Category Archives: How We Write; a series of essays by guest authors

Meet Seymour Hamilton: author, editor, adventurer

Meet Seymour Hamilton — author of the Astreya Series, a nautical fantasy, The Laughing Princess, a charming collection of dragon tales, and The Hippies Who Meant It, a unique literary adventure set in the 1960’s. The author also beautifully narrates his own books ( and and offers independent editorial services at

Seymour and I were metaphorical shipmates aboard Tom Grundner’s Fireship Press and I value the editorial insight he gave me on a project of mine — Water Ghosts (2015).  I’m pleased to recommend his books and his services and I’d like to share some of his interesting life.


When did you start writing?

When I was 9, I created a magazine. It was called The Animals Weekly News, and was published in four copies, once.  Actually, it was only three copies, because I couldn’t push hard enough with my pencil for the third sheet of carbon paper to print through.  That was 68 years ago. 

So you had an early start as a writer…  How did you get into editing? What was your first editorial job?

On the Queen’s Journal (the student paper at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario) in 1962, where I was Features and Literary Editor.  If you count marking essays as a form of editing, I did a lot of that over many years of teaching first year English, plus a few senior courses.  When I taught in the Graduate Department of Communication Studies, editing was both a part of my daily work, and also a sideline, outside the university that led to more than 20 years of editing and writing for more than 50 federal and provincial departments of government and industry.

What is your connection with the sea?

My first voyage was when I was four, in 1946, when my father, my mother and I sailed on a steamer from England to Mauritius.  I remember when we reached Capet Town in South Africa, Table Mountain was “spreading the tablecloth” which is what they call it when cloud sweeps across this well-named mountain.  My father, who was a Lt.Cmdr in the Royal Navy and also a Master Mariner, taught me to sail a dingy, as he had learned from his father, who had the same qualifications.  My father read me The Rime of the Ancient Mariner when I was five.  I thought it was autobiography.  A year or so later, I started reading the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome, which led naturally by way of Stevenson’s Treasure Island to Conrad, Henty, and Slocum.

My direct experience with the sea and ships has been brief, but intensive. When I was 19, I was in the Canadian Navy Reserve, serving on a frigate as a cadet.  We chased a Russian trawler that turned out to be a Russian submarine that turned around and left Canadian waters, leaving us to go on our way on a cruise to Bermuda and Puerto Rico.  An accident to my back later that summer took me out of the Navy. In the 70s, I crewed on a friend’s 50-foot traditional Nova Scotian schooner on a trip across the mouth of the St. Lawrence to Grey River and Fortune, Newfoundland and a visit to Saint Pierre et Miquelon, the anomalous French-owned islands off the south coast of Newfoundland.   A few months later, the skipper gave me command of his schooner for a long weekend of coasting near Halifax, from which the ship and everyone aboard returned safely.  Some of the incidents on these trips found their way (somewhat hyped) into my writing; notably, the tiny community of Gray River (47° 35′ 20.57″ N, 57° 6′ 14.23″ W), which was the genesis of The Astreya Trilogy.

Seymour, your nautical experience comes through in your Astreya Trilogy, giving it a ring of authenticity. I love the way you develop your characters, your rich settings and the language you employ. What else would you say makes your writing stand out?

It’s written for the ear and the eye.  I try to follow Conrad’s dictum: “I want to make you see.” I read all my books out loud.

What’s the hardest thing for you about being an editor?

Losing arguments.  Allowing authors to make their own decisions about what is right for them.

The most rewarding thing?

To know that the book is better for having had my invisible presence in the making of it.

What is your favorite type of work to edit?

Books in which the author is deeply involved and committed — as opposed to authors who only want a shoeshine and shampoo on a marketable pig.

What other projects are you passionate about?

Family. Dogs. My own writing.

What advice do you have for young writers and editors?

Get started right now.  Don’t wait.  Listen to suggestions and criticism from writers and editors you trust, provided they have read your work with care.  Don’t be over-critical of yourself.  Read in your genre, but don’t be limited to it: read classics, “difficult” books, books that make you think outside your own experience. Travel both in and outside your country.  Listen to people talking.

What’s your biggest strength as a writer?    As an editor?

My biggest writing strength is that I’ve done a lot of writing, which is also a weakness in that it’s made me a very slow writer — which was not the case years ago when I could knock off many pages a day.

My biggest editing strength is that I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and no longer get upset when I see someone else making them.

That’s refreshing!

Your ideal vacation would be…

Aboard a schooner.  Soon.  Before the arthritis gets any worse.

What else would you like to tell me about yourself, your work?

I live in the village of Chelsea, Quebec, just north of Ottawa, Canada.  In the winter, I can see houses around mine, in the summer, I’m enclosed by trees.  There are cross country ski trails close by that I’ve skied for nearly 25 years.  The Gatineau River widens enough for a small sailing club in which I used to be a member until the boats somehow did things faster than I could keep up with.  Strange.  I remember being able to … 

Thank you Seymour, it’s been a pleasure. Fair winds and may our ships cross again.





Meet Anne Maclachlan: Writer, Editor, Ghost

Are you looking for a relevant, engaging article for your website or publication? Need a press release written quickly? Are you an independent author looking for a freelance editor to help you polish your book manuscript?  Or maybe you’re a writer wanting to expand into the freelance editing market yourself and you’re looking to see how someone else has successfully accomplished it?  Ahem… Allow me to introduce you to  Anne Maclachlan: Writer, Editor, Ghost.

Anne Maclachlan is a true professional wordsmith.  She’s engaging, expressive, extremely versatile –and handy with the tools of her trade. We first met through Facebook’s nautical groups where we bonded over our love of old ships. Anne knows her way fore and aft on any ship — but her writing experience and content expertise is not limited to maritime topics.  She has a diverse portfolio of credits I was to learn, when we met in person for lunch in Santa Fe two years ago. At that time she was senior editor for Santa Fean magazine.

Anne, when did you start writing? 

I truly have been writing my whole life. As you know, Scottish culture is an oral one, with an emphasis on creativity through music and storytelling. In our family, we’d often recite poetry (our own or those of our favorite poets) in the evenings. When we were small children, my brothers and I would tell each other fanciful tales, and once I learned how to write, I put mine on paper.

How did you get into editing?  What was your first editorial job?

I noticed a pattern when friends and colleagues began sending me things to polish in my spare time. I finally realized that I could be marketing this talent, and pestered a small local newspaper to let me do it for them. They eventually gave me a chance to write (I could hear the editor’s eyes rolling when we chatted over the phone, because, you know, everyone’s a critic/writer/editor.).  My first writing assignment was one they probably thought was beyond me and would shut me up. To my delight, it was a nautical piece, albeit an entertainment one. I nailed it, and became a regular writer for them, especially when anything maritime-related came up. Eventually I began editing and writing for the city’s maritime museum, and then a local shipbuilding company, who gave me plenty of work once I’d proved myself.

I liked your article about the Princess Taiping. [Princess Taiping, a replica of a Ming Dynasty Chinese junk ship built for an oceanic voyage from China to the United States and back. The ship was struck by a tanker and sank approximately 42 nautical miles from its final destination. Fortunately, due to their own initiative, the crew was rescued!]  Bob and I saw Princess Taiping in Hawaii, when she was homeward bound, not long before she was struck.  At the time I was writing the novel Water Ghosts, your piece was really helpful.

Thank you! What a terrible ending to an otherwise successful voyage. The Princess Taiping crew were so close to proving officially that Ming Dynasty Chinese navigation and maritime skills were superb (essentially, they did prove it), and that people had the ability to reach all areas of the Pacific during that era. I loved chatting with the crew in Chinese. They weren’t expecting it, and I think it gave me a little extra access. First mate Angela Chao is a fascinating person; she’s a writer, painter, and sailor with such good stories to tell! I really would love to interview her again someday.

I come from a shipbuilding family (my father is a retired naval architect and estimator) so ships and oceans have always been part of what I love. Among my favorite early memories is snuggling up against my daddy’s shoulder when he had blueprints spread out on the living room rug. He smelled of tobacco, wood, and ink. To this day, I’m delighted that he didn’t shoo me away, but let me pretend that I understood when he explained it to me. Of course, years later, when we had to diagram our homes for a grade-school project, I took endless heat from classmates, and even from a teacher, for marking “bulkhead” on my walls, “overhead” on the ceiling, etc.

Oh, and of course, I have trained and sailed aboard several sailing vessels!

Yes, I knew about your experience aboard the Star of India. Any other ships you’ve trained with?

All of my training and crewing was part time — weekends, evenings, or sometimes as long as a week. I cut my crew teeth aboard HMAV Bounty in Sydney, Australia, before joining the schooner Red Witch when she was berthed in San Diego, California. From there, I joined the Maritime Museum of San Diego and began hard-core learning aboard the Star of India, crewing on several other museum and visiting vessels as the opportunities arose. A back injury ended my on-deck sailing career, and broke my heart along with it, but I am still able to write about maritime issues.

Your work for the Santa Fe Film Festival sounds really exciting – and very varied.  What an unusual gig!  What was the most unusual thing you were asked to do?

I wrote a lot of press releases and articles for the Santa Fe Film Festival, and my name began to make the rounds. I actually volunteered to be on the general staff as a way to make new friends when I arrived in Santa Fe. It seemed like a good place to start! When the people in charge found out I really could write, I became their head writer and publicist. These days, most of my film-related work still consists of publicity for indie film groups, but I also help with script and concept development. I’m actually involved in some exciting projects right now, but the film industry being as secretive as any other, I can’t discuss them yet. It all started from my work with the festival, though, and I could not have foreseen where it would lead.

I really do enjoy talking to artists about their creativity and storytelling, whether their talents lie in special effects, screenwriting, composing, or being in front of the cameras. In Santa Fe, I was delighted to find that the cast of Longmire was amenable to being interviewed, many in person, and I was able to chat with almost all of them for Santa Fean magazine when I was the editor there. I have special memories of each one, but I will confess to having a breathless teenage-style meltdown upon meeting Lou Diamond Phillips after our telephone interview. He came around the table where he was signing autographs, said, “I know who you are!” and hugged me to death. I was speaking in dog-whistle range for days. I know that’s not specifically what you asked, but that was two years ago and I am not over it yet.

You have an excellent website that showcases your work. In a nutshell, what makes you good at what you do?

I love it so much. That’s the main point. I have a degree in linguistics, which involves not only the study of foreign languages, but psycholinguistics and communication techniques. I used to teach English as a Second Language to international business people and graduate students, so I have the basics of trying to figure out what people mean. That experience, and having a knack for clarifying what writers really want to express, makes for good editing.

What’s the hardest thing for you about being an editor?  The most rewarding thing?

The one thing that will set off any editor, in a bad way, is a writer sending a series of updates to what was originally submitted. It can’t work, and I always call a halt to the project at that point. Naturally, we sort all of that out when the scope agreement is developed, but it still happens, and I have to ask the writer to resubmit when the final copy is ready.

(I’m so guilty of that! I’ll try not to do it again!)

Hurting people’s feelings is actually the worst part. All of us writers believe we have created the very best thing that we can, so as editors, we have to be very diplomatic. Let writers know that certain changes will strengthen their scenes and propel their stories in the direction they want. I have often told people that I’m the makeup lady to their plotline; I make them look their very best in front of an audience. It is rewarding when writers are thrilled at the results, without my having changed the essence of what they have written — when they say, “That’s so much better; and it still sounds like me!” The best is when they say, “Wait, it sounds so good! You mean I wrote that?!” Yes! Yes, you did.

What is your favorite type of work to edit?  Pet projects?

Having any kind of work that is well written, well organized, and ready to be seen by an editor is a blissful situation.

Once a year, I try to take on a pro bono project. It has to be something that is for the public good or interest, or is perhaps for a promising penniless writer whose work should be read.

What other subjects are you passionate or knowledgeable about?

Oh, gosh; I love the sciences, though I have little formal training. (Still, I dare to identify with Patrick O’Brian’s Stephen Maturin character.) I do have the opportunity to pursue that interest in science when writing about maritime technology, which fascinates me, and ocean conservation. I also love to read and research anything artistic or historical, along with general multicultural studies.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for young writers — and editors?

For editors: “Scope creep” will be your worst enemy. Make sure that you produce a detailed scope agreement outlining the number of rewrites, firm deadlines, and what is not included. Add to this agreement the charges that will be incurred for extra rewrites, new chapters, etc. You can actually find online templates for these, so you can choose one that fits what you do. If you are going to make a business out of editing, remember that it is indeed a business.

For writers: Don’t be afraid of your own ideas. Jot them down, ask “what if,” and flesh them out. Nothing is silly. You never know what you will end up with, even if it’s unrecognizable from what appeared in your first thoughts. I actually ended up with a short nautical horror piece being published in an anthology, just from asking that one question.

Find an editor. I have a circle of fellow writers and editors who place critical eyes on one another’s work as a professional courtesy. It’s important to remember that what’s playing in your mind is not always obvious to the reader; you need a second set of eyes.

Your website explains the three types of editing services you provide: Proofreading, content and line editing, and ghostwriting.  This is a good summary of what editors do. If you care to paraphrase your website to hit on these services, and where your strengths lie.

Proofreading is very basic; it involves catching typos, misused capitals, bad line breaks, and so on. Line and content editing address sentence structure and clarity, and sometimes substantive editing, for which plot lines and character presentations must be rewritten. When I’m asked to assemble and edit jumbles of notes, or to flesh out ideas, it is no longer an editing project but is now ghostwriting. I love all of it.  Anne Maclachlan, writer and editor

Your ideal vacation would be…

Oh, I was so close once! I’d tentatively booked a couple of weeks in an old stone cottage, built by a sea captain and set on a high hill overlooking a stunning Cornish harbor. I had even picked out the window nook where I’d cozy up and write, looking over the sea with its vast, inspiring energy. Alas, the newspaper I worked for was sold and hundreds of us were laid off. Someday, though, I will take that dream writing holiday in Cornwall.

Anne thank you for sharing your writing life with me! Drop me a line when you’re snug in your cottage in Cornwall — maybe we can have lunch again!


Sea Trials (or, How NOT to sail around the world)

Wendy Hinman is an adventurer, speaker and the award-winning author of two books, Tightwads on the Loose and Sea Trials; Around the World with Duct Tape and Bailing Wire.

Tightwads on the Loose is a travel adventure book about the seven-year, 34,000-mile voyage the author embarked on with her husband aboard a 31-foot sailboat, performing a wide range of shipboard duties worthy of both “Wonder Woman and Suzy Homemaker,” as Wendy describes it. Tightwads on the Loose was selected for the literature program for Western Washington University, won the Journey Award for best true life adventure story and was selected as a top travel book for women.

Her latest release, Sea Trials, is the story of the Wilcox family who set off to sail around the world in four years. Thirteen months into their voyage they are shipwrecked on a coral reef, with surf tearing a huge hole into the side of their boat. With years invested in saving money, preparing the boat, and learning to navigate by the stars, parents Chuck and Dawn refuse to give up. Fourteen-year-old Garth is determined to continue, while eleven-year-old Linda never wanted to go in the first place. To triumph, they must rebuild their boat on a remote Pacific island. Damage sustained on the reef and a lack of resources haunt them the rest of the way around the world as they face wild weather, pirates, gun boats, mines and thieves, scurvy and starvation in a trial that tests them to their limits.

When asked about her writing process Hinman says,

“Always an avid reader, I secretly longed to write books one day, but no one in my family was a writer nor did we know any professional writers personally.  After years in international business, during the dot com boom I shifted into working as a technical writer, a web content manager, and an online magazine editor, as we prepared for an offshore voyage. During our 7-years of traveling, I loved sharing our adventures on a popular blog and through our growing email list. Upon our return, readers encouraged me to put my stories into a book. They loved my humor – an essential ingredient when traveling aboard a 31-foot boat. Marrying my love of sailing and adventure with my love of writing seemed a natural place to start writing books and has kept the voyage alive for me while we build a boat and prepare for another offshore adventure.

After I finished writing Tightwads on the Loose, I was ready for another challenge.  Over the years since I met my husband I’d been hearing snippets of the epic voyage he had taken with his family around the world and their shipwreck when he was fourteen. Family dinners had been filled with do you remember whens: 

“Do you remember the time when gunboats forced us to sail across mines in the Red Sea?… the time when our pilot Abdul got lost in the Suez Canal?… when the boat starting sinking in Israel? mom tried to poison us? we ran out of food and nearly starved?

Such tantalizing anecdotes intrigued me. I got possession of the famous letters the family had mailed home. Hundreds of them. Inside them was more detail than any writer could hope for.  Too much, sometimes. But in combing through them I fleshed out the outline of the story that I’d developed in my mind of their voyage. I asked a lot of questions of the family members and took copious notes.  I consulted guide books and sailing directions, maps, and the ship’s log to ferret out the details. I read the newspaper articles, listened to the interviews with the family. And started writing.  And double checking details with the ones who had lived through it. With a rough draft completed, I had them read every word to check for inaccuracies or things that didn’t seem true to their experience.  It was a family bonding experience.

What I uncovered was such a dramatic story, that I could hardly believe anyone had truly lived through it.  Especially people I knew.  The challenges they overcame astound me. And that was AFTER surviving a shipwreck.

I’m excited to share these stories and I’m thrilled at how well-received they’ve been.”

For more about Wendy Hinman’s adventures, writing, and speaking engagements, please see her author’s website and her Amazon Author page.








The Prodigal’s homecoming – Keogh’s voyage

Self-Publishing: What used to be the last resort of an amateur writer is becoming Plan A for many professional authors wanting more control over their creations — and more revenue from their sales.  For a growing number of authors it’s at least Plan B. That is, we initially published with a traditional or independent press but soon felt we could do a better job ourselves, selling the book for less (and keeping all of the revenue instead of the standard ten to fifteen percent). Of course there are production and marketing costs — which are large — but fully under our own control. Authors as publishers — it’s becoming the new norm.

One such author is S.K. Keogh who is pleased to announce The Prodigal, book one of The Jack Mallory Chronicles, has recently been re-released — this time with Leighlin House Publishing, an imprint she owns and operates. Book two, The Alliance, and  Book three, The Fortune, are already sailing under the Leighlin House banner. The fleet is together now, with Keogh at the helm.

If you’re new to S.K. Keogh’s historical fiction, the stories are realistic adventures set in Colonial America during the age of piracy. Rousing good reads, they feature the anti-hero protagonist Jack Mallory — along with other compelling and complex characters, both male and female.

Susan (S.K.) and I have long been supportive of each other’s work. I asked her to share some of her thoughts and experiences on writing and publishing with us, in conjunction with the news of Prodigal’s re-release.



S.K. Keogh

I’m sure my writing journey is similar to that of other writers of my generation (I’m 52). Growing up, I was an avid reader, and that interest naturally morphed into a desire to write my own stories. First young adult, then Westerns, then contemporary, now historical. None of my early works ever made it to the world of publishing, of course.

Back then submitting a novel to publishers meant writing query letters (the physical kind you sent through the U.S. mail, not the electronic kind) to the myriad of publishing houses, most in New York City, after scouring the thick Writers Market listings for someone interested in your genre. (Nowadays you can’t even query a New York publisher without an agent to do it for you.) Then, if you were lucky, an editor would request to see your manuscript, and you’d cram that ream of paper into a box, say a prayer, and mail it through the U.S. postal service.

Much has changed since those days, and I’m not just referring to the process of querying. Now the publishing industry has shrunk to three options for today’s writers: get an agent who can query the handful of big publishers (who won’t invest much time or money into you because you are an unknown); directly query small publishing houses (who have even less money for promotions than the big houses); or self-published.

In 2012, my historical action/adventure novel, The Prodigal, was published through a small press. I won’t go into all the gory details, but let me just say it wasn’t what I expected. My displeasure grew over the years, so I decided to start proceedings to reacquire my rights to the novel. I’m happy to say, I succeeded and have just re-released The Prodigal under my own imprint.

Yep, independently published, just like the two novels that follow The Prodigal — The Alliance and The Fortune.

To me, with a lesser-read genre like nautical fiction written by a relative unknown, independent publishing is a viable option. Small publishers take most of your money and give you very little in return. You might as well keep your rights, publish your work with the cover and content you want, work your tail off to promote it (which is what you would do even with a small press), and collect the majority of the profit yourself. Why shouldn’t you? You’re the one who did all the work. Research is costly. Promoting can be costly. Writing is not easy. And neither is publishing.

But that book is your baby, your blood, sweat, and tears. And sometimes it’s better to keep it at home (self-publish) then let it go out into the wide, wild world of indifferent publishing houses. There’s nothing wrong with that. I know I’m happy that my baby came home.

The Prodigal

A story of relentless pursuit, betrayal, and revenge:

As a young boy Jack Mallory knows horror and desolation when James Logan and his pirates murder his father and abduct his mother. Falsely accused of piracy himself, Jack is thrown into jail. He survives seven years in London’s notorious Newgate prison and emerges a hardened man seeking revenge.
His obsession with finding his mother’s kidnapper drives him to the West Indies where he becomes entangled with a fiery young woman named Maria Cordero. With a score of her own to settle with James Logan, she disguises her gender and blackmails Jack into taking her aboard his pirate brig, Prodigal, in his desperate search for Logan. Their tumultuous relationship simmers while Jack formulates a daring plan to rescue his mother and exact revenge upon Logan for destroying his family. But Logan has no intentions of losing what he now treasures more than life itself—Jack’s mother, Ella.


Find out more about the Jack Mallory trilogy and forthcoming works on S.K. Keogh’s author website and on Goodreads. Follow her on Facebook and as @JackMallory on Twitter.

















Stretching Silver Through Blue Haze

Stretching Silver Through Blue Haze

— a marriage of poetry & visual art


Stretching Silver through Blue Haze is a collection of 38 poems by Lawrence Gregory and 21 photographs by Birgit Gutsche, of Taos, New Mexico.

82 pages, 21 photographs softbound; Shanti Arts, 2017


I was first introduced to (and became enamored of) Lawrence Gregory’s poems in Steamboat Springs Colorado, where I heard him read Hutterite Strawberries (included in the book), a sensual recollection of an incident one summer in Montana. The newly released book was my first introduction to Birgit Gutsche’s award-winning art — her elemental imagery ranges from beautifully and elegantly stark to playful.

The publication might be classified as an illustrated poetry book but is perhaps better described as a moving juxtaposition of poems and images, a metaphorical dance of observations, a conversation of memories between lovers who have long known each other.

For me, Stretching Silver Through Blue Haze is a way of seeing, of observing, of remembering. Noticing is all that really mattered, Lawrence writes in the poem This November Day (included).  His writing reveal an inner tension, a coupling of desire and regret, a landscape of longing.

I asked Lawrence and Birgit to tell me more about what inspired this book and how their collaborative process worked, as poet and photographer, as partners, as husband and wife.

Lawrence responds:

I didn’t write a single poem to respond to or elaborate on a photo that Birgit had taken. But as I went through the process of choosing poems (and re-working most all of them to one degree or another) I sometimes flashed on one of her images. Indeed, the more I worked on the collection, the more I’d flash on her photos. This was partly to do the fact that Birgit and I were reviewing her portfolio a lot at this time as she worked on her website; submitted work to publications; applied for admission to galleries; etc. She was getting herself established in the Taos art scene at the same time I began the book project. So, there was a lot of that energy flowing in the household ethers.

So, that was part of it. But perhaps a more significant factor leading to the collaboration, is the fact that so many of the poems came out of experiences the two of us shared…experiences I noted in journals and that she recorded with her camera. I think it’s totally understandable that so many of her photos seem to “fit” with the poems. It may, indeed, be serendipity. But I’ve a hunch there’s more to it. We’re both expressing a certain soulful/visceral response to experiences we shared. Shared experience but processed individually.

I also need to mention many of the poems in this collection are a direct reflection of Birgit as my muse. Yeah, she’s definitely my muse. One of them, anyway.

At some point in the process I asked Birgit if she’d be willing to let me use some of her photos; she wholeheartedly agreed. I had some specific images in mind for certain poems; for others, I asked her to suggest a few possibilities . . .There were, of course, quite a few poems I did not want associated with a photograph. Also, there were a couple that I felt begged for an image that did not exist. So, I read those poems to Birgit and asked if she’d be willing to go out and make an image that fit. What she came back with was stunning.

What I think is fascinating about this book is the way it illustrates the fact that Birgit tends to think and communicate pictorially. She reveals her soul — dare I use that term in this day and age? — in her images. At the same time, her photographs invite the viewer to consider something deeply personal. I, on the other hand, am a verbal communicator — with a lot of silence thrown into the mix. We have a strong relationship but we definitely encounter communication difficulties at times. Sparks do fly!  I find the whole thing, our life journey together — our travels, our marriage, this book — to be such a rewarding endeavor. Incredibly strenuous, too!  It’s really rather miraculous, actually.

Lawrence, can you tell me more about your writing process?

Definitely solitary. Messy as hell. For me, a poem can take anywhere from a few hours to a few months. Actually, all the poems in the book took my entire life to write. If we are writing honestly, soulfully — there’s that word again — we must bring to the writing desk all of who we are . . . else, why even bother? And who we are is all we have met in life.

It’s remarkable how seldom I sit down with the idea that I am going to write a poem about a specific idea. In fact, I’m not sure that has ever happened. Instead, I’ll sometimes just start jotting down (seemingly) random thoughts, or let myself go into a stream of consciousness riff until something starts to take form. And then I’ll play with that for a while. Sometimes I’ll wake in the middle of the night hearing a (seemingly) random phrase or sentence — often it seems nonsensical — which I’ll scribble down in a small notebook I keep on the bedside table. And then at some point, I’ll sit down at my desk and “write to it.” Maybe the line ends up being the first line of the finished poem (rare). Often, I’m convinced it will be the last line (that, too, rarely turns out to be the case.). Usually, it ends up living somewhere in the middle. And then there are the occasions when the initial line, the words that sparked the flame, vaporize . . . but that’s okay because they served a crucial purpose as a prompt. One thing is certain, as cliche as it sounds, once I’m in that writing zone the poem does indeed take on a life of its own. And I’ve gotta say, sometimes I’m not at all comfortable with what is coming. It can be hard to lean into that discomfort, but it’s a necessary part of my process. It’s both an engagement with anxiety and a letting go of fear . . . fear on a couple of different levels.

I employ the structure of poetry because it helps in the distillation process. So much of my writing is about coming to terms with something: a complex event; an unsettled state of being; or asking a question for which I have no answer. It can be hard to get to the essence of thoughts, feelings, doubts. But, somehow I can get there — or at least get closer — by creating a boundary of sorts, a vessel to help contain the energy lest it dissipate or overwhelm. That’s the value of utilizing specific poetic forms, like a sonnet, a haiku, and so on. Strange as it may sound, that requisite discipline often helps me accept and even celebrate the uncertainty, insecurity and equivocal nature of everything.

The process can be maddening. Tapping out the rhythm. Counting beats, arranging stressed and unstressed syllables. Feeling the rhythm. Choosing one word over another can be an agonizing process. Do I use a comma here, or allow a line break to serve that purpose? Is that really what I mean? Listening. Listening. Listening. Lots of reading out loud too. That’s so incredibly important for my process: reading what I write out loud . . .

I keep a journal rather religiously . . . have done so for 30 years. A daily practice from which I occasionally mine a nugget or two. But usually those pages are used to clear out the dross; jettison a bunch of bullshit insecurity, righteous indignation, etc . . . the kind of stuff so many people post up on Facebook or spew forth in a Twitter-storm these days. I write all that stuff down in my journals . . . most of which I’ve burned.

Early in the process of writing a poem, I’m restless. I’ll take frequent breaks to go outside . . . cut wood; shovel snow; walk; tinker with one thing or another.  Less frequently I’ll sit at my desk staring out the window for hours. I realize now, after years of doing this, that on those evenings when I say to Birgit in frustration that I didn’t get a single thing written, that I wasted the entire f^*k*^g day at my desk . . . those turn out to be necessary days to my process. Don’t ask me why. But I know it’s so. I do all the initial work with a number 2 pencil and yellow legal pad. Once I feel like I’m getting close — like the poem is getting close — I’ll sit down at my computer and “finish it.” At that stage, I’ll sometimes sit at my desk for hours and hours . . . I’m not so restless then. Eventually, I print off the finished draft and read it out loud again. And always I find the first printed version is not finished. But eventually, it’s finished. Abandoned, actually.

Birgit is always the first person to see a “finished” draft. To be specific, she hears it . . . I always read it to her. I can tell instantly what she thinks; how she feels about it. And from time to time she mentions something that doesn’t feel quite right. And it’s remarkable how often the thing she mentions is the thing I wasn’t quite comfortable with!

I next send the draft to my son. (Not always, but almost) You know he’s an incredibly talented artist, but he’s also a terrific writer…better than I am. He is wonderfully supportive, but he won’t hesitate to tell me what he thinks. Interestingly, he rarely offers suggestions about craft. Instead, he will not hesitate to call me out on the premise. He’s sometimes incredulous that I feel a certain way or that I have suggested something or other. But that’s fine with me. It’s healthy, in fact. Healthy for my work; healthy for the relationship he and I have.

Linda: Your writing and Birgit’s photography evoke a strong sense of place. How important is geography to your process?

Lawrence: PLACE is crucial, for me at least. For Birgit, not so much. (I think she’d be fine with me saying that.) I wither in an urban environment. I slip into a depressive funk the moment I arrive in the midst of traffic-choked “Anywhere USA” with all the fast food restaurants, big box franchises, sirens, billboards, etc. Nature and open space and silence are essential to my process, to my life. I love the fact that we live in a place without a Starbucks, Burger King, Petsmart, Best Buy, etc.

Linda: Birgit, can you tell me something of your artistic process? How much is “eye” and “soul” and how much is craft?

Birgit: Although I used (B & W) film in my very early years, I ​create digital photography now. The principles of film photography still support my technical approach. The symmetry and proportion of a subject or scene speaks to how an image is eventually composed. Why I might choose one subject over another is personal and often draws upon history, memories, and a sense of irony.
Explaining (my) creative process might be as challenging as describing the circular cycle of creative life and, thereby brings to light another question yet — would I be at all drawn to the same images if not for our specific relationship? Much of what I “see” informs our conversations and indeed the result of much of our conversation actually presents to me images in my environment. Arguably, some I would not otherwise have seen. Lawrence is one of the most well read academics I have known. He has added layers of moral, spiritual, political, economic and social texture to my own thought processes and hence, has affected what I see through a lens. Although there has rarely been a direct intention to facilitate or even imbue the other’s artistic medium, our ethers tend to both collide and intermingle.
Linda: Beautifully said Birgit, and worth pondering further: the effect of specific close relationships on our writing and our art. Which photographers do you credit as influences?

Birgit: Sam Abell was my first and most influential artist of photography. His life work of creating thought provoking images remains an inspiration today. Other, but by no means all, notable photographers and spanning a great many photographic statements are Cig Harvey, Fred Herzog, Vivian Maier, Dorothea Lange, Platon, S​e​bastiao Salgado.


Linda: To see more of Birgit’s work and for upcoming and past exhibits, please visit her website

Lawrence’s first reading of Stretching Silver Through Blue Haze will be in Taos, New Mexico at the Historic Taos Inn (Friday May 26, 4:30-6:00 pm) where Birgit’s photography is on exhibit.