Awakening/ by Dawn Brockett

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Quiet morning solitude is sacred.  I rise immediately upon waking, press grind/brew on the coffee maker and fire up the burner under the tea pot that was filled with water the night before. Bent neatly into the corner of the couch, my sleeping dog indulges scores of morning kisses, barely stirring her maple-syrup scented head from her bolster pillow.  Then a quick trip to the bathroom to freshen up, to rinse the sleep from my eyes.  Scalding hot water heats the stoneware cup, embossed with a testament of my love for my dog, to prepare it for the brew that will rinse the sleep from my mind.  One flick of the wrist of cream, and I am onto my mat with my first cup and my laptop for morning writing.  One page per day.  Little enough to feel always possible, yet enough to add up to something substantial over time.  A series of early-morning, dark room processes eventually developing into the big picture:  coffee, yoga, writing, doggie, the cornerstones of my creativity.  Unrelenting focus on the minutiae sends me spiraling, erratically.  Simple, meaningful and productive routines ground me and eventually get me to where I am going.  In the quiet, I remember.

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When we were children, mom had the unpleasant task of waking us for church.  The one we attended believed in daily ecclesiastical edification.  Whether Sunday school or evening service, worship service, youth service or revival, it was a rare day that we did not spend some time on the church grounds.  Once per week, after school, the bus dropped us three kids on the grassy grounds of the front lawn to clean the sanctuary.  When our work was complete, my brother Daniel and I would mimic baptisms, that all-critical moment of dedication in one’s spiritual life in the evangelical tradition.  Mom caught us once and was hardly amused.  The baptismal font is drained in between pageants, so there had been no previous evidence of dripping clothes to tip her off.  I imagine that I have been baptized hundreds of times.  Alas, to no avail.

Coffee became the method of choice to stir three children out of their beds, once again, to re-up their contracts with the divine.  The Southern tradition of coffee awakening runs deeply.  Perhaps the heavy early exposure to the religious brew overwhelmed my receptors, or perhaps my tolerance is just incredibly high, like the children of Afghan women who are soothed with opium and the difficulty our medics had during the conflicts there in treating their pain with anything short of what would be a lethal dose to an average man.  At any rate, coffee is ritual- soothing, comforting, luxurious— but it is not quickening.  It is solitude that wakes me properly.  In the quiet stillness of the morning, before outside voices intrude, I can hear my own mind, my self that shrinks throughout the day.  She is loudest and strongest when not fighting for space, not reacting to challenge or contorting in order to appease.  She can speak in the morning, before the world wakes up with its sound and light and questions.  With its expectations and need for explanations.  In solitude, I am strong and clear and able to soften within my skin.

Dawn lives in Boise, Idaho, with her beautiful wife, Lisa Marie, a musician and multi-media artist.  Their angel doggie, Coco, an Australian Shepherd-Border Collie mix, encourages them to spend all of their free time in the mountains and foothills--on foot, skis, bikes or snowshoes.  Coco, for the record, is always on foot. Four, in fact. Until recently, Dawn contained her writing to her academic pursuits.  After six degrees and graduate certificates, including one from La Sorbonne: Université de Paris, in the footsteps of her idol, Victor Hugo, she decided to finally write something that was not assigned.  She is working now on her first book, a memoir titled Content(e):  The Woman I (was) Meant to Be.  

Dawn lives in Boise, Idaho, with her beautiful wife, Lisa Marie, a musician and multi-media artist.  Their angel doggie, Coco, an Australian Shepherd-Border Collie mix, encourages them to spend all of their free time in the mountains and foothills--on foot, skis, bikes or snowshoes.  Coco, for the record, is always on foot. Four, in fact. Until recently, Dawn contained her writing to her academic pursuits.  After six degrees and graduate certificates, including one from La Sorbonne: Université de Paris, in the footsteps of her idol, Victor Hugo, she decided to finally write something that was not assigned.  She is working now on her first book, a memoir titled Content(e):  The Woman I (was) Meant to Be.  

Seeing with our hearts/ by Julie Rubini

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“Oh, Betty, you’ve just got to see it with your heart and your eyes!”

These words stuck with me throughout our recent incredible trip to The Last Frontier, Alaska.

They came from a 75-year-old adventurer, Sally, to her 85-year-old friend, as she struggled to get her camera working properly while we were up on a glacier near Denali.

Yep, Betty and Sally flew up with us on a de Havilland Otter, a turboprop plane operated out of Talkeetna by K2 Aviation. As eight of us loaded into the plane, Brad and another taller gentleman were instructed that they could sit anywhere but the back. My assumption was that even though the aircraft is the quintessential bush plane, and has incredible STOL (Short takeoff and landing. Good in case moose happen to be on the runway. Seriously. It happens there), a heavy tail doesn’t help.

As I strapped on my seat belt, I got a little nervous seeing that the plane was manufactured in my birth year. Granted their turbo props had been upgraded, but I was still a bit anxious, knowing at this age sometimes my body doesn’t want to fully cooperate. I said a silent prayer, hoping that today this plane’s systems were all in working order for our flight.

As I was untangling the cable to my headphones, I heard my daughter Kyle’s voice behind me.

“You just press the headphones in at the top to make them fit,” she said.

I turned around to see that she was helping Betty and Sally. It both warmed my heart to see Kyle assisting them, and to see their gratitude in their eyes.

Take-off was quick and easy. It was a beautiful, sunny day, so we didn’t experience any turbulence from heavy, low-lying clouds. We flew up from the base at Talkeetna, the launching pad for many of Denali’s climbers.

We were flying a popular route, both for drop-off of hikers at base camp, as well as for those of us ultimately landing on a glacier. I’m grateful I didn’t discover this information from an FAA Denali flight information guide until just now: This can be a very high volume route during May and June. Aircraft are leaving Talkeetna and flying the most direct route to “base camp” on the Kahiltna Glacier. Watch for “One Shot Gap”: minimum altitudes 8500 ft MSL, listen, stay right, watch diligently for opposite direction traffic, listen for reports of downdrafts and turbulence. Don’t get caught with no way out.

I’m sure Betty and Sally were glad not to read this before our trip as well. Kyle might have been helping them with more than their headphones.

The Denali peak, at 20,320 feet, was clearly visible throughout our flight. It is majestic, snow covered, incredible and almost beyond words. As we flew around the mountain, it gave me an even greater appreciation for those who scale the monster. Over 100 climbers had reached the summit the week we were visiting.

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We flew through a section called the “747 Pass.” The name was reassuring, because from my perspective, it seemed as though it was just wide enough for our small plane to fly through.

The pilot brought us down a few thousand feet before landing on Ruth Glacier, in an area known as the Mountain House. Yep, there is a small cabin, built by a famous pioneer aviator, Donald Sheldon in 1966. We could see the house on the rock outcropping, with the outhouse nearby, seemingly on the edge. Wouldn’t want to take a wrong turn on that early morning trip.

We unloaded from the plane, one at a time, carefully on to the softened snow below. We all stumbled over the tracks from other plane landings, our sun-protected eyes still blinded by the glaring sun and bright blue sky.

Kyle and our son Ian threw snowballs at each other, Brad and I hugged, simply in awe.

And Betty and Sally tried to take pictures with their camera. I felt sorry for them, knowing that for all of us, this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

That’s when Sally offered her sage advice.

So true.

We should take in everything with our eyes and keep it embedded in our hearts.

Our time on the glacier was up entirely too soon. Our pilot ushered us back into the plane. Betty was having a bit of a challenge walking across the snow back to the plane, so I offered her an arm. Then, with an apology for getting a bit too personal, I pushed on her backside to help her up into the plane. She giggled at my comment. Or maybe at my goose, I’m not sure which.

Before we took off, Brad gave Sally one of his business cards, suggesting she email him, and he would be happy to send her pictures he had taken up on the glacier. Her eyes glistened as she accepted his card and offer.

Our flight back was smooth, no apparent downdrafts or turbulence and certainly didn’t experience the “no way out.”

We landed safely, and the adorable ladies, gushing with their gratitude, were kind enough to grant my request of taking a picture with them before we went our separate ways.

This Alaskan trip was symbolically our last frontier, as it was our 50th State to visit with our children. It was the completion of a mission we began in earnest after losing our daughter, Claire, in 2000.

I know I will hold on to all the big and small memories of all our journeys forever in my heart.

And just maybe I’ll share them all with you some day.

This piece originally appeared on Julie’s blog

Julie and her husband established Claire’s Day, a children’s book festival in honor of their daughter. This celebration of Claire’s love for reading has grown to a multiple date celebration, impacting over 20,000 children and family members. Julie’s latest work is Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller, a biography of America’s most honored author of children’s literature, published by Ohio University Press Biographies for Young Readers series. She has also written Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist, for the series, and Hidden Ohio, a picture book. She is a huge literacy advocate, and enjoys reading to kindergartners weekly. But most of all, she cherishes her roles as wife to Brad and mother to daughter Kyle and son Ian. Julie is the recipient of the Toledo area Jefferson Award (2015) and the YWCA Milestones Award (2016).

Julie and her husband established Claire’s Day, a children’s book festival in honor of their daughter. This celebration of Claire’s love for reading has grown to a multiple date celebration, impacting over 20,000 children and family members. Julie’s latest work is Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller, a biography of America’s most honored author of children’s literature, published by Ohio University Press Biographies for Young Readers series. She has also written Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist, for the series, and Hidden Ohio, a picture book. She is a huge literacy advocate, and enjoys reading to kindergartners weekly. But most of all, she cherishes her roles as wife to Brad and mother to daughter Kyle and son Ian. Julie is the recipient of the Toledo area Jefferson Award (2015) and the YWCA Milestones Award (2016).

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Gratitude & discovery/ by Debbie Brosten

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It’s around 10 and we’ve done yoga with Nancy leading us on a stone patio where we look out on the vineyards in the hills, where we breathe in the fresh Tuscan air and wake our bodies slowly and luxuriously.

Breakfast, too, is done. One which we as a group have chosen to eat in silence. A buffet overflowing with fresh fruit, bread and croissants, sliced meats and cheeses, and always fresh cucumber slices and whole red tomatoes. Yogurt and granola, butter and jam, country fresh hard boiled eggs in their brown speckled shells await us along with juices and coffee and tea. The possibility of leaving hungry disappears, along with the rest of our cares.

We carry the silence into our free time before the first writing session of the day. A time to continue the introspection begun in yoga, enhanced by the setting.  I breathe in “I am” before exhaling “here now.”

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Dulcie apologizes to the virgin writing retreat members for now having the expectation of this amazing villa, estate, trattoria to live up to, but I think she is being harsh. For me the magic of the writing retreat is the words silently written only to later come alive as they are read aloud in voices confident and sure or tremulous and tentative. Hearts are splayed open before our fellow writers as we intuitively trust the people who have entered our lives so deeply, so quickly. Strangers really, but not. Kindred spirits who we hadn’t chanced to meet earlier.

I am so grateful to be here, to have a life which allows for the possibility of greatness – of openness, of digging ever deeper, plunging down the rabbit hole, tossing aside long misused protective layers as I continue my search to uncover me – my authentic self. A self who is strengthened and honed can then stand strong on the Earth to open to your needs, and more importantly, your love.

September 16, 2014

                                                Voltrona, San Gimignano, Tuscany

Debbie Brosten relocated to Bellingham after retiring from a career in education. She delights in the serendipity of life as she fills her days with travel, writing, friends, and laughter. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies including; Whatcom Writes, Give Yourself Permission, Memory into Memoir and Unmasked: Women Write about Sex and Intimacy After Fifty. Wide Open Writing Tuscany 2018 registration is now open. Check our "Retreats" page for more information.

Debbie Brosten relocated to Bellingham after retiring from a career in education. She delights in the serendipity of life as she fills her days with travel, writing, friends, and laughter. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies including; Whatcom Writes, Give Yourself Permission, Memory into Memoir and Unmasked: Women Write about Sex and Intimacy After Fifty.

Wide Open Writing Tuscany 2018 registration is now open. Check our "Retreats" page for more information.

Publishing: Get rich quick? Nope, but there are rewards/ by Carolyn Porter

My book has been out for four months. I’d tell you to envision me sitting poolside at my new fancy mansion, checking an ever-increasing bank balance, but that would be a disservice to both of us. My editor is delighted with sales, and the book has gotten good reviews, but here’s the truth: I didn’t turn into an overnight bajillionaire. Quitting my full-time job is not an option. 

But I have reason to suspect people think otherwise. “Are you going to move?” both my husband and I have been asked. Repeatedly. “You still work?” someone remarked with surprise at a bookstore reading. A half-dozen book clubs have made the assumption I would be available any weekday for a leisurely afternoon gathering. And I’ve received cross-country invitations to speaking events, though the organizations expected me to cover airfare and hotel. It’s as if people believe I am equally flush with cash and free time.

I try to give them slack, though, and answer questions with kindness and transparency. I probably harbored some of those same perceptions before learning the realities of publishing. 

So, let me share a few things I’ve learned these last few months:

Publishing a book is a numbers game. 

In 2015, 338,990 books were published in the United States (new titles or re-editions).* That’s 928 new books every single day of the year. 38.7 new books every hour. One new book every minute and a half. By the time you’ve finished reading this blog post, two more books will have been published. Consider that fact with kindness because each new book represents years of work. Each new book represents an author’s total commitment to that project. It’s tough to compete with so many other titles on the market.

Publishing a book might not change your financial life. In fact, it probably won’t. 

Even in traditional publishing, there are expenses to bringing a book to life. I paid thousands of dollars to a developmental editor, thousands more for promotion, and spent countless hours writing and editing—time that could have been spent pursuing paying client work. And I did all that fully aware of this frightful statistic: the average U.S. nonfiction book sells less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime.**

Publishing a book requires fierce dedication, commitment and sacrifice. 

The writing process, especially while holding a full-time job, requires a complete, give-it-everything commitment to the project. Ready to give up television, time with friends, time working out, cooking for fun, or whatever it is you do for recreation? Writing a book requires hundreds—if not thousands—of hours of time at your desk (and inside your own thoughts) when you might otherwise be doing or focusing on something else.

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Publishing a book requires thick skin. 

I’m still trying to find the vitamin that will help me grow it. Ready for rejection? Multiple rejections in a single day? Ready for every single person you meet to have an opinion about the book’s structure/pace/ending/tone/content/language or cover design? Ready to read breezy reviews written by people who only seem to have a marginal comprehension of the facts of the story? Or those who judge the book against criteria of a different genre? It will happen. But if you keep in mind the reason that compelled you to write the book in the first place, the harsh opinions seem to sting less.

So, if publishing is financially unrewarding and emotionally taxing, why did I write “Marcel’s Letters”? It was important to tell Marcel’s story. I chose to commit time, energy, and money to the project to ensure his story wasn’t lost to time. Even if I never break even on the project, I will tell you it was worth every dollar, every ounce of effort.

Publishing a book has unexpected and delightful rewards.

Along the way, I’ve befriended other writers who are equally committed to telling their stories. I’ve launched myself far outside of my comfort zone. I’ve met passionate readers. I’ve seen both tears and joy (and tears of joy) on people’s faces as they talk about the book. I even received a handwritten note from my Kindergarten teacher congratulating me on writing a book. I’ve been buoyed by unexpected cheerleaders. I’ve gained a sense of satisfaction knowing for a few hours I transported people to a different time and place. I’ve been told I’ve inspired people to write, to design, to pay attention to typography, to think big. 

Do you have a story important to tell? Tell it! Start writing today. Go work on it now. Seriously. Right now. If that story inside of you is so big, so strong, so full of life that it is going to gnaw its way out of you with or without your help, figure out how to make time to write it down. Start crafting a work of literature, not just a number. Start cultivating thick skin. Start believing you can.

*. https://www.statista.com/statistics/248335/number-of-new-titles-and-re-editions-in-selected-countries-worldwide/

**. https://www.bkconnection.com/the-10-awful-truths-about-book-publishing

Carolyn Porter is a graphic designer and self-professed typography geek who designed the font P22 Marcel Script. Released in 2014, the font has garnered four international honors, including juried selections for the 2015 Project Passion exhibition, typeface competitions by Communication Arts and Print magazines, and the prestigious Certificate for Typographic Excellence from the New York Type Director’s Club. The book, “Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate,” recounts Carolyn’s obsessive search to learn whether Marcel Heuzé, a Frenchman conscripted into forced labor during World War II—and whose handwriting provided the inspiration for the font—survived to be reunited with his beloved wife and daughters. Carolyn lives in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Carolyn Porter is a graphic designer and self-professed typography geek who designed the font P22 Marcel Script. Released in 2014, the font has garnered four international honors, including juried selections for the 2015 Project Passion exhibition, typeface competitions by Communication Arts and Print magazines, and the prestigious Certificate for Typographic Excellence from the New York Type Director’s Club. The book, “Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate,” recounts Carolyn’s obsessive search to learn whether Marcel Heuzé, a Frenchman conscripted into forced labor during World War II—and whose handwriting provided the inspiration for the font—survived to be reunited with his beloved wife and daughters. Carolyn lives in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Tearing away the layers/ by Kate Brown

"This is Kate. She's from Australia. She just hitchhiked here and was attacked by a dog." The dark-haired goddess said to the table filled with women that I had never met.

Each fragment of her statement was true, just not in that order. I am Kate. I am from Australia. But, I didn't hitchhike from Australia to Tuscany, although that would have been something I could have spent the next few days writing about. I'd hitched a ride from the nearest town of San Gimmy - shortened from San Gimingnano because Aussies abbreviate just about everything. What had happened was that the hostel in Pisa messed up and told me that I could get a bus from some end-of-the-line, butt-fuck nowhere station to San Gimmy when, in fact, I couldn't. Luckily, I found a couple that agreed to share a "taxi", otherwise known as a local in an unmarked car preying on tourists, and I sure as shit wasn't getting in one of those alone. 

Being me, and dressed like a teenage mutant ninja turtle with my 15kg rucksack, I had figured I would walk the remaining seven kilometres to the farmhouse from San Gimmy. I reckon I got about 100 metres before sticking my thumb out. 

The photo was I think a follow up appointment, and I didn't need the wheelchair but it speeds up the process if you look like you do. Getting a lollipop was a clear highlight.

The photo was I think a follow up appointment, and I didn't need the wheelchair but it speeds up the process if you look like you do. Getting a lollipop was a clear highlight.

In my pigeon Italian and with almost as many hand gestures as the average Italian, my driver and saviour wanted to join the retreat in the two minutes it took to arrive. I quickly said thanks and left her with Regina.

Regina was also right about the dog attack, but it didn't happen on the 100 metre walk and two minute drive. It happened in a Belgian backyard about six weeks earlier, but I was still wearing a bandage to protect the newly forming scars from the sunlight. This is a familiar story to many of my friends and family, and to some of you WOWers.

In short, I was bitten twice by a golden retriever; once on my elbow and once on my ribs. I got seven stitches while Benji just got put down. For some reason, even though I was travelling for a whole year, this attack (along with the retreat of course) was a highlight. Although, I don't go around saying this because, well, that shit just sounds masochistic and let's-stay-away-from-her level of weird.

In the immediate weeks after the attack, I hit my lowest point; one of the lowest of my life. I couldn't wash my hair. I had to learn to brush my teeth and wipe my arse with my left hand - obviously not at the same time! I couldn't write about it and most of the time I couldn't even talk to anyone at home because of the time difference. All the while still living in the house of Benji's owners.

Before I had begun the trip eight months earlier, without the much of a plan, I felt privileged and loathed the spoilt manner from which my fellow citizens could act or speak. I wanted to tear away every layer that I had grown up believing, imposed by a culture without thought. I wanted to cut the skin away from my own flesh like separating the thick hide layer from a leg of ham. 

But, here all I really needed was a dog. 

Currently residing in Sydney, Australia, Kate has spent most of her life in Darwin, Northern Territory, and has worked in finance, aviation and hospitality. Writing is a hobby and part of her current studies at Edith Cowan University, which draws on her unique upbringing, diverse travels, and distinct wit. Kate's style is exploratory and experimental, yet tackles social dilemmas while incorporating the subtle humor and ironies of every day life. She's shown here in Florence 2014 with fellow traveler Debbie Brosten.

Currently residing in Sydney, Australia, Kate has spent most of her life in Darwin, Northern Territory, and has worked in finance, aviation and hospitality. Writing is a hobby and part of her current studies at Edith Cowan University, which draws on her unique upbringing, diverse travels, and distinct wit. Kate's style is exploratory and experimental, yet tackles social dilemmas while incorporating the subtle humor and ironies of every day life. She's shown here in Florence 2014 with fellow traveler Debbie Brosten.

Finding success as a published writer/ by Crystal Barnes

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For those who write, whose goal it is to be an author of any sort, and who believe it is their calling, I believe they will never give up on making it their career. There will be no point to because they will never stop writing regardless of outcome; it is simply what they do.

While the writing part—whether it be essay, poetry, article, or fiction—often comes easy and is joyful to a writer, the other part—getting written work noticed—doesn’t always come easy, and isn’t always joyful to a writer, such as myself. The following are four values that I have come to learn are necessary for any writer to succeed in getting published and establishing a writing career.

Passion.

First, one must have passion. A writer must naturally have an interest—a joy in writing and want to do write whether or not they become published, receive recognition, or earn income from it. Passion will prevent or eliminate any discouragement that tries to set in when goals are not reached or hopes fall through. Passion is the driving force that picks writers up and encourages them to reestablish goals, ultimately pushing them to try again. 

Patience.

Second, a writer must have patience. Patience will allow writers to cultivate works that can stand on their own for years to come, much like a garden. If a writer lacks patience, most, if not all actions and decisions will be impulsive and poorly made, thus likely leading to failure. Patience makes a significant difference in areas such as self-publishing, which requires creating a clean and polished body of written work. It also means developing a solid and strong marketing strategy, including established professional connections, and a significant and active audience. Establishing those things alone take time—even obtaining the right resources and finances to create a professional body of work. Although some writers have found publishing success with a small audience or few resources, if you look deeper into their stories, they still exercised patience to market their work well.

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Fearlessness.

Third, one must not fear what lies ahead, or fear the unknown. Writers can’t be afraid to share their work with the world, including making financial sacrifices, especially in the area of self-publishing where writers benefit by creating something that looks professional and stands out. Writers also shouldn’t be afraid to invest in travelling to events, such as writing conferences. Of course, writers should take well-thought-out and purposeful actions. If one feels in their mind, and even heart, that they must do something in order to reach their goals, fear of letting go, fear of what others think, or fear of the unknown, should not get in the way.

Humbleness.

Fourth, writers should develop humbleness. Learning to accept and hear feedback is not always easy, especially when negative. However, that skill is essential to developing fearlessness. Being humble means being able to accept criticism or negative responses of your work without being defensive or giving up. Some criticism is good because it can bring to light aspects of writing that may not be connecting with others. Humble writers are able to open their mind to see things that may not have been obvious early on. Of course, all this is useful when you receive constructive criticism and not vague criticism, such as “I don’t like this.”

Another point—negative feedback is inevitable, especially as your audience grows and your work becomes more known. Some may even provide constructive criticism that you may not agree with. But at the end of the day, it’s best to take this feedback with a grain of salt and move on. You as a writer know your work best. Decide what to do with the feedback you receive. But anticipate these things, don’t take them personally, and use this feedback to build fearlessness and grow as a writer.

In Conclusion…

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Building an audience and getting your work read by others takes time—it doesn’t happen overnight. I learned to never forget, to never lose the reason why I began writing in the first place—because I enjoy it. To me, writing is my outlet to set my mind free and express how I feel about others, things, and myself. It is my chance to create a world—a life that I don’t necessarily have or live, but envisioned myself to. It is a chance for me to face challenges that even as I write, I don’t know how those challenges will pan out. Your writing should be genuine—you should have fun. If you don’t have that, then nothing else will surface. Don’t see your audience as a number—a goal to obtain. See them as an important community to interact with, get to know, and learn from. Any successful audience is one that is responding to what the writer does, whether that audience is big or small.

But quite possibly, the most important thing I have come to realize is this: writing (especially creative) is more of an art form than that of a technical form, which must meet certain criteria and follow guidelines in order to be adequate enough to be presented to the audience. When writers focus more on the business side of writing, such as seeking agents and publishers, writing can lose its art and start to be tedious work, as it once became for me. There is no wrong or right way to write a story or poem, as long as it’s readable and free of grammar errors. To me, there is no such thing as an unintentional silly story or poem because you never know what readers will like. Who knows, your off-trend and unique story could start a new trend as others have done before.

Crystal Barnes is a writer and blogger on her website, Writer’s Bounty (www.writersbounty.wordpress.com). She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association and a book reviewer for Bethany House Publishers. She is seeking representation for her contemporary fiction stories and lives in Saint Paul, MN.

 

 

Tea, Tuscany & a Birthday/ by Justine Gilbert

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Early morning, there is a softness to the sky that will later give way to storm or fluffy cloud or perhaps that intense azure ring from edge to edge that is so famous here.  I sit with a cup of tea (most un-Italian) and survey the vista in front of me. Somewhere in my soul, I smile because I am home.

My affinity with Italy started with my mother, Fiorentina born, a maternal thread that spooled out to my childhood and beyond. It stretched across Italy from Rome to Milan on many journeys, but in recent years, my life settled for a short span of time in this region.  I have learned so much here: the annual cycle of the contadini, the growling of the tractors as they plant and harvest crops, the cacciatore, with their khaki uniforms and loud pops of the shotguns as they fell the pheasant and wild boar, the agriturismo, with their fields that change colour from green spring to beige blanched summer broken by yellow sunflowers and violent red tomatoes, on to the purple of autumn spotted with pumpkins, and sometimes - if we are lucky -  the white coating of a short snowfall in winter that decorates every ancient roof with a magical dusting. 

I have learned it is hard to find work here, and even harder to make that work pay, so that one can live, eat and survive.  If you are not Toscana, you can never be truly one of them, and yet you will be accepted into the community provided you have the economic means to do for others, either by spending or barter or by being a good inquilino. I admire the Tuscan people, they have had few handouts, survived wars and bombing - still they plough on, paying their way and developing ‘un modo da vivere’ that is envied the world over.

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This land, and all the people I met, became my fourth child.  I helped to plant oliveand fruit trees here, my legacy after my death. I helped to restore vegetable plots, I put in a wood burning stove and learned to use a chain saw so that I could slice the dense wood required into manageable chunks to ease the winter cold with a piping hot stufa.  I endured the zanzare - the ever present mosquitoes, the papatachi, the voracious midges, and I watched with fascination as a myriad of lizards moved rapidly, seamlessly from rock to rock, shedding their tails when predators lurked, so that one did not notice their disappearance into the crevices, whilst the ejected limb wriggled in the dust. 

I walked dogs here, down dry river beds and across the beaches at Cecina.  I have laughed and shared a love of Italy and all things Tuscan with new friends under a silk black sky with diamonds, whilst fire flies blinked across the fields. 

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I have loved watching the birds of prey who settle on the telephone poles and then swoop with unerring accuracy to pick out the field mice.  With fascination, I acknowledged small black scorpions standing their ground on the terra cotta tiles, unafraid of a large human foot approaching.  I have seen the deer, turn and bound away in the pine woods, chased by dogs that had no chance of keeping pace and occasionally the ‘irskine’ or ‘porcospino’ that rattled away hurriedly to hide - illegal to hunt, yet they are prized for their meat. They are a remnant of Ancient Rome and its African connections.  I have seen the many migrants, their ebony faces staring into mine, hawking any trinkets they could find to make their way north to Belgium or Germany.

I remember with pity the many caged dogs that reside in the woods, who sit, barking and howling, waiting for a chance to be released into the hunt by their hunter masters. The chickens in coops, the swallows that circle, the rise and fold of the hills making their nest in the barns, the daily chatter of friends in the piazza, the richness of the local wine, oil and food.

I am sixty years old and I am grateful to have had my birthday here, grateful for the friends who travelled an hour from Montecatini Val di Cecina to share it with me.

And last but certainly not least, the warmth and friendship of Wide Open Writing, an adventure in authorship never to be forgotten and hopefully to continue and follow for years to come.

Grateful for having experienced all of this.  Thank you.  Thank you. Thank you.

This post originally appeared on https://teawithjustine.wordpress.com.

 

Born in New York to a mother who was a ballet dancer and a father who was a journalist, I moved to Long Island and then to London at the age of six. I spent many summers in Italy for reasons of my father’s work, and we all lived in Rome for a year.  My family has had an ongoing love affair with Italy. I began writing as soon as I could write and have had a lifelong passion for literature, poetry and the written word. I would call myself a Scribbler. I write because I must. My thoughts come to me in words I press to the page. I became an English teacher and my writing was focussed on school plays, short stories and poetry much of which I shared with my pupils. I have a B.Ed (Hons) from Leeds University (Yorkshire, UK) - the part of the world where the Bronte sisters grew up. I also have an M.Ed in Literacy Difficulties and Dyslexia assessment. There is nothing more rewarding that seeing a child blossom as they find their creative writing potential, and it has been very fulfilling to be a part of that. I created websites for reading reviews, ran creative writing workshops and competitions, and spent a life encouraging pupils of all ages to write and read. Three children, two husbands and three dogs filled my personal life (not all at the same time!).  When I wrote my first full length novel at age 54 - set in Tuscany - I opted to upload it on the Kindle site, rather than go the traditional publishing route. My aim being to create a virtual shelf of books to share with friends and family. Indie publishing gives people an outlet for their creativity and I think it’s the best thing about today’s world of literature.  I took early retirement, and moved to Tuscany, where photographing and writing blogs began my focus for annotating an amazing part of the world. I began with serendipityinitaly.co.uk and went on to write hugsfromitaly.wordpress.com, followed by usachronicles.wordpress.com when I spent six weeks with family, and subsequently, having left Italy to go back to London, I am currently writing teawithjustine.wordpress.com  My second novel has been inspired by people I have met, but its completion will be due entirely to WOW, without whose help and guidance, I might have given up. Now I know, in my sixtieth year: Every good book takes the reader on a journey. If you feel you have a book in you, never give up, if a tale is worth telling, it is worth the time to see it through, no matter how long it takes you. Two Sides of the Coin is due to be uploaded on Amazon Kindle in December under the name of J P Chan Gilbert.

Born in New York to a mother who was a ballet dancer and a father who was a journalist, I moved to Long Island and then to London at the age of six. I spent many summers in Italy for reasons of my father’s work, and we all lived in Rome for a year.  My family has had an ongoing love affair with Italy. I began writing as soon as I could write and have had a lifelong passion for literature, poetry and the written word. I would call myself a Scribbler. I write because I must. My thoughts come to me in words I press to the page. I became an English teacher and my writing was focussed on school plays, short stories and poetry much of which I shared with my pupils. I have a B.Ed (Hons) from Leeds University (Yorkshire, UK) - the part of the world where the Bronte sisters grew up. I also have an M.Ed in Literacy Difficulties and Dyslexia assessment. There is nothing more rewarding that seeing a child blossom as they find their creative writing potential, and it has been very fulfilling to be a part of that. I created websites for reading reviews, ran creative writing workshops and competitions, and spent a life encouraging pupils of all ages to write and read.

Three children, two husbands and three dogs filled my personal life (not all at the same time!).  When I wrote my first full length novel at age 54 - set in Tuscany - I opted to upload it on the Kindle site, rather than go the traditional publishing route. My aim being to create a virtual shelf of books to share with friends and family. Indie publishing gives people an outlet for their creativity and I think it’s the best thing about today’s world of literature. 

I took early retirement, and moved to Tuscany, where photographing and writing blogs began my focus for annotating an amazing part of the world. I began with serendipityinitaly.co.uk and went on to write hugsfromitaly.wordpress.com, followed by usachronicles.wordpress.com when I spent six weeks with family, and subsequently, having left Italy to go back to London, I am currently writing teawithjustine.wordpress.com  My second novel has been inspired by people I have met, but its completion will be due entirely to WOW, without whose help and guidance, I might have given up. Now I know, in my sixtieth year: Every good book takes the reader on a journey. If you feel you have a book in you, never give up, if a tale is worth telling, it is worth the time to see it through, no matter how long it takes you.

Two Sides of the Coin is due to be uploaded on Amazon Kindle in December under the name of J P Chan Gilbert.

The Quietest Place On Earth/by Ellen Welcker

Instead of writing any poems, I deconstruct a Band-Aid box and draw four diagrams of four chords: A minor, F, G, and C. I slide a tab of the box into the glove compartment and secure it there, so I can practice my ukulele. It’s out of tune, but that’s the least of my problems.

The Rock is a legitimately talented dude. I feel a strange kind of allegiance to him, like, he made a poor decision: to become a WWF fighter, when he could’ve been anything. This is one of the ways that we’re alike.

When we sing, “I know it’s a lot: the hair, the bod…” all of us mean it differently.

As opposed to the villain Tamatoa’s message, which cannot be misinterpreted by the young. A powerful vim rises up in me. And something like assurance, which villains always have.

In the book I’m reading, everyone’s memories are lost to them, all their joys and sorrows, their deep-seated hatreds and their most tender bonds—gone. Do you know what lingers, though, what can’t be erased and is therefore stronger even than these powerful emotions? Suspicion.

It lodges in memories, even the lost ones, like a splinter. It festers too, I think, in concepts like “tolerance” or “diversity training.” Tainted and hollow.

Call it openness. Call it anti-racist, anti-sexist; call it what it is. Euphemisms—and that is what these words are—allow the sick splinter to fester, unacknowledged or hidden or secretly nurtured.

Bam-slunked it, the child says. I bam-slunked it. Off in the distance, a baby falls into a fire.

Mud is cool and squishy; gravel points and says, hey! Sand and rocks all have their textured communications. We’re dull with shoes on. When we walk barefoot, our brains light up. We give ourselves the moss treatment. It’s so wet here that tree branches believe they are roots in the air, their arms dissolving into fingers, fingers into tentacles.

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A map of my scars reveals the dog bite, the other dog bite, the bird-shaped time I danced a glass into my knee, the smile-shaped time I skateboarded my face into the sidewalk, some chicken pox, a gash from an oar, and hidden under my ring now, the tender blast of stovetop blister squeezed to bursting in the grip of my best friend’s hand. The boys were about to get us, after all.

Someone thinks the word is “barnit” and everyone laughs. Barnit. We say it and say it.

Another bam-slunk.

Another baby gets dropped in the fire.

Then someone barnits for real. It had to happen.

Sea anemones hang ponderously, sexually, suspended under an outcropping, mussels dangling from their mouths. Dentata. Barnacles creak and snap, talking to each other. Here I conceive of a beautiful idea for a pendant—a nurse log. That’s what a mother is: you fall over and a cacophony of life erupts from the wreck of you. Get on it, jewelers.

The cigarette-burn where a wart once was, the angry veined lumps of sun damage in the whites of my eyes, the hairless spoonscoop on my head where a beam landed, the continent on each knee gnarled through forty years of the Falling Down Problem. Where the barbed wire pierced my thigh and pinned me to my jeans in the neighbor’s old barn, the tear—third degree they said—where the first emerged, fist out front like a narwhal, or someone fighting for her future.

Notes:

I have a memory of hearing or reading that there’s a place deep inside the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park that is considered “the quietest place on earth.” A quick Google search will show that this is title is much disputed. Hoh Rainforest doesn’t even come up.

We learned the lyrics and sang a lot of the songs from the Disney movie, Moana, while in the car on the way from Spokane, Washington to the Olympic National Park. So catchy! It’s a long drive.

My 4-yo thought the word for vomit was “barnit.”

 

 

Ellen Welcker’s books are Ram Hands (Scablands Books) and The Botanical Garden, 2009 Astrophil Poetry Prize (Astrophil, 2010). She is a recipient of a 2016 GAP grant from Artist Trust, for her manuscript-in-progress, The Pink Tablet, and chapbook of these poems are forthcoming from Fact-Simile Books in 2017. She lives in Spokane, WA.  

Ellen Welcker’s books are Ram Hands (Scablands Books) and The Botanical Garden, 2009 Astrophil Poetry Prize (Astrophil, 2010). She is a recipient of a 2016 GAP grant from Artist Trust, for her manuscript-in-progress, The Pink Tablet, and chapbook of these poems are forthcoming from Fact-Simile Books in 2017. She lives in Spokane, WA.

 

The freedom of a writing retreat / by Dara-Lyn Shrager

The Borestone Mountain retreat. Kathy Westover photo

The Borestone Mountain retreat. Kathy Westover photo

What stays with me about my first Wide Open Writing retreat is how free I felt. Free to answer questions honestly when asked by my new roommates. Free to write in response to Dulcie's stirring prompts. Free to share those raw, unedited pieces with the group. Free to eat as much as I wanted to eat. Free to practice yoga with my eyes closed and the sound of Nancy's voice rising from the lake. Free to laugh, free to dance, free to walk, to swim, to smile while looking into another person's eyes. I don't know if what was given to me was love but I came home from Borestone Mountain feeling loved. And love is what I hold from my time among some of the most wonderful women I have ever known.

Dara-Lyn Shrager lives in Princeton, New Jersey, and is the co-founder and editor of Radar Poetry (radarpoetry.com). She holds an MFA from Bennington College and a BA from Smith College. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in many journals, including Southern Humanities Review, Barn Owl Review, Salamander, Yemassee, Whiskey Island, Tinderbox, and Nashville Review. Her articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Philadelphia Magazine. Learn more at: www.daralynshrager.com.

Dara-Lyn Shrager lives in Princeton, New Jersey, and is the co-founder and editor of Radar Poetry (radarpoetry.com). She holds an MFA from Bennington College and a BA from Smith College. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in many journals, including Southern Humanities Review, Barn Owl Review, Salamander, Yemassee, Whiskey Island, Tinderbox, and Nashville Review. Her articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Philadelphia Magazine. Learn more at: www.daralynshrager.com.

Why Writers Need Field Trips/ by Ann Hedreen

I thought I was going to take a quick stroll down the beach. Instead, I walked straight to the water’s edge, sat down, took off my shoes, and waded into Puget Sound. My toes dug happily into the dark, kelpy sand. My calves were electrically, perfectly cold. After a few minutes, I backed up and sat down where the tide could still lap my toes. I lifted my face to the sun and the breeze, both newly freed from the summer wildfire smoke that had blanketed Seattle for days.

I felt like I’d come home, after a long time away.

None of this involved thinking. All of it simply happened, as if some irresistible magnetic force was pulling me. As if I knew with my body, not my brain, that at this particular suburban Seattle beach, Richmond Beach, the thing to do was to get yourself right into the water the minute you got there.  

I never go to Richmond Beach. I live in southeast Seattle, and it is northwest of the city limits. But just over the hill from Richmond Beach was the home where I lived from zero to five. That much I do know, though all I remember of those first years are slivers and glimmers of our life in the little ranch house on NW 183rd Street; a jumble of memories that include only the briefest flashes of this shore.

But here I am. And here my feet are, wiggling in the cold water. And here now is this feeling washing over me, of utter contentment; a feeling that the shape of this beach and this sky and this driftwood and these train tracks all feel—right. Mine. Home.

I’m a memoir writer, and I teach memoir writing at Seattle Central College. I often tell my students to take themselves on field trips; to go back, if they can, to where they grew up. To be anthropologists, journalists, and study their own lives. I acknowledge that it’s easy for me, because the places where I grew up are not very far away.

The problem, of course, is that those places have changed: like me, they’ve grown older. Or they’ve disappeared. Or, if it’s a house, someone else now owns it and they’ve remodeled or painted or replaced the rhododendrons with drought-tolerant grasses.

This summer, I was invited to read at the Richmond Beach Library. The minute I put it on my calendar, I began to plan my post-reading, memory-lane field trip, first to the beach and then to 183rd Street. I had no specific writerly questions to research; I just wanted to see how it felt to be where I was in the very first years of my life, the years before reading and writing; the years in which every memory was sensory. Personal. Not complicated.

The author with her mother.

The author with her mother.

We lived on a street of then-new ranch homes, just a few miles inland from the sweeping public shoreline. At the end of our block, there was a tangled green patch which we called “the woods;” I knew from previous drive-bys that it was long ago covered with more houses. I remember riding my tricycle into the woods with a neighbor boy named Bruce, my very first friend my own age, and watching, astonished, when he unzipped his pants and peed. I remember he and I got into trouble once when we tried to walk by ourselves to the nearby Tradewell Supermarket.

The beach was way too far for us to even think of walking to by ourselves. And there were those train tracks. My older brother and sister knew all kinds of scary stories, told by kids even older than them, about crossing those train tracks.

But when we drove to the beach, and walked from the parking lot right over the train tracks on the overpass, me holding tight to my mother’s hand, and then kapow! —that huge, sky-filled world opened in front of me—I didn’t have words for it then, and I still don’t. I just knew I wanted more of it. To this day, I want more of it.

More huge sky, more water, more beach. More wildness.

After I left the beach, I drove over to our old home. My route zigged and zagged around the ravines that run through the neighborhood. And then there I was, on our block, staring at a one-story, light blue rambler (it was red when we lived there) that I wouldn’t have recognized if I didn’t know the address.

There were two cars in the driveway, so I didn’t feel like I could linger and stare. But I took in the shape of the house. I knew which window had been my bedroom window in the room I shared with my sisters. I walked from room to room in my mind.

And then I drove away, back to the neighborhood I now call home, through a grueling Seattle traffic jam that no one could have imagined when I was five.  

I don’t know whether or when my Richmond Beach field trip will find its way into my writing, but I know this: for one fleeting afternoon, I remembered a bit of what it felt like to be two, or three, or four years old. I felt that sensory ecstasy, unfettered by thinking, thinking, thinking.

Maybe someday that feeling will find its way into my writing. Maybe I just need to let it wash over me for a while, like the tide washed my tired toes on an August afternoon.

Ann Hedreen’s memoir, Her Beautiful Brain, won a 2016 Next Generation Indie book award and her blog, The Restless Nest, won an honorable mention from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Ann earned her M.F.A. in creative writing at Goddard College. She is currently working on a second memoir, The Observant Doubter.

Ann Hedreen’s memoir, Her Beautiful Brain, won a 2016 Next Generation Indie book award and her blog, The Restless Nestwon an honorable mention from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Ann earned her M.F.A. in creative writing at Goddard College. She is currently working on a second memoir, The Observant Doubter.