Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Introducing a Novel with an Unusual POV, by Bill Johnson

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is a great example of beginning a novel with an unusual, intriguing Point of View.

The prologue in its entirety:


a mountain range of rubble

in which our narrator introduces:

himself—the colors—and the book thief

This clever opening raises a number of questions. What does a mountain of rubble have to do with the narrator, and what does the narrator have to do with colors and the book thief?

The prime directive of a story's opening lines is to draw in a reader. Zusak has accomplished that in a masterful manner.

The title of Chapter One is Death and Chocolate. Again, a question is embedded in this simple title. What does death have to do with chocolate? To get the answer requires reading the next line.


First the colors.

     Then the humans.

     That's usually how I see things.

     Or at least, how I try.

This again conveys the POV of this novel will be unusual. It also raises other questions, what would happen if the narrator saw the human first, then the color? Interesting questions. To get the answers we, again, have to keep reading.


          * * * HERE IS A SMALL FACT * * *

          You are going to die.

In my writing workbook A Story is a Promise I write about my 0-5-10 scale. To avoid being obvious (a five), struggling writers often go toward being obscure. Zusak is going toward being suggestive, hinting here about the true nature of the narrator. But he can hint because he knows the nature of the narrator, just as a mystery author generally has to understand the clues to leave at the beginning of a novel.


I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, thought most people find themselves hindered in believing in me, no matter my protestation. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's. Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.

The narrator is now offering more detail. Note, the detail is still suggestive, and continues to draw the reader forward.

      * * * REACTIONS TO THE * * *

     Does this worry you?
      I urge you, don't be afraid.
      I'm nothing if not fair.

...Of course, an introduction.
     A beginning.
     Where are my manners?
     I could introduce myself properly, but it's not really necessary.

The reason it's not necessary, as the clues mount, is that the narrator is Death. Death is giving an overview of its existence in this three page introduction.

As the chapter moves forward, Death talks about his need of a distraction so he won't be too aware of the survivors left behind as he carries away the souls of the dead.

To conclude the chapter:

     Which in turns brings me to the subject I am telling you about tonight, or today, or whatever the hour and color. It's the story of one of those perpetual survivors—an expert at being left behind.

     It's just a small story really about, among other things:
     *A girl
     *Some words
     *Some fanatical Germans
     *A Jewish fist fighter
     *And quite a lot of thievery

I saw the book thief three times.

This unusual novel opening conveys in a mysterious, engaging way who the narrator is, and who will be the main character of the novel, the book thief.

If we want to know more, we have to turn the page.

Every hugely popular storyteller finds a way to engage readers or viewers and draw them forward.

Everything in The Book Thief speaks to Zusak's intent as a storyteller.

When I'm shown a weakly written opening to a novel in a workshop, I will have the novel's opening read line by line asking, what is this a story about? I'm trying to point out the difference between that and a well-told story.

Novels like The Book Thief are wonderful examples of the storyteller's art.


To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond At Aladdin Theater

Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond are coming to the Aladdin Theater in Portland, Oregon, on January 15th, 2017, for a live recording of Dear Sugar Radio: The Writers Resist, Portland Edition. WRITERS RESIST is a multi-city event organized by writers and activists across the nation seeking to "re-inaugurate" a shared commitment to the spirit of compassion, equality, free speech and the fundamental ideals of democracy.

Cheryl and Steve will be joined by some of their favorite Portland-based writers, including Samiya Bashir, Wendy Chin-Tanner, Rene Denfeld, Zahir Janmohamed, Cooper Lee Bombardier, Cari Luna, Sam Roxas-Chua, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. They'll also be taking your questions about how to move forward as a nation during this time of tremendous division and uncertainty.

All proceeds from the event will be donated to six Oregon nonprofits that protect human rights, freedom of speech, the environment, and artistic expression. For more information and tickets: http://www.aladdin-theater.com/event/1396315-dear-sugar-radio-writers-portland/

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nancy Hill's Twelve Days of Fruitcake Free on Amazon Kindle

A delightful Christmas story that begins when an old woman gives a special fruitcake to her friend. The friend, in turn, gives it to someone else. For twelve days the fruitcake exchanges hands, improving the life of everyone who receives it. Charming, heartwarming, and magical.

Available free on kindle until Saturday, December 3rd.

Nancy Hill is a Portland, Oregon, writer and photographer. Christmas has always been her favorite holiday, and she absolutely believes in the magic of the season.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Soapstone Literary Announcements

Soapstone: Celebrating Women Writers 

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.

To see a list of programs funded thus far: www.soapstone.org.

The next deadline for applications is December 15, 2016.


Springs of Eloquence--a Tribute to the Literary Legacy of Madeline DeFrees

On Sunday, November 20 at 3 PM, Lex Runciman and Barbara Drake collaborate in celebrating the literary legacy of Madeline DeFrees, award-winning NW author and educator.

Hosted by Joan Maiers.

Free and open to the public. Donations of canned goods or cash welcomed for a local Food Bank.

Archival materials on display, as well as books available for purchase.
Venue: Holy Names Heritage Center, 17425 Holy Names Drive, Lake Oswego, OR 503-607-0595


Liars’ League PDX: Call for Story Submissions

Liars’ League PDX (Portland, OR) seeks previously unpublished short fiction submissions of 800-2500 words on the theme “Natives & Transplants.” Selected entries will be performed by professional actors in front of a live audience on February 18, 2017 at the Studio at Literary Arts. These stories will be recorded for podcast and published on liarsleaguepdx.com after the event. Submission deadline is December 31, 2016. For more information, see www.liarsleaguepdx.com/submit.


These announcements of events and opportunities of interest to the writing community have been sent to you by Soapstone. Feel free to send them on to your friends and colleagues or to invite them to join the list by signing up at:


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.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Lizzy Shannon Hosts Book Launch for A Song of Bullets

Lizzy Shannon launches her new book, "A Song of Bullets," a period thriller inspired by real events in her life growing up in the worst era of the Northern Ireland conflict. The signing, with questions and answers and refreshments, is at Another Read Through, 3932 N Mississippi Ave, Portland, 7 pm.

Lizzy's career is as varied as the genres she writes. Starting out as a library assistant in a Northern Irish rural town, she moved on to study Theater Arts and Literature in London, and toured the United Kingdom as a professional actress. Roles ranged from the goddess Hecate in Shakespeare's Macbeth to Gustav, the Amazing Dancing Bear in a clown troupe. Now living in the Pacific Northwest, she is an active mentor within the writing community.

For more information about Lizzy, visit http://www.lizzyshannon.com

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"Unlock your Creativity" with Eric Witchey 11/1

Are you unsatisfied with how long it takes you to edit a chapter? Do you have trouble meeting deadlines, or polishing your work to perfection? Join us at the Old Church this November 1st for a creativity discussion with award-winning author Eric Witchey.

Every writer has a production pace at which they are most comfortable, but few writers are satisfied with their pace. Some need to speed up in order to get more material out and hit deadlines. Others need to slow down in order to find deeper richness in their characters and prose. However, most end up defaulting to their natural pace.

That's where Eric Witchey comes in. The author of over 100 short stories, 4 novels, and many non-fiction and ghost titles, Witchey knows how to dive into creativity. He has been recognized by Writer's Digest, Writers of the Future, Short Story America, and many other organizations and his writing How-To articles have appeared in The Writer Magazine and Writer's Digest Magazine, among others. E

Learn More at www.willamettewriters.org

Friday, September 2, 2016

Enlisting an Audience Into a Cause, notes on Florence Foster Jenkins

The set up for this film is that Florence Foster Jenkins (played by Meryl Streep) is a wealthy patron of the arts who also believes she has a talent for singing opera. Based on a true story, the film set in 1944 shows how Florence's husband, played by Hugh Grant, maneuvers to protect her from the reality of what the public would think about her singing, let alone music critics.

This process tends to work based on Florence funding a Verdi club of society matrons who are mostly partially deaf and partly along for the free lunches she provides (heavy on the potato salad). Her husband bribes the occasional small paper music critic, and some well-known opera people of the time are happy to accept her donations in return for keeping their opinions about her singing to themselves and instead praising her love of opera and her passion to sing.

All seems lost when she rents Carnegie Hall for a performance attended mostly by serviceman and one big New York paper music critic.

The underlying story point I want to make is that the film enlists the audience to feel invested in Hugh Grant protecting Florence's idea that she is an accomplished singer. Once the audience is drawn in to care about this, the drama of the story becomes (to the degree a viewer enjoys this kind of film) intensified.

Enlisting the audience (whether viewer or reader) in the cause of some story character is one of the prime functions of storytelling. Yes, in this era of anti-heroes, an audience can be lead to care about all kinds of outcomes for all kinds of characters, but in many stories the goal of the storyteller is to enlist the audience in the outcome for a main character.

Fail at that, or fail to enlist the audience as quickly as possible, and a story is unengaging, uncompelling.

In most cases, readers and viewers move on to become enlisted in a more compelling narrative.

Its a very basic question I have as a reader/viewer, do I care what happens next to this person?

Following, an early film by Christopher Nolan, is a fiendishly clever thriller that doesn't ask us to care about the main character. The film will probably never appeal to large audiences (or even many small ones) because the story never asks us to care what happens to the main character.

Every storyteller writing for a general audience should be able to answer the question, why should my audience care about what happens to my main character?

When I ask struggling storytellers this question, they often have no answer. Which is a big reason they are struggling.


To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Writing Literary Fiction, Notes on The Small Backs of Children

I teach that genre fiction is a roller coaster ride, while literary fiction asks, 'why do people ride roller coasters?'

That said, the underlying mechanics of storytelling are the same for both types of fiction. The opening pages to Lidia Yuknavitch's The Small Backs of Children demonstrates this.

The first chapter is titled The Girl

First line...

   One winter night when she is no longer a child, the girl walks outside, her arms     cradling a self, her back to a house not her own but some other.

The Prime Directive of a first sentence of a novel is that a reader is pulled forward/drawn forward to read a second sentence.

Breaking down this opening sentence...

   One winter night when she is no longer a child...

A clever way to ask, why is the story starting now with this girl who is no longer a child? What happened to her when she was a child (this potentially relates to the title of the book).

   ...the girl walks outside, her arms cradling a self.

Wonderful, mysterious language. I'm intrigued. How/why does she cradle her self. This suggests a story about self.

   ...her back to a house not her own but some other.

But if she's outside this house, the question is, why? Does her self she carries not identify with this house?

   It is a year after the blast that atomized her entire family in front of her eyes.

Powerful image, intriquing question. Who killed her family in such a fashion? Why? How did she survive?

   She is six.

This is something concrete about the girl. Notice it came after the more intriguing language.

Struggling writers often begin a story with a collection of concrete details that have no context. They quickly become a burden a reader must carry forward until the details serve some story purpose.

First I'm led to want to know more about the girl, then I get a small piece of that information.

   It is a house she has lived in with a widow woman who took
   her in – orphan of war, girl of nothingness.

We're getting more concrete information here, but it also conveys questions: what war? Why is she a 'girl of nothingness?'

Yuknavitch's first paragraph has a lyrical expressiveness, a full command of language. Her writing conveys she is a storyteller in command of the story she is telling.


   But that night has never left her...it is an unrelenting bruise.

Can this unrelenting bruise heal? Note how the phrase frames the question clearly.

   It's blue-black image pearling in and out of memory forever. Nor
    will it ever leave her body, the blast forever injuring her spine, a sliver of metal
    piercing her and entering her, so that all her life she will carry that
    moment between her vertebrae.

If her wound was uncomplicated, something that would heal, something that could be left behind, it would risk not marking her as a character who could carry the dramatic weight and force to carry the story forward.

She is a deeply wounded character, the kind of character a novel needs.

Next lines and new paragraph...

   And then her mind moves to the moment of the blast,
   the singular fire lighting up the face of her father,
   her mother, first white, then orange and blue, then black,
   then nothing, her head swiveled by the force of the
   blow away from them. This does not frighten her.
   what used to be nightmares transformed into color and light,
   it is with her now. Lifelong companion. Still life of a
   dead family.

Again, wonderful, lyrical language that also offers more detail about what happened to the girl.

A wonderful opening to The Small Backs of Children.


To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Notes on the Movie Don't Breathe

Notes on the Movie Don't Breathe

Occasionally a movie comes out that serves as a great example of a particular technique in storytelling. In the movie Don't Breath, the technique is developing and sustaining suspense.

The movie opens at a great height over a residential neighborhood in Detroit. Something is happening on a street below. As the camera slowly moves down, it becomes apparent that an older man is dragging a young woman along the middle of a street.

The way this moment is created suggests a metaphor for the story. As we move in on an event, our perception of what we are seeing and our understanding can change.

This may seem like a simple point, but consider the opening scene in the movie The Lovely Bones, loosely based on the novel. The movie opens with a father explaining the life of a penguin trapped in a snow globe to his daughter. But the explanation doesn't speak to what the book is about, and the problem is, the movie uses narration directly taken from the book in the opening scenes.

What the movie The Lovely Bones is about is slightly out of focus (to be generous). What Don't Breathe is about is clearly suggested by the first shot of the film.

With inexperienced writers, often the first lines of action in a screenplay are used to introduce characters or locations.

In a weakly written novel, the opening lines aren't used to convey a story, but to introduce characters, locations, and plot. But without a context, the details don't convey a storyt. They convey a writer isn't sure how to tell a particular story.

The movie The Lovely Bones could have used that opening image to suggest a story different from the book, but that would have meant re-imagining the story being told as a movie that is not the same as the book.

Returning to Don't Breathe, we meet three young people robbing a house in Detroit. For two of the teens, the robberies are about getting out of Detroit and having street cred. For one teen, it's helping his father financially, and he's also smitten with the girl in the group.

Yes, we could use the word 'introduction' to convey the purpose of these scenes. But they also introduce character whose lives are in flux.

That sets up the major thrust of the plot, that they will break into the house of a blind man who has won a court settlement and rob him.

They get inside, the girl even finds the money, but getting out of the house, and why the basement door has a huge lock, will involve a steadily escalating tension.

What explains the actions of all the characters, including the blind man, are those quick, brief details in the opening scenes.

These is violence in the movie, so it's not for everyone. And when people get hurt in this film, we're allowed to share their pain and desperation. And up until the final shot of the movie, we can't be sure how this movie will end.

Recommended for folks who like both a clever plot and strong characterization.


To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

FREE RANGE POETRY presents Leanne Gabrel, Barbara LaMorticella, MF McAuliffe

Monday, September 12, 2016
Northwest Branch Library
2300 NW Thurman Street

An open mic will precede featured poets.
Sign up at 6:15 pm. Reading 6:30 pm – 7:45 pm.

Leanne Grabel is a poet, memoirist, illustrator and semi-retired special ed teacher and language arts teacher. In love with mixing genres and media, Grabel has written and produced numerous spokenword shows, including “The Lighter Side of Chronic Depression”; “Anger: The Musical”; “Badgirls”; and “The Little Poet.” Grabel's books include Brontosaurus; Lonesome & Very Quarrelsome Heroes; Flirtations; Short Poems by a Short Person; and most recently, Assisted Living, a collection of rectangular illustrated prose poems. Grabel has just completed an anthology of 35 years of graphic prose poems, The Circus of Anguish & Mirth that will be published in 2017. The summer project is turning Brontosaurus into a graphic novel.

Barbara LaMorticella watches the clouds from a cabin outside Portland. Her poetry has appeared in many anthologies, including the Pacific Northwestern Spiritual Poetry Anthology; Intimate Kisses; Not a Muse; and most recently (2015) Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace, and She Holds the Face of the World, the 10th anniversary anthology of the journal VoiceCatchers. She won the Holbrook Award for Outstanding Contributions to Oregon Liberary Arts and the first Oregon Literary Arts fellowship for Women Writers. Her second collection of poems, Rain on Waterless Mountain, was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award.

MF McAuliffe has worked formally and informally as a house-cleaner, political pollster, teacher and librarian in schools and colleges in South Australia, Melbourne, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon. She also co-authored the poetry collection Fighting Monsters, the limited-edition artist's book Golems Waiting Redux, and the novella, Seattle. The Crucifixes and Other Friday Poems will be published this fall. In 2002 she and R. V. Branham co-founded the Portland-based, multilingual magazine Gobshite Quarterly. In 2008 they co-founded Reprobate / GobQ Books, where she continues as commissioning editor.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Notes on Suicide Squad

When a big budget Hollywood film fails to satisfy, the underlying problem is often skewed story mechanics. Suicide Squad is a great example.

The foundation of what I teach is that a story creates movement, and the movement transports an audience. So a film or story that doesn't begin by going somewhere starts with a problem. The language often used to describe this kind of storytelling is a need to introduce characters. The flaw in this logic is that generally, the story doesn't begin moving forward until after all the introductions.

An example of how a film with a large cast can be done well is L.A. Confidential. It's a story about illusion, reality, and identity. Because that's introduced up front, and all the major characters have issues around identity, the opening scenes of the film both introduces the story and sets it into motion.

None of that happens in Suicide Squad. I had no idea what the story was about until deep into the film. The plot was something about a witch and her brother destroying the world and taking over. I always have the same problem with this type of scenario. If the world is destroyed and humanity wiped out, what's left to take over?

That said, at least those in the Suicide Squad have something to do now, battling faceless enemies for an obscure reason until they reach what Syd Field calls Plot Point Two, that moment in a story when all seems lost. In a typical Hollywood film, this is about 90 minutes in. At PPII in SS we finally get a suggestion for a story, that the evil doers who have survived to this point are more moral than the normal people who brought them together and command them.

That's fine, and if it had been introduced in the opening scenes of the film, the story and all those character introductions would have had a context and served a purpose. Think of a version of Rocky where you don't find out that Rocky is a nobody who wants to be a somebody until 90 minutes into the film. Think of Harry Potter (the novels, not the wretched first two movies) where you don't find out for hundreds of pages that both Harry and the Dursleys want to fit in.

The first two Harry Potter movies are wretched because like SS, all the effort goes into introducing characters and locations and it's not until deep into the films that a story emerges.

Not introducing what a story is about until PPII is a common problem for big budget Hollywood films that fail to find an audience. I actually saw a Hollywood remake of a Japanese horror film that didn't set out the point of the story until the last line of dialogue.

What this translates to for the actors involved is that since they aren't given characters to play (characters motivated by some internal purpose), the actors are left to pose in their scenes. I feel great sympathy for actors in such films, although in this case I assume they are well-paid.

All this isn't to say there isn't some fun along the way in Suicide Squad, or that a few of the characters don't make a strong impression, it just that the film never gains traction. It just slogs along.

A small point, one of the evil witches is killed by a fairly small explosive device, which could have been delivered a multitude of different ways.

And that's a big problem when the mechanics of a story transporting an audience fail: everyone in the audience has time on their hands to think about silly plot issues. Mystery Science Theater 3000 would have had a field day with Suicide Squad. The funny comments would write themselves.

The film does demonstrate another issue I come across in scripts with a multitude of characters, the writer/director ends up playing traffic cop, expending a great deal of energy just to make sure all the right characters have something to do at the right times. Bringing in studio executives to try and fix story structure problems (that they don't understand) generally create a bigger muddle of mixed tones and dialogue that never fixes the underlying problems.

I'm assuming Suicide Squad has enough of an audience that we'll see more of these characters. Hopefully the current writer/director will be promoted and someone else brought in to direct the sequel.


To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

David Levine Fan Guest of Honor at Westercon69

David D. Levine attended his first SF convention in 1977. It was X-Con 1, the first con in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the next year, at X-Con 2, David found himself co-head of Gaming. Since then he's attended over 120 conventions and has worked at many of them in some capacity, most often Publications but also Tech, Programming, Fanzine Lounge, and even Chair. Many people know him for his fannish theatrics, including as a member of the Not Ready for Sidereal Time Players and Whose Line Is It Anyway.

He created the 1990 Portland Westercon's pioneering website, set up and ran the websites for OryCons 17 through 26 and Oregon Science Fiction Conventions Inc., and still maintains osfci.org (including the Sue Petrey Fund and Jo Clayton Fund pages) and the OryCon and OSFCI mailing lists. In recognition for all of this work he received an OSFCI Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

In addition to running conventions, David has co-edited a long-running paper fanzine, spent two weeks at a simulated Mars base in Utah, made and worn costumes, served as officer and board member of several fan organizations, gamed, filked, created fan art, and even sat behind a dealer's table a time or two. He's also a Hugo-winning SF author. Learn more at his author site and fannish activities site.

Learn more about Westercon69

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Soapstone Literary Announcements 4/2/2016

These announcements of events and opportunities of interest to the writing community have been sent to you by Soapstone. Feel free to send them on to your friends and colleagues or to invite them to join the list by signing up at:


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.




Donald Levering was born in Kansas City and grew up there and in Oceanside, New York. In addition to being awarded a NEA Fellowship, Levering won the Quest for Peace Prize in rhetoric and was featured in the Academy of American Poets Forum, the Ad Astra Poetry Project, and the Duende Reading Series. His latest book, Coltrane’s God was released to critical acclaim in 2015. He now lives in Santa Fe, NM.

Carlos Reyes is a noted Portland poet, translator and world traveler. Released last year, The Keys to the Cottage: Stories from the West of Ireland is Reyes most recent work. His previous poetry works were published by Lost Horse Press. He has been an Oregon Arts Commission Fellow, a Yaddo Fellow, a Fundacion Valparaiso Fellow (Spain), a Heinrich Boll Fellow (Ireland), An Island Institute Fellow (Alaska), Camac Centre of the Arts (France) as well as a poet-in-residence at the Joshua Tree National Park, Acadia National Park, and Devils Tower National Monument.


Judith Barrington is the featured poet on April 26, 2016, in the friendly open mic held 7-8.30pm on each month's last Tuesday at Barnes & Noble Vancouver (7700 NE Fourth Plain).

She'll read from her fourth collection, The Conversation. “This is a brilliant technical achievement; it reminds us all that great poetry is both fine thinking and achieved style” - Thomas McCarthy. “She has a subtle style that gathers force like an undertow and sometimes the illuminating prose-style of some poems surfaces in a blast of creative bubbles or a beautiful moment beneath a sky of possibilities” - Liam Murphy.

A great way to support poetry, and the store that hosts us, is to buy the book at least ten days before the event. That way, you can bring your copy to the event for the poet to sign.

You can also buy the book online here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-conversation-judith-barrington/1120960904?ean=9781908836946 … and if you have already read it, please consider posting a review on that page!

Here’s the event link: http://stores.barnesandnoble.com/event/9780061755064-0


Tavern Books Visiting Translators presented in partnership with Marylhurst University's English Department

Join Tavern Books for readings and a conversation about translation, featuring Piotr Florczyk (Los Angeles), Sonia P. Ticas (McMinnville, Oregon), and Keith Ekiss (San Francisco).

Tuesday, April 19th, 12:30 - 1:30 pm Free, open to the public, all ages. Contact: Natalie Garyet (720) 771-4078

Old Library Marylhurst University 17600 Pacific Highway Marylhurst, OR 97036 map

Piotr Florczyk is the translator of Anna Świrszczyńska’s Building the Barricade (Tavern Books, 2016), in addition to several other books of Polish poetry. He is the author of East & West, Barefoot, and Los Angeles Sketchbook. Florczyk currently studies in the PhD in Literature and Creative Writing Program at the University of Southern California.

Sonia P. Ticas is a co-translator of Eunice Odio’s The Fire’s Journey, a four-volume poetry collection published in stages by Tavern Books. Ticas, a native of El Salvador, received her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 2001. Currently, she is Associate Professor of Spanish and the Co-chair of Latin American Studies at Linfield College.

Keith Ekiss is a co-translator, with Ticas, of Eunice Odio’s The Fire’s Journey. He is a former Wallace Stegner fellow and Jones Lecturer in Poetry at Stanford University and the author of Pima Road Notebook. The past recipient of several scholarships and residencies, he received the Witter Bynner Translators Residency from the Santa Fe Art Institute for his work on Eunice Odio.



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.

We’ve made some changes to the guidelines for study group grants. Go to our website for more details and to see a list of programs funded thus far: www.soapstone.org.

The next deadline for applications is June 15, 2016.


Story Seekers: A Creative Writing Retreat at Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center

The poet Mary Oliver writes, “Let me keep my mind on what matters… which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.” In this creative writing retreat, we will immerse ourselves in the wild landscape of Opal Creek so that we, too, may become astonished. We will explore the ancient forest with our senses wide open, allowing objects of intrigue to awaken the stories inside us. With the help of experiential prompts, we will generate pieces of writing that are as wild and alive as the woods and rushing waters that inspired them. By the end of the weekend, we will each have a creatively rendered record of our discoveries and a variety of story seeds to take home. This retreat is a great opportunity for writers, artists, teachers, and anybody else who wants to break through blocks and access the wild and creative force howling inside us all.

When: Saturday and Sunday, May 28th-29th Price: $185 includes food, lodging, and materials

To Register: http://www.opalcreek.org/product/story-seeker/


“Writing a Novel in a Month: How to Get Started” Presented by Maren Bradley Anderson

Monday, April 18, 2016 6:30–8:30 PM First Presbyterian Church, Dennis Hall Corvallis, OR Use 9th Street parking lot entrance

Join us in an interactive presentation about how to succeed at the challenge of writing a 50,000-word first draft in 30 days. Bring something to write with, and an idea to get you started.

Our guest speaker, Maren Bradley Anderson, is a writer, teacher, and alpaca rancher who lives in Oregon. Her poetry has appeared in The Timberline Review, and her novel, Fuzzy Logic, was released in 2015 by Black Opal Books. She adapted A Midsummer Night’s Dream for children in July 2015.

www.marens.com www.facebook.com/MarenBradleyAnderson

Willamette Writers on the River (http://willamettewriters.org/wwotr) is the Corvallis Chapter of Willamette Writers. This event is free to members and full-time students. Guests of members pay $5; visitors pay $10, no one is turned away.


Airlie Press has begun its annual manuscript submission period. One or two manuscripts will be selected for publication. Please visit http://www.airliepress.org/submit for details.

We look forward to reading your work, The Editors


Mountain Writers Series at Vie de Bohème presents reading & book launch featuring

Joe Wilkins

reading from his latest book of poetry

When We Were Birds 2016 Finalist Miller Williams Poetry Prize

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 at 7:30 PM

Vie de Bohème (1530 SE 7th Avenue, Portland 97214) Suggested donation $5

Joe Wilkins has published three poetry books, most recently, When We Were Birds, a Miller Williams Poetry Prize finalist (University of Arkansas Press, 2016), as well as Killing the Murnion Dogs (2011), a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize and the High Plains Book Award, and Notes from the Journey Westward (2012), winner of the White Pine Press Poetry Prize and the High Plains Book Award. He is also the author of the memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers (2012), which was named a 2012 Montana Book Award Honor Book, as well as a 2013 Orion Book Award finalist. His essays, poems, and stories have appeared in many magazines, journals and anthologies. Wilkins was born and raised in eastern Montana, graduated from Gonzaga University and earned an MFA from the University of Idaho, where he worked with the poet Robert Wrigley and memoirist Kim Barnes. He lives with his wife, son, and daughter in Oregon, where he teaches writing at Linfield College.



APRIL 20th, 7 pm

from his award winning book The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernals, Pulses and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History.

We live in a world of seeds. From our morning coffee to the cotton in our clothes, seeds support diets, economies, lifestyles, and civilizations around the globe. In The Triumph of Seeds, award-winning author and biologist Thor Hanson explores both the natural and cultural history of seeds - why they are so dominant in nature, and why we are so utterly dependent upon them.

Hanson is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Switzer Environmental Fellow, and an independent conservation biologist based in the San Juan Islands. Hanson's many media appearances have included NPR's Fresh Air, PRI's Science Friday and The World. The Triumph of Seeds won a Pacific Northwest Bookseller Award in 2016. He is also the author of Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle, The Impenetrable Forest and the illustrated children's favorite Bartholomew Quill. His articles and essays have appeared in dozens of popular and scientific publications, including Audubon, BBC Wildlife, Orion, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Miami Herald, Bioscience, Conservation Biology, and The Huffington Post .



APRIL 26th, 7 pm

In Here Among Strangers, travelers find and lose themselves in unexpected places. Crawford's characters teeter on the edge of sanity as they reconcile who they were with who they have become, confronting their truest selves in the most unfamiliar places. Emotional integrity runs deep in these dark and compelling stories that chronicle what it is to feel alien at home amidst the heartbreak of everyday life.

Crawford has received a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship and an Oregon Literary Fellowship. Her work has appeared in Epoch, Ascent, Beloit Fiction Journal, Another Chicago Magazine, and The Florida Review. She received her MFA from the University of Oregon and teaches for the Writers in the Schools program. She lives in Portland. This event is open to the public.


Willamette Writers on the River Spring Workshop Saturday, April 30, 2016 10am-5pm Comfort Suites, 1730 NW 9th Street, Corvallis, OR

The Nuts and Bolts of Writing and Selling Short Stories Why write short stories, flash fiction and novellas? Come to this fast paced workshop to find out. Learn how to sell short fiction, where to find markets, what you need to include in a cover letter for short stories and more. We will practice dissecting markets and magazines to find the right ones for you. Sarina Dorie will share the secrets to her success so that you can write short stories and make money selling them. Bring pencil and paper to experiment with short story techniques.

Sarina Dorie has sold over 100 short stories to magazines and anthologies in the last six years. She has published in the genres of fantasy, sci-fi, romance, humor, and non-fiction, has won numerous awards and has several published novels. Sarina has worked as an English, art and dance teacher, a copy editor at an advertising agency, and a writer. She joined her first critique group when she was sixteen, and has given workshops at the Willamette Writers, Romance Writers of America, Wordcrafters and various science fiction conventions like Worldcon and Gearcon.

Student Rate = $25

$45 WW members $55 Non-members

Registration closes April 22nd (a minimum of 10 participants are needed)

http://willamettewriters.org/wwotr/workshops/ T

o register directly go to http://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-nuts-and-bolts-of-writing-and-selling-short-stories-tickets-21469413594


New Performance and Conversation Series Interfaith Muse Engages Writers and Artists with Spiritual Questions

In a time of oversimplified and suspect spirituality, Interfaith Muse offers events to explore religious differences through creative arts. The inaugural conversation features poets Alicia Jo Rabins and Shadab Zeest Hashmi, on Tuesday, April 26, at 7 p.m. Their conversation takes place at Cerimon House, 5131 NE 23rd Ave, Portland, Ore. and is open to the public with a suggested donation of $5. The poets will read from their work and share a hosted dialogue. Their books will be available for purchase from bookseller partner, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Bookstore.

Alicia Jo Rabins’s collection, “Divinity School,” won the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize in 2015. A wide-ranging exploration of spirituality, sex, travel, food, holy texts, and coming of age, “Divinity School” is a fearless investigation of how we learn to live in a human body. Alicia teaches ancient Jewish texts to children and adults and performs internationally as a violinist and singer.

Shadab Zeest Hashmi is the author of “Kohl & Chalk” and “Baker of Tarifa,” which won the 2011 San Diego Book Award for poetry. Her essays on eastern poetic forms such as the Ghazal and Qasida have been published in the Journal of Contemporary World Literature and 3 Quarks Daily. Currently a resident of San Diego, Shadab graduated from Reed College in southeast Portland.

Interfaith Muse host Elizabeth Harlan-Ferlo is a poet and educator who has created extensive curricula on religion and intercultural competency. She served for nine years as an Episcopal school chaplain. Elizabeth’s poetry has been published in many journals including Fourteen Hills, Anglican Theological Review, and VoiceCatcher.

Interfaith Muse: Artists in Conversation Alicia Jo Rabins and Shadab Zeest Hashmi Tuesday, April 26 at 7 p.m. Cerimon House 5131 NE 23rd Ave., Portland, 97211


Another Read Through Bookstore

April 10 @1:30 Authors Michael Mirolla (from Toronto) and Sam Roxas-Chua (local, from Eugene) will read, answer questions, sign books. Michael will be reading from his book that came out last fall, Lessons in Relationship Dyads, and Sam will be reading from Fawn Language. Info here: http://www.anotherreadthrough.com/event/authors-michael-mirolla-and-sam-roxas-chua/

April 14 @7pm Group of Authors from VoiceCatcher: VoiceCatcher's collection is out, and we'll have a handful of the authors from the book here to read and sign. Info here: http://www.anotherreadthrough.com/event/voicecatcher-authors/

April 16 @1:30pm Strong Female Characters: Our first in the series of local female authors and female characters and the issues they face. Discussion panel with the Ellen Urbani, Rene Denfeld, and Karen Karbo. No reading, but signing to follow. Info here: http://www.anotherreadthrough.com/event/strong-female-characters/


Sunday, April 24th, 2:00 pm at Grass Roots Books, in Corvallis, author Rick Attig and poets Henry Hughes, Jeanne Krinsley, and Keli Osborne read from the Winter/Spring 2016 issue of The Timberline Review.

All are welcome!

Grass Roots Books, 227 SW 2nd Street, in Corvallis.


Willamette Writers Coast Chapter Presents: Author Tom Towslee April 17th at 2:00 pm

Tom Towslee will present a two-hour workshop titled People, Places and Events: Techniques to Keep Your Story Moving. This free workshop will be held at the Newport Public Library in the McEntee Room.

Tom Towslee was born in Los Angeles and raised in Tillamook, Oregon. He went to the University of Oregon and graduated from Linfield College. He is a former newspaper and wire service reporter in Washington, D.C. and Oregon. He left journalism for a career in communications, working for a number of Oregon state agencies as well as communications director for an Oregon governor and a United States senator. His novel "Paradise Girls" was published last November. Tom and Dinah Adkins live in Portland.


The Third Annual Poetry Contest to benefit KVGD-LP Goldendale Community Radio raises much needed funds for radio station operation costs. Contest entry period ends on April 15. Poetry Contest Entry Form and Submission Guidelines are available online at: http://www.kvgd.info/forms/Contest_Guidelines.pdf .

By submitting an entry, poets are agreeing to have their poems recorded for terrestrial broadcast and/or internet podcast.

The contest includes two divisions: Youths (18 years and under) and Adults. Poems will be judged on originality, creativity, and artistic quality. Winners will be announced by Poem In Your Pocket Day on Thursday, April 22, 2016.

Entry fee is $2 per poem. There is no limit on the number of poems each writer may enter. A prolific poet entering ten poems will have to pay a total of $20 in entry fees. Poems will not be accepted without the entry fee paid in full.

Recipients of First Prize in each division will split an amount equal to 25% of the entry fees collected for the poetry contest. Second Prize in each division will split 10%, and Third Prize in each division will split 5% of the collected entry fees. Sixty percent of receipts to go towards supporting Goldendale Community Radio.

A completed permission form, signed by parent or guardian, is required for every student (age 18 and under) who enters the contest. In addition to the poem and its $2 entry fee, poets will need to include a 40 to 100 word biography.

Submit entries by mail to:

KVGD-LP Poetry Contest 514 S. Columbus, Ste. 7 Goldendale, WA 98620


Comma, A Monthly Reading Series at Broadway Books

The popular author reading series Comma returns! After a hiatus, Comma resumes for 2016. The third Thursday of each month Broadway Books (1714 NE Broadway) hosts a unique regional authors series beginning at 7 pm. Hosted and curated by writer Kirsten Rian, the readings combine voices from different literary genres, and writers have the freedom to read from new projects, established pieces, or ongoing works in progress. Selected authors read for 15-20 minutes each, and following is a conversation between the two writers and/or the audience. Free and open to the public.

On April 21, 7 pm, Kim Stafford and Floyd Skloot will read.

Kim Stafford is the founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College, where he has taught writing since 1979. He is the author of a dozen books of poetry and prose, including The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft and A Thousand Friends of Rain: New & Selected Poems. His most recent books are 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared, and Wind on the Waves: Stories from the Oregon Coast. In 2016 the 30th anniversary edition of his collections of essays, Having Everything Right, will come out from Pharos editions. He has taught writing in dozens of schools and community centers, and in Scotland, Italy, and Bhutan.

Floyd Skloot's most recent books include Revertigo: An Off-Kilter Memoir (U. of Wisconsin Press, 2014), the poetry collection Approaching Winter (LSU Press, 2015), and the forthcoming novel The Phantom of Thomas Hardy (U. of Wisconsin Press, 2016). He has won the PEN USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction, two Pushcart Prizes for essays and one for poetry, Oregon Book Awards in both poetry and creative nonfiction, and two Pacific NW Book Awards for poetry. His work has appeared in The Best American Essays, Best American Science Writing, Best Spiritual Writing, and Best Food Writing anthologies.



Hosted by Christopher Luna and Toni Lumbrazo Luna

7 pm Thursday, April 14 Angst Gallery 1015 Main Street Vancouver, WA 98660

Food and libation provided by Niche Wine Bar, 1013 Main Street


Featuring Writers From Poetry Matters, Christopher Luna’s Monday evening class

Roxanne Bash Holly Black Bruce Hall Morgan Hutchinson Livia Montana Darcy Scholts Tiffany Burba-Schramm


Shawn Aveningo shawn@thepoetrybox.com

Sunday, April 24 1:00-4:00pm

High End Market Place 1906 Broadway St. Vancouver, WA 98663 http://highendmarketplace.com/

Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1528656887439200/

1pm Poeming Pigeon Book Launch Doobie or Not Doobie?

The Poetry Box is proud to announce our third Issue: The Poeming Pigeon: Doobie or Not Doobie? A Journal of Poetry and Prose -- The Cannabis Issue. The legalization of medical and recreational marijuana is a hot topic facing America and other countries across the globe. Homer examines this controversial issue through an international curated collection of poems and stories. You’ll enjoy tales of hilarious first encounters with the herb, gratitude for the escape from physical pain, fellowship in passing the spliff and learn why some prefer not to partake in the "madness." So, light up (or not) and enjoy!

This special Vancouver book launch will feature Southwest Washington contributors Lori Loranger, Christopher Luna, Tiffany Burba-Schramm, and Jennifer Pratt-Walter, as well as Portland contributors Nathan Tompkins and Casey Bush. Poeming Pigeon Publisher and Editor Shawn Aveningo will also read from the book. Copies of the new issue will be available for sale at the event.

2pm Poetry with High End Market Place Featured Artists Christopher Luna and Toni Partington

2:30-4:00 A Performance by River Twain


Community Announcements from Soapstone by soapstone

622 SE 29th Avenue Portland, OR 97214 USA

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Capsule Movie Reviews by Bill Johnson for 2016

These capsule reviews of current movies offer a basic overview of what these stories did (or didn't do) to engage an audience. They are not meant to convey a full review of the movie, or a scene by scene breakdown. All reviews by Bill Johnson, copyright 2016.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

posted 2/6/16

The conceit in this movie is that it's the same characters from Jane Austen's novel, with the addition of a zombie plague. What makes for a great horror film, however, is that it says something about the human condition. Alien with its issue of male rape and the corporation being the real alien killing the crew. Zombies in this film are just a plot device, and could have been changed to a different plot device (alien invasion, demons rising, birds attacking humans) without changing anything. Which means half the movie carries no dramatic weight connected to what the story is about and what the characters are reacting to.

Early in the film, a character encounters a young mother and baby zombie. The moment seems about to suggest something deeper about life in that situation, but the moment is just another plot device conveying nothing more than a plot question, how will this play out?

The mixture of horror and literary fiction is amusing, but not really that amusing until Parson Collins shows up.

In the end, there are no universal truths in this movie, although for a moment it seemed someone had an idea about zombie servants rising up against their masters, and another scene tosses in the four horsemen of the apocalypse, but to what story purpose, who knows.

The Fifth Wave

posted 1/30/16

The Fifth Wave begins with waves of exposition that explain the first four waves. The underlying problem with the movie is that its impulses all seem to come from TV production, so it looks like a pilot for a tv series created about 2008. So it doesn't look as good as what's on tv now. It's not bad, so much as it's like watching an episode from an old tv series. This is movie studios pushing product through metro plexes to fill screen slots.


posted 1/3/16

This film demonstrates the problems with being realistic. Joy the main character is a single mother in a dysfunctional environment. It takes a good twenty five minutes to set out all those characters and their many issues and get to a significant turning point, Joy inventing a mop and then getting onto one of the early cable TV sales channels to promote it into a huge success. By the end of the film, still surrounded by dysfuctional family members trying to sabotage her, Joy has created and manages a business empire.

That's all plot, but what's the story about? That remains buried under the ruble composed of all those dysfuctional relationships and events. It's probably something to do with Joy overcoming all her disadvantages to make something of herself, encouraged by her grandmother. But I'm not sure. And, based on the reviews and audience reactions, I don't think others were sure, either.

There's not enough else going on to make up for that.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Writing Critiques Offered at Write on the River Conference

Bill Johnson will be offering manuscript critiques as part of the Write on the River conference. Bob Dugoni is the featured speaker and Rachel Letofsky is a featured Literary Agent.

Write On The River is North Central Washington’s only writing conference. Two days of content-packed workshops with professional editors, successful agents, bestselling authors and nationally-acclaimed speakers, Write On The River is the best way to hone your craft, build your dream and move your writing forward. Whether your goal is to be a published author, write articles for a local magazine, develop your poetry, or simply write for your own enjoyment, Write On The River has something for you. Held every May on the beautiful Wenatchee Valley College in Wenatchee, Washington, Write On The River is a writing conference not to be missed!

The conference gives you a unique opportunity to learn from the best in a casual, intimate atmosphere. There are plenty of opportunities to rub elbows with publishing professionals, get one-on-one writing advice from successful authors, bond with fellow writers, and pitch your project to a literary agent or publishing editor. Write On The River can really move your writing life forward in an inspiring way!

The 2016 Conference is May 13, 14 & 15. With a world-class faculty and renowned writing instructors from all over the world, it promises to be a highlight of your writing year. Attendees will also have the opportunity to pitch their projects to a literary agent and a book publisher. Click HERE to learn about 2016’s exciting line-up of workshops, and HERE to meet our esteemed 2016 Conference faculty.


For reviews of popular novels that explore principles of storytelling, check out A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and available on Barnes and Noble's Nook and on Apple via Smashwords.