Monday, October 26, 2009

Book Review: A Flickering Light

Jane Kirkpatrick’s novel, A Flickering Light, was inspired by her grandmother’s life and characterized by the author as biographical fiction. The author’s typical attention to detail and thorough research make this a story to remember.

Jessie Ann Gaebele’s love of photography dominates her life. Nothing pleases her more than to roam the countryside with her camera to capture Minnesota landscapes. Boys her own age bore her; homemaking is nothing but a series of chores. What could be more fascinating than finding just the right angle, telling stories with her images? At nearly sixteen, Jessie is through with school, but must find work to contribute to her family’s finances.

Jesse applies for a job as a photographer’s assistant. Luckily, the job suites her interests more than some jobs she’s held, though for her, portraits were not as satisfying as the spontaneity of nature photography. Soon though, she finds her niche in the shop, and under the guidance of her employer, Mr. Bauer, shows unusual talent for studio photography. Usually considered a man’s profession, photography in the early 1900's had toxic hazards with explosive powders and darkroom chemicals, including mercury, that could cause serious and recurring illness and even death.

Ms. Kirkpatrick has an extraordinary ability to draw readers into the world of her characters. In A Flickering Light, we recognize Jesse as an emerging young woman, dedicated to her unusual profession, but who soon realizes she can’t control her attraction for Mr. Bauer. We sympathize with Mr. Bauer’s struggle dealing with his children whom he loves, his effort to appease sour and often ill Mrs. Bauer, and the guilt he bears for the tenderness he feels toward Jesse.

Not only is the author adept in drawing us into this complex story, we also are brought into the world of photography, not only its creative nuances, but also the challenges and mechanics of the profession in the early 1900's.

A Flickering Light by Jane Kirkpatrick is an amazing novel, one I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a book you want to savor and don’t want it to end.

A Flickering Light, ISBN 978-1-57856-980-9, is available at your favorite bookstore or through A sequel, An Absence So Great is due to be released March, 2010. For more information about Jane Kirkpatrick, visit her website

Monday, October 19, 2009

Getting Your Name Out There

I had the honor this past week to speak at a writers’ conference. My hosts, Skagit Valley Writers League, in collaboration with Pacific Northwest Writers Association, provided an excellent forum for attendees.

Among the speakers were Jane Alynn, award-winning poet; Liz Adair, novelist and family historian; Lindsey McGirk, bookstore online marketing specialist; Chuck Robinson, co-owner of Village Bookstore in Bellingham, WA; and myself, non-fiction and fiction writer.

My session, "Writing for Pleasure, Marketing for Profit" delved into the nitty-gritty of selling non-fiction. I covered such topics as where to find magazines and other publications to buy your articles. We discussed what to include in query and submission letters.

I stressed the importance of knowing the type of rights to sell, such as all rights, first-time rights, reprint rights. As an example of reprint rights, I mentioned that I have had more than 400 articles published in magazines and newspapers. Many of these articles previously appeared in publications, then were resubmitted as reprints to other magazines. This allows me to reach a broader audience and at the same time get more revenue for my work.

We discussed the importance of a "hook," both in a query letter and in the article itself, something to grab an editor’s attention in the first paragraph. Submitting images is essential to sell most articles, even if the publication chooses to use their own or stock photography for the published article.

Many times research for one article will branch out into other articles. For instance, we went to Molokai, Hawaii for our 25th wedding anniversary. While there, we risked our very lives, riding mule-back down one of the highest sea cliffs in the world, the steep, 26 switch-back Kalaupapa Trail to Father Damien’s leper colony. From that one Hawaiian trip, I wrote two different articles to submit to two different magazines.

I wrapped up my presentation discussing the importance of record keeping, keeping track of submissions and following the process to its conclusion: query, submission, acceptance, publication, getting paid.

It’s fun being a part of a writers’ conference, talking with people eager to learn from successful writers.

Being a presenter at a conference is also a way of getting your name out there. Name recognition is important for a writer. Also, we writers lead a solitary profession–it’s gratifying to mingle with other writers and like-minded people.

I thank my hosts for this great opportunity. For additional information on Skagit Valley Writers League, please visit

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Review: A Gift of Dogs by Carolyn Wing Greenlee

The dog carries herself proudly. She has a mission and her alert no-nonsense attitude tells everyone they encounter–don’t distract me, I’m busy. I’ve got a job to do, a person to guide safely. This is serious business–my person is counting on me and she needs all of my attention. After reading A Gift of Dogs, these will be my thoughts when I see a person with a service dog.

Carolyn Wing Greenlee’s book, A Gift of Dogs, is a remarkable compilation of twelve stories from San Rafael Guide Dogs for the Blind November/December class of 2008. It’s a book precious for its insightful depth of what it means to be blind and that its definition is as different as the individuals involved. Each chapter depicts a unique solitary journey, but everyone featured in this book has one thing in common: each has been blessed with a guide dog.

Because I know Carolyn Wing Greenlee from our association with the writers group, Women Writing the West, and treasure her as a friend, I was most interested in the chapter of the book which deals with her own blindness. Although she and I had discussed her visual impairment, I hadn’t known of the sheer terror of her sight slowly but surely closing down with RP–Retinitis Pigmentosa. She speaks of her mother’s fatal illness and the thing they held in common: they both shared a deterioration and woke each morning with less.

Carolyn is a writer and a professional photographer with shows at museums and galleries. She is Lake County’s third Poet Laureate and is expected to perform public readings. How could she pursue her career? She felt her life spiraling downward.

A flyer from Earle Baum Center for the Blind came in the mail and she could make out from the large letters that a dog event was happening. She called to inquire and one thing led to another and her world began to offer glimmers of hope. For one, she met a specialist who connected her to technology that would read to her, enlarge and project her work on a computer monitor. She received counseling to help her understand the sorrows, depression and frustrations associated with blindness.

After a four-hour home visit to test suitability, Carolyn was accepted at Guide Dogs for the Blind at San Rafael, California, recognized as one of the best guide dog schools in the nation.

At the school she found herself surrounded by people who understood her limitations, who offered one-on-one training, trips to fascinating places, comfortable accommodations. The program lasted 28 days. Carolyn says that it was barely enough time to learn what she needed to know.

When Carolyn first met Hedy, a small female black Lab, it wasn’t love at first "sight." Hedy, like many Labs, had a stubborn streak and tested Carolyn to the limits. The dog seemed to love her first trainer more than Carolyn. But gradually, Carolyn learned to give clear directions and follow the guidelines of persistent alpha leadership. Hedy was totally managed by Carolyn–feeding, grooming, exercising, working, playing, cuddling. Eventually, Hedy and Carolyn bonded. Through the school’s guidance, they learned to trust one another and become a team.

"It’s everything I wanted and more than I could have wished," Carolyn says, speaking of the privilege of having Hedy. "I have something I could never have had if I were not the way I am, and it makes me feel vibrantly whole."

This is a worthy book that answers questions most of us could never ask in person. A guide dog is priceless to its owner and institutions devoted to the support of this effort are to be applauded. Because of the arduous training of dogs and their handlers, people who were home-bound can now enter the workplace, visit places they would have never dared to go, and become an independent and vital part of our society.

A Gift of Dogs, by Carolyn Wing Greenlee, ISBN: 978-1-887400-40-4, may be purchased directly from the publisher, Earthen Vessel Productions, 3620 Greenwood Drive, Kelseyville, CA 95451, or through their website, Please indicate if you’d like to have an autographed copy by Carolyn and/or a paw print stamp by Hedy.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Time of Renewal: Women Writing the West Conference

Carolyn Wing Greenlee with guide dog Hedy and Mary at UCLA

It’s a spiritual experience, our Women Writing the West annual conference. Seeing old friends and making new ones is enriching beyond words. Among these women, and a few men, too, we make friendships bound through our love of writing. We share writing experiences, our successes, our hopes and dreams.

This year’s conference was held on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, a departure from previous conferences.

Throughout Friday and Saturday, inspiring panels and workshops broadened our world of writing as we learned what agents are looking for, what makes publishers notice our work, a wonderful session on the evolution of transportation in the west and the role women played. We learned about California’s untapped treasures, we were given the latest in marketing techniques. We all dream about having our work appear on screen and we were given practical approaches in presenting our work to producers. And finally, we were introduced to refreshing creative writing skills.

As we normally do each year, registrants have an opportunity to have one-on-one 10-minute appointments with agents, publishers, marketing specialists and a books-to-screen specialist. This year I coordinated that event. Again, I was reminded of the old saying, "the more you put into something, the more you get out of it." Working on the logistics of this task forced me to learn and work with spreadsheets beyond what I had previously learned. I worked with a great team and was gratified by their dedication and enthusiasm.

My own appointments with several of these experts helped refine my strategies for when my next book, Tenderfoot, is released within the next few months. Today’s marketing is so much more technical than when my last two books were published. Public appearances are still important, but marketing on-line is a vital piece of the process now.

Delightful speakers are always a part of the conference: the Friday evening buffet, Saturday luncheon celebrating the 2009 WILLA Literary Awards finalists, and Saturday dinner celebrating the WILLA winners.

Two tours were offered as "extras." I participated in the Friday morning bus tour of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. What fun! I couldn’t go on the Sunday tour–Getty Center Exhibition–because of my early afternoon flight home.

Many among the membership are successful writers with several books published, others have only one or two, some have never published a word. Yet all are welcomed with the kindness and warmth of a true sisterhood.

My heartfelt thanks to this year’s committee for a memorable conference. For more information on Women Writing the West, please visit