The Richard Hugo House

Richard Hugo House of Seattle, Washington, is a center for the literary arts that supports and nurtures writers -- and readers -- of all ages and backgrounds. Hugo House brings innovative writing classes to people from every background, with the stated mission "to provide writers of all ages and backgrounds with the resources they need, connect audiences with the world of writing, foster the creation of new work and promote the literary arts as a vital part of our culture."

Through their classes, residencies and events, they provide opportunities for writers "to practice and build their writing skills in supportive, creative and stimulating classrooms." John Burgess, a Hugo House board member, writes about his literary hero, Jack Kerouac, and offers a list of "writing essentials."

"I first read On the Road at junior college in upstate NY in 1977. Although I was still over a year away from taking my own trip West, I was already exploring independence, sex, drugs, punk rock and writing. Kerouac's thought stream and fractured narrative, his full paragraph lines and rush of words, made perfect sense.

"Next came Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels and eventually over the years, in Montana and then the left coast, the rest of The Legend of Duluoz. My 1980 copy of Mexico City Blues is today held together with tape and rubber bands.

"With the publication in the last 15 years of his Book of Blues, Book of Haikus and Book of Sketches, I got a fuller dose of Kerouac's poesy. I remain wowed by his direct sketching, line breaths, form determined by notebook page, his musicality and unflinching rhyming. "I found Good Blonde & Others at a bookstore in Bozeman. It includes Kerouac's writings on writing — Essentials of Spontaneous Prose, Belief & Technique for Modern Prose and The Origins of Joy in Poetry.

"I wear my influences on my sleeve. So here's my own "list of essentials" modeled on Kerouac's. I update the list from time to time when I discover a poet or idea that's new to me, though always keeping it to 17."

1. Write every day.

2. "Chance favors only the prepared mind." – Louis Pasteur

3. Star gaze. Moon view.

4. “Where there’s a mountain, see a mountain.” – Santoka

5. One thought per poem.

6. Carry a notebook. Write w/ a pencil.

7. “My lexicon is my only companion.” – Emily Dickinson

8. Volunteer. Greet the public.

9. Work is work.

10. Form = Focus

11. Write for your voice. A crow caws. A wren sings.

12. “Blow as deep as you want to blow.” – Jack Kerouac

13. Ideas are nothing to be afraid of.

14. Support small presses & independent bookstores.

15. Live as a foreigner. At home be a tourist.

16. "Poet comes long after pioneer." –Theodore Winthrop

17. Burn all your notebooks.


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All Smart Cookies Can Self-Publish

An indie-publishing love story from the Great Northwest

I wanted to have one little book published (just one – as a “legacy” for my grandchildren). In the process of pursuing this goal I’ve begun a post-retirement career and the most exhilarating stage of my life, thus far. As a hobby genealogist, I have spent the past seventeen years unearthing the origins and roots of my Baltimore ancestors. Like most family historians I have made amazing, unbelievable discoveries about my family’s past. These discoveries have confirmed that truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. I have said many times over the years, “No one would believe this!” An inveterate storyteller, there was a moment when it became overwhelmingly clear that I needed to write my ancestors' story.

In January 2009 I was employed as facilities manager of a large insurance brokerage. Getting to the office involved a two-hour bus ride. It struck me one day those two hours would be well spent writing. And so, for twelve months, I wrote every day, filling one spiral notepad after another. But, my hunger for writing didn’t stop there. Experiencing insomnia (the writer’s best friend), I would pad to the den just after midnight, turn on the computer and transcribe the words I had written that day.

Over several months my “legacy” project grew from its intended one-hundred-page “story” to a 300-page novel. I simply couldn’t stop; the project was beginning to take over my life. I retired from the brokerage firm in December 2009 and forty-two years of corporate employment came to an end. At the age of sixty, a fresh start stretched in front of me. I wrote faithfully, and full time, for the next four months. I completed the novel, chose an editor to work with, and became active in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA).

I had written, my editor had edited, and now I wanted to publish. The only obstacle to overcome was finding an agent, and a publisher. I had registered on-line for QueryTracker, and studied which agents were taking clients. Additionally, I hung out at bookstores reading the Acknowledgements of the authors in my genre to learn which agents were deserving of their author’s gratitude and praise.

By now I had registered for the PNWA conference, held in July. The PNWA kick-off luncheon featured Pacific Northwest writer, Bob Dugoni, author of recently released, Bodily Harm. At the conclusion of his remarks Dugoni graciously asked the sea of five hundred attendees, “How many of you, this year, have found your agent?” Five attendees raised their hands; one percent of the conference attendees. His follow-up question, “…well, how many of you have published your first book this year?” Four attendees had published their first book between July 2009 and July 2010. This, obviously, represented less than one percent of the attendees. I was aware that it was hard to find an agent – and if Boyd Morrison’s story is true – equally hard to find a publisher. Morrison’s agent went through twenty-five publishers before finding one to publish Morrison’s ultimate blockbuster, The Ark. I had realized that the publishing industry was as affected by the economy as every other industry – but still I had come to the PNWA conference filled with hope. However, after Dugoni’s talk I stared balefully at the conference program. My “Pitching the Agent” appointments seemed silly. Five hundred committed writers had travelled to the Northwest conference; a number of them had come in on international flights, and scores of attendees had come from as far away as the Carolinas, Alabama, New York, and Massachusetts. An across-the-board sampling of writers and in the past year only one percent had attained publishing success, in the traditional sense.

Sitting out the next seminar, I took a long, hard look at my novel, Jenkins: Confederate Blockade Runner, and asked myself, “What are the chances?” I knew I wanted Jenkins in book form, something that I could gift wrap for my two young grandchildren to present to them at their respective birthdays. I had heard of self-publishing, but had been warned that self-publishing would not be a good “business” decision – that I would be scorned by the very agents with whom I would ultimately want to partner. But, being scorned by agents whom I was likely to never meet, seemed of little concern. Running my finger down the PNWA seminar options that remained, “The Dark Side of Publishing” caught my eye. I headed off and shouldered my way into a crowded room, sat down, and felt immediately at home. I was in a room of people who were hungry to take destiny into their own hands.

Representatives from the many facets of “the dark side” discussed the joys and challenges of independent publishing. At the time everyone was buzzing about the month-old 70% royalty agreement. The possibility of going straight to your readers was mind-boggling to some of us. Pioneers of the ePublish process who were in the room included Boyd Morrison (who originally ePublished The Ark to “drive the numbers” and thus attract a large press publisher) and Nathan Everett, of Long Tale Press. Both spoke glowingly of the joys and successes of independent publishing. It seemed that indie-publishers were springing up (and enjoying success) while mainstay large press publishers where facing cutbacks, paring down title-acquisition, and merging, where practical.

I left the PNWA conference convinced that the hunt for an agent and publisher might just be passé. Using Boyd Morrison’s business model, and later meeting indie-author Zoe Winters (online), convinced me that my future lay in learning as much as I could about independent publishing. My library soon expanded with titles like “Publishing for Dummies,” and my time in front of eHow and Askville increased. I read blogs, networked and began penciling out a sequence of what one needed to know in order to independently publish. I kept folders, met vendors, and slowly the vision of being not only an author, but also a publisher began to take shape. I joined independent publishers’ associations and followed the message boards of small press and indie-authors. I knew that my future was in independent publishing.

I methodically built a one-step-at-a-time process for independent publishing, from writing, to copyright, editing, and marketing. I studied eCommerce, ePublishing, and print on demand print options. My file folders grew to include information on BookBrewer, BAMM, royalty agreements, and formatting sell sheets. I live one traffic jam north of Seattle, home of grunge music and mandatory coffee addictions. The indie-author and independent publisher scene is gaining ground in Seattle as evidenced by this year’s writer’s conference panel selections; beginning with Richard Hugo House (see sidebar). One of the mainstays of Seattle’s writing community, Richard Hugo House, hosted, “Finding Your Readers in the 21st Century: The Changing Landscape of Publishing” this past spring. The panelists for the conference included Alan Rinzler (who mused in a blog entry recently that mega-publishers “could someday cede the midlist to a vast army of self-published authors”), Barbara Sjoholm, Matthew Stadler, and Jeff VanderMeer. Richard Hugo House is a stone’s throw away from Pilot Books which features independent titles exclusively.

But Pilot Books and Richard Hugo House’s support of independent publishing and indie-authors is not unique to the Seattle area. Eastside publisher, Long Tale Press, offers another indie-author option. Envisioned by a group of techies, the Long Tale Press business model offers juried selection of its submitting authors. The jury is comprised of registered reviewers. Besides a number of well-attended book fairs, annual writer’s conferences in the Seattle area also include the Northwest’s exclusive “Write on the Sound” (WOTS) conference, hosted by the City of Edmonds. WOTS registration is limited to two hundred attendees.

This year’s WOTS conference included the misunderstood seminar, Small Press Publishing. The room filled to capacity to hear from David Brewster, who, it turned out, was in favor of small press – he is on the board of directors at non-profit Copper Canyon Press -- and not as generously inclined toward independent publishing. The militants among us gathered after Brewster’s talk and are now building what I suspect will be, at some point in the future, irritating competition for the premier poetry publisher. These hits and near misses contrast to The Emerald City Writer’s Conference whose workshops focus entirely on the craft of writing, with no inclusion of independent publishing or stepping “outside the box.” The Emerald City Writer’s Conference offers its attendees one-hour with an agent panel as the last event of the conference. That particular panel begins at eight o’clock in the evening. Looking back, I would award the “A” to Pacific Northwest Writers Association for their “dark side” seminar.

I must admit, at this point in my story, that I have a “history” in publishing. My grandfather, Frances McNeir, had been a typesetter all of his life. He had learned the trade from his father, who had been a typesetter all of his life. Oh, there were a few musicians and two Ziegfield dancers, but most of the family members were typesetters or newspaper men. During a visit with my grandfather one summer my grandfather showed me how to set type, his hands moving with lightening speed over the press frame. It was heavenly to watch. Looking back, those were The Good Old Days. Looking forward, I would call independent publishing The New Frontier.

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Emily Hill is the author of All Smart Cookies Can Self Publish: A One Step-At-A-Time 2010 Guide to Independent Publishing, which is available on Her debut novel, Jenkins: Confederate Blockade Runner will be available on January 18, 2011 (Thesaurus Day). Ms. Hill is a former feature writer and publication assistant for Weyerhaeuser Company, and makes her home in the Pacific Northwest. Visit Emily online at