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

Notes from the Ky Women Writers Conference

The 2014 Kentucky Women Writers Conference was full of inspiration and insight, and more ideas than anyone can absorb. I don’t have snapshots to share, but here are some snapquotes to give you a glimpse of what the conference was like. For anyone else who was there, it would be great to hear about what stood out to you.

2014 Ky Women Writers Conference

Jill McCorkle made the intriguing comment that “I’ve come to believe that the [short] story has more in common with a poem than a novel.” She also said that in beginning a new project she almost always starts with the voice of her main character.

Rebecca Makkai spoke about endings, saying “A good ending adds to the story; it tells you something you didn’t already know.” She noted that film has taught us that leaving the audience with sound at the end is often more effective than leaving us with an image. With this in mind, consider how the final lines sound. Pacing is part of that. It often works to slow things down at the end.

Margaret Wrinkle led a workshop on the spiritual work of writing, and the spiritual encounter with material that matters—what she referred to as the stories that are bigger than we are. This is what comes first, before the crafting of work. We journey to that deep place where we find the story and bring it back. “Creativity is a spiritual practice,” she reminded us. “The key to the creative process is surrender.”

Hannah Pittard told how reading Alice Munro’s “Runaway” changed her approach to critiquing work during writing workshops. “First find the most beautiful thing,” is her new philosophy. All kinds of surprising things can work in service to what resonates.

Kim Edwards noted that when Munro’s first person narrators question themselves, they become more accessible.

In Liza Dawson’s agent talk, among her many recommendations was to spend time on publishers’ websites and learn how books are sold. Look at how those books you like are described. You have a dual identity as a writer and as a business person.

But most vivid is a piece of advice from Margaret Wrinkle. Take a piece of paper and write down the mental impediments to doing your writing: the self-doubt, the fear, the questions about the validity and worth of your work. Then burn that list and put the ashes into moving water, letting them be carried away. Repeat as needed. Even the mental image of this exercise is freeing.



Paying Attention

Diane Ackerman signing books following her talk at the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, Sept. 11, 2010

In her recent talk as part of the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, Diane Ackerman shared with her audience the value she has found in paying close attention. It’s clear that her books grow out of her keen observation of the natural world. But she spoke also of the solace she finds in nature, when she can “loll in wonder’s swaying hammock.”

She described finding moments of transcendence during her husband’s illness at those times when she was able to bring her attention to the natural world. When fully present to some aspect of nature, the weight of other concerns eased. Even nature found in “the manicured wilderness of the city” offers such an escape. It takes us outside of ourselves.

Our work, our careers, our lives are shaped in large part by where we place our attention. Noticing the wonder of the world we inhabit is an ability that grows from both freedom and discipline. We need the liberty that allows our perception and thoughts to wander, absorbing the beauty and drama of this amazing earth. Yet when we are caught up in our individual lives, it takes strength and discipline to look beyond ourselves.  Curiosity and openness put us in touch with the world, while focus and discipline allow us to engage deeply with it so that we can create work and offer something back to the world.

Ackerman’s talk was a reminder that the skills of observation we rely on as writers are the same skills that refresh and strengthen us in the midst of living. The ability to be present, to really pay attention, to notice the life unfolding all around us, is the way toward “the satisfying state of mind we sometimes call joy.” The writing life teaches us a rich and rewarding approach to living.

Then there is the work of writing about what has engaged us. Ackerman described her own process of beginning new work as the task of picking something to focus on, then thinking of something, anything, to say about her subject. A process she described as “trying to get the goose of creativity to lay a golden egg.” Her method, however, is workmanlike: Write a sentence. Then write another about that sentence. And so on.

Inspiration is everywhere, but the work of writing is always specifically here, in this particular place, with this subject, on this page, with these words. Attention focused outwards will lead us to our work. Attention focused on the work will lead us to accomplish it.

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.

Leaving a Paper Trail

This Saturday, May 22, I’ve been invited to speak at a conference called “Meeting the Challenges and Opportunities of Aging,” sponsored by our local government. As I recall, the last time I spoke at this event, the title included only the word “challenges” and neglected to mention “opportunities.” Perhaps the event organizers know that I have since entered a new decade and hoped to soften the blow.

My topic will be “Leaving a Paper Trail,” and I plan to encourage attendees to set their life stories down on paper. I know what it’s like when a loved one leaves no written record, because when my mother passed away in 2004, she left no paper trail: few letters, no journals or diaries, not even any lists from which to tease secrets. She had assured me that family records would be available in the central section of a behemoth-sized family Bible, but when I opened its yellowed pages I found what I call “the family tree in winter”: all black outline with no leafy verdancy to give it bulk and color.

I plan to make the case that it is essential to tell our personal stories, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. My rationale came to me as I read Diane Ackerman’s nonfiction book, The Zookeeper’s Wife, in preparation for her upcoming September visit to the Kentucky Women Writers Conference. Her book focuses on the director of the Warsaw Zoo and his wife, who worked with the Polish Underground Movement during World War II. They successfully helped approximately three hundred Jews, hiding them both in their villa and on zoo grounds, in outbuildings and animal cages.

The book is filled with details of their lives as zookeepers: the particular personalities of the animals they kept as pets, an inventory of a beetle collection developed by a Jewish friend, the layout of the Warsaw ghetto, the names of trees. I won’t remember all the details that Ackerman includes, but my sense of the reality of the Holocaust in Poland is heightened and enriched by this reading. As a friend commented, “It supplies a micro-story to accompany the macro-story.” The book describes acts of individual courage and sets them against the drama of the larger war effort.

I now understand why college history courses didn’t always work for me. The sweep of history was overpowering. It’s when I consider individual stories that I am able to do the slow work of understanding, one life at a time. In this way I have been encouraged to continue as a lifelong student of history. I’m willing to bet that Saturday’s conference includes people who have important micro-stories to set down on paper, which will add threads of understanding to large and complex historical events.