Archive for Featured Writers

Love Army–One Soldier at a Time

She comes into my office. Slight build, long brown hair, brown eyes. Sanja (not her real name) is about forty years old. A second generation Indian (as in from India). She married a man she met in college and has two children, six and nine. This is our intake session and all I know before she comes in is that she’s feeling depressed and doesn’t know why.

As we talk, I find out that she has a job working fifty hours a week at a tech company and that she volunteers for her daughter’s Girl Scout troupe. At lunch, she dashes to the gym for thirty minutes on the treadmill, and on the weekends she works on a project for #LoveArmy and their Green for All initiative.

I listen for the better part of a half hour with part admiration for how completely Sanja lives into her personal value system and part guilt that only this year did I realize that single-use plastics like straws and picnic cutlery were a major hazard to our environment. Sanja’s household is almost at zero waste. She plays a game with her children to keep plastic out of the house. “Plastic out of the house is money out of the hands of polluters,” she says. “Then she says, “I’ve been working on this stuff for two years, but since the election I feel completely defeated.” And she starts to cry.

I sit across from her in my small therapy room. The sun is coming in the window at an angle so it hits me right in the eyes, but I resist getting up to fix the blinds. I want to hold space for her pain. Which is also my pain.

She goes on to describe her fears and how she feels like giving up on saving the planet, but how when she looks at her children she knows she has to keep moving forward even when she doesn’t feel hopeful, I start to well up too. A tear escapes, and I blot it away with the knuckle of my forefinger.

Sanja isn’t the first terrified client crying in my office over the election. Since my job is to hold space for clients, to let them sort through the triggers and pain in their lives by offering them supportive reflections and questions, I try to never let my own political cat out of the bag. But I find it so hard nowadays. I find it hard sitting with Sanja, someone who has lived her life for years in a state of conscious intention, believing she could make a difference.

“It’s no small thing to feel hope slip away, is it?” I reflect. “I’m sure that’s contributing to your depression.”

“No, this whole thing isn’t small at all. I know you can’t do anything about the big picture,” she stares out the window for a moment. “I guess I’m hoping someone can help me hang on to my faith.”

I nod. I don’t have any confidence at all that I can help her with that. My work since the election has been difficult. Not since 9-11 have I had so many clients in my office talking about world events as their major stressors. “I’ll try,” I say. “At least I can help you learn a new relationship with fear and frustration. Maybe if they don’t feel as unmanageable and overwhelming, you can see your faith through the fog.” Even as I say it, I can only hope it’s true.

We make another appointment, and I walk her back to the waiting room to say goodbye. “I feel a little lighter,” she says as she walks out the door. “Thank you.”

“It’s my privilege,” I say. And I mean it.

I go back into my office and adjust the blinds I resisted adjusting before. I think about how I should recycle more. I should march more. I should call my elected officials more.

I have a half hour before my next client. I heat up my lunch and pull out my new bamboo utensils to eat it with. I pop open my computer and Google Love Army.

“We need all hands on deck fighting for the future.” –Van Jones, founder of #LoveArmy

 

Cami Ostman is co-founder of the Red Wheelbarrow Writers and Director of Memory into Memoir, a program that gives writers everything they need to get their books done. She is author of Second Wind: One Woman’s Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents and Co-editor of Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions. You can find her at camiostman.net.

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 lindaqlambert.com (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.

This Saturday, Indies First!

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Please join us this Saturday, November 29, at Village Books

as RWB’s very own Laura Kalpakian and Janet Oakley

will be joined by local author Noble Smith

in support of Indies First!

Here’s what Village Books has to say about the event:

“Indies First is a year-round campaign in support of independent bookstores by authors and publishers. Sherman Alexie came up with the idea for writers to support their local indie by volunteering to work at the store on Small Business Saturday in 2013. Alexie called the appeal “Indies First.” Now, bestselling author Neil Gaiman and musician-author Amanda Palmer are leading the call for their fellow authors to get behind Indies First for the 2014 holiday season. Join us at Village Books as we host two book chats featuring various local authors who will recommend some of their favorite books, just in time for the holiday gift season!

At 11am local authors Laura Kalpakian, Janet Oakley and Noble Smith will talk up their favorite latest reads, and at 4pm we’ll host authors Rob Slater and Clete Smith. Come prepared to take some notes, and then shop with lots of great ideas.”

 

See you there!

 

Exclusive Interview With Laura Kalpakian!

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By Susan Chase-Foster for RWB

Laura Kalpakian, author of more novels than I can count on my fingers and toes was due at my house any minute and I was excited. For years, I’d been hearing about Laura’s talent, not only as a writer, but as a memoir instructor extraordinaire. When I found out that Laura, along with Cami Ostman and Susan Tive, her former students, had created a nurturing community of writers named after one of my favorite poems, The Red Wheelbarrow, I immediately joined. Now, after three years of watching Laura in action at the RWB monthly socials, working collectively with her on the writing and performing of our annual NaNoWriMo novel, as well as reading several of her delightful books, I had the opportunity to learn about how she approaches the task of entering a novel in Chapter 1.

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I set out several of Laura’s books on the coffee table, clicked on the gas fireplace to create a relaxed atmosphere and popped open a bottle of Juan Gil, knowing that she adores red wine, as I do. Before I could recite my favorite line from Educating Waverley three times,

“When you bite into a chocolate truffle, you don’t want to find oat bran.
When you bite into a chocolate truffle, you don’t want to find oat bran.
When you bite into a chocolate truffle, you don’t want to find oat bran.

Laura had arrived, handed me her blue jacket and established herself on my comfy love seat. I poured her a glass of wine and she took a sip.

LK: Great wine!

RWB: Thanks, Laura. It’s Spanish. I have a bottle for you to take home when we’re finished. And now, if you’re ready for questions, shall we begin?

LK: Thank you and, yes, I’m ready.

RWB: Laura Kalpakian, thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed! As this is your third year being the lead writer for a RWB NaNoWriMo novel, I just have to ask: Why do you do it?

LK: Because it’s FUN!

RWB: Cool! Would you please describe the process of writing a first chapter for a round-robin novel?

LK: Sure. So, this year’s was different, but in the past, well, in my computer I have a big fat folder called “Books Abandoned.” I worked on them, but they just never quite came together, so I abandoned them. For the first two novels I pillaged two different books from the folder. I had abandoned them as novels, so this was a new use for them.

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For the third novel, this past summer friends of mine took me on two boating excursions. I loved the names of the boats! I feel that each boat name tells someone’s personal story, and with all the names together in a marina, for instance, you can make a sort of narrative out of them. When you see a boat named “Moma’s Revenge,” you go hmmmm. And so, anyway, this idea came to me in my sleep, in a dream about a boat named “Placebo.” But I just couldn’t remember it. I thought it was Panacea, something with a “P.” And there was a boat named Panacea, but that wasn’t it. Then it came to me that the boat in my dream was “The Placebo.” It had great suggestive power. That went into the chapter.

I also remembered that on Valentine’s Day several years ago we were on Capital Hill in Seattle. We were walking and these beautiful roses had been flung down on the sidewalk, like a trail. I picked up eight of them and said to myself, There’s a story here. But I never found it. So that went into the chapter, too. Later, I threw in a laundromat. This was all new material. None of this was in the “Books Abandoned” folder.

RWB: How does writing the first chapter of a round robin novel compare to writing the first chapter of a personal novel?

LK: In the first chapter of any novel you deal yourself a hand and you ask, what can I do with this? There’s clearly much more responsibility in writing your own book. You have to be resilient and look at what the characters can tell you. With the collective novel, a term I prefer to round-robin, the responsibility belongs to thirty people and you really have fun with it. You see yourself as part of a collective, fun opportunity. The deadline is important in that you have to put the chapter behind you, which is harder with a personal novel. Writing is a process, and with a personal novel it’s a process until the book has an ISBN number.

RWB: What’s important for an author to do in Chapter 1?

LK: In a first chapter, the task of the narrator is to set up tensions. Placebo has far fewer characters. We basically have Miranda. My task was to set up tensions that were inherent but not apparent. Miranda is questioning her relationship with Scott. But then we have this other suspicious, mysterious couple, Christopher and Claudia. She’s a contemptuous woman. And, of course, we have the roses.

The characters have implied interesting backstories. Scott is a trust fund kid who loves creating pastries. Miranda has a degree in art history. Chef Sigurdson is mysterious and demanding. Obi Juan is mysterious and nasty. You have to suggest mysterious connections and mysterious antecedents. What I’ve provided in Chapter 1 could be taken as a crime story because of the possible drug connection. Or maybe a relationship story because there’s tension between Miranda and Scott. Or maybe it will be about Miranda finding herself. Maybe Sigurdson will even turn out to be like the Swedish chef on the Muppet Show! That would be hilarious!

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Laura fanned quickly through her copy of the interview questions and took another sip of wine.

RWB: How does writing a first chapter differ from writing, say, a second or third chapter?

LK: In my opinion, what I did is the easy part, but as a seasoned novelist the leading chapter is something I know how to do. The following chapters will pick up the threads and fill in the characters’ connections and antecedents and enrich them, leaving new possibilities for those who will write later chapters.

RWB: What are the challenges with a collective approach to writing a novel?

LK: That really depends on the writers who come after. Succeeding writers have the freedom to follow and create threads. Coming later, you have to account for what has come before. The later you write, the harder it is. I wrote late in the horror novel last year, under the name of Jeanne Moreau, and I felt like I had to rescue Julia, a character, from her circumstances. She was so vaporous she fainted at every crisis. This is sometimes the task of later writers. You can change or give life to a weak character. The people I admire are those who write the last chapter. They have a huge task to accomplish!

RWB: Just one more question, Laura. What advice would you like to give to the other 29 chapter writers for this year’s novel?

LK: Stick with the givens in the story. So, for instance, it would not be a given in the story that Miranda would turn out to be Scott’s half-sister. That’s just too weird! Ask yourself, where is the tension and how can I exacerbate and accelerate that tension? Everything you write has to Forward The Story. FTS! That is the writer’s obligation.

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Here’s Laura with my copy of her story collection, Dark Continent

And here’s a link to her website, http://laurakalpakian.com/

Exclusive Interview with Seán Dwyer and Matt Morgan on Writing a RWB Novel During NaNoWriMo!

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By Susan Chase-Foster for RWB

It was a dark and stormy afternoon, and the partial solar eclipse hadn’t helped any. Seán Dwyer arrived early at the Rustic Coffee and Wine Bar, which was unfortunate because I still hadn’t come up with any good questions, and you know how he loves to chat. Seán looked a bit harried from a lack of sleep, or maybe from his day job teaching Spanish at the university. A social butterfly, Seán worked his magic across the room, stopping at table after table to greet people he clearly knew, mostly women (his students?). He waved at the barista who waved back and shouted, “Got it, Profe!” Obviously, he’d been here before.

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Within a minute, Seán’s 20 oz. pumpkin-spiced-extra-syrup-eggnog-hold-the-foam latte was delivered to our table. Seán smiled, squeezed the barista’s hand and asked me if I had any change for a tip. I found a buck in my jacket pocket, but when he frowned at me, I pulled out a fiver, which Seán slipped to the barista. He patted my hand, took a sip of his drink and whispered, “Thank you for getting me out of my office.”

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Matt blew, or rather stumbled in twenty minutes late, smelling of a mixture of alcohols. He was wearing a slime green rain jacket, a Bumble t-shirt from Rudolf the Red-nose Reindeer and really tacky shades, possibly because of the eclipse, or maybe because his eyes were bloodshot from booze. Beneath his intoxicated grin, he looked irritated.

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MM: Chase-Foster! Is there a Chase-Foster in this gawdawful place?

RWB: Over here, Matt.

SD: Jesus, what happened to him?

RWB: Shhhh.

MM: [Flopping into the chair next to Seán] What’ve they got here? I need a whisky. You’re paying, right?

RWB: Sure, I’m picking up your drink, Matt.

MM: I think you mean my tab, as in drinks plural, hon, or their ain’t gonna be no interview.

RWB: Yah, yah, I’ll get the tab. Whatever.

SD: [Gives me a puppy dog look]

RWB: Alright, you, too, Dwyer. This gig’s on me. Fortunately, it won’t take very long. You guys ready to answer some questions?

SD/MM: You betcha!/Where’s my drink!

I quickly thought of the first couple of questions as Seán waved the Barista over and whispered something in her ear. She shook her head, and then he said something else, and she nodded. In a flash the barista was back with a full bottle of Juan Gil and three wine glasses. She set them in front of Matt.

MM: What’s this crap?

SD: It’s called wine, Matt, Spanish wine actually, and one of my favorites. You’ll love it and, besides, they don’t have whiskey here.

MM: What the…!

SD: It’s this or nothing, dude. At least try it. [fills the glasses and hands one to each of us]

Matt grunted and took a tiny sip as if it were a Communion chalice, or poison. He paused for a millisecond, then quaffed the entire glass. Seán refilled Matt’s glass, and clinked Matt’s and mine with his own.

RWB: Okay, let’s get started. Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you as a writer. How long have you been writing and what is your focus?

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SD: Well, I’m Sean Dwyer and I‘ve been writing fiction for many years, since I was a child. I completed two novels and have some short fiction published. I’ve also written non-fiction work about Pablo Neruda. I’ve got two or three projects going now, and I love being part of the community of writers here in Bellingham.

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MM: I’m Matt Morgan and my gig is soft-boiled detective stories. I’m a plotter. I know Seán writes by the seat of his pants, but given my genre I need to know how I’m getting from A to B. Otherwise, I back myself into a corner. Spontaneity is for other birds. I have a series detective, and I have 6 stories in that series outlined and one written, just waiting to be hoisted on the public. I’m going Indie, baby!

RWB: You’ve both been involved in a Red Wheelbarrow Writers’ round-robin novel before. How many times have you participated, and why? What motivated you to want to be a part of a group novel?

SD: After I moved here in 2010 one of the first things I did was look up the Bellingham NaNoWriMo group and attend their kick-off meeting at the Black Drop. The group skewed young and didn’t seem interested in networking with me. And so, my next adventure into the writing community was to join a small group that included Shannon Laws and Susan Chase-Foster, among others. When October rolled around, Susan told me that I should sign up for the RWB round-robin. So, I wrote my chapter in the middle of the month, loved the concept and got hooked into RWB. I found the group extremely welcoming and so I began to attend first Saturday of the month happy hours, and by the following November Cami invited me to curate the horror novel. I had never written in collaboration with other writers and thought it would be a good growth experience. And it was.

MM: I got lured in this last November because Seán was managing the horror novel and he didn’t have enough people. You might not know this but we both grew up Gary, Indiana. I’ve known him my whole life [high-fives Seán]. So, anyhow, he emailed me and said, “ Can you write a couple of chapters to keep this book rolling?” So I said, “Dude, I’m not coming to Washington to write with you.” I misunderstood. I thought this was one of his writing retreat thingies, and that we would take turns writing chapters. I thought we would write it in one day and then post it over the course of the month. So I said, “I write soft-boiled mysteries and I don’t know how I would do with horror.” But it was a lot of fun. And Seán told me that some of the writers asked if I would be coming to RWB because they enjoyed my writing.

A guy who looks like a cross between a biker and a rock musician ambles up. “Hey,” he says looking at Seán, “aren’t you Seán Dwyer? Wow, I’ve heard about you! I totally want to read your novel. When’s it coming out?”

SD: Well, soon. It’s in progress now. Why, do you want to buy it?

“Dude! Yah! Can I give you my email and you let me know when it’s out?”

SD: Sure.

“You gotta pen, Loretta?” the guy shouts to his girlfriend at another table. She fumbles through her backpack and brings one over to him. The guy writes his email down on a napkin, hands it to Seán and leaves.

RWB: Moving on. What was it like having to write a chapter based on what came before your chapter? What were the positives and negatives?

SD: In 2012, I didn’t even know how to find the previous chapters on the website, so I wrote to Cami Ostman and said, “How will I know what I need to write?” She gave me the link, which is right on the website. I read the first thirteen chapters and made a spreadsheet of characters and their traits. I had an idea about what I wanted to write for chapter 15, but the writer of chapter 14 ruined everything I had planned for chapter 15. So I adjusted and had a great time writing my chapter. It was a really positive experience, nothing negative because it enabled me to see how flexible I can be.

MM: Seán warned me that any ideas I came up with would probably be trashed by previous writers. That added to the excitement of participating. Like I said, I’m a plotter, but once I read the chapter prior to mine there was so much material to work with that I simply took a couple of threads that I had as backups and was able to craft a good chapter. Then, I helped Seán wrap up the novel. We collaborated because I set up the final chapter for him. That was a real positive. Sort of like flying an airplane down from 30,000 feet. Hey, anymore vino, Dwyer? [holds his glass up for Seán to fill again]

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I look around. The place is empty except for the barista and the three of us. It must be getting late.

RWB: Okay, guys, just a couple more questions. What did you try to do with your chapter? For example, did you consider that somebody had to write after you?

SD: It was clear that some people tried to leave threads open for the next writer and I did my part there creating potential complications that someone could develop. As curator of the novel, I could see that a couple of writers didn’t think about that, and so I would encourage writers this year to remember that they are passing a baton and that the baton needs to not close-off the story.

MM: I saw that people were doing something helpful by moving from one locale to another and creating a cliffhanger that the next writer could develop. I certainly did that when I thought of how my story arc could go. I made sure I created a juicy situation that the next writer could use or not as she or he saw fit. I was extremely fortunate that I got to write at the end of the month, as well, because I handed Seán the finale on a silver platter, and I let him kill everyone off.

RWB: Did you find writing a collaborative novel a creative process? What was your unique contribution?

SD: I did! The mental gymnastics involved were extremely energizing. And as for my contribution, when I wrote mid-month I kept as many threads open as possible and when I wrote at the end I brought everything home.

MM: For sure. It required agility which was a good stretch for a writer like me who plots every twist before writing a word. I suppose my big contribution was helping to filll days because Seán was pretty short on writers.

RWB: What did you learn in the process?

SD: That I’m a more imaginative writer than I thought.

MM: I learned that I can write by the seat of my pants the way Seán does. Now he has competition!

RWB; Would you do it again?

SD: I wouldn’t miss it!

MM: I wouldn’t miss it, to coin a phrase.

RWB: What advice would you give this year’s writers?

SD; I joined the project in 2012 with trepidation because I feared wrecking the entire novel. Enjoy the process. Be gracious for the legacy you’re creating for the next writer, and remember that no matter what your predecessors did, you will figure out a path for the story.

MM: I appreciate how the story reached me with lots of possibilities. Its good to give openings to your next writers.

RWB: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?

SD: I could not have done any of this without the support of Cami Ostman and Susan Chase-Foster who made me comfortable in this exciting endeavor.

MM: I blame Sean Dwyer for hooking me into this.

SD: Shut up!

The barista was standing at the door, a sure sign that the place was closing. Matt grabbed the wine bottle and swigged down the last few drops. I thanked the two writers and we headed out to the street where it was still dark and stormy, just the way we like it.