A Parent’s Intuition

When my youngest son was 15-months old, he became very ill with a rare condition,that baffled the doctors. Six nerve-wracking days passed, with many calls to the pediatrician’s office and one emergency room visit, before he was properly diagnosed and underwent emergency surgery. The story of this experience was one of five winners in the 31 Hours parents’ intuition contest: http://bit.ly/36V3CK

Although it has been over 13 years since this event took place, and my son made a complete recovery following surgery, I wanted to tell the story, not in an attempt to bash the medical professionals who failed to recognize the seriousness of the situation, but to encourage parents to continue to advocate for their children when their intuition tells them that something is seriously wrong, even if it means seeking out a different medical provider. I will always be grateful for the pediatric ENT on call, who took the time to listen to my concerns, took stock of the situation, promptly and accurately diagnosed this infrequently occurring condition, and put our son on the path to recovery. Without this doctor’s expertise, I don’t even like to think about what might have happened that day. Luckily, all’s well that ends well!

More Wordstock Wit/Wisdom

And then there was the panel on “Stages of Playwriting” with panel members Marc Acito, Storm Large, and Cynthia Whitcomb.

  • “The secret of comedy is surprise.” (Marc Acito)
  • “All comedians are motivated by hostility.” (Marc Acito, noting comedians use expressions like “I killed them”, “I slayed them”, “I died out there tonight.”)
  • “The closer you get to the truth, the funnier it is.” (Marc Acito)
  • “A writer is someone who feels bad when they’re not writing.” (Cynthia Whitcomb, on the true definition of a writer.)
  • “You can’t figure it out.” (Cynthia Whitcomb, noting that there’s no formula for producing a successful screenplay time after time—it’s an organic process between the audience and the performers.)
  • “You can get brilliant gifts from your subconscious if you ask it to deliver for you.” (Cynthia Whitcomb)
  • “You win some, you lose some, but you win some.” (Cynthia Whitcomb’s motto)
  • “Failures become part of your fabric.” (Storm Large)

And finally, the last book talk I attended was Hope Edelman speaking on her latest book, The Possibility of Everything. I was, to put it mildly, a wee bit fatigued at this point, and initially put away my notebook and decided to just listen. But I absolutely had to pull it out again to jot down the bit where she said that she initially began the book as fiction, because she was wary of portraying herself as a “new age lemming.” Can lemmings be new age? Who knew?

The Wit and Wisdom of Wordstock

Am I the only one who takes notes at book talks and panels? Well, maybe. But I remember so much more as a result. I was particularly riveted by the panel on “Truth and Story”, moderated by Debra Gwartney, with panel members Julia Glass, Jeannette Walls and Laurie Sandell, since I write a lot of creative non-fiction. I also saw Jeannette Walls and Julia Glass individually, at separate talks.

There were so many quotable quotes, it was all I could do to note some of them down. I don’t claim to have the words 100% accurate, as I was listening as well as I could to some fairly fast-paced discussion while simultaneously attempting to capture some of it on the page. Here then is the flavor of some of the highlights, as closely as I remember them. I have attributed them to a specific person wherever possible.

  • “The truth is a liquid, not a solid.”
  • “Even though we have the same facts, we have different truths.”
  • “My fancy doesn’t fly, it burrows.” (Jeannette Walls, on why she writes memoir rather than fiction)
  • “The best fiction reads like non-fiction and the best non-fiction reads like fiction.” (Jeannette Walls)
  • “All serious fiction is emotionally autobiographical in some way.” (Julia Glass)
  • “Everyone has ownership of his or her own story.” (Laurie Sandell)
  • “Secrets are like vampires. They suck the life out of you, but they can only exist in darkness.” (Jeannette Walls)
  • “The details of our lives are very similar, even if the stories are different.”
  • “I mix what I know from my own life with fictional elements, to intensify the truth of the story.” (Julia Glass on why her books are classified as fiction, rather than memoir.)
  • “We shape our truths by which stories we choose to tell and how we choose to tell them. You have to trust your impressions and memories of things” (Jeannette Walls)
  • “It’s not what you remember, but why you remember it that way.” (Debra Gwartney)
  • “One of the most difficult aspects of writing a memoir is finding your voice– you have to be true to your voice.”
  • “We get our happiness not from being superior to others, but by making those connections and finding common ties.” (Jeannette Walls)
  • “Every challenge is wrapped up with a gift, if you choose to accept it.” (Jeannette Walls)
  • “Everyone needs to experience things outside of their sphere– that’s why we read memoir.” (Jeannette Walls)
  • “Scars are a sign that you survived—that you are stronger than the thing that tried to hurt you.” (Jeannette Walls)
  • “A luxury once tasted becomes a necessity.” (Oscar Wilde) [No, he wasn’t actually physically present at Wordstock—only in spirit. 😉 ]

Wordstock- Then and Now

Last year, my goal for attending Wordstock was to find out about the resources available in Portland for writers. To that end, I focused on panel discussions and exhibitor’s booths. I remember talking to people from Portland Women Writers and Voicecatcher, Ooligan Press, Willamette Writers, Oregon Writers Colony, Oregon State Poetry Association, Northwest Association of Book Publishers, Write Around Portland and Independent Publishing Resource Center.

I also attended panel discussions on “The Future of Publishing”, “First Books” and “The Book Review Crisis”.

This year I took a different approach. In the first place, I volunteered at Merchandise, giving me a bird’s-eye view of the entire festival, and enabling me to meet and chat with many exhibitors and festival goers. The free Wordstock buttons were like a magnet for people, and stimulated much discussion and laughter.

After my shift, I decided to focus on books, and attend as many author talks as possible. I heard Marianne Klekacz, Verlena Orr, Mary Guterson, Victor Lodato, Julia Glass, Jeannette Walls, Laurie Sandell, Debra Gwartney, Giulia Melucci, Andy Raskin, Marc Acito, Storm Large, Cynthia Whitcomb, and Hope Edelman. Not bad for two days!

As for next year, I’ll be back to volunteer, that’s for sure. Maybe try a more balanced exhibitor/book talk mix. Or perhaps even a workshop or two. Who knows?

The Book Review Crisis

Last year at Wordstock, I attended a panel discussion entitled “The Book Review Crisis”. A book review crisis? Really? I was intrigued. But the more I heard, the more irritated I found myself getting. So irritated in fact, that I even got up the nerve to go up to the microphone and ask why the panel members all seemed to think that we everyday readers needed a “professional” book reviewer to tell us what to read. They mostly seemed incredulous that anyone would actually go to Amazon.com to read peer reviews of books instead of consulting the experts.

Okay, okay, I realize this is a subject I am a bit touchy about. “How do you pick books?” one panel member asked me. That got me thinking. How do I pick books to read? Well, I get book recommendations all the time from Amazon, Powell’s, the Oregonian, other websites and blogs I follow, and family and friends. But what I ultimately decide to read is based on the book itself. Or more precisely, the merits of the book according to my own personal tastes.

I always check out the book description first on Amazon. See if it the book interests me. Read a few random pages from the book to see how I like the style of writing. Yes, I do read a smattering of reviews, and it is impossible not to note how many stars the book received. Does this influence me somewhat? A bit, I suppose, but not all that much.

Simply put, I choose what I like to read, and if the book is not a best seller, well that doesn’t matter a whit to me. In fact, that causes the renegade reader in me to like it even more. I don’t like anyone else telling me what to read!

But my all-time favorite way to find good books to read is to head to the used book section of my local library, or Powell’s, and just shelf read, the good old-fashioned way. The title needs to draw me in. I look for an interesting cover. Only then do I read the book jacket. And if the book passes all those tests, I open it to a random page to read. If I still like it, then that’s what goes home with me. Sometimes the lowest tech method is still the best!

Why I Write

As I drove up the hill today, I was psyched for the new session of writing group. Our first prompt was a literary kind of checking in, that we do from time to time. ‘Write something you’d like us to know,’ was what our facilitator said. As always, I put my pen to the page without even thinking about it and freewrote for five minutes. My writing follows.


“I regrouped this summer. Why do I write? I asked myself. Why do I feel the need to be published? Am I seeking validation? Approval? Acceptance? What?

I thought long and hard about it, wrote about it, and read about it. And then I went to a talk at Wordstock last weekend. ‘A writer’, Cynthia intoned, ‘is someone who feels bad when they’re not writing’. An appreciative ripple of laughter ran through the audience.

And so I decided. I write because I must. I write because I cannot not write. I write because the words are there whether or not I choose to put them on paper. I write mostly for myself. I write to put a name to a feeling, to capture a moment in time, to get it just right. And if my work touches someone else in the process, that’s simply icing on the cake. That’s why I write.”

Wordstock Book Picks

I started checking out Wordstock authors even before I attended Wordstock. That made it even more fun to attend book talks and panels of authors whose works I was already a bit familiar with. But generally, the strategy I took at Wordstock this year was the smorgasbord approach. I attended both book readings and panel discussions; checked out the genres of fiction, memoir, poetry, and playwriting; and listened to both familiar authors and those I had never heard of before.

Although I didn’t buy any new books at Wordstock this year (I have  a daunting backlog of books I’ve either bought or won this past year), I mean to read many of the following books over the next year, and purchase my favorites. I find that reading a compelling book while I’m on the treadmill or recumbent bike at the gym makes the time fly, and I can read without guilt. 🙂

For books on the craft of writing:

  • Writing the Memoir, by Judith Barrington (just finished!)
  • Get Known before the Book Deal, by Christina Katz, aka The Writer Mama. (just started)

Memoirs from authors I heard speak:

  • Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel, by Jeannette Walls
  • I See You Everywhere, by Julia Glass
  • The Impostor’s Daughter: A True Memoir, by Laurie Sandell
  • The Possibility of Everything, by Hope Edelman

Fiction from authors I heard speak:

  • Gone to the Dogs, by Mary Guterson
  • Mathilda Savitch: A Novel, by Victor Lodato
  • I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, by Giulia Melucci
  • The Ramen King and I: How the Inventor of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life, by Andy Raskin

Poetry collections from authors I heard speak:

  • Taking It To The Limit, by Verlena Orr
  • When Words Fail, by Marianne Klekacz

YA novels:

  • The Fetch, by Laura Whitcomb (missed her at Wordstock, but heard her speak a few weeks ago)
  • A Certain Slant of Light, by Laura Whitcomb (won the audio CDs from her blog contest last week!)

And other books from authors that I missed. (So many book talks, so little time…)

  • Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry, by Sage Cohen
  • Lifesaving: A Memoir, by Judith Barrington
  • Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood, by Melissa Hart
  • The Heretic’s Daughter, by Kathleen Kent