Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

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A Conversation Among Friends: The Writing Life

Anne Hillerman, Jann Arrington-Wolcott, Dawn Wink, Lesley Poling-Kempes, Lucy Moore

Anne Hillerman, Jann Arrington-Wolcott, Dawn Wink, Lesley Poling-Kempes, Lucy Moore

Rising Moon Gallery and Art Center

Rising Moon Gallery and Art Center

So much of a writer’s life is spent in solitude, a condition we crave. Solitude is our oxygen, our life’s breath, the lifeline upon which our work (and rare sense of sanity) depends. So, what happens when you bring a group of writers who crave solitude together? Yesterday this meant friendship, community, thoughts on writing and life—and large doses of irreverence and laughter. 

Preparing for the our conversation

Preparing for the our conversation

Okay, so we’re not a random group of writers. Anne Hillerman, Jann Arrington-Walcott, Lesley Poling-Kempes, Lucy Moore, and me—along with our literary agent Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli and literary conference organizer extraordinaire Jean Schaumburg, are dear friends with deep roots and frequent gatherings of the self-named Literary Ladies of Santa Fe. We meet throughout the year to celebrate birthdays, friendship, conferences, and any other event which gives us an excuse to get together. Yesterday, we gathered together for “A Conversation Among Friends: The Writing Life” at the Rising Moon Gallery in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Our hosts, Jaye Buros and Peggy Thompson, have created a treasure in the high desert, a space filled with textures, art, blown glass, books, color, music, and lovers of literature. This space is a feast for any writer’s or artist’s senses and spirit. 

Ghost Ranch ©Katie Hawkes

Ghost Ranch ©Katie Hawkes

Abiquiu, New Mexico was home to artist Georgia O’Keeffe, whose spirit lives on in an extraordinary community of writers, artists, readers, and lovers of all creative. As we prepared for the introductions, Lesley reviewed our bios with each of us for our introductions. “Whatever you don’t know, just make it up,” I said.

“Yes, we could say that you spent a year living in Malaysia…” she said, “with a sheik!” This is now forever a line in my official biography. 

We dove into a couple of hours of talking, laughing, and wrestling with the beauty, challenges, and reality of the writing life. Because of our combined experiences and the different chapters in which we find ourselves in our writing lives, our conversation highlighted the the variety of paths—and how those paths weave together to create a reflection of a whole. Here is some of the essence of our conversation.

Lucy Moore, Dawn Wink, Anne Hillerman, Jann Arrington-Wolcott

Lucy Moore, Dawn Wink, Anne Hillerman, Jann Arrington-Wolcott

386167.rockwithwings-hc-cAnne Hillerman: Much to Anne’s surprise, she decided to carry forward her dad’s literary legacy in fiction. “I loved my career as a non-fiction writer and really didn’t think I’d move into fiction. Then, after Dad died and people asked if he had any last novel or work and I told them that he did not, I just saw the sadness in their eyes. I decided to continue the story, but to bring Bernie Manuelito, who had always been a side-kick bringing the guys coffee, into the foreground and give her the attention and voice she deserved. As far as making time to write, no matter what the circumstances, life is full of juicy distractions for writers…kids, jobs, partners, friends, concerts, beaches to explore, mountains to hike, books to read, research to pursue and more. If you want to write you have to make it a priority in your life. Otherwise it just doesn’t get done. I try to walk a lot in the mornings. When I walk, those tangled knots in the plot or things I’m wondering about the story seem to fall into place.”

Ladies of the CanyonsLesley Poling-Kempes: “I would just say DO IT with writing. Find support group, set a schedule that is doable, follow your dream/passion with intention, and understand the process is personal YET everyone, even experienced writers, have moments of doubt. Do it your own way. And find support. I enjoy writing both fiction and non-fiction. The research for fiction is fascinating and I enjoy the structure of a non-fiction book. I love the imaginative journey of writing fiction, when really there are really no limits and you create the story. I crave time alone. Even within my hermitage, I am a hermit. Along with that, belonging to a writing community is truly remarkable, affirming. My writing life involves both. I spend most days alone, writing for hours. I also hold a writing workshop here at the Rising Moon Gallery. Each of these parts of my writing life enriches the other.” 

common-ground-book-200x300Lucy Moore: “It’s all about the story — whether the story is from your life experience, or made up out of your head. If it’s a compelling story, one with drama, personalities, maybe lessons, and touches my heart in some way, I want to write it. I find plenty of these stories in my work as a mediator, where people are at their best and/or worst in conflict. I make time to write when it bubbles up in me, often after mulling and musing for awhile as I go about my life. There comes a point, and the pressure cooker pops its lid, and I am writing! maybe for hours at a time, often late into the night. If it’s not fun, I don’t write. I don’t have a schedule. I don’t sit and wonder what I’m going to write. The only question is can I get it down fast enough before it evaporates!? What I usually write are vignettes from my life or work, stories I have heard from someone else about an incredible happening of some kind, turning point, etc. I chose memoir over fiction because I wanted the story to be mine. I wanted to own it and grapple with it, and I wanted the reader to see me doing that. I also wanted to offer an example of opening up your heart and soul and spilling it on the page, hopefully not too messily, to encourage others to do the same, or to think about themselves and their own life-adventures.I don’t like to revise. I love what comes out, straight from the heart. I value that first burst as something authentic, and sometimes I feel that revising takes the “life” out of it…..or maybe I”m just lazy!”

Deathmark_coverJann Arrington-Wolcott: “I didn’t start writing until after 40-years-old. I was busy writing for magazines and raising five kids! I’m glad I didn’t start writing any younger. I needed to live and with the years and experiences, I had so much more to write about. For my latest book, I discovered how fun research can be. I knew I needed someone wildly inappropriate as a love interest for the main character. I was in San Francisco at the time, reading the paper, and found myself reading these advertisements for escorts. That’s my love interest! I called the company and explained that I was a writer, a wife, a mother, and grandmother, I was doing research for a book and wanted to make an appointment with an escort. ‘I just want to talk and do research for a character,’ I told him. ‘Lady,’ the man on the other end of the phone said, ‘I don’t care what you do, but you’re paying by the hour!’ The characters of my books tell me what they’re doing and what is going to happen next. I have a somewhat obsessive personality, which works well for a writer! If I could offer advice to my younger self, I would say: “Stop being such a people pleaser. Believe in yourself. Guard and follow your enthusiasm.”

untitledDawn Wink: “I decided to be a writer when I had three kids, ages three and under. It seemed like a good idea at the time! My writing fits into the nooks and crannies of a busy family and professional life. Most of my writing happens between 4:00-6:00 am. After that, my day belongs to family and work. I’ve learned to trust my body’s natural biorhythms when it comes to writing. I am an early morning person. I light candles and oil lanterns and write during that time. I used to feel guilty about not writing late into the night when the kids slept, I felt I was losing precious time. I now know that it’s far more productive for me to just go to bed, let my mind and body rest, so that I’m ready to awake early in the morning and return to the work of writing. The initial writing process for me is initially highly intuitive. I cluster ideas, for essays, chapters, books. I trust whatever path the clustering takes me during that stage, no matter how wild it seems at the time. I love clustering, because writing is always somewhat of an adventure at this stage, I’m never quite sure what might unfold. Clustering has resulted in some amazing surprises that I never would have stumbled upon otherwise. Really? That’s what’s going to happen? Who knew? Eventually within the clustering, a linear organization of what’s meant to be written takes shape. I write whatever comes for the first draft. Only after that initial intuitive process, do I start to revise, which then feels like a sculpting of the work, a paring away of the excess to highlight the essence of story.”

Conversation 2

Dawn and LesleyOur literary agent, Liz, wrote this of our time together, which offers other insights into the writing life:

“Because each of you is a strong individual, you all had different things to say and you were generous in sharing personal insights/bugaboos/difficulties – it was truly an open-hearted forum. The writers and artists in the audience responded to your answers as they did because they could tell you were being totally upfront and honest. There was never a false moment or a sense that you were performing. You were intent on sharing your own experiences – from the trials and tribulations of trying to write in the midst of child-rearing, home-tending and feeding of family mouths and souls, going to work at jobs to provide sustenance for your families, all the way to being over all of that and still trying to find the right rhythm of writing and all the rest of what makes up your lives.

I like that each of you had a different approach to that so that the audience got the message: there is no one RIGHT WAY to approach the difficult task of writing; you simply must do it according to what works best for you.”

We all agree whole-heartedly—there is no one RIGHT WAY in the writing life. Life IS full of juicy distractions for writers. Create your own path.

Whatever the path, just write. 

Moon over Abiqiui

Moon over Abiqiui




Tony Hillerman Writers Conference 2015

Dawn Wink, Jann Arrington-Wolcott, Anne Hillerman, Jean Schaumberg

I am over the moon to be included again in this year’s Tony Hillerman Writers Conference. Wordharvest  just sent out this update about the conference. I’m so glad to share with you. We hope you will join us at the conference!

Tony Hillerman Writers Conference MCs

We are delighted to introduce the two fabulous women who will share MC duties with Anne Hillerman this year. 

Dawn Wink and Jann Arrington-Wolcott have a long association with the
Tony Hillerman Writers Conference and we are delighted that they will join us in November.

Dawn Wink is a writer and educator whose work explores the beauty and tensions of place, culture, and language. She is Director and Associate Professor of the Department of Education at Santa Fe Community College. Her books include Teaching Passionately; Raven’s Time; Wild Waters; and Meadowlark: A Novel, inspired by the stories that her mother told about her great-grandmother who lived on a ranch in South Dakota. Dawn was MC for last year’s New Book/New Author Breakfast. Her next book, Love Stones, will be published in early 2016.

Jann Arrington-Wolcott is a third-generation New Mexican. Her colorful family tree includes a frontier sheriff grandfather, a Harvey Girl grandmother, a native American great-grandmother, a Methodist minister great-grandfather, and “an assortment of horse-thieves and train-robbers—a great mix of sinners and saints.” Jann is the author of the thriller Brujo, and an award-winning coffee table book, Christmas Celebration: Santa Fe Traditions, Crafts, and Foods. Her long-awaited thriller, Deathmark, made its debut in 2014. Eye of the Raven, the revision of, Brujo, is scheduled for a November 2015 release.

Visit www.wordharvest.com and register for the
2015 Tony Hillerman Writers Conference.

We hope to see you there.

Anne and Jean

Conference Tips

DRESS SUGGESTIONS: Dress casually and be comfortable. Wear your jeans if you want to. We will. You might want to have a light jacket or sweater while sitting in the sessions. Conference room temperatures vary. Bring something business dressy for the Saturday banquet.

WEATHER IN NOVEMBER: Winter weather will be settling in but days are normally sunny and clear. Nights can be cold. Dress in layers when you go out. Santa Fe is at an altitude of 7,000 feet. If you are not used to the high altitude give yourself time to acclimate. Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated and be mindful of alcohol consumption. It will get to you much quicker than at lower altitudes.

We look forward to seeing you at the 2015 Tony Hillerman Writers Conference
November 5 – 7 – Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza, 100 Sandoval Street


Anne Hillerman on Writing and Her Dad, Tony Hillerman

Anne Hillerman surrounded by Fiction Writers

Anne Hillerman surrounded by Fiction Writers

My Fiction Writing class was blessed last week to share our time with Anne Hillerman. Anne talked about her own literary life, and her father, best-selling mystery writer, Tony Hillerman. Author of eight books, Anne’s latest work, Spider Woman’s Daughter follows the adventures of Joe Leaphorn, Jim Chee, and Bernadette Manuelito as they track a would-be cop killer, travel to Chaco Canyon on the trail of a murderer, and discover intrigue in the world of ancient Indian art and artifacts.

You can understand why we were all thrilled to share our time together. With incredible warmth, insight, and humor, Anne shared some of the lens through which she experiences her literary world.

Spider Woman's Daughter

Spider Woman’s Daughter

Anne began by reading two scenes involving the same character, Bernadette Manuelito – one from her father’s The Sinister Pig and another scene from her Spider Woman’s Daughter. The difference in Bernadette’s response and experiences highlights one of the aspects Anne found rewarding about writing this novel, “What was fun about writing Spider Woman’s Daughter is these two characters, Bernie and Jim, who had always been in Joe’s shadow, now step fully into their own right. Rather than side-kicks, they are multi-dimensional characters who bring out whole other potential in the series and stories.”

Anne shared more about her dad’s relationship with Native Americans.

“My dad had a special relationship with the Native American people. He grew up in a small town in Oklahoma and his family was one of the few Catholic families in town. Those boys were allowed to go to an all-girls Native American Catholic school. This experience had a profound influence on him. He was the only non-Indian and the only boy. As a non-Indian and one of the few boys, it taught him what it was like to be different. He later said that his classmates would forgive him for not being an Indian, but not for being a boy. He served in WWII and watched the different treatment that the Native American veterans received from their tribes when they came home. We didn’t have the language for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome back then and overall, it was expected that veterans take care of this themselves. Dad watched as tribes received the young men and tried to bring them back into balance, into wholeness, the Navajo idea of  hózhǫ́ beauty, harmony, and interconnectedness with the natural world. He won lots of awards, but he said the one that meant the most to him was the Navajo Tribe’s Special Friends of the Dineh Award.

The land was such a part of my dad’s books. Often, reviewers would be negative about scenes where all of this action was happening and we were about ready to catch the killer and then—everybody had to watch the sunset. These were always reviewers from New York City or Boston or somewhere in the East Coast, places where they couldn’t imagine our skies and our sunsets that literally stop you in your tracks.”

Anne Hillerman

Anne Hillerman

What is your writing schedule? asked a student.

“I have a golden retriver, and she is my alarm clock. First thing in the morning, we walk and then come home and I have a cup of coffee with my husband, Don. I start writing at 9:00 and I try to write until noon. Even if it’s awful. I try to keep the that morning time sacred. If things are going well, I will try to work well. It’s especially important if things aren’t going well, to be in the presence of those characters where something can happen.

Do you do very much research, and if so, what are your methods?

I love research. Sometimes it is so much easier than writing. It’s so easy to be distracted. I am writing the next book and in the part that I’m working on now something bad has happened and they found a necklace. I start to research silver smiths of Navajo silver and then I get pulled into reading about Turkish silver and before I know it, I’m deep into the history of the Ottoman Empire. When there is something that I need to research, I highlight it and leave it alone to keep writing. Then, on those days when things are not going well, I go back to it. The internet is great, but I find there is a lot more juice in actually talking with people. Research is good, but it’s just so tempting. I try to stick with the story and find where the holes are and stick with those.

Could you go over your revising process?

Actually, I love revising. When I start, I re-read the previous two pages. I learned from my dad that the first chapter always changed, as the story evolved, things changed. So, I try to to get stuck on that first chapters. Some people spend twenty years on the first chapter! Just write it and keep going. When I’m done with a piece, I share it with my writing partners, other professional writers who can tell me the truth. They can say, “What were you thinking?” or “You’ve got it.” Each writer has their own quirks. They don’t focus on that. My writing partners focus, for example, on a character who is not fully-developed. Even bad characters need to have something about them that we can connect with somehow. Then, I let it sit for six weeks. And that is so hard! It’s worth it when I go back to it, though, as now I can tell where the writing works and where it is soft.

My dad did a lot of writing in his head. He knew the start he knew the end, he knew the main points. He would think about it a lot, and then sit in front of his typewriter and write what he heard. He would sit playing spider solitaire. Mom would say to me, “Don’t bother your dad, he’s working.” The part of his brain involved in the details of solitaire, playing with plot.

Anne Hillerman, SFCC, Fiction Writing

Anne Hillerman, SFCC, Fiction Writing

In terms of your own writing, what was it like living with a writer, your dad? 

We moved to Santa Fe when I was a young child. When I remember our conversations at the dinner table, it had to do with what he was reading or what my mom was reading, that words are important. He was a journalist then and didn’t have much time. Even though he didn’t have a lot of time, he was already working on his first novel The Blessing Way. I was always interested in writing, but because my dad was so successful, I was determined not to go into the same field. So I took many classes at the University of New Mexico and I had loads credits in all kinds of areas, and I finally needed to decide what was going to be my major. At that point, I decided that even though my dad was a writer, writing is what I really loved to do and I decided to study journalism. Journalism, so I can make a living as a writer. It gives you an excuse to learn about a lot of other things.

Do you enjoy reading what you’ve written?

If it’s good! Sometimes I’m really surprised, and sometimes I just want to crawl in a hole.

What surprised you about writing Spider Woman’s Daughter?

The humor. I didn’t realize this book would have so much humor.

How do you push through those bad writing days?

It’s a special product called butt glue. I tell myself that what I’m writing are only impulses on the screen. It’s only words. I just have to do it. One thing journalism teaches you, you can’t wait for inspiration.

Please tell us more about the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference.

Faculty Badge

Faculty Badge

The Tony Hillerman Writers Conference happens this year November 7-9, 2013. The conference celebrates both the art and craft of writing, as well as all that goes with a publishing life. There will be editors, publishers, and agents. One of the highlights is Friday evening’s “Writing with the Stars.” Writers submit the first page of their manuscripts and an author and agent read on-the-spot and share their thoughts. Dawn will be there presenting.

(Yes, I will. I’m presenting, “Will this Book Ever be Published?” I’m thrilled to contribute to the conference. I may make a pin out of this faculty badge and wear it as a brooch.)

A final question, Do Joe Leaphorn and Bernadette Manuelito stop to watch the sunsets?

Yes, they do.

~ ~ ~

As someone who loves Southwestern sunsets, I breathe a sigh of relief. Thank you, Anne, for taking the time to share your insight, experiences, wisdom, and spirit. A blessed day for us all.

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