Harpies & Gray Birds of Loneliness

angel & devilDo you feel like you have that devil on your shoulder when you write?—the one who says, “This is crap, utter nonsense, never should be published.”

You are not alone. Back in the years when I was writing freelance magazine articles, I heard that negative voice every time I had an article published. “Oh, that was just a fluke. You’ll never write another one worthy of publishing.”

And now, even though I’ve had five books published, I get bogged down in the rewrite of my sixth one, and continually hear the voice say, “You probably shouldn’t publish this one. Just give up on it. Nobody likes your character, she’s self-centered and whiny. You can’t fix it. Forget about it.”

Some days I listen to the negative voice and say, “OK. I’m just going to chuck this book.” But other days I think, No, you’ve done this before. You know what to do. Keep on plugging away. You’ll get there!

While it’s not comfortable, it’s good to know others struggle with the same negativity. My author friend and multi-published author, Jane Kirkpatrick, calls the voices her “harpies.”

grey birdJane Friedman recently wrote a blog titled “Creation and Doubt are Enjoined Twins.” She also references an article by Devin Murphy in Glimmer Train, “The Gray Birds of Loneliness,” where he talks about John Steinbeck’s negative, critical voices. This is from widely acclaimed authors.

No, we are not alone!

I hope we all can recognize this element of our writing personalities and balance it out with the positive voice of the angel on the other shoulder, telling us, “You can do it. You have the talent, the skill, and the perseverance. Don’t give up!”

Published in: on September 4, 2017 at 8:47 pm  Comments (1)  
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Jane Kirkpatrick: ‘Oprah Doesn’t Know My Name’

Jane Kirkpatrick is the author of twenty-three books and is a two-time winner of the WILLA Literary Award. Her first novel, A Sweetness to the Soul, won the Western Heritage Wrangler Award, and she is known for writing historical fiction based on “real” women pioneers.

Jane, I loved reading Barcelona Calling. This is a totally different book for you, even a different voice. Tell us how this book was inspired and how it evolved.

For years when I spoke to groups I teased that one day I was going to write a book about a writer who confused fame with fulfillment and that I would call it “Oprah Doesn’t Know My Name.”  One day my publisher heard me say that and suggested that I write that book.  I told them they wouldn’t like it because it would be so different but they insisted.  I wrote it.  They rejected it!  But one of the editors, after leaving that publisher, remembered the book and when he went to another publisher, approached my agent and wanted it. It went through huge changes during the four or five years as it sat in my document file never to be opened! I had a great editor and that helped a lot and voila, it arrived as Barcelona Calling.  It seems there is something about Oprah having her name trademarked??? I still think the title would have grabbed a few people but one adjusts as did the writer in the book.

I think every writer can see parallels in this story, trying to get published and then trying to get noticed by the “big leaguers.” How much of this is from your own experience? Sadly, quite a bit! Every time a book of mine comes out some well-meaning person says to me “Have you ever thought about getting Oprah (or Ellen or NPR etc.) to pick your book?  I bet that would help your sales.”  They mean well but it’s such a long shot. It’s like telling myself, “If only I could win the lottery then all would be well”…and of course it wouldn’t be. I don’t think I was quite as conflicted as Annie but sadly, some of the obscure things that happened to her (in bathrooms, at salons, on airplanes, etc.) have happened to me. I mean hasn’t every writer at one time had someone say “I always wanted to write a book” when they learn that they’re speaking to a writer? Yet neurologists rarely hear “I’ve always wanted to be a neurologist” after stating their profession. I did have to learn that I wouldn’t always get to choose my titles and that publishing is a team occupation and that was something that took Annie awhile to understand.

I loved learning a new word, “Bezoars,” for hairballs! What fun. How did you find this word? I read my alumni magazines!  There it was, people at the University of Wisconsin were doing research on cat food to reduce hairballs and there was the scientific name for it. It fit perfectly for my story. I was so happy!

Your current release is Where Lilacs Still Bloom, another historical novel. Who or what was the inspiration for this book? This book is more like what my readers are familiar with. Hulda Klager was a simple German housewife with an eighth grade education who had a dream…she wanted crisper apples easier to peel and that led her to the world of botany and hybridization eventually developing 250 individual varieties of lilacs. The garden she created is on the national historic registry and a descendant patiently but persistently suggested over several years that I write Hulda’s story. When I realized how generous Hulda was and how persistent I found it to be one of the most inspiring stories I’d ever encountered. People can visit the garden in Woodland, WA south of Seattle and 30 minutes north of Portland, OR. A real treat for everyone.

What is your next project? I just completed my latest historical novel, One Glorious Ambition: the Compassionate Crusade of Dorothea Dix. Dorothea was an early reformer on behalf of the mentally ill. It’s also an amazing story of a woman who turned tragedy in her own life into energy to relieve the suffering of others. She was also an early teacher, starting a school when she was 15, for girls, a rarity in the 1820s of New England. I also have a novella I’m working on and a devotional for caregivers Promises of Hope for Difficult Times coming out in January.

Do you think you’ll do another contemporary? I wouldn’t say never, but I realized in this process that I rely heavily on the spine of history to tell my stories. It’s also true that a historical writer must create an unknown world that a reader finds believable (as do fantasy writers). In a contemporary, people bring their own “world” experiences to the piece. Everyone has a story about Starbucks or flying, for example, that affects how they see the contemporary world inside the book. In an historical novel people rely on the author to create experiences with stagecoaches or corsets, so I think it might be easier for the reader to step into the historical world leaving their own world behind for a time. The contemporary author has a more difficult job I think keeping the reader inside “their story” without us bringing “our world story” into the mix. Does that make sense?  Anyway, it was much more work than I had imagined though I truly learned a great deal in the process. But then stories are always teaching us, right?

That does make sense, something I hadn’t thought of before. I agree, as writers, we continue to learn and that’s the fun part of our chosen profession. Thank you, Jane, for sharing with us today.

Book synopsis for Barcelona Calling:

Annie Shaw is a writer with one bestseller, one book that tanked, a third book that isn’t doing all that well and a fourth book that may never see publication unless she can meet her new editor’s demands. She’s seeking fame and believing it will give her fulfillment and in the process acquires a dog, huge legal fees for unusual accidents and comes face to face with a love she left behind in Barcelona, Spain. “In Barcelona Calling protagonist Annie Shaw throws herself into all the zany ideas for attracting Oprah’s attention.  Along the way she forgets for a little while about what is really important and loses herself in schemes for fame and recognition.  This is a funny, entertaining story that brings home the message of being true to yourself.”  Deon Stonehouse, Owner of Sunriver Books and Music, an independent Book store in Oregon.


“Jane Kirkpatrick showcased her writing skills on Barcelona Calling, from outrageous to hilarious to inspiring words about the life of a novelist–and those people she touches. Bravo, Jane, for showing us what this life of writing is really all about–touching one heart at a time.” Hannah Alexander, author of The Wedding Kiss and The Hideaway series

“For years Jane Kirkpatrick has created wonderful, engaging characters and detailed plots that keep the pages turning. And she’s done it again with a completely new genre. Hats off to Jane Kirkpatrick for showing her versatility and humor and making me a fan all over again.”  Tracey Bateman, author of Thirsty and Tandem

Jane Kirkpatrick: Character’s Voices

Historical Author Jane Kirkpatrick has a new novel release, The Daughter’s Walk, based on Clara Estby who, with her mother, walked  3,500 miles from Spokane, WA to New York City to promote a new shorter skirt fashion, earn $10,000, and save the family farm. This is a fascinating, entertaining book that explores what happened to Clara after their return, when she was shunned by her family. It is a story of transformation, from the beginning, when Clara pessimistically fights the journey and her mother plays the part of the “eternal optimist.” By the end, they’ve switched roles in their “grand adventure.”

I asked Jane to talk about how she discovers and develops her character’s voices and why she chose to write this book in the first person point of view.

It’s interesting you should comment, Heidi, on the voices of the characters in The Daughter’s Walk. The original version was written in third person through the eyes of Clara and alternating with her mother Helga.  Then in part two, I had Clara be the narrator as first person and finally, in part three, I returned to Clara and her mother, alternating in third person.  I thought it worked.

But my editor — whose opinion I greatly trust — said to me, “Whose story is this?  Clara or Helga’s” and once I asked myself that question I realized I wanted to tell Clara’s story rather than her mother’s.  The nonfiction book written by Linda L. Hunt, Bold Spirit, Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America told the story mostly through and about Helga and the social events that affected their lives, but mostly Helga’s.  Readers of that book SO loved Helga that Norwegian chapters of Daughters of Norway named their chapters for her.  She was practically a saint! In my effort to be faithful to Helga’s story I had really short-changed Clara’s and it was her story that inspired me to write the novel in the first place.

So back to the drawing board as they say! What I found is that Clara needed to be heard and it was much easier to tell the entire story through her than I’d thought.  I still think I honored Helga but I was more interested in the journey Clara had to take as a result of the walk and the consequences of it. I could ask myself what Clara might be thinking when her mother did this or that and explore Clara’s motivation as I began to see the world through her eyes.

How do I create a distinctive voice for each of my characters?  Good question!  Their history creates some of the design, were they German American, Norwegian, Native American, Swiss and did they learn English as a second language as that affects the sentence structure when they speak. I try to find some piece of dialogue or a bit of behavior that feels natural and becomes associated with each character so eventually I might not have to use “she said” because we know who is speaking by the word choice or how she “blinked her eyes.”  We might also know some internal state because she says or does that bit “when she’s nervous” or when she’s about to go ballistic.

Each character also has to change over time and how that progresses will also shape that character’s voice.  About half way through a novel, I feel like the character starts to tell me things about them that I didn’t know or hadn’t uncovered in my research.  It usually requires that I go back and rework earlier sections but it’s also true that a reader likes to have that character unfold over time. As authors we don’t have to show readers everything about that character in the beginning.  We do need though to have some distinctive characteristics so the reader can visualize early on who this person is and whether they might want to spend an entire book with them .  If it’s a first person POV, it also has to be a character whose way of seeing the world offers sustained interest over the length of the book.

For Clara, her interest in her hair (she carried that curling iron all the way across the country!) seemed a natural way to help shape her voice.  It became a way to show her internal state, how she dealt with disappointment.  I also found that her hair was a way of engaging with her women friends and that interaction then expanded the character of each of those women.  I hope I did all of that in a believable way.

As for which voice — first person or third — is easier to write in…they both have their challenges and their delights.  I’ve had a number of men tell me they like reading my books because the men are real, not always perfect but people they can relate to.  I’ve never written a book with a first person male protagonist.  Might be interesting to try but so far I just love finding stories of fascinating historical women and then entering their psyche and their lives hoping to glean what is universal about our worlds despite the generations that separate us. It’s one of the joys of writing.

The Daughter’s Walk will be available April 5 at booksellers and on Amazon. Jane Kirkpatrick has written sixteen historical novels based on the lives of actual women, and three non-fiction books. Her books have won numerous awards, including Best Books by Library Journal at the Women Writing the West WILLA award.

Women Writing the West

I just returned, on a grand high, from the annual WWW conference, held this year in San Antonio, Texas. Writing conferences are an excellent way to connect with fellow scribes–to network, to share, to learn, and to commiserate about the writing/publishing life.

I have made so many good friends through this group, not to mention meeting agents, editors, film-makers, and I made my connection to my publisher through WWW. Workshops give new information or reinforce ideas lurking in the back of one’s head. Speakers provide inspiration–“You can do it too!” And WWW is one of the most supportive, enthusiastic and caring groups I’ve been privileged to be a part of.

Books. Ah, books. There is so much truth to the saying, “So many books, so little time.” We always have a bookstore with members’ books for sale, and every year I have to rein myself in. I want to buy one of each. Next year mine, Cowgirl Dreams, will be there!

Women Writing the West was birthed in the early 1990s by Jerrie Hurd and Sybil Downing at an organizational meeting of the Women of the West Museum. It has since grown to more than 300 members and conducts a renowned writing contest, the WILLA Literary Awards, named for Willa Cather.

It is open to women and men writing about the west or in the west, and includes well-known western and historical authors, such as  Sandra Dallas, Molly Gloss, Louise Erdrich. and Jane Kirkpatrick.

A Mending at the Edge

BOOK REVIEW: A Mending at the Edge by Jane Kirkpatrick

“Of all the things I left in Willapa, hope is what I missed the most.”

In the third of the “Change and Cherish” series, Jane Kirkpatrick continues the story based on Emma Wagner Giesy, the only woman sent to the Oregon Territory in the 1850s to help found a communal society.

Emma and her three children escape an abusive marriage and move from their homestead in Willapa to find safety in Aurora Mills, Oregon. Aurora was part of a utopian religious community that moved initially from Bethel, MO in the 1856 to the Washington Territory.

She has had great tragedy in her life, her heart has been broken, and hope seems out of her reach. And new troubles come from resisting the patriarchal leadership of the colony. But Emma’s spirit is strong and she longs to make sense of her tragedy and find a way to move forward, living with uncertainty in life, and a constant renewing of her faith.

Through her quilting gatherings, Emma begins to weave and God sends the thread to mend relationships, like the frayed edges of cloth. When a child in the community dies, she tells her children to picture heaven as “a place where young girls quilt, all day long … and she never has to take any stitches out …” Death reminds her of the loss of her first beloved husband, and she decides it is “the mark of our character, how we let others be the patch in our lives when we felt most torn apart.”

Emma has sehnsucht, a German term that means a deep longing, a passion to find meaning and to be spiritually engaged. She eventually realizes that her continued seeking and questioning has been an important part of her faith journey. “It couldn’t be wise to become so certain of how God worked in the world that we stopped seeing evidence of divine surprise.”

Her eventual acceptance of Aurora and its communal life is exemplified by her sister Kitty, “… We all live in this place together, this Aurora, and that has the same … I don’t know, comfort, I guess. People know one another and care about one another even if there are skirmishes now and then. There always are in families.”

And that sense of family is what restores Emma’s hope and her strength in self. When her son thanks and compliments her on an appliquéd picture of her children, she concludes, “What more could any mother wish for? What more could any woman want?”

Jane Kirkpatrick says, “As I learned of some of the trials Emma and her husband faced with the landscape and with the leader, I became more and more convinced of her fortitude and her wish to do what most 21st century women wish for:  to do the best we can for our families without losing ourselves in the process. Her struggles represented contemporary issues of many faith communities wishing to sustain their own practices while still being relevant in the larger world. Fiction is really made up of change, causation, conversation, conflict and characters. It’s the weaving together of those qualities along with landscapes, relationships, spirituality and work that creates the turmoil. Just as in our lives!”

Jane’s writing is a delight to read, a patchwork quilt rich with metaphors, as she tells Emma’s story of obstacles, loss, and conflict to find personal growth and satisfaction in giving and serving others. A Mending at the Edge is a wonderful conclusion to a woman’s story of strength and perseverance.

Jane Kirkpatrick is the award-winning author of 14 historical novels, two non-fiction books, as well as numerous articles. Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt, Community and Craft, a non-fiction book of interest to women’s studies, historians, quilters and craftsman will be out in December.

A Mending at the Edge is available at www.waterbrookpress.com or www.amazon.com

ISBN 978-0-7394-9545-2.

Heidi M. Thomas has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is the author of a soon-to-be published novel, Cowgirl Dreams. She teaches memoir and beginning fiction writing and does freelance editing for fiction and non-fiction. She is a member of CWGI, Women Writing the West, and Skagit Valley Writers League.

Published in: on October 18, 2008 at 10:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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WILLA Winner: Tendering in the Storm

A Tendering in the Storm, the second in the “Change and Cherish” series has just been named a WILLA Award winner. This series is based on a true story of Emma Giesy, a strong-willed German-American who settled in Washington territory and later in Oregon.

You’ve been involved with Women Writing the West for 12 years and Chaired the 2007 WILLA contest as past president. Last year, A Clearing in the Wild was a finalist. How does this feel, receiving this award after looking in from the sidelines for so long? It’s a delight!  I’ve been fortunate in having a book to submit every year since the WILLA Literary Awards began. Last year, chairing the competition, I made sure the previous chair handled that category.  Not that I thought I’d win but I wanted to have the competition be unrelated to my role as chair.  I was stunned, truly, after all those years, to be a finalist.  This year, to be a winner, still has my jaw-dropped!

How did you come across Emma’s story, which you began in A Clearing in the Wild? Two different quilter groups have quilted their versions of two of my novel series.  I was deeply moved by their inventiveness and creativity and how stories come in all shapes and sizes.  Several joined me at a signing for the books and they “told their story.”  Later I was asked to tell stories to a quilter’s retreat offered by author and quilter Mary ByWater Cross.  I laughed because I’m not a quilter (though those quilters attending that retreat sat up with me until 2:00 AM to help me make a nine-patch that is now a pillow on my couch!)  Anyway, while there I read one of Mary’s books, Quilts of the Oregon Trail that included a picture of Emma’s quilt and the sentence that she was the only woman who with nine male scouts was sent west from their Bethel, Missouri religious community to find a new site in the Northwest.  Here was an artifact with the woman’s name still attached to it, lovingly cared for.  And the story of the only woman just intrigued me along with what was the religious community?  Why did they come west?  Did this woman want to come?  Was she sent? As I researched a bit I discovered when her first son was born and it meant she was pregnant when she began the journey.  What was that like?  What was the desire of this woman?  All kinds of unanswered questions.  The story took off from there.

Did you have letters or journals that gave you the gist of her journey? Census records gave me information about her husband, father, brother and sons which is often the case in researching historical women.  Virginia Woolf once wrote that women’s history
must be “invented, both uncovered and made up” because so much of their record is simply a reflection of the men they were connected to.  The Pacific County Historical Museum and The Aurora Colony Historical Museum had some documents, letters that the leader wrote back to Bethel after they joined the scouts some 18 months later, but I knew, for example, that she had four children, two girls and two boys, but the genealogy the museum had didn’t include the girls!  I included the girls in the first book and at a signing a woman introduced herself as a great-granddaughter of Emma.  She said she loved the book, but “you made up the part about Emma having girls, right?”  When I told her no, gave her their names, who they married etc., she was astonished and said she had only ever been told about the boys.   In the Aurora newsletter early on, they printed a picture of me researching there and I was contacted by a descendant who did have family letters.  Only one came from Emma but it was enough to give me solid information about who she was…along with the family stories and other historical records we uncovered in obscure places like divorce filings thirty years after she’d come to the region.

She is part of a utopian religious community that moved from Bethel, MO in the 1856 to the Washington Territory initially. Some of her troubles come from resisting the patriarchal leadership of the colony. Is her strength and independence something that drew you to her story? Yes, though when I began research I didn’t know if she was a resister or someone who went comfortably along with the communal ways.  I only knew that her name was remembered, an artifact had been preserved that belonged to her and eventually also learned that a house built for her still stood as well.  So she had to have been someone of distinction if not influence.  And yet, it was a German-American society. Being of German descent myself I’m familiar with strong-willed women (sometimes called pushy or stubborn) who I like to describe as persevering.  As I learned of some of the trials Emma and her husband faced with the landscape and with the leader, I became more and more convinced of her fortitude and her wish to do what most 20th century women wish for:  to do the best we can for our families without losing ourselves in the process.  Her struggles represented contemporary issues of many faith communities wishing to sustain their own practices while still being relevant in the larger world.  Incidentally, the colony was communal in economics and property only, not in marital relationships.

You write about the German term Sehnsucht. Can you elaborate on that theme in Tendering? It’s a word that means a deep longing for something, almost like an addiction.  Perhaps it’s what the German poet Rilke refers to when he says that God is “the great homesickness we can never shake off.”  It is a deep passion to find meaning and to be spiritually engaged.  Emma had a great tragedy strike her and she witnessed this tragedy and after speaking with other of her descendants, that event really defined much of her life after that.  I came to believe that grief has many siblings – anger, disappointment, rejection of support, impulsive decision-making, guilt, etc.  I think what brought her through was her longing to make sense of that tragedy and find a way to move forward, living with uncertainty in life and a constant renewing of her faith.   This book is also told in part through the eyes of Louisa Keil, the wife of the religious leader and I hoped to show her struggle as well even though she never doubted or challenged her husband but still had a longing to be known for who she was.

Do you speak German or did you have to learn some of the words you used in the book?  I know a couple of little children’s poems that my father taught me and I can say potato in German!  Once years ago I visited a German lady who had three big German shepherd dogs staked along the walk way.  They pulled and barked at me and they only understood German!  I kept saying Kartofle to them because it was all I knew!  I had a wonderful German friend, Erhard Gross, who helped me immensely with all three books.  So much of German word choice is dependent on context so he would read the manuscript and make corrections.  Nouns are always capitalized too.  My computer often didn’t like that.  I did learn a few words but when I was in Germany earlier this year going through customs and the custom agent barked at me because I forgot to get my passport back from him, he scared away even my danke – that’s “thanks!”

In writing series, do you get so attached to your characters that you want to be “with them” awhile longer? I think that’s why I’m doing this quilt and craft book (Aurora…), so I can hang out with Emma and Matilda and Louisa and Aurora and others longer…they were real people and they became more real to me as I’ve spent the last three years with them.  It’s been a delight to be at the museum south of Portland when others who’ve read the books come to visit.  Last week four people from Ohio took a train to visit the Aurora Colony Museum, to see where Emma first came to the west (in Washington) and then to Aurora where Emma ended up.  I happened to be there and got to meet them.  Two couples.  I told the husbands that they were good men to come across the country just to walk where Emma walked.  But then that’s one of the purposes of fiction, right? to “move” people… in this instance, from Ohio to the Northwest for a week!

Tell us more about the quilt Emma’s descendents have donated to the Oregon Historical Society and the replica that is being made for the drawing. The Aurora Colony has about 80 original quilts, two of Emma’s. This wool quilt is called Running Squares on Point.  You can see a picture of it on my blog  www.janekirkpatrick.blogspot.com It’s done in a plaid of teal and red that was likely manufactured by the colonists either in Aurora or Bethel.  The setting (solid color) blocks are red and she’s hand-stitched and hand-quilted it using a wreath pattern that was common to many Aurora quilters.  She’s quilted using 10 stitches to the inch!  Imagine that!  One of the premier quilters stitched 15 inches to the inch.  I can’t even get one stitch to the inch.  Interestingly, Emma placed the initials CG in one corner.  Some thought it might be a laundry mark as they often washed communally but there are only four textiles in all the collection of the museum including quilts and hand-tailored shirts and dresses that bear any kind of initial.  And besides, it’s such a distinctive quilt I doubt anyone could miss that it was Emma’s.  The initials to me represent either her husband Christian, or her son of the same name.  Perhaps it was another small way of having her voice preserved inside a male-dominated community.  Pendleton Woolen Mills, one of the last surviving family owned textile mills in the country has donated the wool for a replica quilt that my publisher is having made by quilters in Aurora.  We’ll have a drawing for it sometime in the spring and it’s to commemorate the book Aurora:  An American Experience in Quilt, Community and Craft coming out in December.  A close-up of Emma’s quilt is on the cover.  Nothing to buy…just enter at www.waterbrookpress.com and click on “contests.”

Thank you, Jane, for an entertaining and insightful interview. We’ll catch up with you again and talk about your next book.

Published in: on September 8, 2008 at 2:16 am  Comments (4)  
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