Red Wheelbarrow Writers, meet Alicia Jamtaas! We know her as “Lish,” and she’s one of our regulars at happy hour. A big thanks to her for agreeing to be interviewed as our April Writer of the Month.

Lish, in your writing life what do you find most rewarding?

The best thing? Taking a cup of tea to my club house (a room of my own), settling into the comfy chair, resting my feet on the stool my father made for me when I was a child and bringing my “writing world” to life. Within minutes the characters are eating in the grease filled air of Clara Rae’s Diner, driving under the snapping banner announcing Port Liden Days, or listening to the whip-crack of pool balls while drinking whiskey at The Spit and Inlet Bar. My mind thrills at the prospect of describing the world in which my characters live, the physical and mental turmoils they face while I search for the word to make a sentence not just glimmer, but spark.

After about an hour of creating, I pull out critiques from my writing group and begin revisions on the last twenty to thirty pages they have reviewed. More often than not, I use their suggestions. Sometimes I leave the work as it is. In the end I find both the creation and the correction of my work incredibly rewarding.

What is most frustrating?

Not having enough time to write. Really, I shouldn’t complain because I only work Monday through Thursday. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are mine to enjoy any way I please. Still, Fridays are filled with domestic chores (and used as a respite from computer work). Then, on Saturday someone asks my husband and me out for dinner (who can resist not having to cook?). Perhaps we take a hike on Stimson Trail to listen to wood peckers, ravens, nut hatches and chipmunks. Maybe we go to the waterfront to remind ourselves of the scent of salt air and creosote. And, voila, Monday rolls around again. But, truth be told, I set aside much of Saturday and part of Sunday for writing, and try to get at least six hours of work done during those two days. Sometimes being a recluse pays off .

A minor frustration is when I come up with the perfect way to improve a sentence, a scene, an entire chapter while I’m doing something besides writing like driving the car or talking to a patient. Street signs flash by. Minutes pass. Finally, when it’s time to put pen to paper again, the thought has evaporated like fog into the sea.

What project(s) are you undertaking now? Where are you in the process?

I am working on two projects. The first is a fictional story about the truth and lies that surface after the death of a fisherman in a small coastal town. The final draft looms on the horizon. My writing group has at last requested a copy of the complete work so they can read it in its entirety during the coming summer, not a chapter or two each month. How exciting! I want/need them to be thrilled with the improvements I couldn’t have made without their help.

The second project is a young adult novel I wrote about five years ago. It is in the third/fourth (fifth?) revision, but has never been through the rigors of my writing peers. It was edited by a professor at western and came so close to being published I could taste it. Now, as a much improved writer, I am reviewing the manuscript once again. (I’m sure my critique group will be grateful to read about the lives of new characters in a different place and time.)

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 don’t know what I would do without Cate Perry and Deanna Todd-Goodson! They have patiently critiqued my current work for four years and three drafts. Cate excels at seeing the big picture. Her suggestions run from telling me a chapter is spectacular even as she wonders why I thought it belonged in the novel, to something as simple as moving a character to the other side of the room for more effect. Deanna catches the spelling errors, the overuse of hyphens and commas, the discrepancy of an item in place and time (i.e., A transistor radio in 1990?). She even counts how many times a word is used on a page and lets me know the repetition put her to sleep.

Who are the writers you have admired in the past and why?

While contemplating this question I realized I don’t admire any particular writer. I just know there are some books I would never read again and others I have read five or six times. I pull a book off the library shelf and read “the flap.” If it sounds interesting, the book comes home with me. Later, I admire the author if he/she overwhelms me with a seamless use of back story (Tawni O’Dell’s Coal Run or On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon by Kaye Gibbons), the poetic use of language (books by James Lee Burke and Sarah Hall’s Electric Michelangelo), if he/she shrouds history in a glorious story of people, animals, and events (Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen or Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris), or presents an unexpected point of view such as the story told by Death in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

What have you discovered in your life as a writer?

I have discovered that, if a time machine truly existed, I would jump inside and revisit the hours I spent in high school sitting at my best friend’s kitchen table. She and I would once again write in notebooks with easy to erase lead pencil. We would be wrapped in a world of words while the potatoes her family expected for dinner burned to the bottom of the sauce pan. If I could sit there one more time, I would see, absolutely, that I WAS MEANT TO BE A WRITER and would begin to steer my life toward Shakespeare classes and avoid floundering on the shores of archaeology before I became fully anchored in the world of dentistry.

“But it isn’t too late!” I tell myself as I disappear into the story inside my head.


Thanks again to Lish for sharing her experience as a writer. We’re glad you’re part of our community, Lish! Thanks for letting us get to know you a little better.