Kickstart Your Writing Green

November 2017



▪ Q&A: Ernestine Hayes on writing memoir
▪ Writing prompt: Honor your silly
▪ Yarn Spinners tell tall tales December 21
▪ Markets for risk takers
▪ Nerdy words: Writing daily sounds good
▪ Student showcase: “I Walked My Way out of Religion and Found God” by Kathleen B. Goldberg
▪ Subscribe to Kickstart for free!
Q&A: Ernestine Hayes on writing memoir
Writing prompt: Honor your silly
Yarn Spinners tell tall tales December 21
Markets for risk takers
Nerdy words: Writing daily sounds good
Student showcase: “I Walked My Way out of Religion and Found God” by Kathleen B. Goldberg
Subscribe to Kickstart for free!
Ernestine Hayes

Ernestine Hayes

Q&A: Ernestine Hayes on writing memoir

Joining us for a Q&A this month is Alaska State Writer Laureate Ernestine Hayes. Hayes teaches at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau and has published two memoirs—Blonde Indian and The Tao of Raven—as well as essays, poetry, creative nonfiction, short stories, and children’s books. She belongs to the Kaagwaantaan clan of the Eagle side of the Lingit nation and has four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She talked with us about memoir writing.

At what age did you start writing, and what motivated you to start?
One of the best ways to spark an interest in writing is to read. I was the only child of a single mother who always had a book in hand, so in my pre-television territorial childhood, I read. During those years, I wrote in response to grade school assignments; the earliest writing I remember is a seventh-grade history report titled “Famous and Infamous Characters of Alaska,” which featured Soapy Smith—as I recall, I was proudest of using the word “infamous” in the paper’s title. I didn’t begin writing creative prose and verse until I was in my teens.

Your memoir Blonde Indian has passages of memoir, fiction, Native American stories, and natural history. When writing a memoir, how do you decide what type of material to include?
I simply wrote—the material in Blonde Indian represents writing I did over many years. Everything I’ve written expresses a point in my life, so to me it was all part of that story.

Part of what makes Blonde Indian hold together is its consistent voice. How did you find your voice for memoir writing?
Even though I had always fancied I could write, I didn’t write seriously until I entered college at the age of 50 and learned discipline. Out of discipline, study, and practice, my voice emerged, as it will for anyone who takes up the study of writing down our stories.

What advice would you give other writers about how to maintain their voice through different types of material?
I would suggest to other writers that they read works by writers they admire. I suppose it’s like a painter viewing works of favorite artists, or dancers studying the movements of someone who can really jitterbug.

When writing memoir, do you decide ahead of time what the theme of your book is, or do just write and let the theme find you?
I just write. Sometimes I don’t recognize themes or embedded messages until long after the work is published—sometimes not until someone points it out, and sometimes not at all.

How do you define memoir?
I hesitate to categorize—I tend to consider defining genres as a Western practice that mainly benefits libraries and booksellers, so I cite [Judith] Barrington, who says that memoir is a story from a life, as contrasted with the story of a life.

When writing memoir, have you had any issues with holding back or feeling exposed? If so, how did you get past that?
I got over all that during years of workshops. In Blonde Indian, the only passages I didn’t submit for workshop were the portions that spoke of my mother’s death. The rest of it, including the fiction, is truth, and for the most part, truth belongs to everyone.

How has the act of writing memoir affected you?
I attend more to craft and technique. There exist quite a number of places in Blonde Indian that I would edit or revise. I like to think that Tao of Raven exhibits more attention to craft.

You’ve written many different forms. Which form feels most like you, and why?
I like lyrical prose. I flatter myself that it has to do with the oral tradition that was familiar to me when I was very young.

Were your expectations about writing fulfilled once you started doing it? If not, what have you gained from writing that keeps you at it?
Stories have lives of their own. Style and structure and ideas find us.

What current projects are you working on? Maybe another memoir?
In my writing, I hope to explore lyrical prose/prose poetry. More immediately, I want to explore different methods of giving readings and talks, which the structure of my work appears to recommend.

What do you hope to do in your role as Alaska State Writer Laureate?
I hope to encourage, support, and advance voices that are not otherwise heard. I hope to bring questions of equity to the literary table. I hope to continue to write. I hope to speak out.

Writing Prompt

Writing prompt: Honor your silly

Name something you think is silly that others may not. Write about that.

Yarn Spinners tell tall tales December 21

Nancy’s Amazing Assemblage of Yarn Spinners, Tall Tale Tellers & Big Fat Liars will entertain you and your friends with fiction, nonfiction, and poetry on Thursday, December 21. The action starts at 7 p.m. at the Copeland Commons room of Taborspace, 5441 SE Belmont, Portland, Oregon. Readers include Mark Alejos, Jamie Cauley, Catherine Magdalena, Kerry McPherson, Mizeta Moon, Mark Robben, Ann Sihler, and Nancy Woods.
Donations are accepted, but if you’d rather get in for free and clap a lot as your contribution, that’s fine, too. Just be prepared to laugh, cry, and everything in between.

Markets for risk takers

If your writing is … unusual, we’ve got two markets for you this month: an annual anthology by Great Weather for Media and The Offbeat, an occasional publication of Michigan State University’s Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures.

Between them, these two publications are looking for literary writing that is “odd,” “absurd,” “quirky,” “zany,” “undisputedly unique,” “fearless,” “unpredictable,” and “experimental.”

Maybe that’s you! We hope so. If it is, let us know about your publishing success.

Good luck!

Nerdy Words

Writing daily sounds good

By Ann Sihler

As writers, we’re often told to write every day, so that writing becomes an everyday habit.

That sounds like good advice. But reading it like that, some people may wonder about whether “every day” should be one word or two. In my first sentence, didn’t I just write it both ways?

Not to get too grammatical, but one way it is an adverb and the other it is an adjective. In “writing becomes an everyday habit,” “everyday” is an adjective that describes the habit. It means that the habit is daily or commonplace.

But if we write every day, “every day” is an adverb. It describes how we’re going to write, and “every” is an adjective that describes the type of day we’re talking about: every day.

Maybe more important than writing correctly is how often we write. Daily sounds good. And writing daily doesn’t raise any thorny grammatical questions that could easily distract us from the task at hand: writing, which is what we sat down to do in the first place.

Student Showcase

“I Walked My Way out of Religion and Found God” (excerpt)

by Kathleen B. Goldberg

Kathleen B. Goldberg has been writing creative non-fiction and memoir for about 20 years. Earlier this year she took Nancy Woods’ Write That Draft class. Offered through Portland Community College, the class is one of many writing classes Goldberg has taken. She found that it gave her “lots of low-key permission and good feedback without pain.” As a clinical social worker, she helps her patients re-write their life stories from a wiser, more loving vantage point. “That’s why I love memoir,” she says. “Life is a re-write from start to finish.”

Rounding the bend I saw a patch of white lying in the trail. I bent to pick up a man’s clean, pressed handkerchief bordered in grey and maroon stripes—much like my father’s. I knew this was someone’s property so I carried it on my belt and waved it periodically for a few days until I discovered it was another gift from the Camino I would cherish. It held my tears and my snot, and I washed it every day for the remaining four weeks of walking. No one claimed it as I sat at pilgrim meals, used it in churches to wipe away my tears. It was mine. And I needed it more than I knew at the time.

On the night before I walked into Santiago I did my laundry one last time. My fellow pilgrim, a gracious Don Quixote, struggled with his coins and then the machine as we paced our sharing of the broken-down washer and less-than-efficient dryer. After an early dinner alone, I returned to fold my clothes and came up to my Don folding his. There on his lap he meticulously folded a lone handkerchief flat and smiled as I stood there agape. He spoke no English; I spoke no Spanish. He recognized me from the first week. We laughed and I started crying as I ran up the stairs to the laundry room. There in the pile was my found handkerchief I knew to be a twin. When I arrived at his side, I showed him my treasure and he lifted his. When I gestured to offer to return it, he cried and waved it off. At the end we asked a pilgrim to document our discovery with our phones and went off to sleep, then to walk the next day.

The fact is we never walk alone. We walk in beauty, we honor and rail at our gods, we make false idols to protect us from our sins and try to offer some forgiveness when we can the next time. The earth holds us in beauty and generosity even when we take her for granted. It is a fragile yet robust and mysterious universe. In the silence and in the sound of people talking—a Babel of languages we do not understand—there is love, truth and beauty. I found this on the Way. That is my God.

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A Nancy Woods production

Thanks for reading Kickstart—a publication of author and writing coach Nancy Woods. If you have any comments about Kickstart, feel free to email them to Nancy or to her newsletter sidekick (aka editor), Ann Sihler.

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