Although the first Orcas Island Writers Festival, Sept. 4 – 7, has attracted a diverse group of authors from all over Washington State and as far away as Alaska and Vermont, it has also been fortunate to have a number of renowned and published San Juan Islands’ authors participating.
Poet Dustin Fox and middle-grade biographer Michele Griskey from Orcas Island; Karen Fisher, the award-winning fiction author, from Lopez Island; Paul Owen Lewis, the children’s book writer, from Lummi Island; and Sam Green, Washington State’s First Poet Laureate, from Waldron Island are all participating.
Hailed by the Seattle Post-Intellegencer as one of the most popular poets to perform at Whidbey Island’s Burning Word Festival, Dustin Fox will be reciting some of his poems at the Evening Readings on Friday, Sept. 5. “I have an idea of what I will be doing. I have some fairly new stuff that has not been heard before by this crowd. I also will give people what I am thinking about at the time. I have no rules for my poetry. I make up words. I change words. I do whatever I need to do to get the image across,” Fox says.
“The main thing is being around other writers and those who are into the word. I have been all over the country and the world but this will be the first time on Orcas with this type of audience,” Fox says. He says he is excited about hearing Green read his works when they share the evening together.
Green, who will be doing a workshop on “The Art of Intention” earlier in the day, will be reading some new poems and from his newest book already in its second printing by the Carnegie Mellon Press called, ”The Grace of Necessity.”
He says that he believes festivals of this type are helpful to writers. “It’s extremely valuable to be able to pick the brains of established writers. The Orcas Festival organizers have done a good job of picking people with a diversity of experience. It is helpful for those starting out to be able to ask nitty gritty questions about craft, like how writers get ideas and what they do with them. There are no limits to the number of ideas. But how do you take the idea through to the finished product?”
Green says he still finds attending symposiums of this type beneficial. “You never know where you are going to find the poem that will save your life. It could be in the backyard or in a poem turned in by a student. If you are interested in poetry and not just the politics of poetry, attending festivals of this type can be worthwhile. I know some of the other writers attending so it is also a chance for social fellowship and an opportunity to network and ask fellow poets and writers how they handle particular issues,” he says.
“A Sudden Country,” winner of the MPBA Award for Best Fiction in 2006, was Karen Fisher’s first book. A dramatic reading from the book is scheduled for the Saturday, Sept. 6 Evening Readings. “I am also reading from the new book that I am working on tentatively titled, “The Heart of the Monster.” It is set in Idaho on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation starting in 1889. That is going to be a big deal for me. I have not read anything from this recent draft to anyone, including friends and family,” she says.
She will also be participating in a two-person panel with fellow author Matthew Goodman entitled, “Historical Truth? Finding and Telling the Past” at 2:30 p.m. that day. Fisher says, “The islands are a great place to be an artist. Festivals of this type are very helpful to authors. The more anyone exposes themselves to good writing and different writing the more they develop an ear for what is good in their own writing. It’s like listening to music. The more you hear the better you become.”
“I love going to Orcas Island. The reception that I have always gotten there as a writer has been wonderful. The readers there have always been very welcoming to me,” Fisher says.
Griskey will be part of a half-hour “Question and Answer – Writing for Children” on Saturday at noon. “ A lot of people are interested in writing children’s books but they often don’t understand the business and I hope I can clarify that aspect for them,” she says.
“In my own career, it has been helpful to attend events of this type on multiple levels. It helps you understand the business part of writing and it’s personally encouraging to listen to other authors talk about the struggles and successes they are having. For authors there is a lot of self-doubt, because you sit at home struggling for months or years on your own. These opportunities give you a chance to know that other authors have experienced the same things. It is a boost emotionally to your own self-esteem to talk to other authors,” Griskey says.
Children’s author and artist Paul Owen Lewis will be facilitating two sessions as part of Saturday’s festival schedule. The first will be a “Children’s Book Writing Workshop” and the second will be titled, “What Picture Books Can Teach Us About Plot.”
“I am an interesting choice for the plot session. Children’s picture books are a very exacting art form. Children’s books are exactly 32 pages long because the printing presses and paper comes in that size. You do not have a lot of time to explore plot, you have to get right to it. Which is probably good discipline,” he says.
“One of my favorite quotes is by novelist Jim Thompson who said, ‘There are 37 ways to write a story and I have used every one of them. There’s only one plot – things are not as they seem.’ Why would you read a story if the plot was always the same? That’s also the way we live our lives every day. Unexpected things happen and we react to them.”
“I visit 25 to 50 schools a year and the kids always ask me the same question. ‘Why do you like writing?’ I always respond, that frankly I don’t like writing. It’s hard work. What I really like is learning the truth and expressing it. I love those ah ha moments when we get to say, ‘I get it now.’
He says of being around other writers, “It is great to hear what their experiences are and what they have come up with. It’s fun to be around your tribe. Most writers and artists are fairly solitary. When I started out, I did not know how to be an artist and wear black clothes and smoke clove cigarettes. I attended a talk where an author, who at that time lived on Orcas Island, Jasper Thompkins came and talked about his life and about being an author. It was an eye-opening experience for me. He said, ‘Don’t write for other people or kids or for anyone else. Write for yourself. In fact, put yourself in it.’
“I did just that with my first book “Davy’s Dream.” Hearing him speak debunked all types of these myths I had about writing. After hearing him I thought I can do this.
“I always explain to kids that telling stories is the most universal thing we do. We do it from the time we are in kindergarten until we are grandparents,”Lewis said.
Evening Readings will be held at the Moran State Park Environmental Learning Center area. Festival organizers recommend that those interested in attending arrive and park by 7:15 p.m. Tickets for each individual evening’s reading will be $15 at the door and include an intermission beverage and the fireside reception after the program. For more information about Festival Passes, which include all the afternoon lectures, classes, panels and workshops and the evening readings visit www.orcasislandwritersfestival.com.