In downtown Bellingham WA, on bustling Holly Street between Cornwall and Bay Street, you will find the Clover Building—whose ground level houses a bridal shop and a printing shop. If you’re a writer, you must grow immediately bold and enter, because inside, amidst an array of private offices, counseling rooms, even an ayurvedic wellness center, you will find the Independent Writers’ Studio, a third-floor haven for writers of all sorts with one thing in common: they come to the Studio to study and write with Mary Elizabeth Gillilan.
Most Monday afternoons and Wednesday evenings, and many other times, you’ll head up the tall flight of stairs (or you can hop into the elevator) to find Mary in her white chair, book in hand, or at work at the large polished-wood table that doubles as her desk and a gathering place for writers.
The author of Tibet, a novel in journal form, and garnering awards for her writing and editing—including a Governor’s award for editing a history of Washington State—Mary has been leading writing groups for more than thirty years. At the I.W.S. gatherings, she gently and quietly guides both emerging and seasoned writers in their craft, offering advice for how to hone a line or bring a character’s motivation into focus.
This night was my second visit to the Studio and my first time at an I.W.S. night. By the way, your initial visit is free and if you decide to continue (as I know I want to!), there’s a modest fee for a month of workshops that now occur Mondays and Wednesdays. And London bus–style, you can jump on or off when it suits you and your writing, although the writers I met at this visit were all long-time habitual attendees. After a timed writing to some optional prompts, on the lineup this evening was a coming of age story set in Alaska and a tale about a pair of high school sleuths. As the newbie, I was invited to read my pages, too, so that added some cheap sex in a car. You know that high you get from coming together with other writers and sharing and discussing your work? So I’ll just say, great high!
Mary is also the editor-in-chief of Bellingham’s literary darling, Clover: A Literary Rag. Now in it’s sixth bi-annual edition, Clover showcases an eclectic array of poetry and short fiction. Instantly recognizable for its letterpress cover, which renders the titles and authors of some of the stories and poems that appear in the issue, from its very first printing Clover became one of the magazines writers around here all know about and want to be in. Village Books—the large, beloved independent bookstore in Bellingham—now hosts Clover readings that have a great draw, and other publishers who read the magazine have requested to see work from its contributors.
While local writers are featured, and it’s always fun to look at the latest cover and see who you know, Mary, along with co-editor and printer Norman L. Green (who is also a published writer and originated the idea for Clover), encourage and give attention to submissions from near and far. If you’re hunting for a marvelous home for a story or poem, the next submission period starts in February 2014. Go here for submission info.
This may seem like a tit-for-tat post, since one of my stories appears in the Winter 2013 issue of Clover—and it is in a fashion. Not that offering to do a blog post got my story read, it was after the fact anyway, but rather that I feel each writer has an obligation and the opportunity to help spread the word about great lit mags and the wonderful editors who work so hard to give voices and homes to our stories and poems.
One of the things that impressed me right off about Mary is how gracious she is to authors and how careful she was with my words. An e-mail she sent me read: “I did have a question about the phrase ‘rather enjoyed lolling’—it sounded more refined than what precedes or comes after. What do you think?”
What do I think? I want to thank you a hundred times for reading my story that closely with an expert eye for voice and tone.
So I hope you’ll check out Clover and, if you’re ever in the area, also the Independent Writers Studio. They are two of the many good reasons writers love being in Bellingham.
Clover: A Literary Rag can be purchased online, at Village Books, and at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. Or you can cruise into the Clover Building and buy one off the rack from Mary herself. Not that she’s always there, but she’s there a lot working hard on behalf of writers!
xo Laurel Leigh