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An Early Morning Coffee Chat With Alison Krupnick

Interview by BJ Neblett

How do you interview a master interviewer? That was the daunting task I faced on a recent early October morning. If experience is any gauge of ability then Alison Krupnick has certainly achieved the title of Master Interrogator. I met Alison at one of Seattle’s more charming neighborhood coffee spots, and soon began to wonder who the interviewer was and whom the interviewee.

I found Alison to be a totally charming and ageless beauty who is as interesting as she is outspoken. I attributed this to her East Coast upbringing. “I’m a Jersey Girl through and through,” she proudly announced, anticipating my first question. Although it’s been a while since she called Lakewood, a small community near the Jersey Shore, home Alison’s well planted roots are evident.

But unbridled wanderlust found Alison studying languages and international relations in France and later college on the Monterey Peninsula. A move to Washington DC and she landed her dream job as a diplomat with the State Department. For the next ten years Alison represented the US in exotic locales such as India, Thailand and Vietnam, where she helped many displaced or orphaned by the war find their way to America. It was also while serving in Vietnam that Alison met Jeff, her husband of now sixteen years. Jeff and Alison have two daughters, and although settled in Seattle, the old wanderlust has yet to be sated. “I just love to travel, and there are still so many places I want to visit and things I want to discover.” The faraway twinkle in her expressive eyes punctuates the point.

The frothy mocha I ordered has turned cold as I find myself completely captivated. Conversation with Alison is so easy and natural that I have to keep reminding myself of my purpose and the notes hastily scribbled on a legal tablet. “Ok, so, why writing?” I ask.

“The first thing I ever wrote was an essay about 9/11. Putting my thoughts and feelings on paper seemed to help make some sense of things.” Here Alison shows what I assume is a somewhat rare serious side. “I began writing stories for my kids, and then about friends and people I met or saw on the streets.” An article about her exploits in Vietnam was published in the Harvard Review. Another, about a terminally ill friend, found national publication. She went on to publish a number of essays in literary journals and anthologies.

Alison now writes full-time, for work as well as pleasure. She works as a corporate communication writer, writing a quarterly maritime magazine, and freelances for Seattle Magazine. This very busy lady also manages to find time to write for Crosscut, an on-line publication, as well as maintain her own blog, Slice of Mid Life. Somewhere along the way she managed to write her first book. Ruminations From The Minivan: Musings From A World Grown Large, Than Small to be available in book and Kindle formats and hopefully will also be on the shelves of your favorite bookstore by the end of the year.

“Ruminations is very aptly titled, I literally wrote it while driving my kids to and from school and soccer and everything else a good suburban mom does. It’s a memoir, a collection of the essays I started in 2001.”

Aside from observing everyday things around her, Alison finds inspiration in the power of the written word. When not writing or working or driving or being a full-time mom, Alison enjoys international cooking, travel, reading, and founded a mother-daughter book group, now in its seventh year. “It’s encouraging to see young people interested in talking about books,” she says.

As for the future, Alison has the herculean task of promoting a self-published book. “After my manuscript won an award at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference, I was contacted by a few agents, but I was just uncomfortable with the process, so I set the book aside for several years. Now was the time for the book to be published. It won’t be easy, but…” Ms. Krupnick’s Jersey fortitude and stubbornness are obvious when she talks about getting Ruminations published and into the hands of readers. “I also plan to continue my blog and eventually it might meld into my next book.”

If Ruminations is half as interesting and entertaining as morning coffee with Alison, than she has a best seller on her hands.

You can find more on and about Alison Krupnick at:
alisonkrupnick.com
sliceofmidlife.com
crosscut.com
ballardwriters.org

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.

 

Beer and a Chat with Carl Deuker

By Jay Craig

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, Jay Craig interviews Carl Deuker.

Carl Deuker

Jay Craig

We scheduled our interview for a Thursday in mid-May at my go-to beer joint, the Market Arms. Unfortunately, it was the local Norwegian’s version of Cinco de Mayo and the place was packed because it’s on the parade route. We instead went to the Sloop and I was really hoping Amanda, who I’ve known for years from Mulleady’s and the Olde P, was working and not the blonde who was on the last time I was there, several months earlier.

Several months earlier, I was there eating dinner at the bar when an attractive woman sits down and starts talking to me. After a few beers she suggested we go find her ex-boyfriend, who was last seen at the George and Dragon, and start making out in front of him. “He won’t know WHAT to think,” she said, putting her hand on my leg.

The ex-boyfriend dumped her a few months ago and she’s been stalking him ever since. Getting him back was the only thing that mattered to her and none of her friends or even her mother would talk to her anymore. She’s slept with four guys already and even THAT hasn’t worked. I thought I’d be doing her a favor by being very honest and direct about how messed up she was and when she started crying loudly the blonde bartender gave me such a frustrated and nasty look I avoided the Sloop from then on.

But now the blonde bartender had dyed her hair and was currently a brunette. Maybe this meant I got a clean slate, I thought. We took a table and after a bit of a wait, the blonde/brunette got us some beers and told us she was the only one on, hinting that we should go up to the bar for our next round.

A couple days earlier, in preparation for my first interview, I went around looking for an Interview Notebook. They don’t actually make Interview Notebooks so I had to take a few sheets of paper and fold them in half. Since it would have felt rude to be writing things while he was talking, their blankness was glaring up at me the entire interview. It reminded me of a last minute high school book report on Moby Dick that was a bunch of blank pages stapled together and titled, On the Whiteness of the Whale. It got a ‘not funny’ F.

Carl grew up in Northern California and followed the 49ers, disregarding immediately, even at a young age, the dirty Raiders of the lowly AFC. I judge a lot about man based on his football politics and when he told me that he, too, didn’t pay any attention to the Seahawks until Holmgren came in and then a year later got switched over to the NFC, I knew he was alright. Plus, he knows who Sonny Jurgensen is.

When Carl was a little kid, his mother got a call that her husband, provider for her and their two young children, had died of a heart attack while he was out on the road. He told me to imagine what that must have been like for her and, of course, I couldn’t.

There wasn’t much in the way of support back then and things weren’t easy for the young family. One of his earliest thoughts was that he needed to do well in school, and not to impress anybody, but because life was going to be harder without a dad.

Since he’s got a bunch of books and they’re apparently very good, I just assumed he was a full time writer. “Oh god no. That would be horrible,” he winced.

Carl’s married with a daughter, teaches sixth grade, enjoys golf, plays the recorder, follows sports in addition to football, and publishes a book every two years or so.

As we finished our beers I asked if I could send him an email to follow up on some things and he thought I probably had more than enough. “I think these interviews are only supposed to be 400 words.”

Since the blonde brunette bartender was too busy to come out from behind the bar, we had to guess at the tab. We left a messy pile of bills and didn’t bus our glasses, but I’m pretty sure there was a good tip.

Carl Deuker is the author of several young adult novels featuring sports. Read more about him at his page on ballardwriters.org.

In the Backyard Garden with Joshua McNichols

By Joan Shott

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, Joan Shott profiles Joshua McNichols.

photo by Harley Soltes

“Convince me,” I told Joshua McNichols, co-author of The Urban Farm Handbook, when we met at his Ballard home in early May just as his vegetable garden was beginning to take hold. I told him I was a flower gardener and I had misgivings about my ability to grow vegetables in our cool and cloudy climate, even with our post-July 4th summer days. Joshua said he’d show me the way. Living in the cool and cloudy Northwest hasn’t deterred him from growing food on his property. He said it would be easy to think of planting a garden in warm and dry southern California, but this is where he lives and he’s learning to work with what we Northwest folks have: cloudy skies and rain and slugs.

As we spoke on his deck about the apple trees growing in an espalier row along his property line, I saw a familiar face in the back yard directly across from his. It was Donna, my former piano teacher. We waved hellos and I made a promise to call her about more lessons. It had been ten years since I studied with her. Sigh. That means more work in my schedule. But seeing Donna through Joshua’s apple trees made me think of how small a world we live in. Too small, McNichols knows, to allow mega-grocery stores to take over the globe. Too small to give in to a lifetime of processed foods. But it’s big enough to find a way to grow enough food in your own yard.

Joshua McNichols lives with his wife and two young children in a modest bungalow on a 5000 square-foot lot with a small back yard. Yet he grows a large variety of food there. His secrets to success as an urban vegetable gardener are spelled out in the book he has co-authored with Annette Cottrell, The Urban Farm Handbook. It is part recipe book, part grocery list, part how-to garden, and totally inspirational. After my first read-through, I am ready to tear out half the shrubs in my front yard and build a raised bed to grow lettuce, maybe some asparagus, but most definitely, tomatoes.

Tomato bed in May

Joshua shared with me his secret to growing tomatoes. I confessed I was one of those people who bought tomato plants at my local nursery and put them in the ground in late May and prayed for sun and warm weather. Some years there would be nothing but green tomatoes along my fence by September and other years a few red ones we could actually enjoy. It was always a gamble, but I believe after talking to Joshua, I can grow a crop that will give me enough yield to pass along extras to family and friends. Joshua’s method is as follows:

1. Mid April: prepare bed (fertilize, add compost)
2. May 1: purchase tomato starts (1 for 3 x 3 area)
3. Plant with bamboo tepees and protect with water-filled plastic sleeves (available at nurseries). Cover with plastic over hoop frame.
4. Water once a week if it doesn’t rain (May-July). Water deeply so that a good root system develops.
5. July 4, lift plastic sleeves (the book describes how to cut to reuse for another year). Prune hard.
6. August 1, cut off all watering, allow to ripen. During August remove young branches and thin flowers.

Joshua’s yard is also home to chickens which he raises for eggs (orange-tinted yolks, he claims due to their diet) and meat. Okay, so I’m not going to raise chickens in my yard even after reading the book. Josh, who was trained as an architect, designed and built his stylish coop, including the installation of shutters to keep his hens quiet on weekend mornings to placate his neighbors. It turns out that chickens get especially squawky when they are laying an egg. Imagine that.

Chicken coop with small run and custom shutters

McNichols gets approximately 30 percent of his family’s food in his yard or directly from farmers. He told me his co-author Annette gets closer to 90 percent. She’s hard-core. I was a bit overwhelmed by it all as I drove away from Josh’s yard. I imagine Annette’s would stun me. But I left the garden and the chickens and the apple trees with two goals and another big sigh: grow those tomatoes next spring and get back to my piano lessons with Donna. Anything worth having in life is worth working for. I’m pretty sure I’ll do the tomatoes.

You can learn more about Joshua McNichols and The Urban Farm Handbook on Joshua’s page at ballardwriters.org.

Getting to Know BJ Neblett

By Rita Bresnahan

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, Rita Bresnahan profiles BJ Neblett.

BJ Neblett: Comfortable in Front of a Microphone

A South Philadelphia native, BJ Neblett was always “Billy” growing up. In his 30’s he became DJ Billy James. It was only in 2011 that he became “BJ,” at the behest of his publisher, who thought “BJ” sounded more professional and mature. But “Billy” is who this man really is, the name he is known by everywhere except in the publishing world. At times it still might take him a few seconds to respond when someone calls him “BJ.”

After serving his country during the Vietnam War, Billy came back and fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a radio DJ. He built a career across the U.S. as popular radio DJ Billy James, honing his writing skills on radio scripts and commercial copy.

Billy first moved to the Northwest in 1990, settling in Redmond, where his sister lived. His mother, in poor health, soon joined them. At first he volunteered at Bellevue’s public radio station KBCS, then after a stint at KBSG was hired full-time by KJR. Then he was wooed away from the Northwest to become music director for a Houston oldies rock and roll station. Later, on to Charleston, and then on to…

After 35 years in radio, as DJ and as a music and program director rebuilding stations, Billy grew tired of moving around and “living the good life.” By that time, he owned ten cars, a ranch home on five acres with all the amenities and then one day he simply decided… “It’s time to retire.” So he did. At the ripe old age of 52.

But with little to occupy his time, he found himself “climbing the walls.” And doing some soul-searching as well, so unexpectedly 2002 became a marker year for him. He sold his mansion, all his cars, put a few things in storage, and with no destination in mind, he hit the road. Not in a car. Rather, he walked many a mile, he thumbed, tried his luck at truck stops, and rode buses and trains for days on end. “I had to let all my responsibilities go, in order to clear my mind, so I could hear more clearly what was there. And I just started writing, like I’d always done, all my life.”

This man was on the road for nearly six years! It was during this open-ended time that his book began emerging. While riding on trains and buses, and staying in hotels along the way, he wrote every word on a yellow tablet. He carried no computer with him. “Being on the road, and writing everything by hand, is what really got my juices going.”

HP Lovecraft

Elysian Dreams “wrote itself from inside out.” It did not start out as a book, but as a short story, or actually as a writing exercise. One short story after another came pouring forth, in the form of myriad characters. He describes himself “listening” to each character as she or he appeared. “Most of the time, and when I do my best, I feel I’m listening, almost transcribing.” Although he “hates it” when anyone labels his writing “time travel” or “science fiction,” it often does carry many of that genre’s familiar elements.

Rod Serling

Billy has been writing since he was a boy, shaped as he was, by growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, immersed in Twilight Zone and sitcoms, “where slices of life are so compressed.” He became a fan of irony, and began seeing it all around him, as “God’s personal joke on us.” O. Henry’s irony and short stories influenced him greatly, as did the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Tim Matheson, Stephen King, and Rod Serling.

BJ prefers writing the short story to the novel, and believes that short story formats are making a comeback, partly because of our short attention spans these days, coupled with the scarcity of reading time. A hallmark of Billy’s short stories: they take real people in real places, and put them into extreme circumstances. “If you want to learn about who I am, read my stories. I write about stuff that people don’t know about me. It’s cleansing, and good medicine.”

He’s written only one piece about his Viet Nam experiences. You can find “Purple Heart” on his May 27th blog posting for Memorial Day weekend. It’s quite a story, with an O. Henry twist.

And yes, he did receive the Purple Heart.

BJ is currently working on two short story collections, as well as a sequel to Elysian Dreams. He is most proud and excited about his next release, Ice Cream Camelot, a historical memoir about growing up in the Kennedy era, between the ages of eleven and fifteen. In alternating chapters the life of President Kennedy parallels that of a young boy growing up in South Philadelphia and the suburbs. With the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination in the upcoming year, Ice Cream Camelot will be a most timely release.

Reflecting on his Disc Jockey past and writing present, BJ says, “My voice has been heard all over the world…a lot of people know me that I don’t know.” Through his words spoken and written he believes, “My voice is still traveling through space.”

BJ Neblett is the author of Elysian Dreams, “A book of romantic adventure which examines the costs of exploring your dreams while fulfilling your destiny.”

His Ice Cream Camelot will be released in early 2013.

You can find out more about BJ Neblett on his ballardwriters.org page.