The Low Down on the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference (so far)…

The Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference is underway, and I’m feeling lucky that such an event happens right here in my home town.  World class authors come here, to me, making it just so easy (and affordable) to learn from them.  I get in my car, drive about fifteen miles, make myself comfortable in the conference room at Land’s End Resort, and people like Michael Cunningham, Dinty Moore, Bill Roorbach, Peggy Shumaker, Sherry Simpson, Nancy Lord and Rich Chiappone (to name just a few) offer workshops, answers to writing questions and expert advice.   It’s pretty cool.

Although I’ve been dabbling in writing for several years, I’m a newbie to the writing world.   The KBWC is a good way to get a sampling of what it’s all about.  Jennifer Pooley, a senior editor from HarperCollins imprint William Morrow is here, as is agent April Eberhardt.  It’s been nice to meet both of these very approachable women because they remind me that agents and editors are real people; something I’m guessing that most of you already knew.

Here are a few morsels I’ve gleaned from the offerings so far:

  • I use the word “I” way to much in my writing and I think I’m going to have to start looking for alternative ways to talk about myself so as to not bore the poor readers or sound like a narcissist.
  • Bill Roorbach says to call writing “work” and not “writing,” because the guilt-ridden side of us won’t let us skip out on work and it’s easy to decline social engagements when you say, “Sorry, I have to work.”
  • Dinty Moore’s workshop on miniature nonfiction validated my love for keeping things short and gave me some great ideas for future projects.
  • Michael Cunningham says it’s important to stay engaged with a piece of writing by visiting it every day, even if you don’t have much time.  He also says to “write smarter than you are.”
  • Listening to Peggy Shumaker read from her new book, “Gnawed Bones” reminded me that I love poetry, especially when it’s as accessible and beautiful as hers.
  • And Bill Roorbach says that gardening is writing.  I love that.

Lunch Break Pilgrimage

To outsiders 39 degrees doesn’t sound very warm, but in Homer, in the middle of March, when there is no wind and the sun is shining, it feels downright toasty, especially if you’re wearing your favorite wool sweater.  Yesterday, St. Patrick’s Day, was one of those days.  Unfortunately I had to work, but I did manage to get outside over my lunch break.

First, I left the library and waded through several inches of slush in the parking lot to find my way to the walking trail that leads through the woods.  The trail hasn’t been cleared since last week’s storm, but a narrow path of packed down snow made it passable.  I could have followed the road, but I would have been sprayed and subsequently soaked if a car had driven past.  On the trail I met a young guy whose mother is a friend of mine.  When he stepped aside to let me pass he sunk about two feet into the soft, melting snow.  It was very chivalrous of him considering the fact that he was wearing sneakers and I had my snow boots.

At the end of the trail I turned south on Poopdeck Street.  At this point I had to shade my eyes with my hands.  The sun, the snow, the water; well it was all a little overwhelming for my pupils.  The sidewalk was also icy which made for some interesting maneuvering.  I walked and slid my way downhill to the highway, without crashing I might add, with one hand above my eyes and the other out in front of me for balance.

I crossed the highway at the crosswalk and cut through the Islands and Ocean Visitors Center parking lot to meet the next trail.  It cuts down through the spruce and alder forest and leads to one of my favorite destinations in Homer; Two Sisters Bakery.  But yesterday it was too nice outside, and I needed the sun more than I needed a chocolate bread roll, so I walked past the bakery and headed toward Bishop’s Beach.

The parking area was crowded.  Dogs and children were milling about.  A black lab and a German shepherd, free from their owners, ran up to greet me.  It turns out that I knew both of the dogs and when I called out their names, Osa and Caspian, they were beside themselves. They proceeded to swarm around me in a flurry of leaping and hopping and wagging tails.  When the boys who belonged to the dogs caught up they seemed equally as excited as the dogs at having found someone they know at the beach. Sometimes there’s nothing like a good greeting.

After a short chat in the parking lot I walked through the soft sand at the top of the beach and over the rocky stretch about half way down before I reached the final stretch of my journey.  Still wet from the receding tide and littered with clumps of seaweed, driftwood and clam shells, the expanse of dark sand just before the water is one of my favorite places.  Sometimes I walk long distances along the water’s edge, taking advantage of the firm surface, but yesterday my time was limited so instead of walking parallel to the water I went straight toward it.

I  knew I didn’t have long, that I’d have to turn back in order to get back to work on time, but I stood for a while with the water inching in and out around the soles of my boots.  I listened to the waves. I turned my head toward the sun and soaked in its heat for a few moments.  Then I did something that I hadn’t planned on doing; I took off my gloves and plunged my hands in the ocean.   For some reason it just seemed like the right thing to do.

More snow days

The library where I work moved into a new building three years ago, and since then it has become a bit of a town living room.  In the winter locals stop in between errands to warm up by the fireplace, or to check their email or browse through the new books.  Friends meet there to play chess or to knit.  It’s also a great place for small talk.  I’m one of the chattier librarians, which I guess might be bad since libraries are supposed to be quiet places, but one of the things I like about living in a small town is being on a friendly basis with most everyone I see.

Some days everybody is talking about the most recent antics of our ex-governor, or about the high school hockey team.  Last week there were lots of comments about the six puppies that were left near a dumpster in a kennel with the word “HELP” spray painted on the sides.  Something always has folks talking, and if no local politician has done anything gossip-worthy, or there haven’t been any house fires, then we always have Mother Nature to fall back on.  Last March Mt. Redoubt, the volcano across Cook Inlet, gave us all something to speculate about and yesterday the library was abuzz with talk of the impending storm that the weather service predicted would start at 4:00pm.

Blizzards aren’t terribly unusual here in Homer, so you wouldn’t think we’d get all excited about them, but we do.  For a little while, before every dramatic storm, the town feels like Christmas Eve.  The grocery stores get busy with people wanting to “stock up.”  Folks rush to the library so they won’t run out of reading material.  Trying to find a parking place at the video store becomes impossible.

We say that all of the bustling about is for the sake of preparedness, but in reality you won’t find a population more prepared for disaster than Alaskans.  We have full propane tanks, multiple cords of firewood, plenty of food and, I’d guess, more entertainment options at home than we’d ever consume while waiting out one measly storm.  I think the pre-blizzard giddiness that happens is just our excitement over the possibility of having a snow day or two.  We all just want an excuse to stay home for a while, and in case that happens we want to make sure we have half and half for our coffee and couple of good movies.

As individuals we’ve adapted to the extreme conditions here, and so have the road crews and city maintenance workers.  We should know better than to hope for a snow day.  But we can’t seem to help ourselves.  Whenever the national weather service issues a winter storm warning the fantasies start to play out in our minds.  We imagine a day of tending the fire, drinking hot cocoa, cooking a slow, savory stew.

Yesterday, just like the weather service predicted, the wind started to pick up around 4:00 pm.  The library was a flurry of activity until we closed at six.  It was cool to see people in town preparing not for the storm, but for the off chance, the hope, of this being that one big blizzard that happens every few years that allows us to stay home for a few days.  Even in Homer, Alaska we manage to fill up our time with work, school, sports, meetings and a hundred other things.  A harsh storm gives us all reason to pause and remember that slowing down wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  We know that we’re able to get where we need to go when the snow is three feet deep and blowing sideways; but just because we can doesn’t always mean that we should.  I think we need more snow days.