Sunday, December 19, 2010

Writing Tip #2

As I reshape my daily schedule to allow more writing time, I find myself digging deep into memory to write my truth.  At the same time the evil censor kicks in telling me what I can and can't write.  That's when I turn to the godfather of writing instruction and cling to the life raft of his words:

“You’re under no obligation to ask all your brothers and sisters and cousins how they remember the family saga. They will all remember it differently; there’s no one authorized version of the shared past.

William Zinsser, Writing About Your Life – A Journey into the Past (p. 112)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sandra E. Jones

Sunday, November 28, 2010
Dear Sandi,
I write these words on your deep blue sofa in the company of your loving friends, my loving friends – the Uptown Writers – and my heart aches for you. We gather to write, to cry, to remember because you wanted us to write today. A final request. We make scribbles on pages damp with tears.

I don’t know how to say good bye. I have never learned this lesson. So I write a letter, just as I wrote to my sister and then to my father.

 I’m wearing my orange T-shirt. I tell you this because you would want to know. You always said it was a good color for me. I know that the next time I go shopping I will look for more oranges, earth tones, the colors of autumn, the colors of this season of thanks, this season when you were taken from us.

I don’t remember the day we met. It’s hard to admit, but I was so wrapped up in my insecurity about joining your writing group I fear I hardly acknowledged anyone’s presence. I do remember your 60th birthday at Camp Long shortly after I joined the group. You were beautiful and you were exhausted, yet you encouraged all to enjoy the evening, enjoy each other, enjoy life. I admired your strength even then, not yet knowing, not understanding the gravity of your condition or the determination with which you were fighting for your life.

I wish I had known you before the illness. I did not know the healthy Sandi, the cancer-free Sandi. Still I was fortunate to know the fighter, the woman warrior who endured more suffering than most can imagine, the woman warrior who maintained a sense of humor, that wry cleverness that at first I struggled to understand. You fought and won for four years – with style, with humor, with grace.

The fight is over. I do not know where you are now. I have no belief system that explains death through comforting promises. But the sun has just shone bright through your window onto the bowed heads and moving pens of the writers gathered here, and I know that for this brief moment you are here with us.

Through your fight, your determination, your humor and your total absence of self pity, you taught me to get on with my life, live it to the fullest, and let go of the pain and insecurities of the past. That’s the curse of a memoirist – always digging in the past turning the soil, trying to find worms of truth, of understanding. But by turning the soil of the past, I learn to live stronger in the present just as you lived in the present during these short years I have known you. You were always present, always at the writing table, always listening to our collective words, always ready with a nugget of encouragement. Now there is an empty chair at our table but your spirit is alive in the hearts of the writers seated there.

Good bye, dear friend. I will miss you. I will remember you. Always.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Writing Tip #1

I've been doing a lot of reading about writing lately. I thought it might be fun to share some nuggets of wisdom that I'm gleaning from others.  To that end, I'll post a quote every week or so.

Here's the first quote:

"Writing every day is the key to becoming a writer. Writing every day is the key to remaining a writer. It is the only secret, the only trick. Don't despise the fifteen-minute write. Don't despise writing in your journal. Don't despise writing down your complaints for fifteen minutes before going to work. Any writing counts."

Priscilla Long, The Writer's Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Oh, what a night...

Seattle’s Richard Hugo House was standing room only as Janet Yoder launched the first ever reading of Sunday Ink: Works by the Uptown Writers. We sailed through our selections of work and introductions of each other. At the close of the evening, we gathered on the stage and linked arms in an impromptu celebratory bow of appreciation to our fabulous audience of family, friends and fellow writers.

Sunday Ink: Works by the Uptown Writers is an eclectic, multi-genre anthology of fiction and fairytale, poetry and play, with a touch of memoir that adds an element of personal narrative to the collection. The Uptown Writers—Carol Bolt, Pamela Hobart Carter, Geri Gale, Sandra E. Jones, Susan Knox, Stacy Lawson, Arleen Williams, and Janet Yoder—gather for timed-writing practice every Sunday morning. Sunday Ink is a product of that process and their commitment to writing and art.

This anthology is unique not only due to the supportive nature of our writing practice, but also in the way the individual pieces came together to form a book. We did not plan our pieces, or select them collectively, or even choose a controlling theme. We each simply offered the work that we wanted to include and our talented editor, Waverly Fitzgerald, and designer extraordinaire, Pamela Farrington, melded our works into a book. Priscilla Long’s beautiful introduction completed the process. Like the reading itself, the book flows like the water of a gentle summer stream.

If you'd like to join us for a reading, we'll be at the Writers’ Cottage, the home of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association in Issaquah on Saturday, November 20th at noon.

The PNWA Writers’ Cottage
317 NW Gilman Blvd, Space #8
Issaquah, WA  98027

For me, this reading will be a homecoming of sorts, having grown up in the Issaquah Valley and graduated from Issaquah High School.  I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sunday Ink: Works by the Uptown Writers

I have the amazing good fortune of sharing timed writing practice every Sunday morning with an eclectic group of talented writers. Week after week words flow from pens to paper as the minutes tick away. Some of those words flow into fiction and memoir, others into poetry and plays.Now some of those words are available for your reading pleasure in a new anthology titled Sunday Ink: Works by the Uptown Writers.

If you're in the Seattle area, I hope you have the opportunity to celebrate the book release with us at Richard Hugo House on Thursday, October 28th at 6:30 p.m.

Monday, September 27, 2010

An Invitation

Back in June, I enjoyed the pleasure of announcing the publication of my short memoir piece “The Promise” in a newly released anthology edited by Nancy Worssam titled In Our Prime: Empowering Women on Love, Family, Career, Aging and Just Coping.

Today I’d like to invite those of you in the Seattle area to a reading at Richard Hugo House.  "Inviting the Truth One Personal Essay at a Time" will be Tuesday, October 5th at 7:00 pm.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Time to Process

At the close of an equity and social justice training institute in the coastal town of Ocean Shores, Washington, my husband joined me for a few days on the beach. This intense training fell on the heels of a three-week visit with a dear friend in England; a friend who spent the past six months fighting the cancer that had invaded her body. I needed time to process. 

To process = to make sense of events lived, images observed, feelings triggered, stories shared; to understand and make sense of experiences. But how? Where to begin?

At the end of the road. A coastal highway lined in deep towering green with glimpses to the west of the wide Pacific shrouded in fog. Mist, rain, clouds, fog, gray. I’d been in gray for a month. The gray of confusion. I walked with the mist of the Pacific clouding my thoughts with heavy pungent emotion.

We drove north on the coastal highway to its end. A dead end. A town of ramshackle homes; broken windows covered with heavy woolen blankets to keep the ocean air from penetrating bones and hearts; boats that will never again float atop trailers without tires; cars abandoned to rust, stripped of all value, residence taken up by local wildlife; plastic bags, empty milk cartons, beer cans and cigarette boxes lost in the dry, unmowed grass in front and behind the hopeless homes.  All contrasted against the mystical beauty of an estuary outlined with bleached drift wood and smooth-washed stones.

The natural beauty tugged at my husband. “Let’s stop and take a look.”

“No,” I said, a voice harsher than intended. I felt eyes at my back. “We don’t belong here,” I said in a feeble attempt at explanation.  It felt a bit like stopping to gawk at a multiple car pile-up on Interstate 5 at rush hour, our eyes violating the privacy of the victims. “Let’s get out of here. We don’t belong,” I repeated. “We didn’t come with anything to offer. We don’t even know if there’s any way we could help. Would our help even be wanted?”

We talked of what we had to offer, of what would be of meaning or value to a depressed community, a reservation culture of which we were no part. Could my husband offer art classes?  Would memoir or journal writing have meaning to people lost in the hopelessness of poverty?  We talked of stereotypes. Was this reservation town the norm? An aberration? We didn’t know.

At the equity and social justice training, a YouTube video was shown. In the interview from "Our Spirits Don't Speak English: Indian Boarding School," Andrew WindyBoy spoke of his childhood experiences in a boarding school where he was violently forced to learn English and conform to the norms of white culture. I saw the lasting tragedy of his words at the northern end of that coastal highway.

We drove south.

“I have to see it,” I said.

My husband knew what I meant and turned up a road we’d passed earlier which led to a hilltop development with a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.  A planned community of perfection – perfect houses on perfect streets with perfect trees and perfect white crushed stone pathways leading from one perfect cluster of houses to the next – Key West here, Martha’s Vineyard there.  I felt like vomiting.

Two realities juxtaposed against each other, separated by less than 15 miles. MapQuest precision = 12.76 miles of separation.

“The Truman Show,” my husband said.

“Disneyworld,” I said.

“Holiday escapism of the privileged,” he said.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said. Again. “At least the reservation is real. The dirt, the pain, the poverty are real. What’s this? Plastic. A lily white make-believe world for the rich right next door to historic devastation of a nation of people.”

The contrast hit hard, deep. The two worlds stood as physical realities of all the theories and personal stories of oppression shared throughout the institute on equity and social justice that I’d just attended in the sterile comfort and insulated world of a hotel conference room. And now I return to my life in Seattle, a life of teaching and curriculum development; of writing, friends, family and comfort. But what do I do with these images of contrasting realities that plague my quiet moments? Realities that lie side by side on the Pacific coastal highway, in a landscape of lush green, towering evergreens and the pounding of waves on a long barren beach lost in heavy fog and floating mist.

I need more time to process.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Promise

A reader's comment about "The Promise" recently released in In Our Prime...

It’s as if I’m asked to enter a home and meet a mother and a sister and a husband and a daughter and a child for a brief moment of intimacy and sadness with the allure of a promise that hangs and hangs and hangs--the author begging herself and asking us to believe that the cyclical family pain will be at last, broken.        -- Geri Gale

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New Release!

I'm very happy to announce the publication of my short memoir piece, "The Promise," in a new collection titled In Our Prime - Empowering Essays by Women on Love, Family, Career, Aging, and Just Coping edited by Nancy Worssam. To read more, please visit

Friday, April 2, 2010

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest... An Update!

Thanks to a few good friends who understand these things a whole lot better than I do, I just learned that you don’t have to own a Kindle to read an excerpt from Running Secrets and to write a customer review on books. That’s good news since nobody I know has a Kindle and because the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is one really weird contest... a bit like American Idol for books!

Here’s how it works… they accepted 5,000 general literature submissions. 1000 moved to the Second Round. Then 250 Quarterfinalists were chosen (my first novel, Running Secrets, has made it this far – yeah!). Now the complete manuscripts of those 250 are being reviewed by Publishers Weekly (the magazine that can make or break a book!) and they choose 100 semifinalists. Of those 100 (and I won’t know if I make this next cut until the end of the month), editors from Penguin publishing will choose 6 finalists.

You can go on-line to read the two Reviews and a Production Description. You can also access a short-short excerpt and write review “providing feedback to the Penguin Editors about the submissions.” They only give you the first page of the manuscript, but at least it’s free! I suppose they figure that’s all most agents or editors will read, so it’s enough. If it gets the reader’s attention, that’s what matters. And here’s the good part… as I mentioned above you don’t have to own a Kindle to submit a customer review. There’s a really simple way to download Kindle software to your PC (not MAC, I’m afraid). Just click on “Available on Your PC” right there in the right column next to the book info. I did it last night and if I can do it, anybody can!

Of those 6 finalists that the Penguin editors will select, only 1 manuscript is chosen for publication. Amazon customers will choose the winning manuscript through on-line voting!! The winning manuscript will be published by Penguin books. It does sound a bit like American Idol, doesn’t it?

Anyway, if you’d like to help me get my first novel published, or if you just want to see what I’ve been up to lately, please check it out at books. Just type in my name or Running Secrets. And, of course, I’d love it if you’d write a review!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest

Some exciting news today!

I just learned that my first novel, Running Secrets, has been selected as one of the 250 quarterfinalists in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.  As a quarterfinalist, the full manuscript will be reviewed by Publishers Weekly.  The Top 100 Semifinalists, to be announced on April 27th, will be read by Penguin editors who select the 6 finalists.

Are any of you Kindle readers?  According to the contest guidelines:  “Amazon customers can download, rate, and review excerpts on, providing feedback to Penguin Editors about submissions.”

So if you go to books and type in Running Secrets - Kindle, this is what it looks like (or you can just click on the Running Secrets link below):

Running Secrets - Excerpt from 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award entry by Arleen Williams (Kindle Edition - Mar. 23, 2010) - Kindle Book
Buy: $0.00

I’d really love to get some reviews… especially if they’re good!

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Do you ever feel that life is just one big juggling act? I sure do. Like many of you, I find myself juggling family and friends, work and writing. Within each of the areas of our lives, there seems to be an endless number and variety of balls that we're trying to keep in the air at any given moment, on any particular day. When I began this blog, I intended to update it monthly. Somehow I dropped the month of February. 

A friend once suggested the importance of determining which of the balls we juggle each day are made of crystal and which are just plain rubber. If we drop a rubber ball, no harm is done. It bounces and rolls. We can retrieve it if we choose or let it roll into a corner or under the sofa and just leave it there for a while, for that day when we're taking stock, when we collect all the balls and reassess their value, their texture, their importance in our lives. But the crystal balls are different. The crystal balls shatter if dropped. A million tiny shards. Gathering those shards, a dangerous, impossible task. Reconstructing the ball, an unthinkable challenge. The crystal balls must never be dropped. They must be treated with gentle care and deep respect.  Polished and cherished. Freed of the mars of daily juggling.

Now, when life seems to be racing out of control on a blind collision course, I stomp on the brakes, slow down, stop. I gather my juggling balls, some from the corners where they've rolled, others from their boxes. Some of these boxes are made of simple cardboard, nothing more than deli food containers. Inconsequential, disposable. Others are finely crafted beauties of stained glass, pressed silver or fragrant cedar, each lined with deep, rich velvet of varying hues. I line up the juggling balls, both rubber and crystal, on the table in front of me. A row of balls. Another of boxes. And I begin another kind of juggling act. I examine each ball, assessing its weight and texture, its value in my life.

Some balls have always been, and will always remain, cherished crystal. These retain their precious boxes with velvet lining. Others are rubber, nothing more, a lifetime of rubber. But I usually find that some of the balls have mysteriously transformed, magically changed from rubber to crystal, and others from crystal to rubber through the passing months and years. I must recognize and respect these changes. Should I fail, I could carelessly drop a crystal ball, mistaken for simple rubber.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Curriculum Writing

There are many kinds of writing, and many writers do more than one. I write both memoir and fiction, both manuscript length and short pieces. I also write curriculum.

For the past year and a half, I have had the pleasure of working with a wonderful group of creative, fun people at South Seattle Community College (SSCC). We call ourselves the AANAPISI grant team. That’s “ay-na-pea-z” and it’s the acronym for Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution.  In 2008 the U.S. Department of Education created this designation, and SSCC was one of only six two-year and four-year schools in the United States to receive this award. To learn more, please visit our temporary website at or go to

So what does any of this have to do with writing, you might ask.  Well, my role on the grant team is to write curriculum. With the collaboration of numerous colleagues, I have created the Transition Portfolio.  This is a collection of activities designed to help English as a Second Language, Adult Basic Education, and other pre-college students learn to navigate the American college system. The Transition Portfolio is available on-line, free-of-charge at Just click on “Resources.”

Another of our AANAPISI grant projects involves creating a series of short videos to provide college-related information to students or potential students and their families. As the curriculum writer, my task is to create instructional materials for classroom use with each video. The videos are being posted to the website as they are completed. The the curriculum packets will follow by summer 2010.

Just as creativity takes many forms, so does writing. The challenge sometimes lies in finding a way to balance it all.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's About Time Writers Reading Series

Happy 2010!  We've survived the holiday season, and now it's time to get back to what matters...writing!  I find I need structure.  I need a schedule.  And I need the opportunity to share my work...  

If you're in the Seattle area, I'd like to invite you to a group reading at the Ballard Public Library at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 14th.  The It's About Time Writers Reading Series, coordinated by Esther Altshul Helfgott, is now on Facebook.  For more information and regular updates, you might consider joining the Facebook group by going to  For information on past readings, you can check out

January seems like the perfect time to share a bit of the old and a bit of the new.  To that end, I'll be reading a short selection from The Thirty-Ninth Victim and another from my work-in-progress, a memoir carrying the working title, Moving Mom.  It's the story chronicling the 7 years and 6 days between my father's death and my mother's move to a dementia care facility.  It took an astute writing partner of mine to point out to me that Moving Mom picks up where The Thirty-Ninth Victim left off.  Funny how we (or should I say "I") so easily miss what's right under our (my) nose.  Or in this case, pen.

I hope to see you Thursday night!