January was a good month along Thiel Creek in South Beach, Oregon, where the water comes down from coast range through the pine trees under Highway 101 and onto the beach on its path to the ocean between South Beach and Lost Creek state parks. The days were cold, some coated with ice, others soggy with rain, but the winds were kind, the sunrises and sunsets came in shades of red and pink and gold, and each day brought a few minutes more of daylight. Foolish tulips poked their heads out of the ground around the frozen frog, unable to wait another day.
Shortly after Christmas, the commercial crabbers went out to sea, dropping their nets and harvesting their clawful catches. Suddenly the calendar boasted crab feeds, crab cracks, and crab extravaganzas here there and everywhere. The locals enjoyed seeing the boat lights on the horizon at night and prayed for the safe return of their fishermen.
As the federal government pondered new gun control laws, a few locals decided to walk around on the beach and in town with rifles and pistols to prove that they could, causing passersby to take fright and call 911. But no bullets were fired, and no one was arrested. The sheriff declared they were simply exercising their second amendment rights. In the local paper, disagreements over guns drew almost as much heat as the battles over banning plastic bags and hauling logs down the Bay Road past the Embarcadero resort.
Meanwhile, the folks building the new Walgreens store at the corner of Highway 101 and Highway 20 finally started moving dirt around and building what looks like the beginning of a foundation. Hallelujah. And ODOT decided to keep trying to rebuild Highway 20 to straighten out the curves, despite problems with landslides and tons of money flowing down the Yaquina River. This has been going on almost since the last century. Someday, they say, the road will be straighter and the drive to Corvallis 15 minutes shorter. We’ll believe it when we see it.
We had our usual quota of births, deaths, and marriages. Businesses opened, businesses closed. There’s an alleged music store next to Hoover’s Bar & Grill that appears to be full of instruments and sheet music but is never open. This is most frustrating to those of us for whom heaven is one giant music store, preferably next to a bookstore. It’s enough to drive someone to Hoover’s for a drink. Hoover’s is the one with the replica of the bridge over the roof.
Speaking of the bridge, now that it’s 75 years old and we just had a big birthday to-do and two new books written about it, Oregon officials are starting to talk about maybe replacing it someday because it’s getting too old. The say it can’t take the weight of the big trucks or the crowds that may someday need more than two skinny lanes hanging over the bay. Sigh.
As the month drew to a close, the church ladies from Sacred Heart met for their monthly lunch at Yuzen, the area’s only Japanese restaurant, where one frequently heard, “What is that?” and “Is that sushi?” They tried ginger tea and brown rice tea, then asked for Lipton’s. Many of the same ladies met again two days later for the annual tea to raise funds for the homeless shelter. They donned their mothers’ hats and gloves and spent two hours sampling teas and little sandwiches and sweets while listening to jazz and asking whether the tea was regular or decaf.
On the beach, the tides came in and out, the kids went off to school and came back in the big yellow buses, the parents went to work and came home, shopped, ate, slept, prayed and watched football and “The Bachelor” on TV while an aging writer sat in her bedroom office typing her own version of the news from Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon.
That’s the news from Thiel Creek, where all the men drive pickups, all the kids wear rain boots, all the women are crafty, and no house is complete without a big dog.
[Thanks to A Prairie Home Companion for inspiration on a rainy day]
Writer Aid: What Makes a Professional Writer?
Recently, someone implied that I wasn’t a professional writer because I’m not completely supporting myself with the money I make with my writing. I bristled at this because I am a professional writer, have been for 40 years. I write, get published and get paid for it. I have boxes of clips, a resume full of publishing credits, and six published books. I file a Schedule C on my tax return as a person running a writing business.
Can I pay all my bills with what I make writing? No. The only time I have ever done that was when I was working full-time as a newspaper staff writer or editor—and even then I didn’t make quite enough money to pay for everything I needed. Did that make me not a professional? No. I was an underpaid professional, but I was a professional.
It is hard for new writers to accept, but most writers cannot live off their writing income alone, despite what they see in the movies. Most of the writers I admire teach, edit or give talks. Some do ghostwriting or corporate writing. Some do work completely unrelated to writing, not a bad thing because it often clears the mind and feeds the muse. My “day job,” doing music for Sacred Heart Church, serves that purpose well.
I used to joke with my writing students that I was free to write because I had a “sugar daddy,” a husband who paid the mortgage with his job. I’d tell them: Don’t expect to make a living writing anytime soon. It takes time to build up a writing practice, to move from assignments that pay little or nothing to features in national publications that might actually pay the mortgage. A one thousand-dollar paycheck is pretty good for a piece of writing. But how long will that pay your bills? You’d have to do it again and again. A self-supporting freelancer spends way more than 40 hours a week marketing, networking, and yes, writing.
As for books, only a blessed few make the kind of gigantic advances that allow them to stop whatever they used to do and write full-time. It can happen to any of us if we work hard enough and get the right breaks, but as the saying goes, don’t quit your day job.
If we write all the time and our achievements are limited to a publication here and there, $50 here and $500 there, are we any less professional than the author of that bestseller who works less and makes more money? Not in my eyes.
My Webster’s dictionary offers several definitions for “professional.” One is “participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs.” Well, that pretty much says it. But that isn’t the first definition. The first says that a professional is someone who is “engaged in one of the learned professions, characterized by or conforming to the technical and ethical standards of a profession.” That doesn’t say anything about money. And how do they define a profession? “A principal calling, vocation, or employment.” I think that makes me—and maybe you—a professional writer. The important thing is what we do, not how much money we make.
I’ve been nose-to-the-grindstone on long-term writing projects this month, coming out to eat, sleep, walk the dog and play music at Sacred Heart. So I don’t have any big publications or news to report. I am still blogging at Childless by Marriage, Unleashed in Oregon, and sporadically at Writer Aid.
Oregon Coast Writing News
Writers on the Edge presents poet-dramatist Cindy Williams Gutierrez at the Nye Beach Writers series Saturday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. Admission is $6, students get in free. An open mic follows the guest author’s presentation.
Willamette Writers’ Coast branch continues its workshop series on the third Tuesday of the month, 7 p.m. at the Newport library. Guest speaker Julie Fast will lead a workshop on e-publishing. Admission is free and all are welcome.
Preparations are underway for the fifth annual Northwest Poets’ Concord, which will be held here in Newport, Oregon May 3-5. We’ll be offering workshops, readings, open mics, books and food all weekend, all for $60. There’s also a poetry contest and a chance to have a private consultation with one of your favorite poetry editors. This year for the first time, preregistration is required. Visit the website at poetsconcord.org for all the information.
March by Geraldine Brooks, Penguin Books, 2005. What a brilliant idea, and what a brilliant book. No wonder it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. March is the story of the father from the classic novel Little Women. In Little Women, the father went off to war and was gone throughout most of the story, returning at the very end. But what happened while he was gone? And who was he before he married Marmee? Here we follow John March as he joins the soldiers as a chaplain in the early days of the Civil War and is soon enveloped in the horrors of combat, cruel prejudice, illness and self-doubt. The story is at times harsh and bloody, the stuff of nightmares, but at other times, its beauty stuns the reader. I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful this book is. The characters are real, the writing elegant, and the plot rich with the realities of American history.
The Book of Women by Dorianne Laux, Red Dragonfly Press, 2012. This short book of poetry is delicious. If you think you don’t like poetry, try reading this. Most of the poems are word portraits of various women, each so detailed and real that by the last line, you know them inside and out. Look at this from “Waitress:” “Those days I barely had a pulse. The manager/had vodka for breakfast, the busboys hid behind/the bleach boxes from the immigration cops/and the head waitress took ten percent/of our tips and stuffed them in her pocket/with her cigarettes and lipstick. My feet/hurt. I balanced the meatloaf-laden trays./Even the tips of my fingers ached.” They’re all as tasty as that meatloaf. And if you want more, check out The Book of Men, one of her previous books. Laux is also co-author with Kim Addonizio of The Poet’s Companion, one of my favorite books about writing poetry.
Kidfree & Lovin’ It! by Kaye D. Walters, Serena Bay Publishing, 2012. This is yet another book glorifying the childfree life. It is extremely well done, full of solid information and great resources, including an extensive list of famous non-parents and lists of places for the childfree to find other childfree people. However, I had a hard time reading it. The overarching message of this book seems to be that only fools procreate. Having children is too expensive, messes up your careers and your relationships, and most important, you have to sacrifice your freedom. Certainly Walters offers a few words here and there noting that if you feel that parenting is right for you, then go for it. But those passages are overwhelmed by pages and pages of why parenting sucks and why children are undesirable. Also, if you and your mate disagree, then compromise is impossible; you have to break up. Apparently there is no room in this life for sacrifice or doing things for other people because you love them. If you are childless by choice, you will applaud this book. As I said at the beginning, it is well-written, well organized and full of facts. If you’re on the fence, you may decide after reading this that you don’t want children after all. But if you want children or wanted them and couldn’t have them, I’ll bet you won’t make it through the whole book.
Licking the Spoon: a Memoir of Food, Family and Identity by Candace Walsh, Seal Press, 2012. This book is two in one. You get recipes as well as a story. If you can get past the first 32 pages, which are overloaded with names and time-shifting, you’re in for a pleasant ride. Walsh offers an intriguing tale of her search for safe haven and identity. Is she straight or gay? Is she crazy or reacting appropriately to an abusive childhood? How can she reconcile her love of food with a secret eating disorder? How do you prepare a perfect osso bucco? Read and find out, then try some of the recipes for yourself.
February? Wasn’t it just Christmas? Ash Wednesday is Feb. 13. Both Easter and my birthday are next month. Times races along. Sometimes we can take charge of what happens. Sometimes all we can do is hold on and hope to survive. The good news is that if February turns out to be a bummer, at least it’s a short month, and it’s got President’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Groundhog Day. Soon buds will appear on the salmonberry bushes. My blue hydrangeas are still brown, and a few more storms lurk behind the clouds, but spring is surely coming.
Happy birthday this month to Pat B. and Jessie, happy anniversary to Mike and Sharon. Hugs to one and all.
All contents copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2013—Please do not republish any of this without giving me credit and including a link back to this newsletter. Remember, my brother is a lawyer.