Thursday, October 29, 2015

What Are YOU Working On?

As October ends and we gear up for autumn darkness, another blog series comes to a close. I'm grateful to all our contributors for sharing their thoughts. If you missed any of them, just click on the names in this list. Or better yet, search them on Amazon. Maybe you'll find something that whets your winter reading appetite.

What creative projects do you find twirling in your mind as leaves fall along with temperatures? For my own part, I continue to type old journals and write memories of the time when I was a young woman exploring life and self in Mexico City. I wrote in Spanish, a language I must now reacquaint myself with to understand the thoughts of that younger me. I do not know how much of this work will make it into my next book, but I'm grateful for the journals I kept. They now serve as a reality check of memories, partially forgotten or rewritten over time.

In all things - good and bad - I prefer truth. A journal allows me to hold to my own truth, the truth of the younger self rather than the interpretation warped by time and distance, accumulated experience and faded memories. Sometimes I recall the past and it appears far worse than it was. Other times I do the opposite, remembering a past time or event with those proverbial rose-colored lenses. My journal allows me to re-enter earlier thoughts to better understand experiences and emotions long past.
As I continue mining my journals, I search for inspiration in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. Currey explores the creative habits and routines of 161 artists - from Austen to Armstrong, Faulkner to Fellini, Beattie to Balanchine - all struggling with the challenges of finding too much or not enough time for their work, dealing with creative demons and muses, balancing their creativity with a life that makes sense perhaps to only themselves. Elizabeth Gilbert tells us that "Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege." She encourages us to allow ourselves to be the conduit of inspiration by coming to the table, putting in the seat time, and being open to the universe. By both, I am reminded how fortunate I am to live a creative life.

What are YOU working on? I hope your projects fill you with wonder. I know they will also bring times of extreme frustration as well as deep joy. Follow your passion. Know yourself. Be true to you.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What Are You Working On ... G. Elizabeth Kretchmer?

Today we have both an essay and an invitation from G. Elizabeth Kretchmer. I hope you can all join her Sunday afternoon!

G. Elizabeth Kretchmer has an MFA in Writing from Pacific University. Her short fiction, essays, and freelance work have appeared in the New York Times, High Desert Journal, Silk Road Review, SLAB, and other publications. When she’s not writing, she’s facilitating therapeutic and wellness writing workshops. You can learn more about her at Or better yet, join her at the Women on the Brink party this Sunday, October 25, at 4 pm at University Bookstore in Bellevue. Featuring contributing poets, UW actors, and Pearl and Stone Wine Co., this will be a one-of-a-kind launch party you won’t forget.
I used to think the writing life involved sitting in a rustic cabin at the edge of a Waldenish pond, thinking about life and making stuff up and writing it all down. Then I became a writer and realized that notion of the writing life was indeed pure fiction.

What have I been working on? For the last several months, it’s been marketing, marketing, marketing. I re-released my novel, The Damnable Legacy, in July, and I’m about to celebrate the launch of Women on the Brink at a party this Sunday. Which is all good, except I’m desperate to get back into the thinking and imagining and writing part.

I have, in fact, started my next project -- a novel set in the Yellowstone area. It’s predominantly contemporary but there will be a historical fiction component, dating back to the summer of 1877. (If you want to know what was so special about that year, Google it.)

As with my other work, this project will revolve around ordinary women facing life’s ordinary, and often unwelcome, obstacles. In real life, many of us harbor secret thoughts, fears, and resentments because society still requires that of us. We aren’t allowed to regret decisions of the past, or wonder aloud about our maternal angst, or admit that life isn’t all rosy under the covers. We post pictures on Facebook showing how happy we are and how many BFFs we have. We stifle our needs in part because we put others ahead of ourselves – that’s our nurturing nature – but in so doing we sometimes betray our authentic selves as we buy into the media’s (often male) representation of what being a woman should mean, rather than what it really does mean.

In my novel The Damnable Legacy, a woman still regrets the decision she made thirty years ago to place her daughter for adoption so she could selfishly follow her mountaineering dreams, but she cannot admit this mistake to anyone and must commit her thoughts only to her journal. Her story is not unusual; there are thousands of birthmothers in our country who hold their grief inside for the rest of their lives because they are told to move on.

My characters in Women on the Brink, a collection of short stories, wrestle with a variety of secrets and resentments, like husbands who expect them to be more perfect than they are or children who need more than their mothers can give. These women grieve their failed relationships with their sisters. They make difficult decisions for their aging mothers. They go through life’s motions until they no longer can.

So the truth of the matter is this: what I’m working on is not just another novel. What I’m working on is deciding which of the many universal issues of being a woman are most compelling for me, at this point in my life, and should thus be given a voice in my next novel.

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To read the prior posts, go to the posts listing in the left side bar. If titles are no longer visible, just click on any month to select.

And finally, if you have a guest post you'd like to share on this blog, email me at

Friday, October 16, 2015

Elena Hartwell & The Thirty-Ninth Victim: The Interview Part II

Your memoir, The Thirty-Ninth Victim, is about the tragic death of your younger sister at the hands of the Green River Killer. Writing about those events must have been incredibly difficult, though perhaps also cathartic. Tell us about what drew you to write the memoir and what the experience was like for you to relive such a horrific event.
Unfortunately "event" isn't quite the right word. It sounds too quick, too brief. I was an ex-pat, married to a Mexican national, and living in Mexico in 1983 when my sister disappeared. I returned to Seattle to be with my family. My sister's remains were not found until 1986. My marriage fell apart. I remarried. Gave birth. Raised my daughter. Life went on, but with an enormous dark shadow over me. I didn't have the full story of what happened to my sister and I was haunted by my ignorance for 20 years.
On my father's 80th birthday, November 31, 2001, Gary Ridgway was arrested. My father died two months later. And I was falling apart. Read More ...

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What Are You Working On ... Claudia H. Long?

I love running blog series. It's like inviting guest speakers into my classes. I get to sit back and enjoy! Today we hear from author, Claudia H. Long. If you enjoy historical fiction, you'll want to check out her books.

Claudia H. Long is the author of three novels: Josefina's Sin, The Duel for Consuelo, and The Harlot's Pen. Her fourth book, Marcela Unchained, will be out in 2016. When she isn't writing, she's a lawyer who acts as mediator for complex employment and other highly volatile matters. She enjoys belly-dancing, though she's not very good at it, tae kwon do (ditto), and hiking. She lives with her husband, several dogs and cats, and looks forward to visits from her two grown children. Follow her on Facebook,, Twitter, @clongnovels, and at 

Arleen, thanks for having me on your blog today. What am I working on? NOTHING! Yes, the most amazing moment in a writer's life is the one where the manuscript is off to the agent, the next two books are germinating, bubbling, multiplying and dividing (I'm a little weak on science!) in my brain, and I'm working on absolutely nothing!

My next book, Marcela Unchained, is finished. This is the third in the passionate saga of the Castillo family, literary-historical fiction set in 1690-1753 in Colonial Mexico. These three stand-alone works are connected by a silken thread of one or two characters, in different times, exploring the love, betrayal, religion and philosophy of very, very tumultuous eras. 
In 1690 the Inquisition was in full force in Mexico, and the beautiful Sor Juana InĂ©s de la Cruz was writing her haunting poems and daring letter to the Bishop claiming a woman's right to read and write. Josefina's Sin, my book of that time, brings a landowner's wife to the vice-royal court, where she is touched by the brilliance of the poet. She also learns the price of love, and the agony of betrayal. 

The son Josefina bears at the end of the book is a complex man with a soul-wrenching secret. He falls in love with Consuelo, the healer with a deadly secret of her own. The Duel for Consuelo shines the tendrils of the Enlightenment on those secrets in 1721.

In her search for a safe house for her secretly Jewish mother, Consuelo seeks shelter at the home of Susana. Susana's daughter Marcela, then seven, has learned the covert practices of the Crypto-Jews at her mother's knee. When Marcela is fourteen, in 1720, her mother is taken by the Inquisition in the last auto-de-fe in Mexico. Sent into exile to the sliver-mining city of Zacatecas, Marcela carves a life for herself in an unforgiving land, where to survive she has to give up everything she knows and loves. She grows into a woman of power and wealth, and it is only in 1753 that she learns what it really means to sacrifice. That's the story of Marcela Unchained, which will be coming to you in 2016. 

So for now, Nothing! But in the recesses of my mind a tower is being painted...and pastry is being dipped in honey. I can say no more!

To receive email notice of new posts, please subscribe by entering your email address in the box in the upper right column. Thanks!
To read the prior posts, go to the posts listing in the left side bar. If titles are no longer visible, just click on any month to select.

And finally, if you have a guest post you'd like to share on this blog, email me at

Monday, October 12, 2015


Every so often you get a gift, an unexpected little surprise that brightens your day and makes you feel the goodness buried under all the crap surrounding us.

This academic year got off to a tough start: the tragic death of a dear colleague, an accident on Seattle's Aurora bridge killing five students, the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon followed by three more: Northern State University, Texas Southern University and Pepper Tree Elementary. All on the same day.

In thirty years of college teaching I've never kept my classroom door locked. For the past two weeks I have. My students are as wonderful and eager to learn English as always. They come from worlds full of violence and struggle to understand the violence in this land that offers a safe haven from the hell they know. I struggle with them to understand the insanity of this violence. And we practice appropriate campus safety and disaster procedures.

I love teaching. I do not love this fear. And I am incensed by the suggestion that I and others in my profession should be packing guns to protect ourselves and our students.

When insanity seems to reign, it's the small gestures that matter most. At a division meeting, a colleague pulled out her phone. "I've got something to show you," she said. Tears welled. Tears that had no place at all. Tears that had little to do with the photo she showed me and more to do with the gesture itself. "Can you send it to me?" I managed.

Later that day I found this in my inbox:

Hi Arleen,
Gabbana is a big fan of your books!