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:

Hannah’s Notes On Karen Karbo’s Presentation Passions Into Paychecks: Make a Living without A Brand

Karen Karbo – author of, most recently, How Georgia Became O’Keefe – came to the Northwest Authors Series for the month of January. As a current resident of Portland, Oregon, she has written review articles for Outside, Elle, Vogue, Esquire, Redbook, MORE, Self, Sports Illustrated for Women, The New Republic, The Oregonian, The New York Times, and many more. Her lack of a set specialty has been an advantage for her as she writes about everything from basketball to swimming with sharks to a flying trapeze school.

In this week’s presentation, Karbo discussed how to be a write without a specialty. Here were a few of her main points:

Although marketing is important, you have to create your own original story first.

Not having a specialty allows you to commit to something new after each project, you can find something that you are enthusiastic about at that moment, not something that you necessarily have to commit to for your whole writing career. For Karbo, she has to be excited about something to write about it, and when it is new it adds to the excitement.

If you are a novelist, you don’t have to do any research, which can be good, but it is also good to be in the real world too.

Write about something that you can connect to, something that you have an emotional reaction to. Be open to where you might intersect with an idea.

We have allowed the market to dictate what we do, but we must follow our instinct and write what we want to write.

We then started an exercise in which we wrote down a list of what interested us, what we are drawn to. Karbo said that this doesn’t necessarily mean something we love, but more of something that we can’t stop thinking about. Even if you are a good writer you still have to know what is unique to you; this makes your writing new and exciting. The best way to do this, as suggested by Karbo, is to flip through a big newspaper and read anything that interests you. Pay attention to what you finish, what you did you only read half of? What captured your interest and for how long? As you do this, you may find that themes emerge.

Theme’s from the audience:

  • Overcoming obstacles.
  • Everyday heroes.
  • Discovering the unknown.
  • Surviving against the odds.
  • Childhood memories.
  • Justice vs. Retribution.

Karbo left us with one final, motivational piece of advice for all the writers in audience: YOU are your platform.

Here’s a link to Karbo’s online platform.

The Northwest Author Series Presents Karen Karbo on Passions Into Paychecks: Make a Living without A Brand

January 29, 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 How Georgia Became O’Keeffe

In 1990 Karen Karbo quit her full time job and has been making a living as a writer ever since. Known for her quirky wit and broad range of interests, she’s done it all without a “brand.” In this lively presentation, Karbo will discuss how to parlay your interests into a paycheck while building an eclectic body of work, and also offer tips on creating a platform rooted in your own personality.

Award-winning writer Karen Karbo has penned it all: nonfiction, novels, memoir, short stories, essays, articles, and reviews. How Georgia Became O’Keeffe is the third and final nonfiction installment in what she calls her “kick ass women trilogy.” How to Hepburn was published in 2007, and The Gospel According to Coco Chanel was published in 2009. Each of her three novels was a New York Times Noteable Book of the Year. Her 2004 memoir, The Stuff of Life, about the last year she spent with her father before his death won the Oregon Book Award for Creative Non-fiction. Karen grew up in Los Angeles, California and now lives in Portland, Oregon.

For more info, please contact The Wilsonville Public Library at (503) 682-2744.

Hannah’s Notes On Christina Katz’ Presentation The Writer’s Workout: Whip Your Literary Ambitions Into Shape

This month our own Christina Katz joined us to discuss her newly published book The Writer’s Workout. Christina is not only an author of three books, she is also a writing instructor helping writers become better at everything we do including improving writing craft, selling your work, platform development, continuing education and specializing.

She says  “writing professionally is hard work, and it never gets easy,” but throughout her discussion she guided enthusiastic writers on how to overcome common obstacles.

The presentation started with everyone writing a list of the tangible accomplishments from the past and then everyone asking themselves, “why do you write?”

All writers want to be read. So every writer must not only write well but also work on selling himself. One way to do this is to create a one pager which is a compilation of information writers need to articulate about themselves so that they can focus on their selling points.

One point that Christina continually emphasized was that to improve your skills by writing short. Not only does writing short improve your writing abilities, it also allows you to become familiar with the publishing process, so you’ll be able to get publishing credits – online or physical – to put on your one pager. Publishing short is also great practice for preparing to write longer pieces like ebooks and books.

Several people in the audience were interested in self-publishing. Christina gave us some tips to sell more ebooks and use ebook sales to become more known:

Hire someone to do the cover illustration of you ebook

Have the ebook formatting done professionally, books that look professional sell better than books that don’t.

Sell yourself: websites, blogs, and social networking all have a positive effect.

During the presentation, Christina handed out a worksheet with a list of components that are essential for authors; these components are important for all authors, whether self-publishing or traditionally publishing. A few examples were:

  • A tagline (Christina’s is “writing the life fantastic”).
  • An email signature.
  • A biography
  • Mission Statement
  • An identity: what you’re known for.
  • A platform dynamic: Christina asked, “Every writer has their own dynamic, what is yours?” If you need help with this, just think of what you want your writing to do. Christina’s is an instructor, Susan Fletcher’s platform – she was in the audience – is to transport readers to other worlds through fantasy and historical fiction.
  • Testimonials.
  • Headshots and action shots.

Finally, the most important thing for writer’s besides being able to write – according to Christina – is to be confident. The best way to become confident is to write, write, and keep writing.

Be sure, if you haven’t already, to buy Christina Katz’s new book The Writer’s Workout, it has even more great advice.

The Northwest Author Series Presents Christina Katz on The Writer’s Workout: Whip Your Literary Ambitions Into Shape

December 4, 2011
Location: The Wilsonville Public Library in the Oak Room
Time: 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.
Cost: $5.00 at the door
Signed Copies of The Writer’s Workout Available for Purchase

Reserve your copy for this event by ordering ahead at

There has never been a better or more challenging time to be a writer. In a world driven by distraction, stress, and superficiality, your writing momentum will benefit from tips and exercises from three-time author and popular writing coach Christina Katz. Find your focus, get in the creative zone, and lengthen your output so you can write more, stress less, and enjoy your writing career as it grows. Come ready to brainstorm. You’ll leave ready to write.

Christina Katz teaches writers to prosper by building solid, saleable, life-long career skills via classes and training groups for a rapidly evolving publishing marketplace. Her third Writer’s Digest Book, The Writer’s Workout, 366 Tips, Tasks & Techniques From Your Writing Career Coach, will be published in December 2011. She also wrote Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids. Christina founded and hosts the Northwest Author Series in Wilsonville, Oregon, where she lives with her husband and daughter.