State of Mind

I always look forward to the Wednesday Poetic Asides Poetry prompt. Writing a weekly haiku is totally non-intimidating. Today’s prompt: “… take the phrase ‘State of (blank),’ replace the blank with a word or phrase, make that the title of your poem, and then, write a poem.” This one came to me right away– I guess that’s what a rare sunny day in the midst of a Portland winter can do!

State of Mind

Late winter angst yields
To peace of mind– all because
The sun showed its face

Event Recap: NW Author Series

Event Recap: Amber Keyser speaks at Northwest Author Series, January 24, 2010

Many writers braved the elements yesterday to attend the writing workshop presented by Amber Keyser: “Don’t Suffer Alone: How to Use a Critique Group to Enhance Your Writing” at the Wilsonville Library. This was the fourth workshop in the 2009-10 Northwest Author Series (, presented by Christina Katz, and supported by the Friends of the Library and the Wilsonville Arts & Culture Council.

Amber’s engaging presentation was divided into roughly three parts. She began by introducing herself , and describing her unusual path from evolutionary biologist to freelance writer of children’s lit. As different as these disciplines appear at first glance, they both, she told the audience, rely on keen powers of observations and a sense of creativity. For scientists, it takes creativity to design experiments, while writers utilize creativity in translating life experiences into a story. And just as science utilizes critiques in the form of peer reviews, writers can also benefit from critiques.

In the second part of the talk, Amber went on to distinguish criticism from critique, and to present a case for the usefulness of critique groups. To criticize is to list faults, while to critique is to analyze what works and what doesn’t, with the goal of offering solutions. With audience participation, Amber listed the main benefits of a critique group:

  1. Motivation
  2. Improve craft
  3. Encouragement and validation
  4. Accountability
  5. Sharing of resources/contacts
  6. Attending conferences/retreats together

While writing is essentially a solitary activity, a writer’s life does not have to be solitary, Amber maintained. She shared that she went through several critique groups that were not a good match for her for various reasons, before becoming part of her current critique group composed of seven children’s lit writers, Viva Scriva. In the final part of the presentation, three members of Viva Scriva illustrated how the group works in action, by critiquing a folktale Amber had recently written.

Writers interested in more of the nuts and bolts of how to form a successful critique group can check out Amber’s website, where she has posted notes from this presentation, including recommending reading. (

The next presentation in the Northwest Author Series will be on February 21, 2010, when Cindy Hudson will speak on “The Nonfiction Book: From Idea to Publication”.

Book Review: The Wink of the Zenith

In my continuing series of book reviews with an Oregon connection, the following is a review of Floyd Skloot’s The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer’s Life. Read more of my reviews at

5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Examination of “The Shaping of a Writer’s Life”, January 20, 2010

In The Wink of the Zenith, his fourth memoir, Floyd Skloot turns his focus on how his past shaped his life as a writer. Through a series of overlapping essays, arranged in roughly sequential order, Skloot reconstructs memories vividly in order to examine how the influences of his past turned him towards a writing life. In the chapters covering his childhood in Brooklyn, and later on Long Island, what emerges is a stark portrait of a lonely boy with a vivid imagination, who struggles to make sense of his father’s untimely death and his mother’s cruelty.

Through a baseball essay originally assigned by a teacher as punishment, and through his fascination with the world presented to him by the television set his family owned (the Zenith of the title), Skloot details how he came to discover the creative world of writing and how it functioned to provide him an escape from his troubled life.

Subsequent essays follow Skloot during his undergraduate years at Franklin and Marshall College, where under the mentorship of his advisor, he discovers Faulkner and embarks on a comprehensive study of the works of Hardy, and continue into his early years as a writer. The essays in the third part cover his adult years, as he copes simultaneously with his mother’s Alzheimer’s, and with cognitive changes in himself brought on after contracting a virus in his early forties that left him with neurological damage. It is a testament to Skloot’s writing skills that what emerges is an always compelling, sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant account of how he got where he is today as a writer.

The Wink of the Zenith was a 2009 Oregon Book Award Finalist in the category of creative nonfiction.

2010- The Best and Worst

Today’s Poetic Asides prompt: “…write a poem that combines the best and worst part of 2010.”

The worst is easy enough. One has only to check out today’s headlines to read about the devastation in Haiti and how bipartisan politics threatens to doom any efforts at health care reform in this country. Yet it seems to be the human condition to endure, in spite of both natural disasters and man-made hardships.


Amidst earthquakes and
Political fiascoes
The sun still rises