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A Profile of Carol Levin

By Carl Deuker

Carol among her books

Carol Levin

Sing! That’s what Carol Levin’s mother—blessed with an operatic voice– commanded. “Sing, Daughter, Sing. Sing like me.”

Music was in Carol’s house as she grew up. Music and a mother, but an absent father. Carol would come home from school and lose herself in scarves and blankets, as she twirled about her room, an only child dancing before thousands in her imagination. The love of music was in her blood, but she did not inherit the voice, much to her mother’s disappointment. “Sing, Daughter.” Read more →

Rita Bresnahan – Rich In Words

By Roselle Kovitz

On a wet fall morning, Rita Bresnahan welcomed me into her condo overlooking Shilshole Bay. Both of us stood for a few minutes, captivated by the view of masts set against the deep blue of the Puget Sound, trailing off into the horizon. Like the water that reached out in front of us, behind her smiling eyes, Rita seems vast, deep, playful and mysterious. She giggles at her good fortune to wake to this view every day, especially so, since she grew up in the Midwest on the edge of the Great Depression.

She was the second oldest of six in a devout Catholic family. “Our family was very poor, but oh so rich in the ways that count the most, what brings life meaning: love, spirit, values.”

Education was also important in her family, and all her siblings went on to finish college. Rita herself earned a BA in education and theology, an MSW, and a Ph.D. in psychology and spirituality. She taught for nearly 50 years, across subjects and grades, from elementary to high school, college and graduate school. For 35 years, she was a psychotherapist and for 25, a spiritual director, something she continues on a part time basis.

Rita loves to travel, and has spent extended time in South America, Africa and Europe. She also has a passion for being in nature, especially for the mountains. She even scaled sixteen of the14,000 foot peaks in Colorado!

In 1981, when the waters of the Northwest beckoned, she made her way to Seattle. She walks with friends or family along those waters nearly every day. Shortly after arriving here, she began teaching in the grad psych department at Antioch University, and at the Institute for Theological Studies at Seattle University.

“My work has always held deep meaning for me,” she says. And it has been quite diverse: as a social worker in the poverty areas of Illinois; also with special needs children, with troubled teens in a residential setting, and with elders at Foss Home. Through the years Rita has found ways to help people make sense of life by listening, and letting their own truth reveal itself—whether with a toddler examining a leaf, or with her mother when her mind was slipping away.

In Walking One Another Home: Moments of Grace and Possibility in the Midst of Alzheimer’s, published in 2003, Rita documents her extended visits with her mother as she succumbed to Alzheimer’s. Rita has heard from hundreds of readers who were inspired and helped by her story. To honor Alzheimer’s Day in 2009, BBC Mondo featured Rita responding to questions from readers of the Spanish version of her book on their BBC Latin American Service.

Rita writes what she calls “real-life narrative” and has “some 200 stories, poems and other material in its rawest form, just waiting to be called upon…or not,” she says. She is ever on the alert for “everyday kinds of poems.” “There is so much to marvel at, every day. I write when I’m touched by something or surprised…These days, I write mostly about times with the three children I play with nearly every day.” Whether talking about her nieces and nephews or her contemporaries, there is a sense of play in her eyes and in the way she speaks—sometimes with a bit of a lilt.

She’s an alumna of Hedgebrook, on the staff of Crone: Women Coming of Age, a frequent keynote speaker for conferences. She has offered hundreds of workshops, such as “With a Laughing Spirit,” “Aging as a Spiritual Journey,” “Creating Joy in Caregiving,” and “Leaving a Spiritual Legacy.” She also coaches aspiring writers.
Rita’s stories, poems and reflections have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul, and also in A Time to Weep, A Time to Sing: Faith Journeys of Women Scholars of Religion.

As I left, Rita’s joy followed me, reminding me that it is available anywhere along the journey for us to take. She revels in the contentment of her “crone” years and time with her peers, as much as that she spends with her young nieces and nephews, hiking in the mountains, or meditating. In talking with her and reading her writing, it appears that when life’s winds kick up, she goes deep into the stillness where she finds an abiding sense of calm.

“Remember who you are,” her parents regularly reminded her, meaning that being in the Bresnahan family was a mark of honor. Now, Rita’s family is a vast one—like the Sound outside her window. Whether she’s writing about 3 year old Emma’s latest discovery, or her mother’s last days, her parents’ words seem to echo forward. Through her writing and her life, she seems to remember not only who she is, but who we all are.

Read Ballard Writers on other Ballard Writers every couple of weeks. If you join our group, you may enter your name on a slip of paper and put it in Bob Dalrymple’s hat. We’ll draw the name of someone for you to profile and someone else to profile you. Who will it be? The surprise is all part of the fun. Today, Roselle Kovitz profiles Rita Bresnahan.

A brief account of the whole Ingrid Ricks

by Carol Levin

 

A photo montage showing a variety of subjects in profile.

 

No, Ingrid Ricks’ photo is not here. I invited her to talk about herself in order to gather more than a side view for her profile. She is, happily, very fluent. What follows, of course, is through the filter of my own perception, some of which may be inaccurate. I did not record it besides fragments of notes in pencil in a notebook.

I suggested she begin by recalling objects as touchstones for prompts, sort of an animated object autobiography.  But Ingrid vibrates with what she wants to communicate so the conversation slopped over the edges of objects and flowed along unaided. There is a celebration of life and self within.

If you haven’t already met Ingrid, she’s a not very tall bundle of energy that not only vibrates as she speaks, but even exudes ebullience when she’s listening.

If you have read (and I hope you have) her book, Hippie Boy, you know what she has chosen for you to know about herself up to age sixteen. And, wow, that is a compelling, dynamic story.  So as she described the first object she thought of, it was connected to the journey she writes about in Hippie Boy. At least I could easily envision her reaction as she described the drawing she saw, when at age 23, on an assignment as a reporter for a small Burien, WA newspaper she interviewed a fellow named Byron Fish. On his wall was a drawing of a naked man running on a beach with a caption “Free at last.” Now she owns this object and it continues to reverberate for her in various ways. One way, signifies to her, her “escaped childhood.” Another, the lessons her father taught by instilling in her a sense of freedom. Her motto, probably her father’s too: You go out and create the life you want for you self.

While still at the Burien newspaper she remembers the moment she first met the feisty outspoken artist, William Cumming, (a member of the Northwest School of art) a motivator in a way, for her. Cumming had a reputation, he did things his way. But at that time he told her he had stopped painting, worked construction and Ingrid asked “how could you abandon your work?”– she vowed never to do that. Of course his path changed. Maybe “paths” are an object in this story.

As she thought about objects she said she is not a collector. Actually, I had not expected her to be. It wouldn’t be compatible with her dedication to freedom. But she described how she enjoys her collection of cards of mottos and aphorisms. These particular objects support her belief, “You don’t have to live in the box others create for you,” “No boundaries” and so on.

Illustrating, not being stuck, she told how she leveraged her little reporter job by taking a flying leap to interview for a job at the Seattle Times and without much experience was hired as a freelance writer for three of the paper’s bureaus!

Well, she married and moved with her husband, John, to Pittsburgh working jobs to help him through law school. Free-lancing at an alternative paper until she went to work at an ad agency. The object representing this time of her life is the notation she made on her calendar the very moment she was hired at the agency– She marked the exact number of days until she could quit the job.

She describes how, after returning to Seattle and having two daughters she felt (and I paraphrase) she’d dropped out. “Lost a part of herself.” She felt stuck in PR and Marketing. How she’d kept planning to write her book, and even though she was repeatedly encouraged by her husband, she kept putting it off, in some way, abandoning herself, her work. An object precipitated a shift in this state of being. It came from her daughter who wrote thanking Ingrid for “teaching me to get my dreams.” Invigorated, Ingrid launched into getting her dream. Wrote Hippie Boy and sent it into the world swept along by her momentum to do the job. She utilizes the skills she has honed throughout her career in promotion to promote her own work. Employing print on demand, e-books and all alternative avenues to get her work seen and heard. Many objects.

She worries about not being able to stay on her “path” to continue the in freedom that is so precious to her. She has good reason to be concerned and is actually discovering her path is deviating from the original plan. This is where I mention how often I had noticed her use of the word, focus. I noticed it before I knew the weight this word represents. Now we know that about eight years ago she was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare degenerative eye disease. She hid this information and as she says “It’s exhausting to make up excuses for not seeing.”  She has discovered how freeing it is to reveal yourself to others. In other interviews Ingrid tells of her trip to Africa after the shock of her diagnosis, how the impact of being with a community of destitute people dying AIDES propelled her to find a perspective, a relativity, in regard to what was happening to her own self.

I myself, think of life as ongoing random encounters that tumble and twirl to lead you where you never expected to be. In the context of unexpected, Ingrid’s participation working with students came about when English teacher, Marjie Bowker, invited her to use Hippie Boy to inspire the students at Scriber Lake High School to tell their own stories. (this is the short version of this event) In the end “We are Absolutely Not Okay” came into being, expanding the lives of the students, future students and a path for Ingrid herself. Now Ingrid has recently published “Focus” her memoir devoted to her current journey. Learning to see in new ways and demonstrating her ingenuity to live in an altered world.

As our conversation came close to ending we went back to the subject of objects. I love it when suddenly we remember significant information after we think we are done looking for it.

She remembered that she keeps an old battered spiral bound notebook with bubble lettering, the notebook filled with the “accounts” she kept for her father’s business those long ago days they were on the road together.  She remembered, when she was thirteen, in her locker at school she kept a silkscreen calendar of a picture her father. She remembers objects of her life.

I asked if she’d discovered anything she hadn’t expected to as she was writing “Focus.”  First she said no. Then she made a reference to how she’s come to realize that her evolving skills, that she has been fine-tuning, in speaking with groups is a path she will continue to employ. In addition to her own writing, of course. Building bridges to understanding by telling her stories in service of encouraging everyone to tell theirs. That everyone has something they are dealing with in their life, how, mostly we think we need to hide it because we will appear weak if people know. Ingrid has discovered that what frees people  – us  — is to tell our story. She knows she is absolutely free when she is teaching, supporting and invigorating people do this very potent act. When we understand that, as I say it in my own words, we have so much we can learn from each other in order to discover more than just a side view.

 

Read Ballard Writers on other Ballard Writers every couple of weeks. If you join our group, you may enter your name on a slip of paper and put it in Bob Dalrymple’s hat. We’ll draw the name of someone for you to profile and someone else to profile you. Who will it be? The surprise is all part of the fun. Today, Carol Levin profiled Ingrid Ricks.

 

Nina Laden: The Whole Package

By Peggy Sturdivant

Nina Laden

Nina Laden admits, “Ever since I was born I’ve been trying to do the whole package.” Although referring to writing and illustrating books the statement could apply to all aspects of her life.

She is so creative she can barely hear a word without realizing its story potential, gather shells without creating jewelry, or pick berries without making her own liqueur (and labels).

Nina credits her creativity in part to genetics; her parents were both artists. From the time she could hold a crayon she was drawing. At three she was folding paper into books and dictating stories to her mother. She completed her first book, “The Unbearable Bird,” at nine years old; including a dedication to her 4th grade teacher and handwritten copyright. With every single school assignment she included full-page color illustrations.

A framed illustration from her 4th grade book hangs on the wall of her Ballard home office, next to the bookshelf with first editions of some of her 13 books in print, above the oak file drawer that belonged to her mother and holds every sketchbook journal she’s kept since a teenager.

The journals hold ideas for projects already realized and still to come. Hence a notebook is always close by, because that way no idea is ever lost. When Nina visits schools or speaks to groups about inspiring creativity she passes on her most important lesson, “Never tear out any pages.” In the journal drawer there’s a gift from a high school friend who must have been wise beyond her years. The journal was one continuous page so Nina couldn’t tear anything out.

These journals and notebooks contain sketches as well as ideas, including one of her teacher Tobias Wolff at Syracuse University who was surprised to learn she was a Fine Arts major rather than one in Creative Writing. The writing was intuitive, she wanted to master illustration so she could create that full package. Nina also wanted to have her first book published by the time she was 30 years old. The Night I Followed the Dog was in bookstores when she was thirty-two.

In the 18 years since that children’s book Nina has had 12 more books published, illustrated three others, won numerous national awards and has a book she authored due out in December 2013, through Little, Brown. She also has a young adult novel being “shopped” by her agent and several other projects in various stages. Her picture book Peek-A-Who was on Scholastic’s 100 Greatest Books for Kids list that was released in 2012.

Since her youthful desire for publishing Nina has acquired more patience, realizing that even time not spent illustrating in her studio or writing in her office is creative time. However she wishes she did have more time to devote to work. Along with her husband Booth she raised three stepsons and the last years have had more than their share of challenges, Booth’s father’s death, her father’s mental illness. Nina’s mother died when she was in her mid-twenties; Nina hopes she somehow knows of her success in creating award-winning children’s books.

“The story is what matters to me the most,” Nina said. “I can draw in any style but the story is what brings a child back over and over.” Even though for the first time she won’t be illustrating the forthcoming Once Upon A Memory it is her story and rhyme. “I’ve never been accused of warm and fuzzy,” she said referring to the publisher’s concept for this book, “but the collaboration has been a great symbiosis.”

Although raised in Queens and then New York State Nina came to Seattle by way of Atlanta.

She met her future husband Booth Buckley in Atlanta. On a subsequent visit to him in Seattle, “The coffee blew my mind.” After all she was a child raised by New York artists, with her mother stirring a teaspoon of espresso into her milk. Now she stirs a teaspoon of milk into her Kenyan coffee, her mother’s stovetop espresso makers still very much part of her spotless kitchen. What could she do but move here and buy a house in Ballard?

The 1903 Ballard Farmhouse is another one of Nina’s artistic creations, along with her husband Booth. “The history of the house is written on the walls.” It’s true, the original owner did write on the walls. In the backyard she has a studio and Booth has a garage and storage for their kayaks. Just as in her speech everything but the exterior of the house speaks to the creativity percolating inside night and day. Nina had the idea to use aluminum diamond plate in the kitchen, usually seen only on semi-trucks. From cooking to jewelry making to book projects, “I have never ever been without ideas,” Nina says.

Just as in her illustrations Nina Laden doesn’t get described as warm and fuzzy. Her mind is too sharp, her past too dark. Possibly her contradictions create the tension at the root of all compelling stories. She’s anti-social by nature and yet appears to open her life to others in words and photos on-line, through website, blog and Facebook. Her energy is incredible yet she claims to know that rest is essential. On the eve of what life has most recently put across her tracks, her husband’s need for triple bypass surgery, she’s as fierce and yet nurturing as a mother bear. When Nina Laden says, “No one will get between me and my husband’s life,” know that she means every word, with or without illustrations.

Read Ballard Writers on other Ballard Writers every couple of weeks. If you join our group, you may enter your name on a slip of paper and put it in Bob Dalrymple’s hat. We’ll draw the name of someone for you to profile and someone else to profile you. Who will it be? The surprise is all part of the fun. Today, Peggy Sturdivant profiled Nina Laden.

You can read more about Nina Laden at her website, www.ninaladen.com.

And thanks Ballard News Tribune, for letting Peggy reprint her article here.

Angie McCullagh: Not Too Tall for Words

By Jan Dalrymple

Angie McCullagh

Read Ballard Writers on other Ballard Writers every couple of weeks. If you join our group, you may enter your name on a slip of paper and put it in Bob Dalrymple’s hat. We’ll draw the name of someone for you to profile and someone else to profile you. Who will it be? The surprise is all part of the fun. Today, Jan Dalrymple profiles Angie McCullagh.

Angie McCullagh discovered her passion for writing fiction when she was in Middle School in a small rural community in Michigan. She had what appeared to be the misfortune of having the toughest teacher in school for 8th Grade English. Everyone was afraid of him. He demanded perfection to the extreme for everything from writing to posture. For unusually tall Angie slouching was the only way to blend in, but her teacher would have none of it. Then one day he called her aside. This time instead of reprimanding her, he gave her a totally unexpected glowing complement. He referred to one of her short stories as “top drawer”. That ignited her creativity and she has been going strong ever since.

It hasn’t been easy for Angie, however, even with her successes. The unusual tallness that was tough to deal with when she was an eighth grader and before is something she has to fight against even today. When Angie was in the 9th Grade and 5’10” tall her parents took her to the doctor to see if she had reached her maximum height. The women in her family were pretty normal in size. Her mother was 5’6” and it was looking as if her younger sister wouldn’t get past 5’3”. Everyone was hopeful that Angie had stopped growing. But to Angie’s dismay, she was told that she had more growing to do. Her height was projected to be 6’2”. Angie broke into tears. She was certain more than ever that she would never fit in.

As soon as she graduated from high school Angie moved out of her small town and went off to the big campus of Michigan State University. It was a chance to blend in to an environment where she wasn’t totally out of place. She majored in journalism, but upon graduation realized that even though she loved writing, reporting was not her passion. She found more gratification working in graphic design. She worked in Detroit until she was 24 then with a spirit of adventure joined her boyfriend as he moved to a job in the Pacific Northwest.

That change was only to last for two years. An uncomfortable split with her boyfriend made her seek the comfort of familiar Michigan. She got a job in graphic design at a Financial Services company, but really longed for what she had found in the Pacific Northwest. Three years later she moved back to Seattle and took on jobs as a graphic designer for a Newspaper Chain and then the Alaska Airlines In-Flight Magazine.

She found a great 6’4” guy in Seattle, got married, had her first child Max when she was 33 and her second child Claire two years later. Through it all Angie was writing. That passion she had found in the 8th Grade never went away. She had her first short story published in a literary journal “Phoebe” when she was pregnant with Max. At the same time she worked on a contemporary adult novel. She actively sought to get it published, but the exhausting ritual of submissions followed by interest then rejections made her decide to set that novel aside.

Among Angie’s many current projects, she has two very creative and engaging blogs. In her blog alladither.com, Angie describes herself as a “writer, mom and photography enthusiast”. It was because of a piece she did on her blog about the experience she had with rhinoplasty surgery (nose job) that Angie found her current 15 hour a week job at the start-up Realself.com. Actually they found her. The site allows viewers to “Find, Share and Discuss the Real Story about Cosmetic Treatment”. Her ability as a skillful communicator who had experience with plastic surgery attracted the attention of the developer of Real Self and Angie liked what she could do for them.

Angie also has another blog halfassedkitchen.com. The recipes and photography made my mouth water and I wasn’t even hungry at the time. I understand that you can rate the recipes at their level of “assed-ness”.

And if all of this isn’t enough, Angie has completed her self-published Young Adult novel “Spectacle”. The novel revolves around the life of a girl who is six feet tall and growing. It is a topic that Angie knows intimately and makes for a very accurate great read even for older adults. It is an e-book that is available through Amazon.

You can learn more about “Spectacle” and Angie on her blog alladither.com

Nancy Schatz Alton: Terrible Receptionist, Passionate Writer

By Elena Louise Richmond

Read Ballard Writers on other Ballard Writers every couple of weeks. If you join our group, you may enter your name on a slip of paper and put it in Bob Dalrymple’s hat. We’ll draw the name of someone for you to profile and someone else to profile you. Who will it be? The surprise is all part of the fun. Today, Elena Louise Richmond profiles Nancy Schatz Alton.

Nancy Schatz Alton – The Healthy Back Book

Nancy Schatz Alton told me she was used to being the interviewer, not the interviewee.  I’m not used to sticking to the facts so both of us were looking at unfamiliar territory when we set up our interview.  She came to my house: with two children under the age of ten, she wanted to get out of hers.  Me, I can’t think in noisy, crowded coffee shops and bars. With our Gemini suns, both of us are easily over-stimulated and prone to generate more energy within ourselves than we know what to do with.  We both prefer one-on-one time with people.

I found it interesting that Nancy was used to being the listener because she didn’t even need to be wound up.  Her story poured out of her.  Maybe that’s what interviewing does to you after a while. We all have stories to tell.  But she started by saying she couldn’t imagine how I would interview her because she wasn’t a fascinating person. I asked her to tell me the most uninteresting thing about her.

“I grew up in suburban Minnesota,” she said.

That explains the self-deprecation.

After graduating from Macalester College, Nancy came to Seattle and showed enviable initiative in applying for writing jobs.  She wrote for Adventure Media airline magazines. When she couldn’t find writing jobs, she worked as a receptionist at Seattle magazine.

“I was a terrible receptionist,” she said.  “I was annoyed with everyone who came in. I wanted to say, ‘Why are you here?’ All I wanted to do was write.”

She wrote The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knee Book with Astrid Pujari, a Seattle physician and founder of The Pujari Center of spiritually centered and integrative medicine.  The work required her to ask medical professionals to contribute their expertise which in turn involved a lot of cold calling.  Nancy described her first cold call to a doctor.

“He asked, ‘What’s in it for me?’ All I could think was Don’t hang up the phone!”

Nancy told the doctor the truth: that he wouldn’t get any financial remuneration but he would get his name put to his contribution along with the knowledge that someone might be helped by what he had to say.  She never heard from him again.

But she finished both books and got a couple of nice fat advances for them.  She hasn’t seen anything since because the publisher hasn’t promoted the books.  We talked about self-promotion and marketing.  Nancy said she would promote a book if she felt passionate enough about it. We agreed that’s what it takes: one has to feel passionate if she is going to shove herself out there into the world and declare, “I am very proud of my life and my book.”

Nancy is passionate about what she’s working on now: a memoir about being a mother to a dyslexic child: But Still and Yet is about “how to be in the world differently.”  As she works on this book, she writes a lovely, reflective blog.

How she finds time to do any of this, I don’t know.  She’s married to Chris Alton and the two of them have two daughters KK, 10 and Elizabeth Annie, 7.   Here is Nancy’s description of herself from her website:

“I’m a freelance writer, editor, and writing coach, too. I’m a baker and a short-order cook by virtue of the fact that I love to eat and I have two picky children to feed. I’m a runner who can’t imagine not lacing up my running shoes at least a few times a week. And a walk with family or friends is bliss.”

She doesn’t mention what a fascinating person she is to talk with.

You can find out more about Nancy Schatz Alton. Visit her personal page on Ballardwriters.org.

The Many Loves of Laura Cooper

By Sheila Kelly

Read Ballard Writers on other Ballard Writers every couple of weeks. If you join our group, you may enter your name on a slip of paper and put it in Bob Dalrymple’s hat. We’ll draw the name of someone for you to profile and someone else to profile you. Who will it be? The surprise is all part of the fun. Today, Sheila Kelly profiles Laura Cooper.

Laura Cooper

You might know Laura Cooper as fisherwoman, writer, cook, artist, photographer natural resource advocate, or neighborhood activist. If you don’t know her and find yourself standing next to her at some garden party and you lead with “So what do you do?”, she pauses before replying that she is “an artist, writer, small business owner, and Ballard denizen” Notice that “artist” is first, though she is one of three authors of The Fishes and Dishes Cookbook, Seafood Recipes and Salty Stories from Alaska’s Commercial Fisherwomen, a book that American Booksellers Association included among the “Top 20 ‘great reads’ of 2010.” She readily admits that only two of the 80 recipes in the book are hers, though she does love food. When you look for her on Amazon be sure to search for “Laura K. Cooper.” (Otherwise you’ll get that other Cooper woman who wrote My Hot Bedtime Stories and Confessions of a Slut Wife.) Our Laura did contribute artwork and salty stories for Fishes and Dishes, based on her years as a cook and deckhand, long-lining and salmon tendering in Alaska. (If you wonder just what those terms mean, the book’s helpful glossary provides a quick lesson in the vocabulary of commercial fishing.) At the age of four, Laura caught a trout out of a stocked

swimming pool in Santa Barbara, and she was hooked on fishing. She always was fascinated by Alaska because her great-grandfather was in the last Alaskan gold rush up in Fairbanks. By 1990 she had gotten a job on a long-liner and worked her way north.

After a few years fishing out the Aleutian Chain, she became concerned over depleted stocks and the efforts to privatize this public resource. She got off the water and into politics through the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. She advocated for equity for the small boat industry. Later she earned a Master’s Degree at University of Washington with a focus on natural resources and joined the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) where she worked to harness market forces to promote sustainable fishing. She also worked as the Alaskan liaison for WWF’s Arctic Program promoting sustainable tourism. Both those efforts paid off: she helped establish protocols for the eco labeling of fish; and on an Artic excursion she met her future husband.

After she quit fishing, burned out on writing policy position papers and doing advocacy work, Laura decided to let herself be the artist she always knew she was. She turned her original collages into greeting cards and launched a business, Blue Flower Designs—her collage art cinched her role as a co-author of Fishes and Dishes Cookbook.

Her migration to Ballard happened out of the blue. In 1989 she walked over the hill from Phinney Ridge to meet a guy in Ballard, and fell in love—with Ballard. She felt comfortable there; her resonance with the salt water and the boats came from growing up on a coast. Later she discovered that her great-grandparents also lived in Ballard from 1914-1917. She grew up in Connecticut with no sense of a Scandinavian identity, though she is one quarter Swedish and her best friend was Norwegian. She was 32 the first time she went to Sweden where everyone looked familiar. She is now on the board of the Ballard Historical Society. She helped “Bring the Ring Back to Ballard” reinstating the Ballard Bell at 22nd NW Ballard Avenue. As a contributor to the Nordic Heritage Museum’s Oral History Project, she recorded the stories of local fisherman. She learned that back in her fish tendering days, eighteen years ago, the guy she was delivering salmon to in King Cove Alaska was her fourth cousin.

With her fishing and Scandinavian heritage duly honored, Laura now is in the early stages of writing about her three generations of great-grandparents who were pioneers on the Olympic Peninsula. They lived in New Dungeness (Sequim) and Discovery Bay. Her great, great grandfather was Sheriff of the Olympic Peninsula. Through her research she got interested in the Tubal-Cain Copper Mine in Buckhorn Mountain near Sequim. (Tubal-Cain appears in the Bible as a “forger of all instruments of bronze and iron.”) The mine was a bust and abandoned in 1920. This summer Laura climbed the 6992 foot Buckhorn mountain, went 150 meters into the mine adit, and walked through the ruins of the mining camp among metal boilers and cabin foundations. She has combed the files and archives of the area and wonders whether she still “may be missing a critical piece.” She is hoping to unearth letters or diaries from the early 20th century. She has not decided whether she is writing historical fiction, a family memoir, or a collection of good stories to hand on to her niece.

You can find out more about Laura Cooper. Visit her personal page on Ballardwriters.org.

My Virtual Interview with Joan Shott

By Nina Laden, August 2012

Read Ballard Writers on other Ballard Writers every couple of weeks. If you join our group, you may enter your name on a slip of paper and put it in Bob Dalrymple’s hat. We’ll draw the name of someone for you to profile and someone else to profile you. Who will it be? The surprise is all part of the fun. Today, Nina Laden profiles Joan Shott.

Joan Shott

I had all good intentions of trying my hand as the “intrepid reporter” to do my duty to interview the lovely Ballard writer, Joan Shott. I downloaded her book, “The Hummingbird War” on my Kindle and read it. Joan and I emailed back and forth and discussed when to meet, which we determined to be after Mick Jagger’s birthday, which also happens to be her birthday- and my husbands’ as well. Post birthday time arrived and we set a date. I was looking forward to seeing her lovely garden. After reading her book, I was certain she was into planting for hummingbirds and knew her horticulture and ornithology cold. I was certain that she would be a warm and inviting person since she volunteers her time teaching memoir writing classes at the Matt Talbot center for homeless, addicted and mentally ill people. I was imagining a gorgeous summer morning with two writers discussing books and life while hummingbirds buzzed by our heads like fighter jets over NAS Whidbey.

My imagination will have to suffice. Fate stepped in and gave me the flu. Not only the flu, but the flu with total laryngitis. I couldn’t talk if I tried. So I called on my virtual fairy Godmother and sent Joan an email with my questions. It’s not as creative as I wanted it to be, but it’s what we have to do in the face of adversity. I’m sure Joan’s main character, Diane, would understand.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in S.E. Connecticut. I am truly a New Englander at heart.

Go to school?

Went to UCONN then moved to Chicago after graduating to go to the U of Chicago, although I got my teaching certificate at DePaul (lived in the DePaul neighborhood) and worked at DePaul for a time as a librarian.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

I always wanted to be a writer. I used to write newspapers for the neighborhood kids and plays to entertain us during summer vacations. And I studied writing in college and grad. school but never had the time or inclination when my kids were growing up.

Let’s talk about “The Hummingbird War.”
You say it is fiction, are you at all like Diane?

Only in the father-daughter aspect and my real roommate in college was Nancy. I have included her in the book I am finishing now and she’ll be in the one after that. She’s sort of like Alfred Hitchcock, popping up in all my work.

Where were you during Vietnam?

I was living at home and watching the war on the news every night. My cousin, a marine, (the book is dedicated to him) was killed there in 1966. His death affected me deeply and my family (my father’s sister was his mother) has been quite moved by my dedication of the book to him.

Are you from, or is your spouse from a military family?

Just my father’s participation in WWII. Other than that, no.
(My husband went to West Point as did his father and grandfather- all Army, that family…)

You obviously love birds, when did you start connecting to them?
My father liked to watch them and photograph them.

Did you live on Whidbey?

No, but I love it and it was appropriate to set the story there because of the Naval Air Station.

Tell me about your process of writing “The Hummingbird War.”

It took me about a year from start to finish and I worked on it with my critique group and used it in an ESL class of advanced non-native speakers that I taught (they were all women). They were all in love with Matthew and/or Bobby.

Did you pursue conventional publishers before self-pubbing?

Not really. I spoke to agents at the PNWA conference last summer, but I was turned off by them. My topic(s) is not the usual stuff of commercial fiction and I am a control freak about my work.

What are your writing habits?

I start before 7am almost every day. Since I  left my full time job last August, I have been able to write as long and as often as I like. Every week I have at least ten pages polished and ready to bring to my critique group. My goal is to finish my next book by the end of this year and have the third one started.

What are you working on now?

I haven’t decided between my two titles, but it is about brothers who struggle to survive the shame and confusion and family breakdown after their father is arrested for molesting their two older sisters. At age 8 in 1960, they see their father arrested and the story follows them for the next 16 years. One goes off to Vietnam and one becomes a professional baseball player. The story is about keeping a family together despite great odds and the bond between the brothers (they are fraternal twins) despite the great divide that befalls them (a woman). The idea has been in my head since I was in college and I found out this had happened to my best friend in grammar school. Since third grade I had wondered why his family left town suddenly and it left me with a hole in my life and then in college, in an unusual circumstance, I found out what had happened to his family…and it is the germ that started this book.

I am also working on a non-fiction book of stories written by my students at The Matt Talbot Center. I teach a memoir-writing class there and I have been gathering stories for a collection I will eventually publish and sell to benefit the center. Matt Talbot is a drug and alcohol rehab facility on 3rd Avenue. I have been working there about five years. I don’t have a target date for this book. It is very difficult to get anything done on a timeline with my participants. Many of them are in bad shape…but getting better every day.

Peggy Sturdivant, at Large in Ballard

By Laura Cooper

Read Ballard Writers on other Ballard Writers every couple of weeks. If you join our group, you may enter your name on a slip of paper and put it in Bob Dalrymple’s hat. We’ll draw the name of someone for you to profile and someone else to profile you. Who will it be? The surprise is all part of the fun. Today, Laura Cooper profiles Peggy Sturdivant.

Peggy Sturdivant

I have known about Peggy Sturdivant for years because she writes a weekly column for our local newspaper, the Ballard News Tribune, called At Large in Ballard. She shares her thoughts on various topics through well written, thought provoking and sometimes quite personal pieces. When I finally met her in person, it turned out that we had led extraordinarily parallel lives: we are the same age, from the same part of the world, and our fathers, both economists, worked together. In our Twenties, we worked within blocks of each other in Boston and snacked on the same huge muffins from the same store. We moved to Seattle at about the same time, have attended the same yoga class at the Ballard Health Club (owned by a Ballard author) for years, both volunteered for the Nordic Heritage Museum’s Oral History Project and both have a great love for good food, the farmers market, cello music and Ballard at large. In fact, it is quite remarkable that it took us half a century to meet face to face.

We met two years ago at the first Ballard Authors Night, an exciting evening conceived and executed by Peggy. Bringing together Ballard authors and people interested in local writers was a hit. This has become an annual event and led directly to the formation of the Ballard Writers group. Members of this group meet once a month to share ideas about writing. As a result, their books can be found in a special Local Authors section at Ballard’s Secret Garden Bookstore. At the Ballard Library, Peggy currently moderates a monthly series called Its About Time, where writers now have an opportunity to read their work. They can also perform live pieces at the Ballard Writers Jam at Egan’s Ballard Jam House, available as podcasts here, thanks to Ballard author Joshua McNichols. All of this because of Peggy’s vision.

Peggy has ideas—lots of them—and an ability to infuse others with enthusiasm. A few months after the first Ballard Authors Night, she approached me at a Tom Douglas cookbook function where I was busily doling out samples of a recipe from the cookbook I co-authored. Since I sit on the Board of the Ballard Historical Society, she casually asked me, between bites of potsticker, if I would help her get Ballard’s old Town Hall bell ringing again. Five intensive months of community involvement (organized by Peggy, myself, and Jay Craig, another Ballard author) and many memos and articles later, the bell was automated and now rings, adding an auditory dimension to Ballard’s historic ambience. This project was typical Peggy, an example of how one idea, a few people and lots of words can lead to many great things.

Peggy has also co-authored a book called Out of Nowhere, the true story of a young woman in Seattle who was disabled by an unsecured load flying into her car from the back of a truck. Given her focus on community, it is no surprise that Peggy was involved in communicating the story of a tragedy so pivotal that it led to the creation of federal legislation regulating unsecured loads.

After many years of teaching writing classes around town, Peggy has begun assisting people in writing their memoirs. I am enrolled in one of her classes and have found the community dimension of meeting regularly to discuss writing and practice our craft to be more rewarding than I could have expected. Peggy is supportive and energetic–a natural teacher. Her personal aspirations as a writer are specific: to read her work on NPR, to write regularly for the Vineyard Gazette and to publish a book of her own stories and essays. Writing is her art form. Community is her goal. She connects people through writing and creates communities large and small, which are deeper, richer, and safer, through the power of words.

Fascination with a Sense of Place: A Profile of Sheila Kelly

By Elsie Hulsizer

Read Ballard Writers on other Ballard Writers every couple of weeks. If you join our group, you may enter your name on a slip of paper and put it in Bob Dalrymple’s hat. We’ll draw the name of someone for you to profile and someone else to profile you. Who will it be? The surprise is all part of the fun. Today, Elsie Hulsizer interviews Sheila Kelly.

Sheila Kelly

“I never aspired to be a gold-mining expert,” Sheila Kelly, the author of Treadwell Gold: An Alaskan Saga of Riches and Ruin (University of Alaska Press, 2010), told me when I interviewed her at her Blue Ridge home.

Kelly’s experience of writing Treadwell Gold is a good example of how a writer’s path can twist and turn. When she enrolled in a nonfiction certificate course at the University of Washington, her intent was to write a book on sense of place, envisioning something like Gifts from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, only based on northwest trees. But when she sat down to write the table of contents for that book, she realized she wasn’t ready to write it; she was ready to write the Treadwell book, a book which in portraying the town of Treadwell conveys a strong sense of place.

“I’ve always loved Alaska,” Kelly told me. “It has a mystique that draws people to it.” For Kelly the mystique must have been planted when as a child she heard the first stories about her father’s youth in the Alaska hard-rock gold miningtown of Treadwell. At the time they were just his “when I was young stories,” she says. But her interest was piqued years later spending a summer with her Aunt Honey inKetchikan and then hearing more stories from her Aunt Marion. Kelly set out to learn everything she could about her father’s family and their lives in Treadwell. In the process she realized the story of Treadwell itself was one that needed to be told: It had romance and drama (a catastrophic cave-in) and historical photographs to back the story up. No book had been written about it.

“I became totally obsessed by Treadwell and old mines,” said Kelly. So much so, in fact, that now she considers every family vacation – whether in Wales, Australia, Mexico or the Okanogan Highlands – to be an opportunity to seek out old mines and their history.

Kelly’s fascination with Treadwell and its mines shows up in her writing, which pulls the reader into the stories of the Treadwell Mines, their company town and the families that lived there. Treadwell Gold has been praised by reviewers as a fascinating story, engagingly written and well researched, and has won special recognition by the U.S. Mining History Association. Her love for words also shows through. Since childhood, she has enjoyed looking up words in the dictionary. She remembers her brother using obscure words at the family dinner table – “usually improperly,” she notes with a wry sense of humor.

Unlike some writers, Kelly doesn’t remember being a voracious reader of children’s books. She does remember reading newspapers. In high school she served as a page in the Washington State Senate, and at Gonzaga University she majored in political science. She even planned to run for office. She got married, had three children and her interest shifted to environmental issues. This interest led her to graduate school where she obtained an MPA in Natural Resource Policy.

In Kelly’s environmental career, she attended the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, wrote articles for environmental organizations and worked on projects such as the Pipers Creek Rehabilitation in Seattle’sCarkeek Park. Her writings include an essay “The Path of Place,” in the anthology Earth and Sprit: the Spiritual Dimensions of the Environmental Crisis (Continuum, 1993).

With her background, you might expect a book about mines in Alaska to dwell on the environmental impacts of gold mining or the political climate that supported it, but instead Kelly focused on both the mine itself and the people who lived and worked in its company town. Treadwell Gold even tackles the complicated engineering of gold refining.

What next for Kelly now that the Treadwell book is published? “Perhaps ‘Treadwell: The Musical,’” joked Kelly. She is investigating the possibilities of videos and plays about Treadwell and anticipating the 100th anniversary of the Treadwell cave-in in 2017. When not writing about Treadwell, she serves on the Charlotte Martin Foundation board, and the Advisory Council of the Mining History Association. She leads women’s workshops on Iona, Scotland, a small “magical” island in the Inner Hebrides. She is also going back to that book about sense of place. We can be sure it will be well-researched and full of peoples’ stories.

To learn more about Sheila Kelly, visit her page on ballardwriters.org.