GUEST POST: G. Elizabeth Kretchmer

 

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WHALES AND WRITERS

While visiting the Big Island of Hawaii a few years ago, I went on a whale-watching excursion with Captain Bob. Soon after we left the marina, a humpback launched its 40-ton body out of the water. Someone asked why whales breach. “I think they do it to entertain us,” the captain said. I suspected it was more complicated than that.

People ask mountain climbers why they climb. Parents ask teenagers why they do all the crazy things they do. And readers ask writers why they write. One thing I’ve learned is that there’s rarely a simple answer to the question that starts with “Why?”

When I first sat down to write The Damnable Legacy, I thought I was writing to entertain readers. Woman has regrets. Woman goes on quest and faces adversity. Woman conquers all. But the more I wrote, the more I realized that life wasn’t that simple. And if fiction is supposed to emulate life, then the novel needs to be more complex.

So I started over. This time I delved into research, and the more I discovered, the more I wanted to learn. I researched adoption and attachment disorder. I research mixed ethnicity relationships. Climbing Denali. Teens who self-harm. The afterlife. When I re-wrote the novel, it was no longer just a book to entertain. It was a book that would surely educate.

But still, that wasn’t enough. I had crafted characters who did things and said things, and I needed to understand and embrace why they did so. I therefore dove into the world of psychology and mined the psyches of my characters. I studied Freud and Jung and the concept of shadow selves. I read about single moms with unplanned pregnancies and superstitions and men who rape—or don’t rape. And then I wrote the novel again, this time from a place of far deeper personal understanding of my characters’ motivations—and my own curiosities and biases.

So now when people ask why I write, I tell them my goal is to entertain, educate, and enlighten. I can never be sure if I’ve met that goal until the work is out and I hear back from readers, but I can at least use myself as the initial litmus test. If I’m not delighted with the story, it’s not good enough. If I haven’t learned along the way, it’s not ready. And if I haven’t personally grown and begun to look at some aspects of our world from a new perspective, I have more work to do.

We don’t know for sure why whales breach, but we do know that breaching is in itself an act of breaking through. In that vein, breaching is like writing.

Then again, Captain Bob said that maybe “the whales just breach for fun.” Yes, indeed. Writing can be fun, too.

G. Elizabeth Kretchmer is the author of The Damnable Legacy and Women on the Brink. She’s currently working on another novel about women helping women, as well as a self-help book about writing for wellness drawn from her experience teaching workshops to survivors of cancer, domestic violence, and brain injuries. She has an essay in the recently published anthology, Just a Little More Time, and her other short work has appeared in the New York Times and other publications. Visit her website at www.gekretchmer.com, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

 

Guest Post: Kay Vreeland

A writing-group prompt for an exercise in which the pencil never lifts from the paper for ten minutes produced this from Kay Vreeland, working from the prompt: “Where did she come from—how long would she stay?”

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She came in, all dandelion fizz and pearl sugar, heads turned and she ignored them beelining to the old man in the armchair by the fire whose oiled-walnut face cracked with pleasure, then the chatter began, like snowdrops losing their petals and gladdening his heart, in fact, once he laughed and she realized then and looked around the room at last, and saw him, and he didn’t see her and that was a disappointment since he’d said she was like a sunbeam wherever she went—she’d hated that—sunbeams were insubstantial and above all she wanted to be very substantial, maybe not supper-gong-voice substantial, but looked-at substantial but the sunny blur of her did not mass together into something he had to keep looking at, so, mindful of the old man starting to get restless, she began the bird chirps he loved so much, little snippets of gossip were his favorite, so she made up as many as she could, always tying them to some real moment, even in another life, another place, just to see the delight spurt about until someone finally thought to bring the champagne over and that was welcome since why did people always forget to pass the champagne, so she gave the old man some, in a shorter, squatter glass, and he was delighted, delight being something she found she was never short of and no one thought to wonder why she stayed at his side, the fire must be too warm, the chair too uncomfortable, the repartee so sadly absent but the bubbles from that corner of the room were as frothy as the champagne sparkles everywhere and no one could ever figure out how she did it and more than one wallflower was so intensely jealous it nearly upset an entire table, but the spoiled-brat smile of the envious one just curdled a few glasses of champagne and the girl and the old man became sorts of magnets, the cluster of chatter around them thickened and the party was a resounding success, a party that had no right to be, being thrown for all the wrong reasons like a tea bowl on a brand-new wheel, not the right thing to do at all, but at least someone had thought to invite her and almost everyone was glad that she had come and most of all, of course, the old man, who ….. TIME’S UP!

Have you ever tried this writing exercise?

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Kay spent her 35-year university-teaching career in Kobe, Japan, and once back in the U.S., she was a book marketing manager for a couple of years, and now coaches authors who are hesitant about book marketing. She uses other hours in her day as president of a large women’s group running multiple activities, on the board of the local Timebank and on the board of our local EPIC Group Writers. Kay hopes someday to add “published author of a popular novel” to this list.

INTERVIEW: Mary Kay Sneeringer, owner of the Edmonds Bookshop

 

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We all know you as the owner of the Edmonds Bookshop. How long has it been in business?

The Edmonds Bookshop was established in 1972. David Brewster and I are the 4th owners of the business, we came on board in 2001.

How did you come to be a bookseller?

Accidentally, or perhaps you could say it was by fate. I was going to school at the UW and got a job at the University Bookstore in the photography department. After a few years and a lot of asking I was able to transfer into the general book department. After I graduated (with a degree in German) I just kept on working at the job I had and I loved it. I became a bookseller, not just a person who worked in a bookstore. It was while working there that I met David, we married and had two daughters.

And why Edmonds?

From the University Bookstore both David and I moved onto other jobs in the publishing world which led to a 7-year stint in Boston with David working for publishers there. When it was time to return to the Seattle area we ended up in Edmonds because of the school system and the timing of a mid-summer move. My sister lives in Edmonds and she kept an eye out for a good rental house.

How do you select the books?

I find books for the store in many different ways. I read publisher catalogs and talk to publisher representatives. I read newspapers, magazines, blogs and I listen to customer requests. There are certain authors or topics I watch for and I am always watching for emerging talented writers. Other booksellers are a great source for book suggestions, we are a very collegial lot and love to help each other find writers who have captivated our attention.

When I come to the shop I see some books in the window, some on the big table, some face out on the shelves. How do you decide the displays?

With the windows we generally have a theme. It can run the gamut from an upcoming holiday to a celebration of wonderful first lines to a current event or author appearance. The tables are for newer books. The faced-out books on the shelves are either books we have multiple copies of because that title is selling well or sometimes just because it works out with the spacing of books to fit a particular title face out.

Tell us about your book club.

The book club is drop in and anyone is welcome to join. The books we read are chosen from a list of twelve or so suggestions drawn up by our booksellers. The groups vote on which 5 or 6 titles they would like to read from that list. The evening group meets on the first Thursday of the month at 7 p.m.; the morning group meets on third Wednesday of the month at 9 a.m. Both meetings last one hour and are held in the bookshop. Both groups read the same book. People can go to either, or both, of the discussions as they wish. The books are listed on our website: edmondsbookshop.com

How has the book business changed since you became the owner of the shop? And do you see any major changes in the book business coming in 2017?

We continue to see huge changes in the book business. Independent bookstores went through a period when stores were closing at a rapid rate and many people thought that they had seen their last days. Big box stores, online discounters and warehouse clubs sold books at a loss and small stores lost sales of the very books that kept them afloat. E-readers came along and people foretold the death of the paper book. Self-publishing blossomed and people foretold the death of the traditional publisher. The bookstores that lasted through those scary days have seen a resurgence and renewed profitability as book buyers consciously choose to support their local bookstores, recognizing the importance of such places to their community.

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In 2017, I see major changes as there is more and more consolidation of publishers and as the lines of distribution are concentrated. With one major player able to squeeze publishers for bigger discounts at the threat of not carrying their books I fear we will see fewer publishers willing to risks large advances for non-fiction books that require years of research and writing. Some of America’s most important works have resulted from the ability of publishers to support writers before a book is even published. Publishing and bookselling are businesses in that they must make money to stay afloat but the exchange of information, the marketplace of ideas and the cultural value of the written word have always been the driving forces of the book business. I fear we may see a restriction on the freedom of speech due to monopolistic control in the marketplace.

Do you have a rewards system for frequent buyers?

We do. After a person buys 12 new books they receive a bonus equal to the average price they paid for the 12 books. It is our booker’s dozen.

How does Edmonds rate as a book-loving town?

Edmonds has supported their local bookstore for 45 years. They are avid library users and supporters. I think Edmonds has one of the highest percentages of Little Free Libraries of any community. Edmonds rates high!

What books do you recommend we should put on our reading lists for this year?

There are several really good books out now about race and class in America and I think people should read at least one of these to help frame discussion about current issues. Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance, Between the World and Me by Ta Nahisi Coates, Evicted by Matthew Desmond, or the National Book Award winner, Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi would all be worthy of your time and thought.

There are also some great new mysteries by Tana French, John Grisham, Louise Penny, Amor Towles and Lee Child. On Feb. 14th a weird and wonderful novel by George Saunders called Lincoln in the Bardo will be released.

Thanks Mary Kay! And happy reading to all!

The bookshop is at 111 5th Avenue, Edmonds, near the fountain. They have a great stock and are happy to order if you have other needs. Website: edmondsbookshop.com. Phone: 425-775-2789

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GUEST POST – Celebrate Poetry for Winter

Two poems for the season from poet and novelist Paddy Eger

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Winter

The eagle scans the canal

From his tree snag above the shore.

Gulls glide and squawk

Disappearing into descending clouds

Winter ducks float and dive

Creating waves of concentric circles.

Perching birds nibble cones

Flitting deep into protective foliage.

Squirrels race along branches

Barking at competitors.

Fog blanks out the world beyond the shore.

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Winter Senses

 Smell

winter in its home of fir bough and pine cones

Listen

to crackling fires drowning out icy winds

See

clear blue skies, frosty windows, and icicles

Taste

festive spiced wine and mingled warm flavors

Touch

icy ledges, cold door knobs, and woolen scarves

Blended together, we’ll enjoy the season

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Paddy Eger is the author of the award-winning ballet-themed trilogy: 84 Ribbons, When the Music Stops-Dance On, and Letters to Follow- Dancer’s Adventure. She also writes Educating America, materials for classroom assistants.

 

Housework

 

A little humor for this busy time of year

 

. This story first appeared in Cirque, A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim in their Winter Solstice 2015 Edition. It was a prize winner from Ooligan Press in Portland, Oregon.

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HOUSEWORK

 

Today I mailed my mother. She deserved it but I had hesitated to take the final step out of some remnant of family loyalty. Every time I opened the closet door there she was on a shelf wedged between the spare vacuum cleaner bags and the bottle of easy-care floor cleaner. She would have liked the location had she been sentient because housework was her profession and she was a pro. Never a speck of dust on the furniture, never a dirty window. Never an unmade bed or waxy-yellow buildup on the kitchen floor.

And of course that was the problem. I always felt her specter looking over my shoulder, pointing out my housekeeping shortcomings like she did whenever she came to visit, which was too often. “Look at this! The dust must be an inch thick. You could write your name in it.” “The bathtub has a ring just like your husband’s shirt collars. Poor man!” On and on. It was no wonder he left home. I hope my next one doesn’t have a mother. It’s a great relief I don’t have one any longer, at least one like her. No one but me and the cat who deposits fur balls on the bedspread and sheds rolls of fluff on the back of the sofa where she watches out the window for birds. We’re a team.

I know my goody two-shoes sister was desperately sad not to have been around for the services and will shed tears of happiness when she receives the package. She’ll put the urn on the mantel above the hearth in her gracious living room, the place of honor between her wedding photo and the one of all the kids on their summer vacation at the lake last year. Her house has a gas-burning fireplace so there are no ashes to clean out. Soon, she will be able to take a few moments from dusting her immaculate house so she can contemplate the remains and her relationship with our mother any time she wants. My sister is a good housekeeper.

 

 

Guest Post: Writing in a Second Language

Post by Evelyne Holingue

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I am afraid that writing about my experience as a writer is egocentric since I’m not an established author. On the other hand, unlike the vast majority of writers, I write in a second language, acquired during adulthood. Over the last year, I’ve started to gather some nuggets related to this unexpected journey.

  • As soon as I land in San Francisco I’m aware of the sounds around me. New sounds that bear no resemblance to my native language arrive from everywhere. How will I ever be able to understand their meaning? I don’t ask myself how I will ever make them mine. A non-native speaker doesn’t consider the possibility for many years.
  • The only book I’ve packed in the blue container that leaves Paris for San Francisco is a French English dictionary. I will use it every day, for five years, as I read the newspaper and any free magazine I find in town. I check each word I don’t know and write it down in a notebook with its translation. Although I could simply check the dictionary once again in case I hadn’t memorized the new word, I need this tedious exercise. Handwriting each new word is the proof of my learning. It reassures me to assess the number of new words I learn. It frightens me too. The number of French words I know is endless.
  • Three years after my arrival in California, my in-laws offer me the French-English Unabridged Larousse Dictionary. Its promise: 350, 000 words and phrases, 530, 000 translations.
  • The self-teaching is hard because I’m alone most of the time, with two very young children, babies really. I need to find new ways to learn. Intuitively I know that what I’m missing is the conversation. One is unable to learn a foreign language without a dialogue. So whenever I meet someone I find myself mentally turning the pages of my notebook to select words that I could use in the conversation. I’m elated when I find one that I can place in the correct context.
  • I borrow books at the public library. I read each and every book from the first page to the last. Slowly. I read more slowly than I did when I was a child. Painfully. I record new words in my notebook. I understand what I read and I don’t. But the real sadness is that I’m acutely aware that I would not be able to write most of the sentences on my own.
  • A few years later, I can read entire books without checking my dictionary. Although some words are still unknown I don’t feel compelled to get their translation. My understanding of the language is good enough to guess the meaning. At some point I store my dictionary on a shelf, much less accessible than the ones where I stack my favorite novels. I’ve dreamed of the day where I would read like a native-speaker. But unlike my dream that was pure ecstasy I feel emptiness. So that was it?
  • This is why I’m overjoyed when I find an unknown word or an unusual turn of sentence. Along my solitary arduous journey there are moments of joy that I had forgotten when I read in French. Not knowing something can be scary but also exhilarating.
  • As I read I flag the pages with Post-It notes and highlights in yellow the sentences that strike me as beautiful. The thought of writing in English crosses my mind more and more often too. Soon I write my own sentences that turn into stories.
  • When I bring my first short story for critique I have no idea that such thing exists. It’s through a friend of mine who lives next to a writer that I am invited. I have no clue that these women are published authors. Later, I will soon find out that a few are very well known in their field of publication. Including in children’s literature. My story is read by one of them and I blush when I notice a couple of awkward sentences. Reading aloud, I discover, is necessary for a nonnative speaker. Despite my embarrassing mistakes the women are very encouraging and start to list the good things in my story. Then they encourage me to revise the plot to make it more appealing to an editor. None mentions the fact that my English is a work-in-progress, textbook-English really. I feel stupid and I wonder if this is why the women kept quiet about my mistakes. Years later, I will often meet other writers who will avoid telling me about my mistakes. I wish they had not. Writing in a foreign language is a humble task.
  • Living in the US where French is a foreign language has made me a permanent stranger in this land. Away from my mother language, I feel at the same time weightless and weighed down. This is a strange feeling to be always aware of this difference that separates me from native speakers. The result creates a distance within me.
  • In 2016, I read more in English than in French. Yet when I read in French I instantly immerse myself not only in familiar words but moreover in the familiarity of a culture I know inside and out. No dictionary translates a collective memory. This abandon is only possible with one’s mother tongue, I believe. French remains my dominant language. Especially noticeable whenever and wherever I meet a French speaker. The words I acquired in France until the age of thirty flow then effortlessly. I wonder where they reside when I don’t use them. A feeling of comfort fills me when I speak my mother language, quickly followed by a feeling of loneliness. I never feel as free when I express myself in English. I know I will always feel self-conscious when I speak English.
  • A new language remains almost impossible to master in adulthood. It’s a sad fact that I experience every day of my life. But there is also delight when I search for a word and work on a sentence. This delight could last until the end of your life, I realize and the thought makes me happy.Growing up shy and quiet Evelyne Holingue preferred books to people. Her life shifted when she and her husband left France from the US.

As a child Evelyne  loved escaping the familiar for the unknown through fiction. Being a foreigner is living the unknown day after day, not only for the time of a book, and this American life is pretty close to the adventures she enjoyed so much. She has published short stories and essays for both children and adults and two novels for children. Through her writing she shares her affection for her native and adoptive lands.

  • Website/blog: http://www.evelyneholingue.com
  • Facebook and Goodreads (both accessible from her website/blog
  • Contact e-mail: evelyne@holingue.com  

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The View from the Driver’s Seat

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“Do you think my son will want my job? No way!”

One positive thing about being stopped in traffic in New York is the opportunity to talk with the driver. During a recent visit, we were trapped on Eighth Avenue near Strawberry Fields in Central Park, a detour because the normal route was blocked for a parade. I didn’t mind the wait because it was a beautiful fall day, the sky deep blue, the leaves golden.

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Inevitably, as travelers do when they’re stuck, we fell into conversation. He opened, asking for my opinion about the elections, and I cautiously responded, unsure of his reaction. He gave his opinion with force and said how proud he was to be an American and that he strongly favored one candidate who was also my choice. He went on to say he never missed a televised presidential debate or other political debate or neglected to vote. I didn’t admit that I’d missed a few debates even though I always voted. I asked where he was born. Bangladesh, he said, although he’d emigrated from the country a number of years ago and seldom returned because of the continual social unrest. The conversation was a good reminder how so many native-born Americans take the benefits of democracy for granted.

The traffic didn’t move so he went on to another topic: He asked what I knew about Native American culture. I told him about a recent trip to the Southwest and the pueblos I’d visited, the beautiful desert Southwest, and about the distinctive pottery made by the women in New Mexico’s Acoma Pueblo. The traffic began to move before I could say more although I wanted to tell him about the tribal culture in the Pacific Northwest, the basketry and even totem poles. He stepped on the gas and swerved around an aid car blocking the road and turned into one of the cross-park roads. As we reached Fifth Avenue he began to talk about his hopes for his son’s future. All his Bangladeshi cohorts’ sons were studying to be engineers or computer scientists. He expected his own son, a seventh-grader, to do the same. Before I could ask about his views on girls’ education he pulled up at my destination – The Neue Gallerie which houses the famous portrait of Adele Bloch by Gustav Klimt, known as The Woman in Gold. The fraught history of the painting and its “rescue,” another demonstration of the ebb and flow of peoples and culture.

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“People don’t read any more.”

On another trip, short in distance but long in time, my chariot driver offered his opinion on American culture. We were stuck in front of Carnegie Hall, funded by Andrew Carnegie, who ironically in the case of this conversation, was the patron of so many libraries. This time the speaker was a native of Morocco. And, like so many immigrants, he spoke a number of languages: unaccented English, Arabic, French and Italian. He wanted to talk about books: how he disliked reading electronically because as a reader he wanted to know and understand a book as he held it in his hands. He wanted to assess the quality of the cover – front and back, check the feel of the paper, decide whether he liked the typeface and book design before opening it to read the first chapter. I said I did the same.

The conversation moved on to Italy, inevitably including food, and we lapsed into Italian (his fluent, mine fractured) after we talked about Italy, the conversation returned to books. I mentioned I was a writer, and said electronic media is good for travel, but at home I, too, wanted a “real” book.

Do you agree?