Thursday, December 23, 2010

View out the kitchen window.

                This is our first Christmas in our new home in Bend, Oregon.  Some of you know that we used to live here 26 years ago and it was from here I began my writing career telling the story of our leaving through the book HOMESTEAD.  We've attended the First Presbyterian Church in Bend a couple of times and I found myself tearful throughout.  Perhaps because of the music and the wit and wisdom of the pastors.  Perhaps because of the warm greetings given by many.  Maybe it's just the joy of sitting beside my husband at a time of year when joy bubbles up at the blessings we've been given not only in living in a lovely home carefully cared for by others before we arrived but to be here in time for a white Christmas with a heart of gratitude and a hope for the year ahead.
                We know that many of you are in transitions at this time of your life.  Some of you are down-sizing as we are.  Some are out of work, worried over health concerns, children or grandchildren, financial problems.   We send you words of encouragement and the promise to "be anxious for nothing." 
                For me, the gifts of this season begin with generosity: God's generous love for this earth and God's people, sending his son to be among us, to teach us the way to live with our neighbors and to give hope for turning around when we have taken wrong paths.  Jerry and I have had so many examples of generosity from around the world this past year and it is our desire to reflect that back to others in the year(s) ahead. We long ago discovered that if we exercise our generous genes, only good things can happen. 
                We have favorite charities -- The Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Young Life, the Moro Community Presbyterian Church, the Sherman Public School Library, Kiva, The Nature of
Words, many museums (Jerry says we could end up in the poor house with all our memberships to historical societies and museums!).   Some years ago we began making contributions on our electric Coop bills each month to assist those needing help with heating their homes.  We've already discovered a non-profit here in Bend, Common Table, that provides terrific meals at low costs (even gluten-free!) and enables people to purchase tokens that can be given to others for a good meal.  It's sponsored by three churches in Bend, Trinity Episcopal, Nativity Lutheran, First Presbyterian.  We have friends connected to each of those churches so it's a natural for us and we expect to eat there often and purchase tokens to give away.
                I share this with you at this time of year as a way of remembering how grateful we are that we have resources to make such contributions through the year.  We do it out of love; we do it for our own mental health.  Dr. Karl Menninger once said that the single most important indicator of a person's mental health was generosity.  "Generous people," he said, "are rarely mentally ill."
                So as we deal with the massive changes in almost every aspect of our lives that this move has created; as we express gratitude that we had a place to move to that we chose while still being able to have the ranch we worked so hard to create, we are also reminded that it is in giving that we truly receive.  However small you may think your contribution of time, treasure and talent might be, each is a gift we give ourselves when we make  a way for others.  That giving keeps us mentally healthy is just an added bonus.
                Jesus received gifts from wise men.  But long before that, he received the gifts of those around him including the cows that kept that stable warm, the roof over his head, and the love of others.  this season I hope you'll remember your own generosity through the year and continue to expand it as witness to the greatest gift of all.  As an old rancher once said to me, you can't repay the generosity of others; the best you can hope to do is pass it on.  It's my prayer that in this season you will pass on the gift of love, grace and forgiveness we've been given through our blessed savior Jesus Christ and we'll hope to do the same.
                                                Merry Christmas!  And Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Live With Intention- An Interview with writer/artist mary anne radmacher

                  The only card I ever bought for myself was colorful, distinctive and wise.  I purchased it at a store in Palm Springs.  Years later while window shopping in Salem, Oregon, I came upon a shop with that same exceptional lettering on a poster that read "When I say I am coming home it means I am coming to where you are."  It would have been my dad's 86th birthday but he had died earlier that spring.  Tears swept to the surface as I read that phrase and thought about his going home and one day my coming to where he was.  I thought of my husband, too, that home was where he was. When I went to pay for the artistic piece, the owner came out and said, "You're Jane Kirkpatrick, aren't you?  I love your books."  And I love hers.  The artist/writer is Mary anne Radmacher and she has intersected my life and enhanced my writing in amazing ways. In fact, if you have one of my business cards or receive one of my "Jane" cards, those were designed and painted by none other than Mary anne.
                So it's with great pleasure that she agreed to be interviewed for my blog.  Not only is Mary anne an exceptional artist, she's a unique and wise writer of five books, -- including her latest Live with Intention -- numerous framed poster and sayings that stay with a soul like "Live like this is all there is" because of course, it is.  The gate to our ranch hosts a sign she inspired: "We seek neither convenience nor ease but to live at the edge of possibility." She's also a skilled, generous and sensitive teacher both in person and with her on-line courses offered through her website  I've taken three of them and found inspiration within each.  For many years she taught writing at Oregon's State Prison with men sentenced to life.  Her Christian faith has taken her to a variety of places as she seeks justice, loves mercy and I find her always to be walking humbly with her Lord. I hope you'll enjoy meeting Maryanne. 

1.  You describe yourself as a writer and a teacher.   I found you first as an artist/writer.  How did you come to decide that writing and teaching were your deepest callings?
 Writing, creating beauty and teaching others are the things that, throughout my life, I have been compelled to do.  No matter what.  I am happiest and most fulfilled when I am acting in one of those three capacities.  Beyond my own view, I demonstrated the greatest service to others when acting in  one of those capacities. That’s a sure fire way of validating a calling!

2.  One of the things I love about your writing is the way the words take on life sweeping on the paper, twisting or jogging to bring depth to the meaning. Have you always played with words?
Yes.  I have always played with words.  I “wrote” quite a statement in permanent marker on our breakfast nook wall when I was two.  I laughingly say that was my first exposure to a critic!  As to sweeping, twisting and jogging….I began my love of movement and dance about the same time as I fell in love with words.  My lettering style is my way of allow the words to do a visual dance.

 3.  I have a cousin who is an interior designer and she says as a child she played with the color chips from the hardware store letting them run through her fingers and stuffing them in her stockings so her mom wouldn't know how many she had.  How does your experience with color affect your writing and artistry and did it begin at a very early age?
All I have to do is glance behind my studio desk to affirm I have a similar malady to your cousin. Color chips! I appreciated color at a young age,  but came to writing first and foremost.  I simply have a positive relationship with color and form that I have cultivated over the years.  Words inform my art, they spark the image.
4.  What led you to become a teacher?  Was your prison teaching your first experience teaching your craft?  What were some of the challenges in that setting?  Were they unique to that setting or do all students face the same concerns as they try to bring their voice to paper?
I love to learn.  I’m an enthusiastic student.  Teaching others was a natural outgrowth of that verve.  In grade school, teachers recognized this peer to peer gift and allowed me the opportunity to teach others, beginning in fourth grade.  I’m so thankful for the intuitive teachers that have nurtured me as I’ve grown! 
I taught personal writing practice and simple art methods for years before I volunteered in prison.  I found the students inside prison walls more vulnerable and willing to learn than those on the outside.  They were fundamentally aware of the walls that surround them and wanted to break down barriers from the inside – out.  The fears and anxiety that beginning writers face are essentially the same, regardless of life circumstances.
Another advantage to teaching is that, inevitably, I learn something entirely unexpected.

5.  One of the Focus Phrase™ processes I took from you involved your giving us a phrase each evening to inspire us for the next day.  (For information on this see mary anne’s author site:; registration for January’s process closes on December 27, 2010))  The next evening we sent you no more than three paragraphs about how that phrase worked its way during our day and you'd comment back to us.  How did you decide to create that course?  And how did you ever find time to comment to each of us!
The roots of the Focus Phrase process are found in my early Scripture study habits.  The method I teach now is honed from decades of discovery and experience based on my early study experiences.  It’s a profound and impacting process.  Reading and responding to the writing of my participants is invigorating to me (another sign I’m acting within my own giftedness).   I look forward to each submission. I hold them for the gift of trust that they represent.

 6. Your latest book, Live with Intention, Rediscovering what We Deeply  Know, just recently came out.  It's filled with your wisdom like "Walk to the Edge" and "play with abandon" and one of my favorites, "the most important promises are the ones we make to ourselves."  Are there times when you haven't walked to the edge or played with abandon or kept a promise to yourself?
Yes, Jane, some days the best thing that I can say is that I simply showed up.  We all have those days.  I have a life long aspiration to being better at the end of every day.  And by better I mean, that I’ve learned, served and acted in full accord with my blessings and my gifts.
7. What did you hope to accomplish through this latest work?
I want to tap gentle souls on the shoulder and hold a mirror up to their knowledge and goodness and say, “Remember?  You knew this once.  Remember?”  Live With Intention represents ten core elements that enliven and enlarge my days.  I invite others to either borrow mine or connect with their own.  “Same ‘ole, same ‘ole,” never again has to be someone’s answer to, “How are you doing?”  And I wouldn’t mind at all if this one visited the New York Times best seller list for awhile. 
 8.  Describe for us your word birds.
 The “word birds” that I feature throughout LIVE WITH INTENTION are honed, condensed poetic observations on life.  I want them to help the reader’s own thoughts and observations take wing – and fly!

 9.  Twice while reading this latest book of yours, the page fell open to "What if we just acted like everything was easy."  Since I've just gone through some chaotic times moving, adjusting to new routines, saying goodbye to hundreds of people I've come to care about as we enter a new phase of our life away from our Homestead,  the idea of looking at the change as "easy" really struck me.  I like it!  How did that bit of wisdom work its way into your book?
 It took me a few years to recognize that I used that question to talk myself through difficulties of all sorts.  Particularly computer challenges.  I’d ask myself to act like I do when I know something really is easy.  Just introducing that mind set would slow me down, soothe my rapid fire thinking and help me focus.
Things usually ARE a lot simpler and easier than I am at first inclined to think.  While writing this book I changed software.  While writing this book I “lost” one half of the content when I was almost done.  Whew.  I pretended it was easy all the way to when it actually was!

10.  Could you describe your creative process for us?  I know, that's a book in itself!  But do you work daily, do you intentionally spend a certain number of hours or have a special writing place?  Where do you draw your inspiration from?
 I work from the large and compress into the small. I sift through the MUCH to select the MUST.  You could say that I actually “edit” the elements of my life.  Pare away the non essentials.  Every task in my life, with due dates, wish lists or “wouldn’t it be nice” goes on a single piece of paper and gets filed in a portfolio.  That way, when a task starts tapping on my temples, screaming, “You should be doing MY Priorities NOW,” I can just identify some action steps, put them in writing and put them in the book.  Then I feel as if I paid some attention to it, won’t forget it, but it will take its place in line with all the other items wanting to be done.  I practice the one thing at a time method…one right after another.  And make sure I provide lots of happy dances and celebrations for individual accomplishment along the way.
I do have a studio with a writing desk but the world is my favorite writing place.  I always have a journal with me and am writing where ever I go. I draw my inspiration by staying close to the truth of  Spirit and by living close, as often as I can, to my core values. 
11.  You have a number of websites and a variety of product that carries your wisdom.  The household blocks with reversible sayings and designs; the framed posters; other blocks that look quite lovely in my bedroom and inspire me each morning.  Even the tote bag has the ten thoughts that begin with "Live with Intention."  How did you get in to the marketing world?  How do you find it fits with your writing life?
I began my own poster and greeting card company in 1986.  Everything was hand made…I lettered every card by hand for the first two years. Oh my! As my words started traveling around the world, people who wanted to use my words and art began asking me.  To date I’ve never had to ask any manufacturer to the party…I’ve been fortunate enough that they’ve asked me.  But as to the marketing world – ah.  You’ll notice I didn’t list that as one of my gifts.  If it were given over to my inclination, I’d give everything I make away.   I love doing that – ah, but it is my living.  I’ve come to view marketing as an opportunity to serve and to offer others the opportunity to be of service.  I have a strong commitment to private philanthropy and public citizenship. When people support my livelihood by taking a course or purchasing a book or product – they are not only supportive of the dozens of people along the chain that are required to bring my products to the world – but they are validating the message of inspiration and empowerment that I offer to the world through my work.  The more firmly convinced I’ve become (over the years) that I am acting in accord with my calling, the bolder I’ve become about simply asking people, “Please buy my work.”  The words will inspire and I will be able to earn my living and keep doing what I do.

 12.  As you work, if you looked out your window, what would you see? 
That depends if my eyes are open or closed. Open?  I see a parking lot for the small complex in which my studio is located. If my eyes are closed I might see the Cathedral and main plaza of Venice, or the waving autumn grain of the growing fields of the Western States of Oregon and Washington.  I can close eyes and be any where.  See anything. 
13.  Tell us about your class coming up and how we can sign up to be inspired by the wisdom of your work?  How many students on-line can participate in your classes?

Registration closes for HONEY IN THE HEART, December 27.  Beginning January 3 I guide the first  Focus Phrase™ of 2011.  The theme emphasizes: health, promises to yourself, service with compassion and gratitude.  Enrollment’s $229, which includes a signed copy of LIVE WITH INTENTION.  And another surprise or two.  You know I love surprises.
This writing process is even appropriate for people who think they are “non writers.”  People can write:   for more information or to register.
My class size depends on the amount of other demands I have at the particular time.  I’ve closed classes at six registrations and have accommodated as many as 54.  It just depends on the what else is happening at the time of the process.  When someone wants to enroll in a process that is full, I make sure they have a priority position in the next offering.  Or, they can visit the three people I’ve authorized to teach Focus Phrase™ and see if they have enrollment space. (They can be discovered on Facebook at “A New Way – Radmacher Focus Phrase.)

14.  Is there anything you want to be sure we all know that I've failed to ask?
I admire you endlessly.  I appreciate the generosity of spirit that you continually demonstrate by introducing your fans to the work of other writers.  I am grateful to you for introducing one of your readers, Wallace Roark, to my work.  Because of you, two years ago, Wallace took a Focus Phrase process.  It turned out to be a key element in helping him realize his forty-year dream of publishing a book.  LEARN TO THINK LIKE AN OCTOPUS was released this summer and Wallace is already well into writing his second book.   You are a great talent and have huge heart….and while I know you are blushing, this is my interview so you really can’t edit out my unreserved appreciation and admiration!
Can I tell you that I hope you never stop giving us your gifts though I do want you to take time to play with abandon every day!
The great thing about almost everything I do is that it IS play because I love it so much.  Play is less something I do than it is the attitude with which I approach most of all things that require “doing.”  I’m hoping to apply that principle next month when I Get to create numbers of Profit and Loss Statements for various aspects of my business.  I’m pretty sure I’ll just pretend it’s easy!

mary anne radmacher

Friday, December 3, 2010

saying goodbye

Here is our new view, or one of them.  It's water though not the John Day River.  You can't see it well, but there's a waterfall that has a soothing sound not unlike the ripples of the river over rocks.  We'll hang the wind chimes soon too and then we'll feel at home here.  Well, it's already home because PB the cat climbed onto Bo's back and went to sleep so we know they've adapted.
         This is called High Desert Country and we left it 26 years ago.  But the weekend before Thanksgiving, we returned.  I'm posting a letter we sent via a community list serve to the people who have been our neighbors these past 26 years of our living on the homestead.  I thought you might like to read it too.

                Some of you may have heard the rumor that we've moved from our homestead on Starvation Lane.  The rumor is true.  We've returned to the area we left 26 years ago near Bend, OR though we haven't come back to the Bend we left!  All things change. A friend of ours said we hadn't given Sherman County people much time to say good-bye; nor have we really said good-bye to each of you.  So we hope you'll indulge us on this list serve.
                First, thank you. Our years with you have been the grandest adventure of our lives.  I began writing for other people to read on our homestead along the river; people from around the world have discovered the kindnesses, innovation, care of the landscape of Sherman County people through my stories; and the Sherar Family and Donald von Borstel 's telling of his ancestors all those years ago resulted in A Sweetness to the Soul  a book that garnered awards beyond my wildest imagination and began my career as a novelist.  You are all a part of that accomplishment. You've inspired and supported our lives on the river from grading roads to watermelon, hay, grass-fed beef  and book purchases, to fighting range fires and saving our home and barn to being available through the Moro Clinic and ambulance services for various sundry things we brought to you via airplanes in the streets of Wasco, Jerry's cancer and tuberculosis, his different emergency surgeries and injury on the ranch.  Those encounters were life-saving, live-giving and we are grateful.
                 Our church family at Moro Presbyterian stays in our hearts in ways we can't describe supporting our faith lives and reaching out to the community in everyday ways that speaks to the grace and love we believe in.  We will miss your company the most. Our volunteering with the museum and the library have allowed us in small ways to give back to a people and a place that has given so much to us.  Through your care of history at the museum and your understanding of the power and importance of education through the building of the library, we have had a place to express our own values in affirming ways and we are grateful for the opportunities.
                Second,  we still have the ranch.  We'll be coming back and forth for some time finishing things up.  My brothers says we should have an auction next summer and have people come and carry off a part of the story but we're not sure how willing people would be to come down the reptile road!  The distance and weather conditions are one of the primary reasons we decided to move when we did bringing us closer to health care, an airport and paved roads.  (And Jerry did turn 80 this year!) We do have an offer on the ranch and we'll keep you posted about if or when it's sold.
                We purchased a single-story home on 2.3 acres between Bend and Redmond earlier this year thinking one day we might finally retire there.  Jerry's only brother lives in Bend, Jerry's surgeries have all been at St. Charles and his cancer follow-up occurs there.  My nephew and nieces live near Sisters and it's where my sister and all of our parents are buried.  When the people who were living in the house we purchased moved in the first part of November and the forecast was for a rough winter (that was like the wet and wild one in 1984-85 the year we were building our home) we decided rather than rent the house out, we should just move here now.  And to avoid the big storm predicted before Thanksgiving, we moved all that we could on that weekend.  Our friends the Gants who helped us build those years previous came down to help again along with Jerry's son Matt who works for us and Ken and Arla Melzer and some hired help and we drove out before the icy rain arrived. 
                Our new home is on a cul de sac with a street name of Casa Court (Casa means "home" in Spanish) between Redmond and Bend.  The  home was built in 1994 and includes a labyrinth for prayerful walking along with a view of high desert juniper and sage, all very different from the meandering river and rimrocks of our past quarter century.  The dogs and cat are adjusting. I have a Facebook page, a website, blog and newsletter so hopefully we can keep in touch.
                There is a time for all things and this was our time. It was our time  to come to  Sherman County where we discovered more of who we were and more of why community is so important.  And it was our time to enter the next stage of our lives and move to new adventures.  Jerry's son and wife still live in Sherman County as does our granddaughter, Mariah, so our ties remain close.  We already plan to be back in Moro for a writer's event in March, the annual Read Aloud at the Library in April and for a Sherman County Historical Society fund-raising Twilight Tea in May.  So we are not out of your lives just as you will never be completely out of ours.
                Coming back will never be the same as I realized when we stopped with our caravan at the top of the ridge on moving day and looked back at the river savoring that view of the water, the mature trees we'd planted around the house, the hundreds of trees we planted along the river.  I saw cleared fields where sagebrush once stood.  Memories of planting, harvesting, hunting and fishing practically from our doorstep will never fade.  Many beloved pets are buried there. The history of those who loved the land before us  flashed through my mind: the Slack family, homesteaders long years before; Con Davis whose cabin burned in a range fire; and Bob and Marion Boynton who didn't live there but  from whom we purchased the property more than thirty years ago.  We took a risk in 1979 buying property we couldn't really afford but we were drawn to and we were rewarded with some of the happiest times of our lives.  We would not replace our years in Sherman County for anything.  And when the time was right, we risked again to leave, trusting that we have never been alone on this journey.
                My friend Mary Anne Radmacher writes, "Live as if this is all there is."  And so we have tried to; and hope to continue to; and wish the same blessing for each of you.  May this good-bye be just a new beginning.
                Warmly, Jerry and Jane Kirkpatrick 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Interview with Laurie Wagner Buyer

During the past month, I've been packing up 26 years of living on Starvation Lane as we prepare to move back to Bend, Oregon, the place where Jerry and I met and where we moved from all those years ago to "homestead." As I sort my books I notice an interesting thing: none of the poetry books are being sold or given away; I'm keeping them all. There's just something about poetry to capture change, transition, hope and gratitude.

When people ask me about how I started writing I tell them I wrote "wretched little poems" as a child (I found my old file as we're packing up my office!) sometimes with morbid themes. I remember one titled "I Threw a Dead Flower Away Today." I must have been about six and oddly, as I read that little poem, I can still remember throwing that dead flower into the garbage and feeling a great sense of loss for the faded beauty. Writing helped me capture that grief and now, all these nearly sixty plus years later, the image still comes to my mind. Such is the power of poetry. Many novelists, I think, are closet poets, grasping for just the right word. Poets do just that.

Imagine my delight in meeting a real poet some years ago and following her career. Laurie Wagner Buyer has a distinctive voice that appears no matter what genre she writes in. She's authored three collections of poetry. Across the High Divide won the Western Writers of America Spur Award in Poetry. Her memoir, Spring's Edge: A Ranch Wife's Chronicles, earned her finalist recognition for the Colorado Book Award. Her first novel was published in 2004 and she has a new memoir called When I Came West (University of Oklahoma Press.) She also has a new poetry book, Infinite Possibilities: A Haiku Journal (Filter Press), which was a 2010 WILLA Literary Award Finalist from Women Writing the West. I purchased that precious book following her terrific workshop about journaling and haiku. Laurie lives in Texas with her husband W.C. Jameson, also an award-winning author and songwriter. She's agreed to be my very first poet interview but I don't want you to forget that she also has that new memoir called When I Came West out. After reading what Laurie has to say about writing, you'll want all her works on your shelf.

 JK: To begin with, you look great in a western hat! And your intimate insight into the western landscape through your words makes me think you must have been born to a ranch family with a hundred years of history on the land; but I know that's not accurate. Tell us a bit about how you got from Chicago to the landscape that has captured your soul?

Everyone seems fascinated with the notion that I came West in 1975 at the age of twenty as a “mail order bride” to live with a modern day mountain man named Bill who I knew only through his letters to me. You’re right that I came West from the Chicago area. Before that I had attended fourteen schools in twelve years, plus tucked two-and-one-half years of liberal-arts college under my belt (my father was a USAF M/Sgt so our family moved every few years). I had no experience with life on the land beyond walking in the woods on my college campus and picking wild strawberries by the railroad tracks near our suburban home. Thus I experienced some serious culture shock when I ended up on the Northfork of the Flathead River on Canadian border in a rustic log cabin 86 miles from Kalispell, Montana. Two things about being a “mail order bride”: The man I came West for never wanted to be married, the relationship with him was extremely difficult, and I learned a lot about being independent and self-sufficient. Also, I learned that as the romance with the man faded, my love affair with the land blossomed and endured.

JK: When did you know that the western landscape would hold you hostage and then free you through writing about it?

Six months into my stay on the Northfork of the Flathead River. I arrived in early January and then Bill and I were snowed in until May. There was no “escape,” no easy way out to get back to the real world beyond wilderness living. Well, I guess I could have hitchhiked out with the mailman on those few occasions that our paths crossed when Bill and I snow-shoed out for the mail. But despite the loneliness, isolation, huge life-skills learning curve, I was stubborn and prideful and did not want to give up my dream of a life on the land. By the time the snow melted I knew I needed the rushing river and high peaks to make me whole. You’re right in knowing that writing about my experiences freed me in some intrinsic ways—from fear, from self-doubt, from being alone with myself. My first writings were poems and putting words on paper unburdened my heart by getting the emotions out of my head and gut so I could assess and evaluate whom I was and where I might be going.

JK: Your latest collection of poetry, Infinite Possibilities, A Haiku Journal, you said began with the gift of a spiral notebook calendar and you only had room enough to write a Haiku. Did you write one at the end of each day or the morning? Was that different than writing your memoir or other collections of poetry?

I tended to write in the evening before bed: the old “oh, darn, I still need to keep my promise to myself to write one haiku a day” deal! But sometimes, when out on a walk when I spotted something memorable, I would quickly jot that image down on my return to the house and then later when I had time to count syllables and focus I would turn that into the haiku. Writing haiku was so different because it took so little time. They are a spontaneous and fun-sparking form, one in which you receive some fairly instant gratification for your effort. It doesn’t take months and months, like writing a novel, or years and years, like writing a full-length memoir. Other forms of poetry can be written in an hour or a day, but usually I would go back and work and rework those poems into a more perfect state of being before I considered them done. The revision process for haiku, like the poem itself, tended to be minimal. Once I had the “ah-ha” image the words came fairly easily.

JK: What did the discipline of daily writing 17 syllables – in three lines that make up each haiku -- teach you about the creative process? Could you weave those lessons into writing novels or memoir?

The discipline in this case was as easy as remembering to brush my teeth once I made the commitment to the project. Having the engagement calendar to write in truly helped because I didn’t have a large, blank piece of paper or a computer screen to fill. All I had was a very small area in which to write each day. The lesson here is that I learned to “just do it.” No matter how good it is, or whether or not I believed it was worthy in the moment, I simply write something down. Later, I believe I was amazed, as many writers are, just how special and compelling those tiny captured moments became, important enough really to tell the whole tale of one year of my life. The lesson, of course, if you are going to work in a longer form, is to know that it starts with taking the time to pick up the pen and scribble something down. If you do that often enough you end up with a book.

JK: You worked on your MFA in Creative Writing in far away Vermont while living in Colorado. How did that work? Or should I say how did you fit that in to the rest of your writing, speaking, promoting and teaching life?

Working on my MFA while also being a full-time ranch wife presented some difficulties and eventually led to the break up of my marriage to my first husband. The good part about a low-residency MFA program is that I was only away from home for ten days twice a year at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT. The more difficult part was that I required a lot of alone time locked up in an office I built in a spare room in order to concentrate on my writing and my graduate assignments, including a full-length thesis. While that closed door and “do not disturb” signal fed my creative life abundantly, it also created an emotional chasm between my husband and me. Though I had been performing at Cowboy Poetry Gatherings a few times a year from 1995-1999, I had never had to sequester myself in order to achieve my professional and artistic goals. During my MFA years, I tried not to do too many additional outside engagements (unless they paid well); I really kept an intense focus for two years. After my MFA though I began to teach and speak and attend more writing conferences, plus I began to publish more books. While I flourished in that new environment of creative involvement and social interaction, my marriage, unfortunately, withered despite my attempts to devote enough time to home, hearth, husband, and ranch responsibilities.

JK: Whenever I know you're going to be presenting a workshop at a conference, I sign up! In part because I know I'll learn something new about writing but also about myself. You appear so comfortable in front of us all, so poised while at the same time helping us dig in to our own creative souls. Have you always been a natural teacher? When did you know you could not only write but also engage others in writing for themselves?

I think I surprised myself by quickly becoming comfortable in front of an audience. The first few years that I performed at Cowboy Poetry Gatherings I was extremely nervous and shy, even despondent about having to be in front of other people. However, the more people told me they liked my work, the more they bought my books, the more confident I became. The best advise I ever received was from my first publisher, John Dofflemyer, who told me at my first National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV, to “just be your self. Be who you really are and people will be drawn to that person.” That turned out to be so true. Even though I was painfully shy when young, I really did love people and I wanted very much to appreciated and accepted. Thus, naturally, I always gave my best effort. The fact that I had had some public speaking in high school and some theater and dance classes in college also helped me know how to present myself in front of an audience. Other performers gave me tips. I watched with great care how others presented workshops and took notes on what I thought worked and what didn’t work. I was always drawn in by someone else’s warm, easy, “I’m here for you” attitude while speaking and teaching. I tend to be rather open-hearted and giving by nature so the rest flowed forth all by itself. I do think that others know when you’re being true to yourself or putting on airs or trying to show off or pretend to know something you don’t know. It has never been difficult for me to say, “I don’t know” or “I have no expertise in that area.” After the great response I received from the students of my first long-term teaching assignment that was required for my MFA I knew I had the ability to encourage and inspire. That certainly made me happy and hopeful that I could make a career out of my writing life.

JK: A former National Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser, wrote kind words of endorsement for one of your books of poetry by saying “we don’t have to push the poet out of the doorway in order to see what is going on inside.” Yet your poetry is so personal and private. How do you balance that intimacy with a public sharing of your words?

Many people ask me how I can “bare my soul” and not be concerned about what people might think about the level of intense personal revelation found in my poetry. I have never found any one answer for that question except to say that I believe it is easier for me than for others. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe because I’m a Leo and despite my innate shyness there is a part of my personality that is bold and doesn’t mind taking risks. Plus I have always felt that we are all human beings, we all share the same emotional joys and difficulties, we all make mistakes and celebrate successes, so it never seemed to me than anything had to remain secret or unspoken. Certainly it was difficult in the very beginning to “tell all” out loud to an audience, but once I saw the positive response and heartfelt appreciation for my down-to-earth and honest approach to my experiences it became much easier. Writing something personal is one thing. But deciding to share it is another thing altogether. But usually by the time something is both ready for publication (and finds a publisher) I have moved beyond the spark or sting of an event and it no longer has the power to hold me back or prevent me from discussing the situation, no matter how painful or difficult the issue might have been. I know some people are uncomfortable with intimacy, but usually that discomfort stems from their own need for privacy and self-protection. Amazingly I have never had anyone criticize my openness or the subject matters I choose to explore.

JK: Your workshop about haiku in Arizona last month inspired many haiku pieces to show up on one of your websites in a section called "Do you Haiku?" at I even submitted a couple! What's been the response from readers of your latest collection? What does the Japanese form of brevity have in common with the vastness of the west?

I have had such fun with Infinite Possibilities: A Haiku Journal. I cannot thank my publisher Doris Baker enough for having this great vision of the poems being incorporated into a journal format, which encourages others to write. The response, from both genders, from all age groups, has been so positive and uplifting. People who write all the time find haiku freeing because there is so little on-the-spot expectation beyond just three short lines. People who say they have never written a thing surprise themselves by creating charming brief poems. One of my super fun things to do these days is forward email responses to Doris Baker so I can say once again, “You are a genius! You knew the beauty of combining haiku with blank pages and it has worked so well. What a blessing for us all.”

That is an interesting remark…the juxtaposition between the brevity of the Japanese form of haiku and the vastness of the West. I don’t think I had ever thought of that before. Perhaps I see a connection because I tend to look at the West with a close focus, with a telephoto lens instead of the wide-angle lens. Being a poet has taught me to be an observer of small, often seemingly insubstantial or unimportant things. I tend to see the West as a collection of individual snapshots instead of a wide-screen film, as separate pieces of a complex and fascinating puzzle, rather than as the complete picture that appears on the box. My job, then, is to put those snapshots and those puzzle pieces into some kind of beautiful and memorable order.

JK: In one or your reviews, author Candy Mouton sings your praises saying you are "absolutely one of the best writers I've ever read." She goes on to say: "It is hard to even imagine being so lonely that making a puppet from the hide of a mouse, carefully skinned and brain tanned, would lift a woman’s spirits. Yet that was part of the reality of Laurie’s early life in Montana." Did you journal during those years as a "mail order" bride or was poetry your companion? What brought you to create that puppet and do you still have it?

I did journal but briefly, perhaps a few short sentences a day, mostly chronicling the weather, the chores and housework tackled, any particular incident of interest (the birth or death of an animal, what we found on the trap trail, any visitors), and any pertinent news worth mentioning from the outside world (learned via radio or letters). I never had too much time for writing, thus my early poems are quite short. When I did have time for writing, I tended to write letters to family and friends. These missives, in their own way, created the complete story of those early years and most of my friends, my mother and sisters, kept those letters for me. I also kept the mouse puppet for more than thirty years, tucked safely away in a small buckskin pouch within a cookie tin. However, about four years ago, after a great deal of holistic counseling, I decided to “purge my past” in order to move more fully into present moment as well as a new marriage. I gave the mouse puppet, as well as boxes and boxes of letters, records, and memorabilia, a ceremonial release in a backyard bonfire. All that remains of my early years in the West is my memoir, When I Came West, and those early poems in the books, Blue Heron, Braintanning Buckskin: A Lesson for Beginners, Little Dancing Fawn’s Tale of Christmas Joy, and Glass-eyed Paint in the Rain.

JK: A spiritual thread weaves through all your works. In my own writing, I'm always asking my characters where they draw their strength from, which to me is part of a spiritual thread. From where do you draw your strength?

These days my strength comes from my connection to the Great Mother, the Infinite Source of All That Is and All That Ever Will Be, the Source that flows without flaw through our World here on Earth as well as throughout the Universe. Though I was raised a Christian (in the Lutheran Church), I also studied many other religions and found that Native American Spirituality came closest to my own personal beliefs. That intimate connection with the natural world is still my greatest joy and my firm foundation. I have also practiced various kinds of meditation, yoga, Jin Shin, Reiki, and other holistic modalities in my search for peace and harmony, as well as physical and emotional balance. Most recently I have acquired the ability through intense focus and dedicated effort to hear spiritual guidance from Divine Beings, including the Gentle Master, Jesus. This guidance, which works through me from the Highest Levels of Love and Light, directs my personal choices as well as the way I gift my creative energies to our World. For those who are curious about this aspect of my life, more information can be found on the blog site:

JK: You're married to W.C. Jameson, an award-winning author, songwriter and musician. Without being too invasive, I can't help but wonder how two creative people support each other's work. Care to share insights for the rest of us living with creative genius?

What can I say about WC? I climbed to the top of a very high ridge on a ranch in South Park (Colorado) for three months and prayed for the Universe to send me someone who would love me for who I am, who would appreciate and honor the poet in me, who would support me in my creative work, and who would be by my side through thick and thin. Want to ask me if I believe in the power of prayer, of intentional thought, of the law of attraction? I am the most fortunate woman in the World to have WC as my husband, as well as my incomparable mentor, secret lover and special friend. He has nurtured and encouraged me through some extremely tough times and never lost faith that I would not only survive but also thrive, and go on to be “one of the nation’s best poets.” I don’t know about those high words of praise from him, but I certainly feel very grounded in my art and very sure in our relationship. We discuss our projects, both music and writing. We are first readers for each other and we edit for one another as well. We talk about the business end of this crazy endeavor—everything from websites and marketing, to communication difficulties with publishers and accountants—and keep each other’s spirits up if we’ve had a set back or a disappointment. What I love best about WC (besides the fact that he is the sexiest, most charming man in Llano, Texas—and therefore the world!) is that I can talk to him about anything, even girl stuff, female complaint, and women’s issues. We also support each other’s work by going with the other person to his or her events (whoever books first gets the date), we share domestic duties (I do dishes, he does laundry; I do floors, he does the yard; we both cook), and we never get angry or hold a grudge. Likewise we freely allow the other person alone time to read, workout, write, or to go places on his or her own with other friends. I think it has taken both of us most of a lifetime to find this kind of balance and mutual admiration in a relationship…and we never stop giving thanks to the Power that brought us together (each in quite different ways).

JK: Is there anything you'd like to share that I haven't covered in this brief interview?

For those in your reading audience who have read When I Came West and who asked about the sequel—the manuscript for The Heart of Nowhere: From Hired Hand to Ranch Wife is still under consideration at the University of Oklahoma Press and slated for some revision work before going to the boards for approval. Therefore, I’m hoping that readers who want to know “what happened” to the mail order bride after she left the wilderness life to work on an isolated cattle ranch will have their answers within a year or so. Also, my collection of poems Accidental Voices should be out from Seven Oaks Publishing before Christmas. I’m very excited about both these projects which have waited so long to come to fruition.

JK: Thanks so much for writing with authenticity, for giving us your unique voice and for being a mentor to many.

Thank you, Jane, for asking such interesting questions and for giving me a chance to share my story with a wider audience. Every success and happiness to you (and your characters) as you continue to reveal exceptional stories that illuminate the best within us all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pendleton's 125 years celebration; Grapes on Santorini, Greece

The Presbyterians in Pendleton, Oregon, celebrated their 125th anniversary this past weekend. 
What I loved about this celebration was the enthusiasm of the people who'd been working for over a year on the big weekend festivities. I got to meet with the committee, eat and laugh with them and see how they cared for each other "Does Eleanor have a ride?" one member asked.  It's wonderful to see energy in a faith community celebrating not just the church but the work of a people caring for each other and community for the past 125 years. 
            I spoke at their banquet Saturday evening and had been given a history of the church to peruse, among other things, to help me prepare.  It was a great read!  It spoke of generosity and challenge, of change and resilience.  Many of the members are from wheat ranching families and for years at harvest they'd donate trainloads of wheat to be sent to refugees around the world.  In 1901, for example, their budget for local and foreign missions was sixteen dollars while the building fund garnered a mere nine.  I think they had their priorities right.
            When I'm asked to speak at such events I'm humbled by what people can do when they make a commitment.  How could those six families who began this church in 1885 know that one day 125 years later others would still be celebrating their faith?  It's what happens when you make a commitment though:  Providence moves.

Here's part of my reason for not posting for so long...we've been in Greece.  This was taken on Santorini, an island that is part of an old volcano in the Agean Sea.  All the buildings are white and many have blue accents.  This was an old church railing and I went inside and lit a candle in prayer for those in my life who are in physical and mental pain. 
          If you buy a particular brand of Greek yogurt (I love Greek yogurt!) you'll see photographs of white buildings with blue roofs and those were taken on Santorini. We'll go back one day I hope, when the weather is the clear blue sky one usually sees there.  We arrived right after a storm.
        One of the fascinating things on this island for Jerry and me, as people who tried to grow grapes, is how the local growers have adapted the vines to deal with the limited rainfall and the high winds on the island.  They've trained the vines to be close to the ground in a circular fashion.  They appear wrapped into a kind of basket-like shape with the grapes lying to the inside of the basket.  They're protected and easily harvested that way.  Very inventive!  We were on a bus and couldn't get photographs so your imagination will have to kick in here.
        I'll have more photographs coming soon when we figure out how to load Jerry's 1100 shots onto a disk so I can access them more easily!  I took a few hundred with my IPhone that I'm just figuring out how to access.  I had the phone a month before I realized I had phone messages for me in there!  Ah technology!
        But know that I was thinking of you all while having a great time in Greece.  Now it's back to work telling stories.  Have a great day!  Jane

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jane's Interview with Sandra Dallas

Bestselling and award-winning author Sandra Dallas is my guest interviewee this month. Gosh I like this woman! I like her books that are often set in historical Colorado though her WILLA Literary Award winner, New Mercies has a Mississippi link as well. One of her nonfiction titles, The Quilt that Walked to Golden was the model for my quilt book about Aurora and her Spur Award winner, Tallgrass set in the 1940s and telling the story of a Japanese detention camp in Colorado, made me celebrate one of Joyce Carol Oates' criteria for a good book: stories should give witness to voices seldom heard and Tallgrass does so beautifully. The Persian Pickle Club is a delight as is The Chili Queen whose mystery and ending will floor you, I bet. The Chili Queen also won the Spur Award from Western Writers of America. One of Sandra's nonfiction books, Sacred Paint, won the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Western Heritage Wrangler Award, an award that I was honored to receive for my first novel. I've yet to read a book by Sandra (I think I've read all of her fiction now) where I didn't close the last page, sigh and think, "Boy, I wish I could write like that."
I also cherish Sandra as a person who shares my love of writing and understands the necessary discipline and who has been a supportive colleague in my writing and personal life. I feel honored to call her a friend. Much of the interview that follows has to do with her latest book, Whiter than Snow that comes on the heel of her first New York Times Bestselling book Prayers for Sale (recently named a finalist for the WILLA Literary Award from Women Writing the West as well.) If you haven't been introduced to Sandra Dallas...then you are in for a major treat. Please visit Sandra's website and her Facebook page to let her know you've read her interview then look for one of her titles. Just'll be glad you did.

JK: Whiter than Snow was for me an astonishing book. Can you tell us how you learned about the avalanche that inspired this story and what made you decide to write about it? Or was it all your wonderful imagination?

SD. There was no avalanche that inspired Whiter Than Snow. The idea came from a remark made at a Western Writers of America conference a couple of years ago in Scottsdale, Arizona, where someone said that a plot was where a writer brought together a disparate group of people to face a common danger. Somehow or other, that comment made on a brutally hot day worked its way into a story about an avalanche at 10,000 feet in Colorado. I read everything I could about avalanches in the Colorado mountains, talked to my son-in-law, a mountain climber who is head of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, who told me the greatest danger from an avalanche is not suffocation, but trauma. Unexpected help came from my grandson, Forrest, then six, who wrote an essay, “About Avalanches,” for me: “Avalanches start from ckoneses. The wend has to blow it hard and then it forms into a pelo and then it fols down a speshl way. Avalanches omle are on step mowtines. You can die esale. They go fast.” That was about all I needed to know.

JK You gave us the ending up-front in Whiter than Snow then drew us into the stories of the people related to those children. How did you decide on that kind of structure for this novel? Do you usually get the plot first or the characters or something else entirely?

SD The idea for the book came with that structure. I never considered anything else. Usually, the setting comes first, next the characters, then we all go looking for a plot.

JK One of my favorite relationships in this book was between the two sisters. Did you draw from your own siblings to create such vivid friends whose lives were later shattered even before the avalanche?

SD. My sister Mary is my closest friend (possibly excepting my two daughters, Dana and Kendal.) I’m sure I drew on that bond, although I did not do so consciously. It would be a tragedy to me if something came between us.

JK Have you ever been close to an avalanche as it was happening? I thought you must have been to create such a vivid account of the one outside of your fictionalized Swandyke in the mountains of Colorado.

SD I’ve never been in an avalanche, although I’ve lived in avalanche country and have heard the stories of those terrible snowslides that rush down mountainsides, sweeping up everything in their paths. Colorado history is filled with stories of miners caught in avalanches—as well as stories of their rescuers who were swept away in subsequent slides.

JK You also write award-winning nonfiction works too. The Award-winning The Quilt that Walked to Golden is a favorite of mine. Denver Post readers enjoy your columns and book reviews, too. What's the biggest difference between writing fiction and non-fiction? How easy is it for you to transition from nonfiction to fiction?

SD I wasn’t sure I could make the switch to fiction after so many years as a journalist. (My first novel was published when I was 50.) But I discovered that as a journalist, you’re always looking for quotes; that’s dialogue. You need a story line; that’s a plot. And you develop the discipline to just sit down and write. Journalists don’t have writer’s block. If they do, they find another job.

JK What is your all time favorite writing ‘How To’ book? One that you would like to recommend to other writers?

SD That’s easy: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She tells you about the writer’s life, the rewards and joys, the disappointments, when not to give up—and when to consider suicide.

JK One of your skills as a writer is presenting the tensions between race and class and gender in both powerful and sensitive ways. Whiter than Snow is no exception. Did you know in advance that you would have characters who ended up in Swandyke from such diverse experiences who then have to find a way to live together in community? Or did the characters just evolve and let you know what they struggled with?

SD I knew I wanted diverse stories. Those stories came from interests of mine. I’ve always wanted to write about the sinking of the Sultana, but I couldn’t write a novel about it because there were only a handful of women aboard and I write primarily about women. I’ve read extensively about the plight of African-Americans following the Civil War, men and women and children whose lives were often worse than during slavery. As a feminist, I’m interested in the lack of choices women historically have had. And after a visit to the Tenement Museum in New York a couple of years ago, I was caught up in the lives of immigrant women at the turn-of-the-century. I wrote each section as a sort of short story, then brought the characters together in the end. Incidentally, I did not know in the beginning which children would live, and choosing the ones who would live and the ones who would die was the hardest part of writing the book.

JK When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Were there barriers that got in your way? What kept you persevering?

SD I never wanted to be anything but a writer. Well, I was sidetracked in high school when I wanted to be a movie star, but after trying out for the high school play, I realized that was not an option, so I went back to the original plan. The barrier was being female. The Wall Street Journal came to my university and interviewed male journalism graduates but not the females. Women, even on the major women’s magazines, were hired as secretaries, not editors. Newspapers wouldn’t hire women as reporters. I was the assistant in the Denver bureau of Business Week, where I eventually was promoted to the magazine’s first female bureau chief. I never encountered sexual harassment as a reporter, but I did in book publishing.

JK Prayers for Sale was a New York Times Bestseller (and another favorite of mine!) Has your life changed with NY Times bestseller status? Do you still have to wait in line at your favorite restaurant?

SD Are you kidding! I can’t even cut in the line at Starbuck’s where the barista is a would-be writer. And I’m still listed in the phone book. My life has changed only in that I get asked to donate more books and to write more endorsements for other writers.

JK Can you share a little of your writing routine? Is it 9-5 day, late into the night, early morning? Year round? What would a day with Sandra Dallas look like?

SD Last year, when I was on the New York Times best-seller list, a sorority sister at a reunion asked me, “Is your life glamorous?” Ha! I get up at 5 a.m., work out at the University of Denver, stop at Starbuck’s, and am at my desk by 8. I write in the mornings, when I’m fresher, generally write a page a day. The next day, I edit that page and write another page, and so on. I may go back to my computer 10 or 20 or 30 times a day to change a word or phrase, rename a character, or make other changes and additions. But essentially, I can stop after a page and not feel guilty. I write almost every day of the week, although I’m not religious about that. It’s okay to skip a day if something comes up. After writing my page, I generally spend the rest of the day on promotion—my newsletter, my Facebook author page, answering emails, preparing speeches, meeting with book groups, writing book reviews or my column for the Denver Post (a monthly column on nonfiction books of regional interest.) I suspect you and I are not all that different in how we write, Jane, since we both look at writing as a profession, not some sort of ethereal creative experience. In fact, you’re probably more professional than I am, because you’re more productive. Since my office is at home, I mix the writing chores with laundry, cooking, gardening, and other responsibilities. I sometimes get emails asking if “a member of Miss Dallas’s staff” would do something. Who’s that, the cleaning lady?

JK A friend of mine said that at the end of a book where is says "about the author" that what she doesn't want to read are the number of books written or awards won. She wants to know "stuff" like where the author lives (not the address!) how many dogs she might have, what movies she's seen more than once, what books are stacked beside her bed, etc. So could you tell us some "stuff" about you?

SD Actually, Jane, I like the mystique of not revealing too much. Readers are disappointed when they find out how ordinary I am. My husband and I are restoring a Victorian house in Georgetown, Colorado, a national historic landmark district, and for the past three years, I’ve spent a great deal of time on that. I love to go antiquing. I’m an undisciplined collector of old quilt photos, folk art, western art, and anything else that strikes my fancy. I read a great deal; my sister said once that for us, hell is being somewhere without a book. I’m interested in western history, wrote 10 nonfiction books about western subjects before I turned to novels. I visit my daughter in New Orleans several times a year, and the two of us are going to Turkey this fall. And I’ve been involved in political issues, particularly those affecting women. Years ago, I integrated the Ship Tavern Bar at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver. And I have this incredible grandson, Forrest, but you don’t have room enough for me to tell you about him.

JK What are you working on currently?

SD The Bride’s House, which is set in our house in Georgetown and will be published in June, 2011. It’s the story of three generations of women who live in a Victorian mansion in Colorado and takes place from 1880 to 1950. Essentially, it’s a love story—three of them, in fact.

JK Thank you so much, Sandra, for being my second interviewee! What a privilege to interview you and for your gracious comments to me that you feel honored to follow Francine Rivers' interview. The quality of your work and the compassion of your heart are models for any writer or anyone who loves a good story. Thanks for sharing your insights.

Bio: Widely heralded for her sharp historian’s eye, her ear for authentic dialogue, and her knack for creating endearing characters, Sandra and her fiction have received international acclaim.
Turning to fiction in 1990, Sandra has published nine novels, including Whiter than Snow. Sandra is the recipient of the Women Writing the West Willa Literary Award for New Mercies, and two-time winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award, for The Chili Queen and Tallgrass. In addition, she was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award, the Mountain and Plains Booksellers Assn. Award, and a five-time finalist for the Women Writing the West Willa Award.
The mother of two daughters—Dana is an attorney in New Orleans and Povy is a photographer in Golden, Colorado—Sandra lives in Denver with her husband, Bob.
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