Kickstart Your Writing Blue

July 2017



▪ Q&A: Willa Schneberg on art and healing
▪ Writing prompt: The look
▪ Word Storms extravaganza on July 23
▪ Screenwriters to share gems at Willamette Writers Conference
▪ Nancy’s Yarn Spinners read on Sept 21
▪ To plan or not to plan?
▪ Market: Liars League PDX
▪ Nerdy words: An economy of ellipsis
▪ “Phnom Penh 2010” (excerpt) by Rachel Haig
▪ Subscribe to Kickstart for free!
Q&A: Willa Schneberg on art and healing
Writing prompt: The look
Word Storms extravaganza on July 23
Screenwriters to share gems at Willamette Writers Conference
Nancy’s Yarn Spinners read on Sept 21
To plan or not to plan?
Market: Liars League PDX
Nerdy words: An economy of ellipsis
“Phnom Penh 2010” (excerpt) by Rachel Haig
Subscribe to Kickstart for free!
Willa Schneberg

Willa Schneberg

Q&A: Willa Schneberg on art and healing

Joining us for a Q&A this month is Willa Schneberg, a Portland poet, ceramic sculptor, interdisciplinary artist, photographer, curator, and psychotherapist. She is the author of five collections, one of which—In the Margins of the World—received the Oregon Book Award.

In the 1990s, Schneberg worked with the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) and witnessed Cambodia’s first truly free and fair election since the French Colonial period; 97 percent of those who registered to vote actually went to the polls. She recently taught a workshop entitled “Poetry of Resistance and Resilience,” in conjunction with an exhibit of photographs and text relating to Cambodia that was on view at the First Congregational United Church of Christ Art Reach Gallery in downtown Portland. The exhibit’s purview extended from the “killing fields” to a dynamic, contemporary Cambodia in which human rights are still not assured.

How are resistance and resilience related?
I believe that resilience and resistance are two sides of the coin. You must have resilience to resist.

Is creating art inherently therapeutic?
The opportunity to dwell in the creative process or play space, in which one transcends the ego, is always therapeutic. It is only later, when our internalized critic and/or the need for outside recognition takes over. Then the battle begins between the innate desire to create and the need for it to be “good” and praised.

My early poems were a way to soothe my teenage angst. Turning suffering into art has healing power. Now I know that anything deeply felt or observed can become the genesis of a poem.

When I feel fully engaged in my life poems are more likely to come than when I am in despair. [Poet] Adrienne Rich has talked about writing out of a “radical happiness.” She has said, “Real social transformation, real change has to come out of a love of life and a love of the world.”

What do you think the literary writer’s role is (if any) in offering solutions to problems?
I don’t believe poetry alone can be a change agent, but it can incite the necessary conversation. The poet must empathize with the rage that comes from powerlessness, and understand how much easier it is to blame others than to discover new paths towards intimacy and empathy. What the child felt and the poet knows is that grief and loss cannot be healed by hatred. The poet must witness and reveal the inhumane so it can be changed.

As a citizen of the world, I do believe I must bear witness to the immoral, to the unspeakable horror that humankind is capable of inflicting on the earth and itself. As a poet, I must use my craft to protest the untenable, to give words to the unspeakable.

I had to get past what is PC regarding who “may” bear witness. Only someone who was there? Someone of the same race and class? I’m “allowed” to bear witness to the experience of a Jewbu-American feminist woman, because that is what I am, but can I bear witness to an atrocity I heard about second-hand of an ethnicity or nationality other than my own? I believe so.

How can a literary writer responding to current events create work that has broad appeal and staying power?
Let’s start with “broad appeal.” Poetry has never had “broad appeal,” particularly in the United States. But to those who embrace it, as in times of grief or profound joy, there is no touchstone more valuable.

I believe good writing is what has staying power. So if a poet masters prosody’s precise, musical, metaphor-infused language, she or he can get to that place where words “speak truth.” Especially in political poetry, the poet must stay clear of polemical, generalized and not fully realized outpourings.

Much of what is being written right now in this divisive political climate addresses a plethora of issues: free speech, the environment, race and class, misogyny, abortion rights, etc. Those words are essential as protest but may not stand the test of time as literature.

Is there anything you’d like to add that I haven’t asked about?
Yes. A political poem I wrote, called “Tiny Monuments.” It is for David Maisel, who photographed canisters holding the ashes of mental patients at a state hospital in Oregon.

When human beings were still locked away
for sadness clinging to them like a marine layer,
hearing voices telling them how awful they are,
going fetal when cars backfire or corks pop,
they were housed at the Oregon State Insane Asylum,
and when they ceased to be, they were cremated.

If no one claimed a brother, a daughter, or a father,
the ashes were left in numbered copper canisters,
on pine shelves in an underground vault.
Not infrequently the water table rose
giving the forgotten homes uniquely their own,
coated with efflorescence and mineral dazzle,
where an alchemy of copper and water bloomed
and burst into color.

These tiny monuments to the scorned and unknown,
wear patinas of pink, burnt sienna, ocher, aqua,
and if you look closely you will find
moon craters, archipelagos, frozen waterfalls,
dunes with lone tracks, and Big Dippers
embedded in their pores.

Writing Prompt

Writing prompt: The look

It never should have happened, and it wouldn’t have if he hadn’t looked at her that way.

Word Storms extravaganza on July 23

You are invited to the launch party for the newest book by SpearPoint Publications: Word Storms, a collection of short fiction by local authors Mizeta Moon, Howard Schneider, and Silver Gladstar. Also at the party will be crooners Keith Buckley and Jon Lesseg, of Lonesome Dewey and the Coyotes, and Bob Wagner doing a keyboard/vocal one-man show.

Oh yeah. And then there are the words. Moon, Schneider, and Gladstar will read from Word Storms, which features a story told in 29 individually titled vignettes, an eight-part adventure by an unlikely Portland-bred hero and his female sidekick, a fantasy about the joys of competitive crowing, and of course flash fiction, for which SpearPoint Publications is known.

Word Storms will be available in hard copy at the launch party. You can also buy it directly from Lulu for $12 or as an ebook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and others for $3.99.

Join the fun from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Sunday, July 23, at the Hollywood Senior Center, 1820 NE 40th Ave. Admission is free, and complimentary beverages and snacks will be available.


Cynthia Whitcomb

Screenwriters to share gems at Willamette Writers Conference

Willamette Writers holds a conference every year. But seldom does the conference feature such a great lineup of screenwriters, many of whom will address topics that go far beyond film.

Want to learn more about story structure, dialogue, or character? Go hear local screenwriter Cynthia Whitcomb, who will teach on dialogue and “The Heart of the Story.” Or Doug Richardson, who will share how to turn a novel into a three-act structure. Or Scott Myers, who will discuss create compelling protagonists and worthy nemeses.

You also can expect presentations on myriad other writing topics, “quick critiques” of your work, and the chance to speak one-on-one with an agent, editor, or publisher about your project.

The conference takes place August 4 through 6 at the Portland Sheraton. Learn all about it at Willamette Writers.

Nancy’s Yarn Spinners read on Sept 21

Thursday, September 21, 2017, is the next performance of Nancy’s Amazing Assemblage of Yarn Spinners, Tall Tale Tellers, and Big Fat Liars, i.e., Nancy Woods, Catherine Magdalena, Howard Schneider, Jamie Caulley, and Mark Alejos.

The reading will take place at the Copeland Commons room of TaborSpace, at 5441 SE Belmont in Portland, starting at 7 p.m. Free. Donations accepted.

The Yarn Spinners also will read on Thursday, December 21, 2017, at 7 p.m. at the same place.

To plan or not to plan?

In her recent blog post, author and writing coach Nancy Woods praises the pluses of planning and the surprises of spontaneity. Which will you choose?

Market: Liars’ League PDX wants fires and quakes

Liars’ League PDX is seeking submissions of 800- to 2,500-word stories on the theme of “fires and quakes.” The deadline is July 31 for a local performance on September 23.

Not familiar with Liars’ League PDX? Twice a year this organization selects four or five thought-provoking, emotionally engaging pieces of short fiction, then chooses a local actor to rehearse and read the pieces on performance night.

You may not already have a piece about fires and quakes, but there is still time to write one.

Many people do not like to work this way; they would rather write what they want and then find a market for it. But writing to topic is a valuable skill if you can develop it. It expands the markets that are open to you and, like writing from prompts, challenges you to be creative on the spot, so that you learn to come up with ideas when you want rather than having to wait for inspiration to strike.

If you don’t like what you write, you don’t have to submit. But if you do and are accepted, think how fun it will be to invite all your friends to the performance and hear your story read by a professional actor! Afterwards you’ll be able to relive the experience again and again by going to the Liars’ League’s archives (a spot well worth visiting even if you are looking just for good stories). Ah, the sound the success …

Nerdy Words

Nerdy Words: An economy of ellipsis

By Ann Sihler

Someone sent me an email recently on using the ellipsis, which is the three dots you put in a sentence to indicate either faltering speech or the omission of words from a quote, as in … well, you get the idea. (Or at least I hope you do.)

As an editor I learned some of the rules of using the ellipsis, such as how and when to combine it with other punctuation, especially when the ellipsis comes at the end of a sentence.

Now, I can be particular and sometimes am paid to do so. But as I read the email and considered the ins and outs of spaces before and after the ellipsis, the rationale for the three-dot versus the four-dot ellipsis method, and what to do when the ellipsis is followed by an elision (feel free to look up the definition of that word yourself), I realized that, truly, I do not want to be an ellipsis power user.

Then I felt dejected that a phrase like “ellipsis power user” could ever have entered my life in the first place. Aren’t there better things to do, to think about? Things that are—let’s be honest here—more FUN? If not, there should be.

The truth is, unless you are a professional copyeditor, many grammar and punctuation rules and conventions are not worth your time to learn, much less remember. That’s why writers have copyeditors in the first place: so they can focus on creativity, not correctness.

But for Kickstart readers who have perhaps taken a shine to the ellipsis and who started reading this article specifically to learn about what may be fast becoming their favorite punctuation mark (Hey! It’s possible!), I am willing to offer a guideline on using the ellipsis, namely, to save it for the middle of a quote, rather than using it at the beginning or end.

In other words, don’t start a quote like “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them,” with an ellipsis, as in “… Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” The reason is that the reader already knows—or can reasonably guess—that the quote is lifted from a larger work. So obviously some language has been omitted from the beginning of the quote (in this case, the entire first act of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night).

This is true even if you are quoting only the last part of this famous line, or combining it in a sentence with your own words, as in “You know, Shakespeare wrote that ‘some have greatness thrust upon them.’ Maybe that’s you, Terry!”

Similarly, there is no need to use an ellipsis at the end of the quote, as in “Some have greatness thrust upon them …”

Of course do use the ellipsis in place of any words you omit from the middle of the quoted material, as in “Some are born great … and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

There. Simple, economical, and important. And no waste of ink (or pixels) with unnecessary ellipses. For punctuation heads, that is a rule worth knowing.

Student Showcase

“Phnom Penh 2010” (excerpt)

by Rachel Haig

Rachel Haig has been writing blogs and essays about her travel experiences for a few years and now is focusing on a book. As a new Portland Community College student of Nancy Woods, she appreciated the positive feedback and recommendations on how to edit, condense, add, and change her writing. She also received help with focus, motivation, and finding a better writing rhythm. The text below is a condensed version of an essay of hers on being an expat in Cambodia.

With monks begging for alms in their saffron robes, little old ladies traveling home from the market in bicycle rickshaws, laden with the day’s fresh catch and long-stemmed greenery I couldn’t identify, and schoolchildren walking home holding hands, dressed in crisp white shirts and black pants, Phnom Penh in 2010 was both exotic and almost a stereotype of itself.

The searing heat and overpowering smells of garbage, fish, and urine, combined with the in-your-face poverty, could quickly wipe away the beauty and the awe. This yin and yang of the city mirrored the expat lifestyle I had recently stumbled into.

For expats, long days in “the field” typically end with a trip to the swanky gym where you can sweat away the stress of the day on an exercise bike with the air conditioning blasting. Or you dine out on a four-course meal in a restaurant catering to foreigners, or binge-watch an entire season of a TV show on pirated DVDs from a local market. Some days, the only way to deal with the utter realness of Cambodia is to quaff many stiff drinks and bitch about your maid with fellow expats.

The rollercoaster of emotions runs the gamut from an extreme high of doing good work helping those in need to feelings of utter hopelessness and guilt at the luxury of life afforded those working to help the disadvantaged people of the country. Everything feels a little schizophrenic. I was living the most lavish life I’d ever lived while trying to make sure factory workers were given fair working conditions. I was going on tropical vacations paid for with money earned helping the poor, and walking by abject poverty as I entered a fancy restaurant clad in hand-made shoes and clothing. At first it felt surreal, but then it just felt normal. This is life in a city where East meets West, rich meets poor, ancient meets modern, and everything is changing at a dizzying pace.

Subscribe to Kickstart for free!

Did someone forward this email to you? If so and you want to receive it directly every month, you can subscribe here.

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
Scribbles loops newsletter
Powered by Mad Mimi®A GoDaddy® company