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.
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.
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
So I ask you again, can you haiku? I highly recommend it.
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).
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.
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, salvation...you 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 www.nikkiloftin.com. twitter: @nikkiloftin
To read more of my interview with Nikki, visit AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer
If you would like to read the rest of my interview with Esther, here is the link: AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer.
--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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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, www.expendableedibles.com. 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.
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.
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.