Writing

15 things you may not know about Patricia Marcantonio

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I met Patricia Marcantonio in a creative writing class more than twenty years ago. Sharing a love for reading and writing, we became writing buddies and remain so today. Any time I have a question about writing or publishing I can call Patricia and brainstorm my way back to productivity. With the release of her latest novel, Felicity Carrol and the Perilous Pursuit: A Felicity Carrol Mystery, I’m pleased to introduce Patricia Marcantonio and share with you some of her writing secrets.

1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

I became a writer because I loved telling stories. I was a voracious reader and I started making up my own stories when I was a kid. I would tell them to my parents. I was a full on nerd and loved writing assignments in school while the other kids moaned. I started writing my own stuff seriously when I got out of college. I wanted to be a novelist but there was no degree in that so I became a journalist to earn a living while writing books.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

I work out in the morning and write in the afternoon until evening Monday through Friday. If my husband is watching football or going bowling, I’ll write then as well. If I don’t write I get cranky so I write to keep happy.

 3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

So many that I feel I have memorized the book. Maybe three to four drafts until I think it’s good, I print out the manuscript, let it rest for a while, and read it out loud. After that I go back and make changes and rewrite again. I’ll also make extra passes on the lookout for what I call lazy words, for phrases I’ve repeated, and to charge up the story with active verbs. Then I go through again. I get to a point where I say this is the best I can get it. Sometimes I’ll go back after a few months and see if I need to make changes.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

The best thing is getting published and having people love your work enough to want to put it out into the world and pay you. The worst? When people don’t get what I’m trying to do with a particular book or story. Then I think I have failed at getting them to share my vision. Rejections are a bummer, too.

 5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

I just love coming up with stories and it doesn’t matter what the genre. I’ve had a children’s book, a drama courtroom novel, and now a mystery published. I also write screenplays and plays. So I consider myself a storyteller rather than a genre writer. I’d love to tackle a sci-fi, fantasy, or magical realism novel. Maybe that’s a weakness not to stay in one genre. I don’t know. What I dislike? It’s a hell of a lot of work and I don’t think people appreciate how much of your heart, soul, liver, and spleen you put into those pages.

6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?

I don’t read nonfiction at all unless I’m doing research for a book. I have very eclectic tastes. I love to read sci-fi, fantasy, drama, women’s fiction, mysteries. Favorite authors are Kate Atkinson, Alice Hoffman, Taylor Sheridan, Neil Gaiman, Dennis Lehane, Margaret Atwood, Joseph Heller, and Charlotte Bronte, to name a very few. When I’m writing I do read but not in the genre I’m writing. So if I’m writing a mystery, I’ll read a fantasy. It’s a nice break.

 7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

The best advice was to keep writing and know your theme because that’s the heartstring of your story. My own advice to myself is to keep learning about writing so I will read articles and go to conferences to hear speakers. I don’t know everything and I’m also striving to get better. The worst advice? I can’t remember and that’s probably good.

 8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

By reading other writers I admire and hearing their voices and figuring out how the hell they did that. I’ve also noticed my writing voice does change with the type of book I’m writing.

9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

No but I’m open to one.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I got accepted to law school but didn’t go. I think I would be a lawyer if I wasn’t a writer. Lawyers tend to make more money than writers.

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

Sit in that damn chair and write. Do it because you love it.

12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

Another mystery and horror screenplay, plus I’m rewriting a middle grade book. I like to mix it up.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

Go to film school and make movies.

 14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Read good writing, keep telling stories, and don’t expect to get rich. Writing is part of what I am. If you don’t feel that strongly about writing, maybe find something else to do. I say that because it is tough and demands a lot of time and energy and love.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

I love Star Trek.

And: what would you like us to know about your latest release?

Amidst the heraldry of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, a string of brutal murders rocks Britain’s upper crust―and could threaten the realm itself.

The mystery features a brilliant resourceful young woman finding her place in the world. She’s a fun character set in the middle of Victorian England.

To learn more about Patricia visit her at https://patriciasantosmarcantonio.com

 

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15 things you may not know about Stevan Allred

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Writer, teacher, and editor, Stevan Allred’s debut novel, The Alehouse at the End of the World, was published by Forest Avenue Press in November 2018. Since then, the book has exploded, recently hitting #4 on Powell’s bestseller list. Allred claims he has survived circumcision, a tonsillectomy, a religious upbringing, the 60’s, the War on Poverty, the break-up of The Beatles, any number of bad haircuts, years of psychotherapy, the Reagan Revolution, the War on Drugs, the Roaring 90’s, plantar fasciitus, the Lewinsky Affair, the internet bubble, the Florida recount of 2000, the Bush oughts, the War on Terror, teen-aged children, a divorce, hay fever, the real estate bubble, male pattern baldness, and heartburn. He has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A prolific writer, Allred’s work has appeared in numerous literary publications. He’s witty, talented, and hard-working. Here are some things you may not know about him.

1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

I got my first creative writing assignment in 5th grade, from Mrs. Bumgardner. Mrs. Bumgardner was one of those special teachers who changes your life, and even though I didn’t have the perspective to know that at the time, what I did know was that I adored Mrs. Bumgardner. She had me stand up and read my piece to the whole class, and she laughed at what I had written. Really laughed, not just being polite. I knew right then and there that making Mrs. Bumgardner laugh was exactly what I wanted to do in life, and writing was the way I could do it.

I take note, these decades later, that performance is involved in this story. I had to stand and deliver, and I got a nice response. To this day reading my work aloud to an audience, even an audience of one, is one of things I enjoy most in life.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

I write early in the morning. I like the quiet. I like being up before dawn. I know that showing up is the one key thing that leads to any writing happening at all, so I show up.

That said, I allow myself some down time when I’ve finished a big project, and I don’t beat myself up if it takes some time before I’m ready to write again.

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

As many as it takes. I have written short stories that took two, or three, or four drafts to complete, and some that took eight or ten. I did three major drafts of my novel, The Alehouse at the End of the World.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

Best thing: having my first book, A Simplified Map of the Real World, published by Forest Avenue Press has to count as one of the best things, and now, with The Alehouse at the End of the World, I am the press’s first “repeat offender”.

Worst thing: I learned a long time ago not to dwell in regret. Don’t keep a list of the worst things–let the worst things go.

5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

The hours I spend writing before the sun comes up are some of the best hours of my life. I try to find something to like about every single aspect of the job, and when I am vexed by some part of it, I remind myself how lucky I am to be living a life in which writing is important. I was raised to be modest and to not call attention to myself, so the publicity and marketing side of being a writer makes me a little uncomfortable at times, but that’s a small price to pay for having two books out.

6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?

I read constantly, and I have many favorite authors. I’m a huge fan of Michael Chabon. I’ve just read a really strong memoir, Stranger in the Pen, by Mohamed Asem–this is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what it’s like to be treated as “other” in today’s hyper-politicized world. I love Alice Munro, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Anthony Doerr, Annie Proulx. I just finished An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones–terrific novel. Right now I’m two thirds through Cai Emmons’ Weather Woman, and really digging it.

There are some writers whose voice is so particular and so strong that I avoid reading them when I’m working on a piece. Cormac McCarthy would be an example, as would Tom Spanbauer. I love their work, but it gets into my head and I start sounding like them.

7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

I have a friend who’s a professional photographer. He told me one time (long ago, when cameras still used film) that the biggest difference between him and me as photographers was that he shot a lot more film. Writing is like that. You just keep doing it and doing it and gradually you get better. It takes most of us a long time to get to be good enough, years and years.

Worst advice: give up. This bad advice came from myself. Many years ago I got really discouraged about my writing, so I very quietly quit for two months. I didn’t tell anyone–I just stopped doing it. I thought I might be happier if I just stopped calling myself a writer–after all, I had nothing to show for it except a couple of short stories published in some very obscure journals. When friends and family asked me how my writing was going I felt embarrassed–who was I to call myself a writer? But after two months I was even more unhappy, so I started writing again. I called time on a novel I had worked on for five years, setting it aside, and I turned my attention to writing short stories. The stories I wrote then became A Simplified Map of the Real World.

8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

Close readings of writers I admire. I still read, as I always have, for entertainment and edification. But when I read now I always have a second track going in my head, one where I’m noticing how a writer is going about her business. Cai Emmons, for example, whom I’m reading now, has given us a superhero story in Weather Woman, but she treats her character’s story in completely realistic terms. She’s not ironic in any way, so her central metaphor, one of female empowerment, comes shining through with the seriousness it deserves. And Cai is a first class word nerd, something which I, as a fellow word nerd, really admire. I now know that “strigine”, for example, means ‘owl-like’. I can’t wait to use that one in a Scrabble game.

9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

I have rituals and habits. I sit at a desk. I have an old-fashioned desk calendar, and I change the date and the day of the week before I start. I have a prayer I say before I write. I light candles.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Less neurotic.

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

Live and let live.

12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

I have extensive notes for another novel. I hope to begin soon.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

Spend more time with my mother. She died suddenly 25 years ago. I still miss her.

14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Be kind to yourself. Learn to live with your own bad writing. It is far easier to improve a bad sentence than it is to write a good one in the first place.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

I love wearing a tie, and I have a couple of hundred. Lately I’ve grown very fond of Crocs. I like my ties and my Crocs to color coordinate.

And: what would you like us to know about your latest release:

The Alehouse at the End of the World is widely available in bookstores and online. The audiobook, with me as the reader, came out December 18, and it’s a lot of fun.

Here’s what Publishers Weekly said about The Alehouse at the End of the World:

The fisherman is a simple man: he loves the sea and he loves his Cariña, from whom he’s been separated by time and shipwreck. Upon receipt of her final letter to him before her death, he embarks on a mythic hero’s journey to the Isle of the Dead, where he encounters shapeshifting birds, demi-deities, a legendary beast, and a snarky, narcissistic crow who fashions himself the king of the dead. What began as a quest to reunite with his lost love quickly becomes a battle for the survival of a spirit world, in whatever form that might take, and an examination of the divine. Sparked with risqué humor, the nearly Sisyphian questing of the fisherman devolves into a series of increasingly absurd and astonishing scenarios, all underscored with a strong thematic element of hope. Scholars of myth and lore, and readers prepared to be swept away on someone else’s trip (perhaps of the hallucinogenic variety), will be enthralled.

 

 

North Coast Squid

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I’m happy to announce that my essay “Ebb and Flow” has been published in Volume 6 of  North Coast Squid: A Journal of Local Writing, published by the Hoffman Center for the Arts, Manzanita, Oregon.

You can find a copy of the literary magazine here:

Manzanita: Cloud & Leaf Bookstore, Manzanita News & Espresso
Nehalem: Beehive
Wheeler: The Roost
Tillamook: Tillamook Country Pioneer Museum
Cannon Beach: Cannon Beach Books
Seaside: Beach Books
Astoria: Lucy’s Books
Pacific City: The Rowboat Gallery

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Goodbye, Nye Beach Writers Series. It was good to know you.

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For more than thirty years my vacation destination was the Oregon Coast. Leaving behind stressful jobs and busy schedules, my husband and I drove to the coast, almost every year, usually in late September or early October. We’d rent a vacation home overlooking the ocean and do nothing. Well, not really nothing. He’d golf and I’d either write or read. We’d take long walks on the beach, or just sit back and watch the sun set. We loved the quiet easy-going pace we found here and a chance to unwind and recharge before heading back to the real world in Idaho.

If you know anything about the Oregon Coast, you know there is always something happening here, either in Lincoln City or all the way down the coast to Florence. Even after all those trips, we never had time to do everything we wanted to do. Often we would leave saying next time I’m going to ….

One of the things I always wanted to do was attend one of the writer’s events back when they were still held in Yachats. But I could never fit it into our schedule.

When we moved to Oregon, one of the first things I did was attend a Writers on the Edge event at Nye Beach. It wasn’t long before I joined the board and became more involved in the organization.

A strong writing community is one of the reasons I moved to Newport. After thirty years, I still feel like I’m seeing the ocean for the first time. And every day I spend here, I learn to love Oregon more.

For our final event, Writers on the Edge will host Johnny Bargain on June 18 at 7 p.m. at the Visual Arts Center on Nye Beach. If you’re in the area, please stop by and help us celebrate a wonderful organization. And just in case you are interested, here are some things you may not know about our next author, Johnny Bargain.

11 things you may not know about JOHNNY BARGAIN

1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

The stories from my past were circling in my head. I’d wanted to write a letter to my friend’s 18-year-old son who had been gunned down in the 1960s by the police as he rode his Harley Sportster in Rosebank, Staten Island. Three bullet holes punctured the boy’s back, for no good reason at all. I wanted Stitch to know he had not been forgotten even though 50 years have gone by. The memories weighed heavily and I couldn’t shake them.

Over time, I mentioned some of the incidents to Carla Perry, publisher at Dancing Moon Press and she suggested that I record them on a tape recorder since I didn’t have the patience, eyesight, or ability to write them out on paper and I don’t have a computer. She said the stories were tragic, appalling, poignant, eye opening, and funny, and that they provided a glimpse into the world of motorcycle clubs and gangs that was unlike anything she’d encountered before.

So I headed down to California for a three-day biker party and by day ten, I’d managed to record several stories. Carla transcribed the recordings when I returned, but she said more stories were needed to flesh out a full book. When I said I couldn’t remember more, she suggested I create a map of my Rosebank neighborhood — the bars, Dapper Dan’s motorcycle shop, the houses where I lived, the police station, the location of the murders, the location of infamous parties, the cemetery where Stitch was buried, and the various motorcycle club headquarters. Each time I drew a building or marked an X on the map, stories flooded out, clear as the day they’d happened. So, I headed south again for another biker party and came home with plenty of material.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

I clear the space in my head by inhaling sweet weed, think of an incident from my past, turn on the tape recorder, and start talking.

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

Carla Perry prepared three drafts for me. The first was to make sure the information was correctly transcribed and that I was okay with the short story titles. The second was to put the stories in order and correct name spellings. The third was the final draft. The cover designer, Sarah Gayle, also drew cartoonish maps to illustrate the locations where the stories took place, so those are interspersed throughout the book.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

The best thing was getting the stories out of my head so I don’t have to remember them anymore. I feel a sense of freedom knowing I’ve done what I hoped to do – reconnect with Stitch by writing this book dedicated to him. The worst thing is there are still more stories I’d like to get down on paper. Maybe there will be a volume 2.

5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

I can’t write longhand anymore because my eyesight is not so good and I will never use a computer, so talking into the tape recorder worked great for me. Telling stories from my past is not a job. It’s something I’m compelled to do to make peace with my early life.

6) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

The best advice was when Carla Perry suggested I draw a map of my neighborhood. That was amazing. Every street corner, every bar and tavern, the cafes, the movie theater, the houses my friends lived in, every building, park, church, and school contained vivid stories from my life in Rosebank, Staten Island. It was like taping into full-color movies of what went on in the 1960s. I could remember conversations, the sounds, the smells. It was all there, hidden away in my memory.

7) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

I just speak it out so my writing style is just the same way I talk. Except it’s a little more cleaned up through the editing process.

8) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I’m a retired building engineer. I’m an artist of three-dimensional representations that hang from the ceilings and walls. I’m already 80 years old. I never planned to become a published author.

9) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

“If I don’t see you real soon, I’ll see you down the road someday.” (lyrics from “Car Outside” © Jimmy LaFave.)
“I’m surprised you’re alive.” – Fred, a member of Johnny’s Yoga class.

10) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

Maybe more stories. Volume 2 of “A Collection of Bummer Summers.”

11) What would you like us to know about your latest release?

The absolutely true stories of my life are in that book.

Do You Blog?

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The first thing an agent, editor, or publisher asks a writer is, “Do you have a blog?”

Blog, you say. What is a blog? Why do I need a blog?

Social Media and WordPress Consultant Barb Drozdowich wants to tell you. She just released her book The Essential Marketing Tool for Authors: Book Blog Tour, a helpful guide in making sense of all the shoulds, woulds, and coulds.

Barb has taught in colleges, universities, and in the banking industry. More recently, she brings her 15+ years of teaching experience and a deep love of books to help authors develop the social media platform needed to succeed in today’s fast evolving publishing world. She owns Bakerview Consulting and manages the popular blog, Sugarbeat’s Books, where she talks about Romance – mostly Regency.

She is the author of six books and over twenty YouTube videos all focused on helping authors and bloggers. Barb lives in the mountains of British Columbia with her family.

I am so happy to have Barb Drozdowich here today. Please ask her lots of questions about blogging, and just in case you already know Barb, here are some things you may not know.

Fifteen things you may not know about Barb Drozdowich

Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

I’ve always been required to write quite a bit in my various jobs. After doing a survey of book bloggers in 2013, I decided I needed to publicize the results – to create a bit of a summary to accompany the results and make it available to anyone who was interested. The best way to do that was by creating something to publish on Amazon. As I created a summary of the results, I decided to make the book so much more. There was and is a lack of understanding of the role book bloggers can play in the promotion of books and I decided to use the book to be a comprehensive guide rather than just survey results. This first book, The Author’s Guide to Working with Book Bloggers started what would become a series of 6 books all aimed at helping authors and bloggers with various technical subjects.

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What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

I have a house with young children, so my writing fits into whatever spare time I can find. And sadly, I’m not very disciplined but I respond really well to deadlines. 🙂 I can produce an amazing amount of material just in the nick of time. I think that will be my reality, until the kids are grown.

 How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

I create a rough draft that is hopefully pretty complete in terms of content and fire it off to some wonderful beta readers. I get them to tell me if the content is complete, and whether or not it is understandable. Usually they have some changes that they feel need to be made. Once I make the changes that my beta readers suggest, I fine-tune the language and grammar and I then send the book to my outstanding editor. She typically does two rounds of editing followed by proofreading and we are good to publish.

What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

The best thing that has happened to me because of my writing is getting notes from authors thanking me – helping them to understand the subjects I cover. I haven’t had a worst yet. Even the critical reviews that I’ve gotten have been well balanced and constructive – no trolls yet!

What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

I LOVE working with authors. My background is as a technical trainer and I can easily break down technical subjects and explain them in a way that non-technical people can understand.

I’m a voracious reader and anything I can do to help authors sell more books, write more books, I’m happy to do! Often authors spend writing time trying to figure out the various technical tasks that they need to do as part of their job. If I can help them understand various tasks or help them do things more efficiently, they have more time to write books – it’s a win-win for us both.

What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a book? Favorite authors?

 I always have a book or two on the go. My genre of preference is Historical Romance and I have many favorite authors! I read a lot of technical information to help me stay on top of my regular work so the escapism of romance helps me shut my brain down at the end of a busy day.

What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

The best advice is to keep writing. I haven’t really gotten any bad advice. I’m often the one that is explaining why advice is bad that authors get from other sources. 🙂

Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

My biggest influence is my mom, hands down. She’s now a retired English teacher with a wicked red pen – literally – she’s old school with pen and paper and is militant about proper grammar and sentence structure. She was the first person who saw a lot of my writing and there was a sea of red ink at the beginning. I’m learning. 🙂 Now she has to hunt to find something for her red pen.

Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

No. I’m not really a superstitious person.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I think I would still be a technical trainer and a voracious reader!

What quote or personal saying do you live by?

I really like two sayings: “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you” and “It is what it is…”

What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

I currently have a box set (combination of the Book Blog Tour book and my Author Platform book) in proofreading and my Book Blogger Platform book is in formatting and should be available any day now. I have a re-write of my Goodreads for Authors book in the hands of some beta readers and I am currently polishing my new book “Blogging for Authors,” in preparation of submitting it to my editor. There should be quite a bit published in the first half of this year.

If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

I don’t think I would do anything over again. I feel that things happen for a reason and whether it is a good experience or a bad experience, I have learned from everything. The sum of my experiences has made me the person I am today.

 What advice would you give beginning writers?

Everyone else will tell them to keep writing – which is very true. From my point of view, I would encourage them to create a platform – create a community of friends and supporters that will help with the marketing side of writing a book!

Something we don’t know about you?

My favorite job of all time was working at Toronto’s Metro Zoo driving the trains.

And: What would you like us to know about your latest release?

My latest release is me explaining Book Blog Tours from the point of view of an author as well as the point of view of a book blogger. There is a lot of misunderstanding out there about Tours, and I have written this book to cover all aspects of tours and clear up all the misconceptions. This is a second edition book. In this edition, I have added quite a bit on DIY tours as many authors prefer to set up their own tours.

to learn more about Barb go to :

Author Website: http://barbdrozdowich.com

Business Blog: http://bakerviewconsulting.com

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/BarbDrozdowichAuthor

Twitter: http://twitter.com/sugarbeatbc

Google+: https://plus.google.com/110824499539694941768/posts

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/sugarbeatsbooks/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7234554.Barb_Drozdowich

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSgVt36XlVAHWj5dkSd0Zyw

Tech Hints Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/DfCRj

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Barb-Drozdowich/e/B00EN3CIDM/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_2?qid=1437240887&sr=1-2

 

Barb, thanks for joining us today, and thanks for all you to do help writers!

Meet Arleen Williams, author of The Alki Trilogy

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I’m delighted to have as a guest today Arleen Williams from Seattle, Washington. Her book, Biking Uphill was released this fall by Booktrope. Please say hello to Arleen.

Fall quarter starts with a bang and I am reminded once again why I write. Or more specifically, why I am writing The Alki Trilogy.

When I’m not writing, I’m an English as Second Language instructor at South Seattle College, a large urban school which is among the most diverse colleges in the country. The average student age is 31.5, 54% are first generation, 41% do not speak English as their first language and there are 35 languages spoken on campus on any given day. (2012 statistics http://www.southseattle.edu/campus-information/student-statistics.aspx)

This is my twenty-eighth year working with refugees and immigrants at this college. I’ve been teaching ESL for almost forty. When I introduce myself, when I tell my students these numbers, they inevitably ask me why. My response is always the same: I love to teach because I learn as much as they do. These are not empty words. The classroom has given me a world-view that does not stem from news stories but from the people who have lived the experiences that fill our headlines.

The Alki Trilogy began with a story about suicide, a topic I wanted to understand more completely. The character of Gemila Kemmal appeared to me unbidden but understandable: I work with African immigrants eager to gain the language skills necessary to enter our college nursing program. I did not plan to write three novels about the immigrant experience in the U.S. In fact, I didn’t plan to write a trilogy at all. But there we go. I fell in love with Gemila in Running Secrets. When I began Biking Uphill, a novel loosely based on a teenager I met years before when I was a lonely college student, I decided to hold tight to Gemila and Carolyn. Now, I’m working on Walking Home, the final novel in the trilogy, where the reader will meet new characters and revisit those who came before.

So I suppose the old adage, write what you know, guides my work just as it shapes the person I am. As I enter the classroom and greet the students before me, I wonder about the experiences they’ve lived, the things they’ve seen, the sacrifices they’ve made to come to class each morning hoping to glean the skills they need to build a new home in America. It is humbling. It is an honor. It scares the crap out of me … even after a lifetime of the same.

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Arleen Williams is the author of three books. Running Secrets (Booktrope, 2013), the first novel in The Alki Trilogy, is about the power of friendship in helping overcome the dysfunction of family and life. Biking Uphill (Booktrope, 2014), book two of The Alki Trilogy, invites the reader into a world of undocumented immigration, where parents are deported, and a young girl is abandoned to face life on her own. The Thirty-Ninth Victim (Blue Feather Books, 2008) is a memoir of her family’s journey before and after her sister’s murder.

Arleen teaches English as a Second Language at South Seattle College and has worked with immigrants and refugees for close to three decades. Arleen lives and writes in West Seattle. To learn more, please visit http://www.arleenwilliams.com.

Books Worth Reading. Or Not: Running with Scissors on The Long Journey Home.

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Because I watched the movie, I read the book. Because I read the book, I read his mother’s book. Then I wished I hadn’t, and here’s why.

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs and The Long Journey Home by Margaret Robison are billed as memoirs. The subject matter is dicey: gays, lesbians, adultery, alcoholism,  and mental illness. Something most of us don’t encounter on a daily basis like this family did. Stuff great stories are made of, right?

One night when there was nothing else to watch on TV I flipped to the movie Running with Scissors. Annette Bening, Joseph Fiennes, Alec Baldwin, Gwyneth Paltrow, 116 minutes of comedy and drama. What’s not to like? The all-star cast held my attention. The movie was interesting, but it was a movie, right? I wanted to read the book to see how much of the story was actually true.

So I read the book, and when I finished Running with Scissors, I wanted to know more about this mother Margaret Robinson, a poet, teacher and writer I’d never heard of. With a college degree, someone who can probably put words on paper better than I can.

So I read The Long Journey Home, and wished I hadn’t. There is no doubt that there is a lot of talent in this family. All of them write well. Best sellers. But having watched the movie and read both books, I’m still no closer to the truth. Who is lying? Who is exaggerating? Does it even matter?

In most cases no. But in my case, it did. I am a mother. I have a son. I wanted to know why a mother would publicly call her son a liar. Why a son would change his name. I hoped to find the answers in the pages of the books, but when I was finished, I was depressed. Really, really depressed. So depressed I was in a bad mood for days. A mother tries to tell her side of the story, but can’t remember the details. An alcoholic husband and father shouldering most of the blame, is dead. His story remains untold. And the son and his brother are brilliant writers. Amen.

This brings me to why we read in the first place. Some read to escape, others for adventure. I read to understand human nature, and when I finished The Long Journey Home, I felt cheated. I was no closer to understanding the human nature of this family than I was knowing why my dog Emily growls at my husband all the while eating from his hand.

And maybe that’s okay. Maybe I don’t need to understand. But I did learn something. There are better ways to spend my time, better books to read.

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