Tag Archives: Clover: A Literary Rag

Coen-Esque, You Betcha!

“A little less Fargo and a little more Raising Arizona,” an editor wrote to me once about a story in which I’d killed off one of the characters.

The old church I used as a model for the "old Lutheran Church" in the story "Dearest" was torn down long ago. This is the Catholic Church in Bruneau I grew up attending, although I also went to Sunday School at the Protestant Church up the street, since they had way better music and cookies.

The old church I used as a model for the “old Lutheran Church” in the story “Dearest” was torn down long ago. This is the Catholic Church in Bruneau, Idaho, I grew up attending, although I also went to Sunday School at the Protestant Church up the street, since they had way better music and cookies. It was fun to conceive this story in Bruneau and then pick it up and move it to Moorhead, Minnesota. I moved it back and forth a couple times and finally decided that Moorhead in Clay County worked the best for the story purpose.

First the editor buttered me up by saying that my story reminded him a bit of the Coen Brothers.

I was ready to put on hot pink lipstick just at the thought of my work reminding anyone of those guys, whose work I highly admire.

The film analogy was an especially apt one in this case, where I’d veered the story in too dark a direction for its overall tone. That comment stuck with me and has been a reminder of my tendency to write dark endings, whether or not they’re the right one for the story. The dead character was brought back to life in the aforementioned story, and the story was better for it.

But I keep having to learn the lesson over and over again with each new story. Recently, the Dogpatch reviewed a story of mine, which is due out this month in Clover: A Literary Rag, the gorgeous letterpress magazine published by the Independent Writers’ Studio.

In the small town in which I grew up, there was a guy we kids were afraid of for no justifiable reason I’ve ever known. My friend Cynda and I would ride our bikes really fast past his house on the way to school. That became the seed of the story “Dearest,” which started as my way to understand why we kids needed a monster to be afraid of, and why it was also fun to be afraid.

The Bruneau Canal in Idaho, where I originally imagined the character in the story would walk. I swapped it for the Red River that separates North Dakota and Minnesota, as a more believable place for the character to lose her money in the wind.

The Bruneau Canal in Idaho, where I originally imagined the character in the story “Dearest” would walk singing a tune about two cowboys who meet the devil. I swapped it for the Red River that separates North Dakota and Minnesota, as a more believable place for the character to lose something she couldn’t retrieve by jumping into the water. It was hard to lose the Bruneau Canal, since I grew up playing alongside it and swimming in it, but the expanse of water needed to be wider and faster moving for the scene to work.

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An Evening at the Independent Writers’ Studio

Clover BuildingIn 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.

Mary Elizabeth Gillilan

Mary Elizabeth Gillilan, founder of the Independent Writers’ Studio and Editor-In-Chief of Clover: A Literary Rag.

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.

Clover Winter 2013

Clover Volume 6: Winter 2013, published by The Independent Writers’ Studio

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! Continue reading

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