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Stephanie KallosSeattle author Stephanie Kallos is a born storyteller. After all, she grew up in a place where sofas fly–Nebraska’s “tornado alley.” She’s also been an actress, a teacher and a nominee for both a Raymond Carver Award and a Pushcart Prize for her short fiction. Her incredibly charming first novel, BROKEN FOR YOU, was a selection of the Today Show book club, propelling her onto bestseller lists and into book clubs nationwide. Other honors ensued, making this novel one of the most auspicious debuts in publishing–A Book Sense Selection, a Library Journal Best First Novelist of 2005, winner of a 2005 Pacific Northwest Bookseller Association Award and a Quill Book Award finalist for Debut Author of the Year.
Broken For YouSo while her talent is not in doubt, none of that tells you how funny and down-to-earth she is. For that, you have to visit her web site and read her bio. Or better yet, meet her in person at the Field’s End Writer’s Conference on Saturday, April 26.
Like most every writer you’ll meet, Stephanie is a lifelong library patron. “I remember the first library my mother took me to in Lincoln, Nebraska–which is where we moved when I was five. It was only a couple of blocks from my father’s office and we would walk there after visiting him.
“They had something called ‘viewfinders’–you see these in antique stores now. You slipped a thick, cardboard card bearing a photo into the back of these goggle-looking devices. They gave a sort of 3-D look to the scenes. I actually wrote a 1960’s-era library scene in my new book and included these – along with a mean-spirited, censorious small town librarian who is absolutely nothing like [Seattle’s über-librarian] Nancy Pearl.”
cover art for Sing Them HomeRegarding that new novel, it’s called SING THEM HOME and is slated for publication from Grove later this year. Stephanie’s working title on the book–for years–was HOPE’S WHEELCHAIR. “My publisher hated that title,” she admits. “In retrospect, I can understand why. Bit of a downer.” Ultimately, her editor’s assistant came up with the final title.
For a long time, Stephanie believed it would be her first novel. The germ of the idea originated with a 1974 National Geographic photo. “Until I was five, we lived in a very small town in southeastern Nebraska in that swath of territory known as ‘tornado alley.’ My mother’s best friend, Hope, lived on a farm a few miles outside of town. In one of those examples of random tornadic behavior, a funnel cloud bypassed the farmhouse across the highway and then drove northeast directly into Hope’s farmhouse, destroying it completely. Hope was home (she suffered from MS and was confined to a wheelchair) along with her youngest child. She was badly hurt, but the baby was found wandering the fields, wearing a diaper, slightly scratched but otherwise unharmed.
“The photo – which was taken in a milo field about four miles away, near Blue Springs – shows a farmer leaning over the remains of Hope’s grand piano. It’s the only thing that came down in any kind of recognizable form. My mother used to say, ‘How can a deep freeze just disappear? How can a refrigerator just disappear?’ This is the kind of magic one lives with in tornado alley. I heard one author describe magical realism as ‘sofas that fly.’ In Nebraska, sofas fly all the time.
“The story centers on three siblings – Larken, Gaelan, and Bonnie Jones – who grew up in a fictional town in SE Nebraska called Emlyn Springs. When they were 13, 12, and 7 years old, their mother Hope was carried up in a tornado and never came down. It’s about the special kind of grief that surrounds such a loss (i.e., one which leaves no gift of bones) and how that grief has resonated throughout their lives and informed their identities.
“I’d like to think that anyone who has struggled with the strangeness of grief will be engaged – and hopefully comforted – by the characters’ journeys.”
Stephanie is a working mother, and juggles family and writing with grace and a writer’s eccentricity. “There are times when I’m at my desk from 9 until 4, a schedule which aligns with when my kids get on and off the bus. There are other days when family obligations mean I can only squeeze in some journal-writing, or tinker with a paragraph, a sentence, the placement of a semi-colon. I do tend to get very grumpy if I don’t set aside time to write at least a little bit every day.
“On the other hand, it’s extremely counter-productive to allow writing to become punitive, an exercise in punching the time card. I really have to guard against that, as I’m somewhat hard-wired for self-punishment. Sometimes inspiration comes when I’m taking an early morning walk, driving to the grocery store, standing in line at Starbucks, or running errands. One must be constantly open for business. When in the middle of a book, I’m really thinking about my characters all the time. If someone makes the mistake of asking me how I’m doing, I usually launch into a description of how my characters are doing; I don’t stop until I notice my friend’s glazed, slightly concerned expression. For me, being a writer involves cultivating a benign form of schizophrenia. I have notepads everywhere; I adopted this practice years ago after reading an interview with Anne Tyler, who raised four kids while writing her early novels. Yes, being a writer consists largely of applying the seat of one’s pants to the seat of the chair, but there’s a quality of attention one must maintain, a continual vigilance/readiness to receive the odd idea/inspiration.”
“In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion remembers, ‘Had [my husband] not warned me when I forgot my own notebook that the ability to make a note when something came to mind was the difference between being able to write and not being able to write?’”
Stephanie is an avid and eclectic reader. She’s a huge fan of the Salinger oeuvre, Anne Tyler, John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, The World According to Garp, and The Cider House Rules. “My dear friend Sheri Holman writes brilliant books; I’ve learned so much from her. I’ve also learned a great deal from Myla Goldberg, Ian McEwan, A.S. Byatt. Lately – as I await feedback from my editor on the latest draft of Sing Them Home – I’ve been indulging in thrillers: Chelsea Cain’s Heartsick, and the Japanese novelists. I really like a change-up when it comes to reading.
“In terms of my work on Sing and exploring the landscape of grief, the greatest writer-to-writer gift came from Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. My father died suddenly a few months after the publication of my first novel; my mom followed him a year later, almost to the day. Ms. Didion helped me understand why my mother was able to donate all of Dad’s clothes to the Goodwill but left his shoes in the closet: How else would he be able to walk home to her?”
In addition to writing, Stephanie is a knitter. “It’s a tremendously valuable discipline in terms of reminding me of what writing is about and how a book is built: stitch by stitch, row by row, occasionally having to unravel everything you’ve done and start over.”
Stephanie Kallos has a lot more to share. She is this year’s opening speaker at the April 26th conference.

I inhaled this book. My copy of The Penny Tree came in the mail last week, and I took a peek, thinking I’d just sample it and then put it on my TBR pile. Many hours later, in the middle of the night, I was still curled up in my favorite chair, still reading. And when I got to the end, I felt like flipping back to the beginning and reading it all over again. It’s that good. So good that it made me want to take my daughter out into the garden and nail a penny to a tree. So please, treat yourself. Do it now. You’ll thank me.

I first met Holly at the Maui Writers Conference, in the intensive pre-conference retreat. Picture ten writers in a room at a tropical resort, madly reading, critiquing and revising each other’s novels. Okay, don’t picture it. Not a pretty sight, especially because they put me in charge of a group, and I am notoriously messy. Holly Kennedy

The students in my group that year were talented, intense and driven, but none moreso than Holly. The first thing that struck me was how very generous she was with her fellow writers in the group. But what I remember most of all is reading the draft of her manuscript, a novel called The Tin Box, and getting that twisty feeling in the gut that you get when you realize you’ve discovered something. I was thrilled for Holly, but not at all surprised, when the book was picked up by publishers worldwide and released to great acclaim. Attending the right writers’ conference can be invaluable–believe it.

Now Holly’s third novel, The Penny Tree, is about to be published, yet again to great acclaim. It’s been picked up by foreign publishers and book clubs. If you like really delicious, emotional women’s fiction, this one’s for you. Here’s a brief interview with the always-entertaining Holly Kennedy. She is a kindred spirit, a woman with a great heart, a busy life and a first-class blog. Enjoy!

Q. Okay, tell us what The Penny Tree is all about.

It’s a story about a woman (Annie Hillman) who’s offered a second shot at happiness while coping with the fall-out from her failed marriage. It involves a determined anonymous admirer, a handful of anonymous ads, and the complicated emotional terrain of a family slowly torn apart by their child’s life threatening illness. 

Q.  Do you have a Penny Tree of your own?

A.  No, but I wish I’d been given one when I was growing up, because there were times when I sure could have used one!

Q.  Are parts of the story based on real-life events?

A.  Yes, there are a few that were borrowed from my life. For example, at a recent family reunion, one of my nieces walked into a plate glass window at a restaurant, followed later by my husband, who was followed by his father moments after that. To me, it was hilarious, because they were from the same family, and I knew I wanted to use this in The Penny Tree. There are more, but any smatterings of fact have been carefully blended into the story. However, to clarify, I’ve never seen a drive-in movie theater burn down, I’ve never met a crazy woman with a feather duster in her back pocket, and my boys have never shaved their heads (yet).

Q.  Are any of the characters based on people you know?

A.  None of them, although there are coincidences that have been ‘borrowed’ from my life here, too. Unlike Annie, I wasn’t adopted. I’ve never been fired. And I can say with confidence that I’d make a horrible physical therapist. Sadly, though, my nephew was diagnosed with Hystiocytosis when he was three, although he did survive and is now a healthy young man. I have a Newfoundland dog (Sully) and like Annie, I bought my boys goldfish that refused to die, the same goldfish my husband revived with a turkey baster four years later when our air stone tanked.

Q.  Your main character often lacks confidence in her role as a mother. Was this intentional? 

A.  Yes, mostly because this reflects how I feel as a mother. No matter how old we get, we never stop growing or changing, and being a mother is a delicate balancing act as you guide these little minds through life, even though yours often needs guidance as well. So to me, making Annie appear wholly confident in her role as a mother wouldn’t make her real. 

Q. In the book, it says, ‘Some people meditated or did yoga before they started their day. Others jogged. Annie paddled with her eyes closed.’ What do you do to unwind?

A. I make a double shot of espresso and I write. For me, nothing else comes close.  

[Special note to writers: Registration for the Field’s End Writers Conference ends April 24! And to readers: Come see me at the Everett Library on Sunday, April 22, at 2pm.]

Page One is probably the most important page of your manuscript. It’s so important that we’ve given Page One its own room at the Field’s End Writers’ Conference this year. We call it the Moose Room thanks to the trophies on the walls. And no, those are not the heads of failed writers. They’re just part of the audience. A staff of expert instructors–Editor Veronica Randall and authors Robert Dugoni, Garth Stein and Katherine Ramsland–will be on hand to critique and comment on your page one, which will be read aloud to the group. Scary enough for you?

For the courageous, the workshop will give you invaluable feedback from seasoned professionals. If you wish to have your work considered, bring one page, between 250-300 words, double spaced, in a 12 point font.

For the timid, you can learn from listening and watching, and perhaps joining in the discussion.

So I’m feeling courageous. Here’s Page One of Just Breathe, which will be published in hardcover in September 2008. I have a horror of reading my own work aloud, but for the sake of my art, I humbly submit:

Just Breathe

© 2007 Susan Wiggs

One

            After a solid year of visits to the clinic, Sarah was starting to find the décor annoying. Maybe the experts here thought that earth tones had a soothing effect on anxious, aspiring parents. Or perhaps that the cheery burble of a wall fountain might cause an infertile woman to spontaneously drop an egg like an overly productive laying hen. Or even that the soft shimmer of brass chimes could induce a wandering sperm to find its way home like a heat-seeking missile.

            Forty-five minutes, flat on her back with her hips elevated, was starting to feel like forever. It was no longer standard procedure to wait after insemination but many women, Sarah included, were superstitious. They needed all the help they could get, even from gravity itself.

            There was a quiet tap on the door; then she heard it swish open.

            “How are we doing?” asked Frank, the nurse practitioner. Frank had a shaved head and a soul patch, a single earring and a tattoo. At six foot two, he looked a bit incongruous in pastel pink surgical scrubs with little bunnies on them. Mr. Clean showing his nurturing side.

            “Hoping that it’s a ‘we’ this time,” she said, propping her hands behind her head.

            He smiled, offering a look so filled with compassion and hope that Sarah wanted to cry. “Any cramps?”

            “Plenty. Maybe that’s a sign that things are working.” She lay quietly on the cushioned, sterile-draped exam table while he checked her temperature and recorded the time.

            She turned her head to the side. From this perspective, she could see her belongings neatly lined up on the shelf in the adjacent dressing room: her cinnamon-colored handbag from Smythson of Bond Street, designer clothes on padded hangers, butter-soft Manolo boots set carefully against the wall. The keys to her SUV, bought in anticipation of the blessed event that refused to happen. Her mobile phone, programmed to dial her husband with one touch, or even a voice command.

            Looking at all this abundance, she saw the trappings of a woman who was cared for. Provided for. Perhaps – no, definitely – even spoiled. Yet instead of feeling pampered and special, she simply felt…old. Like middle-aged, instead of only twenty-six, the youngest client at Fertility Solutions. Most women her age were still living with their boyfriends in garrets furnished with milk crates and unpainted planks. She shouldn’t envy them, but sometimes she couldn’t help herself….

“I’ve always wanted to write a novel…”

I hear this a lot. It comes as no surprise to me because I truly believe everyone has a story to tell. But only a few end up actually doing it–getting their stories down and then sending them out into the world. Which ones actually pick up pen and paper, or fire up their computers and actually go for it? There’s such power in taking action on your own behalf, in finally saying, “Today’s the day.”We Are All Fine Here

I have a little card stuck on the bulletin board in my study with a handwritten reminder: “This is your shot.”

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s a quick note from Mary Guterson, author of We Are All Fine Here.

“In college, I didn’t know what to do with myself so I became a speech therapist. I figured I could work in the schools, have my summers off, and make enough money to live off of until some Hollywood director discovered me and made me into a movie star. I’d always wanted to be a movie star. Turned out no Hollywood directors were seeking their next discovery in the halls of my suburban Seattle elementary school. Turned out also, I didn’t care for other people’s children. Major career mistake, any way you looked at it.

Mary Guterson“One day, a friend of mine pulled a draft of a novel she’d written out of a drawer and handed it to me. I couldn’t believe it. An entire book, written while I’d been doing my best to enjoy the world of lateral lisps and teachers’ lounges. For years, I’d dreamed of writing, but it had always seemed an impossible dream, as unlikely as my becoming a movie star. Who could just sit down and write a book? I stared at my friend’s pile of typed pages. Then I went home and gave it a shot….”

So there you go. What have you done for the writer in you today?

Elsa Watson is proof that you can have a gentle soul, a rapier wit and a fierce intelligence all at once. Could be it’s that degree in Classics from Carleton, combined with service in the Peace Corps, where she and her husband served for two years in West Africa, in Guinea-Bissau, and her tireless work on behalf of West Sound Wildlife Shelter.

In Africa, to pass the long evenings, she tapped into her passion for old stories and myths, and began writing stories of her own. “By the time we returned,” Elsa explains, “I’d finished a few ‘practice books’ and knew I’d found something I loved to do. In 2001, I took my first stab at historical fiction and the pieces began to fall into place. I love balancing my days between research and writing, digging up details about what life was like eight hundred years ago.”Elsa Watson

Currently, Elsa is working on two historical novels–The Thieves’ Handbook and The Pirate’s Apprentice, both featuring strong, smart young women who are down on their luck. Crown Books published Maid Marian, a stunning first novel Booklist calls “an intriguing new twist on an old legend.”

A winning blend of action/adventure and female empowerment, Maid Marian gives us her side of the Robin Hood legend, beginning when Marian is a child, long before she meets the famous outlaw of Sherwood Forest. The story is set in medieval times, during the reign of Richard the Lionheart, and follows Marian from Warwick castle to Sherwood and beyond. “Because she was born both an orphan and an heiress,” Elsa explains, “Marian is an unusually independent soul. She struggles through the intrigues of court life and regents, and more than once comes face to face with the imposing Eleanor of Aquitane. Marian’s wits and courage are her best assets, and she uses these to create the future she wants for herself.”

Maid MarianThe author was inspired by curiosity about the legendary character. “Maid Marian has intrigued me since childhood. I’ve always been a fan of the Robin Hood story, but I could never understand why so much of the attention went to Robin, and so little to Marian. It struck me as strange that her name is so well known, yet no one has a sense of her character beyond her role as Robin Hood’s consort. Once it occurred to me to write her story myself, I couldn’t let go of the idea. I wanted to show how complex her own life might have been, and how she might have struggled with the choices she made.”

The novel is bound to appeal to anyone who loves historical fiction or an old-fashioned romance. “It’s a great choice for young women, since it involves a young heroine who has the will to shape her own destiny,” Elsa says. “Maid Marian is set in England’s Midcountry during the late twelfth century…Tensions ran high during this time–a huge class division separated the ruling Normans from the Saxon underclass. Taxes were also very high, since King Richard needed to finance his Crusades into the Holy Land. Marian sees a great deal of the land and falls in with people from differing classes. She is therefore able to compare castle life with small village life or with the hidden camp in Sherwood forest.”

Elsa approaches the writing process in shifts. “First I spend a month or so on research only, bringing home huge stacks of books from the library on everything from clothes to food, weapons, and animal husbandry. Next, once the story is roughly planned, I’ll begin writing. I write each morning until I’ve finished about six book pages, then I spend the afternoon doing follow-up research and planning out the next day’s writing. And last comes the editing process, in which scenes are cut, scenes are added, and many, many paragraphs are rewritten. It’s a wonderful thing, really, to be able to spend weeks and months shaping a story into whatever it ought to be.”

The library is a key player during the process. “I would be sunk without our library. When I’m researching, I have regular moments of panic that the librarians will see me coming with my huge stack of books and flee the building. But so far, so good! No one batted an eye even when I ordered the Young Sea Officer’s Sheet Anchor five different times over as many months while I was working on a book about pirates. I needed it desperately, but it was popular – I kept having to turn it in so other people could have it, then put myself back into the hold queue.

“I make good use of the inter-library loan system, which lets you order books from all over. I also love the children’s section. I always begin researching a time period there, since kid’s books give such a wonderful overview (and include pictures!). The OED [Oxford English Dictionary] is a real treasure for historical fiction, since it can tell you when words were first used in written English. Lately, I’ve begun to make use of the library’s database system and am looking up New York Times articles from 1916!”

Want to meet Elsa (who is one of my favorite people in the world, btw)? She’s teaching a workshop at the Field’s End conference on April 28. She is irresistible! To visit Elsa online, go to www.elsawatson.net.

Women Take Center Stage:

Author Elsa Watson Recommends

I, ELIZABETH by Rosalind Miles. “A wonderful, first-person account of Elizabeth I’s life, including the dramatic events within her own family and court.”

PERSUASION by Jane Austen. “Seven years after she turned him down, Anne Elliot meets her former suitor, Captain Wentworth, when he returns from the Napoleonic Wars.”

WIVES AND DAUGHTERS by Elizabeth Gaskell. “A touching, wide-ranging novel that follows half-sisters Molly and Cynthia through the complexities of English society.”

A ROOM WITH A VIEW by E. M. Forster. “Whether in Florence or southern England, Lucy Honeychurch struggles with the same question – to follow convention or her own heart?”

MY ANTONIA by Willa Cather. “Experience the hardships and joys of immigrant life in 1800s Nebraska.”

You know who she is, that angsty girl who stayed up late and cried a lot and lived a deep inner life all through high school. She kept journals and never showed them to anyone. She wrote lines like “i am the moon in the water/stillness surrounded by skim milk…” Okay, maybe you didn’t write stuff like that but I know one teenage girl who did. On second thought–if you say you didn’t write stuff like that, you’re fooling yourself. But here’s the good news. You’re not alone.

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My writer profiles on this blog are starting to look like a Gallery of Hotties, which believe me, is not intentional. I just happen to know a bunch of writers who are talented and hot, and they would probably hate me for saying that, but it’s my blog, so there. And stay tuned, because there are more where these came from. In some ways, Kelli reminds me of Garth, in that she is accomplished as well as gorgeous and talented, and yet instead of wanting to set her hair on fire, you find yourself liking her. A lot. And wishing you could meet her. (Which you can.)  Kelli Russell Agodon

The original interview with Kelli was done by Jeannine Hall Gailey, a Seattle-area writer whose first book of poetry, Becoming the Villainess, was published by Steel Toe Books. Poems from the book were featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and will be included in 2007’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her work has appeared in The Iowa Review, The Evansville Review, and The Columbia Poetry Journal. She’s currently helping edit Crab Creek Review.  This interview was previously published in Rock Salt Plum. I’m reprinting Kelli’s comments in their entirety because it’s all just so good. Enjoy!  

Kelli Russell Agodon was born and raised in Seattle and educated at the University of Washington and Pacific Lutheran University where she’s recently completed her Master of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing.  She is the author of two books of poems, Small Knots (Cherry Grove Collections) and Geography, winner of the 2003 Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. She is the recipient of two Artist Trust GAP grants, the William Stafford Award, the James Hearst Poetry Prize, as well as a Puffin Foundation Grant for her work towards peace with her international poetry broadside series: The Making of Peace. Her poems have appeared or will soon be appearing in places such as The Atlantic Monthly, Prairie Schooner, Meridian, North American Review, the print version of Poets Against the War edited by Sam Hamill and on NPR’s “The Writer’s Almanac” with Garrison Keillor.  Kelli’s work is also featured in Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times anthology.  She has been a featured poet on the ABC News website for National Poetry Month and awarded a Soapstone Writer’s Residency in Oregon. Currently, she lives in a small seaside community.  Visit her website at: www.agodon.com 

Small Knots originally started out to be what my chapbook Geography became—a book about one woman’s experience with breast cancer. But the more I wrote, the more I realized that I couldn’t condense a life to only a disease because there was so much more I wanted to explore as a poet and as a woman. I wanted the book to have a greater complexity to it.   The subjects I wanted to write about and add to the collection also reflected many of the same themes I had written about in Geography, the idea of loss and the events that happen in our life that slow us down, make us pause and consider the philosophical questions, the basic “why am I here?”  When I began to explore the other ideas on my mind, I saw them falling into three categories: generations, love and illness. Those became the three sections of the book and from there, it was just a matter of choosing the best poems to tell the story I wanted to tell….The first section, “Tangle,” focuses on generations, both in our histories and stories, as well as having a daughter and losing a father. The second section “Interweave,” focuses on love and relationships. I wanted to show younger love and also consider the idea of retirement and growing old together. The last section “Stitch,” is the diagnosis of breast cancer and the story of  living with the disease. Once I understood my sections, then it just came to be a matter of choosing the best poems to complete the stories.

There were a lot of favorite poems that I didn’t use. Mostly in the first two sections, I had to make choices on which poems helped the reader move forward and gain a better understanding of the book/narrative as a whole, and which poems took the reader out of the story or sent them in other directions.   I actually have two other manuscripts in process because for me, theme, coherence and a larger vision for a book is very important.  I wish I could just pack all my favorite poems in a book and say, “Here you go!”  But my mind doesn’t work that way.  I think at heart I’m a storyteller and so I’m constantly trying to weave a narrative thread through my work. The positive of all this is that I have some great poems ready for my second collection.

Many of what I consider the “Northwest writers” have had a strong influence on my work, Richard Hugo, in making me rethink my sentences and deleting words like “but” and “then.” I always remember his suggestion that the reader will put two ideas together without us holding his or her hand. William Stafford, in the simplicity of language, and using words not to show our own intelligence or appear perhaps wiser than we actually are, but to convey an idea to another. Also, I’m influenced by Stafford’s dedication to peace as well as writing political poems. I was definitely influenced by Sylvia Plath’s wordplay, creating words and images like “moth-breath” “wedding-cake face.” I like the noun-noun combos in her poems very much. I’m influenced by [Edna St. Vincent] Millay, less by her individual poems, more in the way she chose to live her life as a poet. Her confidence, her activism─she was ahead of her times in what she was writing. More recent poets I’ve been influenced by are Li-Young Lee, for the spiritual aspects that layer his poems, Olena Kalytiak Davis for her edginess (of which I have none), Naomi Shihab Nye for how to tell a story and write with a larger vision, Aimee Nezhukumatathil for her playfulness, Martha Silano for her incredible use of language, Susan Rich for her strong narrative poems, and Bob Hicok for being able to go from image to image and somehow make it all work out. 

My first poetry mentor in college was Linda Bierds at the University of Washington. She was incredibly supportive to me as a poet and many of things I learned from her twelve years ago, I still return to today. In the mid-nineties, I met another poet named Paula Gardiner, who was the person I turned to for support when I left my 60-hour-a-week corporate America life to move to a small rural village and focus on my writing. Currently, I have a couple of writing groups I turn to when I need feedback on poems, as well as a few other poets I can email poems to if I need to work through something….I’m a perfectionist myself and I revise poems extensively, but the feedback from others helps me understand what isn’t coming across in the poem and where I may be losing people.

I think we are all writers of some sort. Everyone has their own unique, individual story; I guess the key is to know which parts to tell. Picasso said “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  I think we’re all creative beings, the challenge is to keep that, whether it is writing, painting, dancing. We need to keep that creativity in a prioritized place in our lives. 

I think it’s important for writers and artists in general to have solitude, time strictly for themselves and their art.  I think women, mothers in particular, have a harder time of taking or finding that time for themselves.   For so many years, women were asked to put their goals and passions to the side so they had enough energy and time to take care of whatever else needed tending. The problem with that attitude is that you can’t care for others if you aren’t taking care of yourself and it’s an easy to way to bring feelings of resentment into your situation. I definitely don’t believe people with families (male or female) can take off for a year and disregard the family part of their life, but there needs to be a balance.  It’s a mix supporting the people you love by caring for them as a mother, wife, friend, or daughter, but also making sure you are being supported by them in that you’re allowed the time you need to create. 

Balance is the key.  For me, Soapstone allowed me a chance to intensely focus on my collection.  Don’t get me wrong, it was incredibly hard to leave my family for a week and I had a lot of guilt about leaving my young daughter with my husband while I drove to Oregon to be alone.  But the time there was so important to me, I probably wouldn’t have finished Small Knots or learned so much about myself had I not gone. And through the experience, we all gained confidence; my husband in knowing he could take care of my daughter without my help, my daughter in knowing that her father could give her the care she needed and that I would return to her, and I gained confidence in my writing and knowing that what I do is important. And when I returned, I was greeted with the best welcome home hug. By the next day, things were back to their regular routine, as if I hadn’t gone.

[My blog and] the internet definitely keep us better connected to our favorite writers, especially poets and writers who keep a homepage with their reading schedule, blog or new projects.  For me, I love to read other poets’ blogs because it reminds me that we are all going through the same things—rejection, self-doubt, and insecurity, mixed in with some success, acceptances, and joy. I forget many times when I’m writing on my blog that others are reading it. I do a lot of it as a sort of free-write meditation, high-tech journaling, I guess. It’s nice when people comment or email me about something I’ve written. It’s also been good for me to return to earlier times in the blog to see where I’ve been, either good or bad, as it reminds me that things pass and that it’s not always about rejections or acceptances, just a lot of everything in between. And a few of these blog entries have gone on to be poems or parts of poems. I think the net is a positive place for poets and poetry lovers because there is an enormous amount of well-written poems out there to consider. Readers and writers can step away from their region and see a much greater variety of poetry. It takes away “regional writing” because we have so many poems from so many places at our fingertips. The diversity of writing is incredible.

I’m not really someone who writes when they’re inspired. If I waited for inspiration, I’d probably have two poems a year. I’m usually inspired by reading other poets, so if I need a jumpstart to my writing, I’ll grab a favorite book of poems and read a few and see if anything comes from it.  Mostly, my work begins with me sitting down and starting a poem to see if it goes anywhere. I have a huge number of poems in my “In Process” file that will never see the light of day. But I keep them and occasionally I’ll go through that file and something will get my attention and I’ll start the revision process. Sometimes it works, sometimes not and it returns back to the file until another day. I am always revising. When I can’t write, I open four or five poems on my computer and begin revising them. Sometimes something great comes out of it, sometimes not. I always sort my “In Process” poems by date and I pull up the newest poems first to work on. After awhile I’ll look further back in the file and find some older poems, which is always fun, especially if I don’t remember working on them. Then it’s as if I’m revising someone else’s poem, which seems easier for some reason.   I think the distance in time does a lot when I’m revising. A poet I know always says, “We love our newest poems most,” and it reminds me of how a baby can do no wrong. I’ll look at the poem a few months down the road and I’ll start to see its weak points, where the reader could get lost. When a poem is new and so close to us, we just see its beauty and freshness, and it can take awhile to see its flaws. I guess that’s another reason for workshops or critique groups.  I take some poems there, though some poems never go. But it’s a good way to see how others are receiving your poems. I use workshops less for the details (though they are always helpful), but more to understand what ideas I’m conveying to the readers and what story they are getting from the poem.

The best advice I can give [to emerging writers], which was given to me as an undergrad from my professor David Wagoner, is to “read, read read.” At the time he gave it to me I thought it was terrible advice, but I’ve learned there is nothing that makes you a better poet than reading a huge amount and large variety of poems.   Read as much poetry as you can, old and new. Buy books of poems and subscribe to literary journals. Learn from the poets that are alive today. Learn what works and what doesn’t from their poems. The more you read, the more you will discover your own voice and what you have to say.  Read as much poetry as you can, then write. The other advice I’d give to young writers trying to break in is “Don’t fret rejections.”  We all get them. They aren’t the best thing in the world, but they aren’t a reason to quit writing or submitting either. If you feel poetry is your path and you need to write, keep going despite the rejections and continue to work to get better. Also, start submitting to local and regional literary journals first. Community colleges have great journals, and if you’re accepted, a lot of times you get to participate in a reading. They are a great place to break into publishing. As you gain a few credits, continue submitting but start to choose more competitive journals. And always be as professional as you can when submitting, clean, easy to read copies, clear cover letter, things like that. I think writers’ conferences and poetry festivals are wonderful and fun places to learn and improve. They are also a great place to meet other poets, hear what’s being written today and discover new poets. I always appreciate hearing the “behind the scenes” stories that poets tell. These are the people future generations will be studying; we have the opportunity to hear and support them now, which I think is wonderful. 

Now that I’ve finished my Master of Fine Arts, I feel as if I’ve just come to a new town; I’m just going to have a cup of coffee and look around for awhile.  As for writing projects, I’ve just finished a second poetry manuscript and have started submitting it.  So right now, I see a lot of open doors in front of me, I may choose one or just sit back for a while and enjoy the view. Field's End conference

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?”

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.

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.

Field’s End presents a one-day writers’ conference at the legendary Kiana Lodge on Saturday, April 28, 2007. Owned and operated by the Suquamish Tribe, in whose language “kiana” means “garden of the gods,” Kiana Lodge is a historic waterfront conference center surrounded by gardens, with its own private dock and beach, overlooking Agate Passage between Bainbridge Island and Poulsbo, Washington. This is a rare opportunity for anyone who loves the written word, a chance to spend the day in a very special place with other writers who truly care about the craft of writing.

“Hearing authors of this caliber just talk, just relate why and how they do what they do lifted me up. Thank you, thank you. Also, the Kiana Lodge is amazing. Being here with such good spirit in a place that has worked so hard to heal gave me something I can’t explain–no, I can–a grace, a feeling of grace.”  –2006 Conference Attendee

Past guests at our events include Dorothy Allison, Ivan Doig, Tim Egan, Karen Joy Fowler, Gail Tsukiyama, Elizabeth George, Erik Larson and Field’s End co-founder, David Guterson. This year’s conference features keynote speaker Malachy McCourt, conference opener Debra Dean, moderator George Shannon, workshop leaders Robert Dugoni, Clyde Ford, Mary Guterson, Priscilla Long, Kelli Russell Agodon, Katherine Ramsland, Veronica Randall, Garth Stein, Elsa Watson and Susan Wiggs. Eagle Harbor Book Company, a Booksense affiliate, handles book sales for our events. 

The commute from downtown Seattle is easy and scenic, via ferry and shuttle to Kiana Lodge. Overnight accommodations on the island abound. Our events receive exposure on NPR and in the local and national press as well as on the Web. Here we are in Publisher’s Weekly:

Picture of the Day
  Writer’s Camp
Writers abound at the first annual Field’s End Writer’s Conference, at a writer’s community founded in 2003 by novelist David Guterson on Bainbridge Island in Washington State. Pictured (l. to r.) are novelists Karen Joy Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club), Susan Wiggs (Table For Five), Gail Tsukiyama (Dreaming Water) and Bharti Kirchner (Darjeeling).

You’ll enjoy a day of inspiring workshops, the company of writers and Kiana’s incredible food. A full schedule of events is posted here. It is just a short distance to Chief Seattle’s grave and the Suquamish Museum, if you’re so inclined, or you can just relax somewhere with a good book. In the late afternoon, there will be a panel discussion followed by a wine & cheese reception and booksigning. Everything wraps up by 6pm.

Early registration, until March 1, gets you a $15 discount. After March 1, registration is $150. The conference is filling fast, so join us soon.

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