KaBooM WritersKaBooM Writers

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!


The KaBooM Writers Notebook: Our Blog

Letters From Home

The birth of my first child changed my life in such a myriad of ways, I did the only thing I could think to do as a writer: I wrote about him and the new me I was discovering.  I wrote to document and to understand, because the contradictions of my new life baffled me, both my deep love for the baby and the bewildering grief at leaving my old life behind.  I wrote in my journal, and I wrote letters to friends.  When they responded, I wrote extravagant thank you notes.

Now that child stands taller than I do, those early days sometimes seem like a place from long ago, a home I left behind.  But one friend kept every missive I sent her about my new baby, and recently gifted me back a box full of my letters to her.

I sift through those physical artifacts, and their tactile presence places me back in those early moments as a new mother, when to keep back the tide threatening to overwhelm I scrawled a line or two and stuffed it in an envelope.  The need to post the letter gave me a reason to get out of the house, to pack up the baby I was still learning, so I could send out my latest struggles, and even my celebrations—send them to someone far outside the daily cycle of tending, feeding, caring.

When is the last time you wrote or received a letter—a physical memento of emotions, desires, connections?

This year the National Day on Writing takes place on Wednesday, October 20.  The day is a national celebration of writing sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and officially recognized through a congressional resolution.  Locally, the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning is sponsoring “Letters From Home: A Glimpse of the Bluegrass Through Handwritten Words,”  an event designed to encourage the public to write and send longhand letters to friends, family, and U.S. soldiers.

So tomorrow, I’ll be writing new letters from my home in the Bluegrass, at Good Foods Cafe from 11 to 1.  The Cafe is one of 14 locations around Lexington where you can celebrate National Day on Writing by composing a handwritten letter with other writers.  (You can find the full list by clicking the link to the Carnegie Center’s web site, above.)  The day’s events will culminate at the Carnegie Center for a community reading and celebration at 5:30 PM.  Participation in National Day on Writing activities is free and open to everyone.

Come write with other writers.  Make a new artifact or two.  Post your letter and send out your words, from the home you’re in at the moment, into the world.

On inspiration that makes you more yourself…

This year’s Kentucky Women Writer’s Conference begins with the Gypsy poetry slam tomorrow night.  Workshops follow on the weekend.

KY WWConference

At last year’s conference, we at KaBooM had just launched our book, When the Bough Breaks.  We led a panel discussion that was well attended, well received, and really fired us up for a season of selling the book and making ourselves available to other writers.  It was a wonderful, busy, exhilarating time, a very “put yourself out there” time.

Just prior to the conference, this week I’ve been re-discovering singer-songwriter Emily Haines, whose musical work spans many groups and moods.  For example, she’s appeared with the Canadian band Metric on David Letterman, and has a solo album of her own called “Knives Don’t Have Your Back.”  I’ve been enjoying her pure voice accompanied often only by her piano playing.  And then there’s a Youtube video that captures her reflections on how much she needed a writing retreat in Buenos Aires.

The tone of that video is completely affirming.  And I’m remembering a line from an interview she gave in 2007.  When asked about role models, she said: “everybody needs people to inspire them. The most valuable make you want to be more yourself, not more like them.”

So at this year’s KWWC,  I’m in a very different place, and am looking for …. well…  I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for.  But since that’s the great thing about a conference,  my plan is to be open to the deep, warm-hearted, generous, creative people who make themselves available to complete writing strangers, for just this eye blink of time that a two-day conference represents.  In my imagination, I’m polishing a tuning fork when I write these words,  thinking of the satisfying hummmmm that reverberates when a tone is adjusted and reaches that instant it’s in tune.

The two notes echo back and forth off each other and vibrate out into the wider air, moving out of the essential “tuning” period and out into the larger world.

Hungry for Good Writing

Homegrown Authors! KaBooM at the Lexington Farmer's Market: photo by Susan C. Brown

This past Saturday members of KaBooM were at Lexington’s Downtown Farmer’s Market at a booth cosponsored by the Morris Book Shop and the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning called “Homegrown Authors.” The event turned out to be one of the most successful sales days ever for our group; you might want to check out the Morris Book Shop site for details on more selected Saturdays this summer when you can meet area authors and buy signed copies of their books.

But as Jan said in her immediate previous post, these days are not only about selling the book. Continuing her theme, I’d like to reflect on what I learned from our time at the book table on Saturday: many of the folks we met at the Farmer’s Market are hungry not only for fresh, locally grown produce.

They are hungry for good writing.

We set up the sewing frame to let people know that the object we were selling was hand-sewn, and a number stopped to have conversations about book binding and the beauty of hand crafts.

Sewing Frame entices passersby to see hand sewn signatures: photo by Susan C. Brown

But an even larger number of passersby were fascinated by the content of When the Bough Breaks.  One person who read through the table of contents was completely stopped by the title of Lynn’s short story.   “Heartichoke!” she called out: “Oh, isn’t that just perfect, that’s exactly what it’s like!”  She bought three copies.

A retired English teacher stopped to tell us of his frustration that high school students are not guaranteed opportunities to do their own writing in English classes.  We showed him the structure of our book: the brief essays after each entry that reflect on the creative process and the role the group plays in our continually developing craft; followed by individual writing prompts—“Try this”—to encourage written responses.  At that, he was sold, too.

And a number of folks were simply pleased as punch that this joint venture meant they could buy literature with their produce: “that’s fantastic,” they said.

We couldn’t agree more.

Try again. Fail better.

Once school is out, at our house the summer break means everything changes: the habitual imperatives lifted, all the rhythms of our days are renegotiated.

I’m recognizing both the opportunity this change in daily obligations presents to us, and am also feeling the weight of possibility.  Several weeks ago I spoke to a writer-friend who finished the first draft of a novel and shed some work obligations so that she could concentrate on revision and re-writing.  Yet even though this was her intention, she declared, her immediate response to an open schedule was to get less writing done!  Once she eliminated the usual time constraints that used to press her to squeeze in a little writing here and there, the wide open field of newly available time quickly got filled with neglected household tasks and other activities she’d pushed aside in her previous desire to just get some pages done every single day.

This complaint is not new to me: many writer-friends have observed themselves in similar predicaments—what seemed like a good change to “free up time” instead disrupted former habits, and meant that they were getting to the page less than they used to be when they were busier.

Grateful for this reminder, I’ve gone back to my own beginnings, and picked up two supports that helped me first establish a writing time.

First, I’ve started yet another “process journal,” a place where I’m recording which habits or practices help me get to the page and those that prevent my attending to my own work. Simply observing and recording my successes and failures helps me bring attention and intention to daily writing during a summer that lacks the usual structure in my schedule.

Second, I’ve picked up, yet again, a wonderful book by Gail Sher called One Continuous Mistake. The title comes from her chapter of the same name where she reports: “The effort to stay centered in one’s self, minute after minute, is what Dogen Zenji meant when he said that Zen practice is one continuous mistake” (page 54).  Thus, the Zen practitioner never attains complete attention, but also never allows her failure to discourage her. Instead, she keeps returning to her effort.  That continuous return is a kind of success which all the failures do not wipe out.

So I begin my summer with a sound bite running through my head—this very truth, as Sher reports Samuel Beckett using in his writing instruction: “Try again. Fail better.”

The enduring power of words

The last thing I expected to hear when my twelve-year-old son sidled up to me Saturday afternoon was him, asking casually: “Where’s the Velveteen Rabbit?”

A confession: as a wordaholic, I used books to parent in ways that felt vaguely like I was cheating in the game of motherhood. I was shameless, reading to distract, entertain, surprise and astonish, to soothe, and to brighten long dull patches—to have words in my mouth far more courageous, wise and curative than any I could have come up with on my own. Certainly we went through picture books the boys chose for themselves, of dinosaurs and earth-moving machines, demolition derbies and space adventures. But I also had a private stash secreted away for the times the coin of my abilities was spent long before the day was done. I couldn’t have loved my boys more intensely, and yet there were times I was poured out, squashed flat, by sleep deprivation and the unceasing needs of those very children. Then, the audience needing distraction, calming, and exemplary modeling was not a child, but me. The Velveteen Rabbit was a story for those times, as Margery Williams’ tale of the Rabbit who learns to be Real only after his shiny surface has been loved off suited my stretched-thin mother-self precisely.

Since it was a book I read for myself, I never would have guessed it would the one my son would recall or request. In fact, he said he needed the book for a language arts assignment to bring in a favorite childhood story to read aloud. I have yet to ask his teacher if she knows what a gift she bestowed with this requirement.

He reads on his own now, of course—this proto-man-child who is taller now than I. His choices are great tomes of adventure and mystery. But for the time it took us to read the Velveteen Rabbit together again, it was as if he were again the tiny child he was so long ago. When we were done, he nodded sagely, and said “that’s a good book,” as he lifted it from my hands.

Of course not all of us will necessarily write a classic on the order of Williams’ Rabbit. But I am renewed in my faith in this power words have. Her words, published in 1922, rescued the harried mother I was years ago and have managed to embed themselves into the heart of a boy in spite of his need to be “manly” around his friends. This is a special kind of magic that is far beyond what Williams called in her book “nursery magic,” bursting past any nursery walls she knew, to continue living in ways she could not have possibly imagined.

In the face of this kind of enchantment and power, all I can offer up is gratitude—and a renewed desire to dip into that well, that power, myself.

Never give up

Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up.
—Winston Churchhill

Last Friday, I found myself pondering: “I’ve had more inspiring writing weeks.” When forward movement seems difficult (here’s a guilty secret) sometimes I take a break (a long break) from my work to look elsewhere for inspiration, stories of other writers who have just kept plugging along in spite of discouragement.

I want to share a treasure I found last Friday: on  Stephen Parrish’s blog I read a briefly told tale of at least a dozen rewrites of a novel that just went to press (the blog was dated March 5th).  And instead of feeling even the least twinge of envy, I saw pretty clearly that I’ve never done a dozen rewrites of an entire novel.

The Winston Churchill quotation is from Stephan’s blog, and it’s my mantra for this week.

Clearing the way for discovery

As I write uncharacteristic weather is demanding energy and attention and this morning while I shoveled drive and walks yet again, my mind turned mildly allegorical.  Born in Canada and sojourning in a half dozen different climatic zones, I’ve developed a discipline towards snow removal that, on reflection, serves me well when I apply it to my writing work.

As soon as conditions permit, I clear what’s on the ground: this causes my children, raised in Kentucky, no end of bafflement.  “Why bother?” they demand (hoping to dissuade me from insisting on their involvement in my odd behavior).  Because they asked, I delight in pointing out the advantages of my method.

Doing the work immediately means I get a sense of conditions “in the field.”  I know how the wind feels, I see up close what kind of snow this is.  Once I’m out, I notice details I’d never have seen from the window or on a quick scurry from warm house to car—the weather ceases to be just the stuff I have to slog through, and begins to present unique joys (this morning’s dusting, for example, had those large crystals that reflected jeweled light).

In addition, keeping up with the task means it’s rarely overwhelming: I live in Central Kentucky where the snowfall is never heavy.  Though my back and knees could never handle a deep snow, regular moderate effort serves me well here.

In fact, there are unexpected surprise benefits for my having simply done the work.  Yesterday, though the temperature never officially rose above freezing, the simple act of clearing what was on the ground meant that the day’s light reflected off the surrounding banks of snow and heated up the exposed drive and walks, so that by the day’s end everything was completely clear, down to the pavement.   Oh, sure, it snowed again last night, but this morning there was no accumulated, hard-packed neglect that threatens underneath this morning’s small collection.  In past snows, I’ve seen neighbors hacking away at dangerous ice once things begin to melt; our regular effort means our small plot harbors no hazards that demand such hard labor.

The analogy breaks down, of course, at many levels.  But I’m reminded that regular attention to the writing prevents despair and the feeling of defeat, and leaves the way clear for inspired discoveries to shine unencumbered.

Unclenching my fists

By this third full week of January it’s just about time for my annual re-setting of those freshly minted New Year’s resolutions full of good writing intentions —  the ones, that is, that don’t seem to be gaining quite the purchase in the soil of my daily routine I’d wanted them to.

In fact I’m reminded again of why I swore off old-style resolutions years ago.  Gritting teeth and screwing courage may see me through a tough temporary patch but they aren’t long-term strategies that endure.  Just try holding a clenched fist for two minutes; okay, try one.  It’s exhausting.  And there’s not much you can get done with a clenched fist.  One of my favorite quotes is from Aldolfo Perez Esquival, recipient of the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize:  “We cannot sow seeds with clenched fists.  To sow we must open our hands.”  While he was talking about social justice and not writing, I am struck by his image of a fist clenched so tightly that the hand is useless for productive labor.  As a habitual  fist-clencher, this image has power for me.

So instead of trying to force myself into writing habits that I’ve heard work for other people, my goal this week is to ask myself questions that help open to discovery: what does work, today, in my particular circumstance?  How can I move from “fitting my writing in” to giving it a place of honor in my day?  And what seeds can I sow to nourish my developing discipline?

Comments (1) — Categorized under: Gail Koehler,Setting Goals

Making books, making meaning

One evening last week, several members of KaBooM led a Lexington Girl Scout group in the how-to of handmade book craft.  We showed them When the Bough Breaks, certainly.  But because our time was short and these young women deserved an opportunity to make their own books as places to set words to paper, one of our goals was to provide them a chance to make something beautiful they could take home.  Soon, ten sets of hands were running fingers over paper choices; wrestling with bulldog clips and paper awls; pulling thread through beeswax; and enjoying success with Japanese binding—a technique very different from what we used for our anthology, but one just right for first-time book makers.

Bulldog clips hold multiple pages firm as they are worked into a book.

Bulldog clips hold multiple pages firm as they are worked into a book.

Coating thread with natural beeswax before sewing.

Coating thread with natural beeswax before sewing.

Of course we wanted them to take away more than just beautiful handmade books.  We told them that publishing can mean many things, as setting words to one sheet of paper and presenting them as a gift to someone special is one way that writing moves out into the world.  You have the ability to do this, we urged these young writers.

Scoring the cover folds with bone folders and rulers.

Scoring the cover folds with bone folders and rulers.

We made sure they knew that before we began our own project, we didn’t even know what we needed to learn to ensure our anthology became reality.  Nonetheless here we are, at a particularly exhilarating part of the journey to print.

Book makers displaying the visual aspect of the evening's success.

Book makers displaying the visual aspect of the evening's success.

What we took away was less physically tangible than the crafted objects they proudly displayed in this group picture.  That evening my pockets were full with the energy in the room, the shared delight in accomplishment, the heartfelt appreciations.   Since then I’ve reflected that the fierceness of purpose I took away has far more to do with the making of meaning than of making only a pretty object.  The books we make are fine work because the freight they carry matters deeply to us.   That, of all they took from our time together, is what I most desire those young writers remember and take to heart.

Comments (1) — Categorized under: Gail Koehler

Try This

For several years, I’ve been privileged to lead a gathering of wordsmiths in “Writing Practice” at the Carnegie Center, where for an hour and a half once a week we do short timed writings in response to specific prompts.  These prompts can be as simple as single words or phrases: one popular prompt collection includes paint chips of bright or unusual colors with evocative names: “blush,” “forest light,” “firecracker.”

The point is to commit to write without stopping, without thinking through labored connections; to write quickly and from our deepest places, burning through false starts and second guesses because there simply isn’t time for unproductive dithering.  Often, writing this way captures an energy of mind our more considered writing lacks.  Frequently, small bits of real treasure are uncovered.  We immediately read these pieces aloud.  Because these pages are raw,  critiques are not appropriate.   Instead, reading aloud releases the words, provides a small public place for them to be heard, and allows some all-important distance between the writer and the pages that have just been filled.  Sometimes what’s read is so fresh and sharp it surprises everyone in the room, including the writer.

And that treasure I mentioned?  Many of us take it away and, in private writing spaces, allow it to open even further.  Award-winning poems, serendipitous solutions to narrative problems, and satisfying essays have all had their beginnings in writing practice.  This is the kind of practice that keeps a word-yogi limber.  At their roots, the words practice and practical come from the Greek praktikos which means ‘concerned with action.’   Writing practice is one way to make our commitments to writing active, to take them from vague good intentions and transform them into embodied reality.

Writers' notebooks

But you don’t have to wait to find a group to try this kind of “capture.”   One of the reasons we chose to include our “Try This” exercises at the end of each piece in our anthology When The Bough Breaks was to encourage our readers to engage in their own creative process.   Our “Try This” pieces are full of questions designed to nudge, suggest, and encourage the reader to pick up a pen and let that ink flow.

Why not make an appointment with yourself this week?  Come on—set a timer, pick up a prompt, and Try This.

A further note: Writing Practice is a tradition Laverne Zabielski initiated more than a decade ago, indebted to Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones, where in her chapter “First Thoughts” she lists “rules” to make timed writings a place where one can “explore the rugged edge of thought.”

Comments (0) — Categorized under: Gail Koehler,Writing Exercises
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