Happy April to YWW!


Author Quote of the Month: It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly. ~C.J. Cherryh~

Writing Prompt of the Month: How can you tell when someone your age is feeling insecure? Are most people more insecure or anxious than they let on?

Writing Advice for April: As Kandinsky says, “Everything starts with a dot.” Sometimes the hardest thing in writing a story is where to start. You don’t need to have a great idea, you just have to put pen to paper. Start with a bad idea, start with the wrong direction, start with a character you don’t like, something positive will come out of it.

– Marion Deuchars, illustrator and author of Let’s Make Some Great Art


Five Books That Changed My Life

Stephanie Raffelock, Director Youth Programming, Willamette Writers

Books teach us about who and how we are in the world. They speak to our loftiest ideals and our darkest shadows. Books reveal humanity’s path. Those that become our favorites have awakened in us some aspect of our self that was previously unknown. Books have the power to transform us. Here are five books that changed my life, each of them in their own way. As you read down the list, think about what books have transformed your life.

Journal of a Solitude, by May Sarton (1973). I became aware of May Sarton when I was in my early thirties and had started a daily journal. Sarton’s book, Journal of a Solitude dealt in part with her depression and it was soothing balm for my troubled spirit that was grappling with life. Suddenly, Sarton’s voice was my own. I had never read a woman who wrote so authentically, who wasn’t afraid to be angry or sad. This was a departure from the women in my world who kept such emotions locked away and secret. In this book, I found permission to be authentic and I began writing down the truth in my notebooks without apology.

The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale (1952) Long before there was Oprah or Wayne Dyer, there was Norman Vincent Peale, a minister who was among the first pioneers in the yet un-named arena of positive psychology. He wrote about positive attitude with biblical underpinnings. He struck a nerve within the culture, yet ministers and psychologists alike thought he was a quack. This book was a jumping off point that set me on a path and taught me a way to work with my mental atmosphere. One of the greatest things that I learned from Peale is that gratitude and “thank you” is what reinvigorates my joy, daily.

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg (1988) To this day, I buy every book that Goldberg writes. I was a creative writing student at her alma mater, Naropa University, and her book was required reading. For years I did what she calls writing practice. This was the book that taught me that everything in life is subject matter for writing. She influenced my first blog, igniting a sense of inspiration and purposefulness. Because of my relationship with Writing Down the Bones, I knew unequivocally that I was born to write.

East of Eden, John Steinbeck (1952) An ambitious work beyond what I can even imagine as a writer, I didn’t know that it was based on the Cain and Abel story in the fourth chapter of Genesis until after I’d read it—The multi-dimensional, heavily nuanced characters came alive for me as I followed them through the Salinas valley in California. By the time I’d finished reading the novel, I felt that I’d been in the presence of greatness. Steinbeck would claim in an interview that the book “ . . . has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years. I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense a practice for this.” Steinbeck, for me, will forever be the lofty ideal to which I aspire.

Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks (2011) Larry Brooks changed my life and the life of every wanna-be novelist in America when he set forth the structure that makes for good story telling within the long-form format. Dog-eared and underlined within an inch of its life, I refer to this book often and always heartily recommend it to those who tell me that they want to write a novel. Brooks’ work is a testament to the intricacies of craft and those who adhere to its principles see results far beyond what any muse will ever bring.

While books can entertain us, they can do so much more than that. They help us to find deeper meaning in our lives, reveal the mysteries of human heart and make us ponder the human condition. Though I own a Kindle, there is still nothing like holding a book in my hands. They are like old friends who know my heart, just as I know theirs.

Each new generation claims their favorite authors. What books have changed your life? Please share in the comments.


Submissions Wanted: We are getting close to the end of the school year and now is the time to submit a short story, article or essay to the chapter chairperson in your area. (For Portland that’s Teresa Klepinger and for Southern Oregon it’s Heather Ransom) These pieces will go into our yearly Young Willamette Writers Journal and be available at the Writers Conference in August.

Until next time, write on . . .

Stephanie Raffelock

Stephanie Raffelock is a novelist and a blogger. In her Sixty and Me column, she explores writing, living fully and loving well. She is a regular contributor to The Rogue Valley Messenger, and enjoys literary representation by Dystel, Goderich and Bouret in New York. You can find Stephanie at StephanieRaffelock.com or Tweet her @Sraffelock. What we create for the world, what it demands of us, is story. ~Robert McKee~