Sea Ranch Poem

My friend and sister AROHO alumna, Esther Cohen writes and shares a poem every day. As she says on her blog, she tries to write about “what happens every day (some days notwithstanding) most often, in a poem. sometimes, with sentences. maybe every once in a while, with a picture of SOMETHING”

I read every one of her offerings and marvel at her bravery sending her newborn words out into the world. But Sea Ranch is a special place alive and vibrant. The sun has finally come out after days of fog, giving me a bit of courage.


white light

summer night

moon spills

across my pillow

let me rise

with Jupiter

in the horizon

let me walk

the meadows beside

sea cliffs, waves

crashing far below

Sea Ranch, June 2016: A room with a view and starting a book campaign

For the past few years, I've made an annual trek to the northern California coast to Sea Ranch. This is a rather other-worldly place. Made up of a community of cedar-sided houses perched on the edge of the Pacific, there is little to do here. In June, it's windy and chilly. The nearest town is tiny Gualala, 12 miles up the road.

So what's the draw? For me, it's the chance to be with an amazing group of women I met in 2011 at the AROHO retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. Another ranch, another place where there was nothing to do except eat, read, write, talk and experience the beauty of nature.

This year at Sea Ranch my bedroom is in the library of one of the houses we've rented. As I type this, I sit surrounded by books. Out my window, the ocean roars, gulls riding the wind currents. This is a glorious, wild place to begin my summer vacation.

Every year when I come to Sea Ranch, I set myself writing goals, just as I would expect of my own students. This blog post is the beginning of my first goal for 2016: begin a book campaign.

One of the wonderful women in my mighty band of writers here is Ruth Thompson who runs Saddle Road Press out of Hilo, Hawaii. I am honored that Saddle Road will be publishing my first full-length book of poetry in December.

Creating a book of poetry can be a long, painstaking process. I published my chapbook, In the Poem an Ocean (Big Table Publishing) in December of 2010. For the last six years, I've been slowly and steadily building a new collection of poems. And now my completed manuscript is in the hands of my trusty publisher.

Well, at least the first draft is in her hands! I know I have many revisions to go through before the book is ready to go out into the world. All writers can expect that. We may not like it, but we expect it. It's what writers do.

What many people don't know is the other work that goes into getting a book into people's hands, especially a book of poetry from a small press. And that's a marketing campaign. Most of my non-writer friends are surprised when I tell them that I will be responsible for marketing my book. But it's true. Being a poet and teacher, I never thought I'd have to add PR representative to my resumé. Now I am.

So in the next six months, I'm off on a new adventure of revision, choosing a cover -- and marketing. I know I'm not alone in this. I'm lucky to have writer friends who have given me great advice already. But I'm always looking for more ideas.

I'd love to hear from others, not just writers, who have have been on the same path. I know artists, photographs or filmmakers face the same challenges. What was it like for you to get your work known? Maybe I'll add your ideas to my to-do list.

My Writing Process Blog Tour

I was quite excited when my good friend Ruth Thompson asked me to participate in the "My Writing Process" Blog Tour.  I met Ruth three years ago at my first AROHO (A Room of Her Own) summer writing retreat at Ghost Ranch.  Since that time we have become fast friends, close enough to risk bunking together at the 2013 retreat.  

Since the beginning of this blog tour, I have had a wonderful time reading the wide range of writers' answers to these four questions, especially those of Ruth and other AROHO sisters, Esther Cohen, Tania Pryputniewicz and Marlene Samuels.  What a joy to read each person’s responses and learn more about her.  It is an honor to join their ranks. 

What are you working on right now?

As always, I'm just trying to lay words down on paper.  At the moment I'm working on poems for a memoir. I've been interested in writing a memoir for years.  It's always been one of my favorite genres but I had never thought of tackling one until I took a class that focused on writing what I think of as a hybrid memoir - one composed of poems as well as short vignettes and prose poems.  I've done some research on this and found the term "lyrical memoir" so maybe that's what I can call it.  It had never occurred to me that so many of my poems could be thought of as memoir until starting this project, but when I look at them it makes a lot of sense.  I've just started on this idea, so it feels very young and fragile, but I'm excited by the prospect of nursing this baby along.  It gives me an "assignment" - which is something I enjoy.  I guess it's the teacher in me.  Also, putting it down in black and white – coming out  as it were - makes this work seem more real.  Having announced to the world that I'm doing this means I have to keep going!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
What a question!  I like to just write what comes to me and see what happens.  I’ve never spent a lot of time reflecting on my work in that way, I think because it would open up all my insecurities and let out that big, bad self-critic.  But if I must answer this, then I would say most obviously my work differs from others because it is mine, because it is written in my voice, from my perspective of the world.  No one else can view the world with my eyes.

My writing has been called simple, clear and gritty.  What I think this means is that I use simple language to create poems people can understand.  I think the gritty means I'm not afraid to put down on paper even my most unflattering thoughts and feelings.  And I do think this makes my work different.  I don't want to hide behind elaborate metaphor or imagery.  I want people to understand what I write, to be able to connect with it.  I want to say plainly what I have to say using simple words in the most poetic way I can. For years I agonized over how simple my language is, but then someone sent me this poem by William Stafford:   

I wanted the plums, but I waited.
The sun went down. The fire
went out. With no lights on
I waited. From the night again—
those words: how stupid I was.
And I closed my eyes to listen.
The words all sank down, deep
and rich. I felt their truth
and began to live them. They were mine
to enjoy. Who but a friend
could give so sternly what the sky
feels for everyone but few learn to
cherish? In the dark with the truth
I began the sentence of my life
and found it so simple there was no way
back into qualifying my thoughts
with irony or anything like that.
I went to the fridge and opened it—
sure enough the light was on.
I reached in and got the plums.  

It's become my mantra so whenever I feel insecure about my simplicity, I bring this to mind. 

Another aspect that defines my work is a sense of place.  I believe my nomadic early childhood created a need for me to experience deeply whatever place I am, to observe everything around me to keep the memory safe when it came time to leave.  So much of my work is about place, whether it about places of my childhood or my travels.  That's another thing, travel - I am a passionate traveler and always find something to inspire my writing when I am shaken loose from my everyday life to go experience somewhere new. 

Why do I write what I do?
Why do any of us write what we do? Because we have to!  I write the words that come to me, sometimes in the night, sometimes as I am walking under wide trees or sailing for the first time.  Sometimes the words come on a bus in Turkey or Thailand.  They come when I am cooking with my mother or watching my niece cut flowers.  I write what I write because the world is so beautiful and so terrible that I have to put into words what I see and hear, taste and touch.  I write because of the ache of love or sadness, the joy of a bird's nest outside my door or grief over a friend's death.  I write because the words come demanding I put them to paper.

How does my writing process work?
For years I feared I had no writing process!  I felt like I was just stumbling along and every once and a while a poem would spring out of me rather like Athena from  Zeus' forehead!  Of course that wasn't really true, but I had so much trouble finding a way to meld writing and my other working life together that I spent a great deal of time struggling.  Being a teacher means talking and giving and draining myself each and every day.  While this can be rewarding, it isn't very conducive to coming home and gathering thoughts to put on paper.  

So last year I finally gave in and realized if I was ever going to get any serious, sustained writing done, I would have to overcome my resistance to getting up early.  And since last August I've done that (257 days and counting).  Every morning I get up and perform a little ritual to get me started.  Then I sit down in my chair with a thermos of tea and begin.  I use this time to purge the happenings of the previous day, writing longhand in my journal for as long as it takes for something "writerly" to come up.  I make lists of ideas to work on over the weekend when I have more free time to concentrate.  I dog-ear journal pages that seem promising.  Sometimes I start working on those ideas right away; sometimes I let them stew for a while.  At the end of each journal, I go back through and record any of the ideas still unrealized into a small notebook full of idea “seeds” (a term I got from Tania Pryputniewicz).  Sometimes those seeds sit unplanted for months or years.

I am a big fan of writing to prompts and exercises.  Somehow being given a subject to write on shakes my mind free.  I know many people find exercises scary or boring or confining but I love them.  Maybe that's also why I love to travel so much.  Every day on the road is like one big writing exercise offering up ideas for my pen.

And now it's time to pass the baton to three more talented writers.  

The first person on my list is Lisa Lutwyche.  I met Lisa at the AROHO retreat in 201l and then again in 2013.  She is not only a talented writer but also a wonderful artist and teacher.  I have one of her watercolors hanging over my writing desk.  It is of Chimney Rock in Ghost Ranch, and offers me inspiration everyday.  

Lisa received her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College (in Vermont) in 2013.  She is an Adjunct Professor of English at Cecil College in North East, MD, and is also an instructor in the Fine and Performing Arts department at Cecil.  Poet, playwright, essayist and novelist (at work on two books), her work has been widely published in the US and in the UK.   Her publications include Mad Poets Review, Image and Word, Poppy Fields, Piano Press, Pitkin Review, Falklands War Poetry, Minerva Rising, the cancer poetry project 2, and Fiction Vortex.  She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2000.  Lisa has taught writing workshops at AROHO (A Room of Her Own Foundation, a bi-annual, selective, women's writing retreat at Ghost Ranch in the mountains of New Mexico) in 2011 and in 2013.  She was the recipient of the 2013 AROHO “Shakespeare’s Sister” Fellowship for a one-act play, and has had two short plays produced in Philadelphia.  Lisa’s one-act play, A State of Being, will be produced in Philadelphia in July. 

Lisa has been teaching creative writing (and art) at community arts centers for over twenty years.  She has a BFA in Studio Art, a BA in Art History (from Youngstown State University in Ohio); she attended University of the Arts and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and she spent 28 years in architecture and design.  

A professional artist, Lisa's work has appeared in magazines and galleries for decades; her artwork will appear on the cover of Undoing Winter, a chapbook (Finishing Line Press) by good friend Shannon Connor Winward. Lisa blogs at logophiliaclisa.

Another AROHO sister is Pamela Helberg.  Pam and I met for the first time last summer at Ghost Ranch.  Her incredible humor and positive presence was so invigorating.  I wish I could write with as much verve as she does. 
She received her MA in Creative Writing from Western Washington University where she studied under award-winning novelist Laura Kalpakian. She founded and operated Fremont Place Books in Seattle and taught English composition for many years at Whatcom Community College. Mostly recently she worked in IT before quitting to go back to school for her master's degree in Mental Health Counseling. Her essay “Body Language” appears in Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions, Seal Press, 2013.  The mother of two grown daughters, Pam is currently working on her memoir about lesbian parenting in the 1990s and lives with her wife, Nancy, in Bellingham, Washington. She blogs regularly at, most recently as part of the A to Z Challenge. 
And last but not least on my list is someone who I have never met in person!   Juliana Lightle is an "cyber-friend" who I met while taking a online blogging course taught by Tania Pryputniewicz through Story Circle Network.  Even though we haven’t met face to face, I have enjoyed reading Juliana’s wonderful blog.  I hope someday to have the opportunity to actually sit down to one of the wonderful meals she is always describing!
Raised on a family farm in Northwestern Missouri, Juliana became a singer, college administrator, corporate manager, racehorse breeder and trainer, management consultant, educator and author.  Her first poem was published in a statewide anthology when she was in high school.  She holds a Ph.D. in counseling from The Ohio State University and an M.A. in high education administration and B.A in English from the University of Rhode Island.  She currently writes, teaches, sings, and raises horses in the Panhandle of Texas.
She is a member of the board of the Story Circle Network, a group dedicated to women telling their stories.  Juliana blogs at writingontherim.

Happy National Poetry Month: My interview in The California Journal of Women Writers and Haiku Number 20

Recently Marcia Meier, my friend and fellow AROHO alum interviewed me for TCJWW: The California Journal of Women Writers.  This online journal was founded in 2012 with the mission of "fostering and enhancing the visibility of North American female authors, and narrowing the wide gender gap found in discussions in the literary world" by featuring reviews of women’s literature as well as interviews.  I am incredibly honored to appear on this wonderful site.

Interview: Lisa Rizzo

Marcia Meier recently spoke with Lisa Rizzo to discuss her poetry, motivations, and inspirations threaded throughout her work. Rizzo is a poet, blogger and world traveler who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. A middle school teacher by profession, Lisa has published a chapbook of her poetry and blogs frequently about her travel adventures. Her blog, Poet Teacher Seeks World, is chock-full of her insightful and keen observations during her global jaunts, which also informed much of her chapbook, In the Poem an Ocean. Her poems are earthly, nostalgic, piercing and always surprising.

Meier and Rizzo chatted recently about the poet’s passions and her life.

Meier: What inspired you to begin writing poetry?
Rizzo: I started writing poetry because I was desperate. Even though I had always wanted to write, I only dabbled with it until I was in college. Then I began to attempt writing fiction. I tried over and over to write stories that withered away to dust as I struggled with the characters and plot. I just couldn’t make them live. Then one day, sitting in the big chairs in the university library where I always sat, out of sheer frustration I abandoned prose and tried to write a poem. No, I wrote a poem. It came bursting out of me in one swift flow and that was it. I’m not sure why I had never tried poetry before. I guess I had never thought someone like me could write poems. All my traditional liberal arts education had made me feel that poets were people far out of my realm. But there it was, a poem.

To read the rest of the interview, visit TCJWW: The California Journal of Women Writers 

Haiku Number 20
sun seeps through curtains
light motifs across wood floors
salute Spring-bright day 

My First Time at AWP - Hello, Seattle

One more advantage to having become involved with AROHO is that I found out about the yearly conference of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs or AWP. So yesterday evening, after only a one hour delay out of SFO, I flew to Seattle.  Over 12,000 writers have converged on this city known for rain and coffee.  Unlike San Francisco, it has been warm and fairly sunny.

As expected, the coffee is good.

And with books and writers everywhere, who couldn't be happy?

Can You Haiku?

The far reach of AROHO lives on, this time with the inspiration of Nicole Galland, one of the wonderful writers I met in New Mexico last August at Ghost Ranch.  Nicole had a friend who had written one haiku each day for an entire year.  Not being a poet herself, Nicole still thought the challenge of trying to write in this very tight form every day sounded interesting.  So she put out the call on Facebook.  Like myself, many of the people who responded were AROHO alumnae, but the circle widened with friends of friends of friends joining in.  Nicole created a group called The Haiku Room, and the fun began on January 1, 2014.

Since that time, I have written a haiku every day and received copious haiku from other people. I read each and every one although I find it difficult to "like" or comment on each.  But I love the fact that my inbox is filled with poetry instead of just advertisements or pleas for money from the Democratic Party.

I will admit that many of my haiku have been written out of desperation; the end the day is looming and I haven't found the time or subject to write.  Even so, I post those as well as the ones I'm proud of.  It's the discipline of writing them that I am finding so valuable.

That was a result I expected from the start.  After all, I'm still reaping the results of my early morning writing ritual (it's 6:10 as I write this on the 161st day).  What I didn't expect is how writing poems with such constraints would effect my writing.  I found an article about writing haiku which said many modern haiku in English no longer stick to the 5-7-5 syllable format.  However, I decided that I would keep my poems within that constraint.

And that has made a real difference in my writing.  I have had to hone and pare every unnecessary word while trying to convey as much with those words as possible.  I've had to struggle to actually make the poems say something worth reading with only those 17 syllables as well. And I've found that struggle to crystallize imagery to be spilling into my other poetry writing as well. I'm surprised I didn't think that would happen when I started, but am glad just the same.

In my post Last Post of 2013: Inspired by David Hockney I wrote about wanting to look more carefully at the world around me, to record what I see in vivid detail like Hockney did in his paintings.  That is another result of writing these haiku: looking at the smallest moment as a source of inspiration.  I find what I have come to call haiku mind to be a wonderful form of meditation for me.

I have now written a total of 27 haiku having yet to compose my poem for today.  Here are a few of my favorites so far:

winter city view
sun splash on dirty windows
watch the plum tree dance

gulls white-ride windward
over mist-mountains bay to ocean
winging stories home

after-school walk home
behind chain-link sharp-eared growl
thrill of near peril

night glow through curtains
pursue Artemis moon dreams
not human-lit streets

flock of daffodils
golden feathers bob and sway
winter's flown awry

moon, softly rounding
train whistle pulls my heart - wild
and just beginning

dun dried hills riven
by drought my tongue swollen
with dreams of water

Queen Anne's Lace, she wrote
pansies, fireflies awoke
childhood prairie fields
--for Tania

So I ask you again, can you haiku?  I highly recommend it.

100 Days

On August 24th, I wrote about my experiences at the AROHO Writer's Retreat in my post "Open the Door."  In part I wrote:  I want to stay on my writing path, just as I stayed true to the trail up to Chimney Rock.  I opened that door at the AROHO retreat, and so far have been walking my writing path during this first week back at teaching.  And I'm determined to keep going.

Well, here I am on Day 100 of my new writing practice.  In the last 100 days I have gotten up a half hour early to write. When I realized this, I was reminded of how elementary teachers celebrate the 100th day of school with their students by computing all sorts of statistics about school, so here is my list:

  • I have gotten up for every morning for 100 days.
  • I have written for 50 hours in those mornings (and sometimes more on the weekends).
  • I have drunk 100 cups of tea from my thermos.
  • I have filled 3 1/2 notebooks (and just started a new one).
  • I have written 10 poems.
  • I have written 1 essay.
  • I have written 2 short memoir pieces.
  • I have read 4 books of poetry by fellow AROHO writers Diane Gilliam, Ruth Thompson, Barbara Rockman and Leslie Ullman.
  • I have written an estimated 200 words per page (since I am one of those neat freaks who fill the entire surface of every page with writing, I was able to extrapolate this amount by counting the words on a random number of pages).
When I first went to the AROHO retreat in 2011, I bought a stone with an eclipse symbol carved into it:  a moon and sun joined together.  I read that this is a symbol of merging opposites, representing unity and compromise instead of conflict.  I envisioned that stone as a symbol of how I want to join my two sides:  writer and teacher. 

I talked to my new AROHO friend, Tania Pryputniewicz about my dilemma in the Albuquerque Airport.  I made a pact with her that I would write every afternoon after returning from school.  Did I keep it up? Nope.  I found my mind too filled with all the noise of the day to keep myself writing.

Then this year, at the Albuquerque Airport once again, I made another pact with Barbara Yoder. This time I vowed that I would get up early every day.  I had been resisting this idea for years, but had finally faced the fact that early morning was the only time I could reliably call all my own.  Did I think I would be able to do it?  I admit I was skeptical. I still doubted myself.  But here I am 100 days later...

Now that I've finally given myself the gift of time, I feel I've  joined those two sides of myself.  Although there are many times of conflict when the stresses of teaching keep my from writing as much as I wish, I now know I can always find that morning time to sit quietly with the my notebook. 

So on this day before Thanksgiving, I can only say thank you to all the wonderful women writers of AROHO who have helped me find my way.

I'm Climbing Back Up the Mesa: A Room of Her Own Foundation Writer Retreat 2013

In August, 2011,  I traveled to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico for A Room of Her Own Foundation's Writer Retreat.  As I got ready to go, I was nervous, afraid I didn't belong among so many talented women writers.   Today as I begin my packing list for this year's retreat, all I feel is excitement to once again mingle with a wonderful group of writers. And I owe that to AROHO and the women I met two years ago.  
Here is a piece I wrote about that first retreat:
                                                                                                                                                       The Day Moon

I had come to AROHO with only the idea of pushing myself forward – to bring myself back to writing. The first night at Ghost Ranch I slept poorly – a new bed, new night sounds and I was at such a high altitude – 10,000 feet above the sea in the New Mexico high desert.  The desert air was dry, dry, bone bleaching dry.  I had tossed and turned all night dreaming fragments of dreams in and out of consciousness.  I thought of my friend, Kathy who had taught me to love the desert and once again mourned her death.  I thought of the red rock hills and mesas that surrounded me on all sides. I dreamed of what would greet me the next day in Ghost Ranch.

That first morning, tired of my bed, tired of pretending to sleep, I got up early.  I went out on the porch of the Tumbleweed bunkhouse.  I guess it would be called a bunkhouse.  It is a long low building of several rooms with a kind of porch or walkway that ran the length of the building.  This bunkhouse sits up on a small mesa covered in sagebrush and cacti.  To reach my room I had to walk up and up a zigzag switchback path of desert grit uneven with rocks and fallen twigs. It was, for that week at least, the most beautiful place I had ever been.

         When I stepped out of my room, taking care not to let the screen door slam against the frame, the air was still crisp. The sun hadn’t fully risen over the surrounding mesas, and the mountains in the distance were still hung with purple shadows. The sky was completely clear with not one cloud, not even those beautiful white columns that often come to the desert in summer.  The deepest blue hadn’t come either, the sky still pale like a lovely silk shirt.

         And there to my surprise the moon still hung in the sky.  Not full yet but rounding towards fullness, at the point in her cycle that made me certain that I would still be in this magical place when she rounded fecund to shine full upon me. That day-moon softly glowed in the sky that was just beginning to pink at the edges.  I had gotten there just in time before the sun bullied its way in, causing her to fade back. Mist wrapped her soft roundness.

         I stood there graced by that moon, gazing at all the mountains north, south, east and west, mountains that Georgia O’Keefe had painted over and over in this place of her soul, and the sleepless night fell away from my shoulders.

         I can’t honestly say that any lingering doubts or fears were completely gone.  After all I still had to navigate my way to breakfast in the dining hall full of women I had barely met the night before.   No, the fears were still there. The doubts about myself as a writer or my right to be there were all there, small pebbles lying heavy in my center.

         But the moon, bravely hanging in the morning sky when she wasn’t supposed to be there, gently muscling her way in, gave me the courage to set my pack on my back and head down that switch-back mesa path. It gave me the courage to stride out under the cottonwood trees, plunk my cafeteria tray down and to find a place at the table.

AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer Interview with Nikki Loftin

I remember being particularly impressed when I met Nikki at the 2011 AROHO Retreat.  Here was a woman who had made the journey from teacher to writer - and a writer of books for middle readers, no less.  This is a genre with which I am quite familiar. As a middle school teacher myself, I have read many a book written for young readers.  I always admire those writers who are successful at capturing adolescent readers' attention without sparing language or depth of subject matter.  Nikki's book The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy fits that ticket.  I enjoyed hearing some of her work at the retreat and am now in the middle of finding out for myself just what makes Splendid Academy such a sinister place.  Yesterday I told my seventh graders a bit of the story, and they seemed hooked as well. So it was with great pleasure that I got to know Nikki a little better through this interview.  I hope I can find out the real truth about just what rules she broke at Ghost Ranch - maybe at next year's retreat!

How did you make the transition from teacher to writer?

Well, I had a few years between as Director of Family Ministries int he Presbyterian Church.  So, I spent my time equally working with children and thinking about God, grace, redemption, know, the small stuff.  I think it flowed naturally into living my writing life.  Those sorts of thought patterns form narratives of their own, and reading great texts, like Thich Nhat Hanh's writings, the Bible, and so many more, nurtures a response life. My response was in my writing.

What made you decide to focus on middle reader literature for your first book?
I didn't choose it - it chose me! I had gone to school in literary fiction, and thought I might try my hand at creative nonfiction, but when the stories came to me, they were all suited for younger readers.  Of course, this works well for me, as I have two very keen middle grade readers at home to try my new material out on!

Nikki Loftin lives with her Scottish photographer husband just outside Austin, Texas, surrounded by dogs, chickens, and small, loud boys. Her debut middle-grade novel, The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, is available now. You can visit her online at   twitter: @nikkiloftin
  To read more of my interview with Nikki, visit AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer

Writer to Writer: Interview with Esther Cohen

If you would like to read the rest of my interview with Esther, here is the link: AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer.

Photo: Copyright Jamie Clifford/2011 AROHO Retreat
AROHO's 2011 retreat brought 90 women writers from across the United States together in a supportive community, with time to write, read, teach, learn and share. The AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer interview project is designed to continue building connections among women writers.During the coming year, our group will interview as many 2011 retreat participants as possible about their experiences and writing projects. We hope that you will visit this page regularly, post comments, and share the link.  We look forward to hearing your stories!
Tania Pryputniewicz, Lisa Rizzo, Marlene Samuels, and Barbara YoderDuring the retreat,  I didn't get a real opportunity to get to know Esther very well.  Now, having had the privilege to interview her, I wish I had had more time to talk to her in person.  I certainly hope our paths cross again.  - Lisa Rizzo
Esther, I'd love to know more about why you call yourself The Book Doctor. Could you tell me more about that title?
I've been helping people with their books since I was young.  It was my first job too. I was a publishing assistant at Simon and Schuster and I found myself intuitively knowing how a book is made. 
What to do.  How to help.  Maybe because I've read thousands of books and it's more or less what I do - read books.   So, I've worked on countless books, all my life.  I'm working on a few now, including a wonderful advice/memoir book by an AROHO woman, Amy Siskind.

AROHO Speaks, Writer to Writer: Interview with Marlene Samuels

A Room of Her Own Foundation's Summer 2011 Retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico brought together a group of dynamic women. Now I am honored to be working with a team whose mission is to keep the spirit of that retreat going by conducting interviews, writer to writer. I met Marlene on the bus to Ghost Ranch and then wound up staying in the room next door to her up on the mesa. We also participated in the same small group, Late Bloomers, for women of a certain age. I was surprised that we hit it off so well, since at first glance we might not appear to be friend material. Yet, with the magic of AROHO working in our favor, we have struck up a wonderful friendship. I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce her to you here.

Thinking back to the 2011 AROHO retreat, can you tell us about an idea, exercise or conversation that had either an identifiable impact upon your writing habits or became a finished piece of writing or one in process?

There were so many incredible moments and conversations it’s really tough for me to isolate a single one but what did make a huge impact on me is the passion with which each woman approached her writing. I was moved by the observation that even the most accomplished participants still expressed some self-doubt. To me that was very refreshing!

It’s noteworthy that we all struggle with the importance of being perceived as serious writers. We each struggle to find that space and consistency for our writing but there’s no precise formula. Kate Gale’s comment – that we schedule the various responsibilities in our lives and meet our commitments yet fail to follow suit with our writing - that was especially poignant. All too often, women put others’ needs ahead of their own writing schedules as though somehow writing isn’t a legitimate use of their time.

Bhanu Kapil’s direct questioning of total strangers really influenced my own work. Her method of querying them as the means by which she could pursue her writing project encouraged me to begin a project I’d been stuck on for about two years. Until hearing Bhanu, I’d been unable to muster the nerve to approach strangers. She was a true inspiration as well!

Is there one specific moment or event at the retreat that sparked an insight or shift in how you perceive either your work or yourself as a writer?

Yes, the evening readings altered my self-perception. Reading my work helped me perceive myself more seriously and hence, as a professional writer instead of someone who’s reluctant to say, “I’m a writer,” in response to the question, “What do you do?” Before the retreat I felt like an imposter if I claimed to be a writer. Somehow, it seems that as women, we have a misperception that unless our writing appears on the New York Times bestseller list or in The New Yorker or is reviewed by Oprah, we can’t claim to be writers. It seems most of us struggle with that but - my gut feeling: it’s a much bigger issue for women.

Is there a specific woman writer who inspires/d you? If so, can you tell us something about why?

Tania Pryputniewicz was amazingly inspirational – the mere fact that she committed to attend in the face of her own doubts, that she demonstrated such a unique approach to her poetry, and that she gave such a unique and creative presentation to the entire group inspired me. She discussed the collaborative process, an approach to writing I’ve never really considered. It’s given me a new view into the creative process, almost like a child being given encouragement to draw outside of the lines.

Bridget Birdsall’s one-on-one spiritual consultation with me – something I was really suspicious of but also curious about – was great fun, not to mention that her insights were exceedingly encouraging. Her strength of character and her intuition are also reflected so honestly in her own writing. There are so many others but I’m guessing the space of this interview wouldn’t accommodate my rave reviews.

How would you describe your typical writing day?

I spend a lot of time in approach-avoidance activities, that time wasting stuff, as I try to get organized. When I was in graduate school we used to refer to that as “pencil sharpening”! I have a terrible time actually getting started on the writing process each day because I tend to take care of all my other responsibilities - phone calls, bills, whatever else distracts me. But if I don’t do that first thing then it’s very tough for me to stay focused.

Afternoon seems the best time for me, when I can spend two to four hours writing. I’ve noticed that just in the few weeks since I got home from the retreat, I’m much more committed to my writing time. It feels really good and that in itself is very reinforcing of my writing commitment. I’m certain it’s the result of embracing the concept that I really am a writer and it’s my legitimate real career.

Can you describe for us what you’re currently working on?

I’m actually working on three things, each in a different genre. I’m completing a short story collection that I’ve been working on for years entitled, The Mental Health Poster Child. It began as my memoir but has evolved as a sequel to my mother’s memoir, The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival. After her death I rewrote and edited when Penguin Berkley agreed to publish it. In addition, I’m co-host of a culinary website and its blog, . Both are progressing toward an “ethnographic” sort of cookbook. My third project is a sociology book based upon interviews with baby-boom generation women. That project really draws upon my training as a serious research sociologist but incorporates my more recently honed passion for writing creative nonfiction.

Is there a specific question you’d have liked us to ask and if so, could you answer it?

Actually, yes! The question I’m surprised no one asked – one I personally asked many of women during the retreat, “What influenced you to attend the retreat?”

I’ve never been to a writers’ retreat before, only to writing workshops and conferences -courses at University of Iowa Summer Festival or University of Chicago Writers’ Studio, that sort of thing. I’d followed AROHO for many years; read about the retreats, and vacillated between wanting to apply yet worrying I’d be out of my league. After reading the bios of women who attended – a huge diversity, it was obvious that I needed to attend. I decided that, unlike workshops, what I needed most was emotional and spiritual support for my goals. That’s an often neglected component to being a productive and confident writer. At some point, writers need that kind of support and connectedness with other writers more than they need instruction in the writing process.

Marlene B. Samuels:

I’m an independent research sociologist, writer, and instructor and teach research methodology and sociology. I earned a Ph.D. and M.A. from University of Chicago. My research focuses upon changing American demographics, adoption issues, and currently, decision-making during life transitions. My writing encompasses three genres: sociology, nonfiction, and food.

I co-authored The Seamstress, my mother’s Holocaust memoir, wrote an academic book about career success plus short stories, essays, and food articles. My writing has been published in Lilith Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, University of Iowa Summer Anthology, Story Circle Journal, Long Story Short and others.






AROHO Speaks, Writer to Writer: Interview with Tania Pryputniewicz

A Room of Her Own Foundation's Summer 2011 Retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico brought together a dynamic group of women. Now I am honored to be working with a team whose mission is to keep the spirit of that retreat going by conducting interviews, writer to writer. I met Tania on the bus to Ghost Ranch and got to talk with her a lot longer than expected when the bus broke down! We then wound up staying in the same building up on the mesa. I am
happy to have the opportunity to
introduce her to you here.

Thinking back to the 2011 AROHO retreat, is there one specific moment or event you can identify that sparked an insight or shift in how you perceive either your work or yourself as a writer?

I have the urge to delineate every conversation I had at AROHO’s summer 2011 retreat whether it occurred on that first shuttle to Ghost Ranch, on the morning hike down to breakfast, or sitting on the mesa watching for shooting stars. I didn’t realize just how isolated I’d come to feel (after ten years of immersion in motherhood). I am moved by the web of life-long friends working beside me in spirit now--a posse of cohorts possessing a rich range of personalities and passions. I am no longer a “Lone Ranger.”

During Kate Gale’s afternoon panel, “Become a Literary Citizen,” and the panel of “Non-profit Contrarians” composed of Darlene Chandler Bassett, Kate Gale, and Esther Cohen, the forthright conversations about how to share the responsibility for promoting one’s work and the work of others shifted how I perceived my role as both a writer and editor. I will now ask, as Kate suggested, “What tangible help can I offer the publisher/press that accepts my book for publication? What do I bring to the table besides my role as writer of the manuscript?” In addition, I felt excited as an editor of a small on-line magazine to consider ways of sharing resources and platforms with established non-profits as opposed to reinventing the wheel each time, an idea put forth by Darlene.

Walking back from the panel, Esther’s gentle but direct questions about the motivation behind my choice to be a poetry editor at The Fertile Source (Why are you drawn to the subject? Why do you care about how women are viewed? Was family important to you growing up?) helped me take stock and recalibrate my personal and professional intentions.

Is there a specific woman writer who inspires/d you? If so, can you tell us something about why?

Again, I am flooded with memories regarding each writer I met and feel hard pressed to choose just one. But here goes--I’m thinking of the night Bhanu Kapil read from her poetry collection, humanimal. I could sense the specter of wolf-raised girls, the energy of those children as palpable as the sun warmed stone seats of the amphitheater and the tuning forks of the cacti at our backs. Later, I couldn’t sleep, the moon emanating through the three tiny windows of my room, a luminous, kaleidoscopic energy coursing through my mind.

During Bhanu’s Mind Stretch, she exuded that same multi-dimensional attention in her approach to her writing process when she shared the questions she posed as part of her process creating the poems for The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers. I’m intensely inspired by the scope of her investigation into human relations and how it translates into her finished work. Surely a woman who has the courage to ask other women, “Who was responsible for the suffering of your mother?”, and to write about the answers, will continue to leave a trail of profoundly transformative writing in her wake.

Can you describe for us what you’re currently working on?

My current writing joy remains with the making of the poetry photo poem montages (the micro-movies). Photographer Robyn and I have one last photo to add to the micro-movie for Amelia Earhart. Two image folders I’m eager to access next focus on the tangled psychic relationships ensnaring King Arthur’s extended kin. In the poem, “Corridor,” Guinevere recounts a stolen moment of time alone with her mother as they advance the length of the corridor between their bedrooms. And in the poem “Mordred’s Dream: A First Refusal,” Mordred attempts to challenge his mother’s vision for who he should be, both to himself and to Guinevere. I can’t wait to begin.

As I sit beside Robyn and we sift through her latest photo files, the story images itself before our eyes, the ordering of photos an intuitive process. I see the micro-movies as tiny mood bookmarks capable of setting the tone for longer works; I hope later they inspire longer vignettes complete with actors. The micro-movie short form satisfies my passion to enflesh the poems and fits my time constraints as a mother and editor.

At the retreat, I also made a commitment to build a base for a Collaboration Hub in order to support anyone interested in following up on my Mind Stretch presentation, “Female Power in the Face of Adversity: Collaboration as Excavation” (during which we brainstormed lists of iconic, inspiring women and exchanged lists, creating an opportunity to partner and collaborate with one another in the future). I will announce The Hub on AROHO’s facebook page once we’ve finalized construction on its inner workings and are ready to invite dialogue and share resources.

Recent poetry by Tania Pryputniewicz is forthcoming or appeared on-line at Autumn Sky, Blast Furnace, The Blood Orange Review, Connotation Press, and Linebreak. Her photo poem montages have been published by The Mom Egg (She Dressed in a Hurry for Lady Di, 2009) and Prairie Wolf Press (Nefertiti on the Astral, 2011). Poetry editor at The Fertile Source, she blogs at Feral Mom, Feral Writer. She lives in the Sonoma County redwoods with her husband, three children, kitten, Siberian Husky, and four feral cats.

Altars of the Uncertain Kind

In August I spent an amazing week at the A Room of Her Own Foundation's writing retreat at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. At the ranch, the incredibly beautiful mountains and mesas that had inspired Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings watched over me. It was a week of writing, contemplation and meeting amazing women writers from all over the country. On my way home, I sat in the Albuquerque airport with Tania, who happened to be on the same flight back to Oakland. Tania and I had just realized that we had met years ago at another writer’s conference. This was just one of the many serendipitous – and for me unnerving - interchanges and intersections that had occurred that week.

As we talked about all the things that you tell someone you barely know but find you really like, we reminisced about some of our experiences at the retreat such as the intense group discussions, meditation sessions and walking the labyrinth. Women had talked over and over about spirituality and religion and the soul – all concepts that make me very uncomfortable. I told Tania all the reasons why I am not a spiritual person, that in fact I even hate the word “spiritual.” But then I had to admit that my carry-on bag was heavier than it should be because it was full of rocks and pebbles that I had collected on my walks around Ghost Ranch. That I had compulsively taken photographs of the same mountains over and over at different times of the day to record every moment of my journey.

Those rocks and photographs were destined to join the shells and pieces of coral, pine cones and sage bundles, the icons and Virgin Mary’s, the tin milagros and Buddha’s that I had strewn about my house. From every place I go – and I am an obsessive traveler – I take a little piece of something to remind me of how I felt in that place or the person who gave it to me. I had to confess that I loved creating altars of all sorts – but that I was not spiritual in any way.

I also admitted that I had never wanted to write a blog because I didn’t think there were any of my thoughts that I needed to inflict upon the world, but Tania thought I should take photos of my altars and blog about them. Unsettled but intrigued, I couldn’t forget that conversation. I had to admit that something had happened at that retreat among those mountains that I didn't understand but couldn't ignore. So, because all that week I had been guided by the “spirit” of Georgia O’Keefe and the inspiration of those creative women, I did what Tania said I should do.