In Praise of Writing Retreats…and Advances

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been made to attend a Retreat that you wished you could retreat from.

Yeah. Thought so. Been there too. But the retreat I get to attend this week is NOT one of those. My writing group–seven women–gets to spend 27 hours or so at the guest house of a generous islander. During that time we…

…each get a half-hour to focus the group on our writing, whether that means workshopping a piece or just talking through a difficult issue related to our writing lives

…go for walks, solitary or in groups, along the (very wild and windy this week!) coast

…curl up on couches and read or write quietly

…cook and eat and drink together

…share, laugh, and yes, at some point there is usually some crying as well

…wash dishes and clean up


Afterwards, we feel individually renewed and empowered, but we also feel our mutual trust fortified and revitalized. In a group where each of us has gone WAY out on the trust limb, in poetry or memoir or even just plain old publishing and marketing issues, this sense of mutual KNOWING is essential.

Oh, and the orca-watching from our generous host’s incredible living room view? That’s just a bonus.

What do you think is the secret to a good retreat? Is it the voluntary aspect alone? The blend of group and individual activities? The wine? 


“So How Many Books Have You Sold?” Why Does That Question Make Me Tense?

Before I published The Flying Burgowski, the question that used to tense me up was “So, are you published?” Now that I’m an Official Author, this is the question that clenches my gut.

“So how many books have you sold?”

Insecurity? That’s just a guess. Like, there’s this Standard of Authorness out there, some random number of units sold, and I’m pretty sure I don’t measure up. Which means…uh-oh…maybe it was all a dream? My hard work doesn’t really count?

My response to this question has been to willfully turn my back on all those handy stats offered by my publishing service. Oh, I could answer that question if I needed to. But I prefer to stay blissfully ignorant.

“I think I’ve sold one to all my friends,” I reply cheerfully. “Luckily I have a lot of friends.”

I’m not a total baby. Of course I set goals for myself: be published by ___, have sold ___ copies by ____. I know I’m roughly on that track–definitely for time, less definitely for number. Turns out that’s enough for me.

for blog

Could I be doing more marketing? Couldn’t everybody? But only at the expense of all the other things we do in our lives. YES, I’m going to invite my community to a book launch party for The Flying Burgowski Book Two, Headwinds, with a dramatic reading and cookies. YES, I’m going to contact the same bookstores and libraries and schools–and add some new ones to the list. YES, I’m going to use the heck out of social media (at least my version of it: this blog, Facebook, and the occasional tweet).


 I wanted to write a story. I did. Then I wanted people to read it. They are. Lucky for me, I never counted on making money from this enterprise. Therefore: I declare victory and move on…

…to Book Three.

Feel fee to weigh in here if you think I need counseling. I will listen gratefully. Just please don’t ask me how many books I’ve sold!

Back in the Classroom Again, Minus the Essays–What’s Not to Like?

It’s been nearly four years. At any hour between 7:45 and 2:15 I can still tell you exactly what period it is at my old high school, Franklin Pierce, Home of the Cardinals. This week is AP testing (as was last, which was also state testing for all ages in Washington). My former colleagues, and the younger siblings and–yikes!–high school-age children of my long-ago former students, are stressed to the max.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week, everyone. I no longer include myself in that comment.

Except when I do.

Next week, as part of my promotion of my new YA novel, The Flying Burgowski, I am meeting with several 9th grade English classes at Anacortes High School. Anacortes is the closest mainland town to our little island, its high school many times the size of ours. I may get to spend my day with over 100 kids–just like I used to, day after day. Just like most high school and middle school teachers do.


I am PUMPED. Yes, I’m going to read a chapter, just as I will have done the night before at Village Books in Bellingham, but the high school event won’t just be another boring author reading/Q & A/book signing. (Note to self: don’t ever sound jaded about such an extraordinary privilege.) Nope–I’m still a teacher, turns out, and I’m going to engage the heck out of those kids. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that butcher paper, markers, shiny stickers, and movement around the classroom are involved.

But no essays to grade! I feel like the grandma, picking the kids up for a fun day at the zoo, then dropping ’em back off with their exhausted parents. (Okay, OKAY, I know an author coming to one’s class does not exactly = a day at the zoo. Well, maybe one of those tiny, small-town zoos with, like, a bunch of pygmy goats and one sad wallaby.)

Yes, I can hear a question begging. “Gretchen, if you love teaching so much, and there’s a school on your island, why not…? You know. At least you could be a sub!”

Here, in sped-up form, is the scenario I envision should I step back through those doors with lesson plans and tea mug in hand: 

  1.  I start subbing.
  2. Since subs are so few, I sub every single day.
  3. Pretty soon, this test is posed:

A) A full-time position opens.

B) Some students and/or parents, who have become my fans, start begging me to apply.

C) Looking at the plans of the teacher(s) I’m called to sub for, I start believing I could do it better.

D) All of the above.

4. Result: there goes my new career as a writer/baker/singer-songwriter. I know myself, and the teaching profession, too well. It is WAY MORE THAN A FULL-TIME JOB. If I want to be true to my commitment to my own creativity now, I have to keep my distance.

But next week, I’m still gonna enjoy the heck out of my day at school.


In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week (a week late, but when is appreciation ever misplaced?), would you guys please chime in with some teacher-stories of your own? Or thoughts about what REAL teacher appreciation might look like?


Not About the Sales: My Kind of Author Reading

Social Media Maven Kristen Lamb had this to say on yesterday’s blog post: “Social Media Was NEVER About Selling Books Directly—Who KNEW?”

This girl may have agreed in theory before, but after Tuesday night’s Book Launch Party for my YA novel, The Flying Burgowski, now I KNOW how true those words are.

Not because I didn’t sell books. I did. But those sales are not what sent me home that night feeling so high on blessings that it took me forever to turn my brain off (even though I had to wake up @ 3:45 to bake for the opening of Holly B’s Bakery–but that’s another story).

Blessings? At an author reading? Oh, let me count the ways.

1. I got four of the neatest kids on our island to join me in reading various parts from the chapter. All four have had extensive experience in our island’s Community Shakespeare performances, and so they needed no coaching in delivery or projection.


{All photos courtesy of Lorna Reese.}

2. Yup–we have Community Shakespeare, all age groups onstage together, once a year. Which I am DYING to be a part of…if only I could figure out how to fit it in with the writing and the baking and the singing and the buying-groceries stuff…but yes. Just the fact that it exists = major blessing.

3. For a reading of a YA novel, I had a library full of people whose hair color was…let’s just say more silver than gold, OK? YA readers might not turn out for readings, but their parents and grandparents do, especially if they KNOW (or know about) and RESPECT the author (which was Kristen Lamb’s point).

4. Every time I looked out at my audience, I saw friends and future friends.


5. Our amazing librarians, Heidi Larsen and Lou Pray, not only introduced me, they asked questions during the Q & A, and set up a room full of art supplies and yummy treats for after the reading.

6. Art supplies? At a reading? Yes!!! Since my book is about a flying girl, my idea was to invite folks to make some art on the theme of “If I Could Fly,” and then have the results posted in the library. In the middle of my reading I thought, “Oh! That’s so lame! No one’s going to do that!” But lo and behold, when I got done signing books…there was a room full of happy artists of all ages, inner children as well as real ones.

7. Radio archives. Really. Our community radio station, KLOI, captured the event for a future radio show–introductions, reading, Q & A and all. Do I think many people will listen to it? Of course not! Do I LOVE living in a place where community radio records author readings? Yes, yes, yes–and not just because it’s me. (Well, maybe a little.)

I could probably go on listing blessings indefinitely. I didn’t mention all the one-on-one conversations during the signing, all the leads and ideas people threw my way–“Have you talked to So-and-so at Such-and-such?” “Ooh, my aunt’s a librarian, I’m sending her a copy.”  I didn’t mention the wonderful questions I got from the audience, many of whom are authors themselves, like Iris Graville, author of Hands At Work.

All I know is, THIS is why I published my book: to get it into people’s hands, to get them talking about it, and with me. To CONNECT. Bring on the author readings!reading

Does this match with anyone’s experience? Ever been to an author reading that was more than just a reading? Have any other ideas I can steal for my next one? Please share!

OK, Fine, Twist My Arm, I’ll Talk About Writing: The Writing Process Blog Tour

Even though I’m a writer–maybe BECAUSE I’m a writer–I don’t usually blog about writing. But when my friend and writing/publishing mentor Iris Graville invited me to take part in a Writing Processblog tour she joined through the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts MFA program, I was thrilled to say yes.

(Therefore you too WILL BE THRILLED to read the results–got that?)

What am I working on? Having just published my first YA/tweens novel, The Flying Burgowski, earlier this year, I am dividing my writing time now between promotion & distribution (not very fulfilling) and finishing the final draft of the sequel, The Flying Burgowski Disaster (extremely fulfilling).

Like thousands of other writers, I have learned in the past couple of years to quit whining about the challenges of independently publishing, a.k.a. taking responsibility for one’s own marketing and distribution. I’m still astounded at how a batch of phone calls and emails relating to author readings/book signings, or questions about consignment, can eat up an entire morning! But I try to stay grateful for the opportunity to do this at all.

In the Brave New World of publishing, the Big Scary Gatekeepers have lost their power. Or, looked at another way: I am now my own big scary gatekeeper. Let’s just say I have learned a great deal, but have a long way to go before achieving my Masters in Gate-ology.

How does my work differ from others in its genre? The Flying Burgowski is a coming-of-age story with a supernatural twist. Like Harry Potter, or like Stephen Messer’s Windblowne or Joni Sensel’s The Farwalker’s Quest, the heroine, Jocelyn Burgowski, discovers that she has special powers. Joss can fly! But unlike those novels–in fact, unlike nearly every other YA fantasy novel I have read, The Flying Burgowski is set very much in the real world.( I suppose I could draw a parallel with the Twilight series in that respect, but the similarity ends there. Oh, wait, no–my book is set in Washington State as well. But that’s IT. No vampires, sparkly or un-. And no sexy werewolves.)

I greatly admire authors who can build effective fantasy worlds. I lost myself in Tolkien’s and C.S. Lewis’s books at a young age, and I am a thoroughly unapologetic Potterhead. But I find more personal meaning and challenge in imagining how one might deal with magic in THIS world. Kids these days have some pretty awful issues to deal with, and so does my heroine. How does a superpower help or hinder the scaling of an obstacle like, for example, an alcoholic parent? That’s what I’m interested in.

I should add here that Victoria Forester’s middle-grades novel, The Girl Who Could Fly, is nominally set in the real world. But that world is drawn with such exaggerated characters as to be nearly fantasy, in this writer’s opinion. The Flying Burgowski’s darkness is a more recognizable, straight-from-the-news-headlines kind of darkness. That said–it’s not a sad book! I promise it will make you laugh, no matter how old you are.


Why do I write what I do? I did not set out to write for young adults. In fact, the first two novels I wrote–one which will remain forever in the bottom drawer where it belongs, the other which I hope to publish someday–are for adults. The Flying Burgowski story idea simply visited me one day and took me for a ride. I’m still riding. But I don’t assume I will necessarily stay in this age-group for future projects. I do love that readers are finally figuring out that YA writing can be right up there with the best, though. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have helped expand the readership. There are some great YA books out there! (Check out this Goodreads YA group to see what I mean.)

How does my writing process work? First of all, I am extremely blessed in being able to write as my part-time “job,” (along with working part-time in a bakery), since walking away from my 20-year career as a high school teacher a few years ago. In those days I had to get up at five to write for 45 minutes before leaving for school. I hated that routine, but it did produce my first rough draft. Now my kids are grown and gone, and I am financially able to do what I want for the most part–a blessing for which I am unendingly grateful.

Secondly, I am married to the most wonderful man, who created a Writing Barn for me. Well, it’s the upstairs half of a barn; he gets the downstairs for his shop. But up there I have a large, mostly empty space with cedar walls, a little decorative pottery, a toilet, a hot-water kettle for tea, and a beautiful (but not too dominating) view. Best of all: no internet! Therefore, no distractions.

It is COLD up there, especially in the winter, and since I never write for longer than 4-5 hour chunks, it’s really not worth heating all that space with the wood stove, cozy as that sounds. So I have a space heater on a timer, to pre-heat my writing spot, and…don’t laugh…I write in a sleeping bag. I’ve always written from a semi-lounge position on a bed or sofa, so the sleeping bag fits right in.


I always start by reading aloud what I wrote the day before. Then I pick up from there. If I get stuck on an issue of plot or character development, I go back to my Outline page and just blah-blah-blah as though I were having a conversation with myself. Though it’s tempting to delete the blah-blah-blah from the outline after I’ve solved it, I leave it there as a reminder of my thinking process. It usually comes in handy thinking through the next snag.

Next week the Writing Process Blog Tour continues with another writer I admire. Shan Jeniah Burton lives a passionately playful life filled with lovely chaos, intertwined with her chef husband,  two endlessly fascinating children who keep outgrowing their clothes, and a rotating cast of furry companions.  She’s traveled the country, and counted among her backyards the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the Everglades, only to settle on the same sleepy country road in upstate New York where she grew up.  She is particularly fond of words and dreams, imagery and photography, nature, history, music, and fictional people with green blood and pointed ears. Please click here to go to Shan Jeniah’s blog, Lovely Chaos.

But, as always, I love hearing from my own dear readers. Can you relate to my writing process? How does it compare with yours, or the one you hope to have someday?

Wing’s World Welcomes a New Arrival: The Flying Burgowski

Road Trip IV, Days 14-16 : Dallas to Natchez Trace State Park, Tennessee.

We interrupt this travel blog to bring you an important announcement:

The Flying Burgowski is launched!

Folks, I have so much I want to talk about. The metaphor of birth that keeps surfacing as I bring my “baby” forth into the world. The gratitude I feel toward all the friends who have helped me turn a manuscript into a Book, and toward my wonderful husband for putting up with my distraction as we travel. The difficulty challenge joy of bringing a book to publication via iPad while on the road. And then there’s all this lovely scenery we’re passing through, and the fact that we camped last night in an Arkansas campground that was so deserted even the rangers abandoned us. (The Mate and I were TOTALLY tempted to take off all our clothes and camp in the nude just for the novelty of it, but it was too cold.)


But today is Jocelyn Burgowski’s day. So I’m going to close here with the link where you can check my book out further.

And this question: do you think a book IS like a baby? Why/why not?

The Proof is in the Putting-it-out-there: When “Writer” Becomes “Author”

I’m waiting for my proofs to arrive. If that makes no sense to you, don’t worry–three months ago it meant nothing to me either.

Proofs? Thought I left those behind in geometry class.

Turns out proofs are the kinda-sorta first draft of printing. I guess this term works for photography as well. You get your picture taken, you check out the proofs, you choose the ones you like, and those proofs get printed.

In the next couple of days, I’ll receive my book, The Flying Burgowski, in the mail. I’ll comb through it, looking for any piece of missing punctuation or indents or chapters cut off in the middle of the page or….ANYthing wrong that needs to be fixed before my baby is ready for her debut before the reading public.

My baby!

My baby!

To while away the nervous hours until my proofs arrive, my brain keeps running loops around the word “proof.”

“The proof is in the pudding.” Now my brain imagines a scene at Hogwarts:

(Courtesy Flikr Creative Commons)

(Courtesy Flikr Creative Commons)

Wonderful-sounding aphorism, but what does it mean? Yes, you with your hand up? Miss Granger? 

It’s actually a misstatement. The real saying is, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” It means, the dessert may look pretty, but you can’t really tell how good it is until you eat it.

Ten points to Gryffindor. Yes. And how does this aphorism apply to the present case? … [sigh] … Yes, Miss Granger?

Your book may look wonderful, but you will only know how good it is once people read it.

Another ten points.

Thank you, Brain, for this amusing illustration. What’s that? You want to talk about another meaning of the word “proof”? Fine. Go ahead.

“Proof” means you have proven something. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the proof has been laid before you! I rest my case.”

So what’s being “proven” here?

That I am no longer just a writer; I’m an author now.

Come again? What’s the diff?

Think about it. If you’re a painter, you paint. If someone asks you what you are and you say “Painter,” the next question is never, “Oh? And have you sold any paintings lately?” No, people want to know what medium you paint in, or do you do landscapes or portraits, or how you learned to paint. But when you tell someone you’re a writer, the next question is inevitably, “Oh? Are you published?”

So…aha. A writer writes. An author is a published writer? Is that what you’re saying, Brain?

I think that’s what I’m saying. But what do I know? I’m just a brain.

So, what do you guys think? Do you agree with my brain? Do you think writers are thought of differently than other artists? My brain and I are very interested in your answers.

Madrona Branch Press: Lessons in Logos, Publishing, and Humility

I thought this was the equation: carefully-edited manuscript + self-publishing tools + a lil’ bit o’ cash + a lotta time = BOOK. I thought I was all set to launch my YA novel, The Flying Burgowski, out into the world.

Turns out I was missing a few variables.

“What’s your publishing name going to be?” my book designer, Bob Lanphear, asked me about a week ago, over the phone.

“Umm, you mean, like, a pen name? I wasn’t planning to do that…”

“No,” he explained patiently. “The name of your press. You know, what you want it to say on the spine of your book, on the back cover, on the copyright page, under the title.” He named three other books he’d designed, books by friends of mine: Iris Graville’s Hands At Work, Lorrie Harrison’s Kindred Spirits, and Holly Bower’s With Love and Butter. “Look at those books and you’ll see what I mean.”

“But I don’t have a press, I’m self-publishing,” said Gretchen, Queen of Obvious.

“Yes,” Bob said. I couldn’t actually hear him rolling his eyes over the phone, but if he wasn’t, he sure had a right to. “But there’s no need to advertise that fact to the world. Your book will look much more professional with the name of a press, rather than” (here he named a fairly well-known  corporation associated with chewing up small bookstores and spitting them out book company. “So you should choose a good name. Then let me know what kind of logo it should have.”

Me: “Logo?”

Bob: “eye roll”

So I got right to work on that. Unfortunately, I have a terrible horrible non-existent poor eye for design. (I think that’s why I write: since I can’t draw the picture, I need the thousand words.)

Fortunately, I have a great sense of metaphor and a beautiful landscape to live in. As soon as I started thinking of a good name for Gretchen Wing Press, Inc., the image came to me: that self-supporting madrona branch. Remember that? My metaphor for independent publication.

Fortunately again, I have Bob. He took my madrona branch from this…

tree 3








to this:

Isn't she lovely?

Isn’t she lovely?

So–phew. Thanks, Bob. Got that taken care of.

Two days later I met with my  guardian angels of all things literary writing group to go over my Marketing Plan for The Flying Burgowski.

“Do you have your author web page set up?” they asked me.

“My blog? Yeah–all set!” said Gretchen, Queen of Oblivious.

“Noooo….” my group replied kindly. (I’m paraphrasing, ok? But they were kind.) “An author page is a static page where people go to learn about you as an author, or about your books. It has a link to your blog. But it’s not the same.”

“I need one of those too?” I whimpered said. “I thought I was all ready…”

Again: no visible eye-rolling. (I chose a great writing group)

But once again, with the help of web-maestra, Adrienne Adams at Cloud Islands, I got my author web page set up and linked to Wing’s World.

Don’t believe me? Click here.

So NOW can I make a book? Tune in for the answer on February 7, right here!

But meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever designed or imagined a logo for yourself? What did you choose, or what would you choose, and why?

So That’s What the Kids Are Calling it These Days: What’s “good” Now, If Not “bad”?

Update me, people!

I know, I can’t even remember the last time I had a “Word!” Slang Contest on Wing’s World. Probably so long that no one even says “Word!” anymore.

I’ve started Book Three of my trilogy, and I need modern terms for “good.” In the 80s, really good things were “bad.” In the 90s things were “wicked good” (more in the Northeast, maybe). More recently, “killer,” as in “That was some killer onion dip!”

(orig. image courtesy

(orig. image courtesy

Over the Christmas holidays, I heard my son say some Youtube bike-daredevil’s moves were “pretty sick.” But my son’s 21. Maybe he’s aged out.

So help me out here, folks. Quiz your children and your younger siblings. What’s the most up-to-date slang for “good”?

Winner gets his/her name in lights on Wing’s World, and…you never know what other prizes might come your way. Depends on how awesome your answer is.

Polishing My Novel, Or At Least Its Nails

This week I’m meeting with the book designer I hired. We’re going to take pictures of hands.

Well, he is. He’s the pro. Not my hands, though. Not even the hands of anyone I really know. He’ll be shooting the hands of a girl who’s the younger sister of a girl who works at my bakery.

Boy, was that a weird pitch to make over the phone: “Hi, you don’t know me–well, you probably know who I am just like I sort of know who you are, just ’cause, you know, that’s just Lopez Island–but anyway, can I borrow your hands?”

My book is The Flying Burgowski. It’s about a girl who discovers she can fly. The cover picture features landscape viewed from above, from the perspective of my heroine, Jocelyn Burgowski, through her outstretched hands.

(orig. image courtesy

(orig. image courtesy

My book designer could NOT find any stock photos of adolescent hands. Adult ones look just plain wrong. So do little kids’ hands. Therefore: the hands-shoot, scheduled for the 10-minute slot my 8th grade hands-model has between the end of school and the start of basketball practice. She’s a busy girl. But she’s a conscientious one, too. Right after enthusiastic agreement and establishing a meeting place, she said, “I’ll need to take off my nail polish, right?”

Actually, I explained, nail color could easily be photo-shopped out, so she didn’t need to worry. In fact, I added, my book’s heroine only wears polish on her right hand, because–well, you’ll have to read it.

So when I put the phone down, I was thinking about nail polish–what it means, what it doesn’t, and wondering if other people had similar thoughts.

For the record: the only nails I polish are on my toes. Which, honestly, I’m considering giving up for winter because I haven’t SEEN my toes, sockless or slipperless, in about three months, except for the shower. But then I remind myself of why I bother.

I’m not what you’d call girly, though I do enjoy dressing up occasionally. But here on the island, folks are used to seeing me in jeans or biking gear. I’m always talking about going for a run or going camping–the earthy type, right? So one of my male friends seemed honestly baffled when he asked me, “Why do you wear nail polish?”

“Because my husband once told me he thought it was sexy,” I blurted. Whoa–TMI. We both blushed. “And…and I like it too,” I added lamely. New topic…

But it’s true. I could totally leave those little jars behind (though I do enjoy their names: right now I’m wearing a sparkly burgundy called “I’m Not Really a Waitress”). But my husband likes it, and goodness knows, I don’t do many special things for my mate. (Yeah, those chocolate chip cookies in the freezer are for him, but hey, they’re not JUST for him.)

(orig. image courtesy

(orig. image courtesy

Still: I draw the line at toes. Fingers? Forget it–can’t be bothered.

How about you gals? Fingers, toes, both, neither? Why? And you guys: are you like my husband? Do you think it’s silly? Do you even NOTICE? I’m dying to hear.