Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Coupling a story to a physical journey is one way to create a clear quality of movement, that underlying dynamic that makes a story 'work.' The stages of the physical journey can correspond to the stages in the story.
Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild is a wonderful example of this kind of storytelling.
Wild starts with a prologue that takes a dramatic scene from deeper within the story, when Cheryl has lost one hiking boot and tosses another off the trail. This raises powerful questions: what brought her to this point, and could she continue the hike, or how could she continue, in this situation?
She also conveys she is alone, a stray; that with her mother's death her step-father withdrew from her life and her siblings drifted away, and she drifted into odd jobs, drugs, and casual sex.
This leads to an answer to why she is on the Pacific Crest Trail: to find herself. This raises the question, will she find herself by finishing the hike? We have to read to the end of the book to find out. Because as a reader I want to know, the prologue has done its job.
The prologue ends with the line that even bootless, Cheryl had one option, "To keep walking." This is also a powerful metaphor for how to live life.
Cheryl then goes to the beginning of the hike, the thoughts that crystallized the idea, the preparation, the packing, the real decision to begin the hike, which makes her realize the hike had another beginning, her mother's death from cancer.
The plot of the memoir - the hike along the trail - now connects to a deeper layer of emotions and understanding.
Many people think of plot as a sequence of events, but those events must be connected to something deeper to have meaning. This is true whether the story is Fellini's 8 ½ or the action film Lethal Weapon. The action of the plot events striking characters puts characters into deeper states of feeling, and the reader gets to experience those states.
But first, Cheryl sets the story and plot into motion together in the prologue. Then, when we want to know more about her, she gives us more, by returning to her life with her dying mother and the exchange:
I did not want to do this, but I did, inexplicable, as if I had a great fever that could be cooled only by those words. I went so far as to ask her directly, "Have I been the best daughter in the world?"
She said yes, I had, of course.
But this was not enough. I wanted those words to knit together in my mother's mind and for them to be delivered, fresh to me.
I was ravenous for love.
This is pure, heartfelt emotion and need.
When her mother dies, Cheryl writes...
I didn't know where I was going until I got there.
It was a place called the Bridge of the Gods.
Now that we understand something about Cheryl, now we are ready for the hike to begin, at least if Cheryl can check into a motel for a night. Because she doesn't have a home to return to or knowledge of where she'll live when the hike is over, this moment of trying to check into the cheap hotel reflects something deeper about Cheryl's situation in this world. By not having/owning/nesting some place, she's free to chart her own course.
Most worldly people surround themselves with things (job, home, spouse, child) and feel rooted to this world, or, in some cases, stuck, bound to a life half-lived out of duty and half lived out of fear.
At this moment, Cheryl thinks back to her marriage with Paul, again matching the journey to emotions.
This chapter ends with, 'I only knew that it was time to go, so I opened the door and stepped into the light.'
The use of the word light here echoes with that understanding of dying and going into the light. Cheryl is giving birth to a new life for herself. She's not withholding the purpose of the trip, she's setting it out with bold, lucid clarity, so her readers can share the moment and the journey. Struggling writers can't escape the flawed idea that storytelling is about withholding information, instead of being about revealing information that allows readers to share a story's journey.
The physical journey onto the trail in Wild is announced as Part Two of the book. It has a comical beginning, with Cheryl at first unable to get her heavily loaded backpack hefted onto her shoulders. The natural metaphor is of the heavy baggage we all carry, but in Cheryl's case, she's aware of the weight of her baggage for the first time.
When she needs to get the pack on again and a young man offers to help, she turns him down. The Cheryl before the trail probably would have been glad for the help. It's subtle, but it defines how her character is changing even in the opening moments of the journey.
Within an hour, her mind is telling her to give up, but Cheryl had made a deal with herself:
'I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I choose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me."
A powerful realization, and because she's using it in a situation that would seem to be overwhelming, it has a powerful impact. But she still has to prove out this new identity by finishing the journey.
Getting through to her first night on the trail, Cheryl reads a poem over and over again, 'Power.'
On this second day, she comes to the realization, 'I was in entirely new terrain.'
Now she experiences the reality of a mountain and as the days mount, she comes to understand after an encounter with a bull, '...was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do. How there was no escape or denial. No numbing it down with a martini or covering it up with a roll in the hay.'
So she walks on, choosing to go forward, not back, into this new life that will not be numbed down.
If Cheryl had taken the path of writing one chapter in the present and then one in the past, she would have needed to find another way to create the same powerful fusion of story and plot and physical journey. For some struggling writers the underlying problem is they want to use writing about the past as a way to explain or introduce their story, plot, and main character, before setting their story into motion. It risks making the beginning of a story a recitation of details of events and situations and people, without giving a reader a context or a reader to care or feel invested in what happens next.
As she continues the hike, Cheryl finds herself in a now awareness. 'I saw no one, but, strange as it was, I missed no one.'
She experiencing life in her own skin, not as an on-going reaction to others that is constantly mulled over and dissected into dust, until the next anxiety train pulls into the station.
As she continues on the trail, Cheryl begins to hear about the snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and she meets an experienced hiker who tells her it might not be possible to get through the snow-covered trail. That gives her pause, but his belief that she's doing fine also lifts her spirits. Now she has a new mantra at night:
Who is tougher than me? No one.
The sadness for most people, they have a different answer.
As she continues, Cheryl realizes she can bear the unbearable. She continues...
'I had only just begun. I was three weeks into my hike, but everything in me felt altered. I lay in the water as long as I could without breathing, alone in a strange new land, while the actual world all around me hummed on.'
Going through a period of hot sun and lack of water, she appreciates the unending depths of pleasure in drinking a Snapple.
Facing hiking a section of the trail with now too small boots and only sandals, she must 'ride into battle like a warrior' to get through the next section of trail and the new boots waiting for her.
Here we catch up to the prologue, when losing one boot, she throws the other after it. Now she must finish this portion of the hike in sandals that are held together with duct tape.
In a clear cut forest, she sees a metaphor for the destruction of her family after her mother's death. And half way through her hike, she realizes she's had so many amazing experiences, she no longer need feel amazed that her step father abandoned her when her mother died.
'There were so many other amazing things in the world.
'They opened up inside me like a river...I laughed with the joy of it.'
'I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world, too.'
She is transforming, and she writes in a way that allows us to share the moment.
The memoir continues, the hike now moving into Oregon, stopping in Ashland, then back on the trail.
Now, she confronts her feelings about her mother, who kept her and her siblings isolated from others, who died before Cheryl could grow up and feel distant to her, to share her failings with friends. Until she realizes, her mother had always given her all the love she had to offer; and Cheryl begins to heal inside.
Now the story picks up pace, and she writes about hiking through Oregon, 'I skipped it, I spun it, leapt it in my imagination...'
As she nears the end of the trail for her, sleeping in a futon with three young man, she realizes, 'For once I didn't ache for companionship. For once the phrase woman with a hole in her heart didn't thunder through my brain.'
As the hike comes to an end, she is now ready to release the final weight she carries on the trail, the burden of her memory of her mother.
Now at the end of her journey, she thinks to the universe, 'Thank you,' and, 'it was enough to trust that what I'd done was true.'
Wild, a powerful, powerful work, deserving of its acclaim.
To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, books, and plays, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
For more information about receiving the announcements or sending your own announcement to this list, go to
We never lend or sell our mailing list. If you no longer wish to be on this list, you can unsubscribe by clicking the “unsubscribe” link at the end.
ANNOUNCEMENTS ARE ON AN EVERY OTHER WEEK SCHEDULE.
WANTED: YOUR FEMINIST POEMS
FOR AN INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY POETRY READING
To initiate a new Soapstone program of grants: EVENTS CELEBRATING WOMEN WRITERS, I am organizing a Soapstone-sponsored International Women’s Day poetry reading, March 8, 4:00-6:00 pm at Taborspace. (Free, open to the public, mark your calendars.)
I’m looking for a diversity of many women’s voices to read one or two poems each. Interpret “feminist” however you wish.
If you’re interested in reading your work, please submit one to three poems, with titles, of any length. For extra credit, submit a copy of one feminist poem by a poet-matriarch that has inspired you in your life or work. (Some of these will be read or displayed.)
Email the poems to email@example.com. Include your name and very brief biographical statement including age. Subject line: Submission to Ellen Goldberg.
Deadline for submissions: January 15, 2015
The New Soapstone: Celebrating Women Writers
We are pleased to announce that we are now offering two new opportunities for readers and writers in Oregon and Southwest Washington.
Small Grants to an Individual Woman or an Ad Hoc Group of Women
These funds are to support events and study groups celebrating the work of women writers. The application process is simple and the time between applying and notification short. For the first year, Soapstone board members will serve as the grant review committee.
All events and study groups will be open to the public and offered at no charge.
Go to our website for more details: www.soapstone.org
Writing the Jewish Experience
A Poetry & Prose Workshop with Willa Schneberg
Sunday, November 23, 1:00-5:00pm
Oregon Jewish Museum & Center for Holocaust Education
Ticket Info: General Public: $60; OJMCHE Members: $45
Open to all levels of experience.
No person will be turned away for inability to pay.
Is Jewish poetry or prose something written by a Jewish author, or must it have a Jewish theme? Participants will explore in their own words what they consider the Jewish experience. In this generative workshop, works by Allen Ginsberg, Yehuda Amichai, Adrienne Rich, Grace Paley, Sabena Stark, Yuvi Zalkow and others, will be considered as motivations for expressing our deeply held sense of Jewish identity -- what it means to be Jewish and to write as a Jew.
To find out more about it or to reserve your space go to: http://www.ojm.org/experience/special-event-2014-11-23-writers-workshop or Contact: Palma Corral: 503-226-3600.
Those who choose to, will share what they have written at an accompanying OJMCHE event, Reading the Jewish Experience, on Monday, December 8, at 7:30pm.
Willa will also read from her new collection Rending the Garment. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Writer's Retreat in Hood River
Wonderful 1 BR cottage available by the week or month in Hood River. Quiet neighborhood, beautiful view of Mt. Adams, walking distance to park, pool, bakery and restaurants. Shelves filled with poetry, literary fiction and writers reference books. Potential connection to schools/libraries for readings or workshops. $500/week includes all utilities and wifi access. Available Nov 15 to May 1.
Please contact Leigh at firstname.lastname@example.org; 541-645-0700.
Winter Writer's Retreat Special in Waldport Cabin:
Located 20' from McKinney Slough on the central Oregon coast, our fully-furnished, cook-ready 1-br cabin is available to writer/s seeking an inspirational setting in a semi-private forested 3-cabin enclave with other writers (your hosts) living on the grounds. For pictures and more info, check us out at https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/3317692?s=oGv2 .
Stay 3-7 nights (or more), and get 50% off the regular airbnb price of $80/night / $450/wk.
Other deals may be negotiable.
Send a paragraph or two with some info about yourself and what you'd like to accomplish while here, when, how long, and amount of any additional discount if needed. Based on availability December - March.
Send email directly to email@example.com.
Handmade Artist Books by Marilyn Stablein included in A Salute to Oregon Artists!
George White Library
2811 NE Holman Street
November 20th-December 21
free drop-in poetry workshop on Sun Nov 23 at North Portland branch library led by Kaia Sand where & when: Sunday, November 23. 12:30-2pm.
North Portland Branch of Multnomah Public Library, second floor (computer lab & exhibition space) 512 N. Killingworth
registration: No registration necessary, but you are welcome to email Kaia to let her know you are coming sand (at) kaiasand (dot) net
supplies: just bring pen & and notebook. We will be creating new writing, not working with previous writing.
what to expect: Poet Kaia Sand will lead group participants in poetry writing that involves listening and movement. We will create a group poem, and participants will leave with the beginning of new writing. The workshop will take place in the exhibit space for Passing it On, an interactive art and poetry exhibit Sand collaborated on with Garrick Imatani and others (for more on the exhibit please visit this library calendar listing) as part of their artist residency at the City Archives, commissioned by the Regional Arts and Culture Council. Sand will share some of the poetry composition strategies she used for the exhibit.
more info: http://kaiasand.net/drop-in-poetry-workshop/
All artists are welcome to share. There's an open mic every Saturday at the Beehive in Nehalem from 3-5. Please feel free to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or would like additional information.
CONVERSATIONS WITH WRITERS Monday, November 24 7:00-9:00 PM Hillsboro Main Library, 2850 NE Brookwood Pkwy, Hillsboro
For November, our Conversations With Writers meeting will be led by Susan DeFreitas.
Susan is a writer, editor, and spoken word artist. Her work has appeared in The Utne Reader, The Nervous Breakdown, Southwestern American Literature, Fourth River, Weber—The Contemporary West, and Bayou Magazine, among other publications. She holds an MFA from Pacific University and lives in Portland, Oregon, where she serves as an associate editor with Indigo Editing & Publications and a reader for Tin House Magazine.
Susan calls the event, “Having It by Heart: Memorizing Poetry in the Digital Age”.
She will talk with us about the radical act of committing poetry to heart--both our own and that of other people--and the many pleasures and benefits this old-fashioned practice offers in the digital age.
Conversations With Writers invites authors to read and tell us about their work and their writing methods. Not just a reading, but an event for audience members to interact and ask questions about word choices, styles, or the writer's development of his / her art. It's an informal atmosphere to help us all better understand the craft of writing. For more information, visit: cwwor.weebly.com
American Atlas: A Reading by Storyteller Rob Katsuno at Angst Gallery in Vancouver, WA
December 1, 2014
A One-Man Show Written by and Starring Rob Katsuno Directed by Nikki Weaver of Portland Playhouse
7pm Monday, December 1 Angst Gallery 1015 Main Street Vancouver, WA 98660
American Atlas depicts an Asian American conformist struggling to form his identity. Rob Katsuno’s storytelling employs humor to explore the intersection of multiculturalism and America’s aspirational culture.
Rob Katsuno has lived in Clark County since 1999. He has performed locally at Tommy O’s, Ghost Town Poetry Open Mic, and Back Fence PDX. Katsuno’s story “Daniela Says” won third place in Willamette Writers’ Kay Snow contest in 2011.
We are happy to announce three Fellowship opportunities for the 2015 Summer Fishtrap Gathering of Writers held July 6-12 at Wallowa Lake. Applications are being accepted now through December 15.
Fishtrap Fellowships recognize and encourage writers who show promise at an early stage in their career. The primary benefit of this award is an opportunity to attend the 2015 Summer Fishtrap Gathering. In addition, Fellows receive advance workshop registration, meals, lodging, and are featured readers at an evening program during the week.
A Fishtrap Fellowship covers the cost of the seven-day retreat including a five-day writing workshop in any genre plus readings, activities, and panel discussions. A Fishtrap Fellowship is valued at more than $1000. But more than that, it is an opportunity for emerging writers to polish their craft in an atmosphere of mentorship and community as they build new friendships and a renewed sense of creative potential.
2015 Fishtrap Fellowships
Broadway Books is pleased to announce that it will be hosting several local authors as guest booksellers on Small Business Saturday, November 29. Chelsea Cain, Brian Benson, Karen Karbo, Ben Parzybok, Whitney Otto, Brian Doyle, David Shafer, Natalie Serber, and Joe Kurmanskie will be some of our local writers in the store between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm, chatting with customers and recommending some of their favorite books.
Hundreds of independent bookstores across the country will be hosting local authors on this day, thanks to a movement called Indies First. Started last year by noted author Sherman Alexie, Indies First encourages authors to launch the holiday season by rallying support for their local bookstores.
Small Business Saturday, founded by American Express in 2010, is celebrated every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It is a day dedicated to helping support the local businesses that help to create jobs, boost the economy, and preserve neighborhoods. Since opening in 1992, Broadway Books has been committed to preserving a strong literary community in Portland.
This event is free and open to the public. Broadway Books is located at 1714 NE Broadway, Portland. www.broadwaybooks.net.
Small Press Panel Discussion at Willamette Writers
December 2nd, 2014, 7pm The Old Church 1422 SW 11th Ave.
Award-winning Seattle author Terry Persun, Seattle’s Pink Fish Press managing editor, Renda Dodge, and Jared John Smith, Portland author, take the stage for an informal discussion about the brave new world of small press publishing. If you don’t feel that a traditional publishing deal or that the self-publishing world is for you, then maybe a small press is the answer!
Terry Persun’s Guidebook to Working with Small Independent Publishers (Pink Fish Press, 2012), presents the pros and cons of small press publishers. Jared John Smith's Rabbit is about J, a male American folklorist, aged twenty-seven, collecting ghost stories across states for freelance pieces. Renda Belle Dodge is the author of Inked and The Indie Writer’s Workshop and is the managing editor of Line Zero, a quarterly literature and arts journal.
Read more in Peter Field's column.
Catherine Egan (movement)
Kaia Sand (text)
Hanna Piper Burns (film)
Sunday, November 23 Doors at 6:00 pm; performance at 7:00 pm sharp
232 SW Ankeny
GHOST TOWN POETRY OPEN MIC
Note new date and time
3pm Saturday, November 22
Cover to Cover Books
6300 NE St. James Rd., Suite 104B (St. James & Minnehaha)
Vancouver, WA 98663
Featuring Peggy Barnett:
Peggy Barnett was born in 1945 and grew up in Queens, New York in the 1950’s. She went to Public School 89, Joseph Pulitzer JHS 145, Music and Art High School and graduated from The Cooper Union with a degree in Fine Art. She opened a photography studio in 1968 and became a very successful corporate still-life and portrait photographer. She sold the studio in 2006 and moved north of Seattle to the green fields of Maltby, Washington.
Community Announcements from Soapstone by soapstone
622 SE 29th Avenue Portland, OR 97214 USA
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
It was a great interview.
Daniel sporting his Miskatonic shirt. Miskatonic University is a fictional east-coast university that first appeared in H.P. Lovecraft's 1922 story "Herbert West–Reanimator" and was later used by other writers.
Nope, you don't find a Sci-Fi entry but Victorian – calm and lovely.
The green green view from a window.
We found Daniel's hidden front door up a small hill and behind much Portlandesque vegetation.
A lovely mix of books - some children's, Daniel's newest book "Robogenesis" and a book on the Great Plains, where Daniel is from.
Daniel signing our prized book at his desk.
Art reflects roots. Daniel is a member of the Cherokee Nation.
A little music on the mantle.
In this insightful and exciting interview, Wilson tells of his life’s trajectory, from those first books and stories to his most recent efforts in novels, movies and gaming. His books and conversation reflect his passion and degrees in Computer Science (BS), Robotics (MS), Machine Learning (MS), Robotics (PhD). Throughout our conversation he shares who and what helped influence him most, and his remarkable insights on the art of writing and the business of publishing. Daniel H. Wilson’s interview is one that will surely inspire readers and writers of all genres.
Late along that timeline a young boy in Oklahoma discovered what he called a “time machine.” It was science fiction books, paperbacks from his father’s small library and a local used bookstore. A strange thing happened when he opened one of these. Somehow the sun would shift, hours disappeared, and he felt different.
Those experiences would shape Wilson’s life as he tried to balance his goals of becoming a scientist, and his natural gift of being a writer. Like a machine he plowed ahead, winning a PhD in robotics from a leading university; and like a dreamer he continued to write, starting with non-fiction and short stories, and evolving into bestselling novels and movies.
It’s been an historical arc of five centuries, from the first known designs of a mechanical knight by Leonardo da Vinci, to the latest bestsellers detailing robot warfare by Daniel H. Wilson. Along that historical path are scattered the dreams of helpful automaton workers, and a myriad of nightmares about soulless robot predators.
View the interview.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
The Willamette Writers Author series continues with Crispin Young speaking about her novel, Heart of the Current</b>.
The Google+ Hangout interview with Ann can be found on the Willamette Writers YouTube page.
Born and raised in Texas, Crispin Young grew up on a steady diet of video games, comic books, cartoons, and watching Star Trek with her dad.
In 2001, she wandered off to the northwest in search of adventure, and received her degrees in Journalism and Environmental Studies from the University of Oregon.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
by Bill Johnson
This movie offers a good example of what happens when a movie is mostly plot with very little story. Story, in most successful Hollywood films, revolves around a character who embodies some issue of human need, with the character set in motion to resolve that issue by a story's plot.
As Above, So Below takes just a few moments to introduce something that drives the main character, a young woman, who has conflicted feelings about her father's suicide, and seconds to introduce the young man who helps her and his unresolved guilt over a younger brother's death. Then it's off to the crypts under Paris and about 30 minutes of a group of people trying to find a hidden chamber. There are a few 'boo' moments, but mostly its just more of the same as minor characters die in turn.
Toward the end of the film, the young woman comes across the hanging body of her father and she reconciles with him by hugging his hanging corpse. Her helper, also in a few moments, reconciles with his dead younger brother.
What drives these characters is resolved in seconds, leaving in its wake people walking through tunnels, crawling through tunnels, or running through tunnels, with the minor characters dying at a predictable rate.
The Descent, a film about some women cave diving, showed how this kind of plot could be in the service of a story.
It's oft repeated that a film generally needs to have a main character the audience chooses to feel invested in or care about. Films can violate that if they offer something else. As Above, So Below doesn't.
(If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Tweeter or Facebook.)
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
On Tuesday, September 2nd, at the Old Church in downtown Portland, Willamette Writers welcomes local author Bill Cameron who will talk with the membership about his approach to character development.
Bill is the author of the gritty mysteries "County Line" (Tyrus Books, 2011), "Day One" (Tyrus Books, 2010), "Chasing Smoke" (Bleak House Books, 2008) and "Lost Dog" (Midnight Ink, 2007) - featuring irascible Portland homicide cop Skin Kadash. In a starred-review of the 2012 Spotted Owl Award-winning "County Line", Publishers Weekly said, "Contemporary sharp-edged noir doesn't get much better than Cameron's mournful novel featuring ex-cop Skin Kadash." Library Journal called it ... "A perfect fit for Archie Mayor and William Kent Krueger fans."
Bill plans to discuss his approach to character development by sharing anecdotes and specific techniques he uses to dig into characters "who are the most difficult". "Character development", says Cameron, "is not about likeability, or relatability, or sympathy - it's about empathy. As writers we must understand not only a character's traits, interests, needs and desires, but what they value and how they see themselves. We must be capable armchair psychologists, recognizing in our characters not only what they recognize in themselves, but what they're incapable of recognizing in themselves. And we need to do this for all of them, heroes and villains alike. If anything, the characters we find the most loathsome are the ones we must work hardest to understand and to portray fairly."
Bill tweets at twitter.com/bcmystery. He's a member of Friends of Mystery, Sisters-in-Crime, and International Thriller Writers, and serves on the Board of the Mystery Writers of America. For still more information on Bill Cameron, please visit http://bill-cameron.com/.
We hope you'll join us at the Old Church on Tuesday, September 2nd. As always, the doors open at 6:30 and the meeting gets underway promptly at 7:00 pm.