On Carolyn Porter and Marcel’s Letters

I am so happy to have crossed paths with Carolyn Porter a few years back. The journey that unfolds in Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate, is an amazing tale. For more, see Brevity’s Blog, Of Fonts, and Fate, and Marcel’s Letters.


Ann Klotz on The Writing Life

Sometimes, you meet a person who just opens your heart and soul. This past October, I met writer Ann Klotz at a Kate Hopper retreat. Ann and I had known one another online for a while, but this was our first in-person meeting.

Everything Ann wrote at that October retreat was a heart song. Ann seems to possess an almost natural ability to spin words into gold. Not only a writer, Ann also is the Headmistress of Laurel School in Cleveland, Ohio.

Ann writes in her latest essay, “Writing is Everything,” about the struggles she has with finding writing time. I relate to everything in this essay at a deep soul level. Yet it seems that Ann, when she does write, has no trouble dropping right into the kind of soul writing I wrote about a few blog posts back, after I returned from the October Kate Retreat.

These days, whenever I see that Ann has published a new essay, I drop everything and read it, right away. I know it will move me, I know it will be important in a way that elevates the everydayness of life into a heart-gripping tale of my own life. Ann has an uncanny knack at tapping into the universal. If you too are trying for a writing life, I hope you too drop everything and read Ann’s latest essay up on Brevity today.

via Writing is Everything

The Fall and the Rise of the Indie Bookstore

I hail from the greater Twin Cities area (what we natives call the Minneapolis/St. Paul corridor, built up along the Mississippi River). My state, Minnesota, is said to have more food co-ops per capita than any other place in the country. One can hardly walk, bike, or drive a mile (a few blocks in dense urban areas) without coming across a food co-op. I’m not sure, but it seems the same could be said for locally owned, independent bookstores. While the Twin Cities wouldn’t win a “per capita” contest with respect to indie bookstores, it would likely be in or near the top ten. There is no dearth of independent bookstores here. But it has also lost some important ones.

Garrison Keillor, likely Minnesota’s most well known bookstore owner, is an author and former host of the public radio show, a Prairie Home Companion—recorded at the Fitzgerald Theater (named after F. Scott—a local writing hero) in St. Paul. Keillor owns Common Good Books. Common Good books recently (to me “a couple of years” counts as recent) moved from its original St. Paul location in an old—but cozy—limestone basement, painted white, to a spacious above-ground location near the campus of Macalester College. I enjoy visiting Common Good’s Macalester location because it’s so close to the former site of my favorite indie bookstore of all time: Hungry Mind.

Dave Unowsky opened Hungry Mind bookstore in 1970, the year I was born. Hungry Mind was located on St. Paul’s historic Grand Avenue on the Macalester campus. Hungry Mind initially serviced the needs of Macalester but, with its well-stocked selection of local and national literary titles, it soon played host to a wide range of Minnesota readers and writers.

When I moved to the Twin Cities in 1998, Hungry Mind became a second home to me. My older two kids were small at the time and, although I hadn’t admitted it yet, my marriage was crumbling. My then husband and I (rather unconsciously—I think) began trading shifts out of the house during our nonworking hours. My “out” shifts were spent sitting on the wood-planked floor at Hungry Minds, in the middle of its vast poetry selection. Hungry Mind, in fact, figures prominently into my memoir-in-progress about my divorce.

During those years spent at Hungry Mind, I was only four-years out from law school, seven years from my undergraduate work. I remember enjoying the feeling of blending in with the students utilizing the bookstore. Perhaps I liked imagining I was still a student—that my life was yet one with limitless options.

Hungry Mind began to experience financial trouble at the same time many indie bookstores were going under due to pressure from “big box” booksellers. I hate to admit it, but a shiny new Barnes and Noble became another place of escape for me. I liked to read (without purchasing) its vast and varied inventory of periodicals in its big, comfy chairs.

Maybe it was the beginning of the end when, to help pay the bills, Hungry Mind sold its name to an online university in 2000, changing its name to Ruminator Books. Ruminator then tried expanding, opening a satellite store at Open Book in Minneapolis, a location that houses The Loft Literary Center, Milkweed Press, and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Unfortunately, Unowsky’s decision to expand only increased Ruminator’s financial woes. Unable to make rent, Ruminator Books closed its doors in 2004.

Twelve years later, I still miss Hungry Minds/Ruminator Books. I jealously covet the free paper bookmarks I’ve held onto from both Hungry Minds and Ruminator. After Ruminator closed, the outdoor clothing manufacture, Patagonia, opened in Ruminator’s Grand Avenue location. Last time I checked, it had the same worn wooden floors, but sitting on the floor in the women’s jacket section isn’t the same as sitting in the poetry section at Hungry Mind. In one, I’d look like a crazy lady, in the other; I was just one of many in a community of writers and readers.

I don’t know if Unowsky is still around, but Indie bookstores are back on the rise. In fact, the small publishing house, Milkweed Editions, just opened its own bookstore last month in the same space in Open Book that once housed Ruminator. I visited Milkweed’s bookstore last week and all I can say (for now) is that one never knows who she’ll run into in an indie bookstore. Stay tuned for Part Two of this post.

One of the collage board of images I put together while working on the first draft of my memoir; Can you spot the Ruminator bookmark (cow image) in the upper right hand corner?

Is an MFA in Writing Worth the Time and Money?

I’m back in school again. I’m at the start of my fifth semester in my MFA program in Creative Nonfiction at Bay Path University. I am on the three-year plan (with two summers) and anticipate receiving my MFA in May of 2017. Because I’m doing my thesis work this year (next year I will be finishing up my teaching/publishing concentration and internship), it seems that this year will prove the most challenging.

I entered this program with 98,000 words of a work-in-progress on a memoir and the intention to gain the skill and understanding to refine those words into something that I would be proud to publish. I am pleased to say that this program, in conjunction with classes at The Loft Literary Center and writing retreats like Kate Hopper’s Motherhood and Words retreat weekends, are all helping me find the Situation and the Story (nod to Vivian Gornick) of my memoir.

When I started at Bay Path University (a completely nonresidential program) in August, 2014, I was hungry for writing mentors. I’ve certainly found those mentors in the likes of the ever wise author and teacher, Kate Whouley, and the incomparable visionary and editorial critiques of my thesis advisor, Lisa Romeo, as well as the “old school” (as my six-year old would call it) reporting and writing guidance from teacher and editor of Yankee Magazine, Mel Allen–truly a “salt of the earth” kind of guy. Mel is so good at this editing business that he can, with just a question or two, change the trajectory of an essay and help a writer transform a piece from “just okay” into a captivating read. I am pretty sure that Mel is a word alchemist.

Although it feels somewhat difficult (it is a transition after all) to head back down into the pit of writing fire for the next sixteen weeks, leaving aside most of my “own” projects for homework assignments and thesis work (which, after all, dovetails with my memoir work), I am happy to already know, at this half-way-through-the-program point, that “Yes, my MFA program has definitely been a worthwhile endeavor for me” and Bay Path was the best choice of program to fit the demands of life raising a special needs child.

dickinsosn copy
Illustration of Emily Dickinson by my son, Ethan Hellekson. Somedays, I feel this way about writing.


Struggling with Truth in Memoir? 

As I write my memoir, I often struggle with how much to say about friends and family. Because I’m writing about my divorce, my ex-husband is a key character. I am telling the truth, but in as kind of manner as possible (usually). I wouldn’t necessarily suffer if I didn’t ever speak with my ex-husband again, but he is still the father of my oldest two kids and for this reason, I endeavor to strike the right balance between truth and kindness each time I sit down to write.

I’m embracing the conclusion of Laurie Hertzel: I will tell the truth, be bold, and whenever possible, be kind. Thanks Laurie!

Source: Do I Own My Story? But What If It’s Also Your Story, and You Don’t Want Me To Tell It?