The Northwest Author Series Has Been Permanently Discontinued

Hello loyal fans of the Northwest Author Series!

I regret to inform you that The Northwest Author Series has been permanently discontinued.

The series was created and run by Christina Katz, hosted at the Wilsonville Public Library and sponsored by Starbucks and Lamb’s Thriftway for five years.

Thanks to everyone who contributed and attended.

Please visit to learn about upcoming offerings, books, and news from Christina Katz.

I hope our paths will cross again. In the meantime, write on!

The Northwest Author Series Is On Hiatus for the 2012-2013 Season









Hannah’s Notes on Heather Vogel Frederick on Much Ado About Middle Grade: Mastering Setting, Character & Plot

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows that they are. “ ~ Somerset Maugham

This is how Heather Vogel Frederick began her presentation on “Much Ado About Middle Grade,” which addressed how to not only write middle grade fiction, but any type of writing, through the setting, characters, and plot. First, however, it is important to write from your heart, and not just about what others want you to write about it. Also, write about what you want to know, not what you do know, it allows you – as the author – to be passionate and interested in your writing.

The setting is a vital part of a story because it can set the reader down in the world you have created. It can be anything you want it to, it just has to be described vividly for the readers to get the full effect.

To address the importance of setting, Frederick described our first writing exercise: take two or three minutes to draw a map of your childhood neighborhood. Then, go to a place on the map that you loved, circle it, and describe it for five minutes.

Next, Frederick discussed characters; readers love a book with memorable characters, which can be described in two different ways: outside/in and inside/out. Through outside/in, the exterior appearance of the character is the main description given to readers, but it can also suggest certain interior qualities. Even the name of the character can hint to his personality. We then proceeded to the second writing exercise in which we described a picture from her presentation by their outside qualities.

On the other hand, describing a character using inside/out is by describing their action and dialogue. For homework, Frederick told us to pick a few favorite books and see how they describe their characters.

Lastly, Frederick addressed the plot, which is surprisingly easy to forget. A writer’s secret weapon, used to avoid forgetting the plot, is the question : “What if?” For most stories, there is a three act structure: Act I is the call to adventure, in which the hero is introduced. Secondly, is Act II, where the hero faces obstacles, and finally there is Act III, when the character triumphs and returns with some sort of insight. Don’t take this as a formula, advised Frederick, but as a pattern.

Frederick concluded with a small bit of humor as she discussed her two fears: the fear of the blank page and fear of failure. To avoid these, Frederick likes to get a piece of duct tape and tape her butt to her chair. That way, she has no choice but to write.

The Northwest Author Series Presents Heather Vogel Frederick on Much Ado About Middle Grade: Mastering Setting, Character & Plot

On Sunday, May 6th, The Northwest Author Series Presents…
Heather Vogel Frederick on Much Ado About Middle Grade: Mastering Setting, Character & Plot
Location: The Wilsonville Public Library in the Oak Room
Time: 3:30 – 5:30 pm
Cost: $5.00

Middle-grade fiction is a place where anything can happen, from a voyage aboard a 19th-century whaling ship to a school called Hogwarts, from an espionage organization where the secret agents have whiskers and tails to a spell gone awry that leaves a seventh grader spouting toads. There’s even a farmyard where a pig and a spider are best friends! But when the sky’s the limit, how do you choose a surefire setting, populate it with memorable characters, and develop a compelling storyline that is catnip to editors and readers alike? Come prepared to listen, to write, and to share in this hands-on workshop geared to helping you fuel your creative fire and overcome fear of the blank page.

Heather Vogel Frederick, whose eleven middle-grade novels range from historical to contemporary to adventure/fantasy, left a 20-year career as a journalist and decided it was high time to fulfill her lifelong dream of writing fiction for young readers. Today, she’s the author of two picture books and eleven novels, including Oregon Book Award winner The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed, and the popular Mother-Daughter Book Club and Spy Mice series. Heather’s work spans many genres, and has been honored both nationally and internationally and translated into numerous languages.

And be sure to check out:

Once Upon a Toad (Simon & Schuster, April 17, 2012)

Home for the Holidays (Simon & Schuster, October 4, 2011)

Hannah’s Notes on Kevin Sampsell’s Presentation on The Book World: From Reader To Published Author

Photo courtesy of

Kevin Sampsell, author of the quick and entertaining “A Common Pornography” came to the Northwest Authors Series this month to discuss how to approach reading, writing, editing, publishing, and selling your work. Unlike many preconceived assumptions, you don’t have to be an avid reader to begin a career in writing. Kevin Sampsell wasn’t; in fact, he first started his writing experience by creating “cheesy pop songs as a kid,” and now he is a published author. His most important piece of advice – one that is often a superficial motive for aspiring authors – is that you should not worry about money or what society wants you to write about, to write to the best of your potential and to enjoy what you work on, write about what interests you.

Here are a few informing tips from the question and answer session:

Writing memoirs and nonfiction help you to connect to your readers.

For Sampsell, he did not entirely know what was going to happen at the end of his memoir. Although not knowing can be frustrating, it is less boring, you don’t skip any important parts, and you – as the writer – are allowed to go on a journey with your characters and your readers. This can apply to all works of fiction and memoirs.

When working with larger publishing companies such as Harper & Collins, it is best to hire an agent. However, for first time authors, if you are working with a smaller company it is easier to do it directly.

If you are writing about a specific subject, you probably don’t need an agent and can just publish it directly. If you do want to get an agent, Google is a good place to start searching.

While working on his memoir, he did not worry about getting legal protection. He suggested that you should talk to relative for proof that the stories are real and as long as you are writing the truth there is not a lot to worry about. However, this varies case by case. It is also a matter of hurting the feelings of relatives and friends, which may or may not be more costly than a legal case.

He also never worried about copywriting issues and has never registered any of his titles. Because of computers, it is easy to prove that he was the original author.

Find authors who are writing about similar subjects and contact them if you have questions about the publishing process. It is always great to create connections.

If you have any questions for Sampsell, see his publishing website or his own site:

The Northwest Author Series Presents Kevin Sampsell on The Book World: From Reader To Published Author

On Sunday, April 14, 2012
Location: The Wilsonville Public Library in the Oak Room
Time: 3:30 – 5:30 pm
Cost: $5.00
Door prizes: Two copies of A Common Pornography (I’m reading it, it’s great!)

How does the way you approach reading, writing, editing, publishing, and selling impact your professional growth as a writer? Our guide Kevin Sampsell has played all the parts in the book world and will discuss the interplay of these roles in this 90-minute whirlwind tour. Aspiring authors in any or many genres will gain a well-rounded perspective on how to enjoyably immerse yourself in the literary life.

Kevin Sampsell’s memoir, A Common Pornography was published by Harper Collins in 2010. He is the editor of the story collection, Portland Noir and the author of the story collection, Creamy Bullets. Twenty years ago, he started his micropress, Future Tense Books, which has become an influential force among American small presses. A journalist, book reviewer, and essayist, Kevin oversees the coveted small press section at Powell’s Bookstore. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and son, where he is currently working on a novel.

Hannah’s Notes on Pamela Smith Hill’s Presentation on For the Love of Research: How To Write Biography

For the month of March we were joined by author Pamela Smith Hill who discussed researching and how to write a biography. Hill herself has written the award-winning biography Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life as well as three young adult novels. Currently, she is working on another book on Wilder, scheduled for publication in 2013. In an extremely organized and helpful presentation, Hill gave us tips that are vital for any author who wishes to write a biography, or even those who need research for any genre they are working on.

Hill began her presentation with Virginia Woolf’s question: “My God, how does one write a Biography?” The most important aspect, arguably, is that biographers must have a personal connection with their subjects; there must be some common interest so that you are – as Hill said – “living two lives simultaneously.” For Hill, her connection with Laura Ingalls Wilder occurred when she visited the Wilder home in 1965, where she was shown that writing, which seemed to be an impossible future, was in fact very achievable. From the personal connection, biographers must feel a unique and compelling story to tell, but it must also be told from a new perspective.

Research is the largest and most important step of writing a biography and Hill gave us a presentation on exactly what should be included and where to find it:

Firstly, your biography should be based on research, not on previously held assumptions. Also, keep an open mind when doing research and throughout the entire process of writing the biography.

There are four research categories, each with their own advantages and disadvantages: books, interviews, location, and of course, the internet. For all of these categories, it is important to weigh the credibility of your sources very carefully; especially in books, where the date of the publication can obscure facts and perspectives.

While doing book research such as through newspapers and magazines, look for obscure publications because they have the possibility of getting you closer to the people and places.

For interviews there are several different methods in which to conduct an interview. Email is very quick if you have just a quick question or two, but still don’t wait until the last minute. Be sure to think in context and include any additional information that they may need. Personal interviews may be less flexible but are still a very effective way of getting research.

The most glamorous category is location research, but it is also the most tedious. There is always the possibility of not getting results, and there is also the possibility of getting an incredible amount of results. If you go after you have written but before you publish, like Hill did, you can compare what you have written to reality or disprove it.

On the other hand, archival research is not so glamorous and involves a lot of time and effort. It is not always reliable because memories can change and interviews are often a large component of archival research.

Internet research is great for obtaining the details that help make a scene come to life. Yet, as we all know, the internet is not always the most reliable place so be extra cautious when using these sources and remember that it is perfectly acceptable to let your readers know when your research is contradictory or inconclusive. And always make sure that you keep good records of notes.

Hill’s last piece of advice for researching and writing biographies was to read biographies. Just as poets read poetry and fantasy writers read fantasy. As you work on your biography, you will become “a biographer, a tourist, and an intruder.”

The Northwest Author Series Presents Pamela Smith Hill on For The Love of Research: How To Write Biography

On Sunday, March 18, 2012
Location: The Wilsonville Public Library in the Oak Room
Time: 3:30 – 5:30 pm
Cost: $5.00
Door prizes: Two copies of Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life

“My God, how does one write a Biography?” Virginia Woolf’s daunting question haunts biographers, especially those who write about writers. How do biographers uncover the nature and character of their subjects? What techniques and approaches do they use to move beyond the obvious? Biographer Pamela Smith Hill answers these questions and more. Her practical tips will arm you with ideas to help you research fiction or nonfiction and write more confidently.

Pamela Smith Hill is the author of the award-winning biography Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life. She has written three young adult novels and is currently working on a new Wilder book, scheduled for publication in 2013. She has won an Oregon Book Award, an Indie Excellence Award, and a Willa Award from Women Writing the West. She has taught professional and creative writing classes at universities in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon.

Check out Laura Ingall’s Wilder: A Writers Life by Pamela Smith Hill.

Hannah’s Notes on Bill Johnson’s A Story Is A Promise: The Essential Elements of Storytelling

The author of A Story is a Promise, Bill Johnson, discussed the essential elements of storytelling this month. Through the use of popular books and movies, Johnson explained the importance of getting an audience hooked, of having characters that have a dramatic truth, and of staying on track with the story line.

According to Johnson, it is necessary to get the audience hooked on the first page. If they can’t see if a story has promise at the very beginning then they won’t read it. Usually this is through the character’s journey, a movement of the story in which the audience can join the characters in. His example was Harry Potter, a character whose dramatic truth was to fit in. From this character’s dramatic truth, every other character is created to fit in with the conflict. Creating a dramatic truth allows the reader to be transported into the story, and will keep them interested. For nonfiction writers, this is applicable as well. You need to find a way to convey that what you are writing about is also a story in which the readers can be transported, and after the first page, they will want to stay interested.

One important tip to remember is that even if a reader doesn’t know what’s going on, they can distinguish between a good story and a bad one.

Another important point that Johnson made is that you, as the author, need to know what the story is about. Every good story has a story line with a concrete plot. Also, each plot should have obstacles which – as they become larger – they strike the characters with more force and deeper levels of freedom. “People crave good stories,” Johnson said, and larger plot obstacles set on a concrete story line will fill their cravings.

What not to do as you write:

Don’t make the conflict simple enough where the character can just walk away.

Don’t introduce the story too late or there is not story line.

Don’t make the main character an extension of yourself. Personal story telling is bad and you won’t be able to handle constructive criticism is you “put your own wounds” in your characters.

Next, Johnson led us in an exercise in which he asked us to close our eyes and visualize yourself in a room with the main character of a piece of writing that you were working on. He told us to ask them what journey they were on. Here are two examples that some of the audience shared with us:

Self-acceptance and love

Finding who they are: characters who are an outcast automatically have an obstacle.

Bill Johnson concluded with asking us to use the same technique at home, but next time speak to someone who represents the audience for your story, whether it is for children, teenagers, adults, or women. If you find yourself not knowing who the audience is, the risk is that you become the audience.

Remember, as you write you have to make it accessible and the conflicts have to be universal so that the audience can be transported into your story. If you want to get more advice from Bill Johnson, order his book A Story is a Promise on Amazon.

The Northwest Author Series Presents Bill Johnson on A Story Is A Promise: The Essential Elements of Storytelling

February 26th, 2012
Location: The Wilsonville Public Library in the Oak Room
Time: 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.
Cost: $5.00 at the door
Door prizes: Two copies of A Story Is A Promise

To set a character into a world where their desire for redemption or courage or healing or understanding is tested cues an audience to pay attention to a story’s promise. As plot obstacles grow larger and strike characters with more force, they compel deeper revelations about what drives characters to resolve what’s at stake. In this presentation, you’ll learn how storytelling is a promise and how to uphold this important commitment to your story readers.

Bill Johnson is author of A Story is a Promise and The Spirit of Storytelling workbook. He has taught writing workshops around the country and has read manuscript submissions for literary agents. He explores principles of storytelling through reviews of popular movies, books, and plays and is a screenwriter and award-winning playwright. Johnson is currently office manager for Willamette Writers, a Pacific Northwest non-profit writing group with 1,700 members.

Purchase the fourth edition of A Story is a Promise from the author’s website: