Writers to converge on Homer

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, organized by the University of Alaska Kachemak Bay Campus, is held June 8 to 12 and brings 19 guest writers, poets, agents and editors to town. The following are profiles of three of the visiting faculty.

For program and registration information, call (907) 235-7743 or visit www.writersconference.homer.alaska.edu.

Pete Fromm

Background: Pete Fromm, 48, lives in Great Falls, Mont., with his wife, Rose, an engineer, and their two sons, ages 9 and 12. He teaches part-time at Oregon’s Pacific University master of fine arts program in creative writing.

Fromm grew up in Milwaukee with his three older sisters and two brothers. He describes his childhood as “total white bread.”

“I had a paper route. It was pretty ‘Leave it to Beaver’ stuff,” he said.

Fromm went to the University of Montana, Missoula, on a swimming scholarship. He dropped out twice, first to work a winter guarding salmon eggs at Indian Creek in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, Idaho, for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game the subject of his first book and later to travel to New Zealand. He eventually graduated with a bachelor of science in wildlife biology.

How he became a writer: On the way home from New Zealand, he stopped over in Samoa for a week and picked up some Ernest Hemingway books at a second-hand book store.

“There was a line, ‘Nick liked to open cans.’” The line hooked him in its simplicity, and he said he remembered thinking, “If that’s all it takes to put me in a story, I can write that. Hemingway, Schmeningway. By that point, I was thinking, I’d kind of see what it’s like.”

In his last year of college, he took an introduction to creative writing class and had to write a story.

“Writing it was a blast. It was super intensive day dreaming . ... The teacher said, ‘You could do this for a living’ which I didn’t believe. It was a kick. I just kept doing it.”

After college, Fromm worked as a park ranger on the Snake River in the Grand Tetons and other summer jobs. In the winter he wrote, but didn’t try to get any of his writing published for about five years.

“Then I started sending it out and getting it rejected, which was pretty well deserved at that point.”

He sold his first story to “Louisiana Literature” in 1989.

After working as a carpenter for two years and saving his money, “I decided to quit and give writing a go full time,” he said. “I eked it out until my two years’ income ran out and haven’t had to work a day since.”

His advice to new writers: “Run while you’ve got a chance. The big key is perseverance. There are a lot of talented writers whose skins aren’t thick enough. I get rejected nine out of 10 times, and I’ve got a publishing record. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

His writing: Fromm has published two novels, four short-story collections and one nonfiction book. Several of his collections are hunting or fishing stories, work that he’s published in magazines like “Gray’s Sporting Journal.”

“If you can sneak the literary stuff in and put enough fish and stuff in, it pays the dough,” he said. “Everything else is straight literary fiction.”

His first novel, “How This Started,” is about a boy with manic depression. It so impressed a group of psychiatrists they wanted him to speak about his experience at a conference except he told them he wasn’t manic depressive.

His second novel was told from the first-person viewpoint of a 15-year-old girl growing up in Great Falls, “As Cool As I Am,” a narrative stretch that got him a lot of critical acclaim and some criticism.

“I got flayed twice,” he said, “They were just outraged that a man thought he could do that.”

What he does other than writing: Fly fishing, running rivers and other outdoor stuff. When Fromm worked as river ranger, he picked up lost fly rods from the river bottom and still uses them. He did a reading at a Cincinnati sporting goods store that sold his books, and the owner tried to give him a $1,000 fly rod.

“I said, you can’t imagine anyone you could waste this more on than me.”

Future plans: A Seattle filmmaker is making stories from “Dry Range” into a short film. At one point “Lord of the Rings” actor Viggo Mortensen was being considered for a role in the film, which excited Fromm because his sons are big “Lord of the Rings” fans.

“You can have the story for free if you get Viggo to come into my house,” he said he told the director. “I did the screenplay, which is a hoot, because I’d never seen one.”

His writing: Fromm has published two novels, four short-story collections and one nonfiction book. Several of his collections are hunting or fishing stories, work that he’s published in magazines like “Gray’s Sporting Journal.”

“If you can sneak the literary stuff in and put enough fish and stuff in, it pays the dough,” he said. “Everything else is straight literary fiction.”

His first novel, “How This Started,” is about a boy with manic depression. It so impressed a group of psychiatrists they wanted him to speak about his experience at a conference except he told them he wasn’t manic depressive.

His second novel was told from the first-person viewpoint of a 15-year-old girl growing up in Great Falls, “As Cool As I Am,” a narrative stretch that got him a lot of critical acclaim and some criticism.

“I got flayed twice,” he said, “They were just outraged that a man thought he could do that.”

What he does other than writing: Fly fishing, running rivers and other outdoor stuff. When Fromm worked as river ranger, he picked up lost fly rods from the river bottom and still uses them. He did a reading at a Cincinnati sporting goods store that sold his books, and the owner tried to give him a $1,000 fly rod.

“I said, you can’t imagine anyone you could waste this more on than me.”

Future plans: A Seattle filmmaker is making stories from “Dry Range” into a short film. At one point “Lord of the Rings” actor Viggo Mortensen was being considered for a role in the film, which excited Fromm because his sons are big “Lord of the Rings” fans.

“You can have the story for free if you get Viggo to come into my house,” he said he told the director. “I did the screenplay, which is a hoot, because I’d never seen one.”

Kate Gale

Background: Kate Gale lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two teenagers. She is the editor of Red Hen Press, which publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction and “The Los Angeles Review.” Gale writes poetry, fiction and opera librettos. She also teaches in the graduate program at Mount St. Mary’s College and runs marathons.

“I grew up in a cult in Southern New Hampshire, and I lived there for 15 years, until I was 18. It was a very right-wing religious, very strict Christian cult. They moved to Canada last year, and my mother and sister are still with them.

“After you leave, you’re dead to them. ... You definitely never get to see your family again, you’re definitely homeless and you definitely only have a sleeping bag and a harmonica, but it’s not so traumatic as people might think.”

How she became a writer: “That whole growing up in a cult thing kind of gave me something to think about. I started writing as soon as I got out. I started out writing about the experience and then segued into writing about the greater world.”

Gale studied writing at Arizona State University with Alaska writer Peggy Shumaker and got her Ph.D. in Literature from Claremont Graduate University.

The importance of writing in her life: “I’d say that writing is my way of discovering what’s underneath: under the surface in your own life, under the surface in your characters, under the surface in what happens every day. And that’s what really matters. Speaking of (Kafka’s) “The Metamorphosis,” you have to have a good cockroach story, but really what matters is what’s underneath.

“I think that there are people who, if they stop writing for a couple of weeks, kind of wonder if they’re a writer any more, and that doesn’t really happen to me. Sometimes you do more of it and sometimes you do less of it. When you’re on vacation, you’re still a parent. ... I’ll always be a writer.”

Advice to new writers: “Everyone always gives the advice to read more. My advice is to be a writer, you have to be paying attention in your life; you have to be thoroughly engaged, you have to be present.

“I think that’s good advice if you’re going to be a writer. If you’re going to be a person, you have to relax once in a while, and that’s harder. Otherwise you’re exhausting to be around.”

Published works: Her books of poetry include “Blue Air,” “Where Crows and Men Collide,” “Sewing the Hammock,” “Fishers of Men” and “Mating Season.” Her novel is called “Lake of Fire.” She has written librettos for two operas, “Paradises Lost” and “Rio de Sangre.” Her children’s book is “African Sleeping Beauty.”

Sue Silverman

Background: Sue William Silverman was born in Washington, D.C. As a child, her family moved frequently. She attended elementary school on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, went to high school in New Jersey and later worked on Capitol Hill. She moved to Michigan with her husband and decided to stay after they divorced.

“Now I live five blocks from Lake Michigan. I decided to stay because I had moved around a lot; I didn’t have a sense of home. Where would I go? The lake is so beautiful; it’s a peaceful, spiritual place to live.”

Silverman lives with her partner, Mark, and teaches in the master of fine arts writing program at Vermont College.

How she became a writer: When she was young, Silverman’s father molested her. “Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You,” her first memoir, talks about the experience.

“I was dealing with incest and an eating disorder and sex addiction. I was too scared to write about myself. Then my parents died within six days of each other. My therapist said, ‘Maybe now you’ll feel comfortable writing.’

“I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll write a paragraph.’ Lo and behold, my first memoir kind of fell out of me in about three months.

“I always did know I was going to be a writer, even though I had never written. I became a writer because I’d been hoarding words for years, growing up in this incestuous childhood where you can’t speak the truth. I started writing because of the silence in my life. It was like a pressure cooker — you put so much in it — words built up and just started spewing out.”

The importance of writing in her life: “I don’t know what I think until I start writing. It helps me to organize my life and to understand the metaphors. It’s a search to discover what you don’t know about your life.”

Advice to new writers: “Read a lot, be tenacious and revise.

“Very few people can just sit down and write. It’s like learning the piano; you don’t just sit down with Mozart, you start with chopsticks. It takes a while to find your voice and what you want to say.

“Writing is so hard, and no one is sitting around waiting to plunk down good money (for your work). You have to need it.”

Published works: Her most recent book is a collection of poems called “Hieroglyphics in Neon,” published by Orchises Press. Her memoirs are “Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You,” published in 1997 by the University of Georgia Press and “Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey Through Sexual Addiction,” published in 2001 by W.W. Norton.



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