Happy New Year, RWB Writers!! We hope your holidays have been restful and full of joy. We’d like to welcome in the new year by introducing one more of our most faithful RWB writers, Pam Helberg. Pam and Laura have been acquainted for nearly two decades. The rest of us are glad to know her now, too. Here’s our interview with Pam:
Pam, in your writing life what do you find most rewarding?
Absolutely the most rewarding part of my writing life has to be the relationships I have developed and continue to develop with other writers. Writing is such a solitary and lonely enterprise, and I get so much energy and juice from those friends in my writing classes and in RWB. I love being part of the writing community in Bellingham.
At the risk of sounding all self-absorbed, I have to say I find feedback from readers comes in a close second. Feedback is better than crack (I imagine :-)). I suppose all writers are self-absorbed in that we believe we have something to say that others will find useful or interesting. Of course, not all feedback is positive, and it is that honest feedback from fellow writers that I value the most–constructive criticism given freely to help me become a better writer, to reach more people, to hone my message.
Also, making people laugh. If my writing elicits a chuckle or three, then I have accomplished something.
What is most frustrating?
The foremost frustrating part of writing is the breakdown in the process of transferring my witty and wonderful thoughts from my brain to my blank computer screen. Something always goes horribly awry in the transition and what comes out is often just shitty drivel, not the deathless prose I imagined.
Secondly, I think most writers who have day jobs to pay the bills will agree, one of the most frustrating aspects of writing is that there is never enough time or quite the right space for it. Some of us are fortunate enough to be writing in our retirement and in a room of our own, a space specifically dedicated to our pursuit of immortality. The rest of us prop our laptop on our knees as we vanpool to work and tap out a few sentences before we fall asleep each night. I often imagine a utopia in which we are all remunerated for practicing our crafts.
What project(s) are you undertaking now? Where are you in the process?
Several projects currently clutter my hard drive: a novel, a memoir, and a couple of short pieces for anthologies. My novel, which began as a screenplay, is currently on hold (with about 4 chapters completed) so I can focus on my memoir. My imagination is not as active as I’d like it to be, so I really appreciate not having to make stuff up, and much of my life story does fall under the “you can’t make this shit up–truth is stranger than fiction” category. My memoir follows me through my early 20s and 30s as I find myself the adoptive lesbian mother of two beautiful girls and the subsequent unraveling of my relationship with my partner and co-parent, how I struggle to remain relevant in my children’s lives as I build a new life for myself. I’m also working on a short piece about my holy roller upbringing–how does a budding lesbian survive a childhood of Christian fundamentalist indoctrination? Unfortunately, these projects are still in the early natal stages–gestation and labor promise to be long and painful.
What is the role of readers for your work? Do you share your work in draft? What do you most value in your readers?
I can’t imagine writing without having readers at every step along the way–feedback keeps me going. One of my biggest fears is completing a manuscript and having an editor say “you’ve got it all wrong from the get go.” How devastating would that be? I find structured classes to be the most helpful, getting input from someone who knows the publishing/writing world as well as from my peers. Readers who offer constructive feedback, ask questions, and give genuine support rock my world.
Who are the writers you have admired in the past and why?
I’ve long admired Anne Lamott and have read all of her work–I so appreciate her perspective on family. I wouldn’t however, be tempted to be a writer had I not been raised in a family of journalists–my father and grandfather both spent most of their lives in the newspaper business, demonstrating to me early on that writing was both useful and valuable, that one could actually make a living with a typewriter and a ream of paper. I’ve long admired my friend and mentor Laura Kalpakian, a superb and imaginative writer, who has set a shining example of the writing life and from whom I have learned so much. And I admire all of my writer friends (particularly Tele and Kari) who dedicate vast swaths of their lives to telling their stories while balancing work, children (canine, feline, and otherwise), relationships, family.
What have you discovered in your life as a writer?
I have discovered a bottomless well of support from my partner, Nancy, and that when I am doing what I love, what I was born to do, life becomes sweeter, less complicated, easier.
Thanks to Pam for helping us to get to know her better. You can follow Pam on her blog: http://pmbgp.blogspot.com/
Having recently laughed my way through several pages of a recent piece of yours, I can affirm that your on-paper voice absolutely conveys the witty and wonderful goods in your brain. It’s a privilege and a delight to be one of your readers, my friend.