Bette Lynch Husted

"I've been troubled 

all my life

by the story 

we don't tell." 

— Bette Lynch Husted
author of All Coyote's Children


Bette Lynch Husted writes with breadth and depth, carefully crafting poems, memoir and story.

Her works include At This DistanceAbove the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Land; Lessons from the Borderlands; and All Coyote’s Children

Living in the small, eastern Oregon town of Pendleton, her work is woven with landscape, family and culture. Her latest work, and first novel, All Coyote's Children, has earned accolades from The Oregonian: "Thoughtful, superbly written and redolent with inviting characters and ideas. Husted's first novel deserves attention and prizes."

It's time for Fast Five, in which we ask five questions that open the door to know more.

How did you come to writing?

I was eight and my sister was ten when we broke into print on the children’s page of The Idaho Farmer with stories we had written one summer afternoon to entertain each other (both, as I remember, titled “Mystery in the Old Barn”). But though I kept writing, isolation in small rural communities and the demands of teaching made my next publication a long time coming. What made a difference was Fishtrap and later a series of wonderful workshops at The Flight of the Mind Writing Workshops for Women [founded by Judith Barrington and ran for 17 years], where I not only learned from people like Naomi Shihab NyeGrace Paley, and Lucille Clifton, but also realized that people could hear my voice — and that getting my work out was “important for all of us,” as Alex Kuo wrote to me. I kept that piece of blue stationery above my desk for a long time, and I try to pass on this gift to other writers.

You’ve written poetry, memoir and, most recently, fiction. Your work features a distinct and vivid sense of place. How has place formed you as a writer?   

“The place,” my father called the benchland north-central Idaho homestead where he was born and where his children, too, would grow up. We were all bonded to it — by daily chores, of course, but also by the light “rolling down the mountain” each morning, the red-winged blackbirds’ return in late February just as the barnyard was beginning to thaw. The river sound of wind in the pines on the hill. “Place” showed me what it meant to be conscious, alive. It still does. Maybe it helps that I have spent my life in the rural inland Northwest where we are reminded of our relationship to the earth in ways we might not be if we were surrounded by concrete. But I can’t imagine not feeling this way. 

Your novel, “All Coyote’s Children,” is a powerful story of cultural and generational connections. In it, you write, “It’s not telling stories that gets us in trouble. It’s not telling them.” What prompted you to tell this story?  

I’ve been troubled all my life by the story we don’t tell because, as one of the characters in All Coyote’s Children puts it, “it cancels all our mythologies. No wonder we can’t face it.” How do we face the fact that the indigenous peoples and cultures of North America were dehumanized, seen as savage, inferior, obstacles to be eliminated as we “tamed a continent” (a phrase used by our president in his recent Naval Academy graduation address) and then all but erased from our national consciousness? All of us who are non-Natives, even those brought by force to this continent, continue to live on stolen land. What do we do with this knowledge? And what do Native people do with their erasure from so much of “American history,” not to mention the ongoing pain of that story?

Ten years ago, the spiritual leader who married my son and his Umatilla/Cayuse and White Mountain Apache wife said, “We’re joining not just two people, but two families.” His words felt extraordinarily generous. I knew this wasn’t the complete answer to my question, yet that day healing seemed possible.

But only if we tell our own true stories and listen carefully enough to hear each other’s. In many ways, this is what draws me to writing: trying to stay open, receptive to the stories that connect us. 

A character in your novel says, “Life is hard, and will get harder.” In the face of difficulty, what keeps you going? 

I’ve read that the Cheyenne People have a saying: A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is finished, not matter how brave its warriors, or how strong their weapons.

The Cheyenne may be acknowledging this truth: it takes a lot to put the hearts of women on the ground. “Survival is hard sometimes,” Leona says in All Coyote’s Children — but though she has stumbled, she’s still upright, and helping the lives of others to go on. My own mother was such a woman — able to lift her eyes to the sunset or blue-black thunderheads or Orion climbing the sky no matter the challenges she faced. (“I’d catch another bubble if I waited,” she copied on the scrap of paper that’s now pinned to my own bulletin board. “The thing was to get now and then elated.”) 

Sometimes, though, the difficulties can be overwhelming. What keeps me going is writing, feeling my way forward one word at a time. 

And I’m fortunate to belong to a wonderful poetry workshop group. We drive from various corners of Oregon to meet once a month, each of us knowing that this sharing of words (and food and wine and friendship) is a lifeline.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

The late Ursula K. Le Guin was a member of that workshop group. We carry her with us always, hearing her voice in the stories she left the world and treasuring our own memories, her careful critiques, the image of her sitting in the wicker chair on Jeannette’s side porch stitching or sketching — but we miss her, we miss her. 

Last month I watched the trailer of Arwen Curry’s forthcoming documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin and heard Ursula say, “To learn to make something well can take your whole life. And it’s worth it.”

One last gift. And the best writing advice any of us could ever receive.

Bonus Question: I’m a word collector and keep a running list of favorite words. What are your favorite words?

The words that immediately come to mind are Clearwater and Kooskia (pronounced KOOS-key), words I grew up with, words that mean home. I always thought I was lucky to live near such a beautiful river, and one so beautifully and accurately named. But the place names I usually love most are the ones from Native languages, Kooskia and Umatilla, Wallowa, Walla Walla. So why would “clear water” and “Kooskia” bothspring to mind as my favorite words, I wondered? Wikipedia tells me that “the river got its name from the Niimiipuutímt naming as Koos-Koos-Kai-Kai – ‘clear water.’” That may well be a condensed version of a much deeper language connection—still, it makes me very happy.



Shaindel Beers

   We laugh because honesty

is uncomfortable here in this trailer where I'm

supposed to lie to these high-schoolers, tell them

if they work hard enough, they can be anything.

The way the lie was told to me. We laugh because

we're all in this together -- our falling apart houses

and cars and hearts and lives. I wish I could tell them,

The thing that you have is this. The vastness.

The peacocks in the middle of the road, the man playing

air guitar as he walks along Mission Highway.

And I know, Children, that this isn't much, but it's the gift,

the one gift, these stories, that can't be taken away. 

— Shaindel Beers
from The Gift (for my Golden Eagles)


Shaindel Beers  is a poet and teacher living in the small, eastern Oregon town of Pendleton. She's the author of two poetry collections, the poetry editor for Contrary magazine, and teaches English at Blue Mountain Community College. 

How did you come to poetry?

I wrote my first poem, unprompted, as a natural reaction to something when I was ten. I learned that my cousin had shot my dog. I remember I cried so much, and then I found a notebook. Poetry has been how I emotionally process ever since.

Your first poetry book, “A Brief History of Time,” offers a direct and down-to-earth voice that we don’t often see in poetry. Is this a conscious choice, a reflection of your personality, or something else?

When I was a younger writer, I was always drawn to blue collar poets because they felt familiar; they made me feel like I, too, could be a writer. This wasn’t anything I tried to do; it’s more a part of who I am. I’ve gone to college; I have two graduate degrees, but I’m from a farming and factory town with one traffic light where people know that you wave hello at someone driving a tractor. That’s just good manners. I’ve tried to broaden my vocabulary, but using words that don’t seem natural to me always seems like putting on a false front. I completely agree with what Stephen King says in his memoir On Writing:

“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you're maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be more embarrassed."

Your latest book, “The Children’s War” takes an unusual tack in exploring global and domestic violence. What prompted this poetry project?

I happened upon this article one day, and it was so powerful, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started studying the artwork of child war survivors and the history of art therapy for children during wartime wherever I could find it. I ordered books online, I scoured online galleries. I wrote authors of studies. It was an obsession, one of those projects that basically writes itself.

But then midway through, I hit a wall. The big question for me was if I was supposed to write an entire book of children’s war poems or if I should include other forms of violence. On the one hand, I didn’t know if anyone could read an entire book of poetry about child war survivors. On the other hand, I didn’t want to seem selfish by including personal narratives with war narratives, but I decided to treat the collection as a study of violence in general. Violence in the home and in the community eventually becomes global violence. It is all borne of the same motivations – for one party to oppress and dominate another party.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

There’s so much terrific advice out there that I’m not sure I can narrow it down, but I really believe that if you feel you’re supposed to write something that in some way is supposed to help someone, write it. Write it, and keep sending it out into the world until someone publishes it.

Life can be trying, as evidenced by your work. In the face of difficulty, what keeps you going?

Last year, I was at the Quest Writer’s Conference in Squamish, British Columbia, and a bunch of us were sitting at a table outside the dining hall soaking in the magical view of the Tantalus Range. One woman said, “You know how you become one of those older women you admire? You just keep going. You just wake up the next day, and keep doing what you’re going to do.” It was so simple, but it was an epiphany. You just wake up the next day and start over again.

Bonus Question: I’m a word collector and keep a running list of favorite words. What are your favorite words?

Most of the words I like have to do with the interesting sounds in them rather than the meanings of the words. I love the sound of the word coagulate because I love the weirdness of those vowels shifting into each other. In the language of the local Native American tribe, “good morning” is “Tahts maywee.” It sounds so cheerful. You can hear some of the language here in Roberta Conner’s TEDTalk, and it’s a great talk on the importance of indigenous languages. I also love the word chartreuse. It’s a beautiful color, too, but the sound of the word is lovely. 



Catherine O'Neill Thorn

  Allowing young people to tell

their stories and discover other

ways of seeing themselves and the

value of their lives is honoring them

and what they've survived. 


Catherine O'Neill Thorn

Catherine O’Neill Thorn is a poet, writer and founder/director of Art from Ashes, a literary youth organization in Colorado. She has been conducting transformational poetry and spoken word workshops at juvenile detention facilities, treatment centers, and schools since 1992.

O'Neill Thorn developed the Phoenix Rising curriculum,  designed to empower struggling youth to express their creativity through metaphor and expose them to a language based on self-affirmation and belief in a successful future. This method has since become the seminal program of Art from Ashes. In a series of three-minute writing prompts facilitated over two hours, young people see immediate evidence of their creative ability and readily share their experiences — a process that often takes much longer using standard inquiry or therapies.

Art from Ashes has provided workshops to over 8,000 young people who have survived traumatic events, are victims of abuse, neglect and/or poverty, and are at risk for or engaged in destructive behaviors.

How did you come to writing? Were you first a writer, then a leader?

I started writing poetry when I was five years old. In the British and Irish cultures, poetry is considered a high art form, and since all schoolchildren are taught the importance of elocution, memorization and literature, it stands that memorizing poetry is an necessary part of a young person’s eduction. Consequently, my mother started reading us poetry when we were toddlers; she often played Dylan Thomas on the record player and occasionally stopped mid-sentence and recited a lengthy poem from her childhood. At the time, my bothers and sister and I were not at all impressed, but now I have only her to thank for my deep appreciation of poetry.

As a teenager and young adult, I kept numerous journals filled with poetry . . . most of it incredibly sad. I wish I had this program then. It was a lonely business pouring out my heart in despair; I would have benefitted from the transformational process, as well.

I’ve always loved poetry. Some have said it’s my religion, but to me it’s actually a vehicle. When you’ve been driving a beat-up old Volkswagen and suddenly you have access to a new Mini Cooper, well . . . that’s poetry.

People often look at writing and poetry as a mushy and temporary feel-good fix, but you seem to see written expression as critical to survival. Is this true, and if so, why? 

When I started developing the curriculum for youth in residential treatment, probationdepartments and eventually for Columbine High School students, I called into play my experiences as a writer; as someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression; and also my troubled past. When I added my spirituality and research into human behavior and psychology, that's when I realized that language is a powerful medium that taps into our subconscious and can direct and manage our perceptions. Since it it ultimately our beliefs, not our cognitive process, that most affects our choices and behaviors, the ability to dialogue with our subconscious and learn to manipulate our perceptions changes everything.

When we learn that there’s a difference between a fact and our story about the fact, as a creative genius, we see that we are totally in charge of our story. And it is our story that determines our reality.

The world can be ugly and cruel. And the world also is amazing and awesome. Both and everything in between is true. Allowing young people to tell their stories and discover other ways of seeing themselves and the value of their lives is honoring them and what they've survived. More than that, allowing someone who has suffered the opportunity to find strength and hope through the power of language is not only poetry but is neurology. My definition of poetry is a dialogue with the subconscious through the language of metaphor. The dialogue can be shifted, and the resultant shift can change everything.

Art from Ashes deliberately distinguishes its writing process from art therapy. What’s the distinction?

Poetry therapy is a distinct practice that requires training in specific therapeutic techniques, as well as how to integrate poetry with those techniques. Our process is a group process, and while it is an effective support to therapy, it is more focused on each individual’s creative genius and their ability to choose an identity that does not make them a victim of experiences or circumstances. We accomplish this not by therapeutic skills (although certainly the result is therapeutic) but by introducing young people to the power of the arts and their own creative genius; by allowing both a safe process using the language of metaphor and a space space in  which to express their story without judgement; and by guiding young people who have struggled through a process of transformation—from despair to self-determination.

The Phoenix Rising program reaches young people who have had limited or no exposure to the arts; because we bring in published poems, we provide arts education; because we introduce local poets and authors, we engage marginalized youth with the creative community; because we provide public performance opportunities, we allow young people to practice public speaking skills and reengage them with their community.

While all art is intrinsically healing, and while therapy has multiple cognitive and behavioral benefits, our curriculum is unique and effective because it’s interactive, self-directed, and taps into the creative subconscious utilizing our three-step process of expression, connection and transformation.

You’ve founded, organized and managed numerous literary events and community programs. You’re a motivational speaker, and a writer. What keeps you motivated to continue to give your time, energy and effort? 

Someone once asked me about the spiritual beliefs that informed my work. After explaining the source of my process and that I believe this is the reason I was placed on the planet, he said, “I don’t mean to be disrespectful (you have to love sentences that start that way), but what if you’re wrong?”

Without giving it any thought, I responded, “I don’t care. It works.”

As long as the youth are responding, as long as their lives are improving, as long as they want to keep living, as long as they see themselves having a powerful future, I accept the multiple challenges (and even the ongoing fatigue!!!) and will go as long as I can.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve given or received?

Given: Don’t think. Your left brain is analytical and judgmental and has to be right and has to be good and you just need to make it SFU if you want to dialogue with your creative subconscious.

Received: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I gave it to all the Columbine students in my poetry group when they graduated. She has a whole chapter on Shitty First Drafts that corresponds with our process, but it was so refreshing to hear a widely-respected published author say it. I have to fight my own “rational” brain all the time to just let the words flow.

So yeah. Basically both say the same thing.

Bonus Question: I’m a word collector. What are you favorite words?

Oh so so many! The ones that are “chewy” in my mouth are my favorite, as well as onomatopoeia. I also like fairly obsolete words. We tend to cheer for those at the office. The Indian name Ramachandran is amazing to say. The Spanish word susurrada is one of my favs (whispered). I also like words like eschew (I have a bumper sticker that says “Eschew obfuscation”) and finagle and . . .



Shawnte Orion

I never noticed the difference

between naked and exposed

until your sweater was puddled on my floor

and your shoulders remained covered

in kaleidoscopic swirls of ink. A tattooed

cartography of memories and myths.

Sleeves I could never remove.

- Shawnte Orion, Sleeveless


Shawnte Orion takes poetry to the streets, bars, laundromats and more. His work has been published in numerous literary journals, including Crab Creek Review, Barrelhouse and New York Quarterly. He lives in Surprise, Arizona, and has been named one of 100 Phoenix Creatives.

In his debut poetry collection, The Existentialist Cookbook, Orion sifts through the absurdity of modern life for scraps of philosophy, religion, and mathematics to blend into recipes for elegies and celebrations.

You often perform your work in non-traditional settings: bars, hair salons, museums, laundromats, and street corners. Why?

I don’t want poetry to be confined or limited to the niche demographic of People Who Like Poetry. I’m no professor. I didn’t come out of a University writing program. I’m a “regular” person with a normal job, so I believe poetry can be relevant and appreciated in anyone’s world. I love occasions when I get to read to people who aren’t usually exposed to poetry. Whether they left the house for the sole purpose of doing their laundry or seeing a punk band, I like the challenge and reward of trying to hold their attention and maybe even win them over.
The Existentialist Cookbook, your first full-length book, offers a great blend of sharp and smart poems mixed with wonderfully tender and touching pieces. Was this range intentional?

Yes. I experience the world through an array of emotions and moods and I want my poetry to reflect that spectrum. Times when I am withdrawn and pensive are as integral to my process as moments of hilarity. This might have worked against me with certain presses who prefer a more unified “voice” but fortunately Raymond Hammond and NYQBooks appreciated my amalgamated poetics. I don’t necessarily want this collection to contradict itself, but it should contain multitudes.
Your poems are quick-witted, full of clever word play and pop culture references, and peppered with such engaging titles as, "Love in the Time of Hand-Sanitizer" and "Unable to Surface for Air During Shark Week." Who (or what) has influenced your writing?

Before I started getting into poetry, the songwriters and filmmakers I was obsessed with in my youth left an imprint on the way I approach poems (Soundgarden and Frank Black music- Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman films, for example). Back in middle school, I also paid a lot of attention to what stand up comics could accomplish on a stage with nothing but words and perspective. It wasn’t until I took a workshop with Denise Duhamel that I began to realize how much crossover there was between the poet and stand up comic worlds. She pointed out that Denis Leary started out as a poet (even published in Ploughshares). I looked up one of the comedians I remember most (John Wing) and found that he published a few poetry books. Influences are a small world after all.
Your book bio says you “attended community college for one day” but that your poems have appeared in many respected literary journals. How did you come to poetry, and how did you “learn” to write?

My French teacher in 7th, 8th and 12th grade, Elaine Phelps, had our class work with poetry to understand the language. Translating and discussing the poems of Jacques Prevert showed me how efficiently ideas and experiences could be conveyed through a handful of lines. Once I started reading lots of contemporary poetry, it wasn’t always the brilliant stuff that taught me the most. Often times, it was noticing where and how certain poems fell apart that “taught“ me what I wanted to avoid.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

Continually revisit the poems you thought were finished weeks, months, even years ago. A little bit of distance can create a lot of clarity.
Bonus Question: I’m a word collector and keep a running list of favorite words. What are your favorite words?
I also try to keep lists, so here are a few of my most recent additions:






Gail Waldstein

   I believe in telling
the total

   emotional truth, or as much

   of it as I can clasp.

Because a few questions can lead to endless insight, I'm happy to present Fast Five — interviews with my favorite writers.

Gail Waldstein is author of To Quit This Calling, a memoir of her 35 years as a pediatric pathologist, and Afterimage, a poetry chapbook. Her stories, essays and poems have won numerous awards and have appeared in New Letters, Carve, The Potomac Review and many other journals. An excerpt from Mind Riot, a memoir about her disintegration into schizophrenia, is available to read at Solstice Literary Review. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

As a pediatric pathologist you routinely conducted autopsies on dead children, as well as diagnosing leukemia and brain tumors on very sick children. How did your career choice impact your creative life?

I had always wanted to write and a few years after a grueling internship in pediatrics, ’68-69, when I also gave birth to my first child and worked every-other-night for the rest of that year, I did write about that and was published in the early ‘70s. By then I had two more babies and my marriage was fragmenting. I was divorced in ‘76. I put aside all hopes of writing then, continued in pediatric pathology full time and solo-raised three children for fifteen years.

The truth of what I did daily in the morgue, the operating room, at the surgical bench and microscope, diagnosing tumors in babies and children drained my humanity. Said another way, in order to stay reasonably sane I shut down empathy and worked, wrote medical articles, book chapters and never accepted career advances that would require working evenings, which were dedicated to being home with the children.

“Creative” for me during those super-busy years equaled crocheting, cooking, embroidery. I kept a journal, always have, but didn’t venture into serious writing again until a poem seized me in the early ‘90s, when I pulled over, parked and wrote. By then the children were off at college or into early careers and I was remarried, another adventure that was going to hell. I continued in pathology, but increasingly found that the armor I had to wear to muscle through the surgeries and autopsies was diametrically opposed to my being able to peel my skin off and write from a raw place, which is how I wanted my work to be. I want to move a reader’s heart, to create in them the emotions that sweep us, almost slay us, move us deeply. Eventually, this dichotomy between how I had to present myself, and how I wanted to be caused (or contributed to) several severe diseases. Later, after lots of drugs, surgeries and wrestling with part time work, I quit medicine, primarily because of rheumatoid arthritis. Economically, an insane decision, but personally fulfilling and the right thing for my writing and my body. It took a few years before I noticed my body had begun to unclench, cells were breathing again.

The story of your health is story itself. You’ve survived cancer of the cervix, rheumatoid arthritis, and schizophrenia (for which you were treated in a mental institution). Do you consider writing a form of therapy?

Absolutely NOT.

I have been asked that question many, many times or told that my writing is therapeutic, that it’s so confessional and out-there that it must bring closure or relief or healing. And while writing, the way I approach it is very interior, visceral and (hopefully) deep, it is not therapy.

I was in intense psychotherapy after my hospitalization at age 30 for three years. That experience was painful, self-revealing, transformative. I have been blessed not needing psychiatric drugs afterward, but I remain connected to therapy and assume I will return for “mini-fixes” forever. While it’s easier now, having lived with my disease for decades, and recognizing danger and mental disorder faster than ever, I can say that the worst day of writing, when I’m stalled in front of a legal pad or computer, desolate and dry, the most difficult dark places I visit in my work, the most eviscerating confessions I decide to expose, is like eating a thick slice of chocolate cake compared to those early years of therapy. There is no comparison.

You are a later-in-life writer. How did you come to writing?

I am definitely a late-life writer, but as I said earlier, it was something I always wanted to do. I read poetry and novels in med school, sometimes secreted paperbacks inside medical texts. I would’ve graduated higher in my class had I read more medicine, no doubt, but I majored in both English Lit and Biology in college, and I desperately missed literature in the sterile, memorization-oriented sphere of medical school.

My writing began as my second marriage was crumbling. I saw lovers kissing on a Denver street in a snow storm and it reminded me of my first kiss and I wrote what I saw, what it renewed in my body. That opened some connection with the muse, some daring. I had always wanted to write about my hospitalization and had made weak stabs over the years. In the mid-90s, as more poems, stories and essays arrived, I began work on my book, Mind Riot, which I’m still wrestling.

You write in many forms: essay, poetry, short story, memoir. Which came first, and what does one form offer that another doesn’t?

Poems came first, and still, if I’m lucky enough to feel one bubbling up, I stop whatever I’m doing and write. It’s not automatic writing, but I do want to honor the impetus.

Prose writing is more work, more struggle, more muscular for me. Not that I don’t work hard on my poetry, I do, but the end is always close, the rhythm set, the music compact. For prose I try to remember Ron Carlson’s advice, where in the body does this happen and write toward that. I have a erratic approach to writing (as do most women writers). I may see a shape, a floating color, a locale where I realized something novel, a vision of a loved one in a particular slant of light, an argument, and that starts things. I don’t read for plot and if it shows up in my work, great, but I’m not primarily interested in it. Occasionally I think I know where I’m going, but I don’t outline. I think the delight of “first writes” for me is discovery and planning would ablate that.

As I reread an ugly first draft, I’ll see ten or twenty pages without a single scene. Revision time. It took me many years to learn that revision is not simply editing, but seeing the whole piece anew. I now love revision as much as a fresh start, which I never thought I’d say.

I realize in rereading your question I haven’t answered what form offers what. That’s probably because in pathology I considered myself a “lumper,” not a “splitter.” I saw similarities between tumors; I noted the dance of malignant cells and their relationships, and found that more interesting than individual characteristics that subcategorize and define individual malignancies. I certainly could and did break things into small cubby-holes; that was my job, my career. But I’m not sure I ever subscribed to the concept that such minute distinctions were as important as medical professionals insisted.

I feel the same way about prose. I’m not a strict nonfiction MUST be TRUE kind of woman. I believe in telling the total emotional truth, or as much of it as I can clasp, but I often have no idea whether I’m writing memoir, short story or creative nonfiction. And to add to my personal confused philosophy, many of my pieces, which invariably contain autobiography, have won awards in two or three of these “classifications.”

(I first read this question as to what informs my work, so as a “bonus,” I’ll leave what I wrote to answer this unasked question: My obsessions inform my writing, love and its foibles, observed and experienced, is a theme I come back to often. My long exposure to medicine and my experiences in it as a doctor and then a patient colors my work and infuses my vocabulary. Feminism is also woven deeply in my writing.)

For many years you served as a creative writing mentor for Denver Public Schools (earning teacher of the year in 2003), and also taught at the college level. I have been the beneficiary of your insightful and incisive editing. What do you find turns a piece from ordinary to extraordinary (and how do we do it?!)

If I could answer that, I’d win some prize. There’s something about the strength of truth that hits the reader in the gut. I know it when I see it, the old Supreme Court comment about pornography, applies. You feel it in your cells, you gasp, your nose starts running and you know you’re about to cry. Sometimes pretty prose alone, the music of it, catches my breath, or a strange, mystical image; sometimes it’s a peculiar juxtaposition, two ideas that are unrelated are mashed together and I’m forced to rethink reality. As far as I know there is no simple rule for making writing extraordinary. Except, maybe the old saw, How does one get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice.

I do know though, that without risk there is little but ho-hum. You hear risk easily in humor, people have to go over the edge, insult or offend (and often apologize), but without the courage to try something wild and new, there’s no extraordinary, just rehash.

I encourage that risk-taking in writers all the time. A lot easier if I don’t have to do it myself. But of course, I try and make myself tell the absolute truth, the fullness of what happened and what an idiot I was, or how base and mean and petty I was. I think we all need to tell the full truth as best we can. I believe writers are obligated to show pimples, prejudice, injustice, corruption, at least on the page, and hopefully kindness and perhaps redemption, or at least an inclination to reform.

I still teach and mentor in the public schools, now through a program run at Lighthouse Writers Workshop and when I get something from a student that evokes a visceral reaction I try and let the reaction show. I applaud these young artists who exhibit courage, and am humbled and inspired by their fertile, fervent minds.

Bonus Question: I’m a word collector, and encourage writers to gather words with interesting textures, sounds and significance. What are your favorite words?

 yes, love, hope, simple, laughter, truth, courage, writing, grace, chocolate