Archive for March 2016

Tell a Story or Two

by Laura Williams

The Three Little Bears, The Bernstein Bears, and Dr. Seuss were the formative books at four years old. In fact, many of these books have teeth marks in them where I chewed the covers. I’d like to think this occurred because the books were so wonderful I wanted to literally devour them. Unfortunately, I fear it was just because I wanted to chew on something. Nonetheless, my hunger for the written word grew steadily as I got older. That hunger for reading slowly gave way to the hunger to write and tell my own stories.

Though sometimes the reading and the writing comes in waves where I read and write all the time to other moments where I forget entirely I should do either, both are very much a part of me. But the question is why? Why do I itch when I haven’t read for a while or written anything creative? My guess is because of the stories. We crave the exciting, the tantalizing, the adventuring, the romancing, and sometimes even the mundane. When we talk with people, we want to know the stories of their lives. When we get together with people we haven’t seen in a while, we catch up by telling stories. Stories punctuate our relationships. As a reader, I love reading new stories. But I want one that captures my imagination and teaches me new things about the world. As a writer, I want to learn the stories around me. I want to peek in to people’s lives and see what makes them operate the way they do. To put it another way, the curiosity may have killed the cat, but the curiosity fuels the writer.

To be curious, means you’re aware of the world and you ask questions. My grandmother, who passed away recently, was someone who asked questions. Not in a gossipy kind of way but in a genuine, care for people kind of way. She was a woman of 99 years on this planet and was full of stories. She always told me I came by the writing game honestly. When she was ten, she won an award for the best essay in class. She liked to try new things and get to know people. She learned their stories and she was interested in those stories. It’s a legacy I wish to continue.

We often choose to escape our world and our stories for those of others. I get that; sometimes our own stories are really hard to live through. But it’s those stories that make us better writers, make us better consumers of the written word. We walk in a lens that is uniquely our own, that no one else has. It’s time we shared that. It may be subtle, it may be quiet but getting thoughts on the page is what fuels this society. It’s what gave us some of my favorite books: To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, Frankenstein, and The Night Circus. All have a unique perspective on the world and only those authors could have told it the way they did.

We walk daily with stories. They may be stories of our lives or they may be out this world. But they need to be shared. I guarantee that once outside of our brains and down on paper, they will make an impact. Maybe that’s what fuels my fire to write. I want to make an impact. Some people use medicine, some sports, I choose the written word and for all of you who hear that same written music, I hope you’re choose stories to make a difference in this world.
LauelLaura Williams is a reading, writing, theatre-ing nerd who loves to find a good book and hide from the world but who also loves to express herself by portraying many different characters on stage. Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, she has done her fair share of traveling around the world to experience many different cities and cultures but she is proud to call the PNW home. She blogs about books and movies and loves a good story. Her favorite kind to write are fantasy pieces.

Writing: The Road that Took Me

by Kenneth W. Meyer

The road that took me. I can’t say that I’ve never known a time when I wanted to be a writer, but I do remember a day in the eighth grade when I wrote a story about a metalworker fashioning a helmet for the soldiers of Julius Caesar’s army which so startled our teacher that she read it aloud to the class (which is not to say it was any good), and even in childhood I tended to believe there were the creative arts and then merely things one did to get by (never mind the fact that the latter absorbed the lives of most of us). I definitely had a romantic view of the arts. Books in my early years were associated with the ideas of exploration and travel, either through the wonderful tales of Mary Renault (set in ancient Greece), Henry Treece (endless Viking yarns), Mika Waltari (The Egyptian and other works) or Gore Vidal (ancient Rome or his series set in 18th and 19th century U.S.), or through the science fiction of Damon Knight, Robert Heinlein and others. There was a clear escapist bent in these choices. A growing conviction also took shape that not only could one examine past and future worlds through fiction and biographies, but to the extent possible one should do one’s own travels in the physical world; that is, one should be one’s own Ibn Batuta, Ibn Khaldun, Admiral Zheng He, or Sir Richard Burton. Accordingly, admittedly not quite on the scale of the great travelers mentioned above, a current submission to the Red Wheelbarrow Writers’ anthology pertains to a student days’ drive through Turkey.

Lao Tsu said one should be like a child, which I took to mean maintaining a sense of wonder and excitement in discovery, or as Heraclitus cautioned (as usual in a difficult and paradoxical way): “Only those who expect it will discover the unexpected.“ Of course, submitting stories led to repeated rejections and pain, and in real travel there were also risks – one might come back ill or not come back at all, but it seemed that in order to write interesting things one had to try to live an interesting life. Or again, explorations needed to proceed both intellectually and in the physical world; cursing over the 2000 Chinese characters one needed to read the newspaper, being eaten alive by mosquitoes in the student hostel west of El Alamein, opening with dread but nevertheless opening Perry’s Sanskrit Primer, and so on.

As time went by, one might have hoped I would have outgrown the reverence for writing, but experience in the workaday world only solidified it, and the habit of writing refused to go away. Stories are still rejected, loved ones formerly besieged by boxes of manuscripts now cringe at e-attachments and memory sticks. There has been no end to it. To be sure there have been stretches of time (some of them considerable) where no projects were underway, but fingers continue to return to the keyboard.   I would probably say as many others have in the past: I don’t have the desire to write; rather, the daemon of writing frequently has me.

In 2010 I was in a meeting in an Asian city with my superior and a hundred colleagues. My new manager said graciously, “And we want to welcome Ken to our location.” I was advised this was something she always said. Okay fine. But then she added, “And he’s a writer too!” “Not a very successful one,” I admitted to the group. “But thank you.”

The main thing is to persevere.


Kenneth MyerKenneth W. Meyer writes general historical fiction, short stories and academic items related to his longstanding interest in China and the Middle East. He spent most of his adult life abroad, starting with study in Egypt and Taiwan, and with his wife May currently divides his time between the Pacific Northwest and Hong Kong. He is thankful to be in Washington State and in one piece.

Hermits, Groupies, and Ruth Ozeki

Like Alice Robb In last week’s blog, “In Praise of Writer Buddies,” I own the label of hermit scribbler,” a solitary figure at one with my keyboard even when I’m at the Village Books Writing Table, at my favorite library haunts in Ferndale and Burlington, or Café Adagio and the Swan Café at the Co-op.

I’ve been thinking about another label. I posted pictures and text about four Ruth Ozeki events I attended during Whatcom Reads. Dee Robinson responded with the following post: “Methinks Linda is a Ruth groupie.”

The Groupie designation originated in the sixties when teenage girls hung around and/or traipsed after rock groups, a phenomenon which became so prominent that the New York Post complained “Groupies—girls who chase boys in rock groups—are now getting so way out in their adulation that the whole mess warrants a federal investigation.” I entered the sixties at age seventeen, but neither I nor anyone I knew in my central California hometown of Visalia displayed excessive rock group admiration.

I like to think that my interest in Ruth Ozeki and other authors from whom I can learn, is admiration of a different sort. I was pleased at the FB reply by my library/FB friend Gayle Anderson Helgoe: “Me thinks that Linda is a groupie of all things literary…books, authors, writing, libraries and (of course) bookstores.” I smiled at Gayle’s comment, for I love being perceived as a supporter, enthusiast, and fan of “all things literary.”

Even so, I admit to a smidgen of groupie-ness. I showed up, always early, to all of the six publicized Whatcom READS! March 3-5 events, except for the showing of “Halving the Bones” at the Pickford which occurred while I was in class—and I’ll watch it on DVD. I took a dozen pictures, fourteen pages of notes, purchased four books, and had them all signed.

Writer and FB friend Kari Neumeyer posted, “Will you write a Red Wheelbarrow Blog about all the things you learned? I wasn’t able to attend any of the events, but I …listened to the audio book…and am interested in what she had to say.” When Red Wheelbarrow decided to do a series of blogs, I seized the opportunity to share some things that struck me.

Despite my background in journalism, I prefer to avoid the Who/What/When/Where /Why-And-Sometimes-How approach to reporting. Instead, I will do “BulletSpeak” quotes, notes, and paraphrases of Ozeki’s insights, serious and funny, on the writing process.

  • Researching is fun. It can keep you from writing.
  • I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than move commas around. (Also a distraction from writing)
  • Fixing sentences is like hanging wallpaper.
  • Unlike some writers who work from an outline, I don’t. I allow a book to grow in fractals, in branching patterns.
  • Writing a book is a long process. I abandoned it 4-5 times. It emerged in fits and starts and proceeded in a jerky way. Every new path ended up improving the story.
  • Technology is always failing. Pencils don’t.
  • You don’t need an MFA. Just go to the public library and check out books to learn what you need to do.
  • My mind is a great garbage patch of detritus spinning around.
  • I don’t always know where characters come from; they can emerge from anywhere. Nao (the main character in A Tale for the Time Being) came to me in a persistent voice. She wouldn’t leave me alone. “A girl’s voice washed up on the shores of my imagination.”
  • “When you perform an audiobook, the producers put a pillow over your stomach to muffle growls.” (Note: I also listened to the audiobook—Ozeki’s rendering is outstanding.)
  • Ambition is about the future. Figure out a way to live between the dualities of patience and impatience. Buddha said to find the middle way; use generative tension.
  • Serve your fellow man. Serve others first. If there were a splinter in your left hand, would the right hand ignore it?
  • Spiritual practice is about now. I try to be comfortable with the unknowing. I try hard when I meditate not to write the novel.

Her last directive is one we hear often:

  • “Writers: Just sit down and write.”

My next undertaking will be to launch a blog. I will begin with prompts based on Ruth Ozeki’s preface to the Whatcom Writes! Anthology called Choices. She suggested twenty, some crazy like studying one’s face in the mirror for three hours (!) and some fun like this one: “Go to a library… Roll dice and write down the numbers until they resemble a Dewey Decimal call number. Find the book with the closest corresponding number and read it as though it were the voice of God.” Watch for it at (currently under construction) on April 1st.


linda lambert

BIO: Linda Q. Lambert is a January 2016 graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Southern Maine, the mother of four sons and three daughters, an active member in Red Wheelbarrow Writers, and a retired library director.

In Praise of Writer Buddies

Posted on   November 9, 2014 by Alice Robb

I’m a hermit scribbler, alone in my cluttered office, pecking out my sentences, paragraphs, blogs, letters, stories, novels, memories. Scrawling, sometimes almost illegibly, in my diaries, making outlines, lists, charts. I maintain this essential myth because I need solitude to engage in those satisfying activities. To write requires nothing but the tools (computers and software, pens and paper), an alert mind, my comfy chair, and my dog and mother to force the occasional breaks that keep my body from bonding permanently to the furniture.

Yet, as far back as the Seventies, while I wrote my still-born novel, I craved the company of other writers. I was so nervous and excited the first time I attended a writer’s group. I was out of my league. The focus in that group was on finding publishers; what to write that would sell was their big topic. Mid-novel, I needed to write, not to learn marketing. Not the group for me.

Later, at college, I took workshop style writing classes, and learned the etiquette of issuing and receiving polite critical feedback. Other small writing groups, often with a poetry focus, emphasized appreciation, favoring oohs and ahs over questions and critiques. Working at a community center, I facilitated writing groups. Again, there was lots of praise, often for memoir topics that sometimes put me to sleep. By this time, I’d finished my comedian novel and was starting my third novel. I recognized my need for a writing community, but hadn’t found the right one yet.

A few years ago, I began venturing out of my hermit shell. I talked to friends and acquaintances whom I knew to be writers. Over coffee, we discussed our word-loving lives in general, at great length. What a relief to know other people were experiencing the same joys and frustrations. Needing writing pals, I tried a little critique group that wasn’t the right fit for about a year; when it folded, I was relieved. Taking writing classes at the community college, I discovered a large active local group of writers and publishers. I began attending their monthly dinners. Anti-social as I am, I wrestled myself into going, month after month. You need this, I told my hermit self. I talked to strangers, some annoying but most pleasant and helpful. I made friends.

Then, magic! A tiny new group began to meet; gradually, we’ve coalesced into a trusting enthusiastic foursome of skilled writers. We meet every two weeks. Praising, questioning, and suggesting changes, we work through one another’s novels in progress. We are more than readers; we’re happily involved in one another’s stories.

More magic! I’m doing caregiving work now for an elderly writer friend; we bonded long ago over our craft. And, then! a dear long-lost friend moved back to town; turns out, we’ve both been writing all these years. We have a pair of well-matched writing projects, both in need of some meta-editing. Totally thrilling! I have writer friends, a critique group, and writer partners! I’m in writer-buddy heaven!

Author Bio:

alice robb

Alice Turtle Robb has been writing since early childhood, and has two novels almost ready for publication. One of her novels is about a woman comedian. The other is about a lady with Alzheimer’s who gets lost in Seattle for three days.  She has a BA entitled The Art of Communication; Writing, Talking, and Laughing from Washington University, Fairhaven College. She has also worked for twenty years as a professional caregiver.