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By Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

When you look back on your life, what will be the measure that it mattered? I used to think the answer had something to do with small people. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mother. It felt like my life’s purpose and I was impatient to get to it. But I also wanted to write.

I celebrated my 29th birthday at Hedgebrook with a garland of flowers picked from the gardens and a chocolate cake baked specially for the occasion by one of the gorgeous chefs. In the toilet room of Cedar cottage, days into my residency, I broke down in sobs. An empty bladder and two pink lines explained the nausea I’d had since my arrival. I was abuzz with mitosis.

Six weeks later I returned home with a draft of my first novel and three months pregnant.

That was decades ago – my 50th birthday jingles at the far edge of August. Little people are no longer little. In fact, they’ve all but left me. So what have 21 years since Hedgebrook taught me about what matters?

In those quiet days, in which lunch was delivered to my door, and dinner awaited me in the farmhouse, I learned an allegiance to my own creativity I’ve never lost (my tenth book Your Story: how to write it so others will want to read it is about to be released by Hay House). But I also recall the bookshelf in the loungeroom, packed with books written at least in part, at Hedgebrook. I thought then, ‘No-one can ever call you an oxygen-thief, Nancy.’

Though motherhood intervened for a while, I dedicated myself to my writing for thirteen years.

But in 2012, my 8th book, commissioned by one of the Big 5 publishers, tanked. Two years of writing and therapy which chewed up the humble advance (I figured a book on intimacy required deeper self-knowledge), and I found myself at an expensive lunch with my publisher (a deadly omen) where she broke the news that the book had ‘unfortunately slipped through the cracks.’

She paid for the lunch and never responded to another email I ever sent. And that is the story of how one skewed book derailed a career.

I felt broken and betrayed. I began to wonder if writing was a form of self-abuse. In this noxious state, I trashed the whole damn endeavour – writing wasn’t all joyous. It also made me lonely, anxious and jealous, never mind broke. I was through. It wasn’t worth it.

So in 2014, I invested all my life savings into a business course. I wanted to understand whether money and writing could coexist. I learned words like ‘funnel,’ ‘leverage,’ and ‘platform.’ It shocked me to realise how flawed the traditional publishing model is – not only for authors, but publishers too. I understood how essential marketing is to the success of any venture. I was ashamed to admit that I’d always expected publishers to ‘save me’ – to swoop in and create the success of my book. Uggh, it was just another iteration of entitlement, a victimized ‘poor me, I’m special,’ attitude.

I studied artists who challenge conventions like Seth Godin and Amanda Palmer. I investigated crowdfunding. I invested in courses on how to run a campaign.

I’d always facilitated workshops and writing retreats to supplement my income, but I realised that these were my income. My books were not, and maybe never would be. My allegiance shifted from my own writing to supporting others to write. This felt meaningful and purposeful.

My focus now is almost exclusively on helping aspiring authors find their voices, write their stories and get published.

I recently ran a free 7 day writing challenge. It attracted over 2000 people from all over the world. My new online writing course The Author Awakening Adventure just kicked off with 130 aspiring authors. I am currently mentoring 18 women writers towards publication. My next big step is to become a publisher to ensure these books make it into the world.

I want my own shelf stacked with books by the writers I’ve nurtured. All that’s left is for me to buy some land, with a couple of gypsy caravans and invite writers to take up residence.

I teach my writers to take control of their destinies. In the process I’ve stopped looking ‘out there’ and am becoming the answer to all my own problems. And I have never been happier.

 

 

JOANNE FEDLER
www.joannefedlerwritingretreats.com

www.joannefedleryourstory.com

www.authorawakening.com

By Guest Author Administrator

Tribute to Ursula LeGuin by Karen Joy Fowler

To keep women’s words, women’s works, alive and powerful – that’s what I see as our job as writers and readers for the next fifteen years, and the next fifty.  –  Ursula K Le Guin (1986)

With the death of Ursula Le Guin, we lost, among many other things, a great champion for women’s voices.

She was sometimes a bit apologetic about her own early work.  (I love that work, so for me, no apology necessary.)  But she used to say that she came to feminism slowly, and wrote first as a man, that being the model she had.  She once acquiesced to a request made by Playboy to publish one of her stories using only her initials in the byline so no one would know that a woman (eeek!!) had written it.  Science fiction at that time had a tradition of hidden women so the request may not have seemed as outrageous initially as it came to seem later.

She told me that it was the writer Vonda McIntyre who taught her that writing as a woman was not only possible, but necessary. I often recommend her essay entitled “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” (available online) as an inspiring way to start thinking harder about writing as a woman.

In the 1970’s, her growing career dovetailed with that of other powerful women writers.  Through their work and their letters, you can see them all discovering each other.  You can feel the joy they felt in that discovery, none more joyful than Ursula.  She was a great, great writer, but she was a great, great reader, too.

As she moved from beginning writer to established writer to towering colossus, her generosity towards new writers never failed. She taught, she spoke, she inspired, she supported.  She was always looking for what to read next, who might be trying something interesting, who had a different story to tell.  Her glad cries on finding an exciting new voice could be heard around the world.

She looked backwards as well as forwards; she worried about the way women’s voices seemed to disappear. Because of feminist scholarship, she wrote in 1986, “we will – for the first time ever – have kept the perceptions, ideas, and judgments of women alive … as an active creative force for more than one generation.”

She didn’t love every woman who wrote (who does?) but she loved the conversation.

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In many ways, to me at least, she was the spirit of Hedgebrook made flesh.  Le Guin was all about work, community, and a complicated but sustaining sense of place.

Her idea of work was that it was crucial.  Her community was never exclusionary, but always expansive and expanding. Her places were often imaginary, but when she stayed here on earth, she was deeply embedded in the natural world in a way that I worry we, with our indoor lives, are losing our hold on.  She wrote in one of her many defenses of the fantastical, that realism centered the human.  Fantasy gave equal importance to the nonhuman.

So I love to think of her at Hedgebrook with the trees and the lizards, the goats and the women.  I love to think of her – slightly shy and somewhat resistant to the place and the plan – walking the paths and finding the pond, succumbing to rabbits, and writing a story she wouldn’t have written anywhere else.  I love to think of her stepping stone, still there, and her spirit, still there, telling us to get to work.

Our work being:

  • To notice, to listen, to think, to talk, to write.
  • To reach forwards and backwards and sideways to all the women we find by doing so.

And, out of those connections, to weave together the webs that will become the bags in which our lives and our stories can be carried.

By Guest Author Administrator

Hedgebrook’s First Writer in Residence Jan D’Arcy

It was August 1988. My son Tyler had been diagnosed with a chiasmic glioma. The brain tumor was not cancerous, but it had done horrific damage. Tyler was completely blind in his left eye and had very little sight left in his right eye. We went through multiple doctor’s appointments, tests, 6 weeks of radiation and still the tumor seemed to be growing. I was a single Mom, completely immersed in his care, taking care of my four other children and running a communications consulting business. I had published a small book and an audio cassette album. I was writing another book, but it definitely was not getting any attention. I heard about Hedgebrook but was reluctant to apply. I didn’t have anyone to stay with Tyler 24/7. I also thought there must be some catch about the offer of a free writing “vacation.”

When I heard that Children’s Hospital Camp Goodtimes had doctors, nurses and trained volunteers to oversee the children, I signed Tyler up for a week. I sent in my application to Hedgebrook and was amazed to receive notice that I was selected to go for the same week.

After waving goodbye to my son, I drove to a ferry and followed Nancy’s explicit directions to Whidbey Island. There was no one I could talk to about their experience and what to expect.

I’m embarrassed to say that I brought along a sleeping bag, a pillow and primitive camping gear. When I drove up to the gate at Hedgebrook, Nancy was waiting for me. She told me to keep going up the road and she’d follow me.

I came to a magical fairyland cottage in the middle of the woods. I waited for her to open the door, but she insisted on staying at a distance and watched while I carefully turned the knob and stepped inside. At once, I knew I didn’t need the sleeping bag or the camping equipment. It was very luxurious, down to the leather carrier for the wood – whose material I’d have coveted for a purse. I set up my stubby Mac computer and carried in two boxes of research. The first night I was so exhausted, I sunk into the comfy bed, covered myself with the down duvet and slept for 10 hours.

Nancy explained that I ‘d have my lunch delivered and then come to the farmhouse for dinner. What would I like to eat? I mentioned I liked veggies- beets, carrots, tomatoes- anything would be fine. The next day I saw her digging in the garden and realized she was digging the beets

I’d be eating an hour later for dinner. Chef Nancy definitely started the authentic Farm to Table restaurant. We had some wonderful conversations over dinner when she told me what led up to her creating a place for women writers. She was very concerned that my accommodations were acceptable, that I was comfortable, that I had everything I needed to work on my book. My mother was always supportive of anything I did. But in my current situation I wasn’t used to that much attention and professional regard for my creative ventures. I still was reluctant to call myself a writer. But I was determined to produce something worthy of this opportunity.

When I mentioned something about shrimp, Nancy drove to town and bought some. I was almost afraid to casually mention I liked something in fear she’d produce it. I soon realized we two were the only residents on the large property and she was the one dropping off my lunch and flowers. The workers came during the day and left. One day Nancy asked me if the gardener watering my flowers around my cottage was distracting. As a mother of 5 children, I had to stifle a laugh. At night, it was really silent in the woods. Since the woods are my favorite place to be, I was in 7th heaven. No responsibilities, no phone calls, no grocery shopping or anything to interrupt my writing. What a fantastic idea Nancy had imagined and brought to fruition!

Twenty years later, I returned to Hedgebrook for another week. This time there were four other writers. It was a very different experience as we had dinner together and then talked about the various projects we were working on. Nancy had given up her culinary duties and there was a cook and other workers around the property.  5 more cottages had been built. It was now a revolving community of women writers from all over the world.

My book had been published to good reviews. My communications business had taken off as well as my acting career. Writing was on the back burner again. My son had more medical challenges and lost all his sight. We had to deal with scary seizures from his epilepsy. Although he had a part-time job, he still needed daily help with most everything.  I had started another book and was grateful for this second time at Hedgebrook to solidify my objective.  Once again, the freedom that Nancy created took me out of my responsibilities in my everyday world. The nature and calmness of Hedgebrook surrounded me and helped me to believe in myself as a writer.

 

Hedgebrook Cottage - credit Laura Oxford

By Guest Author Administrator

Sara J. Grossman

Five years before my first book of poems would be accepted for publication, I was awarded a Hedgebrook writing residency. I arrived at the farmhouse a rainy Saturday in June, exhausted from the double-layover (New Jersey to Washington to Colorado and then Seattle) and a little drunk on the lushness of the island. You have to believe me when I say that every plant on the island seemed to be blooming upon my arrival. When I walked into the farmhouse, I met Amy Wheeler and Hedgebrook’s founder, Nancy Nordhoff, who happened to be visiting that day. How had I gotten so lucky?

At the time, I was working on a final draft of my first book, Let the House of Body Fall (New Issues Press, 2018), an exploration of physical disability in post-September 11th America. I had a lot of work to do and as I settled into my five week stay, I learned just how necessary Hedgebrook was for completing this work.

I like to think that whatever happens in the cottage stays in the cottage, though there are obvious exceptions to this rule. After all, the book I worked on while at Hedgebrook will be a public one. But there is something private about the cottage work, a privacy that no one else can or will know about. It was a compelling privacy but a complicated one, too. I wasn’t used to spending so much time with myself, as well as with my work. No distractions. Just me and the work––some days it was a pleasure to see what I’d made; on other days, my poems frightened me. I frightened me. At Hedgebrook, though, all of that was OK. If I wanted to––and only if––I could report on my day at dinner. But silence was also accepted. That’s the thing about Hedgebrook. You don’t have to be anything for anyone else. Your only responsibility is the work.

In the months and years to come––especially in my my most challenging moments of imposter syndrome during which I’d convince myself that I’ve never been a real poet and I should stop calling myself that––my mind would return to Hedgebrook. I’d close my eyes and there, across the table from me, would be novelist Ruth Ozeki, who I had been fortunate enough to share time with that June. Or, I’d be walking to the garden with poet Tara Hardy and novelist Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela to gather artichokes and camomile, all the while talking about postindustrial cities and how to fight for justice under capitalism. And then I’d be at my writing desk in Fir working on a draft of a poem, with my manuscript pages taped to the walls, seven different titles strewn across the floor in disgust.

Though I went on to other residencies in the time between the writing of my first book of poems and landing a contract for it, Hedgebrook is the shelter that I return to in times of struggle. It was, after all, the place in which I made my first draft ready for submission to contests. But it was also more than that. Hedgebrook was a safe place for my work––a place where I could experiment with range and style without fear of judgement. It was a place that allowed me to lose myself for a while in service of the work. It was a place wherre I was allowed to get lost.

I suppose there is one last exception to that rule I mentioned earlier––“what happens in the cottage stays in the cottage.” There will always be the notebooks. So if you happen to stay in Fir, look me up under June 2012. I think I left some notes about poetry, or at least a note about where to find the wild raspberries.

Bio: Sara J. Grossman’s first book of poems, Let the House of Body Fall, will be published by New Issues Poetry & Prose in 2018. Her writing has appeared in Guernica, Michigan Quarterly Review, Omniverse, Verse Daily and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Hedgebrook, National Endowment for the Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution, and is a Visiting Fellow at Pennsylvania State University. She is currently at work on two book projects, A Natural History of Data (a cultural history of weather data in the United States), as well as a new book of poems currently titled Notes Toward Dysmorphia.

 

By Guest Author

A Safe Space in Tuscany By Katrina Woznicki

It’s not easy to sell off the last of your stock holdings, the very last thing you bought in your own name years ago, back when you were flush and earned a healthy bimonthly paycheck. Yet that’s exactly what I did to attend Hedgebrook’s Master Class in Tuscany with Hannah Tinti. I didn’t need to return to Italy; I had just been there the previous year. But Hedgebrook is different. And the experience proved to be worth every penny.

Honestly, I can’t even begin to place a dollar value on my week there because this particular writers’ retreat was like no other. I want to call it magical, life-changing, life-affirming, all those other “feel-good” words you see on the cover of Oprah magazine because they’re all true. I’ve attended writers’ conferences before; I’ve been workshopped by rock-star authors. Hedgebrook delivered something different: community that’s committed to ensuring that every woman is heard.

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Y-WE: Young Women Empowered

By Guest Author Administrator

Reflections on being a Y WE mentor…

I haven’t been to summer camp in 20 years, but at Y-WE Write, I felt instantly at home.  I shared the same shyness young writers must feel when they first encounter one another, meeting the brilliant and poised youth but also my distinguished fellow teaching artists Karen Finneyfrock and Anastacia Renee, for the first time….

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By Guest Author

The Bookshelves of Hedgebrook by Ayobami Adebayo

When I was packing for my Hedgebrook residency, I chose four big novels and two anthologies to see me through the month I was to spend on Whidbey Island. I haven’t left the house without a book since I was teenager and travelling to another country without taking novels with me is still unimaginable.

At the airport in Lagos, a customs officer rummaged through the carefully arranged contents of my suitcase before I could check it in.

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By Guest Author

Nostalgic for Some Radical Hospitality

What I wouldn’t give to be in the soothing, lulling calm of Hedgebrook Farms right now. I could use a little radical hospitality of the soul post November 8.

I had the good fortune to attend a Master Class last June and while I can’t say it radically changed my life I would definitely say it substantially altered the course of my work.

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