Monthly Archives: April 2012



I’ve been asked to do a guest blog on writing and dreams. So, being a little efficient and a lot lazy, I thought I’d ask for your help with this project. I plan, of course, to share my own experiences with dreaming in my post, but how much more exciting to add others’ dreamy reports to the mix! 

Okay, I’ll go first: I’ve kept a dream journal for over thirty years, participated in dream groups for a decade, and have always been amazed at the way both dreams and writing can be universal and particular at once. (Folks in my dream group, as in my writing workshops, get as much out of analyzing others’ dreams as they do out of looking at their own.) And anyone who’s ever woken from a dream with a spoken dialogue in their head, knows how similar the profound, unconscious source of dreams feels to the “suspension of disbelief” or waking dream in which we read and write stories. All of which may explain why so many of my characters have been born from both free writes and dreams. 

John the Baptist is a good example: last year, a short but powerful man with wild dark hair and a nervous, animal energy started visiting my dreams. He was suspicious of civilization and preferred the company of a small red bird he carried close to his heart, over interaction with me or anyone else. But as reclusive as he was, he kept coming back — it was as if he wanted me to find out where he fit in my personal mythology. I didn’t recognize him as John the Baptist the first time I met him in a dream (I was raised Episcopalian, but have been more Buddhist than High Church since I turned twelve!). Still, I “knew” that’s who he was when I woke, and he has since confirmed his identity in free writes. 

It’s because of this newest dream figure that I recently began a novel about Salomé, the young girl whose dance is supposed to have triggered his execution. My first free writes were with John, however, not the Roman dancer, and it is the shaggy prophet’s peculiar magnetism that keeps me writing, despite the challenge of researching this two-thousand year-old story. Yes, I’m sure my inner “dream director” wants to show me something about myself via this isolated, blundering, strongly intuitive character. I’m equally sure, though, that the Baptist has gifts for all of us. He’s canny and innocent, wary and courageous, and I’ll be a long, sweet time finding out why he’s chosen me. 

How about you?  Who or what have dreams brought to your writing? Ever written about your character’s dreams in a book? Ever woken from a dream that HAD to be turned into fiction? Do you enjoy reading dream sequences in others’ work? Or do you tend to skip over them to get to the “real stuff?” I’d love to share your thoughts about this…and your dreams!


Filed under Uncategorized

Cocked, Cracked, Shaken and Gone


Many of us whose hands shake and hearts sink whenever we read about the demise of “the book” – the printed book, that is – realize that what we’ll be missing is the heft of the book itself, the feel of it in our hands, the texture of the paper chosen for its pages, the subtle idiosyncrasies of font and text on the page – the whole beautiful physical object. An e-book device might take up less room in our bags when we travel, but think of what disappears along with the weight: Stiched signatures, octavos and quartos and folios, backstrips and glue, cloth-covered boards, blindstamped designs, endpapers, versos, rectos, page edges – deckled, beveled, gilt –  hinges, gutters, and spines – even cocked and cracked and shaken spines. All the vocabulary of bookbinding would disappear along with the books.

Here’s a lovely video about how a printed book – and it looks like a book with heft – is made. The link was passed along to me by Tom Birdseye, a fellow advisor at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Thanks, Tom!

Hope everyone reading this enjoys it as much as I did.




Filed under Uncategorized

Event Boundary

I was happy to read in a magazine a while ago that I’m probably not losing my marbles.

Not all of them, anyway. Those times when I’ve stood in the middle of a room, thinking, “I’m sure I came in here for a reason, but what was it?”

Turns out, it’s nothing to worry about. It’s only an “event boundary.”

A Time article quotes researcher Gabriel Radvansky of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana: “Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away.”

So the actual physical doorway’s to blame! The moment you cross the threshold, your brain shuts the file for the room you’ve just left and opens a new file for the next room. Goes back to square one. Hits the reset button. Shakes the Etch-a-Sketch.

Anyway, that’s essentially what Radvansky claims. And he’s got research to back it up.

This got me to thinking about revision. Possibly because that’s what I’m doing right now. I think book chapters can be event boundaries as well. As in: Hey, Renzo learns the name of the youngest bird-child here in Chapter 32, but he already knew it back in Chapter 27! How could you possibly have missed that?

Because I crossed an event boundary, okay?

Have you ever read a published book where, say, the protagonist’s beloved uncle dies suddenly in Chapter 8, but in Chapter 9, which takes place the following day, she seems to have forgotten all about her crippling grief and is deliriously pursuing a romantic entanglement with the dashing undertaker? l have. Well, not quite that book, but a few just like it. Apparently, the author wrote “Chapter 9,” crossed the event boundary, and closed the file on the uncle’s tragic demise.

So, while I’m delighted to learn that I haven’t completely lost it, I think I might just check the event boundaries in my novel not only for continuity of action and detail, but for echoing chapter-to-chapter emotional resonance as well.

I know, it sounds so obvious. But, like all too many things in life, it’s easy to forget.

–Susan Fletcher


Filed under Uncategorized

Creativity and Feeling Squeezed Empty


Sometimes it happens. No new ideas. You just feel flattened…. squeezed empty. No excitement around sitting down at your desk and seeing what’s waiting to pour out of your fingertips.

We’ve all felt that way. And will feel that way again. It’s hard to know when to try to create the space that will let the ideas flow. When to do the writer’s work that requires a different part of the brain. The rewriting. The PR. The Everything Else.

There is a fascinating new book out, Imagine: How Creativity Works by Johan Lehrer. He covers a lot of territory, including what conditions may help increase creativity. One aspect of the book that really fascinated me was the link between depression and creativity. “People who are successful creators — especially writers — ” said Lehrer in an interview on NPR, “are anywhere between 8 and 40 times more likely to suffer from bipolar depression than the general public.”

Wow. I’ve always known that creative people had brains wired differently — after all, I grew up in a family of photographers who mixed with painters, furniture makers, musicians, and an array of San Francisco bohemians. They were different. More exciting. More likely to be enthusiastic one day, down in the dumps another. But us writers… 8 to 40 times?

Could it be that when we feel flattened out, we just need to wait for our brains to cycle back to some mysterious sort of manic state? That it mostly depends on catching the rhythm of creativity that we are hard-wired for?

Here’s the NPR interview with Jonathan Lehrer.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Proverbial Room of One’s Own

by Tim Wynne-Jones

I missed the deadline for my blog! Completely forgot it. Sorry, one and all, but I have about the best excuse a writer could ever have: I’m writing. After a seven-month dry spell (see my blog about empty wells from last fall) March roared in like a lion. It didn’t hurt that we’d taken a beautiful house in Salcombe, Devon for the month that provided that most crucial properties for writing: a room of one’s own. Woolf got that one right. The second morning we were there, I woke up at 4:00 and, taking a big shaky, frightened breath, reread the 36 pages of a novel I’d started almost exactly a year ago and not touched since. It was all there; all the passion I’d felt at the time and not been able to find while travelling.

By the time we left Devon on March 30th, I’d written 180 new pages. I was worried about returning to our cramped quarters in London, but there was enough momentum to keep the thing going. Two weeks later, I’m at 350 pages.

I’ve even figured out how to write in coffee shops.

I had always disdained that idea as being a Natalie Goldberg kind of dilettantism, but as long as you know what the scene is you’re writing before you get to the café, and as long as the words are already lining up in your head, the squalling babies and mobile ring tones fade into white noise. The barista even knows my drink of choice!

            But the room.

I had never realized just how unportable my job was. I guess Hemmingway could write in cafes because he travelled light – no adjectives! I couldn’t until I got the thing – the story — snowballing down the hill to the point where I have to hustle just to keep up with it. Lunching with Philip Pullman in February he said that ideas don’t come to him, they come to his desk. There is truth in that. But it’s good to know the desk can be somewhere else, as long as it’s in a room where all your notes are spread out, a room you don’t have to pack up whenever you leave it, a room of one’s own.    


Filed under Uncategorized

Serving the Work, Part 2

Here is “Je Suis Belle,” the poems-in-stone by Anne Dykers mentioned in my previous post.  It is on exhibit with other amazing artist books from April 9 to 26, at the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in Silver Spring, Md.  



~Mary Quattlebaum

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Serving the Work

For the past three weeks, I have had a visitor that reminds me, by its very example, of what it means to serve the work. To put aside ego, deadlines, other’s expectations and advice … and to focus on the work at hand. To quiet the “popcorn mind” (thanks to Tom Birdseye for that oh-so-descriptive term) and to offer the work the time and patience needed to bring it into being.
This visitor is a stone-and-handmade-paper display of poems. It was created by a dear poet friend, Anne Dykers, over a period of more than ten years.
Ten years to write the poems (300 pages, finally culled to a few lines on each of about 100 pages). Ten years to learn how to make the paper. Ten years to decide how to share the poems (traditional print book? long strips of paper? stone and paper?). Ten years to learn how to print on handmade paper. Ten years to determine the type and cut of the stone, and more time to find the right craftsman to carve it. Ten years to find the right title, “Je Suis Belle” (I am beautiful), a title that refers to a Rodin sculpture first called “The Rape” and later renamed by the artist.
Ten years.
And now here it is. Calm, weighty, resonant. The work, well served.

~Mary Quattlebaum


Filed under Uncategorized



I spent four days in Mount Vernon, WA, last week, speaking to students at a Young Authors Conference; three talks a day, a hundred second- through sixth-graders plus their adult group leaders per talk. This allowed me to gather almost one thousand tiny writing samples, one thousand opening sentences of personal narratives.


I was curious to discover what this collection of stickyback strips might say about these writers and their lives. After much shuffling, the majority seemed to fall into the following groups: family stories, 133, (includes moving, 14, and new siblings, 15); pet stories, 97; weather, 89; vacation stories, 76, (15 mention Disneyland and four begin, “Are we there yet?”); sports stories, 65, (includes 11 about swimming); friends stories, 64, (18 about new friends); injury stories, 55; action/adventure/scary stories, 53; stories seemingly related to stories I told in my presentation, 33, (yes, I love how sticky stories are); country life stories, (hiking, fishing, riding horses and three-wheeled vehicles), 16; Young Authors event stories, 11; birthdays, 4.

 Before we brainstormed, I talked about how we connect to our readers through the emotion of a story. I encouraged kids to write about a memory that held strong emotion and they responded with an emotional rainbow: sad stories about lost or dying pets, or, saddest of all, a dad in jail; the thrill of a trip to Disneyland, making a new friend, getting a new sibling, sailing down a ski slope.

 There were openers that tugged at my heart, like: “One summer day, my dad left for Afghanistan because he was in the Navy.” Or, in a very cramped printing, “The path I’ve gone through is unbearable. But the path only makes me stronger.” I always admire a writer who can put his truth on the page, but I hate that kids have such hard stuff to deal with.

On a lighter note, despite drizzling rain all week, more than 15 percent of these Northwest kids included the sun or a warm day in their opening sentence.

 Here are some of my favorites, with attribution when available.

  • It all started with the Batman pajamas.
  • Having bloody noses is not the best way to spend a whole summer.
  • There was a time, there was a time where everything was perfect in my life.
  • “You get the shovel, I have the rake,” said Chuck. “We will meet in the woods.” – Ethan
  • “Molly! Look!” I whipped my head around and saw five dorsal fins poking out of the water.
  • Chris liked birds. He liked robins, ducks, swans and bluejays.
  • It was cold but I still took hold of the K.G.M.I. banner for St. Paddy’s Day. – Maddie
  • Over the gleaming river, it seemed that nothing would ever happen that could be bad.
  • Me and Grandma was sitting still in a boat fishing. – Tessa
  • Rose was lying on the trampoline staring at the blue sky when she heard some giggles. – Lilly
  • The rain pounded down on the backs of the weary travelers.
  • My name is Larry and I am a tornado watcher.  – Keaton
  • The happiest day of my life was when I knew about dinosaurs. The first dino I knew about was triceratops.
  • My dad drove up to a house and two people walked out wearing Groucho Marx glasses. I didn’t know they would become my two favorite relatives.
  • “No! I don’t want to take a bath,” I yelled.
  • “What was the last thing you said to Grandma?” asked Mom.
  • “Dad, Dad. No not that. I told you to play a music video, not home videos. You are the most embarrassing dad in the history of embarrassing dads.” – Carsin
  • The bell sounded. Everyone ran. I lined up. I saw the smoke flying off the top of the school.
  • I looked about the room. I hadn’t seen so many boxes since Christmas.
  • “You are going to have a brother,” Da said. “But I want a kitten,” Kyra cried.
  • I cannot believe my hamster teddy – a grey dwarf hamster with a white stripe down his back – died.
  • How can I get out of this cage thought Chewy?
  • I was looking at the thousands of sad-seeming cats at the shelter, when I saw an almost familiar looking, smokey-grey cat. – Gilly
  • Really, only Alexa was going through the Young Authors conference since Juliya had been snoring most of the time. – Alexa

I want to end this post with a shout out to Marie Weltz who has worked on this conference for each of its 20 years. She celebrated her 80th birthday Thursday. Think of all the young writers who have been inspired by her efforts. The conference is sponsored by the NW Educational Service District and Skagit Valley College. The kids come from 40 elementary schools, including public and parochial, private and home schools. Each attended a workshop with an author and a workshop with an illustrator and my presentation. They also had an hour where they met with students from other schools and shared the manuscripts they’d brought along. Though Marie is stepping down this year as head, her legacy will live on.

Meanwhile, when I need an idea for a new beginning, I know where to look.


Filed under Uncategorized