Inside: ▪ Kickstart Your Writing class starts January 11▪ Margaret Malone on writing short stories with another creative in the house▪ January 16 r

Kickstart Your Writing Purple


Kickstart Your Writing class starts January 11
Margaret Malone on writing short stories with another creative in the house
January 16 reading by Kickstart students
Writing prompt: Time to celebrate
What’s in a name?
Market tips: The New Engagement
Nerdy Words: Think it over/under
Showcase: “Stalled” by Kerry McPherson

Kickstart Workshops Blue

Kickstart Your Writing class starts January 11

Whether you’re working on a novel or interested in short stories, memoir, essays, articles or other forms of fiction or nonfiction, this Kickstart Your Writing class offers a supportive environment in which you can work on specific writing projects. Students read their work in class and receive positive, helpful feedback from the instructor and other students. The class is limited to 5 students.

Dates: January 11-March 15, 2017

Time: 6:30-9 p.m.

Location: Hollywood district, NE Portland, OR. Exact location provided upon registration.

Cost: $200/10 weeks

To register:


Margaret Malone

Margaret Malone on writing short stories with another creative in the house

Joining us for a Q&A this month is Portland writer Margaret Malone, whose first book—the short story collection People Like You—won the Balcones Fiction Prize and was a finalist for the 2016 PEN Hemingway Award. Malone has also written memoir but “loves loves loves loves loves” short stories. Currently she is working on a second story collection, along with a novel. We talked with her about her writing and what it’s like to live with another creative person: her husband, filmmaker Brian Padian.

How does living with another creative person feed your work?
It is key for me, especially having kids. With him, there is an unspoken understanding of why it’s important for me to hole up and get work done, or book readings at night when it’s the kids’ bedtime, thereby making it harder on the parent who remains at home and has to do the night-time routine solo. He knows how important the work is to me because his work as a filmmaker is just as important to him. Together, we’re able to have a family life in addition to a creative life.

Do the two of you have particular ways you support each other in your art?
More than anything, it’s a lot of reminding each other (when we’re low or exhausted or rejected again) that the most important thing is the work. Show up to do the work. That’s it.

Did you know that you wanted another creative person as your life partner?
There’s no denying the romantic notion of partnering with a creative person, but I met my husband when I was so young that I didn't have any idea what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t start writing until I was 27, after I’d been with him for four years and we were already married. That said, I would have ended up with Brian no matter what he did. Our connection was founded on our ability to communicate well and act like morons in front of each other; that could have come in any package.

Are there drawbacks to living with another creative person?
Evolutionarily speaking, it would make much more sense for one of us to have mated with a financial planner or a carpenter; somebody who can do something sensible and useful, like build a table or save for the future. If a deep discussion of the various modes of narrative possibility combined with psychological examination of a character’s choices, an existentially dark understanding of human nature, and a general misanthropic distrust of the status quo could save the world, then there’d be no drawbacks to our situation at all.

Success in the arts can come in fits and starts. How do you and your husband manage that unpredictability?
We take turns. When People Like You was really cooking, he was the primary caregiver for the kids when I’d go on a short tour for the book, or to events, or teaching. When he is in production or the height of post-production, I’m on duty. What will happen when we finally achieve a level of success that warrants both of us working at the same time, I have no idea, but it seems like a really good problem to have.

Do the two of you give each other feedback on your work?
It depends on the project. I tend to be overly protective of my work until I feel like I’m done, because I’m the unfortunate combination of a total control freak creatively and highly susceptible to suggestion. Brian is much better at reaching out and sharing his work and asking for feedback after a first draft of a screenplay, I think because he has a much better sense of what he’s trying to accomplish. I tend to feel my way into things and he usually has an idea of where he’s going, so he’s more secure in that area I think.

Have you ever collaborated on a project?
Yes. We wrote a memoir together several years ago about his brain tumor diagnosis and treatment and how it affected us individually and as a couple. It was hard as hell. Also he’s turned one of my stories, “I’m Your Man,” into a short film.

You are raising two young children. Do you try to instill values of creativity in them?
We certainly tell them they can grow up to do anything. We encourage them to draw and make books, and once we turned a story our son made up into a little movie. More than anything we believe that by growing up and seeing us work at writing and filmmaking they will understand that creative-making can be the same kind of “work” as being a firefighter or a lawyer or teacher or gardener. Whenever possible, do the thing you really want to spend your time doing; life is fantastically short and then you die, so what do you want to spend this little bit of time you’re here on earth doing? What can you not stop yourself from doing? What would you do whether you got paid to do it or not?

Parenting is a big job, and writing is time-consuming. How do you find time to write?
It’s nearly impossible. Especially because my husband and I both have day jobs on top of our creative work. For us, the work is made in fits and starts. Deadlines help. When I’m really working on something I stay up late until I fall asleep writing and wake up exhausted and then do it all over again the next day until I’m done. It’s not pretty.

Do you have any rituals or rules that help you maintain focus while you’re writing?
When I sit down to write, I do not go onto the internet first. Not to check my email or social media or do research or anything. I try and keep my “writing mind” free from all that hullaballoo so I can focus on whatever I’m writing and stay true to whatever comes without tuning into the outside world first. I work much, much better this way.

What drew you to short stories?
I love love love love love them. They are the perfect form for me. Part poetry, part novel. You can get away with things in short fiction that would be harder in long-form fiction. Also I am big on voice and saying as much as possible without bogging down the reader with a bunch of “look at me” words and sentences. Sometimes I read novels and think, yeah yeah yeah, let's get on with it. I know. It’s so terrible. I can’t believe I just said that. I love novels. I love novelists. I do.

I’ve heard that you really enjoy the editing process. Why?
Editing is where it all comes together for me. My first drafts are messy and noisy and usually really bad. For me, first drafts are for getting it all out onto the page so I can then go through and find what tiny piece or character or voice is usable, or a hint of what the thing I’m trying to write is really about. Then I rewrite for a long, long time and try and get the “writer” part of me out of the way so the character can lead the way.

What have you learned about your writing process that’s been helpful to you?
Two main things: first, that I’m a slow writer and I need to give myself lots of time to breathe; and second, that my process usually involves a final stage where I totally freak out and think what I’ve just spent two months or two years writing is a fantastic piece of crap and what am I going to do because it can’t be fixed and it’s due to the editor in a week and what was I thinking when I wrote this in the first place ... When I get to this point, it usually means I am just about finished. It’s almost always the next draft that is the final. I’m not saying it’s healthy, but I’ve come to realize it happens every time. So I try and use it as a landmark now.

BeLonging cover

January 16 reading by Kickstart students

Begin the new year right 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 Monday, January 16, 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 January 16 reading.

Market tip: The New Engagement

Our featured market this month is The New Engagement, a new literature and art journal that, according to co-founder Lupe Rodarte, focuses on “the POC, LGBTQI, and indigenous communities, and anyone who tells stories of resistance and resilience.” The journal accepts short stories, novel excerpts, essays, poetry, and visual art (including film) that deal with engagement in social issues. It currently is running a flash fiction contest (through March 1, 2017) with prizes of $500, $250, and $100.

Rodarte founded The New Engagement with Brian Alessandro in July of 2016, so this is a chance to submit to a relatively new publication and possibly establish a lasting connection with the editors. Although the journal is a monthly digital publication right now, Rodarte and Alessandro plan on adding a quarterly print issue in 2017.

Writing Prompt

Writing prompt: Time to celebrate

At this time of year, some people celebrate Christmas. Others celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, solstice, or nothing. What do you celebrate? Write about that.

What’s in a name?

In her recent blog post, Kickstart publisher Nancy Woods describes the difficulty of deciding on just the right name for her newborn daughter, who she doesn’t know yet. Is the infant a crisp Kate, a legacy Jean, or a sweet Holly?

Nerdy Words

Think it over/under (with apologies to McDonald's)

By Ann Sihler

Quick: What’s the opposite of “over”?

I’ll bet that you didn’t answer “less than.” Obviously, the opposite of “over” is “under.”

But many people use “over” interchangeably with “more than,” as in “Over 2 million people live in the Portland metropolitan area,” or “Over 99 billion served,” which you might remember from those old McDonald’s signs.

Does this mean that the opposite of “over” actually is “less than”?

If you’re feeling bumfuzzled right about now, don’t worry. It’s a rhetorical question.

My point is that “over” has several meanings, having to do not just with numbers (as in “over 99 billion served”), but also with time (“over the years”), physical position (“over the mantle you’ll see a painting”), rank (“over all the department heads is the division chief”), and more. When you start a sentence or phrase with “over,” how does the reader know which meaning you intend?

Obviously someone can read the rest of the sentence (and we hope they do) to figure out the meaning. But my editorial mind is inclined to offer a little more help. To point the reader in the right direction, why not write “more than” instead of “over”? Then the reader knows from the beginning of the sentence that you’re talking about numbers—not position, time, or trajectory.

The general principle is, if you can choose between two equivalent terms, such as “over” and “more than,” pick the one that is most specific to what you’re writing about—especially if it occurs at the beginning of a sentence. Doing so helps the reader race into the rest of the sentence with a clear expectation of what’s coming next—an expectation turns out to be accurate. (How satisfying!)

This is the same reason I often change “since” to “because” when “since” indicates causation. I don’t want the reader to get the idea, however fleetingly, that “since" refers to the passage of time. Consider this example: “Since you started coming over unannounced, I’ve reconsidered my habit of sunbathing au naturel in the backyard.” Here, does “since” refer to a time or a reason? The answer could determine how well you’ll get along with that new next-door neighbor!

Obviously I’m big on clarity, but sometimes other things are more important. “Since” and “over” look, sound, and feel quite different from “because” and “more than.” If you’re writing poetry, novels, or short stories, “since” and “over” might be a better choice than the more precise, Latinate “because” and “more than.” You’ll have to ponder and decide.

Or you could just do what McDonald’s did and write around the question, by saying “billions and billions served”—once you’ve actually served that many, of course.

Better get to work!

Student Showcase

Student showcase: “Stalled” by Kerry McPherson

During her four years as a Kickstart student, Kerry McPherson has written mostly short, dark fiction, including many stories from prompts and flash fiction built around word play. “Writing has always given me the freedom to take my time and get all the details out in the correct order,” McPherson says. She originally started writing short so as not to bore people, but over time her stories have shrunk even more. “What started as a challenge has become a style. For now.” Her current challenge is to start sending her many accumulated stories out for publication.

The story below, “Stalled,” was originally published in BeLonging, an anthology by the Woodshop Writers.

He never saw what I was made of.

“You happy now, hero?” the middle-aged woman asked before kicking him in the gut. She looked like someone’s mom.

He tucked himself into a fetal position on the tiled floor.

A few minutes ago he had followed me into the bathroom yelling, “Freak!”

I was still on the ground from when he shoved me.

“We told you to get out,” the sweet-looking grey-haired lady said.

“He doesn’t belong in here. You ladies aren’t safe,” he mumbled.

“You’re the only threat, you idiot,” the mom said. She was the one who’d choked him out.

“You’re letting men into your bathroom,” he spat.

“No we aren’t. Now get out,” the older lady said.

He glared at me then started to get up.

The mom kicked him again. “No. Stay down,” she ordered.

“You bitches aren’t even worth protecting,” he said as he crawled out.

“C’mon dear, let’s get you cleaned up,” the older lady said, reaching out her hand to help me up.

When I looked in the mirror my lipstick wasn’t smeared from him wanting to wipe the “smirk” off my face and my blouse and skirt were still intact.

The tear was much deeper.

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.

Nancy and Ann
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