Some writers read some writing, and we have a good time.

Thank you, thank you, to the writers who read their work for Some Writers Reading on Saturday, March 25, and thank you to the Grand Marais Public Library for sharing their lovely space for this “disruptive public event.” We writers sat in a loose circle in comfy chairs; people who were interested pulled up chairs around us. Comfortable and casual, and a whole lot of fun. Thank you again to Arrowhead Regional Arts Council for awarding me a 2016 Career Development grant, which made possible my time in Grand Marais. Good place here to note: Funding for ARAC programs and services is provided through appropriations from the Minnesota State Legislature, the Arts and Cultural Heritage Amendment, and a grant from The McKnight Foundation. Yay, Minnesota!

As we settled into our seats in that welcoming library space, I said I hoped to listen for the different worlds each writer creates in their prose — a physical description of the world, an emotional landscape, the world inside someone’s head. We heard all that — and so much more.

Shelley Odendahl talked about creating four different time periods for one character, spanning several thousand years, for her romance novel. Gene Glader described his research into Grand Marais’ downtown history, block by block, inspired by the accelerating rate of change in the area in the decades he’s lived there. Joan Crosby read a delightful passage about the year she and her husband lived 40 miles up the Gunflint Trail, off the grid, before that was a thing. Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux read an engaging passage from her middle-grade novel, and when she couldn’t find the second excerpt she’d planned to read, she performed from memory, encouraging us to act it out with her. Sandy Bloom read a powerful and poignant passage from the novel she’s created by fictionalizing her partner’s years as a young nun, living in an isolated convent. Staci Drouillard recounted an interview with an elder, who remembered walking the mile-long “Old Road” into Grand Marais with his grandmother, a journey long enough that she packed a lunch to share with the little boy. Shoshanna Matney read a moving passage based only tangentially on childhood memories, but still a brave choice with her (supportive) sibling in the audience; she talked about creating fiction from the smallest piece of real life and trusting imagination to take it from there.

Enthralled with the Q&A and conversation after each writer read, I didn’t take very good notes. But here is some of what sticks with me:

 — When you grow up reading The Chronicles of Narnia, you are always looking for doors into other worlds.

 — Responding to change, and planning for change are not the same thing.

— Roads are conduits between worlds, bridging distance, culture, time.

 — When we name something, we have a responsibility to preserve it. Writers do that by storytelling.

 — Writing true is important and essential and the only kind of writing worth doing.

 — Things often (usually?) fail to turn out the way you planned. This is good.

— Making stuff up is fun. Revision is usually not.

 — There are as many ways to write a story as there are writers, but there might be only a few reasons to write.

And everyone promised to get a copy of their book to Steve Harsin at the Grand Marais Library. Surprise of the day… Steve has a novel manuscript in progress, too!

Continue to part two of my musings, Increasing “the ambient intelligence.”

Some Writers Reading.

Participants in the 2016 Grand Marais Art Colony Mentorship in Fiction with Faith Sullivan, who is seated in the center.

Saturday, March 25 from 12:30 – 2:00 p.m.
at Grand Marais Public Library
104 2nd Avenue West, Grand Marais, MN  55604

Please join us as alumni from Grand Marais Art Colony‘s 2016 Mentorship in Fiction gather at Grand Marais Public Library to read from their nearly-completed manuscripts — Sandy Bloom, Joan Crosby, Shoshanna Matney, Shelley Odendahl, and Judy Budreau. We’ll be joined by some of your favorite Grand Marais writers — Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux (YA fiction), Gene Glader (Cook County history) and Staci Drouillard, who’s finishing a book about Chippewa City for the University of Minnesota Press. After the readings, we’ll have plenty of time to answer questions and talk about the writing life. Free and open to the public. BTW, that’s me, seated at lower left.

This event is made possible by the 2016 Career Development grant I was awarded from Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. Funding for ARAC programs and services is provided through appropriations from the Minnesota State Legislature, the Arts and Cultural Heritage Amendment, and a grant from The McKnight Foundation. Thank you, Minnesota!

Preserving words.


A couple of years ago, my mom gave me back my first cookbook, with a note pasted inside: “Clearing out — can’t throw away — you do it!”

Around the same time, I saw somewhere a switch plate that looked as if a dictionary page had been pasted to it. I could do that, I thought. And tucked the idea way back in my mental filing cabinet, in the part of my brain that isn’t wholly obsessed with writing and reading.

I’m a writer by trade. I live in language every day. I spend all day, every day writing and reading, with the necessary breaks to feed myself, do laundry and wander around outside.

My email signature line says, “Writing and other good stuff” — I line I added several years ago, on purpose, to remind myself that I’ll have more to write about if I actually go out, and you know, experience the world. So I learned to make paper, and weird little books, and erasure poetry. I incorporate these into the writing workshops I teach. Fun for me, for attendees, and a good reminder that we are always surrounded by more language and ideas and creative possibilities than we might realize.

Back to the switch plates. I came across my childhood cookbook on Saturday morning, and oh, joy! — the brain-file with the image of the dictionary/ light switch appeared. I unscrewed the switch plates from the kitchen wall and headed to my workshop with a small bottle of Elmer’s glue (mistake — more on that in a minute). By the end of the day, I had an array of personalized switch plates for every room in the house.

For the front hall, the frontispiece of Witold Rybczynski’s The Most Beautiful House in the World
For our bedroom, from Dava Sobol’s The Planets, quoting a poem by Diane Ackerman —
“At night I lie awake/in the ruthless Unspoken…”
For hallways and stairwells, pages from long-ago-read Doubleday paperbacks.
For the kitchen, pages from my first cookbook.

I loved the conversational tone of that cookbook. I think it was the first book of nonfiction I read by choice. I learned to cook from that book. And I learned that storytelling was possible, desirable — necessary — beyond the fairy tales and storybooks I cherished.

Here’s what I learned on Saturday about gluing words to switch plates:

  1. Elmer’s glue is too slippery, and doesn’t dry fast enough, and when it does, it’s gummy.
  2. Modge Podge Decoupage stuff is better. I used gloss, which actually dried to a soft sheen that will repel fingerprints and moisture.
  3. Applying Modge Podge with a foam brush to the paper first gave better results than applying it to the switch plate.
  4. Thinner, older papers were easier to work with.
  5. I had a good time figuring out where words and images would appear. Holding the paper piece and the switch plate up to the light before gluing helped. Each paper was just under 1/2 inch large than the plate. I cut the corners of the paper off to reduce bulk. The glue-wetted paper is a bit stretchy, and acts almost like papier mache as you form it around the edges and corners.
  6. The little bubbles that appeared in the thicker paper were gone once the item dried, the paper shrinking to the surface of the switch plate.
  7. Two coats of Modpge Podge on the front.
  8. Once dry, I used an awl to poke the screw holes from the front.
  9. From the back, I used an X-acto knife to cut an X shape for the switches, leaving flaps to fold back.
  10. Mistake — I tried at this point to re-install the plates, but the little paper flaps got in the way.
  11. Coated the back of the plate with Modge Podge and fastened down the flaps, so each opening was nicely framed by glue-coated paper. Re-installation easier.
  12. When I went around the house uninstalling switch plates, I marked the back with a Sharpie so I’d know the location. Helped with re-installing, but more importantly, made it easier to choose the text/images I wanted for each room.

I like best the ones that are simply text spaced on a page. Purist, I guess. But next, I might use nursery rhymes or Eric Carle pages for my grandchildren. Pages from the New York Times Book Review. Favorite poems. Comics.

And to be clear, I don’t tear apart perfectly good books. I buy slightly damaged books at Goodwill and library sales, anywhere I find them, and use the inside paper to make new paper, repurpose the covers and spines to make new books and journals.

It is not possible to have too many good words hanging around with us.



One River, Many Stories

The St. Louis River, April 2016, near the Clyde Avenue landing

The St. Louis River, April 2016, near the Clyde Avenue landing

I’ve just finished my term with One River, Many Stories — the amazing year-long collaboration created and developed by the grant team of John Hatcher and Jennifer Moore of University of Minnesota Duluth’s Journalism program, and Paul Lundgren of Perfect Duluth Day (with help early on from Chris Julin and Emily Haavik).

I met good people doing good work for this storytelling/media/journalism/community project, and I’m looking forward to watching the reverberations around Duluth and our region for a long time to come. Read Paul Lundgren’s essay on Mike Simonson and the project’s beginnings.

Early on, the grant team asked a simple question: What happens when all the storytellers in one region turn their attention to one topic, the St. Louis River? I’m still blown away by the amazing variety of river stories produced by journalists, writers, artists, art students, poets, broadcasters and just plain folk.

There’s even an interactive map where you can scroll in and out along the river to place many of the stories in their geography along the river.

Enjoy. And get out on the river! You’ll see Duluth and our surrounding region from a whole new vantage point.



And, but, yet.

Poetry tip of the day: Eliminate and and but and yet from your poetry. See if you can get rid of them in your very first edit, simply by using punctuation or line breaks or re-arranging words. You may even find you need fewer words to say what you mean. Which is, after all, the point of poetry, isn’t it? Conveying meaning with the rhythmic lilt of carefully placed words and spaces.

I don’t remember where I first heard this — I’ve used it for a long, long time; most teachers emphasize this for all writing, not only poetry. It’s a quick way to focus your ideas, challenge yourself to choose your words carefully, say what you mean with clarity.

See? In the paragraph above, every time I could have used and, but or yet, I chose punctuation instead, or I re-arranged words.

It’s not that you’ll never see these words in good writing. You will. But using them sparingly   guides attention to your main point.

Local workshops coming up!


I love traveling to teach, but I’m thrilled to offer these workshops and retreats closer to home in the Twin Cities:

Monday, July 21 from 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm at Deephaven Education Center. Register at Minnetonka Community Education. If it’s a beautiful evening, I promise we’ll go outside!

Saturday, September 13 from 8:30 am to about 3:00 pm — Carver County Libraries Writers’ Retreat at Charlson Meadows Retreat Center on the border of Excelsior/Chanhassen and Victoria, just off Hwy 7. This is going to be so cool – details soon!

Book Art — several people have asked me about teaching an altered journals or book making class. I’m still playing around with all of this, but will post photos and info soon. If you’re really eager, sign up for a class at Minnesota Center for Book Arts.


Fun with books.


I took a class this spring with Sheila Asato, who does lots of interesting things with dreams and art and books. This altered book is in honor of my great-great aunt Lora (Eleanor) who raised my grandfather after his mother died. My two-year-old granddaughter Ellie (Eleanor Therese) is named for her.

A hundred years ago, Aunt Eleanor was a milliner in Chicago — you can see here my collage of a woman whose head is a hat stand. She’s wearing a photo of a quilt, her hands are knitting (purling?) and she has mismatched, but fashionable, shoes. I’m having fun altering other pages of this book with materials from the Textile Center Garage Sale — and I even have a few odds and ends of Aunt Lora’s millinery work that will make their way in.

So… if you’re counting, this book spans six generations. Someday, I’ll give the book to Ellie. I hope she’ll find it inspiring. And even more, I hope she’ll know it’s okay to write and draw in books to make stories of her own!