August/September 2015 Inside: ▪ Odd couples▪ Writing prompt: Unlikely pairs▪ New market: The Timberline Review▪ Online Kickstart Your Writing cl

Kickstart Your Writing Green

August/September 2015


Odd couples
Writing prompt: Unlikely pairs
New market: The Timberline Review
Online Kickstart Your Writing class
Writing for the stage
Enneagram workshop
Book giveaway
Pay-what-you-want ebooks
Nerdy words: Colon vs. semi-colon
Student showcase: “The Intruders” by Howard Schneider


Odd couples: Unlikely combos ramp up reader interest

By Ann Sihler

Fellow student Mark Robben had my Kickstart writing class in stitches last month when he brought two contrasting elements together in a piece of writing. “Barely Legal Little League” features the head of an adult film production company who wants to sponsor … a girls Little League team. Smut and wholesomeness—what a combo! Pairing the two contrasting elements allowed Mark to humorously contrast tones, introduce comic misunderstandings, and play with colorful double entendres.

The blend also created some challenges, such as how to draw out a conversation between the film company CEO and the Little League dad that, in real life, probably would’ve been cut short. Mark’s solution was to make the conversation an email exchange. Online it can be tough to pick up the nuance of someone’s tone, and the anonymity of the Internet sometimes makes people feel comfortable going further in a conversation than they would in person. So Mark could extend the dialogue. In class we ended up reading several pages of amusing mismatch.

Odd couples are nothing new. Think of Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Laurel and Hardy, and Neil Simon’s 1960s roommates Oscar and Felix. One of my favorite recent odd couples is Julie and “R," from Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, a zombie/human love story. But odd couples don’t have to be people. They can be material, too, as in Mark’s piece.

The same week Mark brought “Barely Legal Little League" to class I was reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. This is an odd couple novel narrated by a teenage boy with autism. Much of the book’s power comes from the unlikely pairing of highly emotional material—violence toward an animal, a marriage dissolving, a vulnerable person lost and alone in the big city—being related by someone who basically does not understand emotion. Again, what a combo! And what a surprise when the reader realizes the depth of what’s really going on.

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg hits on this same idea of odd couples at the micro level with “The Action of a Sentence." She suggests listing ten random nouns, then ten verbs associated with a particular profession, and finding combos from the two lists that spark fresh, vivid writing. Reader interest will follow.

Unlikely pairings are nothing new, but there's a reason for that: often they work.

Writing Prompt

Writing prompt:

Unlikely pairs

Pick two articles from two different sections of the newspaper, such as sports and obituaries, lifestyle and local news, or world news and business. For each article, write down a list of words that are central to that article. Write a short story, essay, or poem that uses words from both lists or central images or ideas from each article.

New Market:

The Timberline Review

There is a new literary journal in town: The Timberline Review, published by Willamette Writers. The first issue came out August 1. Submissions for the second issue are being accepted through October 15.

Editors Peter R. Field and Pam Wells say they are seeking short fiction, creative nonfiction, essays, and poems that have the power to inspire a conversation with the times we live in. They want bold new work from writers everywhere. “Tell us a story! Tell us about life!”

Find out more at timberlinereview (dot) com, or buy the first issue at Broadway Books, Annie Bloom’s Books, or online. Or attend a reading by contributors at Annie Bloom’s Books (7834 SW Capitol Highway) on Tuesday, September 8, at 7:00 p.m.

Kickstart Workshops Blue

Online writing class starts September 29

Whether you’re working on a novel or interested in short stories, memoir, essays, articles or other forms of fiction or nonfiction, Kickstart Your Writing offers a supportive environment in which you can work on specific writing projects.

The online version of the Kickstart Your Writing class can be taken from the comfort of your home and worked on when your schedule allows. All you need is e-mail (no Skype or chat rooms). Students will set weekly goals, post their writing online at designated times, and receive feedback from the instructor and other students.

Dates: September 29-December 8, 2015. No class November 24.

Cost: $200/10 weeks

To register online: or you can register by mailing a check to Nancy Woods, P.O. Box 18032, Portland, OR 97218.

For more information: or (503) 288-2469.

Writing for the stage

Want to expand your writing skills? Try this beginning playwriting workshop with Gay Monteverde. It is for the eager amateur, the emerging professional, or the curious writer exploring a new medium. No previous experience with playwriting necessary. Students will write and workshop one-act plays while reading and discussing plot, character, dialogue, theme, spectacle, and pace. Tuesday evenings, Sept. 1-29, 6:30-9:30 p.m. at the Multnomah Friends Meeting House, 4212 SE Stark. $300. Register at mountain writers (dot) org.

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Weekend workshop: Great Movies, Great Books and the Enneagram

Want to create credible character arcs and character-driven plot twists that seem both inevitable and surprising? Learn about the Enneagram, a personality typing system that examines (among other things) people’s underlying motivations, which are oh so important in fiction.

One way to learn about the Enneagram is to attend an intensive workshop, called “Great Movies, Great Books and the Enneagram,” October 10 and 11, at the Holiday Inn Express, 2333 NW Vaughn. Judith Searle, the author of The Literary Enneagram and Sex, Love and Your Personality: 9 Faces of Intimacy, will use extensive film clips to illustrate the nine basic personality types. Each participant will receive a 120-page workbook with excerpts from 18 novels that illustrate the interior process for a male and a female of each type. The cost is $245, or $210 for seniors.

Workshop and presenter details are available here. Or check out the Enneagram Institute website to learn about the Enneagram itself and see where it takes you.

Graphic - Tall Trees

Book giveaway ends Nov. 5

Enter to win a signed copy of a book by Nancy Woods. Enter for just one book or for both. Win, read, and enjoy. You can’t go wrong!

Hooked on Antifreeze: True Tales About Loving and Leaving Alaska is a collection of stories, poems, and photographs in which Woods reveals her life-long affection for Alaska.
Under the Influence of Tall Trees: Humorous From A Pacific Northwest Writer is a collection of true stories that reveal the humorous side of life in the Pacific Northwest.

Pay-what-you-want ebooks available until Nov. 5

Pay-what-you-want ($.99 minimum) ebook versions of Under the Influence of Tall Trees and Hooked on Antifreeze are available until November 5.

Hooked on Antifreeze: True Tales About Loving and Leaving Alaska, by Nancy Woods, is a collection of stories, poems, and photographs in which Woods reveals her life-long affection for Alaska.

Get Hooked on Antifreeze in .epub format (for iBook & most e-readers)

Get Hooked on Antifreeze in .mobi format (for Kindle)

Under the Influence of Tall Trees: Humorous From A Pacific Northwest Writer, by Nancy Woods, is a collection of true stories that reveal the humorous side of life in the Pacific Northwest.

Get Under the Influence of Tall Trees in .epub format (for iBook & most e-readers)

Get Under the Influence of Tall Trees in .mobi format (for Kindle)

Nerdy Words

Colon vs. semi-colon: Which to use?

By Ann Sihler

They’re doing it again: clamoring for clarity, this time about the difference between colons and semi-colons.

I’m talking about my fellow Kickstart writing students, who would rather read grammar and punctuation guidance in this informative, humorous, and oh-so-modest newsletter than look it up themselves. Fortunately the main uses of the colon and semi-colon are easy to distinguish.

First up: the colon, with its two cute little dots. To remember how to use the colon, I imagine taking my pen and drawing out each dot into a short horizontal line. The two parallel lines look just like an equal sign, which is basically what the colon is. It indicates that what comes after it is the same as what came before it. Examples abound, like “The problem: grime on your kitchen floor. The solution: Dirt-B-Gone, with its patented formula that leaves your floors gleaming.” Or “There are three things wrong with our plan: We don’t have any money, Marcus doesn’t play poker, and I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with you.” Or “After years of success in business, I gave it all up to do what I really wanted to do: ride a Segway across America.” Pretty simple, right?

The semi-colon, in contrast, has several main uses. One is to connect two separate but related complete sentences, like so: “I always wear my hair long; I think it makes me look taller.”

In other cases, the semi-colon acts like a super-comma in long lists, to make it clear which exactly are the list items and which words are just explaining the list items. If one of the items in your list already has commas in it, you probably need to employ some semi-colons, as in this sentence: “The sloth had shaggy fur tinged with green, which seemed odd; slender arms that ended in smooth, curved claws; and a slightly piggy face with wide eyes, a button nose, and a slight smile, as if the animal were pleased to see us."

Lastly, the semi-colon is used before words like “however,” “therefore,” and “that is” when they introduce a complete sentence: “It’s your choice; however, personally I would never try to braid a lion’s mane."

That’s it! There are other, more esoteric uses of both these punctuation marks, but these examples should help you through most of the confusing situations.

P.S. Did you notice how often I used the colon in this article? I just love its two little dots ...

Student Showcase

“The Intruders” (excerpt) by Howard Schneider

Howard Schneider turned to fiction writing in his retirement. He started out with flash fiction but then turned to longer stories about a not-so-average retired couple: husband Max, who has super powers, and his wife, Lena, a former CIA assassin. Howard has written 19 episodes so far, with the aid of Nancy Woods’s class on novel writing. He also has written flash fiction.

Max Manus was jolted out of a deep sleep when a vivid image alerted him to the likelihood of imminent danger. Instantly awake, he realized at once that something was different, that he had changed. He felt it throughout his entire body. He was vibrating with energy, as if a pulsing motor had been switched on in his chest cavity. He could even see better in the darkened bedroom, registering the time of 2:35 on the old clock sitting on the dresser across the room. He sat up on his side of the bed, noting his wife Lena stirring on her side, but apparently still asleep. He remained absolutely still for a moment. He listened for any unusual sounds but detected nothing other than the quiet night hum of their modest Southeast Portland bungalow.

Then he felt that familiar urge, his bladder calling—nothing out of the ordinary for a 67-year-old man. Carefully lifting aside the covers, he kicked his right leg down toward the floor, then brought the one with the bad knee over the edge to join the other one. But then, standing next to the bed, he heard a faint sound. It came from the front of the house, down the hall. It was the front door. Or was it just an echo from that dream that had awakened him so abruptly?

He tensed and listened hard with his good ear. A moment later he heard the faint sound again, then once more, only a little louder. Then the front door creaked open and he heard someone enter the living room, followed immediately by another person. He heard their every step, as if he were in the room with them.

The door from the living room to the hallway that led to the bedroom was closed, allowing him to rush unseen from the bedroom across the hall and into the kitchen before whoever was out there had time to get their bearings. But even in his quick scramble he couldn't help but notice the lack of the usual pain in his arthritic knee.

Standing in the kitchen at the open knife drawer, he quickly scanned the row of blades neatly organized by function and size. He grabbed his 8-inch carving knife. He reflexively tested its finely honed edge and sharp point. This knife had served him well in the past, and he had no reason to think it wouldn’t again.

Quietly easing the heavy drawer shut he noticed a stream of wavering light spilling under the closed door from the dining room. That and a creaking floor board informed him that someone was treading lightly toward the kitchen and would probably come through the swinging door in the next few seconds.

Quickly moving to the other side of the room, he positioned himself behind the door, his left shoulder pressed firmly against its backside. He clutched the carving knife tightly in his right hand. When the footfall sounded close to the threshold he shoved against the door with all his weight, slamming it full speed into the intruder, propelling him back onto the edge of the dining table with a dull crack. The intruder let out an anguished moan and dropped to his knees, a mix of surprise and terror spread across his face. He then fell back onto the floor, dropping his flashlight as he went down.

When Max leaped over the threshold and sped into the room the disabled man reached out with both arms in a feeble effort to entangle Max’s legs. Max easily jumped aside, then flung himself forward and plunged the sharp knife into the man’s thigh, feeling the keen point dig deep into the oak boards underneath. The man screamed. Blood oozed from the wound onto the polished floor.

But at that very same moment the grotesquely large head of the other intruder appeared around the half-open hall door. Max heard the man’s heavy breathing and looked up to see a giant of a man edging into the living room, a pistol in his huge hand. The big man looked over toward Max, glanced down at his helpless partner lying half under the table, at the blood gathering around his impaled leg, then slowly advanced forward pointing the gun directly at Max’s head.

“So, you’re the famous Max Manus,” he growled with a thick Russian accent and an evil sneer on his now-revealed ugly face. “Now you will please to pull that knife from my friend’s leg and then to come with us. There is someone wants much to speak with you.”

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