Aug 21, 2014

Hiking the Wonderland Trail: Gearing Up

The Wonderland Trail is one of the most popular, by-lottery-only, National Park Service trails in the United States. Each year, it draws thousands of visitors from around the world...and this year, my friends and I were lucky enough to get our names drawn in the permit lottery. We found out in April that our reservation was granted (albeit a slightly amended itinerary) and we've been training ever since. While a permitted trail often means a "busy" trail (because all camping is in designated wilderness sites only, booked full with 5-7 sites at each location), it also means some once-in-a-lifetime views and experiences that, in my view, are well worth the trade off. While evenings will be a fun, mixed up group of backpackers, days will be peaceful with occasional passersby (and busier areas near junctions). I can hike alone anytime I want. Once a year, I want to go big and in 2014 that means The Wonderland Trail.

To plan our trip, we used this awesome trip planner initially, then read guidebooks and cross-referenced that with our permit and now, finally, have a mile-to-mile sense for what we're headed into. Saturday, 4 of us all fly into PDX from various start-points, crash on a friend's floor that night, and head toward Mt. Rainier early Sunday morning. We hit the trail that afternoon or the next day, and proceed to circumnavigate one of the most active volcanoes on the North American continent. According to the NPS website, "The 93-mile Wonderland Trail encircles the mountain, offering hikers commanding views of Mount Rainier blanketed by 25 icy glaciers. The trail leads through extensive subalpine meadows of wildflowers and lowland old growth forest." All totaled, we'll hike about 100 miles in 9 days, traveling clockwise around the mountain. Videos galore are right here, and here's the big map:

The Wonderland Trail is the thick, black line around the 14,410' Mount Rainier, which is 500,000 years old and classified as an "episodically active" volcano.


One way to understand what 22,000 feet of elevation change over the course of 93 miles looks like, is to study a profile map. Here's one for the Wonderland that makes my heart beat faster. Profile maps can be confusing, because the impluse is to equate the line that moves from left to right across the graph as the ridgeline...but it is not. It is the elevation line. Profile maps are helpful to hikers who like to make comparisons; having completed one day of the trip and seeing how that looks on the profile map, a hiker can gauge future days (and strenuousness) by getting a feel for how they performed and what's to come.

For readers who like to check out the trail in real time, Mt. Rainier is web-cam savvy with more links than I've seen on any trail in years. Check out this link, scroll down, and do the sun dance on my behalf if all the images look grey and wet. I don't mind the rain, but I'll admit I'm hoping for more warm, sunny, dry days than not. So far, the 10-day forecast for our trip looks startingly--almost dreamily--dry. I'll take it! (We're technically only on trail 8/25-9/2 with a little wiggle room at the beginning depending on our ability to persuade the rangers about a permit change...)

After the trek, I'll be back online just in time for a reading on Friday, September 5th at 9:00 a.m. at the 1st Baptist Church in Burnsville, NC as a part of the kick-off to the 2014 Carolina Mountains Literary Festival. I'm also teaching an afternoon memoir writing workshop that will be fun, provocative, and productive. I hope you'll attend! Afterwards, I'll blog about The Wonderland and post my best pics.

Aug 18, 2014

Hiring an Editor to Critique Your Manuscript

It's been an exciting month to formally launch my new Writer at Large Services and I'm happy to report that by using my existing contacts--current students, past students, and a few friends--that my Monthly Critique Services are successfully booked through December. New openings will arise in January. I've likewise been able to schedule several manuscript critiques with writers who have full-length works of memoir and fiction in various stages of revision. This post will be my last "direct pitch" for a while. I pride myself on providing free, compelling content about The Writing Life on this blog, but I'd be a fool if I didn't occasionally use it to formally offer my services!

On book tour last fall, my travels enabled me to meet in person with three Writer at Large students who have found great success! Amy has been accepted into an MFA in Writing program, Pat is gearing up to self-publish her memoir, and Idella has published a few pieces in Idaho magazines, reminiscing about her life growing up there.
It may help to put some real-life smiles to all of this, by which I mean to say that most of the writers I work with are just like you--they care about writing good, clean, unique, literary stories and memoirs. Some will self-publish their work for family and close friends. Others will find agent representation and larger publishing contracts. All will improve their abilities to see the strengths and challenges in their own work, as well as more quickly find a path toward completion of their most coveted creative projects.

If you, members of your writing group, former students, or your colleagues are working on a full-length manuscript of short stories, memoir, or novel, please consider scheduling a manuscript critique with me. Writers who have worked with me have gone on to publish short stories, essays, and books as well as be accepted into MFA in Writing programs and have their work celebrated in video and audio formats.

The manuscript critique info flyer is linked right here...

and the testimonials can be found here.

Thanks for checking out what I do and spreading the word!

Aug 14, 2014

Off the Grid

Brad and I took our first, real vacation since Flashes of War was published and escaped for 4 1/2 days to a small lake in Ontario. Thanks to the generosity of dear friend and author Anne-Marie Oomen and her husband David, we joined them at their two lakeside cabins that are off the grid and right up against the northern, undeveloped shore of a spring-fed lake about 20 miles from Sault Saint Marie. Much relaxation was had with long dinners, sauna sessions, lake swimming, fishing, paddling, and hours of silent reading. My body and mind were able to exhale and, as difficult as "re-entry" feels tonight, I'm able to close my eyes and easily conjure the peace of those four days. Here are a few snapshots or our time: 

Snapshot outside our cabin at Interlochen Center for the Arts on Green Lake.
We crossed this 5-mile long, historic Mackinaw Bridge between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, en route to the Upper Peninsula and Ontario.
...and arrived at David and Anne-Marie's private little spot on the water, off the grid.
Dear friends, fine company, and all the warmth of a cabin with a woodstove.
The Poet's Perch cabin we got to stay in for a few nights...
And our fave reading spot in the Bard's Cove cabin we stayed in on colder nights...
And one of my fave things about Lake Country--the parallel lines and patterns
between water and sky.


Aug 9, 2014

Telling Their Stories

It never ceases to amaze me how these groups come together in their own unique way, summer after summer. Last week was my fourth experience teaching memoir to adults at Interlochen College of Creative Arts, and while each group is different there are some things that always remain the same: People are kind. People are brave. People surprise each other with their assumptions. People open up to new beliefs. People start to identify as writers. People take deep breaths at the end of the week, lift their gazes to the audience, and read out loud--sometimes for the first time in their lives.

Stories ranged from well-written anecdotes describing a scene from class, to pondering the suicide of a childhood friend, to the "travel years" of youth on a fishing boat. Participants considered siblings and parents, moves across the country, past loves and good, old fashioned, outside games played for hours as children. In all cases, they worked to employ descriptive and sensory detail, paying particular attention to the balance between scene, summary, and reflection. If a line-level or big-picture metaphor found its way into their work--as it frequently did--all the better.

One could almost write a recipe for our adventures: Take a sampling of strangers from across the country, put them in a room, shake them up with a lessons on literary technique, stir in some life stories, wrap them in a beautiful campus full of music and art, then cook for 5 days at a temperature slightly warmer than perfect.

Check in every once in a while to see if the juices are flowing, the words are crisping, and there's circulation through the major think-patterns in the brain.

Turn up the temperature a little more by setting the timer with a deadline.

Just before the deadline, sprinkle in some spices by allowing for critique from other writers as work is shared, reviewed, and revised.

When the timer goes off: cheer, smile, and celebrate. Enjoy a long, leisurely meal together. Toast the creative spirit! Find inspiration in the possibilities to come!

ICCA Memoir Class, Summer 2014