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Friday, February 25, 2011

mother words retreat, day 1

When I arrived at Faith’s Lodge yesterday afternoon, the ground was covered in fresh snow, the sky was that brilliant winter blue, and the sun was illuminating the Aspen trees exactly the way it did last year—as if their peeling bark had been engulfed in white flames.  I took one deep breath of cold fresh air after another.

When I got to my room, I turned on the fireplace, and then I took a few minutes to just sit in gratitude, appreciating the quiet beauty of this place.

This retreat is not really a retreat for me—I’m in charge, so I’m wearing my teacher and coordinator hats—but this year I’m also going to try to dip into my own writing, to steal a little time in front of the fireplace with my laptop (or rather D’s laptop—Thanks, Babe!). I, too, need to remember what it feels like to play with words, to write myself into discovery.

The women on the retreat are amazing, as they were last year, and when we meet and they read their words, I’m astounded not only by their vast abilities as writers, but their honesty and bravery.  What a gift to facilitate such an amazing group of writers.

I hope that by the end of the long weekend, everyone is rededicated to their writing, ready to move in new directions and approach their work with fresh eyes. I hope I’ll feel that way, as well. 

So now I’m off to the fireplace to steal a forty five minutes for myself.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

responses to memoir prompt

Head over to The Red Dress Club today and check out all the wonderful responses to the memoir prompt I provided last week. I'm in heavy-prep mode for the Mother Words Retreat, which starts this Thursday, but I'm going to try to read all of the responses by the end of the week. If you wrote a response to the prompt, don't forget to link it to The Red Dress Club!

Happy reading!

Friday, February 18, 2011

memoir prompt

I'm over at The Red Dress Club again today. I've provided their weekly memoir prompt. Check it out and feel free to link to your response on Tuesday. I'm going to read as many responses as I can.

Happy writing!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

two spots still available!

I've been spending the week prepping for my current Mother Words class (with a wonderful group of writers!) and my new prose revision class that starts at the Loft on Monday night. But I've also been reading and preparing for the Mother Words Retreat at Faith's Lodge, which is next weekend. I can't wait!

There are still two open spaces for the retreat and there's still time to sign up. Join us for a long weekend of writing and reading and talking about craft and the writing life. (There will also be plenty of time for sleeping and snow-shoeing and long walks in the woods and sitting in front of the fireplace.) The retreat kicks off with a wine reception on Thursday evening. 

For more information, check out my website. To register, contact Marquetta at Faith's Lodge at 612-825-2073 or

Don't miss this opportunity to connect with a wonderful group of mother writers and help raise money for Faith's Lodge.

Monday, February 14, 2011

the red dress club

Happy Valentine's Day, friends! D and I don't do much to celebrate--this year we decided to splurge and exchange cards--but the girls are beside themselves with excitement. We got them Valentine's pencils and chocolates and those musical cards (which they adore). This afternoon I'll brainstorm a festive chicken recipe (any ideas?) and maybe my dad will join us for dinner. Romantic, huh?

My Valentine's gift was the Star Tribune article in yesterday's paper and being asked to guest blog at The Red Dress Club. That's where I am today, discussing blogging and creative nonfiction. Check back on Friday--I'm also doing the weekly Red Dress Club memoir prompt this week.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Thank you to Julie Pfitzinger for the lovely profile and interview in the Star Tribune this morning. Thanks, Julie!

Monday, February 7, 2011

AWP recap

I always mean to do an extensive recap of my co-panelists’ presentations, but then the panel is over, and I’m so relieved to be done that it’s had for me to remember what was said. Okay, not really. I remember what everyone said. But this time it was more challenging to remember what I said because I was not only me—um, Kate Hopper—I was also the wonderfully talented Jill Christman. (And as I told the audience: I always wanted to be Jill, so it actually worked out really well.)

Jill and another panelist, Joe Mackall, were both stranded due to the severe storm that hit the Midwest last week. I was so disappointed not to hear their thoughts (from their own mouths), but luckily, I ran into my friend Kevin Fenton and he quickly and graciously agreed to join the panel at the last minute.

Our panel was "Flinging the Inkpot: Resisting Messages About Off-Limits Subjects in Memoir." First Jill (or me posing as Jill) wondered why so many memoirs are lumped together and discarded. In Jill’s words: “What is it with memoir?  Why is it that narrow marketing categories used by publishers, reviewers, and booksellers lead the industry to lump and dismiss entire categories of human experience? Memoirists shouldn’t talk about abuse, especially sexual abuse, or addiction (seriously, aren’t we better yet?), or sexuality (unless, you know, it’s really sexy); off limits, also, is any kind of dying grandparent (anybody we might expect to die), children (too cute, too precociously wise, too altogether plentiful), or parenting of any stripe.  This last scorned category spawned the flagrantly derivative sub-genre monikers ‘Momoir’ and the ‘Dad Lit’…”

Then the wonderful Sue William Silverman discussed the fact that memoirs written by women on “home front” subjects (child abuse, addiction, etc.) aren’t taken as seriously as books written by men focusing on foreign wars. Why, she asked, are male warriors heroes while women surviving domestic horrors are victims? (My sister, who slipped into for the presentation, had tears in her eyes after Sue’s talk.)

I (the real Kate) followed Sue, and I discussed how motherhood literature in particular is often discarded or seen as “less then.” I also talked about the necessity of staying true to not only your subject matter (whether it is one of these subjects that is deemed “not literary” or not), but also to your voice. I described how, when Ready for Air was first shopped around (before I rewrote the whole damn thing), I was told that the subject matter was too difficult, but that if the book was funnier, it might sell. (Blah.)

I also talked about the fact that though it was unlikely that the kind of categorization we were talking about on the panel was going to stop—because publishers want to put books into categories because they feel it will make marketing these book easier—I do think we can affect real change in this matter—slow as this change may be—as readers and reviewers.

Whenever I review motherhood literature (or any kind of literature) I’m always looking for the universals—I’m looking past the situation and searching out the real story, or as Vivian Gornick said, “the insight, the wisdom, the thing the writer has come to say.” And that lets me discuss a book not as a motherhood memoir, but simply as a memoir about longing or faith or fear—or any of the other universal themes I regularly find when I open a memoir having to do—in small or large part—with motherhood.

So, I said, we have a responsibility—in our classrooms, on our blogs, in our literary journals and magazines, and at our own dining room tables—to help break down the walls of these literary boxes and make room for the crafting of true literature.

I was followed by the wonderful Paul Lisicky, who talked about how shame—not obvious shame, but class shame, for instance—and the fear of looking foolish can enervate our thinking and writing. He talked about being at a panel himself and listening to Toi Derricotte talk about wanting to write a series of poems about her dead goldfish, but feeling embarrassed to write about her deceased fish. (You can read the paper from which Paul’s talk arose in Now Write! Nonfiction, edited by Sherry Ellis.)

And then Kevin stepped up and talked about the issues of categorizing and discarding groups of memoirs from the perspective of a marketer. (In addition to being a novelist and memoirist, he also is a marketing and advertising writer.) And his take was that most publishers don’t have a sense of who is really buying books. Fascinating. I wish you all could have been there. It was wonderful to see those of you who were there and who came up and said hello after the presentation. Thank you so much!

On Saturday morning, I was delighted to listen to a conversation with Richard Bausch. I love Bausch’s short stories, but I had no idea that he was such a character. He talked about how terrified he was years ago when he was at Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He was hilarious (dropping the f-bomb, telling jokes) and he was inspiring. Here are a couple of his nuggets of wisdom:

“Doubt is your talent. People who have no doubt usually don’t have much talent.”

“I’m writing for anyone who can read.”

“Don’t read books, read writers.”

“Good dialogue always does more than one thing. If your dialogue is doing only one thing, write it again.”

I had lovely dinners with my sister and wonderful lunches with friends, and then yesterday, I was ready to be home with D and my girls. And after an uneventful plane ride, I was. The girls had decorated my office and drawn me pictures, and D had cleaned the house—thank you!—and as always, it was lovely to be home.

Think about attending this conference next year (in Chicago) or in 2013 (in Boston), or if you want to hold out until 2015, it will be in Minneapolis!

Friday, February 4, 2011

reporting from AWP

If you have never been to AWP, you should go at least once. The panels and readings are wonderful, of course, but also, there is just nothing like being surrounded by thousands of writers all at once. It’s overwhelming, but in a good way.

Yesterday I was able to have lunch with the wonderful Caroline Grant, editor-in-chief of Literary Mama, and the stunning Bonnie Rough, author of Carrier. And then I attended three really good panels: Representing the Erotic in Literary Fiction; The Art and Authenticity of Social Media: Using Online Tools to Grow a Community; and Delinquents, Desperados, and Drama Queens: Managing Unusual Personalities and Unexpected Situations in the Creative Nonfiction Classroom.

I took something away from each of these panels, and was especially interested (as a new tweeter) in the ways the writers on the social media panel used Twitter and Facebook and other online forums to grow their writing communities. Bethanne Patrick (thebookmaven and founder of #fridayreads on Twitter) was one of the panelists, and she (along with the other panelists) had a lot of wonderful things to say about how you can use Twitter to support and help the other writers in your community. I’m sold. I’m there.

And from the panel about managing classrooms, I loved what Hope Edelman said: “We learn from every class we teach.” I think it’s so true. I learn so much from my students—not only about how to be a better teacher, but how to be a better writer and mother.
This morning I’m taking it easy and prepping for my panel, which is this afternoon. That will be followed by a drink with one of my wonderful online Mother Words students, and then dinner with my sister, who is taking good care of me.

I wish I could attend all the panels I’m interested in, but there are simply too many. But I’ll report back tomorrow with an another update. (If I had a smart phone I could be tweeting the conference, as well, but that will have to wait until the next AWP.)