*Afterthought #72—Orcas Island Lit Fest 2018


Sometimes opportunities come along that you never could have anticipated. That’s the case with an invitation I received last spring to join the board of the inaugural Orcas Island Lit Fest.


Press_release_1_Collage_DigitalAG_previewThe three-day festival (April 13-15) on Orcas Island will welcome a diverse group of emerging new voices as well as critically acclaimed and award-winning writers, poets, and literary figures from around the world to celebrate the literary arts. How lucky I am to be a part of the planning for this exciting event, just a short ferry ride away.

A couple of years ago I attended the Oakland Book Festival and learned how literary festivals are different from writing conferences. They’re both about books and writing and authors, but festivals, like the upcoming one on Orcas, bring together people who love to read books with the authors who love to write them.

Sam Gailey, author and OILF board member, describes it this way:

“The Orcas Island Lit Festival is doing for literature what the Telluride Film Fest has done so magically and intimately for filmmakers.”

There’s loads of information on the festival website (updates added almost daily), so that’s the place to check for all the details, to buy tickets (only $65 for a weekend pass), and to volunteer or support the festival in this, its first year. Until you click to the page, here’s a quick overview.

Darvills_Bookstore_Eastsound (1)The festival will kick off Friday night with a Lit Walk and open mic readings at locations around quaint Eastsound Village. Saturday morning, Family Lit Fun will host Thor Hanson, readings by characters in costumes, a kids’ coloring station, and readings by award-winning Young Adult authors. That same morning, the Book Fair opens at the Orcas Center for the Arts, featuring book sales by Darvill’s Bookstore, book signings, and exhibits by literary journals, independent presses and publishers. Food and a book arts exhibit will be available at the Center all weekend, too.

For those readers who also are writers, writing workshops will also happen at various locations around the island during the morning on Saturday and Sunday. There’s a workshop fee (scholarships available) to sign up for one of these four workshops by Ana Maria Spagna, Kevin Clark, Write Doe Bay, and Josh Mohr.

Two tracks of moderated panel discussions begin Saturday afternoon featuring invited artists, thought leaders, and publishing professionals. On Saturday evening, the Lit Fest’s marquee event (additional fee) takes place on the Orcas Center’s main stage, with readings by the festival’s award-winning lineup of invited authors. Afterwards, things get a bit more raucous at the Battle of the Genres gala after-party. Sunday morning is day two of the workshop program and more fantastic panels to attend at the Orcas Center, all of it capped off with a final closing event at the Book Fair.


I hope to see you there!

It’s a Performance

In the past five months since the release of my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, I’ve organized nearly twenty events to promote the book. I learned with my first book, Hands at Work, the importance of book readings and signings to introduce readers to my work. As I wrote in Afterthought #67, I took seriously guidance I received about author events, particularly regarding my “costume.”

Organic cotton T-shirt by Naked Clothing


Elizabeth Austen “performing”

The more I give readings, I gain stronger appreciation for the advice to think of it as a “performance.” I learned that at the first workshop I attended on the art of the author reading, and again at a workshop by former Washington State Poet Laureate, Elizabeth Austen. Her poetry (Every Dress a Decision, The Girl Who Goes Alone, and Where Currents Meet) is exquisite, and Elizabeth’s work in theater and radio is evident when she “performs” her own poems and those of others. Here’s some of her advice that I believe applies to readings of all genres:

  • Select what you’ll read with attention to breaking the ice, developing an arc, and leaving the audience with what you want them to remember.
  • Let the audience have a moment or two to breathe between parts you read, especially if you’re making a big transition or you’ve just finished an emotional section [I’ve found this is the perfect time to take a drink of water; it gives me a break, too].
  • uo2Practice and time yourself so you can be respectful of the audience and fellow readers.
  • Wear shoes that allow you to feel the ground and stay balanced.
  • Performing gets easier with practice—read for an audience as often as you can.
  • Remind yourself that nervousness is simply the energy required to do this special thing, and that the performance requires you, but it’s not about you.

I’ve found that the Question and Answer segment is always rich, and although I never know what people will ask, I follow Elizabeth’s advice here, too, about how to prepare:

  • Think about what I’d do for an interview.
  • Ponder what I want to leave someone with.
  • Consider the stories I want to tell about the book and my process.

I’ve had some surprises at readings, and so far, they’ve all been a delight. For example, an entire book club came to a recent reading and sat in the front row.

CJW cover hiresAt another event, a woman in the audience told me she’d seen advertising for my memoir at a bookstore where she’d just read. I was thrilled to learn that her book (Crown Jewel Wilderness, conveniently displayed on the shelf behind me), is a history of North Cascades National Park. Danner-author-photoIn March I’ll host Lauren Danner for a reading at Lopez Bookshop.

Another time, a young man around my son’s age claimed a front row seat and jotted notes in a spiral notebook throughout the reading. He asked a thoughtful question about relying on memory when writing memoir, so when he came up for me to sign the book, I asked if he’s a writer. Turns out he’s studying writing, and his instructor assigned students to attend a reading (I LOVE this teacher) and write a report about it. At the same reading, an audience member brought her journal, along with my book, to the table where I was signing. After she had a friend take a photo of her with me, she told me she has journals devoted to author events and asked me to write a note on the page she dedicated to my reading. I’ve also been moved by health care providers telling their own stories of burnout and questions about their work.

I now have my own list of author event do’s and don’ts:

  • Always take extra books.
  • Always have water.
  • Don’t worry about silence when you ask who has a question. As a Quaker, I’m quite comfortable with waiting for people to be ready to speak.
  • Remember—if people close their eyes at readings, they’re probably not asleep. That’s just how some people listen.
  • Be prepared to learn something about your own journey through the questions from the audience.
  • Send a thank you note to the event host.
“Goode Ridge” by Jean Vavrek

Perhaps the greatest joy is when I receive comments about my book from people far away. Recently, a friend emailed that while she was on vacation in Mexico and reading Hiking Naked, she met another American from Seattle who knows me but didn’t know about the book—so my friend filled her in. Another email came from a woman I met in Stehekin when she was a teen. Now a midwife, she resonated with my experience of burnout and is planning a sabbatical from that role.

god section

A text message showed up from a friend of my son who had spotted Hiking Naked in a bookstore he visited.

book in cafeAnd just the other day I received a photo and Facebook message from a woman who was reading my book in a coffee shop in Great Britain and wondered why she got some funny looks!

Now I offer some suggestions to those of you who attend readings about how to support the author who has not only written the book but has prepared for this performance:

  • Applaud!
  • Buy a book.
  • Thank the author after the reading (even if you don’t buy a book).
  • Recommend the book to others personally, through social media, and reviews such as on Amazon and Goodreads.
  • Thank the venue for hosting the event.

As I plan for more events through 2018, I look forward to more performances.

iris reading2

If you’re an author, what advice would you give to writers preparing for readings?

If you’re a reader, what is it about readings that you enjoy?



Noticings – Big and Tiny

Book-of-Noticing-Final-sm2For my December Afterthought, I wrote about an essay collection that has been speaking to me – The Book of Noticing by Katherine Hauswirth.  Katherine is a fellow author with Homebound Publications, and although we’ve never met, I feel a kinship with her through her writing about paying close attention. For Katherine, that attentiveness is especially strong on walks in her home state of Connecticut, and reading her observations deepens my understanding of a landscape far from my home.

Stefan Freelan, Western Washington University

In the winter, walking near my home on the Salish Sea is not always enjoyable, or comfortable. There’s often rain, sometimes soaking through my rain-resistant jacket; wind whipping up white caps in the bays; and temperatures in the 30s and 40s that feel much colder in their dampness. But, the dog insists, and I need the scent of the sea, the air on my cheeks, and the stretch of my legs. Dips into Katherine’s essays remind me to keep my head up and eyes open to notice what’s around.

As I explained in my last post, I often fail at such attentiveness. That’s hard to admit as a writer, though I know my writing (and my spirit) benefits from those moments on my treks when my mind wanders, I daydream, or I wrestle with questions.

But still. I’ve vowed to exercise my noticing muscles, and I’ve delighted in some of the results. Since you weren’t with me as I spotted these intriguing sights, I’m posting a few photos from the first day of 2018. My husband, our daughter and her boyfriend, and I welcomed the new year on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula (the REAL ocean). I could include dozens of images of the waves, the wind blowing the sand, jaw-dropping sunsets, and shorebirds chasing the receding water. beach.jpgAnd, there was much more to notice when I took the time to take in everything around me.



Noticing these was easy – and a great joy.

I decided to pay close attention on our walk in Cape Disappointment State Park, and spotted shapes, colors, textures, and surprises I might have missed otherwise.



bent tree.jpg

coast guard.jpg



Sine the second week of January, though, there’s one bit of noticing I’ve had no trouble making time for, even though it’s from afar. On January 8, I became a grandmother for the first time with the birth of a daughter to my son and daughter-in-law. They live in Chicago, so I won’t be able to hold her for a few more weeks, but I never tire of paying attention to sights like this:


I’m not sure what’s more remarkable: the serenity of her face, the curve of her ear lobe, or the pooch of her upper lip from nursing. Or the awareness that she’s asleep on the chest of my son.

Seems fitting that my granddaughter’s middle name is Katherine.



*Afterthought #71 – Noticing

Lately I’ve been thinking about noticing, and especially about how often I travel past a tree, a house, a wetland, a shop and fail to notice the color of the leaves, the presence of a porch, the kinds of fowl, or whether there’s an OPEN or CLOSED sign. I’ve become more aware of how much I miss with my inattentiveness through two very different books: The Book of Noticing by Katherine Hauswirth and Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers.

Book-of-Noticing-Final-sm2Hauswirth takes us along on her walks, inviting us to notice “salamanders, scents, science, spirituality, slugs, and more” with lyrical language and astonishing detail. My own excursions become more observant when they’re preceded by reading one of the essays in this collection.

right footEggers (and illustrator Shawn Harris) made me attend to something I’ve never paid attention to, the Statue of Liberty’s right foot. Eggers notes, she’s not actually “standing” at all. He describes the statue’s main features, from crown to gown —and points out that her right heel is not planted but lifted, suggesting, “…she is walking! This 150 foot woman is on the go!” After all, he writes, she’s an immigrant too, and, he suggests, she’s stepping out into the harbor to give new arrivals from Italy and Norway, Cambodia and Estonia, Syrians, Liberians, and all who have or will come an eager welcome.

What might catch your attention in this coming year that you haven’t noticed before?


*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.