September 10, 2014
by Kate
7 Comments

our first mother-daughter book review

I’m sorry for my long silence this summer. I’ve been juggling so many things, and I just couldn’t get here and catch up. I’ll be better this fall, blogging about my ghostwriting gig, and teaching and posting a few reviews. But today I’m happy to revive the blog with my first mother-daughter book review!

The fabulous Emily Hedges (of Hedges Virtual Tours) contacted me a couple of months ago asking if I’d be interested in being a part of Michael Perry’s tour for his first middle-grades novel, The Scavengers. I like Perry’s writing, but I was/am so behind on reviews/interviews that I was going to gracefully decline. But then I read that Emily’s daughter (a self-declared non-reader) loved the book, so I popped over to Perry’s website and saw the cover, and I knew Stella would also love it.

 

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Right? What’s not to love about a bad-ass girl on the roof of a Ford Falcon with a wild rooster? And in the background what looked to be cities under bubbles. And then Perry himself described the book as “Little House on the Prairie meets Mad Max.” So I asked Stella if she was interested in reviewing it with me and she smiled that huge smile and said, “YES!” So then I said “yes” to Emily and not long afterward, the advanced reading copy arrived and I pressed it into Stella’s hands. “Your first book review!”

Stella fell in love with reading two years ago, in third grade when she fell under the spell of Harry Potter, the beloved series that my friend Margie calls “the gateway drug to reading.” It certainly was for Stella. More recently she has fallen in love with Percy Jackson and has read just about everything written by Rick Riordan. I honestly can’t keep up with her. She read The Scavengers in one day.

“What do you think?” I’d ask periodically.

“I LIKE it!” she’d say, her face lighting up. “Do you want to…”

“Don’t tell me anything,” I said, knowing she was about to give me a plot blow-by-blow.

Because my plate overfloweth, I had to wait until Labor Day weekend to read it. We went up to my mom’s cabin in Northern MN, one of the only places I don’t feel guilty planting myself on the couch and reading for hours. This time, Stella kept checking with me: “What do you think? What part are you reading?”

I, too, loved the book.

So I’m happy to welcome Stella today. We’re just going to have a short conversation about the book, something I hope we’ll continue to do here at Motherhood & Words and, of course, in real life.

Kate: So, Stella, what was your favorite part of The Scavengers?

Stella: My favorite part was when Toad, Toby and Maggie/Ford Falcon went to town in the Scary Pruner and had to fight the GreyDevils.

Kate: Oh that was scary. What about that part did you like?

Stella: You know I like battles, Mom.

Kate: That I do, my dear. What other parts of the book did you love?

Stella: I liked it when Maggie met Toad, and Toad helped them rebuild their shack because it was such a relief for Maggie and her family to finally have a neighbor and to stop moving around.

Kate: I loved that part, too. But my other favorite part was when Ma first read Emily Dickinson to Maggie. I love these line: Maggie says, “I love when we read Emily together. Her poems—even the weird ones—do something to me. They’re short and some have strange punctuation, but sometimes they make me burn inside like each word is a spark.”

Stella: Oh yeah, I remember that part. I liked that too.

Kate: Toad switches his letters around so the words get all confused. I sometimes had trouble deciphering them. What about you?

Stella: At first I was a little confused because it went from pig latin to the discombobulated letters, but then I understood it. My favorite words that Toad switched around were “knull dife.”

Kate: Ah yes, I like that one too. I did seem to get better at it figuring out what he was talking about as the book went on.

Stella: I think it’s easier for kids. (Eye roll.)

Kate: You might be right about that. I’d love to hear from some more readers on that front.

Stella: I also liked it when Toad gave Maggie The American Boy’s Handy Book and she made all sorts of things like boomerangs and jack lights.

Kate: And I love that she was disgusted that it was a book for boys only. She showed them, didn’t she?

Stella smiles.

Kate: What did you think about the ending? (We won’t give it away.)

Stella: I think he set it up for a sequel.

Kate: Oh yes, I’d certainly read the next one.

Stella: It should be called The Founders.

Kate: I love it!

Stella, thanks for reading and talking about The Scavengers with me! Let’s do it again soon!

Stella: Maybe, Mom.

Kate: Alright then!

Check out Michael Perry’s website for information about his book tour and for more information on The Scavengers!

July 16, 2014
by Kate
20 Comments

the small things

I woke this past Saturday morning in my own bed, not needing to jump up and rush to—anything. Donny headed off to golf, a well-deserved break after solo parenting for the week while I was on Madeline Island. So I got up, meditated, made a pot of decaf, and began unloading the dishwasher, waiting for my little people to wake up. I’d missed them.

The retreat at MISA was fabulous. What a gift to be surrounded by so many warm and smart and talented women writers for five days. But it was also exhausting. And I always forget that. Each time I head off to lead a retreat, I think, oh I’ll be able to get some of my own work done throughout the week. But it’s just not possible. If I want to meditate or run before our first meeting of the day, I need to get up pretty early, and that doesn’t leave time for writing or editing. Then the rest of the day is filled with group meetings and individual conferences. (And one evening a cruise around the Apostle Islands.) I was so tired by the end of each day (after the tears and laughter and wine and more tears and laughter and wine), that all I was capable of doing was lying in bed, watching Street Dance and Street Dance 2 on my phone. (Seriously.) They were somehow just what I needed. Then I slept, got up and repeated.

I was thrilled to get home to my family on Friday night. Donny had cleaned the house, and was ready to put steak on the grill when I walked in the door. I squeezed my girls and my nephew, who was over playing. Then my sister and nieces came over, then my dad. It was a lovely welcome home, and I just wanted to revel in family, in home.

The next morning, when I heard Zoë’s footsteps on the stairs, I paused my unloading of the dishes and went into the living room and swept her up into a tight hug. And when Stella came down a few minutes later, I did the same with her. Then I made them scrambled eggs and toast, standing at the stove, just happy to push eggs around in a pan for my daughters.

I’ve tried to do that this week—appreciate the small things, take deep breaths, trust that everything will get done. But “everything” this summer is a lot. On Friday I head out again, this time to Ashland’s MFA program for TWO weeks. I have been prepping: reading student work, adjusting my syllabi, and reviewing the faculty handbook, trying to make sure I’m not missing anything. I’ve also been writing this week, working on a new chapter of the autism/running book I’m ghostwriting/co-writing. I need to be plugging along furiously on that book because…..drumroll….it found a home! Triumph Books will publish it next spring, in time for Autism Awareness Month. All very exciting, of course, but it means my nose will be to the grindstone all fall. I can do it. I can do it. (My new chant.)

But for now, this week, for these few days, I am trying to soak up Donny and the girls, to squeeze them tight and imprint on them my love. I am trying to appreciate the small things and the not-so-small things so I can hold those in my heart as I make the long drive to Ashland on Friday.

What are the little things you are appreciating this week?

June 16, 2014
by Kate
2 Comments

motherhood & words podcast

If you missed this year’s Motherhood & Words reading, no worries! You can now listen to the podcast, thanks to Mom Enough! It was a wonderful evening featuring Susanne Antonetta, Tami Mohamed Brown and Brain, Child’s Editor-in-Chief, Marcelle Soviero. You can listen here.

And Susanne has a new blog Leave It to Ritalin on Huffington Post, so check that out, as well.

Happy summer listening and reading, friends!

June 6, 2014
by Kate
14 Comments

summer

Well, it’s the last day of school. Summer vacation is upon us. I’m grateful for the longer days and the sunshine and I look forward to less-rushed mornings at home. But, boy am I going to be busy this summer. I shifted into “GO!” mode last week, as I prepped for the River Teeth conference, which was last weekend in Ashland, Ohio. Once again, it was fantastic. Philip Gerard and Brenda Miller with the featured speakers, and they were outstanding, as were all of the panels. Honestly friends, if you write nonfiction, you have to try to get to this conference at some point. (Videos of the presentations will be available soon, and I’ll make sure to link to them when they’re live.)

So that trip was stellar (with the exception of Sunday night, which I spent uncomfortably curled up on a bench at O’Hare.) Understandably, I was not my best self Monday morning at the kick off session of my June Motherhood & Words class at the JCC. Luckily it’s a great group and they were very forgiving of my wrinkled clothes and lack of mental acuity.

Now I’m juggling a couple of editing jobs and planning (or thinking about planning) for my women’s memoir retreat at Madeline Island School of the Arts (there’s still space!) and my classes at Ashland’s MFA residency in July.  Summer is always a little tricky because the rest of my family is on vacation, but I, clearly, am not. So I have to abandon my home office and camp out at the coffee shop for most of the day, which can be a little tiresome. But somehow everything gets done and I get to play a little.

What are your summer plans? How are you going to fit in your writing?

May 23, 2014
by Kate
6 Comments

writing, motherhood & the military life

I’m so pleased to have author Andria Williams here today. Andria is an old friend from the University of Minnesota’s MFA program. She’s such a talented writer, and I’m thrilled that her novel, currently titled The Falls, will be published by Random House. I had the chance to read an earlier draft of the book, and I couldn’t put it down. (I’m convinced she will sell the movie rights…) I’ll have Andria back once her novel is out in the world, but I wanted to talk to her now because she has recently launched a wonderful new project, The Military Spouse Book Review.

Andria

KH:  Welcome, Andria!

AW:  Thank you so much for having me here, Kate! You know I’ve been a longtime fan of your writing and of Motherhood & Words.

 

KH:  Aw shucks. Thanks, friend.  

Can you talk about why you started the Military Spouse Book Review?

AW:  We’re a little over a decade out from the start of the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there’s been a surge of interest in books by and about the men who have served in those wars (The Yellow Birds, Redeployment, FOBbit, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, to name a few). I think that’s wonderful and deserved, but I also noticed that there was not much by and about the women who serve in the military or who hold down the homefront (the most notable exception being the incredible short-story collection You Know When the Men Are Gone, by Siobhan Fallon, as well as some great YA lit, like Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington).

I started digging around for books by and about military spouses. There were quite a few, but most tended to be of the self-help variety, chicken soup for the military wife’s soul, that sort of thing. These can be valuable books but they didn’t fill what I was craving, which was good artistic literary writing by and/or about military women and families.

I found myself wondering what women connected to the military were reading and writing, and as with any subject, the more I explored, the more I realized was out there. Military spouses read like crazy, it turns out, and they are also writing some really terrific stuff. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, to have a blog for the “thinking military spouse” (and female service members, too) where we could review books, post our own writing, and just swap ideas and have a voice that was a little more scholarly, a little deeper, than some of the other stuff out there?

 

KH:  How has being in a military family impacted you as a writer and reader?

AW:  In logistical terms, it can be a challenge. You can’t live near a core group of writing friends, obviously. I had to leave my little Twin Cities writing community behind. Sometimes I feel a little sad about that, especially when I see the occasional picture of a reunion lunch on Facebook (and I start trying to convince myself that everybody’s actually getting together, like, every week, which I KNOW isn’t true!).

I think I’m more empathetic now, and more humble. You can’t feel like much of a big shot when you have to move and be the new person every two years. I crave hearing other peoples’ stories more than ever, and I am braver about getting them. Like a lot of writers, I tend toward social anxiety and am much more articulate on paper than I am in person (have you seen that T-shirt, “ask me about my crippling shyness?”). Sometimes I used to look for excuses not to approach people, to duck into my little nerd-shell. Being forced to meet new people every two years has pretty well driven that out of me. Now, if I think someone’s even remotely interesting, I go after ‘em like a crazed pit bull.

 

KH:  I’d love to hear a little more about you as a writer. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

AW:  I knew when I was about five years old. I have never wanted to be anything else. I am almost pathologically loyal and make big life decisions quickly and stick to them forever, and when I was five I thought, I’m gonna be a writer. So that’s what I did.

 

KH:  You have three young children. I’d love to hear a little about your writing and how you fit writing into your busy life.

AW:  I’ve written every day of my life since I was five years old, with one huge exception: After the birth of my first child, I couldn’t write for five years. I would certainly not want her to think it was her fault (or the fault of the other two sweethearts who came after her!); it was something inside me that jammed up and wouldn’t let myself write. I was in the trenches, to put it a little melodramatically, of raising these small children who depended upon me for everything (I’m sure this sounds familiar to your readers, Kate!!), with the strain of being in a military family – where, as the spouse, you have GOT to be the rock, you have got to be ever-present and calm, because sometimes the world is changing for your little kids pretty fast (new state, Dad’s away) and you are the only thing that decides whether they take it in stride or freak out. It can be a tremendous pressure. Somehow I couldn’t open myself up to the dreaminess and possibility of writing – because fiction writing, it’s like a five-year love affair with imaginary people. You think about them during the day when you’re grocery shopping, or driving. Songs come on the radio and you think about your characters. (I realize I sound like a total creepo.) But I had to hit a minor rock-bottom of antsiness and crabbiness before I felt like it was okay to give myself that kind of brain-space, that weird internal freedom.

Like a lot of moms, I just set my alarm clock for early in the morning and write while it is still dark. At first, when my son went on his two-year campaign of getting up at 5:15 every day, I only had about 45 minutes in the morning to write. But then he started to sleep in like a decent human being, and that grew to an hour, even two. I never missed a morning because it would make me so irritable if I did; it got to the point where it was like You owe it to your kids to write today so you will not be an uptight bitch come two p.m. I was much happier if I slept only four hours and got my writing in, than if I were well-rested and didn’t write. Once I realized that I never looked back, and I’ve been as sweet as pie ever since. You can ask my husband.

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KH:  You look sweet as pie!

Your novel, The Falls, just sold to Random House. Tell us a little bit about the book.

AW:  Thanks for asking! The Falls (title may change! no one likes it) is set in 1959. A young woman named Nat Collier moves to Idaho with her husband, Paul, an Army nuclear operator, and their two young daughters. It’s his first tour of duty as an operator and it’s supposed to be pretty straightforward, but when they reach Idaho they realize that Paul’s new boss, Mitch, is womanizing, irresponsible, and usually drunk, and that the reactor itself is slowly failing. Tensions rise between Paul and his boss until Paul eventually lashes out and is punished by being sent on a six-month tour to Greenland, where the Army was actually operating a nuclear-powered base under the ice. While Paul’s gone, Nat finds herself falling for another man, a sweet local guy, and tensions build until you actually think that you may die, and it all culminates with a little-known episode from American history – the first and only fatal nuclear reactor accident in the U.S., on January 3rd, 1961.

(I know people hear the word “nuclear” and focus on that, and it is part of the book, but to get a real feel for what The Falls is like, focus more on the marriage between Nat and Paul, and what it means to be left behind, and how jealousy can really screw things up, and you’ll get a better picture of the book.)

 

KH:  This book is fantastic, people.

What do you hope the Military Spouse Book Review will do, both for civilian families and military families?

AW:  I hope it creates a space where people who live within a culture that’s not always the most intellectual – the military – can come together and get excited about books, about ideas.

I hope it makes some women in the military feel like they’re not so alone.

I hope it creates a place where military folks can put aside those false barriers we create – enlisted vs. officer, military spouse vs. female service member – and just get to know each other a little better.

I hope it’s a place where non-military folks who love books feel comfortable dropping by, too, because the military and civilian worlds have never been at more of a gap than they are now, in some ways, and I’d really like to see that ease up a little.

Most of all, I hope I can learn a lot and have fun putting this all together. I’ve already heard from Navy wives stationed overseas, Army Rangers’s wives, infantrymens’ wives, officers’ wives, active-duty female service members. And they all want to talk about books! I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.

Come on over and spend a little time with us! We would absolutely love to hear from you.

 

KH: Thanks so much for taking the time to “chat” with me, Andria. Friends, go check out her great review

May 14, 2014
by Kate
7 Comments

things I love

I hope you all had a wonderful Mother’s Day! My day started like this:

MothersDay

 

Breakfast in bed with fresh berries, a decaf latte, homemade cards and gifts, and a new–gorgeous–orchid for my collection. It was a lazy day, with a trip to the park, lounging on a picnic blanket, reading, chatting with friends, and hugs for the girls (when they weren’t bickering with each other–an irritating new development). But even with the bickering, it was a lovely day, full of things and people I love.

Other things I love:

LoftMarquee

* Last week’s Motherhood & Words reading. What a wonderful evening (if I do say so). Every year the line-up is different and every year it just works. This year was no exception. Susanne Antonetta, Tami Mohamed Brown and Marcelle Soviero were all fabulous. If you missed it, don’t worry, it’s going to be another podcast thanks to Mom Enough. I’ll post the link when it’s live so you can listen. (And don’t forget to leave a comment here for your chance to win a copy of Susanne’s Make Me a Mother.)

* Road trips and radio shows: Tune in tomorrow morning at 8:15 am CST if you can. I’ll be a guest on Duluth Public Radio, discussing Ready for Air. And then my mom and I are driving up there for the night.  I’ll be reading tomorrow night, 5/15, at The Bookstore at Fitger’s, 7 p.m.

* These great pieces on writing/the writing life (thanks to my dear students who send me links).

  • “How to Write” by Heather Havrilesky made me laugh so hard that I almost peed my pants. Lots of f-bombs, so if you’re scared of those, you might decide to pass (though if you’re reading my blog, you’re probably not scared them, so go for it).
  • This essay in VIDA’s Her Kind by Kelli Russell Agodon made me realize that I need my own writing retreat. It will be a goal for 2015. In the meantime, why not come on one my retreats and remind yourself that “writing is not a luxury, but a necessity.” There is still room in my Women’s Memoir retreat July 7-11 at Madeline Island School of the Arts. Come on, you know you need it.

How did you spend your day on Sunday? What are some of the things you’re loving right now?

May 5, 2014
by Kate
13 Comments

susanne antonetta – 8th annual motherhood & words reading

The weeks have been flying by and there isn’t enough time to get everything done. I can hardly believe it’s May. But it is May, which means it’s time for the annual Motherhood & Words reading at The Loft.

8th Annual, people. That’s something indeed. And this year it’s another great line-up: Tami Mohamad Brown, Susanne Paola Antonetta, and Marcelle Soviero. Join us on Wednesday, May 7th at 7 p.m. You don’t want to miss it!

I’m honored to have Susanne here at Motherhood & Words today discussing her new memoir, Make Me a Mother, from which she’ll read on Wednesday.

Make Me a Mother is a lovely meditation on adoption, broadening the definition of adoption in our lives and cultures. But it’s a story for anyone who has navigated complex family relationships (who hasn’t?) and has found themselves recommitted to love. It’s a fascinating book. So without further ado, I’d like to welcome Susanne! Thank you for joining me here today!

 

KH: Jin is now seventeen years old. Talk about when you begin work on this book and how you knew it was the right time for it to be a book.

SA: He’s just about seventeen, yes. The earliest pieces of the book stem from the time we awaited his arrival—he was born in South Korea and we picked him up at SeaTac Airport. Too surreal! While we waited for him to get here—his arrival was delayed—I got into the habit of writing him letters. Parts of those letters made it into the book. The earliest published piece was the section about him changing his name to Penguin at the age of eight—that was in The New York Times.

 

KH: You write, “I don’t know how to separate my mother’s instincts from my writer’s instincts…” I love the writing thread in the book. I’d love to hear more about your shift from writing poetry to prose in the months after Jin arrived home.

SA: My first bits of prose were actually an attempt to document the history of my mother’s family; they came from Barbados. I had gathered up a lot of old letters and family documents and such. There were wild stories about my grandfather’s siblings—he was one of fourteen children, very colorful people. For instance, my aunt told me one of my great-aunts had been murdered, poisoned, by her mother-in-law on Martinique because she wasn’t a Catholic. There were prophetic visits from ancestors. I had these documents and stories, and at the same time, some questions were unanswered, because the church that held family records was destroyed during a hurricane. I didn’t imagine right away that I was telling the stories for Jin, but I was—I wanted him to understand all of his family history.

 

KH: You write nonfiction, fiction and poetry. Does your writing process change depending on the genre in which you’re working? If, how so?

SA: I’m not sure there are any hard and fast rules about this, but in the last couple of years my processes have been wildly different! My fiction had its genesis on airplanes—I would just scribble stories in notebooks while flying; I’ve been flying all over the place. Most of my characters are in transit or have to do with being in transit—one is a maid at a hotel. Most of the poetry I’ve written in the past few years I’ve written during bouts of insomnia, between midnight and 4 am. Why these times and places and these genres I am not sure. The insomnia writing certainly has been stark and spare and not at all ironic—irony has no place in the wee hours of the morning.

 

KH: You have taught writing for many years. How have your students and your teaching affected you and your own writing?

SA: In so many ways! I often write along with my students, so there are those occasional little gifts that come from quick, prompted and timed writing. And their talent and their ideas are so inspiring. I’m currently teaching at Western Washington University in Bellingham and also serving as part of the international faculty at a low residence MFA located at City University of Hong Kong. The students come from China, including mainland China, and all over Asia. Their perspectives continually teach and amaze me. I’ve learned a lot from Chinese fiction—the way writers develop these subtle, veiled ways of talking about their government, because they must.

 

KH: I love way you create context for adoption in this memoir, through history and references to adoption in other cultures. Did you always know that these pieces would be part of this story? Can you talk a little about the importance of including them alongside your personal story?

SA: Yes, I actually originally envisioned the book as being less memoir and more research than the final book. I’m really happy with the mix it has now, but the research is really important to me. When we first talked to people about adoption, we’d hear comments about how raising another person’s child was “not natural.” In fact, there is nothing more natural—it dates back as far as recorded human history and law (Hammurabi’s code) and many cultures around the world, from ancient Anglo-Saxons to native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islands, have practiced adoption as a matter of course.

 

KH: I was very interested in the sections about your parents, and how you felt you adopted them, as well. Can you talk a little about that thread and how it worked its way into the larger story?

SA: So much of the last few years of my life have been involved in caring for my parents, it just intruded its way in. And my parents’ needs have become really intense at the same time my son turned teenager. It has been a real overload of intensity, need, pulling away, all at once, from everyone closest to me.

 

KH: You have such a wonderful essayist’s sensibility. Can you talk about the impact of the essay on your work?

SA: The essay taught me that you can include absolutely anything in what you write; you just have to do it well. Montaigne packs the whole world into his essays: what poetry he loves, his sensuality, how much he loves gravy! The essay taught me never to consider anything too small or too quirky to use, and that’s how I approach my poetry and especially my fiction.

 

KH: At the end of the book you ask Jin if he wants to read your writing, and he’s hesitant because he thinks it will be full of compliments. Has he read the book? If so, what is his impression?

SA: It’s interesting—there are sections I’ve given him to read because I think they are important, like the section about launching him into the world, when he had just left home for a week on a camping trip. And if any material was potentially embarrassing to him, I cleared it with him. But he has not read the book in its entirety. He asked me to “set aside a book for him” when my box of books arrived, which I thought was funny—as if it’s likely to vanish! So there’s a copy signed with all of my love, for him, on our bookcase in the living room. He can take it whenever he wants.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Susanne. Friends, please join us at the 8th Annual Motherhood & Words Reading on Wednesday night, May 7th, 7 p.m. at the Loft Literary Center – 1011 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55415. 

 

And if you’d like to be entered to win a copy of Make Me a Mother, please comment below by Friday, May 16th!

 

April 10, 2014
by Kate
21 Comments

feeling good & the right frame

This week I have been ticking things off my to-do list, which always feels good. I’ve gotten a few huge projects out of the way, and everything feels manageable for the first time in a long time. Remind me of this in May and June when I once again will be overloaded as I prep for conferences and retreats and my first ever time (in late July) on faculty at Ashland University’s Low Residency MFA program. Whoop! I’m so excited about that, but I also know it will be a lot of work to get ready for two packed weeks of teaching and manuscript critiques. (I’m currently trying to convince Donny to drive down with the girls for a few days. I know it would be a long solo trip with them, but I can’t stand the idea of not seeing them for two full weeks…)

But in the meantime, right now, I’m just enjoying my work. I just finished a really wonderful session of Motherhood & Words online. What an amazing group of writers! I have a number of new editing/mentoring clients, and I love diving into their work and talking about their writing processes. I’m also full steam ahead on the novel. I still dedicate the first hour of my day to it, and it’s making a huge difference. This consistent work keeps it closer to the surface on a daily basis. Hattie, my main character, is with me throughout the day.  Sometimes I’ll get an idea or glimmer of an idea as I take the dog for a walk or make dinner. I then jot it down on a slip of paper or type it into my phone, so I can turn to it the next day. This—thinking about writing throughout the day—makes me feel like a writer again.

It’s funny because even though I have two books out in the world, I sometimes forget to honor and trust that part of myself that writes. To trust that I know what I’m doing, that the words will emerge if I give them a chance. To trust my gut.

For a few weeks whenever I thought about the collaborative project I’m working on, I felt uneasy. I wasn’t sure that everything we said would go into the book really fit in the book. It was only a couple of weeks ago when I sat down to rewrite the proposal and began working on the chapter summary that the book really began to take shape for me. (Or take a shape that narratively made sense to me.) It was one of those aha! moments. I finally had the frame. I knew where it had to end. And it will work! Hallelujah!

That whole process got me thinking about structure and how important it is in nonfiction to have a sense of what your frame is. Where in time does you book start and end? What’s the stage? Sometimes I think we do a disservice to students when we tell them to just write! Keep writing and it will make sense! Of course you need to write, but at some point, you also need to know where that writing all goes. Deciding on a frame allows you to know what’s backstory and what unfolds in the real time of the piece. Knowing what the real story is helps you decide on a frame, of course, and you often need to write your way into that understanding. But settling on a structure that works for your story is critical in allowing you to get the damn thing done. I now know that when this book finds a home, we will be able to get it done, and that I’ll feel proud of it.

What are you working on? Do you have a frame? Is it working? I’d love to hear about it!

March 24, 2014
by Kate
20 Comments

my writing process

I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks, but I have been writing blog posts in my head, so hopefully you will see a flurry of activity here soon.

Today I’m going to talk a little bit about my writing and my process. The wonderful Rachael Hanel invited me to join a writing process meme. Rachael and I met through social media. She’s another Minnesota author, and her first memoir, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: A Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter, was out last spring from University of Minnesota Press. (It’s near the top of my teetering stack of books on my desk, so I’m hoping to get to it soon.) Thanks for inviting me to do this, Rachael! (You can read Rachael’s post here.)

This tour is great because you can click back and follow the blog trail, reading about each writer’s process and work. It’s fascinating, and I have a whole new list of writers whose work I want to read. But be warned: hours can pass.

So here it goes:

1) What am I working on? 

I’m working a couple of things right now. The first is a novel—my first novel. It’s been slow going for a while, but in January I received a Minnesota Arts Board Grant to help me dedicate more time to it, and that’s been huge. It took me a while to get back into the swing of the writing, but now I try to work on the novel each weekday morning before I turn to my other projects. I’m still very much at the beginning of the process, but I’m loving it.

I’m also working on a collaborative project, which I’ve mentioned here before. It’s a memoir about running and autism, and I am co-writing it. We’re still in the proposal phase, but last week as I was working on the chapter summary, I figured out the frame of the book, which was a needed breakthrough and has given me some new energy around the project.

This year I’d also love to play with a couple of short essays. I’ve got a few ideas kicking around in my head, and I’d love to get those down on paper. I miss the short form, and I think working on a couple of short pieces will help me bring the playfulness back into my work.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?  

All of my work has to do with the complex realities of women’s lives. For years I’ve been focused on motherhood in my writing and also in my work as a teacher and editor. I’ve really tried to expand the reach of motherhood literature, to fight for its place in the literary world. That’s still my passion, but in my own writing, I’m ready to expand my focus a little in terms of subject matter and also play with form and structure (both in short nonfiction pieces and in the novel).

3) Why do I write what I do? 

I’m a memoirist at heart. I love mining my own life for meaning. I love to dive into a memory that I thought I had lost and write my way into some kind of understanding. I believe in the power of personal narrative, and love the sense of community that arises when we write our truth.

With that said, I have been having so much fun with fiction. It’s so liberating to be able to make things up, to imagine, to let a character inch her way inside me, to show me what she knows. It’s coming at truth from a different angle, and I love that.

4) How does my writing process work?

 My process has been different for each book. With Ready for Air, I spent months just vomiting images and memories—snippets—onto the page. I didn’t worry at all about structure at the beginning; I just wrote. Then after I had 50 or so pages, I saw that there was a shape developing and I began to rearrange the snippets. Then I filled in what was missing. All of this took an incredible amount of time, of course. I had a full draft that I then revised. But what was most helpful was to have a year away from the manuscript. That time away really helped me see what the book was about. After I understood that, I printed it out, and wrote it again from the beginning, which took another two and a half years.

Use Your Words was different because it grew out of my Motherhood & Words class. So the chapters grew out of the lectures and also from various presentations I’d given over the years. Because I had done so much writing already, this book came together quite quickly. I did the bulk of the writing in about six months.

The novel is exciting because I never know what’s going to come out when I sit down to write. I have broad stroke ideas about the plot, but I’m still very much getting to know my main character, so I love sitting down and just letting her show me who she is. With this book, I’m revising as I go. When I get feedback from my writing group, I try to implement it immediately, and then move on. I realize, of course, that I might need to trash sections based on where the story ends up. But for now, I start my work by reading and revising and then moving on to new writing. So fun!

~

The three writers I’m tagging are Marilyn Bousquin, Andrea Lani, and Sarah Wells. Each will write about their own work and writing process next week, so please check out their wonderful blogs on Monday, March 31st.

Marilyn Bousquin is a rock star. I met her in 2009 when she took my Motherhood & Words class, and wow! She went on to get her MFA and then founded Writing Women’s Lives. You can read a little about why she does what she does here. I promise you’ll love her. Check out her post here next week.

Andrea Lani is another rock star former student who went on to get her MFA. She’s primarily writing fiction now, but I love her nonfiction, which often explores motherhood and the natural world. Her writing has appeared in OrionKindred, and Brain, Child, among others. You can read her writing process post here.

Sarah Wells is crazy prolific. She writes nonfiction and poetry. She’s also the Administrative Director for the low-residency MFA program at Ashland University and Managing Editor for the Ashland Poetry Press and River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative. I interviewed Sarah here in January, so please check that out if you haven’t already. And you can read about Sarah’s process here next week.

Again, thanks to Rachael for tagging me!

March 6, 2014
by Kate
14 Comments

my zoë

Happy birthday to my sweet Zoë, who turned six yesterday. (SIX!) We celebrated with a dinner out last night and cupcakes, and this weekend she will have two parties (one for kids and one for family), so I’m getting into crafting/piñata/cleaning mode.

My little Z is a dancer. As soon as our house fills with a thumping beat, she’s off, twirling, leaping, sashaying across the floor. She could spend hours (and sometimes does) choreographing a daughter daddy dance with flips and spins, ordering Donny around and running back to the computer to start the song over “just one more time.”

She’s fearless in the water, diving to the bottom of the pool pretending to be a mermaid or running full speed down the dock at the cabin and flopping into the lake (regardless of how cold it is).

She can get under her sister’s skin, pestering for attention. But if Stella agrees to play (and Zoë follows Stella’s rules), they can spend hours in their room, setting up their doll school rooms, teaching math and art and science to those attentive American Girls.

She’s fiercely loyal. If Donny or I have scolded Stella, she’ll glare at us and go straight to her sister. “I love you, Stella.” And if we’ve scolded Zoë, she’ll turn again to her sister: “I only want Stella.” (I’m glad they have each other since we are clearly such ogres.)

She’s a ham and loves to make people laugh. I can imagine her on the stage—she’s able to mimic anyone’s facial expression and loves accents, which she slips on as she flounces across the room.

She’s a cuddler and will climb up onto my lap as soon as I sit down in the comfy blue chair or on the couch, sometimes falling asleep in my arms if it’s bedtime and we’re watching a movie. She still comes into our bed a couple nights a week, snuggling between Donny and me, then throwing off all our covers because she’s burning up, my little hot pocket.

I love this girl, who is funny and sweet and smart. Happy birthday, Zoë!