Who are the Writers in your Neighborhood?

Houghton, MI – my physical neighborhood

neigh·bor·hood/ˈnābərˌho͝od/ the area surrounding a particular place, person, or object.

Today I am thinking of neighborhood more like community; we tend to think of neighborhood as a physical place, and community as a group. With more of us spending so much time online while also being isolated from many of our physical neighbors, I think neighborhood has to become closer to community – possibly found online – just for the sake of our mental health.

At least I’m going to imagine it as such for the time being.

My writing neighborhood began when I was working on my MFA in writing.

The head of my writing program was John Smolens. When I was studying with John he had started a multi-book deal with Pegasus.

http://www.johnsmolens.com/books.html

John of course had writing friends, and he brought some of them to visit us, so that this small, somewhat isolated Michigan university became a literary hotbed for a while.

There was the son of his dear friend, Andre Dubus, who John affectionately called Little Andre. At that time, Andre had been featured on the Oprah show for his novel The House of Sand and Fog.

https://andredubus.com/

There was fellow Michigan writer Mitch Albom, who had recently released The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

https://www.mitchalbom.com/about/

Then there were the distinguished women.

Joyce Sutphen, poet laureate of Minnesota. She had recently released Coming Back to the Body, a deceptive book – thin and unimposing, but sweet, powerful, and aching moments all crowded the pages.

http://www.joycesutphen.com/

Joy Harjo, who I was so in awe of. At the time A Map to the Next World had recently been released and I felt like a little kid asking her to sign my copy.

https://www.joyharjo.com/

Jim Harrison stopped in and told us about his experience filming Legends of the Fall. He said Hollywood would pay well to screw you over. He recommended taking the money.

Neighbors, or just Community?

I follow several women writers who I feel are either neighbors or are neighbor adjacent. We belong to shared book clubs and I’ve chosen to support their independent bookstores. Okay, not really neighbors but potential writing acquaintances.

Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess. I started following Jenny’s blog way back. Her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened made me laugh-pee and almost cry. Her current book, Broken in the Best Possible Way; read near a restroom because you will laugh that hard, but have tissue because you’ll also cry.

https://www.facebook.com/jennythebloggess

Jenny’s Nowhere Bookshop is home to the Fantastic Strangling Book of The Month Club, with an array of books picked by Jenny, and discussed online through writing. Because this is a book club for people who may not be comfortable speaking to strangers.

My other virtual book club is Ann Patchett’s, headquartered in her independent Parnassus Books. In January 2022 we’re reading Ann’s book, These Precious Days. This book club has signed first editions, interviews with writers, and virtual discussion groups.

https://www.parnassusbooks.net/

Neighbors from the old Neighborhood

I have other writers in my neighborhood. Some are better known than others. My friend Marty Achatz was in the same writing program I was in with John Smolens. Marty has been Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, twice, has a book of poems, and has been blogging for about 12 years. Marty is a gifted writer and performer and he deserves a bigger stage.

http://saintmarty-marty.blogspot.com/

Then there’s my friend from grad school (PhD) who has worked her a** off to get the success she has. So much talent, so much pain survived. Roxane Gay is an amazing human and I feel blessed to have spent time with her before the world discovered how incredible she is. I imagine it might have felt similar to have been one of the early listeners to the Beatles, before they’d left the neighborhood, but you just knew they were going to change the scene. Roxane is changing the scene. (And she has a book club!)

https://literati.com/book-clubs/roxane-gay/

Finally, I am developing entirely new writing neighborhoods through a craft writing group I belong to P2P (Pitch to Published), and a genre writing association, Sisters in Crime.

We are all surrounded by writing neighborhoods and can choose to join communities of folx who share our interests. If you are a writer, you should be a reader, a supporter of your fellow writers. I challenge you to pause for a few minutes and think, who are some of the great writers you already know? Who can you tune into (writers are enjoying podcasting), who can you welcome to your neighborhood?

Writers at Work

I recently saw a post from one of my favorite writers and people, Jenny Lawson, @TheBloggess. She was show-casing her canine friend Dorothy Barker in a snood and sweater. https://twitter.com/TheBloggess/status/1481732100034281478?s=20

I was thus reminded of this incident with my own friend, Vinnie.

Vinnie, a senior black and tan Chihuahua possibly Min Pin mix, sporting a
Babe the Blue Ox Snood and white sweater, @zoosnoods, #zoosnoods

Vinnie is my adopted, senior Chihuahua, who can be cold on the sunniest day. I wanted to help him be more comfortable.

My attempts to help him – and in no way put off the work of writing – started something like this.

I knew Vinnie would like a sweater!
(Chihuahua in white sweater, sticking his tongue out.)

But he doesn’t have much hair on his head, and snoods are pretty adorable.

Vinnie joyfully trying on his snood headgear

Cute sweater.

Cute snood.

Of course they beg to be put together!

Full ensemble @zoosnoods, #zoosnoods

And lest people worry that he is confined to just one, white sweater . . .

Vinnie in his golden sweater
Christmas sweater from aunty Heather

And the look of delight that accompanies wearing a sweater with glitter balls on it

Is this an attempt to put off writing?

Is this another form of creativity?

Do animals look so cute dressed in clothes that it is inevitable that someone, somewhere, is this very moment putting pants on a chicken, or a sweater on a turtle? I just think we all need more cheer, more smiles, and looking at pictures of animals helps some of us get there.

If you’re a writer, feeling a little stuck, ask yourself when was the last time you took a break and looked at something that made you smile?

Vinnie, fashion icon, combining snood with Christmas sweater

Such dashing fashion sense. Yet, time to step away from the little dog for a while with our sweater collection, and return to our writing.

Adventure story Andrew Dubus III Ann Patchett Antoine Wilson autism belief Camelot Christmas Christy Oslund disability disability services disability studies dog adoption faith garden God historical Houghton MI Jenny Lawson John Smolens Joyce Sutphen Joy Harjo Lauren Groff Le Morte d'Arthur Magic Tree House Martin Achatz Mary Pope Osborne Matrix: A Novel Merlin Missions Middle Grade Mitch Albom Mouth to Mouth murder mystery narrative P2P photography resolve Roxane Gay Sir Thomas Malory Sisters in Crime suspense The Five People you Meet in Heaven The Stranger in the Lifeboat Writing

Dr. Christy Oslund: Introduction

As a dyslexic, autistic etc. who wasn’t diagnosed until after graduate school, I’m owning that doctorate; it took a wicked large amount of work, pain, and perseverance. It is possible to overcome tremendous odds to reach a goal, something I like the young people I mentor and teach to remember. Some things are impossible – others are just really, really difficult.

I began writing as a child first and foremost to communicate. Language was often difficult and seldom captured what I was trying to say. I started by writing notes for my mother and leaving them on her bed, trying to explain things that had happened during the day. Then I wrote some stories, to imagine a world where things that I wanted to happen, did happen, even if they only happened for other people. Finally, I began to write books.

From the summer garden

My non-fiction was the first that was published and was directly related to what I live and breathe for my livelihood: disability support, services, and studies.

Succeeding as a Student with a Disability: https://us.jkp.com/products/succeeding-as-a-student-in-the-stem-fields-with-an-invisible-disability?_pos=2&_sid=f54ae7c3c&_ss=r

Supporting College and University Students with Disabilities: https://us.jkp.com/products/supporting-college-and-university-students-with-invisible-disabilities?_pos=1&_sid=f54ae7c3c&_ss=r

Disability Services and Disability Studies in Higher Ed: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1057/9781137502445

While I continued to write fiction off and on for family and friends, three strokes in a year put a damper on my writing for a while. After a couple of years of recovery, I went back to writing, gradually increasing the length of my projects. Then covid hit.

That’s when I decided to start killing people.

Houghton, Michigan. Remote. Isolated. Home to a fantastic STEM research university. A good place to off-victims, while continuing to work my day job.

And so I began writing what I am tentatively calling my Copper Country Mystery Series. Eventually, my investigators will have to branch out and investigate crime in other areas of Michigan and probably the northern-midwest. But we’re always going to come back to solve crime in the area we love.

I have a growing list of ways to do people in but if you have a location that you think is perfect for a crime, or a way of doing someone in that you’ve always wanted to see explored, or a thinly disguised person you’d like to see at least fictionally get theirs, please pass it on!

Adopted by a writer: talk about a reason to kill