Colonygram, August 2017

Oregon Writers Colony

Announcing: Writing Contest Judges

We are pleased to announce our slate of judges for the OWC Annual Writing contest.

Judge for the Fiction short stories is David Levine.

On May 20, 2017 David D. Levine received the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy at the annual SFWA Nebula Conference for his novel, Arabella of Mars (Tor 2016). David has published fifty SF and fantasy stories. His story “Tk’Tk’Tk” won the Hugo, and he has been shortlisted for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, and Sturgeon. Stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, as well as his award-winning collection Space Magic.

Judge for the Fiction first chapter is Bernadette Baker-Baughman.

Bernadette became an agent in 2005 and  began working for the  Victoria Sanders & Associates LLC in 2010.  She  is drawn to strong story telling in all genres, but has a special interest in thrillers, contemporary novels, magical realism, young adult, and books for kids.  She appreciates smart writing, high concept books, work with great emotional resonance, and humor.  She has represented a number of New York Times bestselling and award winning writers and illustrators, including Leslye Walton, Faith Erin Hicks, Tony Cliff, Maris Wicks, Liv Constantine, and Carson Morton.

Judge for the non-fiction short stories is  David Oates.

David Oates writes about nature and urban life from Portland, Oregon. He is author of four books of nonfiction, including Paradise Wild: Reimagining American Nature.  Three chapters from his current project The Mountains of Paris have won first-place nonfiction awards (Northern Colorado Writers; Tiferet) and received Pushcart Prize nominations. A long essay was finalist this year for the Ironwood nonfiction Trifecta. His prose is currently being featured in the German literary journal Wortschau in an ongoing exchange of “public letters” with Johanna Hansen.  His Wild Writers Seminar is publishing the edited collection Come Shining: Essays and Poems on Writing in a Dark Time (Kelson Books). He teaches workshops and graduate classes in the United States and Europe and was Kittridge Distinguished Visiting Writer at the University of Montana in 2012.

Judge for the non-fiction first chapter is Holly Franko.

Holly Franko is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. The former executive director of Oregon Writers Colony, she now works as an editor with Pomegranate Communications, a publisher of fine-art books and gift products. She operated her own freelance editing business after twenty years of working for newspapers, most recently as the copy desk chief of The Oregonian. Holly has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri–Columbia and a bachelor’s degree in American Culture from the University of Michigan. She is at work on a mystery novel.

Submissions of a maximum of 2500 words will be accepted through September 15th.  Cash prizes will be awarded in each category. Please see 2017 OWC Writing Contest for more details.

Literary Lounge Story Slam featuring Flash Fiction

7 pm Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, at the June Key Delta Center, 5940 N. Albina in Portland.

Short, short, short story readings, snacks and beverages. Free admission.

There are still some openings for readers. Please contact Becky at No stories over 500 words.

Letter from your OWC President

By Becky Kjelstrom

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
— W. Somerset Maugham

Some writers go to every conference they can and collect shelves of how-to books. Others eschew advice and fly by the seat of their pants. I think most of us fall somewhere on the continuum between these two poles, but finding the balance between knowledge and instinct can be a life long struggle.

I love writers speaking about writing and attend workshops and conferences frequently. I crave that feeling of coming home with a glowing kernel of wisdom to improve my writing. But to be honest I think I go more for fellowship and inspiration than for knowledge. And I believe my style has been influenced more by reading both great and horrible writing. Reading critically could be a whole other column!

And, I must admit, I’m one of those people who doesn’t take direct orders well. Instructors who teach “my way or the highway” rub me wrong. But when a speaker takes the time to explain why something works and presents the idea as flexible, I’m much more likely to see a way to apply it to my writing process. Yet those of us who have studied the craft for years will find a lot of conflicting advice out there and can start feeling like the author in Donald Barthelme’s statement, “The writer is that person who, embarking upon her task, does not know what to do.”

These are the times we fall back on that trusty technique — instinct. We may have all the best information on grammar, structure, plot, dialogue, theme, etc., but in the end, listening to our gut is the only thing that will save us; the only thing that will lead us to put the best words on the blank page. If you have heeded the call to be a writer, I believe you have those instincts. Sometimes they get buried in fear and doubt that we are not good enough, that someone else must provide the last piece of the puzzle to make our written words “Perfect.”

I am all for gathering knowledge. We need a strong base of information from which to venture forth, and we can always use inspiration, but at the end of the day we trust our mind’s ability to synthesize that advice and balance it with our instincts to produce the words, sentences, pages and chapters that work. Words that gel to open a mind, words that prod a heart to beat faster, words that strike a reader in the gut with humanity.

In addition to being president of your OWC Board of Directors, Becky Kjelstrom is a published author and writes a blog. She also hosts a deliciously dreadful Halloween retreat at Colonyhouse!

How It Came to Be: The Donald Maass Workshop

By Martha Miller

When Donald Maass, former president of Author’s Representatives Association (AAR) and a top New York literary agent, said “yes” to me, I nearly fainted.

No, he didn’t take me on as a client. (In my dreams!) I was in Seattle and had just attended his workshop on “Writing with Emotion,” the subject of his latest writing craft book. I was mega-hyped about what I’d learned, so while he signed his new book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction (available at most bookstores, Amazon, or Writers Digest Books), for me, I asked him if he would come to Portland and give a similar workshop for OWC. He smiled, told me his fee for speaking (gulp), then in a wry, understated way, added,  “Yes, I love Portland. Here’s my email address. Write to me.”

I came back to Portland and ran the idea past the OWC Board. As you can imagine, enthusiasm was high, and the date of June 10 was set. I wrote to Maass, we made the deal. And I began to sweat. What if we didn’t attract a big enough audience to cover expenses?

I needn’t have worried. Registrations came in like gangbusters. On the day of the workshop, held at the Oxford Suites on Hayden Island, we welcomed 65 eager attendees.

For seven hours, Don Maass held court, instructing us on how to reach into our own heart to find the words we needed to evoke emotion in our readers.

“When we read a story,” he said, “we go on our own emotional journey. What’s on the page is stirring us up, and we evaluate, ponder, contrast, compare, even argue with the character. WE go on that emotional journey with him, and we associate our own journey with what we’re reading — as if it’s happening to us. As if it’s our story.”

“That’s what we’re about here today — to evoke an emotional response to our characters’ actions. So many manuscripts leave the emotional life of the character out of the manuscript. As writers, we tend to get more and more focused on plot-plot-plot-plot-plot. We create tension. We raise the stakes. And this is all valid and true. But as we focus on plot, we leave out the interior life of our character.”

“In our openings, we should be lulling the reader into a dream state. Plot can be seen as a series of emotional events, a way to change readers, because when we’re gripped, we care. But it’s not the plot that grips us. It’s the emotions we feel.”

“How the protagonist feels is what we’re after. We want a lot to chew on. We want the passage we’re reading to get to us so we have our own emotional experience. We think, ‘Yeah, I get it.’”

”Writing and reading about feelings makes the room disappear. We go somewhere else. Feelings can even cause us to evaluate ourselves, to compare and contrast our own emotions.”

“How much of this emotional stuff do you need? More than you think. If you want to write strong fiction, you must make your readers feel.”

Martha Miller is on the Board of OWC. She served as President of OWC for several years and later as Conference/Workshop Committee Chair. Her novel, Sparrow’s Flight, is in the hands of her agent, Marian Young of The Young Agency in New York City. 

Discipline May Be Worth More than Inspiration

By Nancy Slavin

I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.

The above quote has been attributed to several writers: Peter De Vries, Somerset Maugham, Raymond Chandler, Herman Wouk, and most commonly, William Faulkner. Who said the phrase, however, is less important than realizing you’ve heard of and read the works of all those writers. Why? Because they lived by those words.

Having more discipline in our lives, like anything we’re trying to change, begins with starting a consistent practice. If you’re frustrated about not writing lately, commit to starting a new habit for at least 30 days. Only 30 days.

Write at the same time every day, no matter what else (there is always something) needs to be done. Most writers find early morning hours the most fertile, when the stresses of the day have not fully materialized, when our brains are still in half-sleep, before we’ve turned on the distracting news or checked our social media accounts.

The amount of time you write is less important than the fact that you wrote at all, especially if you’re kick-starting a new habit. Having a pressured half-hour to write can be more fruitful than several languorous, unfocused hours. So don’t find the time, make the time. Set the alarm a half-hour earlier, go to sleep a little later, carve out part of your lunch break. Of course, use longer blocks of time if you can, but even the most well-known writers say they get to a point of diminishing returns after only a few hours.

Some writers use word counts to meet their goals, setting the pace at five hundred to fifteen-hundred words a day. Starting with a smaller word count, like a smaller amount of time, is a better way to set yourself up for actually achieving your goals, thus further solidifying your new practice.

If “not having enough time” is your struggle and this column hums to you as you read, it’s likely your inner critic is a loud, fierce monster. So many writers judge themselves before their fingers have hit the keyboard, before the ink is dry on the page. But a disciplined practice means concern about quality is not a part of your initial writing time or word count — what matters is the quantity. If you only have a half-hour or 500 words, you don’t have space to listen to that inner critic. You only have time to write. The critic can come later, when your practice has materialized a whole story, poem, or play. The critic is allowed in only after we type, “the end.”

A good way to kill the critic and get the negative self-talk out of your head is to follow The Artists’ Way writer and writing coach Julia Cameron’s advice: write your morning pages. Write three pages of spew, by hand in a notebook, that gets out all the sleep in your eyes and aches in the body so you can get to the positive productive energy underneath. Writing morning pages often gets the right brain moving and focused, making it easier to let time and words fly on the creative page.

Finally, if you tell people, “I don’t have the discipline to write,” ask yourself, “What’s the payoff to not writing?” That question will reveal answers about the difficulty of facing your fears, insecurities, and unhelpful beliefs such as, “It’ll never sell,” “I’m not good enough,” or “I don’t deserve to write.” Again, all of those ideas indicate your mean inner critic is running your life, perhaps even getting you to avoid writing by doing all sorts of other unhealthy things (see that note about social media above).

Kill the critic who stops you from writing by giving her a voice, starting with morning pages, and then in your creative work via characters, metaphors, and dialogue. Animate that critic while you write five-hundred words in a half-hour. Do it for 30 days, and voilà, she’ll be one juicy villain causing all sorts of havoc in your manuscript. And you’ll be a disciplined writer. Won’t that be fun?

Think Colonyhouse on the Oregon Coast for Fall Writing

After the vacations and reunions of summer are over, and your life settles back into its normal rhythms, you might be struck by an urge to shake things up a bit. Get out of your usual routine and head to Colonyhouse for a week of writing or a just a weekend.

Early Fall dates are already spoken for, but there are still plenty of available dates for writers in November and December. Get yours while you can!

Check in for Writers Week is Sunday after 4 p.m., and check out by Friday at 2 p.m.

Check in for Writers Weekend is Friday after 4 p.m., and check out by Sunday at 2 p.m.

Four writers share the house, each with a private room and access to shared kitchen, living room and bathrooms. It is understood that days are quiet and there is time for sharing thoughts in the evenings.

Please contact Marlene Howard for schedule, rates, house rules, and other details.

They Dribbled and Drabbled

Writing partners Becky Kjelstrom and Robin Anderson brought the art of writing very short fiction to eager students July 10 at the OWC mini-workshop, Dribble, Drabble, Sudden: Writing Flash Fiction.

The instructors shared tips they use to create Flash for their blog, Some examples are start small; stay focused on a tight theme; choose muscular nouns and verbs; hint at a larger story; edit with brutality and precision.

Participants practiced writing six-word stories, dribble (50-word stories) and drabble (100-word stories) using prompts, photos, tableaus and works in progress. Everyone had fun and laughs sharing their work.

New Book Releases

Sandbox By Michael Lane Sandbox by Michael R. Lane
Lost Dogs of Rome Lost Dogs of Rome by Patsy Hand
Mortal Thoughts Mortal Thoughts by Michael R. Lane
Streaming Sarah Walk-In Investigations: Streaming Sarah, A Paranormal Detective Mystery by Joyce Kostakis
Thanks for Love Thanks for Love by Maggie Jaimeson