February 2017 Inside ▪ Q&A: Sally McPherson on book readings▪ Free e-book of writing prompts▪ Writing prompt: Repurpose your writing▪ Tales from

Kickstart Your Writing Orange

February 2017



Q&A: Sally McPherson on book readings
Free e-book of writing prompts
Writing prompt: Repurpose your writing
Tales from Tillamook
Market tip: Take your editor seriously
Nerdy Words: Help your readers guess right
Showcase: “Invasive Species“ by Ann Sihler
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Broadway Bookds

Q&A: Sally McPherson on book readings

Joining us for a Q&A this month is Sally McPherson, co-owner (with Kim Bissel) of Broadway Books, an independent bookstore in Northeast Portland, Oregon. Founded in 1992 by Gloria Borg Olds and Roberta Dyer, Broadway Books has a long history of supporting local authors, through readings, special events, and sales. The store hosts about six to eight readings a month through much of the year.

How do you decide which authors get to read at Broadway Books?
We choose based on what we think our customers would be interested in and on availability of the book. A local connection is usually important.

What makes for a good reading?
The more the audience laughs, the more books we sell. A casual yet well-thought-out reading works best. Talk about why and how the book came about; read for 10 minutes or so; open it up to Q&A; read more if audience seems to want more.

How should a writer prepare for a reading?
Attend other readings at the bookstore to get a sense for the audience and how readings work. Pick a short, interesting section to read (preferably one that leaves the audience wanting more) and practice it.

What common mistakes do writers make in readings?
They read too long and don’t look up while reading. Or they don’t engage with the audience. Another mistake authors frequently make is thinking they can just rely on the bookstore’s marketing efforts to get customers to attend the reading. Social outreach to friends/family/acquaintances/co-workers by the author is CRITICAL.

Of the Broadway Books readings you’ve attended, do you have a favorite?
Jacqueline Winspear and Willy Vlautin are a couple of my favorites for readings.

(Editor’s note: Willy Vlautin is a Portland novelist and singer. Jacqueline Winspear, the author of the Maisie Dobbs mystery series, will be reading at Broadway Books on Wednesday, March 29. Tickets are available online and include a copy of Winspear’s most recent book, In This Grave Hour.)

If you could schedule anyone to read at Broadway Books, who would it be and why?
Ann Patchett. As both an excellent writer AND a bookstore owner, she’s my hero.

What tips do you have for writers on how to approach a bookseller about a reading?

Be a customer of the store and get to know the store and its owners and customers.

On January 20 of this year, Broadway Books gave out free copies of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2014 book of essays, We Should All Be Feminists. Why?
To celebrate the power of women.

Was there any fallout from doing that?
Not that we’re aware of.

The world of bookselling continues to change. What do you wish writers knew about what it’s like to be a bookseller?

We wear a lot of hats and are usually running full speed to keep up with everything. We have limited space in the store and limited financial resources. We often work on tight deadlines, so when someone walks in without an appointment or heads-up and expects to discuss a potential reading with us it can be frustrating.

Note: For news and upcoming events at Broadway Books, read the store’s monthly newsletter on Facebook.

Prompt book

Free e-book of writing prompts

We’ve written before how writing prompts can help you maintain a regular writing practice, experiment with new forms and subject matter, and learn to be creative on demand. Now there’s a new resource for prompt lovers (and those who desire to be): the second edition of an e-book of writing prompts from Authors Publish.

Written by Emily Harstone, this 168-page compendium presents visual prompts, prompts focused on craft, and prompts specifically designed for novelists, poets, essayists, and groups. Some prompts are brand new, while others originally appeared in the Authors Publish online magazine.

The e-book is free and available for download here.

BeLonging cover copy

Woodshop Writers read on March 23

Celebrate spring by coming to hear the Woodshop Writers: Jamie Caulley, Catherine Magdalena, Kerry McPherson, Anika Moje, Mark Robben, Howard Schneider, and Ann Sihler, all of whom study their craft with Kickstart publisher Nancy Woods.

The group will read from their fourth anthology, BeLonging, at Annie Bloom’s Books on Thursday, March 23, at 7 p.m.

BeLonging explores home and homelessness, identity and discovery, growth and change, and understanding—of both self and others. Together, the pieces in this volume underscore how basic and vital a sense of belonging is for everyone, and how many different forms belonging can take.

BeLonging is available for purchase online and at the March 23 reading.

Writing prompt: Repurpose your writing

Search through old files, journal entries, letters, emails, blog and Facebook posts. Choose one to use as a starting point or prompt for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc.

Market tip: Take your editor seriously

By Ann Sihler

Years ago I submitted a sentimental essay to a literary journal and soon afterwards received a form rejection letter that had been photocopied so many times that the lines of scratchy text were askew on the page. Yes, it was a rejection. But at the top, the editor had handwritten “Nice piece” in smooth, blue script.

Reading these two promising words, did I realize that the editor actually liked my writing, even though he or she didn’t publish it? Did I consider that the editor might be interested in reading other pieces I’d written? Did I look through my files to find another essay to submit to that same editor?

No. I didn’t do any of these things. But I should have.

At that time I was too inexperienced to realize how rare it is for a rejection letter to include a personal note. I didn’t know that I should take those two words as very encouraging. Instead I focused on the rejection itself, not even considering that the editor must have honestly liked my work if he or she took the time to respond personally, however briefly.

So this is a reminder to take your editor seriously, even when you get a rejection. If the editor makes any sort of personal remark, says that they enjoyed your piece, or encourages you to submit again, don’t assume that they’re just being polite. Take them at their word: They like your work and want to see more!

At the very least you know that what you submitted is close to what they’re looking for. So try again. Find—or write—something similar and submit it to that same market.

Your work could be just one or two steps away from being accepted.

Tales from Tillamook

An overly vigorous hairdresser, dusty handyman, and guy-shy writer banter during a power outage in an excerpt from Tales from Tillamook, a serial novel by Kickstart publisher Nancy Woods. Read it on Nancy’s blog.

Writing Tip

Nerdy Words: Help your readers guess right

By Ann Sihler

Quick: What do you think should go in the blank below?

“Originally constructed in 1948 by architect Pietro Belluschi, ________.”

Hmmm … This sentence is talking about something that was constructed by an architect. Obviously it must be a building of some kind, as in:

“Originally constructed in 1948 by architect Pietro Belluschi, the office complex today is badly in need of repair.”


“Originally constructed in 1948 by architect Pietro Belluschi, the high rise was sold soon afterwards to Property Owner Extraordinaire.”

Or maybe:

“Originally constructed in 1948 by architect Pietro Belluschi, this fine example of mid-century architecture was destroyed by a rampaging elephant teleported to Our Fair City by an evil mastermind intent on—what else?—world domination.”

However the sentence unfolds, its first phrase—“Originally constructed in 1948 by architect Pietro Belluschi”—is a teaser. It creates tension and suspense. It sets readers guessing about the sentence’s subject, which in this case is whatever it was that was originally constructed in 1948.

Thankfully, the noun that comes after the comma—whether “office complex,” “high rise,” or “fine example of mid-century architecture”—resolves that tension. It satisfies us by showing that our guess was right. Yes! It IS a building that was constructed in 1948!

That’s how our language is supposed to work. But too often, we writers are sloppy with our sentence construction and put something else in that crucial slot—the blank—that isn’t actually what we were referring to in the first phrase of the sentence.
In this real example, taken from a fine local publication (which I don’t want to disparage by naming), the sentence continued like so:

“Originally constructed in 1948 by architect Pietro Belluschi, Clarion and partner Urban Renaissance acquired the then-vacant building in 2014 for around $15 million.”

Huh? As written, the sentence literally means that Clarion and Urban Renaissance—two real estate firms—were constructed in 1948. Nonsense!

Worse than the nonsense is the confusion that this sentence causes. Consciously or not, the reader has to scramble to find the subject of the sentence and figure out what it actually was that was constructed in 1948. All the reader’s guessing—all the teasing, suspense, speculation—is for naught.

Grammatically, the sentence is an example is a dangling modifier. It’s a phrase that ostensibly modifies the subject of the sentence. But it’s dangling in that, because of how the sentence is written, what it actually is referring to is not quite clear. Hence the reader’s confusion.

Dangling modifiers are so common these days that they appear in almost every publication. But that doesn’t mean it is wise to use them. Yes, our language and even our grammatical rules change over time. But there’s a difference between changes that streamline the language and clarify meaning and those that bog readers down and confuse. Dangling modifiers fall into the latter category.

You might use a plethora of dangling modifiers when you’re drafting text. That’s fine. But during editing, identify phrases that ask your readers to guess what’s coming next in the sentence. Then make sure you deliver. That way your meaning will be clear and your readers can take pleasure in “guessing right.”

Student Showcase

“Invasive Species” (excerpt) by Ann Sihler

Ann Sihler has been writing essays and poetry for 20 years. Being a Kickstart student for the past three years has helped her write more consistently and try out different forms and styles, such as flash fiction. Nature and medicine appear repeatedly in her work. The scene below comes from a short story inspired by the words “You know me” at a local storytelling performance. You can read more of her work at www.annsihler.com.

Her hospital room had been right near the elevator, so it was easy to slip in. She was alone—so alone—and for a minute he’d stood there, listening to the machines hiss and sigh. He’d expected the tubes—the loops of cable and plastic running to the IV, monitors, and catheter. But the sound of the machines sent a shiver up his back. He thought he heard a gasp. Was someone else there, breathing? He turned around to check, but the doorway stood empty.

She murmured, and Carson turned back toward her. She looked so slight under the blanket, pale enough to match the sheet. Even her freckles had faded. Only her curly red hair remained from the old Ivy. He’d loved the feel of her hair under his hand, the coiled energy that matched her own. She was so quick and lively. Well, had been. Now he barely recognized the white, shapeless figure in front of him.

He stepped closer, eyes dropping to her throat, and saw it. Among the folds of blanket and flowered pastel gown, the chain lay draped against her exposed collar bone, folding as naturally and gently as her own skin.

One more step, a quick glance behind him, and Carson was there, pushing against the pillow to reach the clasp beneath her neck. At the feel of her soft, warm breath he paused, just for a moment, wishing. Then he undid the necklace and slipped it into his pocket.

A few moments later he was standing at the elevator, his chest heaving. He exhaled through rounded lips, trying to slow his breathing.

“Excuse me!” A nurse in green scrubs came striding down the hall. “You must be Ivy’s friend, Carson. I saw you leaving her room.”

He glanced around but there was nowhere to go.

“No, I’m on the wrong floor,” he said. He gestured toward Ivy’s room. “I went in, but it’s the wrong room. Ivy? I don’t know her.”

“But …”

Just in time the elevator dinged, and the doors opened. He stepped in and let them close efficiently behind him.

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Nancy and Ann copy

A Nancy Woods production

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

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