Category: Events

Finding room to write this summer

By Midge Raymond,

Thanks so much to Susan Rich for hosting me this week at The Alchemist’s Kitchen blog, where I offer 3 tips and prompts for how to find room to write during the summer months with all its temptations.

It’s very easy to be lazy in the summertime, especially when it comes to getting any serious writing done — but actually, the fact that we’re outdoors more than usual actually opens up opportunities: Even if we’re not sitting inside typing, being out in the world can feed our writing, simply by offering up so many different sensory experiences. If we look, listen, and think like writers, we can do more than we imagined possible in the relaxing days of summer.

Hope you enjoy the tips and prompts — and have a great week of writing!

Notes from the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference

By Midge Raymond,

It would be impossible to sum up the amazing first week of this year’s Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, which was, as always, an inspiration. Not only is Port Townsend a gorgeous setting in which to immerse oneself in All Things Writing, the writers it brings together creates such an incredible energy.

In addition to teaching five afternoon workshops on topics from scene to character to dialogue — and the writers who join me in these classes always have something to teach me — I had the opportunity to learn from the craft lectures of such writers as poet Ashley Capps (on empathy in writing) and fiction writer Jennine Capó Crucet (on humor), as well as to enjoy their evening readings and many others, among them Judith Kitchen, Dinah Linney, Sam Ligon, Diane Roberts, Erin Belieu, and Chris Crutcher. It truly feels impossible to sum up the wealth of good writing and conversation of the week, but author Donna Miscolta does a great job over on her blog.

I also fit in a little writing time, which is so much easier to do here than in my regularly scheduled life. For one, the setting is so peaceful; looking out over the water or watching deer walk past relaxes the brain in a way that just doesn’t happen when I’m trying to fit writing in amid all my other work.

The other brilliant thing about being at Fort Worden is that Internet access is available in only a couple of spots — which means that unless you go to these specific places, you’re disconnected. I had many conversations with writers about how well our writing went when we didn’t have web access; we all experienced big breakthroughs in our projects thanks to having time and space uninterrupted by email, news, and social media.

Now that I’m back, I’ve created a few new rules for myself in order to keep my writing momentum going. I have set myself new, limited social media hours, even for work-related posts and tweets (one thing I learned from being mostly offline for a week is that taking some time off isn’t going to make you disappear as a person, an author, or a business), and I’ve created specific writing goals for myself as well. I’ve also realized that being accountable is part of the deal: If you have to answer to someone about why you haven’t met your deadline, or why you got online during your offline writing time, it makes you think twice about procrastinating. So I’ve got weekly check-ins all lined up.

All these little rules may sound over-the-top — but as most of us know, it’s all too easy to get distracted and to let the writing slip. So here’s my tip for you: As the summer continues, start defining some guidelines and goals, and find yourself a writing buddy to keep each other on track. And, if you can, find a conference or retreat that will help remind you that your writing is vital and important.

Weekly Writing – Mojo Monday

By Midge Raymond,

On this summer Monday, I’m delighted to be featured on Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s amazing Writerhead blog as part of her Mojo Monday series. (Visit Kristin’s blog every Monday, where she offers “a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.”

Today on Mojo Monday, I write about how to be an everyday writer (i.e., how to find time to be a writer every day even if you’re not able to sit down to write every day) and offer three tips with matching prompts — so there’s no excuse not start this week off in a writerly mode.

Thanks to Kristin for hosting me today — and happy writing!

On being an everyday writer

By Midge Raymond,

Today I’m delighted to be one of the featured Writers on Writing over at the fabulous Passages North blog. This literary magazine, sponsored by Northern Michigan University, has published fiction (including one of my own stories a few years back), creative nonfiction, and poetry since 1979, and its blog is a treasure for readers and writers alike. Check it out for news on the magazine, submission advice, deadlines, and especially the wealth of information from Writers on Writing.

Thanks to Passages North for the opportunity to share my thoughts on being an everyday writer in a busy world!

Bookstore Geek: Pages in Manhattan Beach

By Midge Raymond,

There’s a lot to enjoy about Manhattan Beach, from its miles of sandy beach to its boutiques and shops to its amazing Mexican food — and, most of all, Pages: A Bookstore, a fabulous indie in the heart of the neighborhood at 904 Manhattan Avenue.

I discovered Pages thanks to author Cher Fischer, who held her launch party for her novel, Falling Into Green, at Pages in May.

Pages and its three owners — two of them, Patty and Margot, were there for Cher’s party — are warm, generous hosts, and the bookstore itself is a wonderful, inviting space not only for a book event but for wandering and reading.

In addition to comfy chairs for browsing, the bookstore’s shelves are topped with quotes about writing, from William Faulkner to Thomas Jefferson. The layout is spacious but somehow also offers that cozy feeling of being among a great abundance of books.

Like all good bookstores, Pages is active in its community, with events (including author appearances, game nights, workshops, and book clubs), a monthly newsletter, and an expansive children’s section with beanbag reading “chairs.”

Don’t miss this wonderful bookstore the next time you’re in Manhattan Beach — it’s the perfect place to find your beach reading, and a wonderful respite when you’re ready to step out of the sun.

On Memorial Day: Books for Soldiers

By Midge Raymond,

One of the many things I love about Forgetting English‘s publisher, Press 53, is its yearly Memorial Day tradition: For every book you purchase from the Press 53 website from Memorial Day until Flag Day (June 14), Press 53 will send, at no additional cost to you, a book to an active-duty overseas soldier or to a recovering soldier in a military hospital. What better way to celebrate mark Memorial Day?

Buy a book for yourself or a fellow reader, and Press 53 will take care of the rest. And, in celebration of National Short Story Month, why not try a new collection?

Forgetting English isn’t the only Spokane Prize winner among Press 53 titles — Becky Hagenston’s Strange Weather is also a recipient of the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction (and it’s an amazing collection…I highly recommend it).

I also loved reading Tara Masih’s Where the Dog Star Never Glows and Andrew Scott’s Naked Summer.

And here are a few recent Press 53 award-winning story collections:

Anne Leigh Parrish’s short story collection All the Roads That Lead From Home won an Independent Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Best Short Story Collection.

Marjorie Hudson’s short story collection Accidental Birds of the Carolinas won a PEN/Hemingway Award Honorable Mention.

Michael Kardos’s short story collection One Last Good Time won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction.

Click here for details on Books for Soldiers and to start shopping. Happy Memorial Day.

Instant books, via the Espresso Book Machine

By Midge Raymond,

It was a couple of years ago that I first saw an Espresso Book Machine (EBM) at work, at Village Books in Bellingham, Washington. It was impressive to see an entire book printed and bound in less than ten minutes — and even more impressive than the technology is the print-on-demand aspect itself: Books are made to order, which means no print overruns, which means no waste, which means more trees get to live.

Formerly used mainly for self-publishing, the EBMs are showing signs of going more mainstream. HarperCollins recently announced that it plans to make about 5,000 trade paperback backlist available for printing via EBM — and On Demand Books (the company behind the EBM) has also just announced that it plans to register with Google so that all EBM titles will become available through the Google Books website.

I caught a firsthand glimpse of the mainstreaming of the EBM on my recent book tour, when Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vermont, printed up copies of Forgetting English rather than ordering the books and having them shipped. A couple of readers got to see their books being printed, which was fun — and the quality was amazing. The book cover was matte rather than glossy, and the pages were thick, the print crisp, and the binding strong. And I got a kick out of seeing a new and different version of Forgetting English, made to order.

The Espresso Book Machine at Northshire is located in a little nook near the front of the store, close to the cash registers.  Northshire also has its own imprint, Shires Press, which offers a variety of packages for authors who want to self-publish their books — a very smart idea and likely one of the many reasons this bookstore is celebrating its 35th birthday and going strong.

And Northshire is far from the only indie bookstore to have an EBM: Check out this list of EBM locations, which comprises indie bookstores, university bookstores, and libraries all over the world, including in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, China, the Philippines, Australia, and England. If there’s an EBM located anywhere near you, I recommend checking it out (and printing up a book!); it’s a fascinating machine that may very well play a very large role in the way publishing looks in the future.

Bookstore Geek: Tree House Books

By Midge Raymond,

Tree House Books in Ashland, Oregon, is one of the town’s many treasures.  I first visited this sweet little children’s bookstore last year, around the holidays, while shopping for the little readers in my life. And I’m glad I did — it’s one of the most charming bookstores I’ve ever seen, and it’s fun to wander around inside even if you are a grown-up. There really is something for everyone here.

Tree House Books has been on the Plaza in Ashland since 1978 but has relatively new owners who curate a hand-picked selection of books for infants to young adults, as well as a small selection of their favorite books for grown-ups as well. The space is welcoming and inviting, and in addition to books there’s a wonderful selection of gifts, toys, and seasonal items that makes it worthwhile to stop in for a look whenever you’re walking by.

Tree House also has a book club for kids age 11 and older (if there’s anything better than a book club, it’s a book club for young readers) as well as many other events, including local author appearances. And be sure to check out Tree House’s October calendar, coming soon, for upcoming Halloweeny events.

Notes from a book tour

By Midge Raymond,

Years ago, before my book was published, I remember reading an article by a very successful author who was complaining about doing book tours. And I remember thinking, How can any author fortunate enough to have a book published and a tour scheduled complain about the privilege not only of having a book out in the world but of being able to meet her readers?

Now, after having just completed a ten-day whirlwind tour of my own, I can empathize a little more — it really is quite exhausting — but I most definitely cannot complain.

For one, I feel so fortunate to have teamed up with my friend and fellow writer Wendy Call, whose amazing book No Word for Welcome (University of Nebraska Press) was published two months after my book, Forgetting English, was reissued by Press 53. Though my book is fiction and hers narrative nonfiction, our books touch on similar themes — the global economy, home and travel, border crossings both literal and figurative — and we put together a series of workshops, seminars, and joint readings that made for a very busy ten days.

We did eight events in four states, traveling through Hurricane Irene-damaged areas that sent us on all sorts of detours, which were so very minor compared to what most residents were going through. It was amazing to see how these communities we visited bonded together; the photo below is from Woodstock’s Shiretown Books:

Wendy and I gathered a whole series of lessons from this tour, and if I had to sum them up as one, it would be: Be prepared. For anything.

We had water shortages, a car break-in, oddly timed meals (our first meal at 4 p.m. one day, dinner at 11 p.m. on another), and a lot of detour stress. Yet the less-than-fun aspects were offset by being hosted by fantastic indie bookstores and generously taken in by amazing friends. We met with inspiring students and writers, and, no matter how long the day, we  always managed to have a glass of wine and at least a few hours’ sleep at the end of it.

I’ve learned that book events are one thing, whereas an extended book tour is another thing entirely. Book touring is for writers who are flexible above all else —  you never know what you’ll encounter when you show up for an event. You need to be prepared for detours, of course, and for events that need to start late or end early. Be prepared for crowds larger than you’d expected, or smaller than you’d hoped. Be prepared for more questions than you have time for, or for no questions at all.

But most of all, be prepared to have a lot of fun. I reminded myself, even in the challenging moments, that we were out there talking about our books, which is something many writers don’t have the opportunity to do.

So if you’re a writer considering a tour, remember that, despite the inevitable challenges, when you do a book tour you’re not only meeting your readers but supporting indie booksellers, community centers, and other venues important to the literary world. And if you’re a reader, go to your nearest bookstore on an event day and see what it’s all about.

Book Promo 101: Reading aloud

By Midge Raymond,

While this post touches on some of the points from Book Promo 101: The bookstore reading, I wanted to devote a little extra time to the art of reading aloud, especially given the wonderful tips I received recently from Jack Straw Productions and Elizabeth Austen.

As part of the preparation for our joint book tour, Wendy Call and I visited Seattle’s Jack Straw Productions, the Northwest’s only non-profit multidisciplinary audio arts center, to record excerpts from our books.

 Producer Moe Provencher had wonderful advice for me as I stumbled through a practice reading — an excerpt I’d never rehearsed until that afternoon — and I found her tips  as relevant and useful for live readings as they are for audio recordings:

  • Mark up the text from which you’re reading so that you’ll know when to pause, what to emphasize, etc.
  • Develop a facial expression that reflects a character’s voice and/or mood; when you use your face to express something, this mood and tone will come through in your voice.
  • Read far more slowly than you think you need to — to the point at which you feel ridiculous — and this will likely be the perfect pace.
  • Practice. Aloud. Many times.
  • Breathe.

The good news for Seattle-area writers is that Jack Straw offers a Writers Program (Wendy was a 2008 Jack Straw Writer) in which writers spend several months developing a project while learning tips for readings, doing interviews, and more.

I learned a few more invaluable tips when, the week after the recording, I attended Elizabeth Austen‘s workshop at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference: “Beyond the Page: Poems Aloud, Poems Alive” (a session I recommend all prose writers take as well). Elizabeth, with her background in theater, has a gift for the spoken word, and she reminded us first and foremost that language is physical, that we need to remember this when we read aloud, and to feel every word. She offered a few examples — words such as awe, hiss, tip, trapeze — and in speaking them we could hear and appreciate their pitch and length, their sharpness or languidness. (Give it a try, right now. It’s pretty cool.) Elizabeth gave us tips on everything from rehearsing (avoid mirrors or recordings; ask a friend to listen and offer feedback instead) to what to wear to a reading (whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident; also, avoid high heels, and rehearse in the shoes you’ll be wearing at the event).

Among Elizabeth’s wisest tips was this: “The performance requires you, but it’s not about you.” As readers, she explains, we are conduits for getting the words out into the room and to the audience. I love this eye-opening tip, not only because it takes the edge off the self-consciousness most of us feel when we read, but because it reminds us that our words need to speak for themselves — that, now that we’ve written them, it’s time to let them shine on their own.

Dispatches from the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference

By Midge Raymond,

This week, I’ve been at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference at Centrum — an absolutely fantastic place to be reading, writing, and simply to be among writers. With morning and afternoon classes, afternoon craft lectures, evening readings, and views of the water, I can’t think of a more inspiring place to be.

On Monday, I spent the morning writing (working on a stubbornly unfinished short story), and then went to Sam Ligon‘s afternoon class on short-short stories — a form that I admire and love to read but haven’t had success with myself (I do well at 1,000 words and above — but writing a shorter story than that still mystifies me). Sam’s class went a long way in demystifying the form, and his examples (from Willow Springs authors to Amy Hempel to his own story “Glazed,” which appears in his collection Drift and Swerve) reinforced the major takeaway: that short-shorts must do away with most of the general rules of fiction (such as plot and character) and focus heavily on voice and mood, with a hard turn at the end.

Tuesday gave me more writing time, and in the afternoon I taught “Setting the Scene,” in which I gave everyone writers’ cramp as we discussed the various ways in which to insert the where into one’s work.

Evening readings have included works by Pam Houston, Carl Phillips, Sam Ligon, and Paisley Rekdal — and I am especially looking forward to Friday’s reading with Wendy Call as she reads from her hot-off-the-presses book No Word for Welcome.

And we’re only halfway through this amazing week. Visit the Centrum web site for more info on how to get your own self here for next year’s conference.


Weekly Writing: Perception

By Midge Raymond,

The writers and travelers who joined me for my recent workshop enjoyed this writing prompt, so I thought I’d share the fun. It’s a two-part exercise, the second of which is usually the most fun — and the most surprising.

1. Think of someone you saw while traveling. Write a description of this person.

2. Next, write a description of yourself from this person’s POV.




Bookstore geek: Bloomsbury Books

By Midge Raymond,

In my continuing coverage of awesome indie bookstores, I’d like you to meet Bloomsbury Books of Ashland, Oregon.

This lovely bookstore is in the center of town, and as well as offering a great selection of books and magazines, Bloomsbury is also a wonderful gift shop, with cards, games, and (very important) Theo Chocolate, among other delights. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful, and the store features frequent author events (I’ll be reading there on Thursday, May 12, at 7 p.m., if you happen to be in town).

Yet another thing to love about Bloomsbury is the cafe upstairs, with its organic selections, gigantic comfy chairs, and a gorgeous outdoor patio and garden (the cafe has a “no cell phone policy” of which I am a huge fan). I’ve spent much of the winter there on writing dates with my writing buddy, and now that the weather is nice enough to write outside, I’m hoping to spend most of the summer here as well.

Weekly Writing: Short story inspiration

By Midge Raymond,

In honor of Short Story Month and the Short Story Month Collection Giveaway Project, I’m turning to short stories for inspiration for this week’s writing exercise:

1. Pull one of your favorite short story collections off the shelf.

2. Open to a random page.

3. Write down the first line on that page. (For example, I’ve just picked up Lori Ostlund’s The Bigness of the World, and my random line is: “They had not expected the desert to be like this…”)

4. Write a story of your own based on this one line — erase the original story’s context from your mind, start over, and have fun.