Writers’ conference faculty give advice

Ann Hood

Ann Hood

Although the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference won’t happen until June 14 to 18 at Land’s End Resort, the early registration deadline with discount rates ends at 5 p.m. May 4. Besides, in years when the conference has sold out, many writers have been disappointed who didn’t register quickly. Registration continues through June 14 until the conference fills up.

The 12th annual conference features keynote speaker Naomi Shihab Nye and 17 writers, poets and literary professionals from Alaska and across the country inspiring students with workshops on the craft and business of writing. We asked some of them to give their advice about what they wish they had known as writers and poets beginning their careers.

Ann Hood

Ann Hood is the author of nine novels, including “The Obituary Writer,” “The Knitting Circle,” “The Red Thread” and “Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine”; a collection of short stories, “An Ornithologist’s Guide to Life”; and the memoir “Comfort: A Journey Through Grief,” which was named one of the top 10 nonfiction books of 2006 by Entertainment Weekly and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice. She is the recipient of two Pushcart prizes, a Best American Spiritual Writing Award, the Paul Bowles Prize for Short Fiction and a Best Food Writing 2011 Award.

Advice: “Most of good writing comes from revision. Beginning writers erroneously believe that after the first or second draft the piece is done. But that’s when it begins.”

Karen Salyer McElmurray

Karen Salyer McElmurray’s “Surrendered Child: A Birth Mother’s Journey,” was an AWP Award Winner for Creative Nonfiction. Her novels are “The Motel of the Stars,” “Editor’s Pick by Oxford American,” and “Strange Birds in the Tree of Heaven.” Her essays have appeared in the anthologies “An Angle of Vision,” “Dirt,” “Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia,” “Red Holler” and “To Tell the Truth.” She is finishing a new novel, “Wanting Inez,” about fortune telling, tattoos, the mystery of family and the lost identity of land.

Advice: “On the one hand, I want to tell those who are starting out to trust their hearts as much as possible. In a publishing world that takes so much ‘savvy’ concerning everything from the subjects we might choose for our work to the marketing of that work once it enters the public forum, it can seem so ephermeral. Trust the heart. But I strongly believe that one must trust what counts in the belly, the heart, the center of the self — and I apply this advice to the words as they appear on the page in the beginning drafts, in the countless necessary revisions and in the publishing world as the work makes its way there.”

Melinda Moustakis

Melinda Moustakis wrote the collection “Bear Down, Bear North: Alaska Stories,” which won the Flannery O’ Connor Award. Her stories have appeared in “Alaska Quarterly Review,” “American Short Fiction,” “Hobart,” “Kenyon Review,” “New England Review” and elsewhere. She was named a 2011 “5 Under 35” writer by the National Book Foundation University.

Advice: “I wish someone would have told me that writing my first book was going to be take a long longer than I thought, and would be more difficult, and would turn out much different than I had planned. And that every new poem, story, essay or book has a different way of finding its way on the page.”

Sean Hill

Sean Hill wrote “Blood Ties & Brown Liquo.” His awards include fellowships and grants from Cave Canem, the Bush Foundation, The MacDowell Colony, the University of Wisconsin and a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. His poems have appeared in Callaloo, DIAGRAM, Ploughshares, Poetry, Tin House, and in several anthologies, including “Black Nature” and “Villanelles.” His second collection of poetry is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in 2014. He lives in Bemidji, Minn., but taught this year at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Advice: “Go where the poets are — go to poetry readings; go to conferences; read the poets; find your tribe; find your mentors. I’ve been lucky enough to have great mentors all along the way, so my advice is to gather those writers around you (living and dead) who will give you the advice that will make this question hard to answer.”

John Daniel

John Daniel is the author of nine books of poetry, essays, and memoir. His newest book, “Of Earth: New and Selected Poems,” presents poems from his two previous collections and a generous selection of newer work. Daniel’s books of prose, including Rogue River Journal and The Far Corner, have won three Oregon Book Awards for Literary Nonfiction, a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and James Thurber Writer-in-Residence at Ohio State University — and a former logger, hod carrier, railroader,and rock climbing instructor — Daniel lives with his wife, Marilyn Daniel, in the Coast Range foothills west of Eugene, Ore.

Advice: “Love the practice of writing, the daydreamy concentration, the joy of discovery. Love the frustration, love the despair. Love the practice and the practice will sustain you when results in the marketplace do not.

“Write regularly, hold yourself to it, put in the time. But jilt the muse pretty often, too. Go to the movies, go duck hunting, try skydiving, walk by a river, get good and drunk. You’re writing when you’re not writing. There are associations forming, images focusing, metaphors in the making that your conscious mind can’t invent. The dreamer within is dreaming them and doesn’t like being watched all the time any more than you do.

“Your poem, essay or story in progress knows more than you know. Don’t give it orders. Ask it what it wants to be.

“Read read read. Read poems you don’t understand, stories you hate, essays on things you don’t care about. Read the back of the cereal box. Read what you love, too. Read everything, just no books or magazines on how to write. Your reading is compost, it all sifts down to that darkness where the dreamer stirs and mingles, where seeds open and new shoots rise toward the light.”


John Daniel

John Daniel

Karen Salyer McElmurray

Karen Salyer McElmurray

Sean Hill

Sean Hill

Melinda Moustakis

Melinda Moustakis

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