Category: On Reading


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.

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Create your own virtual writing retreat

By Midge Raymond,

Sadly, lately my writing has taken a backseat to everything else. So last week, I decided that I would use the long holiday weekend for an unofficial writing retreat. “Unofficial” essentially means that I didn’t need to apply, travel, or formally do anything other than pledge to write — perfect for such a last-minute decision.

When I mentioned this to my friend Wendy Call, an alumna of Hedgebrook, she too was up for the idea; she’d already been part of a more formal virtual retreat, Hedgebrook Writes (a brilliant idea). So when Wendy got a few other writers on board for a virtual retreat via Facebook, and my unofficial writing retreat began to feel a little more official.

Writing time is precious and necessary, but let’s face it — we can’t always leave home; we can’t always plan ahead. Yet there is no reason we can’t create our own writing retreats at any time, for any length of time, whenever we need to. A few hours of retreat time is better than none at all — it’s just a question of making the time. And so I finally did just that.

It was a great weekend overall, and I learned a few things that will make my next one even better. So here are a few tips that I hope will help you create your own writing retreat…

Just do it. My retreat was completely last-minute and completely unplanned. I wasn’t even thinking about it until I found myself, while writing an email to Wendy, realizing that I absolutely had to spend some time writing that weekend. So I decided to do it, told her my plan, and I’m so grateful that she ran with it, giving me no excuse to flake out on myself. Which brings me to my next tip…

Gather your fellow writers together. You don’t necessarily need to gather in one place; what’s important is that you all agree to write during the duration of the retreat. This will ensure that you actually write (be accountable to yourself and others by keeping in touch, or by reporting your progress at the end), and it’ll also give you the inspiration you need if your energy or creativity begin flagging. And, of course, if you do live close to your writing buddies, by all means, do get together, whether for a few hours of freewriting or a weekend retreat at a nearby inn. The group dynamic helps immeasurably.

– Clear the decks. On the first day of my retreat, I decided I would just do “one little update” to my web site, and as you can imagine, one thing led to another and six hours passed with no writing getting done. By then I had a headache, so I went for a walk, which ended up being a three-mile hike (albeit lovely — and I saw my first wild turkey ever, so it was worth it). But basically I lost my entire first day because I thought I could take care of one little thing before getting started. Make sure you’ve taken care of all that you need to do before retreating, so you aren’t tempted to do anything else that could end up overtaking your writing time.

– Create your space. You may have a place in mind for your retreat — a fellow writer’s house, a quiet cafe, a library — but perhaps more likely you’ll be writing at home. If you have other family there with you, you’ll need to let them know that you’re On Retreat and can’t be disturbed. Make whatever arrangements you need, from child care to pet care to hanging a DO NOT DISTURB sign on your door. This is your time.

– Stay offline. I didn’t check email, Twitter, Facebook, or anything else all weekend. It felt so great. For me, it helped that this was a holiday weekend during which nothing was happening work-wise — try to plan your retreat at a time when you won’t feel compelled to stay connected. And do whatever you must to be sure you don’t interrupt yourself with the lure of the web.

Give yourself guidelines. Whether it’s a timeline (writing from 9 a.m. Friday to 5 p.m. Sunday, for example) or project-related (finishing that first draft of your novel), give yourself clear parameters and stick with them. Figure out what works best for you (you may prefer a time-based schedule to avoid feeling pressured to finish a specific project; on the other hand, if you tend to procrastinate, setting a project-specific goal may be better). Then set your schedule and go.

Afterward, assess the pros and cons, the highs and lows. This will allow you to better plan your next retreat. Was being at home too distracting? Do you need to fit more reading time into a retreat weekend? Do you need to stay off the computer and write by hand? Figure out what can make your next retreat more productive and fun, and work it into the plan.

Schedule retreats often. I am already looking forward doing another D.I.Y. retreat over Labor Day weekend; I’ve decided that these long holiday weekends are perfect occasions for me to carve out some writing time. But because waiting until September is too long a stretch to not be writing, I also plan to find a weekend to retreat sometime in August as well, even if it’s just a day, or a few hours. Plan ahead. You need and deserve this time.

And while creating your own, stay-at-home retreat is a beautiful thing, consider a more formal writing retreat as well — and if you do, check out these tips from Kelli Russell Agodon, an award-winning poet whose work is proof that writing retreats are necessary and magical.

 



The state of “writerhead”

By Midge Raymond,

Today I’m thrilled to be featured on Kristin Bair O’Keefe’s Writerhead, a fabulous blog in which she interviews writers about the state of “writerhead” and what it means to them and their process. I loved answering her thought-provoking questions … not to mention reading writerhead stories about all the other wonderful writers she has featured.

Stop by Kristin’s blog and check out not only Writerhead but all her fabulous tips, links, and writing news … you’ll love it.



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.

 



Short Story Month Collection Giveaway Project

By Midge Raymond,

Welcome to Short Story Month!

UPDATE, 6/1: Congratulations to the winners — Tommy, Ed, and Susan — who now have some amazing summer reading material on the way. And thanks to all of you who participated in the giveaway and for all that you do to keep short stories alive and well!

This year, I am happy to be joining other bloggers in the annual Fiction Writers Review Collection Giveaway Project, a community effort by lit bloggers to raise attention for short story collections. FWR Contributing Editor Erika Dreifus suggested FWR as a home for this project last year and will not only be participating on her own blog, but will also be helping FWR run the project. And those of you who are fiction bloggers yourselves, click here for information on how you can participate as well.

The only difficult part about this for me has been choosing a collection to give away…but I’ve finally narrowed it down. To three.

First, I’m happy to be giving away Erika‘s own collection, Quiet Americans, out this year and well worth the long wait! I first met Erika in a bookstore outside Boston, where we did a reading together as finalists for a short story award. So I’ve enjoyed her work for many years and was thrilled to have a whole collection of her haunting and thought-provoking stories to curl up with this winter. From a high-ranking Nazi’s wife and a Jewish doctor in prewar Berlin to a refugee returning to Europe as terrorists massacre Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the characters and conflicts that emerge in Quiet Americans reframe familiar questions about what is right and wrong, remembered and repressed, resolved and unending.

I’m also happy to be giving away Becky Hagenston‘s collection Strange Weather, which received the 2009 Spokane Prize for Short Fiction and was published by the fabulous Press 53. As with Erika, I’d already been acquainted with Becky’s work and with some of these stories through the many literary magazines they’ve appeared in, and I loved having the chance to overdose on them with this collection, which is nearly impossible to put down. From the visceral tension in the mother-daughter relationship in “Trafalgar” to the wonderfully witty ghost story “Anthony,” these stories offer us a delightful mix of magic and reality, while never losing their grip on the truths that draw us to stories in the first place.

And finally, I’m delighted to offer the wonderful collection The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund, now out in paperback. Winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, this beautiful book introduces us to characters venturing out into a world in hopes of escaping their troubles, only to find that life remains as complicated as it was before they left. You may have already read “All Boy” in Best American Short Stories 2010 (two additional stories from the collection, “Bed Death” and “Talking Fowl with My Father,” are on the list of Other Distinguished Stories) — and if you’ve already read Lori’s work, you’ll only want to read more.

To be entered to win, leave a comment on this post any time from now to midnight (Pacific time!) on Tuesday, May 31, 2011, at which time I’ll use a random number generator to select three lucky winners.

Happy Short Story Month! Go forth, read stories, and celebrate.



Bookstore geek: Point Reyes Books

By Midge Raymond,

I have to admit, I walked right past this bookstore (perhaps I was a little obsessed with the Bovine Bakery next door) — the sign is pretty nondescript, and the bakery does have that sugary fragrance going for it. But I was very glad to have stopped in to Point Reyes Books, a little treasure in this tiny Bay Area town.

The bookstore is cozy, its staff friendly, and I found it a great source not only of books but of work by local artists (in fact, in the upper right of this photo is an installation by a local artist of books by authors hosted by the store). And speaking of events, Point Reyes Books has an impressive list of visiting authors — and one of its owners, Kate Levinson, is an author herself. If you’re ever in the area — Point Reyes Station is only an hour or so north of San Francisco — I highly recommend stopping by. And don’t forget about that bakery next door.



Virtual Book Tour: Word Love

By Midge Raymond,

I’m delighted to be a guest today at Word Love by Randy Susan Meyers — a fantastic blog about writing and all aspects of the writing life. In addition to hosting this terrific blog, Randy is the internationally bestselling author of The Murderer’s Daughters; visit her web site to learn more and to read all the fabulous reviews.

Come join us at Word Love to learn a few tips on how to create a book trailer, to watch a few great ones, and to read the behind-the-scenes story about my own effort, Love in the Time of Amazon.com.

 



Bookstore geek: Eureka Books

By Midge Raymond,

I imagine most writers are bookstore geeks like me — this is probably how it all started for us. I still remember the indie bookstore in the town where I grew up, one of my favorite places ever. Sadly, it closed, and a Barnes & Noble opened up in a mall on the other side of town — but, as we all know (as both readers and writers), a big chain bookstore is never quite the same. Bookstores, for me, need to have creaky hardwood floors, narrow aisles, non-florescent lighting, bookstore cats. It needs to have aisles that end suddenly, aisles that meander until you forget where you are. And of course it’ll have staff members who are fellow book geeks.

I’ve taken my geekiness to a new level by photographing bookstores I find. Below is one in which I recently escaped an icy rain — Eureka Books in Eureka, California.

As you can see, it’s a gorgeous bookstore, housed in a Victorian dating from 1879 (and it’s right off the 101, if you’re ever passing through). The store has a wonderful collection of regional books and literature, and it’s right in the heart of downtown, along with many other lovely shops, not to mention the Lost Coast Brewing Company (which I also highly recommend).

 



Virtual Book Tour: Savvy Verse & Wit

By Midge Raymond,

Today I’m thrilled to be a guest on the fabulous Savvy Verse & Wit blog, where I share some thoughts about my writing space (complete with before and after photos!). We’re also doing a Forgetting English giveaway, so come visit and enter to win a copy of the book.

Many thanks to Serena for hosting me today — and in addition to her blog, you can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.



Virtual Book Tour: Practicing Writing

By Midge Raymond,

Today I’m delighted to be a guest on Erika Dreifus’s popular and invaluable blog, Practicing Writing, to which I’ve been addicted for many years. Erika is a contributing editor for The Writer magazine and Fiction Writers Review and an advisory board member for J Journal: New Writing on Justice. Her beautiful story collection, Quiet Americans, was published earlier this year.

With thanks to Erika for hosting me, today I’m offering Ten Tips for a Writing Life, a few things that I find helpful to keep in mind as a working writer. I’d love to hear your tips as well, so stop by and share!

 



Virtual Book Tour: Elizabeth Austen

By Midge Raymond,

I’m so happy to be over at Elizabeth’ Austen’s blog today, writing about Thinking Like a Writer (a nice reminder for those of us who can’t manage to sit down to write as often as we’d like).

Elizabeth is a poet, teacher, and performer whose most recent collection, Every Dress a Decision, has just been released by Blue Begonia Press. Check out the trailer here — and listen to Elizabeth chat about poetry with Billy Collins here.

I look forward to seeing you at Elizabeth’s today!



Virtual Book Tour: The Alchemist’s Kitchen

By Midge Raymond,

Today I’d like to thank Susan Rich, author of three beautiful books of poetry (the most recent of which, The Alchemist’s Kitchen, is a finalist for the Poetry Book of the Year award), for hosting me on her blog today. Today’s topic is Writing About Place, and I offer a few tips for how all writers — from poets to novelists — can best write about place.

So join me over at The Alchemist’s Kitchen blog. It’s a place you’ll want to visit over and over again.

 

 

 



Virtual Book Tour: Crab Creek Review

By Midge Raymond,

I’m thrilled today to be blogging at Seattle’s Crab Creek Review, one of my favorite literary magazines, about putting time and space between yourself and a piece of writing (it’s true: absence really does make the heart grow fonder).

Join me at the Crab Creek Review blog — and be sure to check out the magazine and all the latest news here. Thanks so much to editors Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy for hosting me!