Tag Archive for writers

Resist! A Premonition

by Carol McMillan

Do you remember what you felt the week before the 2016 presidential election? As an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter, I still nursed some anger at the Democratic National Committee and the media, feeling they hadn’t given him the coverage they’d given Hillary Clinton, but, still, we were about to elect the first woman president. An historic moment! A glass ceiling hung poised above us all, waiting to be massively shattered. I remember watching the CBS pundits, running their predictive pointers across a red, blue, and purple map of the country, explaining all the possibilities that might be foreseen if this state went red or another went blue. His final words had been “Only a miracle could turn enough states red for a Republican victory.” Hillary’s landslide was assured; even the most unfavorable polls said so.

I joined my friends in planning parties to celebrate Hillary Rodham Clinton’s election as the first woman president of the United States of America. Three of us had even reserved a cabin on Orcas Island for our women’s victory weekend. Champagne, chocolate, beach walks, and companionship beckoned from our future.

I just want to take this moment to apologize for what happened next. It was my fault. Yes, honestly, it was all my fault! Let me explain.

On the night of November 5th, three days before the presidential election, I went to sleep in a familiar universe. I turned the heat down to sixty-two, took my evening vitamins, flossed my teeth, puffed my pillows, and snuggled down under my comforter. The cat jumped onto my bed as I turned out the light, curling his body into its usual position against my legs. Sleep came easily.

Three hours later I awoke from a soul-freezing nightmare. In my detailed and vivid dream, I sat at a long utilitarian table in an institutional green room. A group of us were awaiting the first deliveries of ballots that we could begin counting. A friend came rushing in from outside, visibly upset. “More Republican ballots are coming in than Democratic!”

Not believing her for a minute, I hurried out to the loading docks where ballots were arriving in large, flat white bags of heavy plastic, sorted by party. My stomach suddenly filled with icy lead, freezing me in place, as I realized that she was correct: more Republican votes were pouring into that small-town vote-counting place than Democratic.

The terror I felt jolted me into instant consciousness. The dream made no sense; everyone knew Hillary would win, but the vivid dream felt precognitively real. I feared that it foretold an unforeseen slip into an alternative universe, previously unknown and somehow malevolent.

For the next three days, I did everything possible to dispel the outcome predicted by that dream. How could I re-route the Universe, steer it away from that terrifying course? The man who originally seemed only to be a bad campaign joke, could not possibly take over the governance of my country! Everyone else seemed to continue as usual, confident of Hillary’s victory, unaware of the bifurcation of universes that I feared lay just ahead.

On the afternoon of the election, I felt even more certain that my dream had been an inexplicable premonition. Frantically, I pulled up every irrational superstition I could think of in an attempt to derail an unimaginable future.

If I wear different shoes this won’t come true.

If I don’t go to Leah’s to watch the returns this won’t come true.

If I don’t bring the bottle of my favorite port to her house this won’t come true.

History may record that the Earth changed course because

I did wear the shoes and

I did go to Leah’s and

I did bring the port.

Undoubtedly, the election of the forty-fifth president was entirely my fault: I had been warned. Megalomania has not been one of my usual faults but it continues to lurk here just below my consciousness.

This morning, as my first waking sensation, an inky sense of wrongness creeps into my consciousness. Reaching to snuggle my cat, I seek to retreat. If something so malevolent lurks in the waking world I will choose sleep. But my efforts defy me; consciousness is sending out a tentacle, ensnaring my thoughts, sucking them out into dawn. The man who ran a campaign based on anger and bigotry, despite everyone’s predictions to the contrary, has been elected president, and it is my fault.

So, I write this as an apology. My only sustaining consolation is that my friends have fallen into this alternative universe with me. If you are willing to forgive me, we will lock arms and wrestle this cosmic alligator back onto an appropriate track. Anyone know where to find a wormhole we might use to reboot reality?

Author’s Bio: CAROL MCMILLAN, until the past few years, had mostly published in academic journals. But moving to Bellingham has brought her poetry and memoir writing out of the closet; she has now been published in several anthologies. Carol is the author of one book, White Water, Red Walls, chronicling in poetry, photographs, and paintings her rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. She is currently working on a memoir of her experiences during the 1960’s in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Before the Edit

by Virginia Herrick                                         

For authors, editing pays. It pays in getting your message across, in the capacity to capture your readers’ attention, and in efficiency, time, and money. An unedited manuscript is generally something only a mother could love. And, yep, in this case you, Author Dearest, are “Mom.”

So … what is editing? Many writers when they first approach an editor may not be certain about what kind of help they need. Editing is not a monolithic unit of work, like attaching widgets on an assembly line. Write … edit … cover art … SPROING! Out comes a book! Uh … no.

In fact, about the only time you aren’t editing is that first flush of creative outpouring (or jaw-clenching determination, if the muse does not smile). After that, you’re editing. The first edits, of course, are the author’s own. Otherwise known as the “second (or third, or fourth, or …) draft.”

Dos and Don’ts of writing the first draft of your novel

Do … keep writing. Crafting and re-crafting that gorgeous first chapter is well worthwhile … after you’ve finished the first draft of your book.

Don’t … wordsmith a lot. Later, you can fix your grammar and punctuation, or ponder just the right simile. For now, get the story down.

Do … spend time getting to know your characters, even if it means writing something you know doesn’t belong in the book.

Don’t … agonize over that scene that just isn’t working. Skip it. Make a note to yourself about the plot points that need to be accomplished and move on.

In nonfiction, with obvious exceptions, the same applies. Make your outline, sure. But relax if you need to write things as you get the information and interviews, and organize later.

Now, say you’ve finished that first draft … and it’s full of pedestrian writing, disjointed storytelling, head-hopping and stream-of-consciousness reflections on irrelevant background material … Celebrate! A first draft is a massive achievement!

And … welcome to editing. Read over your manuscript, noting problem areas and tweaking language as you go. Fix everything you possibly can before you look for an editor. The better your manuscript, the less expensive the professional edit! Fix that scene you skipped, make sure your character’s motivations and development are coherent, and polish, polish, polish the dialogue. For nonfiction authors, the focus will be organizing your material, improving your narrative voice, and making sure you have all the information you need, no more, and in the right order!

Next step is a beta read. The more volunteers you have, the better. This is the place for your mom, your best friend, that guy down the street who will read anything as long as it’s (Fill In Your Genre Here), members of your writers group who owe you favors, etc. Take their responses, fix the ones that make your book better, ignore the rest, and repeat as needed. NOW you’re ready for The Editor!


vhAbout Virginia

Virginia has been making up stories for fun since she was a skinny, shy kid with straight hair down to her waist. She’s now less shy, less skinny, and has shorter hair. However, she still loves fantasy novels, other novels, other books, the beach, the woods, animals, birds of prey, and thinking, writing, and talking about how to make the world better.

Most of her waking hours, Virginia is reading and writing: emails, blog posts, news, social media, magazine articles, book reviews, and – oh, yeah! – stories! Often when she’s reading and writing, she has a dog at her feet and a cat cruising back and forth between her and her monitor and/or book. This is not convenient. It is not efficient. But it is the way she rolls.

She has been a babysitter, secretary, hair stylist, pet groomer, lobbyist, newspaper reporter, and newspaper editor. Now she edits and reviews books and short stories, and writes poems, short stories and as-yet-unpublished novels. (Stay tuned!) Several years ago, Virginia fostered more than fifty cats and kittens over a period of three summers and is very proud that she only kept one! Her two mostly-grown kids help around the house without being asked. It’s weird.

A member of the Bellingham Friends (Quaker) Meeting in Washington state, Virginia lives with her sometime-sailor husband, Mark, cats named Sinbad and Mercury, and a miniature schnauzer named Espy. She would foster more kittens, but Mercury says no. Sinbad and Espy would totally be cool with it.

“Roadmap to Writing Your Book”: Six Months of Classes

The Red Wheelbarrow Writers and Village Books present a new six-month writing program, “Roadmap to Writing Your Book,” to be held at the Village Inn in Fairhaven once a month. In these monthly workshops, you’ll learn about creating “SMART” goals, benchmarks, and schedules for your writing that will help you get your writing done at last. Find out how to make sure your project goals are reachable and reasonable, and then learn how to organize your writing time so that you can get to work.

Through the months ahead, writers who enroll in this six month program will participate in classes and group coaching sessions each month, taught by Red Wheelbarrow faculty members Laura Kalpakian, Cami Ostman, Nancy Adair, and Deb Currier. Sessions will focus on building the skills and habits you need in order to be successful at making significant progress on your narrative project by the end of 2013 (both fiction writers and narrative nonfiction writers are welcome). Classes will take place the third Thursday of each month from 6-9pm in the conference room at the Fairhaven Village Inn, 1200 10th Street, Bellingham, WA 98225. Tuition is $399 and includes a copy of Priscilla Long’s book, The Writer’s Portable  Mentor. Registration is available at the main counter at Village Books, 1200 11th Street.


Class schedule:

May: How Do You Write?: Working with Your Myers/Briggs Profile to Create Optimal Work Habits and The Six Traits of Good Writing. This is a three-hour seminar which will start you off on the right foot. Content focuses on helping you know yourself as a writer and directing you to keep an eye on the general aspects of good writing while producing manuscript.

June: Narrative arc in book-length fiction and nonfiction. Instruction and group coaching.

July: Character development. Instruction and group coaching.

August: Writing effective dialogue. Instruction and group coaching.

September: Manuscript revision. A three-hour workshop with writing prompts that will teach you how to have an eye for structural revision.

October: Reading in public. Instruction and practice to help you get ready for your author reading.

November: Author reading at Village Books. Choose a portion of your work to read to an audience at Village Books.


For more information, contact Cami at clostman@live.com

The Great American Collective Novel(s)

By Cami Ostman

Well, dear friends, NaNoWriMo is over.

I had grand ideas of adding 50,000 words to my own novel in addition to facilitating our two RWB collectives, but alas, that’s not how the month unfolded for me. The good news, personally, was that once I added about 17,000 words to my own novel, I realized that the skeleton of the story was done and that what is needed is a careful, slow revision with attention to detail. For me that was a victory, even if it did mean watching NaNo buddies update their word counts all month while I played with words already on the page.

And the further good news for me this November was that I had a TON of fun with No Rest for The Wicked. A total of 51 writers wrote a total of 57 chapters in two versions of a novel that started with the same set of characters and circumstances and veered in about… well 51 different directions! Each evening I would post a chapter, thank that day’s author for contributing, email the author for the next day’s chapter and go to bed wondering what Eli’s clan(s) would be up to in the next 24 hours.

I observed that most of you who participated brought your expertise and passion to the project. We clearly had writers with medical, legal, poisonous, and arsenal specialties. We also had the soft-hearted among us who tried (to no avail) to redeem characters such as Eli and Randy, only to have them villainized once again by their successors.

The dog found her voice in version ONE, where Eli decided to leave his fortune to his four-legged friend, the only creature who had any true affection for the man. In version TWO, Eli feigned bankruptcy to see who loved him best. The answer, no one, really.

And by my count, a total of three illegitimate sons came out of the woodwork (well, actually, one switched-at-birth, one a result of a date rape, and one who thought he might be Eli’s from a 15-year affair, but who secretly did a DNA test to discover he was the product of his mother’s one-night stand with a different man altogether).

I don’t know about everyone else, but illegitimate children notwithstanding, I learned a few legitimate things about the writing process this month. I learned:

1. If you set a time limit and make yourself accountable to other people, you WILL get words on the page.

2. First drafts are rarely consistent with what has come before and that’s why God invented revision.

3. People of all skill and experience levels are willing to risk writing and putting their work out in public IF the pressure to be perfect (or even good) is taken off the table–ergo, perfectionism is not the friend of productivity.

4. It is possible to write 100,000 words in 30 days–even if it does require 51 authors.

5. I live among supportive, good-natured, risk-taking writers whose works I cannot wait to read in the years to come.

Thank you to all who made the NaNoWriMo Great American Collective Novel (s) possible this year.


Join us for a reading from our two great novels at Village Books, Monday, December 10 at 7pm.