The Blue Chair Blog

It's not just about the novel


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Not so secretly, I admire you (repost from NaNoWriMo Blog)

A  few weeks ago, NaNoWriMo solicited folks to write “not-so-secret admirer” notes to people who have inspired them as writers. For my money, writing as part of a community is different, and better, than writing in total isolation. A lot of people and organizations have inspired me from afar and supported me up close, including Kamy Wicoff and Shewrites.com, Russ Cahill, Deborah Harkness, Meagan Macvie and Off Point Writers, Hedgebrook, NaNoWriMo, personal friends who keep low profiles, and at least half of those I follow in my Twitter feed.

First and foremost are the five remarkable women who make up WISH, the Wild and Inspired Sisters of Hedgebrook. Here’s the note I wrote to them, which was published on the NaNoWriMo Blog today:

Dear Colleen, Kay, Niki, Teresa, and Traci,

Yes, my wild, inspired sisters—you are the reason I am able to write, not just reclusively as writers must, but also as part of a small but vibrant writing community. Aren’t I lucky to have this opportunity to write out loud about what a difference you have made in my life! 

How could we have imagined when we first met at Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers in Washington state, that we would still be in almost daily contact over a year later? We were together in a historical fiction master class for only a week, learning from the phenomenal Deborah Harkness and reveling in Whidbey Island’s magic. Although Hedgebrook and its dedicated staff remain close to my heart, you are the gift that keeps on giving. Even now that we are scattered from the West Coast of the US to Germany, thanks to technology we are there for each other almost every day, and sometimes even in the middle of the night.

What we have in common connects us — our obsession with historical fiction, alternating fascination and frustration with the writing process, and a passion for red wine with salt and pepper potato chips. I have seen most of you at least once in the intervening year and I cherish those times, too. Only with true friends can you meet and take up the conversation again without missing a beat. And what conversations! Encouragement, sympathy, understanding, humor — each of you has these things in abundance and shares them unquestioningly.

Thanks for always being there, convincing me I can succeed, and cheering me over all the hurdles. Maybe I could do it alone, but I’m glad I don’t have to try.

Love,

Suzanne

After telling the NaNoWriMo folks about WISH, I was excited to receive an invitation to write the note for publication and absolutely thrilled to wake up this morning and learn that it had been published. The blog’s headline writer got it exactly right. Here’s to writing groups who become true friends!

The original text of my note is here.

Hellebore on the farmhouse table


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Only connect

If the online world sometimes seems both a blessing and a curse, this morning I know it’s a blessing because it connects me to other writers. In the real world, even. Like anything else, the more you sow the more you tend to reap. Writing comes first and reaching out does take effort, but it is SO worth it.  I’m still a little high from a terrific book event I attended yesterday evening at Third Place Books up in Lake Forest Park. The event was part of She Writes Press spring book tour and featured Kamy Wicoff, author of Wishful Thinking; Leanna Lehman, author of Vote for Remi; and Celine Keating, author of Play for Me.

It’s a bit of a haul from where I live up to Lake Forest Park and Puget Sound traffic is a bummer. Also, the weather was dark and stormy. Before I left, it hailed. Hard. And there were a million other things I could have been doing, including putting my butt in my seat and writing a few hundred more words.  But writers need to put some balance in their lives (at least I do, constantly) and they need to feel connected, because writing can be a lonely enterprise.

I was so happy to see a familiar face when I arrived — Louise from Hedgebrook, along with Bre, whom I had not yet had the pleasure of meeting. Pretty much everything Hedgebrookian brings me joy and of course there is a natural, sympathetic connection between She Writes Press and Hedgebrook. Finally meeting Kamy after reading and reviewing her book was a genuine pleasure. She, Leanna, and Celine gave delightful readings and of course I had to buy all three books. (An extra Wishful Thinking can’t hurt!) Writers are readers, too, and I imagine we all have tottering To Be Read piles, but isn’t that better than the alternative?

These warm, bright, and interesting women also know how to engage an audience!  All of  us (maybe 40 — I’m bad at estimates) introduced ourselves and shared what we were currently reading or writing. How much there is to learn this way! People were reading everything from mysteries to the sciences and writing about everything from nonfiction about serious illness to fantasy fiction. I was excited to meet the triple-threat writer, editor and instructor Lori A. May and hear about her book The Write Crowd, Literary Citizenship and the Writing Life (arriving on Friday, thanks to Amazon Prime).

Here’s to community and connection among writers. If you have suggestions for how to expand our connected universe, please do share them along with any other thoughts in the comments!


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Have you ever wanted to be in two places at once?

I happened to receive a galley copy of Hedgebrook alumna  Kamy Wicoff‘s new novel Wishful Thinking and since I was invited to write a review, I did. It’s a delightful book. Here’s the review on Goodreads but I’m also posting the text of the review below. Please share!

wishfulthinking

We’re all pretty much trying to do our best in this life, and Jennifer Sharpe, the hardworking single mother of two young boys, is no different. She’s got an unreasonably demanding public sector job, only a little bit of outside help, a feckless ex-husband, and not much money. She runs from one obligation to the next, shorts herself on sleep, and would give anything for a few more hours in the day. Then she loses her phone (her phone!) and it comes back to her with a strange new app already installed. Wishful Thinking, it’s called — An App for Women Who Need to Be in More Than One Place at the Same Time.

Jennifer’s first reaction is, of course, disbelief. But she’s also a little bit desperate. When she sees an opportunity to show up at her son Julien’s guitar recital and therefore not disappoint him for the umpteenth time, she decides to give it a try. On the one hand she’s in the middle of a critical business meeting, but on the other, she’s watching her son play his guitar only for her.

Once she meets Wishful Thinking’s brilliant and mysterious creator, Dr. Diane Sexton, Jennifer makes up her mind to use this enticing technology — under controlled conditions of course — just to keep her head above water. Her best friend Vinita, who happens to be a doctor, is more than skeptical of the enterprise, but everyone else in her life is delighted with her sudden transformation into Superwoman. Now, she even has time to develop a relationship with Julien’s intriguing guitar teacher, Owen. Just like that, all her troubles are over. Or are they?

Among the joys of Kamy Wickoff’s warm, funny, and touching novel are its gentle insights about motherhood, friendship, love, loss, being human, keeping secrets and living in the moment. I found myself often reading with a smile on my face and at a certain point I could no longer put it down. I had come to care very much about Jennifer, her bright and lively boys Jack and Julien, her tough loving friend Vinita, the imperfectly perfect Owen, Dr. Diane Sexton (the eccentric genius behind it all), and even her ex-husband Norman. Once the app’s abilities and all of Jennifer’s obligations and relationships began to converge, I had to know what was next.

Can Jennifer have it all? Can any of us? Wishful Thinking — the book, not the app — just might have the answer.


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Signs and whispers

I will tell you, dear reader, a little about my journey to aspiring historical novelist. I dabbled for years with stories in my head, fan fiction, NaNoWriMo, and eventually trying half heartedly to pull some of this work into a coherent novel. Like many another writer, I worked full time, had a life, and there was only so much energy left over for writing. At times, those efforts were a high priority for me. I was in some kind of flow and did little but work, eat, sleep, and write. At other times, I seemed to be at the mercy of events beyond my control. The main characters in my Work in Progress would retreat into the shadows then, but they were always with me, always whispering. They did not take kindly to being ignored.

Then a couple of things happened. I retired from my public law practice and began working with a terrific law firm. I thought I might write in my spare time. Wait, what spare time? I faced a learning curve I hadn’t quite anticipated and a significant amount of travel. A couple of months later, I came across an opportunity to apply for a Master Class at Hedgebrook, a writing retreat for women on Whidbey Island. The class was to be led by best-selling author Deborah Harkness, which really got my attention.

I had enjoyed and admired Deb’s imaginative historical novels, A Discovery of Witches and The Shadow of Night, and in fact was in the middle of re-reading them. (The Book of Life, which completed the All Souls Trilogy, was published a few months later.) As a reader, I knew Deb as a compelling storyteller, whose novels were rich with the immediacy of historical detail and context. I was also attracted because as a historian and a professor, she certainly knew history and historical research and she would know how to teach. Moreover, I had been to a Hedgebrook Salon a couple of years previously, so I had some idea of what a stay there would be like — a respite, a gift, even potentially life-changing.

In spite of my nervousness about sharing my work with others, I decided to apply — one of those things you do with modest expectations while saying something to yourself like, “Might as well.” To my joy and surprise, I was accepted. I was generously given time off, and in March 2014 was part of Deb’s first Hedgebrook Master Class, “Past Tense: History as resource and inspiration.”

Owl Cottage Mist

Everyone says Hedgebrook is magical and it is. You are in the care of an amazing and dedicated staff. I felt respected and embraced not only by Deb — who is one of the smartest and and kindest people I have ever met in my life — but my fellow writers, five women I now think of as sisters. I lived in a cottage in the woods. Writing this now, those few words — I lived in a cottage in the woods — transport me back to that time and place, what it felt like to write and read and dream in the window seat of Owl Cottage. In that short, long week I worked on my manuscript and characters, yes. But more importantly, I was given the time, space and energy to think through a pretty profound question: What do I want to do with the rest of my life?

I got past some of my shyness about sharing my work. I began to see how meaningful it would be to be part of a writing community. I admitted I did not want to practice law as much as I wanted to tell stories. I realized that, finally, at retirement age, I could give myself permission to do exactly what I wanted. When an owl flew silently across the road one night as I walked home (home!) with one of my new sisters, it seemed like a sign.