news and events
It was great fun to be at Bookstock a week ago! Wonderful to catch up in real life with nine wonderful She Writes Press authors, to interact with readers, and see old friends. Thanks for coming out and making it so special! Since Poetic License launched at the beginning of the pandemic and all events were virtual, it was especially sweet to be among readers.
I’m also super excited to let you know about the latest in the Jane Benjamin series by my great friend and fabulous writer Shelley Blanton-Stroud! It’s ready for pre-order and will be out on June 28! Both Tom Boy and the previous award winning Copy Boy are a wonderful noirish romp in the world of 1930s San Francisco that follow the antics (including booze, lies, deaths, and a lot of great clothing) of Jane as she emerges from life as an Oakie and makes her way to stardom at the San Francisco Chronicle. I LOVE these books.
That trope about writing being a solitary art is only part true. Without my committed, super talented, and super fun critique partners-Shelley Blanton-Stroud, Ashley Sweeney, and Debra Thomas-it never would have happened. Every 3-4 weeks, without fail, from three different states and two time zones, (two CA; one WA; and moi in ME), we’ve traded chapters, critiqued our characters, storylines, and take-aways. What’s unique about this group–and most of you know I’m an expert on groups :-)–is the clear and mutual commitment we have to supporting each other’s very best next book. We give candid and frank feedback while maintaining a good structure and groundrules. We dig in when needed, but don’t waste time when not. We’ve become deeply connected, yet only two of us have met (While visiting Molly in L.A. I had a wonderful day with Debra!!).
I’d say we’re now a high-performing team and we’ve collectively produced FOUR NEW BOOKS IN THE LAST EIGHTEEN MONTHS!! Shelley’s first out of the gate this month (see below); next is Ashley in September; then Deb in April 2023, and I’ll pull up the caboose next June. With this gang you won’t be surprised that each of us has already started our next–Ashley’s fourth and Shelley, Deb’s, and my third. While having each other’s backs, being there when stuck, celebrating our wins, and assuaging our losses, we haven’t sacrificed the writing critique. I tell every new author I know, find yourself a great critique group. This one came from our mutual experience publishing with SWP in 2020 and an intuition the four of us could make it over the long term. It’s a joy to have these writers in my life.
Behind the Scenes
My new book, a second memoir--I'm calling it a nonfiction memoir--follows the real lives of three powerful men, one my grandfather, in the early 1900s as they set about to build what is now called Hormel Foods. A true-crime and family-legacy story, it will hit the shelves, both virtual and real, on June 6, 2023!! Now headed into production, its mostly out of my hands–except for various rounds of proofing–and in the highly skilled hands of the great team at She Writes Press. Honestly, there’s probably nothing as thrilling as seeing your first book in print. Most of us take years to complete that one. I took twenty years to find the words, courage, and right place to bring out Poetic License, in 2020. But I don't have twenty years to produce a book anymore. Thankfully I’m smarter now, having been through it once. While Poetic License was long dreamed of, worked for, and adored for just being born, my second book has behaved more like the decently trained pup she should be.
There are similarities and differences in the two experiences. Here’s what I've found:
What’s similar is the effort it takes to write a book-length piece of work. Recently, in a little Dove chocolate I read this: don't finish until you're proud. I think that's the guiding principle for my writing. To work it until I'm proud. Especially when writing about real people whose lives deserve our best attention and discernment. Researching, fact-checking, and interpreting competing sources makes for exciting and sometimes confounding information to corral. The exhilaration is there with the second book as it was with the first, as we orchestrate all the details, people, places, and times that make up my story. Three protagonists fill the action of the book and each has absorbed my interest and attention for the last two years. One an American industrialist, one my grandfather, and one a white-collar criminal, I've wanted to give each their due, their deserved empathy and understanding. It’s humbling to hold and mold words in a way that I hope does justice to their real lives and the impact of their decisions on my family. As always I want to inspire us all to claim our innate power as we navigate and collectively change the worlds we live in.
#Nolongerwilling to do it otherwise.
What’s different this time is that I know so much more about I’m doing. I haven’t had to entirely learn a new art form, a new industry, and to unlearn forty years of business writing. I’m not thrown by curve balls (like Covid!). I understand how the production process unfolds and no longer waste time being intimidated by it. I’ve felt less frantic, more present for the story. I have anticipated the places I’d need help and know the resources to contact.
And this time around, two incredible teachers appeared at exactly the moment I needed them. Neither is involved in the development/production of this book, but both will have helped shape the narrative. Kerri Arsenault came first and totally upended my first two chapters, called out early my writer tics, told me to ditch the prologue, and, by the force of her belief in my words, helped me own the page. Bless you Kerri Arsenault. [With a shout out to Kerri’s terrific book Mill Town–Reckoning with What Remains which will be a comp for mine and is a terrific memoir about her family and the paper mill town in Maine in which she grew up. Better yet, buy it here!]
Second is Beth Kephart who invited me into her nine-month intensive Juncture workshop where I humbly work alongside eight uber-talented authors. Beth’s instructional pieces which sew together various elements of craft along with exposure to dozens and dozens of sometimes new-to-me authors, coupled with spot-on prompts for flash pieces, and the group's and her critique of our long submissions have kicked me up a notch or two. She too is that best of a teacher who knows you can aim higher and so you do. She likes getting throw everything we think we know into the air and see where it lands. A prolific author of thirty books in multiple genres, she’s a gem of a mentor and I’m a lucky dude to be in her circle. And she makes exquisite paper which she binds into books. Check it out here!
Musings on the Writing Life
June is my favorite month of the year, with its long light, warm days and cool nights, the sea both wild and placid, the rain turning green psychedelic, lupine forever hugging the shore, rugosa rose bushes opening to the sun. I've spent time every summer of my life in downeast Maine, but this is the first time we get to stay for the season. Here's a little aside I wrote recently...
Each summer I swear I’ll paint the Adirondack chairs, their legs rotted from sitting on grass, splinters sloughing off like years, white paint turning to gray with mold. Each summer I can’t get out of them. Perched with the view, I drink my coffee in them, eat cereal from my bowl, read a book, write a page, bring out lunch for family and friends, doze off in the sun, fetch wine and beer, call dinner a platter of bread and cheese, pull on an old sweater, watch the summer light fade to pink and chill. The shore laps the lawn. An osprey dives for mackerel from a hundred-foot tree. A bald eagle circles above. At 5:30 tomorrow morning the lobster boats will go out. I’ll pour my coffee and resettle in my chair. It never changes here. Ever still. Ever free.
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