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

How Do You Slice the Pie?

(Photo source: trapezoidal.wordpress.com)

I finished up my day job on January 31, and since then I’ve been figuring out what it means to live a writer’s life. I’ve discovered there’s more to this than sitting in front of my computer or scribbling in a notebook. A life of the mind must be nurtured by many food groups.

Here’s a partial list of those groups:

  • I write,


  • I belong to a writing collective,
  • we share work in progress and provide feedback to one another,
  • we take turns posting entries to this blog ,
  • I lead workshops for adults and children,
  • I facilitate a book discussion group,
  • I participate in readings/I attend readings,
  • I submit work,
  • I meet with students who are working on manuscripts,
  • I copyedit manuscripts for publication,
  • I take workshops and attend conferences,
  • I read—books, newspapers, magazines,
  • I attend a revision workshop focused on the novel,
  • I’m trying to decide how much of my own web site I can create, and
  • over it all hovers the question of whether or not to tweet!?

While I acknowledge the importance of these activities, I’m constantly working to find the right balance. If not vigilant, I can spend 95 percent of my writing life doing everything but writing. I can subsist on a diet of reading alone, for example, or I can happily gorge myself making suggestions on other people’s manuscripts.

From time to time I must pull back from these literary indulgences and chant a line of poetry I first heard back in 1981: “The real writer is one/who really writes.” (From Marge Piercy, “For the young who want to”)

How do you distribute the time allotted to your writing life? How do you keep yourself focused on writing?


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Kindle as Revision Tool

I wasn’t sure I could learn to like a Kindle, much less love one. Sure, after a week or two, I was ready to acknowledge its well-advertised charms: the ability to load a shelf’s worth of choices onto a device that fits neatly in my purse; the capacity to share purchases with my husband’s iPad; the option of virtual ownership when one of my book groups selects a title I don’t want to make physical space for on my overcrowded shelves.

I also voiced criticisms I’d heard before: the reading experience isn’t the same. I miss not being able to flip through a book. Like many booklovers, I have a spatial recall that startles even me, although I know I’m not the only reader who experiences it. When I want to double-check a characterization or a plot point, I’ll think to myself, “I saw that mentioned on the lower left side about fifteen pages back.”

Clicking through a Kindle book, which negates the left/right spatial orientation, is nothing like this, nor is using the keyword search feature, which with its laborious button-pushing seems as antiquated as a card catalog compared to the computer-like quickness of my brain. Reading a book on Kindle is not a recursive experience; I’m not manipulating a three-dimensional text, not constantly flipping pages through space to recheck the epigraph and/or the dedication, to consult the index, or to linger over accompanying photos. I won’t even bring up Kindle’s way of charting your progress through a book. The percentage tally makes me feel as if I’m participating in an opinion poll. The location number method makes me feel as if I’m having an extraterrestrial experience.

However a recent discovery may redeem the Kindle. I’ll share it with you under the assumption that if I took six months to find it, you are also clueless (plus I tested the discovery on ten Kindle-using friends and none of them knew about this feature).

While searching for something else on the “Settings” screen, I noticed an email address I’d never seen before: myname@kindle.com. I read the paragraph that included this never-before-seen address and discovered that I could send documents to my Kindle in a variety of forms, including .doc or .docx. I pasted a chapter of my novel, which I’m revising, into an email and sent it to myself. Quick as a flash, I received a reply. No dice. Your email doesn’t have a document attached. This response included lots of other useful information, as well as a link to a Help screen. I tried again, this time attaching the chapter. In less than five minutes, the document showed up on my Kindle.

So good. I’ll be able to send my novel to readers. They won’t need to spend ink and paper printing it out or sit for hours reading on computer screens. And in fact, friends with agents confirm that their agents are using e-readers for exactly this purpose.

However, the real advantage to me, the writer, lies in Kindle’s usefulness as a revision tool. I read my sample chapter on Kindle—a chapter I’ve examined several times during the revision process. In one quick read, I saw six infelicities: two consecutive sentences ending on the flat note of the same prepositional phrase; several unneeded adverbs, a comma splitting a compound predicate; a monster paragraph that straddled two screens; an inconsistency in the spelling of a character’s name; the pronoun “her” repeated ten times on one page. In several cases I noticed that paragraphs had lost their indentations, making the text blobs frequent and daunting. So much for impressing a prospective agent.

How was it possible that I had missed these items? What made them apparent when I read my manuscript on Kindle?

I concluded that space between lines, or leading, matters. When the sentences containing the prepositional phrases were no longer double spaced, they drew together on the page, and I spotted them. The monster paragraph also became apparent with book-style leading. I missed the relief of a paragraph indent when I looked at the screen.

The proportion of the page also matters. The Kindle page looks like a page from a book. Its proportions, its ratio of text to margin, mimic a physical book. As I read, I noticed words differently.

I ran into a couple of problems sending a file to my Kindle, problems that were solved by asking Google. Not every paragraph was indented for example. I learned that it’s best to delete tabs and to use the paragraph indent feature (under format/paragraph or on the ruler bar at the top of the window). The same website recommends saving the document with an .html extension rather than .doc or .docx. I followed both suggestions and the resulting document showed up on Kindle formatted as I wished.

Maybe, just maybe, reading on Kindle provides more of an actual book-reading experience than I realized. When I read my manuscript on Kindle, it was formatted like a book. I noticed all the features that called attention to themselves as they slouched across the screen, reminding me that I don’t yet have a book, but a manuscript undergoing revision. Kindle’s real value may be as a revision tool that helps me see my work again.

“I’m Writing a Book”

I had the same experience twice this week. I’m chatting with a friend or an acquaintance at a social gathering, community event, or business function when the person leans close, assumes a sheepish grin, and in a voice pitched too low for anyone else to hear, confesses, “I’m writing a book.”

Such confessions make my heart sing. Don’t whisper, I think. Give yourself a pat on the back. Treat yourself to champagne. I wish you every success. And don’t give up.

Lately, with the future of “book” (as we understand the word) in question, the attempt to write one strikes me as heroic. Will the very concept of “book” become outmoded?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “book” comes from the Proto-Germanic bokiz or “beech,” a reference either to the beechwood tablets on which runes were inscribed or to the tree itself. As the publishing industry pushes us toward the virtual, will the roots of the word in the physical world seem inappropriate? Does an e-version deserve to carry a name based on the organic materials from which a book is made?

The picture that accompanies this post features a shelf in my home library. It just happens to be the shelf where my own as yet unpublished book will live (in alphabetical order by author’s last name, should it be destined to take print form), living out eternity somewhere between the books of John Irving and Kazuo Ishiguro. Given the current state of publishing, I sometimes despair of ever seeing my book assume this place.

So to all of you closet writers out there, keep telling me your secret whenever you can.  And keep writing your books.

And let’s agree that when we envision “book,” we’ll see our words pressed into paper that has tint and heft. We’ll imagine our pages as leaves that ruffle in a breeze. When we say the word “book,” we’ll think about where it will sit on a shelf or how it will rest on a table.

We’ll remember that “book” refers to something three-dimensional. In that form, books occupy physical space and cannot fail to demand our attention.

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The Power of Story

It’s a hot Friday afternoon in summer, after five o’clock, and already cars and people have moved away from downtown Lexington. I’m walking uphill toward the Carnegie Center with one of the many writers I’ve worked with during my time at the center.

We blink as our eyeballs adjust to the light, bright after the hour we’ve spent in the StoryCorps recording booth, an Airstream trailer parked next to the old courthouse.

This interview, as much as any other event of the past months, seems a clear dividing moment, marking my Carnegie Center life from the new one I’m going to live, the one I don’t yet know much about.

I have a long history with this particular writer, a Vietnam veteran who first walked into the Carnegie Center in 1993. He wrote his manuscripts on legal pads and never used punctuation; I was a former copyediting instructor who had recently learned how to lay out books using desktop-publishing software. I read literary novels; he preferred westerns. He had done time in reform schools and finished fifth grade; I had a wide-eyed optimism for life, a belief in the opportunities provided by education.

We are twelve days apart in age.

Over the years he’s learned to use a computer, tried voice-activated software, started more books, devised a plan to employ the unemployable, written dozens of letters to celebrities and politicians, found a home.

I’ve learned to set aside the assumptions I make about people I pass on the street and to be delighted by the surprises in what they have to teach.

We celebrate all these moments in the StoryCorps trailer. In the panel-lined quiet, seated across from one another at a café table, speaking softly into the microphone, we start with our prepared questions, but soon find ourselves moving from interview to conversation, agreeing on the power of the written word to bring human beings together, to show us how similar we are, even in the midst of our differences.

Sealed away in the dim quiet, with late afternoon traffic moving past us just a few feet away, we affirm the value of sharing stories.



What Did You Do on Your Summer Vacation?

[This post is written in support of the National Writing Project, a recent victim of federal budget cuts.]

For twenty-three years I answered this question the same way: I worked with the Bluegrass Writing Project Summer Institute for public school teachers. I spent four weeks, all day, every day, with twenty other teachers.  I coached teaching demonstrations. I prepared teaching demonstrations. I argued pedagogy. I read books and scholarly articles. I gave feedback on ideas for research projects.

Over doughnuts and coffee, at break time, during lunch periods, I talked about the art of teaching writing.  Beginning with the first thirty minutes of each day, I wrote every chance I had. I kept a writer’s notebook. I met with a writing group. I revised my work. I practiced reading it aloud. On Friday afternoons I sat in a circle and listened to everyone read pieces aloud. I laughed, I groaned, I passed the Kleenex box. I created a portfolio of my own writing. I selected my best piece for the annual anthology.

When the month was over, I felt both drained and replenished. And I could not wait to see the teachers at our first Saturday renewal meeting that fall.

Just as I experienced the same rhythm for twenty-three summers, so did teachers all over the country who participated in a writing project at their own local universities. I knew that all over the country public school teachers were living at the same high level. I knew we were experiencing the most powerful professional development model available to teachers. I knew we were becoming writers.

I knew the ripples from our summer gatherings were spreading deep and wide as each of us shared what we had learned with colleagues. I knew we made an impact on the teaching of writing in our classroom, our districts, our states. I knew our students were changed as they discovered their writing voices as modeled by that rarest of creatures: the teacher who writes.

This summer I’ll be writing and reading because the habit is firmly established. However, I’ll miss the opportunity to flesh out my ideas through debate with other eager professionals. My growth will be slowed without the opportunity to behave as both believer and doubter, to practice the habits of mind that make a thoughtful teacher.

And I’ll be writing letters to my elected representatives, asking them to reconsider this grave error they have made.

If you are interested in reading other blog posts supporting the National Writing Project, click on http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/the-blog4nwp-archive/.

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Rush Slowly

At the beach bar and restaurant near our rental unit, this motto is printed everywhere: on the backs of t-shirts, on the menu, as the name of the boat moored in the shallow bay. Most comically it’s scrawled across the screen of a pink cell phone nailed to the post that supports the bar’s canopy. You can’t help but come face-to-face with this piece of island wisdom as you place an order for rum punch or an iced bucket of Carib beer.

The barkeep exemplifies the motto in action. He blends pina coladas and gets them to the table in seconds. His rush is a controlled one, an economy of movement appropriate for a tight space. His eyes, however, stay fastened on the Caribbean and the distant cloud-covered vista of Nevis.

“Rush slowly” tantalizes like any other oxymoron, with its easy wit and mild tension. What might it mean? Is it good advice to take home, to pack in my suitcase next to the sack of nutmeg, the batiks, and the new recipes for Caribbean stir-fry?  Or is it a vacation platitude that resonates most strongly read on the back of a t-shirt through a beery gaze?

What does it mean to rush slowly? There’s the possibility of rushing to accomplish, to load a life with people, places, sensory observations, books, art, movies and other artifacts of culture, to engage in thoughtful conversations, to do meaningful work. To pack it in, to open it up, to be busy not for the sake of busy-ness, but for the sake of a full life.

Then there is the reminder to do it slowly, not with a hesitant or lazy step, but with a thoughtful one, with a mind that savors and reflects, considers and adjusts, takes in new information, processes and assimilates, seeks not just experience but also improvement and change.

From my terrace overlooking Turtle Beach, I hear one man call to another, “No problem.” I knew this island motto already and saw great wisdom in it. But as a general directive for living, there’s probably more to be gained with “rush slowly.”

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Blog Hopping

I wonder how many of you have followed links to other blogs, hopping like a frog from one to another only to find yourself on a strange new lily pad far from your starting point?

The blogosphere can feel like a vast and impersonal pond, filled with lily pads that often disappoint.

That’s why I’ve elected to share some blog shout-outs with you. The blogs mentioned in this post were generated right here in Kentucky by writers well within the 100-mile radius that marks the boundary of local. These pads are worth checking out!

Our old friend Crystal Wilkinson is blogging at http://crystal-wilkinson.blogspot.com/ Titled “Writing with Your Spine,” Crystal’s posts concern writing, reading and publishing. Her posts are full of Crystal’s own brand of spunky wit, and she has even thrown in a writing exercise or two. It’s almost as good as spending a couple of hours with her at a writing workshop.

The organization Kentucky Young Writers Connection is posting weekly pieces by Kentucky writers at http://www.youngwritersconnection.org/ Click on “KYWC Blog.” Thirty Kentucky writers have agreed to talk about their early experiences with writing, and so far about ten of the posts are available on-line. This is a great resource to use with students as the posts are vetted so they are appropriate for middle- and high-school students.

Two women who do the splendid work of bringing us the annual Kentucky Women Writers Conference—Julie Wrinn and Vaughan Fielder—each have new blogs. Find Julie at http://jkwrinn.blogspot.com/ where her latest post is titled “In the Bosom of a Book Group.” Find Vaughan at http://kwwcnotes.blogspot.com/ where her post talks about the organization “Girls Write Now!” Julie and Vaughan pledge that literary advocacy and feminism, the dual mission of the conference, will be their guiding themes.

And don’t forget to click on those two links hanging out on the sidebar: Sherry Chandler’s Blog and Mildly Mystical. These two are always worth a hop!

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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.

Finishing a Novel

We’re about six weeks away from the next installment of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Are you trying to decide whether to participate? Perhaps you’ve got a great character in mind. Perhaps you’ve already imagined a breathtaking opening scene.

Your problem, as you often confess to your writing friends, is that your life seems to be full of starts but skimpy on finishes. And truth be told, once that breathtaking opening scene is written, you don’t have any idea where you’re going next.

I just finished a novel. While I didn’t finish it in a month, I did reach the end of a draft in just under three years. Considering this is the first novel I’ve finished, I’ve set a world’s record for me. Now I want to figure out what I’ve learned, with the hope of next time beating my personal best.

Narrative arc. If that phrase makes you nervous, take heart. It was important for me to realize that narrative arc was something I could pay attention to after I had a narrative. Instead of predetermining plot, I relied on those aforementioned great characters to lead the way. I put them in contact with one another and watched the scenes unfold one by one, or “bird by bird” if you will.

Write by hand. It sounds practically pathological to suggest greeting something as intense as NaNoWriMo armed with nothing more than your writer’s notebook and favorite pen. However, I found this process useful. I needed to slow my brain so I could envision the scene, hear characters speak, and set it down on paper. Writing by hand let me overhear the undertones of conversations and envision actions. The eventual typing of scenes got tedious at times, but never so tedious that I switched to composing on the computer. The slow paying of attention yielded too large a payoff.

Attend writing classes, writing group meetings, and writing workshops. All  offered ideas that kept me going. The trick is to manipulate any assignment you receive so it meets your needs. For example, if the workshop leader brings a plastic bag filled with paint chips with exotic names (Fire on the Mountain?), imagine the conversation your character might have about that chip and where and how such a scene might fit into your narrative. Does it reveal character? Advance the action? Provide a much-needed concrete detail? Once you’ve got a project going, make writing workshops work for you. I can’t imagine any workshop leader not applauding such a practical and necessary ownership. Check out the opportunities at the Carnegie Center. Writing Practice is a flexible way to push ahead.

Recently one of my students, a retired police officer who is finishing his own book, reminded me of this E.L. Doctorow quotation: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

And pulling into your final destination is every bit as sweet.

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.

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