Who Wants a Pint (or Two)?

pint01-small

A thank-you gift for your contribution. Beer not included.

Hey, how would you like to own two of these fancy-looking BWW pint glasses?

When you make a contribution of $150 or become a sustaining member of the BWW at $12/month or more, we’ll give you a pair of these as a big ol’ thank you. It’s that simple.

Why are we asking for money? Because bills. But bills are good! Because we’re investing in Vermont’s literary community. We’ve got to pay the rent on our new workshop space, where we hold as many as five free creative writing workshops each week. We’re investing in Mud Season Review to make it a world-class literary journal. We celebrate local talent with The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop. We bring established writers to our workshop table to give you feedback. We provide free writing retreats and put together panel discussions.

Also, we’re an all-volunteer workforce. No salaries. Just volunteers putting in the hours for the love of the game.

Because you’ve taken advantage of this service, we hope you’ll become a sustaining member at $12/month. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Visit our donate page using a computer (not a phone; the mobile site doesn’t allow monthly gifts).
  2. Click on the yellow “DONATE” button.
  3. Once you’re at this page, enter the donation amount ($12 or more) and make sure you check the “Make This Recurring (Monthly)” box (see image below).

BWW-donate-PayPal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you make your donation before Friday, April 29th, you can pick up your pint glasses at the launch party for The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016. We hope to see you there!

If you have any questions, please let us know. Cheers!

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of April 25, 2016

Mud Season Review Issue #19

Check out Issue #19 at www.mudseasonreview.com

Mud Season Review issue #19 is up for viewing! This issue offers a preview of what’s inside MSR’s print issue vol. 2, forthcoming in May. Check out the artwork of Sonja Hinrichsen, fiction of Evan D. Williams (with illustrations by Meredith C. Bullock), nonfiction of Melissa Wiley, and poetry of Lisa Beech Hartz. And don’t forget to RSVP for the print launch party on Saturday, May 7, 7 p.m. at Hotel Vermont.

Continue reading

An interview with Vermont poet Linda Quinlan

Linda Quinlan, Burlington Writers Workshop poet

Linda Quinlan in her writing space. Linda will be reading her poetry at The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 launch party, Friday, April 29th at the BCA.

Our poetry editor, Michelle Watters, recently spoke with poet Linda Quinlan, whose poem “Chelsea, MA” appears in The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016. Here’s what Linda had to say about her work, her inspirations, and her approach to poetry.

Your poem “Chelsea, MA” reads like memoir. Is it?
Yes. It was about my favorite Aunt Evelyn. My mother was the oldest of seven children. My favorite aunt was the youngest. She was the wildest, she was a flapper in the twenties and drank way too much. I used to run numbers for her. In the old days, people would pick numbers in a bar and then you would bring them to a bookie. If your numbers matched the numbers at the bookie joint, you got paid. I brought the numbers to the bookie.

What was your childhood like?
My childhood was working class. My parents were factory workers. My mother worked in a rubber factory and my dad was a steelworker. I was adopted and I had an older brother who was also adopted. He was eight years older and a sadistic bastard. I belonged to the hip crowd in school, lots of friends, lots of fun. I enjoyed the social aspects of school, not the academics. I still hang out with some of my high school friends when I go home.

Was there a defining moment in your life where it hit you that you were a writer?
Yes, eighth grade English class. There was a class on poetry and I fell in love and thought this is what I am going to do. We read Emily Dickinson and Yeats and later Plath and Rich. I thought it was magical.

What are some other jobs you had before becoming a writer?
I have always been a writer, but I have had jobs along the way. I owned my own painting business; it was one of the first all-women painting crews in the country. I’ve also been a financial aid adviser and a grant writer.

Do you have a favorite poem that you have written?
Yes, it was called “A New Orleans Farewell” and it was published in The Women’s Literary Journal about two years ago. It was about a friend of mine who died after Katrina. His name was Mike and he had undiagnosed hepatitis C and liver cancer. He had used a needle in his twenties and had gone undiagnosed.

Who are your favorite authors/poets/books?
Adrienne Rich’s Diving Into The Wreck, Sylvia Plath’s Ariel. Martha Collins was my creative writing teacher in college. She is considered to be among the best top twenty American poets. Also I would say Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.

Do you consider yourself a feminist poet? And what does that mean to you?
I would say I am a feminist, but not necessarily a feminist poet, and even though I am a lesbian, I don’t say I’m a lesbian poet.

Where do you like to write?
I like to write at home in a small room, kind of a little cubby. I have a lot of poetry around me. I play music, blues mostly. I do a lot of pacing when I write.

Do you write anything besides poetry?
I do, but I don’t think I’m very good at it. Margaret Atwood made a statement that “if you throw water on poetry it becomes a novel.” I really identify with that because when I try to write nonfiction or plays, I just want to go back to poetry because I feel like I can tell the story better, more concise, more powerfully.

Where did you go to school/college?
University of Massachusetts, Boston 1970-1976.

You have been writing for a long time. What are some of the accomplishments you are proud of?
I was Poet of the Year in Wisconsin in 1989. I’ve also had lots of publications in literary magazines.

How do you think the BWW has helped you?
The BWW has enhanced the writing community for me and given me access to fellow writers.

Do you have any specific writing goals for the coming years?
I would like to get a chapbook published, but I guess I don’t put in the effort it takes to do that. I am very zen about this. I submit my poetry all the time to journals, but I just am happy with my life and enjoy it.

More about Linda

Linda Quinlan has been published in numerous literary journals, some of which include Pudding, New Orleans Review, Sinister Wisdom, and the North Carolina Literary Review. She was Poet of the Year in Wisconsin and had a play entitled When I Go to Sleep performed at the Players Theater in Waitsfield, Vermont. She lives with her partner in Montpelier, Vermont.

To hear Linda and others read their work from this year’s anthology, join us for the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 print launch party: Friday, April 29, 2016 6-9 pm at Burlington City Arts (BCA), 135 Church Street, Burlington, VT. RSVP now >

 More about The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016

This book is the fourth installment in the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop series. Founded in 2013, the annual anthology features work that is written, selected, and edited by BWW members. The mission of the anthology is to showcase the work of new, emerging, and established Vermont writers while offering Vermonters the opportunity to learn first-hand about the editing, publishing, and book marketing process. The 2016 edition will be available for purchase soon. Learn more or purchase a copy of past anthologies in the series >

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of April 18, 2016

Mud Season Review print issue vol. 2 launch partyThe next few weeks bring two of our biggest events of the year. First up is the Best of 2016 launch party on Friday, April 29th at the BCA. If you’re planning to attend (and we hope you are!), please remember to RSVP. This will help us to accurately plan for food and seating for the event. The following week brings the launch party for Mud Season Review print issue vol. 2. This celebration will be held Saturday, May 7th, beginning at 7 p.m., at Hotel Vermont. The evening will feature author readings by Ralph Culver, Robin McLean, Sean Prentiss, and Alison Prine as well as an art installation of work by Riki Moss, whose artwork is featured in the MSR print issue. Please kindly RSVP for this event as well.

Continue reading

An interview with Cardy Raper

Author Cardy Raper

Cardy Raper will read from her essay, “Mother Nature’s Kama Sutra,” at The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 launch party, April 29th, 6-9 pm at the BCA in Burlington.

Our nonfiction editor, E.T. Perry, recently spoke with Cardy Raper, author of the essay, “Mother Nature’s Kama Sutra,” which appears in The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016. Here’s what Cardy had to say about the themes of nature, science, curiosity, and independence that run through her life and work, including her latest book, An American Harvest: How One Family Moved from Dirt-Poor Farming to a Better Life in the Early 1900s.

Where did you grow up and can you describe your experience? How do you feel your upbringing has affected you?

Born and bred in Plattsburgh, New York, I was the youngest and only girl in a family of six siblings. My five brothers offered tough love. Whenever I accomplished something of note, the greatest praise I remember receiving was, “That’s pretty good—for a girl!” I was called a tomboy, trying to do most of the things they did: skiing, skating, boating, hiking, camping, working on the family farm in Peru. My dad, brought up on that farm, made a living as [a] small town lawyer—he brought home the bacon; mom stayed home, keeping the household going, loving and disciplining us kids.

You’ve had an impressive career as a scientist, researcher, and professor—having earned degrees from the University of Chicago and Harvard and publishing widely—and in 2012 you were elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Can you talk a bit about the trajectory of your career?

I became enamored of science in third grade at the practice school of the Plattsburgh Normal and Training School, which later became SUNY Plattsburgh. We had a science teacher who inspired us with hands-on projects, like building a simulated volcano or a toy sailboat. One spring evening he took us on a hike up a small Adirondack mountain overlooking Lake Champlain, and talked about the sun, the planets, the stars—what we knew and didn’t know then.

My youngest brother and I got so excited I announced, next evening at suppertime, “When Jonnie and I grow up, we want to be scientists!”

My mother responded, “That’s nice, dear, Jonnie can be a doctor, and you can be a nurse.”

“But Mom, I don’t want to be a nurse. I want to be a scientist and discover things!”

The desire persisted, but I was never encouraged to become a scientist until I became a graduate student at the University of Chicago and met my mentor, John Raper—better known as Red. We worked together. He respected my abilities and potential. We fell in love, got married, and worked together.

Your research as well as your essay in this year’s Best Of, “Mother Nature’s Kama Sutra,” deal largely with various modes of sexual reproduction. Within the many fields of science and biology, what drew you to studying and working on genetics and sexual reproduction specifically? 

The teachings of two professors at the University of Chicago: Red Raper, plant biologist and mycologist, a leading expert on reproductive processes in fungi, and Sewall Wright, a famous geneticist who was the first to work out a unified picture of evolution based on Mendel’s laws of inheritance.

What drew you to writing—be that science writing or creative writing? What relationship, if any, do you see between the two?

I was interested in writing from an early age, but chose science as a main objective, thinking, I guess, that I needed to experience something worthwhile to write about. Science writing evolved over time to become more factual and less narrative. Having retired from my career in science, I’ve felt the urge to convey the way and meaning of science to non-scientists. Writing for a different reading public has required a great deal of learning through trial and error and the advice of other writers and editors.

Are there certain authors you find particularly inspiring, and why?

My views change according to time of life, mood, etc. I’ve always loved reading Mark Twain’s works. I like Hemingway’s style but not necessarily his subjects or characters. Now I’m more interested in the development of characters in whatever I read. The subject has to keep my interest, and I like to learn new things, such as what it was like to live in the Victorian age, or be part of a string quartet, as in Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music. I’m currently a fan of good memoirs, biographies, and historical fiction.

How would you describe your writing style? How do you think it has evolved over time? 

I strive to be fairly focused and concise while sparing in the use of adjectives and the passive voice. I like to make a story of nonfiction with a narrative approach while avoiding heavy reliance on litany and strict chronology. My writing of memoir [and] creative nonfiction is very different from my previous writing of scientific papers and grant proposals.

I love how “Mother Nature’s Kama Sutra” weaves together biological understandings of gender with ideological ones, meanwhile a studied wonder and appreciation of Mother Nature as the ultimate innovator pervades. How do you feel scientific information and personal anecdote work together in your writing? 

I think the personal touch can convey the message in a more compelling way—allows for the opportunity of introducing passion, pathos, and humor.

Can you describe your writing routine? What would be your ideal conditions for writing? 

I need to be in the mood for it. Then [I] work in a quiet place, like my study at home, without interruptions. I prefer the midday hours. When the mood fades, I quit and do something else.

You are currently a Burlington resident. How would you characterize your relationship to Burlington and to Vermont? 

Burlington is the ideal place for me to live out my remaining years. I love the availability of attractive amenities within manageable confines, the beauty of the landscape, and the proximity of treasured relatives, friends, and colleagues.

Your memoir, A Woman of Science: An Extraordinary Journey of Love, Discovery, and the Sex Life of Mushrooms, as well as “Mother Nature’s Kama Sutra,” seem to deal significantly with themes of independence—independence as a woman, as a scientist, and perhaps also as a mother, wife, and author. Can you talk a bit about these themes and how they might take shape in your life and your work?

Having been brought up as the youngest and only girl amidst a bunch of dominating older brothers, I had to develop a sense of independence and self-worth just to survive. Importantly, family love was always there for me. I thereby gained respect for worthy accomplishments.

What do you expect the impact of your writing is on your readers? What do you hope they come away with?

I hope to help readers gain a better understanding of how one can succeed with passion, persistence, and a great deal of hard work.

It sounds like you have a new book coming out soon—can you tell us a bit about that?

My new book, An American Harvest: How One Family Moved from Dirt-Poor Farming to a Better Life in the Early 1900s, is just off the press and available for order.

Details can be found at www.cardyraper.com. This family memoir is written in the tradition of the Foxfire series. A review from Vermont author, Howard Mosher, describes it as “a wonderfully authentic swatch of Americana ranging from tobacco raising to hog butchering, old-time revivals to community corn-shucking, clannish feuds to mutual help in times of need…a loving avocation of a hard way to live.”

To hear Cardy and others read their work from this year’s anthology, join us for the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 print launch party: Friday, April 29, 2016 6-9 pm at Burlington City Arts (BCA), 135 Church Street, Burlington, VT. RSVP now >

 More about The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016

This book is the fourth installment in the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop series. Founded in 2013, the annual anthology features work that is written, selected, and edited by BWW members. The mission of the anthology is to showcase the work of new, emerging, and established Vermont writers while offering Vermonters the opportunity to learn first-hand about the editing, publishing, and book marketing process. The 2016 edition will be available for purchase soon. Learn more or purchase a copy of past anthologies in the series >

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of April 11, 2016

Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop authorsIt’s good to be back writing to you about all things BWW! A huge thank you to Peter for stepping in to write Opportunities & Announcements for the past two weeks while I was concentrating on some big work projects.

I did get the chance last week to meet with several new BWW members at our new member informational meeting, and I have to say it was exciting to meet this new group of writers who are eager to jump in and begin sharing their work and their feedback. Thank you to everyone who came out for the meeting. And for those of you who were on the waiting list, stay tuned: We’ll be adding more new member meetings to the schedule soon.

In the meantime, if you’d like to get to know the authors behind some of the pieces in The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016, I encourage you to read our editors’ interviews with poets Ashleigh Ellsworth-Keller and Deb Sherrer, and fiction writer Natasha Mieszkowski (all of whom will be reading at April 29th’s launch party). We’ll be posting interviews with more Best Of authors soon.

Continue reading

“Exploring what is arising, being deeply present, and finding authentic connection” —Deb Sherrer on the power of writing and yoga

Deb Sherrer, Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop poet

Deb Sherrer will read her poetry at the 2016 Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop launch party on April 29th at the BCA in Burlington

Our assistant poetry editor, Jessica Dudley, recently had this exchange with Deb Sherrer, who will be reading her recently published poem, “of love, sustaining,” at the upcoming launch party for The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016. Here’s what Deb had to say about discovering the power of words, finding her authentic self through writing and yoga, and what “of love, sustaining” means to her.

You mentioned in your bio that as a young girl you wrote a holiday card and sent it to soldiers in Vietnam. What inspired this? And what was the response you received?

Our fourth grade teacher, Mrs. K., was incredibly thoughtful and kindhearted, and this was demonstrated in many, many ways, including engaging us in service. She asked us all to make a holiday card for soldiers serving in the Vietnam War. In all honesty, I don’t remember many details about the content except that I acknowledged it must be hard being so far from home and family over the holiday and I hoped they would be safe.  

For some unknown reason, I was the only student to receive a letter back. It was three pages long, and the soldier said he had appreciated my note so much it had been hung for others to read. He proceeded to tell me a bit about his life in Vietnam, his hopes of coming home to the Midwest. It was very respectful, kind, and clear that he had been touched. I think what was impressed upon me, at that very young age, was that words could touch people you didn’t know, living in very different circumstances a world away. It was very moving, like a big circle flowing back and forth, all from words on a page.  

Did you continue to write throughout high school and college?

Yes. And ever after. English classes were my favorite in high school, and writing was the academic realm in which I succeeded the most. I designed and completed an independent study in Russian poetry in 12th grade.  

Did you have a favorite poet or poem that inspired you as you were growing up?

I should probably name a Russian poet (smile), but Nikki Giovanni was one of the first poets that really resonated with me.  

And what about now? Any favorites?

Many:  Mary Oliver, Naomi Shihab Nye, David Whyte, Maxine Kumin, Marie Howe, Li Young Lee, Galway Kinnell, Kate Ryan, Jane Hirshfield, Phillip Levine, Maya Angelou, Lucille Clifton, Adrienne Rich, Marge Piercy…

So, transitioning here, I understand that you are a therapeutic yoga instructor now. “Of love, sustaining” has a beautiful meditative quality to it, I think, and seems to celebrate mindfulness in the way the narrator carefully illustrates this brilliant sunset. I’m curious about what you think of the parallels between writing and practicing yoga. Do you find that taking the time to do yoga influences your writing at all?

Writing and yoga have many parallels in my experience and definitely inform each other. Both are about exploring what is arising, being deeply present, and finding authentic connection. They also both require practice, the discipline of showing up and a willingness to discover new things about yourself or the world. On the mat or on the page, whatever we practice grows.  

And does taking the time to write help you be a better yogi?

Yes. Fundamentally yoga and writing are spiritual practices for me. They are about nurturing connection to my authentic self and connecting to something bigger and beyond. In yoga, it becomes the practice of a physical narrative and deep listening.  

Have you ever lead a yoga class that ties in writing for healing purposes?

I have incorporated small writing exercises into the trauma-sensitive yoga series I offer every fall and spring for women. They are invited to write a few words before and after practice to capture “Where they are starting from” and “What is present now.” There is no agenda or expectation about what arises. It simply provides a context for individuals to reflect in words.  

“Of love, sustaining” is the concluding piece in The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016, which we all felt was very fitting. Despite the inevitable darkness that follows every sunset, this piece places emphasis instead on feeling content with and accepting of the cycles of life. The poem concludes with a prayer for the narrator’s ashes to be “anointed with wild rose,” to leave “no human marker/ save the imprint/ of love.”

What does this ending mean to you?

I believe we live on through love and compassion, through the imprint of the lives we’ve touched and nurtured, be it in relationship or service. The ending is also literal, as I have no interest in concrete memorials. While I deeply respect the personal choice of others, I have no interest in land being used for my burial or a headstone. I hope I will be remembered by my love of the ocean and the ever-changing sky.  

Would you say, in general, your environment plays a big role in your poetry?

Definitely. Natural beauty is balm and meditation combined. Living by Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks is like living in a postcard. And I enjoy this every day, whenever I can.  

Do you have any specific places that you like to write?

Everywhere and anywhere I can. More seriously, in quiet, cozy spaces.  

I’ve noticed that you often tie in photography with your poetry. Why is this?

This is a newer practice. I have always loved photography and am rediscovering it. I’m a bit of a Sunset Geek, and as noted above, the ever-changing sky is a wonder. I am always looking up or out across the expanse to see the shifting moods, colors and cloud formations. It’s an ever-changing watercolor, and we get to see this every day. “Of love, sustaining literally began in my head on a bike ride last November  when it  was unseasonably warm. I biked the seven miles home from work and saw the sunset from beginning to end. The attached photo was one of the last pictures I took on Spear St.  

One last question before I let you go: I noticed you blogged about going to Wanderlust last year. Are you going to the festival again this year? And if so, will you take the time to write there?  

I’m not sure I will make it back to Wanderlust this year, due to other travel plans. But I will write on trips to Maine and possibly abroad. It goes everywhere.  

To hear Deb and others read their work from this year’s anthology, join us for the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 print launch party: Friday, April 29, 2016 6-9 pm at Burlington City Arts (BCA), 135 Church Street, Burlington, VT. RSVP now >

 More about The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016

This book is the fourth installment in the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshopseries. Founded in 2013, the annual anthology features work that is written, selected, and edited by BWW members. The mission of the anthology is to showcase the work of new, emerging, and established Vermont writers while offering Vermonters the opportunity to learn first-hand about the editing, publishing, and book marketing process. The 2016 edition will be available for purchase soon. Learn more or purchase a copy of past anthologies in the series >

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of April 4, 2016

Our first week of workshops in the new space is behind us. I hope it’s been a good one for you. We’ve posted all our workshops for the month of May, so please go forth and reserve your seat at your workshop(s) of choice.

As we get settled in at our new space, please do let us know if you encounter a problem. If you’ve got an idea about how we can/should use it, send that idea, too. We’ve always been driven forward by your ideas.

Speaking of your ideas: last year, you told us in the BWW survey that you’d like us to hold more panel discussions on writing-related topics. We’re cooking up a new one for Saturday, June 18th, so mark your calendars. (We’ve even got an idea for it! But it’s a surprise–at least until we can nail down panelists.)

But that’s June, which feels so far away. This week is upon us, so here are this week’s opportunities and announcements. Continue reading

“A collision between grace and brutality”—Natasha Mieszkowski on capturing childhood in fiction

Natasha Mieszkowski, Burlington Writers Workshop author

Natasha Mieszkowski, author of “Bug,” one of four short stories in The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016

Our fiction editor, Elizabeth Gaucher, recently had this exchange with Natasha Mieszkowski, author of the short story, “Bug.” “Bug” is one of four stories featured in The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 anthology. Natasha lives in Northern New York. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, and currently is co-editor of fiction for Mud Season ReviewHere’s what Natasha had to say about developing the child character, Bug, and how she uses scenes to advance her story.

Bug is the name of the child protagonist and point of view character in your story. He leapt out at me immediately as an exceptional character, truly unique and compelling. How did you come to create Bug? Did you have any particular inspiration for him?

Bug grew out of a scene I had in my head of a child interacting with a weird cat. Then I was driving home on a winter night and the car ride scene joined with that scene. He’s not based on anyone I know, he’s more a compilation of strange childhood impulses I still remember. I did, however, know the cat [featured in “Bug”]. He never blinked.

You sustain a very tight, intimate world in this story. There are few characters and only two settings we “see,” a car and an apartment. By implication there are other settings, but everything takes place in one car and one small apartment. Did you know when you set out to write this story you would keep it this close, or did the narrative just tell you what it needed? How did you decide to keep things mostly on a car seat, a couch, a kitchen chair?

I try to think of things from a child’s perspective. The whole world is huge, but what is right in front of you means everything. When everything is too overwhelming, you need to break it down into smaller segments.

It helps to compartmentalize it, to isolate and really explore all of Bug’s small moments. What might seem minor and significant to an adult can seem huge to children, can occupy their entire world. The details that are so worn out for us are new to them, vibrant and unexplored. So you don’t necessarily need an expansive territory when writing from a child’s perspective. A car seat can be an entire universe.

There is an unseen character in this story, Bug’s father. Yet he is profoundly influential and ever-present. How did you go about creating this character, one who in some ways drives all the action and yet never appears or speaks?

Silence and absence can really help you punctuate a story. By writing around a gap you end up revealing so much about it, and the present characters, just through how they behave, react, and remember. It’s the elephant in the room, and it carries a lot of weight.

There is always an ‘outside’ affecting our decisions and our lives. The father character is both an ‘outside’ and an internal presence for Bug. For me, this story has always pivoted around the bar of soap, a tangible representation of a person Bug both misses and fears.

As the literary community knows, Harper Lee passed away this year. Her general readership adores To Kill a Mockingbird for its social justice messages and heroic father figure. Most writers, though, admire this work for its consistent narration by a child. It’s incredibly difficult for an adult writer to establish and maintain a child’s point of view. How did you go about structuring this story and keeping everything in Bug’s POV? Were there special challenges in your early drafts?

The challenges always revolve around vocabulary, and characters’ awareness. Would Bug be able to understand the meaning of the phone ringing? Am I using the right words to communicate his experience to the reader? It’s about striking a balance between a raw world of unarticulated emotion and adult reality.

It’s kind of like puppy-proofing a home. You just get down there on the floor and see things from their eyes. The scale of everything becomes different. A puff of dust is a mountain. It’s challenging but incredibly refreshing.

What special value do you see in the child narrator/POV?

Children have a unique way of seeing things. In a sense they have a great amount of freedom in how they express themselves. At the same time, they lack the vocabulary and social knowledge to respond in the way adults might. They are subject to all of the emotions and circumstances that adults are exposed to, yet have a limited set of skills in terms of how they can react.

I feel this gives a pure lens into human experience. Childhood can have a raw, unfiltered take on things, which can drive a story toward the most primitive and pivotal emotions.

Childhood, for me, has always been a collision between grace and brutality. We lived near woods and a river when I was growing up, and I remember once our family dog came home carrying what I thought was a stick. It was a deer’s leg.

It is this juxtaposition between innocence and a pragmatic knowledge I am reaching for.

You are very good at writing scenes. “Bug” hums along with some amazingly well-wrought scenes, and it’s clear that you are skilled at avoiding expository writing. Has that always been the case? Is it natural for you to write in scenes or is it something you have developed over time? Any tips for other writers?

When I start a story it usually begins with one image. This is why I struggle with plot. I have an image and the story takes off from there. I am attracted to very small moments, and want to see what I can extract from awkward intimacies. Writing is awkward and painful. I tend to keep things condensed into scenes because that is what makes sense to me. Interactions between people are often just microscopic happenings, that don’t seem important at the moment but ultimately mean everything.

So I guess I just stack the scenes on top of each other like building blocks, and try to tie them together to make a sound structure.

Own what you feel, and visualize it. The world you write should be the world you live in, for the moment. Let everything else around you disappear.

How did you come to write fiction? Do you mostly write short stories? What do you like about fiction writing?

I actually never thought I could write fiction. I used to write poetry when I was a kid, but was eventually pulled away by art forms that were a bit more social in nature. Then one day a theater friend boasted he was the better writer, and something clicked inside. I took a class at a local university just to prove him wrong. The instructor took me aside one day and told me I should go to grad school.

I write short stories partly because they are the underdog of literature, and I have a contrary nature. Everybody says you have to write a novel in order to get anywhere and that may be the case. But I’m not willing to let go of the short story. It’s an art form that deserves its own significant place and shouldn’t be overshadowed by the pressure to publish ‘the novel.’

How has your engagement with the Burlington Writers Workshop influenced your development as a writer?

The Burlington Writers Workshop has been invaluable to me. I didn’t know anybody or anything when I moved to this area, and this group gave me a platform to express myself, and a community I could be a part of. The workshops are so helpful, and are always aimed at helping a writer to achieve his or her goal. Frankly, if I hadn’t discovered this group, I might not still be writing. It’s a warm, encouraging group of people who just want to see everybody grow and learn in their progress as writers.

The final scene of “Bug” is intense. I’ve heard people call it things like terrifying, powerful, and unforgettable. I admire it for its layered complexity. You leave the reader with a lot of possible interpretations and debates. Without giving too much away, how did you develop that scene?

I wanted there to be a climax that concerned Bug, from his point of view, while bringing in the unseen, hovering presence of the father. I wanted it to be Bug’s scene. He is the one who has to launch himself out of this hurt. But because of his young age he isn’t fully able to comprehend what is happening, the significance of the events, or even his own actions. He’s operating on raw emotion and reaching for something he doesn’t even understand.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a short story about an empty box of wine. And how to get rid of it.

To hear Natasha and others read their work from this year’s anthology, join us for the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 print launch party: Friday, April 29, 2016 6-9 pm at Burlington City Arts (BCA), 135 Church Street, Burlington, VT. RSVP now >

More about The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016

This book is the fourth installment in the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshopseries. Founded in 2013, the annual anthology features work that is written, selected, and edited by BWW members. The mission of the anthology is to showcase the work of new, emerging, and established Vermont writers while offering Vermonters the opportunity to learn first-hand about the editing, publishing, and book marketing process. The 2016 edition will be available for purchase soon. Learn more or purchase a copy of past anthologies in the series >

 

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of March 28, 2016

IMG_5487

Our new space, before all the furniture arrived.

It’s official: We’re now in our new workshop space. The exposed brick, large windows, track lighting, and new paint job really make this place feel cozy. Frankly, now that we’ve got our familiar furniture in place, it feels like we’ve been here for years.

This workshop space is probably the most important tool we have. It’s a place for the kind of quiet discussions that are essential to a good workshop. Some of you will remember the days when this workshop met in bars and coffee shops. We were never sure what the atmosphere was going to be. Would we be interrupted by the hum and crash of the ice machine? Techno beats upstairs? Wait staff? In these environments, we were also vulnerable to eaves-dropping from those nearby, and sometimes, given the nature of the work we discuss, we’d rather not have anyone overhear the conversation.

As we like to say: What happens in workshop, stays in workshop.

With our own space, we can hold workshops whenever we want. We control the environment. It’s a place that’s safe, well-lighted, climate-controlled, and conducive to writing, reading, or talking with other writers.

I’m so pleased that we can now invite you to our new space, starting immediately. So check out this week’s opportunities and announcements, and sign up for the stuff that appeals to you. As always, it’s free to participate.

 

Continue reading

An interview with Ashleigh Ellsworth-Keller

Michelle Watters, poetry editor of our forthcoming The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 anthology, recently interviewed Ashleigh Ellsworth-Keller, whose poems “Bones” and “Lovefeast” are featured in the anthology. Here’s what Ashleigh had to say about the inspiration for her poetry and the importance of feminism in her writing.

Poet Ashleigh Ellsworth-Keller

Poet Ashleigh Ellsworth-Keller

What was going on in your life at the time you wrote “Bones” and “Lovefeast?”

I was 24 and I’d been living in Arizona for almost a year, and had just spent a jam-packed two weeks along the East Coast with friends, family, and former flames, all of whom I desperately missed. Though I didn’t yet realize it, when I wrote those poems, it was the beginning of a year-long internal search to decide whether I would stay in Arizona and go back to school or move to New York City and pursue the bohemian lifestyle while I still could. Ultimately, I decided to stay, but only after many months of emotional turmoil and a lack of trust in what was best for myself.

Both poems have themes of love gone wrong throughout. Would you say your other work has the same feel?

Yes, I think so. A lot of my poems and fiction have a hint of darkness. I find that happy endings are just not as interesting and difficult to write without sounding saccharin. One of my favorite poems that I have written is called “Spring Cleaning (Swabbing the Decks).” The thing that I love about the poem is it draws the reader in with images of sunlight and newness and freshness, then it slowly descends into the realization that a relationship can’t be fixed and ends with an image of death.

Would you consider your work to be feminist? What does that mean to you?

Yes. My core interest in feminism has been nurtured through my master’s thesis, Contemporary Eco Feminist Fiction, so I am always interested in the intersection of women and nature in literature. There are so many stories that women are ashamed to tell. And the more women tell them, the more often they bring these stories to light, I believe the more we do this as women the less stigmatized we will be. 

When did you know you were a poet?

I was a sophomore in high school and I had a poem published in the high school literary magazine. It was called “Weather Girl” and it related my emotions to different types of weather. That was the first poem that I really felt worked and I was proud of. 

Did you have any mentors or teachers that were integral to your development as a poet?

No one particular person is coming to mind, but I have had a lot of great English teachers throughout my schooling.

Do you write anything other than poetry?

I write short fiction. I have been working on a novel for too long. It is about a young woman who is trying to decide the path of her life after college. Also, I have kept a journal for 25 years.

Are you working on anything now?

I’m always working on something, but yes, right now I am working on a short story now that I work-shopped at a December workshop and that story is about a reunion of friends after the death of someone from their group. 

Where do you like to write?

A coffee shop as long as I am disconnected from the Internet. I like the ambient noise and, when I have my writing in front of me, I can focus on that. 

What writers or poets have influenced you?

My influences are usually the same people who are my favorite writers. Some poets I appreciate are T.S. Eliot. His poetry can be whimsical yet mysterious. I also love Christina Rossetti. Her poetry is both romantic and religious. My favorite poem of hers is “Goblin Market.” It is a religious parable about two sisters and these goblins that tempt them.

My favorite fiction writers…Louise Erdrich. Her book The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse made my thesis possible. My favorite all-time writer is T.C. Boyle, and his ability to employ different voices in all of his work has been a huge inspiration to me as a writer. 

What is an average day in your life like?

I get up early, about 5;30, eat breakfast, read a magazine or book, I go for a run on the bike path, and I go to work. I work for a nonprofit called the DREAM Program. We are a mentoring program that pairs college students with youth that live in low-income housing neighborhoods. I am the camp and teen program director. After work, I come home and prepare dinner with my husband, David, and then we will watch a movie. 

Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?

Columbia, South Carolina, the oldest of two kids. A very happy, healthy childhood. It was fine up until a certain point when I started to realize I didn’t fit in because I didn’t have the same conservative views as my family and community. I guess around my freshman year of high school, all I could think about was how to get out. The things that made me happy were acting and writing. Spending summers at summer camp. After spending several summers at camp and realizing when I was there my friends and I were accepted for being ourselves. Everyone was so open it gave me hope that I could find this elsewhere in the world.

Do you find that writing workshops are an important part of your writing process?

I think the most important contribution the workshops have made to my writing process is that they have given me more confidence in sharing my work. Previously, I have always been apprehensive about showing others my work, but attending the workshop and being able to critique others work has helped me to realize that it is okay to be vulnerable.

How to do you see your writing career developing in the next few years?

I would like to set aside more time to write, submit more to literary journals, hopefully get some of my fiction published, and continue to connect with like-minded writers for support.

To hear Ashleigh and others read their work from this year’s anthology, join us for the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 print launch party: Friday, April 29, 2016 6-9 pm at Burlington City Arts (BCA), 135 Church Street, Burlington, VT. RSVP now >

More about Ashleigh

Ashleigh D. Ellsworth-Keller lives in Burlington, Vermont with her husband and is the Camp DREAM director for The DREAM Program, a regional nonprofit mentoring program. She enjoys reading, writing, running, and hiking. She blogs about feminism and the environment at aellsworthkeller.wordpress.org.

More about The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016

This book is the fourth installment in the Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop series. Founded in 2013, the annual anthology features work that is written, selected, and edited by BWW members. The mission of the anthology is to showcase the work of new, emerging, and established Vermont writers while offering Vermonters the opportunity to learn first-hand about the editing, publishing, and book marketing process. The 2016 edition will be available for purchase in April, 2016. Learn more or purchase a copy of past anthologies in the series >

StoryCraft: Jensen Beach and Kerrin McCadden’s Reading List

If you joined us for our recent event, in partnership with RETN, “StoryCraft: A Way with Words: Conversations on the Art, Work & Practice of Writing,” you know that featured writers Jensen Beach and Kerrin McCadden offered a wealth of great wisdom and advice. Our friend and host of the conversation, Gin Ferrara of Spindle & Widget, captured their recommended reading list in this blog post. We’re re-posting it here so our members can check out these recommendations. Happy reading!


Writers Kerrin McCadden and Jensen BeachThere’s no better question to ask a mediamaker than, “What films have influenced you?” So naturally, if we asked authors Jensen Beach and Kerrin McCadden, our guests from “StoryCraft: A Way with Words,” what books have influenced them, we’d have quite a list.

Fortunately, we didn’t even have to ask them, they shared a great list with us during our talk. And we compiled the books they mentioned into a rather impressive list.

So, without further ado, we present:

JENSEN AND KERRIN’S RECOMMENDED READING (in order of mention)

  1. Hedda Gabler, by Henrik Ibsen
  2. The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot, by Charles Baxter
  3. The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song, by Ellen Bryant Voigt
  4. About A Mountain, by John D’Agata 
  5. Ongoingness: The End of A Diary, Sarah Manguso
  6. Stories of Happy People by Lars Gustafsson

If you missed the conversation, hosted by RETN and Burlington Writers Workshop, you can watch it now: http://www.retn.org/show/way-words-conversations-art-work-practice-writing

This is just one of our engaging StoryCraft conversations with Vermont artists, mediamakers, and writers on the craft of story making. Register now for our talk on April 14th, with Erica Heilman of RumbleStrip Vermont.

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of March 21, 2016

Mud Season Review Issue #18

Check out Issue #18 at www.mudseasonreview.com

Congratulations to the staff of Mud Season Review on the launch of Issue #18! This issue features the artwork of Antonio Puri as well as fiction by Sam Gridley, nonfiction by Gretchen Comcowich, and poetry by Wendy Willis.

The MSR team is also working hard on the journal’s second annual print issue, which will be coming out in April. RSVP for the print issue vol. 2 launch party on Saturday, May 7th, 7 p.m. at Hotel Vermont.

 

 

Continue reading

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of March 14, 2016

April 2016 BWW guest poetsIf you’re a poet, April brings the opportunity to have your work reviewed by one of our two special guest poets scheduled to lead workshops for the BWW next month. Partridge Boswell, author of Some Far Country, which received the 2013 Grolier Discovery Award, will lead our poetry workshop on Monday, April 4th, and Gary Margolis, award-winning author of four books of poems, including Below the Falls, Fire in the Orchard, Falling Awake, and The Day We Still Stand Here, will lead our poetry workshop on Monday, April 25th. Submit a schedule request to have your poems reviewed by one of these accomplished poets.

Continue reading

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of March 7, 2016

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities

Join us Tuesday evenings in April for our Spring 2016 Literature Reading Series

The winner of our recent vote to choose the novella for our Spring 2016 Literature Reading Series is Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Thank you to everyone who voted. Join our dedicated, and growing, group of readers on Tuesday evenings (6:30 pm) in April to read and discuss this fine work. RSVP for the first session now >

Continue reading