Category Archives: Writing

A Writing Conference in Eugene?

Yesterday, I had a preliminary meeting with Juanita Metzler of Travel Lane County, and Matt Lowes, writer, teacher, man of unlimited energy, and we hammered out some initial ideas and goals for a good writing conference for Eugene. The Register-Guard helped by posting a notice about the first public meeting on October 4, 3-5pm at the Travel Lane County offices at 754 Olive St., Eugene, Oregon.

We three came away extremely excited about the prospect of bringing world-class writers to our community to share that community and bounty of nature that we all love so much.  We don’t want to compete with other writing conferences that are established and do what they do so well, like the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland which is held every August. That is a big, stellar conference. No, we’re looking for something smaller and perhaps a little more specialized, without excluding the local writers upon whom we will depend to help with the organization. A conference runs on a battalion of volunteers.

After all, we’re all in it for the story, right? It all comes down to character, plot, motivation, setting and structure, whether you’re writing romance, science fiction, fantasy, thriller or mystery.

Anyway, we’re open to suggestions of all types. If you have a good idea for a name for this conference, or a theme, or a presenter you’d like to hear, or a type of class you’d like to teach or take, let me know. If you have ideas where we can acquire seed money to get this thing off the ground, we will be forever grateful. If you want to attend the meeting where I hope we will make some definitive decisions and begin to enlist volunteer captains, pop me an email, as the Travel Lane County conference room only holds so many souls.

Fun. Very fun.  A new adventure in writing.

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Filed under connections, Possibilities, Writing

Discussion Questions

I was delighted to discover that my book Lizzie Borden, has been selected as a text for two Women’s Studies classes at different universities.  Previously, Lizard Wine has received a similar honor. As a result, I have posted Discussion Questions on my website for each of those two books for the convenience of book clubs, literature classes, women’s studies classes, and readers, both professors and students.

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Filed under Reading, Writing

Kick Start Your Novel

For the first time in several years, I’ll be teaching the Kick Start Your Novel class June 4,5,6,7 in Eugene, Oregon.
This series of four evening classes is an intense, hands-on novel writing workshop designed to get your novel going in the right direction. Classes are structured so you will learn about the internal structure of fiction and the key aspects of writing a novel, then work on your book in class.
This workshop is for the writer who has basic writing experience, is highly motivated and has at least a nodding acquaintance with the novel that dwells within. While you may work on your novel-in-progress if you insist, I strongly suggest that instead, you work on something fresh for the purposes of this workshop. Leave your old work at home and let the spirit of the moment move you. Trust the creative process and watch the magic happen.
Plan to attend all four sessions, and spend non-class hours working intensively on your book as well. Momentum is important. This class is not for the faint of heart, the weak-willed or those who are afraid of the intense internal examination that novel writing entails. Your level of experience is not as important as your dedication to the process.
The fun, intense class will take place over four consecutive evenings, June 4,5,6,7 from 6pm to about 9 or 9:30pm. Space is limited to six participants. Cost is $250 per person. Email me for more information.

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I love Edgar Allan Poe

Whenever I am asked, as all authors are, who the writers were who influenced me, Edgar Allan Poe is always the first to come to mind.

I was an odd child, and in the year between seventh and eighth grade, I spent all summer wearing my swimming suit and living in my bed, reading. I read the collected works of Poe, of course, and everything from Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan, Pelucidar and more), Ian Fleming, Rod Serling, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury… I read voraciously. The only time I got out of bed was to load the books in the basket of my bicycle and head to the library for another load. This immersion in literature was the most valuable use of time (though my mother never understood) for a fledgling writer.

I’ve since read most of those authors many times, none more than Mr. Poe: the author, the poet, the enigma, the influence. I glean new appreciation every time I read something of his.

Several years ago I was invited to contribute to an anthology entitled Poe’s Lighthouse, a collection of stories about the most mysterious story of all: an unfinished one by Poe. Chris Conlon did a nice job of putting the anthology together, and I was delighted to contribute. Now that story is available as a $.99 stand-alone short story for the Kindle.



I hope all Poe fans enjoy it. As always now and forever: if you read something you like, post a review.

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Filed under Short Stories, Writing

Something Happened To Grandma

My new true-crime book, Something Happened to Grandma,  has just been released in e-book form from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and all electronic formats. Rosetta Books did a fine job, as did Marilyn and Elliott Bardsley from Crimescape.

The Foreword by Marilyn Bardsley:

Gabriel Morris was a rambunctious but adorable child who was probably sexually abused by his father while his mother tried to win back custody of him. He grew into an intelligent and gifted adult, but there was something very wrong. As he grew older, serious character flaws and emotional problems emerged which caused made it impossible for him to hold a job for any length of time. Eventually his deceptions and deep-seated anger caught up with him, precipitating a tragic family crisis.

Elizabeth Engstrom is uniquely positioned to write this story. She lives in Oregon and attended Gabriel Morris’ recent trial, observing both Morris’ behavior and the impact that his crimes had upon his family. Known primarily as a novelist of mystery books with dark psychological landscapes, the chilling story of Gabriel Morris is one that dovetails with both Engstrom’s fiction and nonfiction accomplishments.

As the author of 13 books and more than 250 published short stories, articles and essays. Her most recent novels are York’s Moon, a critically acclaimed mystery, and The Northwoods Chronicles, a wonderful tale of dark fantasy. An author, teacher, editor and former publisher, she is a sought-after panelist, keynote speaker and instructor at writing conferences and conventions around the world. Since she completed her master’s degree in applied theology, she has begun a small interfaith ministry called Love and Mercy Ministries. She is on faculty at the University of Phoenix.  www.elizabethengstrom.com

“Something Happened to Grandma” Cover

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The Legend of El Gringo Grande

While in Zihuatanejo, Mexico last January on a writing retreat, my husband Al and I walked over a beautiful stone bridge that spanned a canal. This was a flood water control canal, and as this wasn’t the rainy season, there were only about 3″ of water in it, flowing across the beach to the bay.

During the day, this canal was filled with birds: ibis, snowy egrets, greater egrets, pink spoonbills, all feasting on the minnows that were silvery thick. Beautiful. At sundown on our first night there, we saw a snowy egret try to fly away with the rest, but his leg was caught in something and he couldn’t get loose.

Al had a restless night, thinking about that egret. Named him Edgar. In the morning, we borrowed a pair of scissors from the front desk of our hotel, and went to rescue Edgar.

The canal had 8′ concrete walls and a concrete floor, except for the south side by the beach, which had broken away. Al couldn’t see that the floor was broken from his vantage point, so he endeavored to wade into the canal from that side. Soon the water was up to his hips and it was clear that he couldn’t go any further. From my vantage point on the bridge, I could see the deep hole and encouraged him to go back out to the beach and come in on the north side, where the concrete floor was intact. This is what he did.

A Mexican man came up to me all in a panic and said, “What is he doing?” I pointed at poor Edgar, still sitting there about thirty yards up the canal, and told him what Al was about. “There’s a CROCODILE in that hole!” the man said.

“Al! Al!” I yelled. “Crocodile!”

Al looked around. “I don’t see any crocodile,” he said, and continued on his way.

Soon, a crowd gathered. The gentleman who had warned me about the crocodile now became the emcee of the event, giving everyone who gathered in the morning light a blow-by-blow description in both English and Spanish, of what they could certainly see with their own eyes.

Then someone called the fire department. I can only assume that having a tourist eaten in the canal is not good PR.

A Bombero (fireman) conferred with Al over the wall , then two of them went to the beach side of the canal where they saw the croc and they trained their M-16s on it until Al was safe.

Al calmly picked up the bird and while it pecked at his hands, he cut it free from the entanglement of fishing line.  

Big applause by everyone crowding the bridge.

Then he picked up the rest of the yards of old fishing line and one of the firemen told him a better way to get back out of the canal. The Emcee said to me: “Your husband, he’s”–he flexed his bicep–“grande!”

“Si,” I said.

Then he turned to the crowd, puffed out his chest and made an announcement. “Mr. and Mrs. Al,” he said. “You Americans come to Mexico and RESCUE OUR BIRDS!” Wild applause.

Al knew nothing of any of this. He just came onto the bridge, pockets full of old fishing line, and wanted to go have breakfast.

For the rest of the trip we called him El Gringo Grande. He liked it until he found out that it didn’t mean “great man,” it meant “big man”.

I say it takes a big man to brave crocodile-infested waters to rescue a bird.

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Filed under Goodness, Social Consciousness, Writing

The Hometown Book Signing

I’ve written before about the very few golden moments in an author’s life. Mostly it’s just bloody hard work, disappointment and aggravation. Writing, rewriting, editing, marketing, traveling, speaking engagements, working with editors and agents, rewriting again, more editing, more marketing, schlepping books, trying to get paid, shuffling money while the check is “in the mail”…

I know. I shouldn’t whine.

But Sunday afternoon was one of those times when it became crystal clear that it’s all worth it. I held my hometown booksigning and launch party for York’s Moon. Lots of people came. New friends, old friends, people I hadn’t seen since… since my last booksigning.

I felt the love.

What’s important to me about this event is not that I threw myself a party and a bunch of people came, it’s that people are still reading, still buying books, still supporting the local independent bookstore. We held this event at Tsunami Books, where Scott works 70 hours a week to maintain the local new/used bookstore. It’s an institution and worthy of all the support we can give it.

It always amazes me that I’m fortunate enough to continue to be published in this economy. Apparently, I’m writing what people want to read, and that is enormously gratifying. We sold all the books that Scott brought in, along with a few of my out of print titles. As we were packing up the last of the food (just enough for Al’s dinner), Scott came over to me and said, “You have fans!” I know. I’m humbled by that.

It was a great party, a successful booksigning and a fine launch of what I hope people will find to be a good read. Thanks, everyone, for reminding me about how grateful I am to be doing the only thing I was really invented to do.

P.S. How can you not love a bookstore that has a section like this?

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Filed under My New Novel, Promotion, Reading, Writing