of them–Farhenheit 451, Kim, or the poems of Walter de la Mare (yes, I actually read poetry for fun when I was a teen)–have stayed with me.”

Garth“For me, libraries aren’t about storing books for my convenience. They are about people and communication and interaction. Libraries are about Mrs. Larson, my high school librarian, who knew what I liked, wanted to challenge me with things outside my comfort zone, and who cared for all of her students, knowing that each of them could find joy in the books of her library.”

You can learn more about Garth (including the fact that Mr. Adorable is quite married, thankyouverymuch) at www.garthstein.com, and about his appearance at the April 2007 conference at www.fieldsend.org.

How To Read Like a Hunk:

Garth Stein recommends…

PAPILLON by Henri Cherriere. “If you need an amazing adventure story, open this book.”
GOOD AS GOLD and SOMETHING HAPPENED by Joseph Heller. “Yes, yes, we all know about CATCH-22. But look further, and you will find some fantastic writing, very funny, incredibly touching…Joseph Heller is an old school novelist, and he is wonderful.”
Any play written by TENNESSEE WILLIAMS. “He’s such a brilliant dramatist, pick up a play and read it. His plays, when acted well, are amazing; they are equally stunning when they are read.”
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST by Ken Kesey. “Never have I laughed so hard at something so painful. I cry just thinking about the beauty of his book. Seen the movie? It’s great, yes. But it can never compare to the stark beauty of Kesey’s novel.”
PRINCIPLES OF RACE DRIVING by Ayrton Senna. “Oh, come on! I just wrote a book about a race car driver! What do you expect?”

That Summer at Willow Lake is a finalist for the 2007 RITA Award. BOO YAH. (For an interesting discussion of this award, check this out.)

RITA statue

C.G. Jung wrote that “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”

PLEASE NOTE: The Seattle Writers’ Conference has been canceled. My apologies to those of you who were planning to attend. But lucky you, I have a better idea. Come to the Field’s End conference instead. It’s a ferry-ride away from downtown Seattle. You know you want to. C’mon. Just do it.

The one I took today is related to the shocking Newsweek expose about Baby Boomers turning sixty. The part I couldn’t resist was the online quiz to see what I know about Boomer Lit–you know, the books we all grew up on, like Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret or Ribsy or Bright Lights, Big City. I didn’t ace it, but my score in the 81-90 range was respectable. So I didn’t know how many wives Norman Mailer has had, and I didn’t know which one he stabbed in the back, so sue me. Oh, and I can’t actually say I’ve read Steal This Book so I guessed wrong there. Dandelion Wine

Go take the quiz. Tell me how you did.

In my family, everyone reads and it’s been that way for generations. I actually have copies of two books that have belonged to four generations of women in my family–my grandmother, my mother, me and my daughter. The books? To Kill a Mockingbird, and Dandelion Wine. I actually sent Ray Bradbury a letter showing him where we’d all put our initials in our copy of Dandelion Wine, and bless him, the man wrote me back. Greetings from Ray

I find myself wondering who wrote that quiz.

I was a kid during the 60’s and 70’s, but I remember Five Smooth Stones, Leon Uris books, and a huge revival of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I read The Hobbit as a seventh grader living in Brussels, Belgium. I used to hide out in the school library, skipping class in order to finish. Funny how you recall where you were when you read a certain book, eh?

I love this time of year, because my Inner Irish Girl gets to come out and play. She looks out her window and sees this: ferry with rainbow

She gets to wear a sweater in the worst shade of green. She eats food in colors not found in nature, drinks beer to match and paints shamrocks on her fingernails. She bakes Skillet Irish Soda Bread, listens to music by the Young Dubliners and invites her friends over to watch Waking Ned Devine and The Commitments.

Also, my Inner Irish Girl gets to tell you about one of her favorite writers and people– Malachy McCourt. I’ve been to many, many writers’ conferences and sat through many Malachy McCourta keynote speech. Most of these have been excellent–these are writers, after all. But there’s one talk that stands out in my mind. It was an address to a huge ballroom full of people, mostly restless, socially-awkward writers hungry to hone their craft. It was a speech about the power of story and the deep well inside the writer, the place you go to again and again, seeking those hidden springs, where everything comes from. It was the kind of talk that makes you jump up out of your seat and rush to find a quiet spot, because you can’t wait to get going on your writing. This talk was given at the Maui Writers Conference by Malachy McCourt.

Of all the writers I know (and you’ll meet many of them on this blog, so stay tuned), Malachy has the most unique and varied bio. He’s been everything, including but not limited to: bestselling writer, film actor, columnist, theater actor and the Green Party’s candidate for Governor of New York. Frank & Malachy McCourt

 Malachy is the special luncheon speaker for the one-day, one-of-a-kind conference, “Writing in the Garden of the Gods,” on April 28. Take it from a jaded been-there-done-that writing conference veteran–you don’t want to miss this. And if that doesn’t convince you, just ask your own Inner Irish Girl or Irishman. It’s no blarney.

“Revision is a very physical process, best done by hand, much like decoupage.”                                                                         –me, 3:00p.m.

The fact is, I insist on editorial interference. I would be lost without it. The line- and copy-edited manuscript for Dockside landed at noon, and by 3p.m., this was the scene.

DOCKSIDE final edit

This is the point where I pull everything together–the handwritten notes, critiqued pages from my writers’ group, e-mails back and forth with my agent and editor, the copy-editor’s pink slips with her queries, my own brainstorms and despairing missives on Post-It notes…You know the drill.

Office supplies are key. I have to have really good mechanical pencils, highlighter markers in every color, bankers’ clips, paperclips (the coated variety) and those little sticky tabs that have no name, but which are used to mark pages. Oh, and a wastepaper bag. For obvious reasons, I am forbidden to ask myself, “Why did you spend days writing that scene if you’re only going to toss it out?” No computer, you’ll note. For me, revision is a very physical process, best done by hand, much like decoupage.

Setting is key, too. I’m always amazed by other writers’ offices. They all look so intimidatingly neat and organized. Except my friend Jenny‘s. One reason she’s my friend is that when she showed a picture of her office, it all looked comfortingly familiar. Anyway, I do have an office, and sometimes it’s even neat, but that’s not really where I end up doing the real work of writing. I end up all spread out on the big chenille sectional, not the world’s prettiest piece of furniture but the most comfy. I also need the heather green cashmere blanket–a peek at the weather out the window explains it–and a mug of Lady Grey tea. The logo on the mug says “PERKY.” Next to that is my screaming monkey slingshot because you know what they say about all work and no play.

I imagine that in a few hours, the scene will change. There will be more trash. An empty bag of cheese doodles and some chocolate wrappers. My Ichiro bobblehead doll and some golf balls because the rug is great for putting practice. A big blue exercise ball for doing stretches. I will have gotten up to look through the telescope to see what the people on the mainland are watching on TV. The cordless phone is there, because when I get stuck, I’ll call a girlfriend or my parents or sister or my daughter, and we’ll talk until I’m unstuck. I will mutter and pace, unravel and re-weave blocks of narrative, cut and paste, flip back and forth, flip out. I will consume gallons of hot tea and more carbs than is humanly possible. I will yearn for “original recipe” Girl Scout Cookies with the trans fats intact. I will stay up late and get up early. I will write “The End” and then rewrite it.

And somehow, out of all this chaos, comes a novel.

This week, I’m a foster mom. Sonny the lab-mix has come to stay while his people are on vacation. He loves the beach! Who doesn’t love the beach? Sonny on our beach with Mt Rainier and ferry in the backgroundGorgeous morning and a good writing day to boot.

I’m starting something new (the novel formerly known as Untitled), had a wacky brainstorming meeting with my writers’ group (aka the Brain Trust) and researched* a whiz-bang opening sequence, complete with flying bullets and catering vans careening off into the North Sea. Sophie Bellamy is in for a bumpy ride.

*If you live anywhere near The Hague, Holland, I would love to hear from you! I have some questions….

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