November 2015 NEW CLASS: Is Self-Publishing Right for You? Date: Saturday, January 30, 2016. This class will be taught by Vinnie Kinsella and held in

Kickstart Your Writing Orange

November 2015

NEW CLASS: Is Self-Publishing Right for You? Date: Saturday, January 30, 2016. This class will be taught by Vinnie Kinsella and held in Nancy Woods’ Northeast Portland office. Learn the risks and rewards of self-publishing. Get a clear picture of what the process involves. Go away knowing if self-publishing is the best approach for your book. Details to follow.


Travel writing: What's the point?
Writing prompt: Far from home
Caring for your characters
Nerdy Words: Indicating foreign terms
So proud
Student Showcase: "Morocco" (excerpt) by Anika Moje


Travel writing: What’s the point?

by Ann Sihler

You just came back from your first trip to the Grand Canyon, Venice, or Outer Mongolia and are bursting to write about it. So many details flood your mind—about the people, sights, food, culture, logistics, traveling companions … Where to start?

If you’re writing a journal entry or a short piece to share just with family and friends, it probably doesn’t matter where you start. But for anything more than that, you should begin by asking, “Why am I writing? What do I want to say?”

Most readers already know a lot about foreign places and people, and if for some reason they don’t, information is readily at hand. That puts pressure on travel writers to say something truly new, beyond that the Grand Canyon was big, the desert hot, and Las Vegas full of casinos. Fortunately, each of us has our own perspectives, values, and interests; combining those with our travel experiences can yield a piece of writing that is truly unique and surprising—and that says something important to readers.

In my long travel essay on Costa Rica, for example, I wrote not just about the amazing plants and animals we saw there, but also about the potentially harmful impact of “ecotourism" on those same plants and animals (how ironic!), and how what people do here in Oregon affects Costa Rica. Fellow Kickstart student Mark Robben wrote a humorous, self-deprecating travel piece on the challenges of finding lodging in Warsaw, Poland, but underscored his point with references to the Holocaust. On a more mundane level, a poem I wrote about Yellowstone National Park conveyed the excitement and wonder of travel, even amid mishaps. Each of those pieces had a particular point it was trying to convey, beyond the travel details.

So what do YOU bring to your travel topic? And what’s your point? Your answers to those questions will help you develop a storyline for your piece, determine what material to include (and what to leave out!), and pick compelling sensory details that enhance your message. If you don’t bother to figure why you’re writing, your piece could come across like, well, someone else’s vacation photos. Yes, there’s some beautiful scenery, but there are also too many shots of the boring hotel, the mountain of luggage, and your friend/sister/partner asleep on the train with baguette crumbs falling out of her mouth. If those images don’t enhance your point, they’ve got to go. But first you have to figure out what your point actually is.

Specific suggestions for travel writing:

* Prepare. Research your destination beforehand. You’ll be more confident while you’re traveling and writing, you’ll know what to look for or ask about, and you’ll recognize the truly unusual when you run across it.

* Take notes. You don’t have to write lengthy journal entries, but jotting down a few notes about the most striking part of each day will pay off when you’re back home trying to remember details. If taking notes seems onerous, do it together with your traveling companion and make it a fun, shared part of your travel day. Photos also can jog your memory later on.

* Be an expert. Everyone is an expert in something. Use your expert’s eye while traveling to unearth unusual and interesting information. How do people keep bees in Berlin? Weave in Bolivia? Provide health care in Haiti? If you zero in on your expert subject matter while you’re traveling, you’ll see things no one else does and be able to write a truly unique travel piece, authoritatively.

* Reflect. Once you’re home, reflect on what you experienced. What stands out for you? What thoughts or images keep coming back to you? Those are clues about what’s important to you, and what might make a good angle for your writing.

* Include sensory details. People read travel writing partly because they want to know what it feels like to be there, and nothing puts a reader in a scene like sensory details. Pick details that help communicate your bigger message.

* Travel at home. If work, money, or family responsibilities keep you from traveling far, try visiting an unfamiliar corner of your hometown and writing about your experiences. That's what Charles Dickens did: He “traveled” to London’s slums, prisons, and asylums and, through his fiction, reported back to middleclass readers on what he found. What part of your own city or neighborhood is foreign to you? Go and visit it, with a traveler’s eyes.

Bon voyage, and happy scribbling!

Writing prompt: Far from home

Of all the trips you’ve taken, which has taken you the farthest from your hometown? Describe that far-from-home location and explain how or why you ended up there.


Caring for your characters

On, November 3, 2015, Portland author and musician Willy Vlautin gave a talk at the monthly meeting of Willamette Writers. Vlautin is the author of four novels: The Motel Life, Northline, Lean on Pete and The Free.
Kickstart Your Writing student Debbe Borders attended the meeting and came away with these impressions from Vlautin’s talk:

“I thought the most interesting part of his story was that he uses writing as escapism. I also love the way he cares about his characters and wakes up at 3 a.m. to write so he can get the guy out of a bad situation. His characters are alive and living through the experiences, at least while he is in the writing process. He truly cares about his characters, flawed as they are, and has empathy for them.”

The next Willamette Writers meeting is Tuesday, December 1, at the Old Church in downtown Portland. Award-winning Portland author Lidia Yuknavitch will talk about going deeper in your story. For more information, see the Willamette Writers website.

Writing Tip

Nerdy Words:

Indicating foreign terms

by Ann Sihler

Decades ago a friend’s husband asked me to edit the first draft of his novel. Set in Japan, the novel was populated with yakuza, Japanese gangsters, who alternated between fighting each other and chasing foreigners who were visiting Buddhist temples of the ancient city of Kyoto, searching for satori, enlightenment. Of course the novel had many more Japanese terms, from konnichiwa, good afternoon, to unagi, barbecued river eel.

Both the author and I were stumped about how best to indicate and define all these foreign words. Put them in quotation marks? Enclose a definition in parentheses? Use the English term first and then the Japanese word? Our hard-copy style manuals were no help. Neither was the Internet, which at that point was still a vague rumor about computers connected for mysterious purposes. (Who would want that?) So the author and I fumbled along as best we could.

Since then I’ve learned a simple method for indicating Fremdwoerter, foreign words, in type. (For those of you who aren’t polyglots, we’ve just switched from Japanese to German.) Write the foreign word in italics and then follow it with a comma and the English equivalent, as I did at the beginning of this paragraph and throughout the first paragraph of this article.

Of course this technique may not work well for foreign terms that don’t have a short English equivalent, like Schadenfreude, which means pleasure derived from someone else’s misfortunate. But for everything else, the results are Spitze, great!

Publishing Success

Ann Sihler's poem “Eventide” is appearing in this month’s issue of the American Journal of Nursing.

Student Showcase

“Morocco” (excerpt) by Anika Moje

Anika Moje wrote poetry and short stories in college, but she didn’t start writing consistently until she joined a Kickstart Your Writing class last spring. Since then she has written a long-form personal essay about a difficult time in her life; she credits Kickstart and Nancy Woods for the gentle nudging it took to get the project done. Now she is on to short story writing but still struggles to get to the page. Anika was born and raised in Germany, so English is her second language.

She noticed the donkeys first. No matter which direction she looked through the dirty windows of their cab, she saw them put in their day’s work in exchange for what looked like very little food, as most of them were frighteningly thin. Many pulled carts filled with the day’s harvest, while the less fortunate ones were weighed down with too-heavy seeming loads on their backs. A small white donkey was carrying a whole family on his back, the children strapped to their parents with ropes so they wouldn’t fall off.

They were on their way to the old part of town from the airport, on a busy, dusty road packed with cars, busses, mopeds and people dodging in and out of traffic. The heat was stifling—a dry, unrelenting heat that left her parched and longing for water.

She had no idea why she had agreed to accompany him on this trip. This was a country that held meaning for him only, she had no ties here. Yet she had relented to grant him this one wish, mostly to make sure he would return home.

He had asked her to help him find the small village he had seen years ago during his first trip here. Toward the end of a lone trekking trip through the mountains, delusional from lack of sleep, water, food and company, he had stumbled across a village that had haunted his dreams ever since. When she asked him to describe it, after he once again had staggered into her room in the middle of the night drenched in sweat and shaking, the only thing he remembered was that it was “the color of earth,” the small cluster of buildings blending seamlessly into the mountains as if they were slowly being swallowed by the earth’s core.

The taxi weaved perilously from one side of the street to the opposite. There were no marked lanes and even if there had been, traffic here seemed to flow according to its own invisible patterns. Narrowly avoiding a middle-aged woman carrying a basket of carrots, the taxi trailed impatiently behind what at first glance looked like a trailer attached to a moped. Passing it, she saw that the trailer was a cart pulled by a grey donkey. The donkey looked ragged and thin, and aside from pulling a cart overflowing with rusted-out pieces of metal, it also had to carry the weight of the man sitting on its back who was rhythmically hitting the donkey with a stick to keep it moving. Which it did, seemingly unfazed by the chaotic traffic around it.

She had heard the story too many times to count. He was hiking by himself through the mountains, braving the barren, rugged landscape and merciless winds, walking (and occasionally climbing) for hours a day and finding shelter at night—sometimes in a shed provided by a welcoming goat herder, sometimes in a cave carved into the side of the mountain, sometimes huddled inside his sleeping bag out in the open.

When he came across the village, the only evidence of human inhabitants were the woven carpets laid out in a colorful parade across the steep canyons so that the sun could do its work and take the color from them. Only later did he learn that the purpose of this was to make them look older than they were, so that they would fetch higher prices from tourists who believed they were buying an antique rug. Everything else in this village was the same rusty tinge, even the skin of a woman he passed on the dusty road and locked eyes with for just a moment—her face serious and partially hidden by a green head scarf, her eyes unblinking, as if in a game of who is the first to look away, which he of course lost.

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