Reading to take place June 15

The public is invited to the first performance of Nancy’s Amazing Crew of Yarn Spinners, Tall Tale Tellers and Big Fat Liars. The evening will include readings by Nancy Woods and several of  her students, including Catherine Magdalena, Kerry McPherson, Howard Schneider, Jamie Caulley and Mark Alejos.

The reading will take place Thursday, June 15, 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. It will take place in the Copeland Commons room of TaborSpace, 5441 SE Belmont St. Portland, OR 97215. Free. Donations accepted.

Poem: Let’s Hear it for Green-leafed Trees

Let’s Hear it for Green-leafed Trees

By Nancy Woods


Each fall, red-leafed maples

Grab all the attention

Garnering oohs and ahs

With bus tours centered around them


But where would they be

Without the earlier, green-leafed versions

That transform into burnt-orange



Brash is one way of being

Meanwhile, give a shout out

To the quiet side of yourself

That occasionally gives way to the bold

Tales from Tillamook (A serial novel)

“It’s gotta be Randy,” Pennie told me when the lights went out.

Whenever the power goes out, Randy’s name comes up because he’s the unlicensed electrician in charge of all things electrical in the 100-plus-year-old Tillamook Building where Pennie and I lease space. She rents a room for her Curly Girls (and Guys) Hair Salon. I rent one where I write.

That day I was sitting in Pennie’s one-chair salon where, every six weeks, she does her best to tame my frizzy hair. After a few minutes, the lights came back on.

“I hope the power surge didn’t fry my computer,” I said, talking into the mirror that reflected Pennie’s image. Tall and strong, she wielded a flat iron in one hand and a hairbrush in the other.

“If it does,” she said, gradually pulling the iron away from my head, “you could try billing John.” John is our landlord.

“Yeah, right,” I said. “Like that’s gonna work.” Years of trying to make a living as a writer had turned me into a sceptic.

Just then we heard a knock on the door. A second later, Randy poked his head inside.

“Hi, girls,” he said, throwing us a smile. “I know. I should have told you I was going to work on the wiring in the basement but no one was around when I showed up this morning and John’s in a hurry to update the old lines, so I decided to go ahead.” It was hard to get angry with Randy. A small, sinewy man continually covered in dust, he was just making it, like the rest of us, and needed every job he could get. “Is there anything you need to have done?” Randy continued with a pleading look on his face. “I’m offering a special on window cleaning this month, and you know my motto: I Can Fix Everything Except Your Love Life.”

“But that’s where Twyla needs help!” Pennie blurted out before clamping her mouth shut.

“Hey!” I said, offended at hearing the truth. “I actually met a guy last week. Didn’t I tell you?”

“Yes you did but going to a fundraiser for the arts and talking to someone isn’t a date,” Pennie said.

This time it was Randy who laughed. “So,” he said, “what can I do for you both?”

Pennie and I exchanged a glance in the mirror. Over the years we’d both hired Randy to do odd jobs but we always ended up regretting it. The door lock he’d installed for Pennie never worked quite right, and the rug he’d replaced for me had soon wrinkled, tripping the students who met in my space.

“I…uh…,” Pennie stammered.

“We’ll think about it,” I said. “Really. We will.”

“Okay,” Randy said. The look of concern on his face was soon replaced by a smile and a wink. After Randy closed the door. Pennie twirled me around so she could reach my bangs.

“You’re the only client I know who has cowlicks in back and front,” she said while yanking at my hair.

“Ouch!” I yelled. “Watch it.”

“Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain,” Pennie said.

(To be continued)

Thanks, Cirque


Words matter. Editors matter. I was reminded of that when editors Sandra L. Kleven and Michael Burwell gave my poem a special mention on the From the Editors page of the current issue of Cirque. Sandra and Michael correctly referred to my submission as a “cautionary poem.” Here’s an excerpt:

Let’s pretend we’re drowning
Because there will be no tomorrow
If we don’t save each other today

Thanks to fine editors everywhere, especially those at Cirque. As a writer, there’s nothing more worthwhile than to have one’s work valued and understood.



Christmas a bit late


Ha! A couple days ago, while looking for something else, I finally found the Christmas decorations I’d been looking for. Oh well, there’s always next year. Can you tell I’m a writer? The decorations were given to me by one of my students. Thanks, Mark.

Pleasure and pain


George C. Thomas Memorial Library (photo by Nancy Woods)

To me, reading has always meant a mixture of pleasure and pain because the library I visited as a child also was the place where my brother, sister, cousins and I got our immunizations against chicken pox, measles and mumps. There were eight of us kids in all, including my older brother, Roy, my younger sister, Jean, and my cousin, Randy, who was the same age as me.

When yet another booster time rolled around, we kids would pile into my mother’s rattley Ford station wagon and head down to the George C. Thomas Memorial Library on First Avenue in Fairbanks, Alaska.

During the 12-block ride to the library, we older cousins would take pains to explain to the younger ones just how horrible the shot would be. We even provided graphic descriptions of the needle, focusing on its length and diameter. Feeling confident because we’d been through the experience more than once, we went on and on, exaggerating the caliber of the needle and resulting pain until Mom would chastise us from the front seat, saying, “Okay, that’s enough. You’re scaring the little kids.”

By then we would have pulled up outside the log library, a matronly building that wore its wrap-around porch like a skirt. On a normal day, I would have headed to the kid’s section with its selection of books, but today was different. We hadn’t come to the library to read. Instead, we filed into a room back behind the stacks, one that included a white screen and ironing board onto which, one at a time, each of us cousins would be placed rump side up, have our trousers lowered and be poked.

The bravado I’d felt in the car evaporated at the first whiff of alcohol. My stomach lurched, and I was filled with dread. One by one we were led behind the screen where the nurse did her job. The pain was real but short.

It was a much quieter group of children who hobbled back down the library steps and gingerly set their backsides in the car. Everyone, that is, except Randy. Perhaps it was a side effect of the serum, but Randy apparently felt great.

“I didn’t feel a thing,” he kept saying on the ride home. “It didn’t hurt a bit.”

I was surprised he could be so cheerful. I felt humbled by the pain and was feeling pretty sorry for myself. The fact was, the shot hurt. Mom drove us back down Cowles Street, turning right at the bowling alley and left on Kellum Street to Randy and Aunt Helen’s house. Once inside, Mom and Aunt Helen went into the kitchen to prepare lunch while we kids sat quietly on the stuffed furniture in the living room. None of us said anything. Except for Randy, who continued to be talkative and chipper. His brown eyes glistened and his smile deepened as he bragged about his physical courage.

“Hit me hard. Here,” he insisted more than once, slapping his hand on his backside. When we took him up on it, he laughed at our vain attempts to hurt him.

“Harder!” he yelled. “I can’t feel a thing!” He seemed to have been injected with a new source of energy and joy. “Watch me!” he shouted to the rest of us before taking a running leap and sliding on his butt down the hallway, skimming across the smooth, hardwood floor.

I sat there, watching, amazed.

And once was not enough. Randy performed the stunt again and again. Afterwards, he was all smiles, his jeans hot to the touch.

Randy’s imperviousness to pain may have had something to do with the fact that, about that time in his life, his parents split up. In the following years, Randy became the favorite cousin, the one everyone liked best, the one we all wanted to sit next to at dinner. He was the funny one, the understanding one, the cousin who could take his own pain and turn it into entertainment that distracted us from our own.

Hooked on Antifreeze: True Tales About Loving and Leaving Alaska


Thank You, Katharine Hepburn

(Excerpt from Under the Influence of Tall Trees: Humorous Tales From a Pacific Northwest Writer)

Every year at Christmas time I get to thinking about Katharine Hepburn even though she is no longer with us.

My daughter was born in December, three days after Christmas. I was lying in a hospital bed just after her birth, feeling a bit discombobulated from the whole thing, when a woman carrying a clipboard walked into my room.

“What are you going to name your child?” she asked, her pencil poised. From her official-sounding voice, I could only assume it was her job to enter every new name into some big book. But in my woozy state I couldn’t think of one.

“Well you’d better give it some thought,” the woman warned. “I’ll be back. Soon. Make up your mind.”

But how was I supposed to name this infant I’d only just met? I could call my daughter Jean, I thought. It was my mother’s middle name, my sister’s name and the name of a friend. Or I could name her Holly, which, because of her due date, had been suggested by more than one acquaintance and a name my husband liked. But when the clipboard lady walked in again, I still hadn’t decided.

“Well,” she announced firmly. “I can’t let you take the child home without a name.” And with that she marched out.

Could she do that? I wondered. In my confused state, I thought perhaps there was some obscure law, some entry in a legal ledger that said a child who is not immediately named reverts to the care of the state. I didn’t know, but the clipboard lady sounded like she meant business.

So I paced the hospital halls in my bathrobe and slippers, trying to make up my mind. I had to come up with a name and I had to do it fast. I walked the corridors, sometimes alone, sometimes with my husband Dave. Furrow-browed, I barely noticed the two-story Christmas tree still standing, brightly lit, in the lobby.

Then it came to me. I could call her Katharine. After Katharine Hepburn, the crisp actress I’d so long admired. I could spell it Katherine, to make things easier and I could call her Kate for short. That was it. I was sure. I could see her now, my newborn daughter, all grown up, sharp and opinionated, just like Kate. And I would use the other names, too. All of them. No need to pick and choose.

“Can a person have four names?” I asked Dave. He seemed to think it would work.

And so we named her Katherine Holly Jean Woods, and the clipboard lady let us go home. Within a matter of days, however, it became obvious that our daughter wasn’t a crisp Kate but a sweet Holly, which is what we’ve been calling her ever since.


My Tiny Tribe


“Belonging,” Nancy Woods, acrylic, 9×12 inches

With this blog post, I honor my students’ anthology, “BeLonging,” because who doesn’t want to fit in?

In my imagination, I belong to a small group of people exactly like me—writers and artists who, according to at least one study, make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. workforce.* To make my group even more select, I belong to the chapter of right-handed, left-wing writers and artists—solitude-seeking people who long for country roads, blackberry bushes and crumbling fences.

The members of my tiny like-minded tribe—which exists only in my dreams— are known for being complacent. How complacent, you ask? We’re so complacent we don’t even decide which books we’ll read. Instead, when we need some literary input, we walk into the nearest library, grab the first “staff pick” off the shelf and walk out, well, after checking the book out.

This make-believe army of mine and I are psychologically unable to experience the moment. Instead, we must write a poem about it, paint it or take a photo of it. Unwilling or incapable of simply living life, we document every exquisite event. To us, my herd of duplicators, life is so tender and vulnerable, so flimsy and fleeting, so painfully precious that we’re forced to continually capture it with words, on film and on canvas.

Hear that bird? Quick. Write a song about it.

See that forest log smothered with ivy? Snap with your camera.

Fall in love? Turn it into flash fiction.

To us, the members of my clutch, life is so sweet, so fragile and irreplaceable, so diaphanous and dying, that just living it is never enough. We’re compelled to gather it, hold it, harbor it, seize it, save it, so we can savor it over and over again. More than one of us has taken a photo of a painting of a photo of a painting. No distance from reality is too far to be traveled.

Highly excitable as children and proud of it, my people and I were the class clowns, the sit-down comics sent to the principal’s office to calm down and shut up. At family dinners, we laughed at our own jokes while snorting milk out our nose. Equal-opportunity insulters, we find humor in everything, including ourselves.

Diversity-relishing nap takers, my cohorts and I also are death-, dog- and phone-fearing note takers. We’re tree-needy, coffee-slurping, near-sighted, frizzy-haired joke meisters. We’re PC-using, Apple-wary goofballs. We’re road-tripping, list-making, understated-English-drama-binging, out-the-window-staring caretakers of cats.

My miniscule group imposes no dues, performs no rituals. The only requirement for membership is that you must think, feel, act, look, taste and smell exactly like us. You must enjoy food but decline to cook. You must drive a car but wish you didn’t. You must love everyone, if just in the abstract.

If the local chapter of my assemblage ever got together (which is doubtful because we hate meetings), the event could be held in my living room, which seats six. If you want, you can apply to become a member of my group. But I must warn you, we have a reputation for not getting back.


Nine ways to make your editor smile


Remember “Lou Grant,” the TV show in which actor Ed Asner played a gruff, unsmiling newspaper editor? Well, that TV character isn’t totally made up. In fact, he has a lot in common with real-life newspaper and magazine editors.

I’ve worked both as a writer and editor, so I know what it’s like to sit on both sides of the desk. One lesson I’ve learned is that publishing isn’t a democracy. The sooner writers (including me) accept that fact, the happier—or at least less annoyed—we’ll be.

But wait a minute, you may ask. Aren’t editors standing on the shoulders of writers? Without writers, wouldn’t editors be out of a job? Well, maybe. But that doesn’t mean the writer is in charge. Who’s in charge? The editor, of course—the rude, caustic, short-tempered, abrupt person who “deals with” your copy to make it “fit to print.”*

So what is the writer’s job? To make her editor smile, or at least not growl, by following these rules:

1. Never miss a deadline. As a writer, you have a deadline with your editor but that’s not the end of the story. Your editor has deadlines, too—to pass the edited copy along to the next person, whether it’s a copy editor, designer or whoever. If one person is late with copy, it affects everyone down the road. Who wants to work with someone who’s consistently late? No one. And chances are, you’re not the only writer your editor is working with.

Think of your deadline an immovable object that doesn’t care if your cat slept on your printer or you need to catch a bus to use the free Wi-Fi at the brewpub. (Yes, writers have offered both those excuses to me for submitting late copy.)

The relationship between a writer and editor is based on trust. If she can’t count on you to make your deadlines, she’ll find someone else.

2. Woman up: Deliver the bad news. If for any reason you must miss a deadline, let your editor know as soon as possible. Don’t put off telling her because of a possible negative response. It’s your job to let the editor know so she can make any necessary changes in assignments.

3. Don’t pitch on deadline. The minute after you submit your copy is not the best time to send your editor an idea for your next article. Wait a few days at least.

4. If in doubt, email. Most editors I know hate the phone. Why? Because, too often, it rings at the wrong time, in contrast with emails, which are easier to respond to when it’s convenient. Save phone calls for emergencies.

5. Stick to the point. Don’t dump several topics into one email. Include only what your editor needs to know about your most immediate project.

6. Recap. Don’t force your editor to recall what article you’re working on. Never send her an email that requires her to find an earlier email or assume she can quickly and easily remember all the issues and players involved in your story. Instead, if you’re communicating by email, include a short recap. For example:

Subject: Snowmobile article

Hi, Andy – As you know, the angle on the topic is safety. John Wilson, the owner of SnoGo, whom I interviewed yesterday, suggested I go to Big Business Lobby for comments about safety concerns. I was thinking Association of Outdoor Enthusiasts might be a better choice. What do you think? Sam

7. Provide print-ready answers. When an editor emails you a follow-up question about your article, don’t expect her to write your revised copy for you. Instead, provide copy she can paste into the article. For example:

Emailed question from editor:

Sam – In your snowmobile article you said “SnoGo is the oldest snowmobile company in the area.” How old is the company and what area are you referring to? Andy

Instead of responding like this:

Sorry, Andy. I should have made that clearer. My bad. J  SnoGo is 20 years old. By “area” I meant the Seattle vicinity. Sam

Respond like this:

Andy – Use this: SnoGo, founded in 1976, is the oldest snowmobile company in the Seattle area. Sam

8. Spell it right. Double- and triple-check spellings of names, especially names of people and businesses. People often intentionally spell things in unusual ways.

9. Provide complete photo captions. In addition to an article, you may also be asked to provide photos and captions.

This does not count as a photo caption:

The guy in the red hat is Frank Jones. Next to him is his daughter Sarah. They’re standing in front of their store. I took the photo.

Instead, write this:

(left to right) Sarah Jones and her father, Frank Jones, stand in front of the Jones Family Grocery Store. (Photo by Terry Camden)

*“All the news that’s Fit to Print” is the motto of the New York Times.