Interview with award-winning activist poet, Jan Steckel (meet her Sunday!)

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Our guest for Sunday’s meeting will be poet and activist Jan Steckel. Her latest book Like Flesh Covers Bone (Zeitgeist Press, December 2018) won two Rainbow Awards (for LGBT Poetry and Best Bisexual Book) and was a finalist for the poetry category of the Bi Book Awards. Her poetry book The Horizontal Poet (Zeitgeist Press, 2011) won a 2012 Lambda Literary Award. Her fiction chapbook Mixing Tracks (Gertrude Press, 2009) and poetry chapbook The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgeist Press, 2006) also won awards. Her writing has appeared in Scholastic Magazine, Bellevue Literary Review, Rise Up Review, Poetry Reading the News, The New Verse News, and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, California and works as a medical editor.

Five Questions for Award-winning Poet Jan Steckel

Questions by Cristina Deptula of Authors Large and Small

You were a pediatrician before you pursued writing full-time. Do you feel that the ways of thinking you used to practice medicine informs how you think about creative writing? 

The experiences I had as a pediatrician gave me a lot of material, some of which I’m still working through. Medical training also gave me some vocabulary that I use in writing, and habits of observation of people’s physical appearance, gait, movement, posture, etc. I think I also went into taking care of low-income Spanish-speaking families for some of the same reasons that I write: outrage at injustice, and a desire to change things for the better.

You’re going to talk about poetry and activism. What sorts of responsibility do you feel that you, or any artist, has to the larger world above and beyond creating well-crafted pieces? 

I remember that my college biology professor E.O. Wilson, the father of sociobiology, had to defend himself from accusations that his work could be used to justify racism, misogyny and eugenicist viewpoints. Even though those were misuses of his work, because it was his work he had a responsibility to come out and explain why his theories did not support those points of view. So first of all, and this is a concept lifted from my medical training, you have to try to do no harm. If your writing is being misused, you have to come out and say so and say why. 

I remember someone I knew being excited by the fact that he had some marginalia in an old book he owned handwritten by a famous poet, but not concerned about the fact that the quatrain written there was kind of antisemitic. I am not really keen on separating the life of the artist completely from his work and valuing beauty and skill without considering the moral context.

So I would say that not everyone has a responsibility to be activist in their work, but you do have to consider the moral context of your work and take some responsibility for what it is going to do or what it could be used for once it’s out in the world.

Do you carry out your activist work primarily through your writing, or through other means?

No, I think I’ve been activist in a lot of ways, as a foot-soldier in protests and politics, as a doctor taking care of and advocating for marginalized people, as a voter and someone who has registered people to vote, as a writer of letters (to my representatives, to newspapers, and to corporations), as someone who is out as a sexual minority and who marches in Pride each year, and as a neighbor who tries to help out the people on my block and the people in my city. As I get older, though, and my platform as a writer and poet grows, I’m becoming less enthusiastic about marching and about pouring my energy into these other avenues and more interested in using my written voice to change the world through my creative writing.

Do you have advice for other writers who care strongly about different issues and want to write about them?

Your words matter! People are moved to action by stories and poems that activate their empathy. Keep your eye out on various lists (which I will tell you about in my talk on February 16) for calls for submissions for anthologies with political or social-justice themes that interest you. Familiarize yourself with the journals that publish this kind of poetry and fiction and submit to them (I’ll give you a handout with a list of a couple dozen such journals at my talk). Look on your social media, if you participate in that, for themed readings or writing groups on the issues you care about (I’ll talk about some local ones, including CWC’s Wolf Pack on climate change.) If you don’t see the readings and groups you’re looking for, consider starting one yourself.

What projects are you working on currently and where can we find you? 

I am working on a poetry manuscript called Stripper Style full of poems about stripping and strippers (which is also about stripping as a metaphor). I am also collaborating with a physicist friend on a science fiction novel-in-stories featuring a main character who is a female bisexual disabled mixed-race scientist. I’m going to need a couple of different sensitivity readers for that one! I have a finished book-length manuscript collection of short humorous creative-nonfiction pieces called I Just Do This to Seduce Gay Men, as well as a book-length manuscript collection of short stories called Ghosts and Oceans, both of which I need to send out more to publishers. 

I give a lot of readings in the Bay Area (I think I did 30 in 2019). You can find an events calendar and some writing excerpts at my website at My books are available on Amazon, in local independent bookstores, and at the Zeitgeist Press website at

Meet Jan Steckel Sunday February 16th at our Meeting

This Sunday Jan Steckel will speak on how poets and writers can affect change through their writing. She will speak on advocacy, representation, and documenting social conditions. Steckel has experience to share on using your writing to inspire empathy and using your notoriety to draw attention to injustice. She will share the ways poets and writers can participate in acts of resistance and move others to action.

There will also be group discussions craft and marketing as well as a reading by featured member, novelist Henry Hits.

For schedule, map, and further details see the post for about the February meeting.

Interview with featured author Tim Jollymore (meet him this Sunday)

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In this interview, this Sunday’s featured member Tim Jollymore draws on experience and insight to share his take on what writing and “the writing boom” is about. What steps to take and reflections to make are needed before one can understand what path to follow?

Tim Jollymore is author of five books. Listener in the Snow is an adventure set in snowy Northern Minnesota. He’s written two mysteries Observation Hill, a novel of class and murder and The Advent of Elizabeth. Lake Stories and Other Tales is a story and essay collection, while People You’ve Been Before is a novel exploring “adventures in sobriety.” He has published book of poems titled Christmas in the Winter Garden. He is presently at work on a sixth: The Second Confession of Saint Augustine, a historical novel set in North Africa at the 5th Century end of the Roman empire.

For this work, Jollymore has received four independent publishing awards. He was a two-time finalist in the North Eastern Minnesota Book Awards and he’s garnered high praise from Publishers’ Weekly and repeatedly from the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.

Jollymore was born in Duluth, Minnesota and took his English degrees at the university there. He relocated, mid-life, to the San Francisco Bay Area, pursuing business, architecture, and teaching. Learn more about Tim Jollymore’s books at

Getting to Know Tim Jollymore

What is the most important piece of writing advice that you could give to other writers?

Don’t take advice. Listen to YOUR muse. Strive for art.

Tim Jollymore

I tell you; don’t take advice. If you must, scrutinize each bit. Listen to YOUR muse. That is why you take walks in the morning. Check to see that your “advisors” don’t have their hands too deeply in your pockets, for some only see the currently swelling ranks of writers as a financial opportunity for them. Strive for art. Be unafraid to liberally use adverbs.

What are your writing habits?

I write from 9:00 to noon and then do whatever I want! Henry Miller, though, in his 11 commandments of writing, says, “Don’t be a dray horse. Live life . . . drink if you want to.” So, I can tell you (and Henry) I do not write every day. I travel, “I laze and loaf and invite my soul,” but when I am working it is nine to noon, five days a week.

What writers inspire you?

It is not the writer but his/her writing that inspires me. Living writers whose writing interests me are Pers Petterson, Richard Flannigan, John Krakauer, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Paul Auster, and Sigrid Nunez.

 I find CWC membership a great place to land in a storm, or, really, during a calm.

Tim Jollymore

My “Dead Novelists’ Society” includes William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Henry James, Charlotte Bronte, and Mark Twain.

Where are you in your writing career?

Of five books published since 2014 (one in its third printing and one in its second) the most successful is Listener in the Snow, my debut novel. So be it.

My plans extend a couple of years with The Second Confession of Saint Augustine, and, continuing in a different vein of historical fiction and returning to my Minnesota topics, is Missabe Miss, a World War Two, home-front novel.

Much of my writing shares a devotion to characters of a common sort, everyday people, who are shown through their interior lives. I adhere to the practice of stylistic crafting experimentation with points of view, and the condensation of storytelling into three or four days.

How long have you been a part of CWC-BB, and what does membership mean to you?

I’ve been with CWC for five years, a dual member for two. I find CWC membership a great place to land in a storm, or, really, during a calm. It is also a distraction from writing. I avoid becoming simply a denizen of an organization. I want to write!

How do you manage your writing life?

Min Kamp (my struggle), to use Knausgaard’s title, is a battle between publication activities and promotion of my work which incorporates traveling, and actual hours spent writing. Min Frelse (my salvation) is that the great pile of ideas, characters, and themes continues to grow and to wait for my attention.

To read a sample of his work, go to for excerpts of novels, short stories, and reviews.

Meet Tim Jollymore this Sunday at our next meeting

For full details, such as schedule, directions, raffle info and more, please see the post announcing this Sunday’s event. In addition to getting to know featured member Tim Jollymore, this meeting will offer legal advice for literary contracts, as well as assistance with craft and marketing.

Full Scheule of Events for THIS SUNDAY’S MEETING

12:00 pm Setup
12:30 Doors open & member services
1:00 Featured Member: Tim Jollymore
1:15 Keynote Speaker: literary lawyer Nick Jollymore (yes, they’re related!)
2:00 Announcements & Networking
3:00 Marketing Group*
4:00 Craft Group*
5:00 The End

Say you’re coming on Facebook!

Our Forthcoming Events:

Check for support groups and more member events on our Calendar.

Three Questions for Political Writer Kacey Carpenter

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Kacey Carpenter is a community organizer, volunteer, technology innovator, parent, author, and our April Featured Member.

Carpenter published his first book, My Journey with Bernie and is working on his second book, Ready, Set, Go Playbook for Candidates, Campaigns, and Causes.

He says, “Bernie’s 2016 campaign changed my life and inspired me to volunteer as a community-based organizer for grassroots groups focused on progressive candidates, campaigns and causes.”

His journey began organizing 300 volunteers from 30 states to go to Iowa for the 2016 Democratic Party caucus.

“This was the first step in my journey organizing and mobilizing grassroots volunteers and traveling around the country to get out the vote,” he says.

He hosted Bernie Sanders campaign staff and volunteers in his home prior to the California primary and was elected and served as a Bernie delegate at the DNC convention in Philadelphia. This experience inspired him to run for local City Council, helped pass a local measure for rent control, and be elected as a delegate to the California Democratic Party, all documented in his book, My Journey with Bernie.

Prior to his activism, Carpenter had a three-decade professional career, managing global teams, and launching successful, award-winning digital campaigns, to lead initiatives for healthcare, justice, and “smart community” transformation around the world.

He has a passion for life, family, friends and loves the outdoors. In addition to writing and volunteering, Kacey Carpenter enjoys biking, hiking, kayaking, and traveling. Learn more about Kacey at his website,

Q & A with Featured Member Kacey Carpenter

What’s the most important piece of writing advice that you could give to other writers?

Create a routine to write every single day. You can write for an hour or ten minutes but create a habit to start writing. I like to take a walk after writing in the morning and think about ideas and reflect on my thoughts. I write in coffee shops, in public libraries, outdoors in parks and gardens, and indoors at home.

Each day, I find a quiet place to write or listen to music on my headphones to help me focus and find my creative writing zone.

What other writers inspire you?

I am inspired by both fiction and non-fiction writers including Naomi Klein, Cornel West, Robert Reich, Bill McKibben, and so many others.

How long have you been part of CWC, and what does membership mean to you?

I joined the CWC last summer and am so excited to be part of this incredible group that inspires me to focus on my writing and publishing my books.

Kacey will read a passage from his book at this Sunday’s meeting

Kacey is seeking to be a mentor and to find mentorship from other writers, in particular other political writers. He’s also interested in working with other authors to promote our works, such as through writing guest blogs. If that’s of interest to you, please say hello to Kacey at our meeting April 21st. Yes, we know it is Easter…but we think every third Sunday is a holiday, wherein you celebrate your writing career. Commit to your writing this Sunday!

An Interview with Sunday’s Speaker, Jacqueline Luckett

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Jacqueline LuckettJacqueline Luckett Gives Us a Preview on Writing Great Characters Grounded in Reality

This Sunday in Preservation Park, Jacqueline Luckett will speak to the club on writing stronger characters. Luckett’s two novels are Passing Love and Searching for Tina Turner, and she writes essays in the Huffington Post and Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011.

CWC member and journalist Cristina Deptula asked her some questions so we can get to know her better.

CD: You talked about living authentically in an old blog post on your website, about having personal values even if you don’t consciously think about them a lot. Did developing and articulating your own values help you do the same for your characters, or vice versa?

JL: My characters are people with values, that may or may not parallel my own. I try to include characters, male and female, with values and action that are the opposite of my own.

CD: What are some examples of grounded, developed characters in contemporary or classic fiction?

JL: Pecola, in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye believes that having blue eyes will make her happy. Every action she takes grounds her to this belief. Lotto and Mathilde, husband and wife in Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, steadfastly hold on to their perceptions of themselves and each other. My own character, Ruby, in Passing Love, believes her life will be better in Paris, no matter the personal cost. She’s dogged, persistent, and focused.

Every action these characters take is a result of his/her character development, physically and emotionally.

CD: How can you learn to write about a character unlike yourself without falling into stereotypes?

I took a class from Junot Diaz years ago. He suggested trying to write yourself as a character with a scar or disfiguration. How that character approaches the world will create a new character different from self.

I’m a black woman over fifty. Does that mean that I can only write characters who are black women over 50? Of course, not. It’s our job as writers to observe, to dig into our memories and to write past the first idea that comes to mind. That’s where being a great observer of people comes in. If your mother called father to dinner many times before he finally came to the table, what does this characteristic say about your mother? How does the father’s response distinguish him? The traits aren’t gender specific. They’re great traits that distinguish and deepen a character. We can twist those traits into characteristics that, alone or in combination, can avoid stereotyping. Mix things up.

Preservation Park

Preservation Park, where Jacqueline Luckett will speak this Sunday

CD: Does every characteristic you give a character have to relate somehow to the plot, or can it work to develop a character just for the sake of having them be more well rounded or letting the readers get to know them better?

Not necessarily. Just as in life, we run into people who are interesting, but irrelevant to whatever we’re doing at the moment, so too are incidental characters in a story who pop up on a protagonist’s journey. They hold our interest, enliven our stories, and create a three-dimensional world.

Right now, I’m reading Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane. In a party scene, he lists the names of five or six attendees who may be important to the main character’s enjoyment of the celebration. We only know their names. The guests blend together and probably won’t be seen again. There’s one character, in the scene a woman, who’s described in a couple of sentences. She holds a baby on her hip, she’s striking, and, the characteristic that really stands out for me, she struggles with her newly adopted English language. This character stands out.

CD: I’ve heard talks on how to create unique and individual characters before. Is creating a character who’s grounded in reality kind of the same idea? Will a character who’s grounded in the reality of an actual and realistic person be more likely to be interesting?

Not if the actual person isn’t interesting. Even if they’re real, a writer may have to give him/her characteristics to make them engaging, appealing and give readers a reason to stick with a story.

When I speak of characters grounded in reality, I don’t mean the everyday reality of incidents. I’m talking about characteristics that make people real and credible: a person who itches all the time, a man who sings in the BART station but nowhere else, a person who cannot look another in the eye, someone who voices the same complaint every day of her life.

Jacqueline Luckett has an MFA in Screenwriting from the University of California, Riverside. Luckett frequently speaks to various organizations about discovering her passion, her path to successful publication, and advice for new writers seeking to move forward in their careers. The Bay Area native lives in Oakland and travels frequently to nurture her passion for photography, exotic foods, and in search of another city that mesmerizes her as much as Paris. Learn more about her at, or come to this Sunday’s meeting.

Luckett is the highlight of our schedule, but be sure to get to the meeting early to take advantage of our group discussions on craft and marketing. Coffee and snacks are included.

See the full schedule for Sunday’s meeting here.

An Interview with Sunday’s Speaker: Laurie Ann Doyle, Dialogue and You

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We caught up with Laurie Ann Doyle before she speaks for the club this Sunday. At our monthly meeting, she’ll be talking all about writing better dialogue. Doyle knows her stuff: she’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and won the Alligator Juniper National Fiction Award. Her work has been published in The Los Angeles Review, Timber, Jabberwock Review, Road Story, Arroyo Literary Review, Under the Sun Magazine, and many other journals. She teaches creative writing at the San Francisco Writers Grotto and UC Berkeley Extension, where she received the Honored Instructor award. Learn more at her site,

We hope you will bring all pressing craft questions to this Sunday’s meeting. Until then, our social media chair Cristina Deptula asked her some questions.

Cristina Deptula: I see your new book, World Gone Missing, is a collection of stories about people who go missing, or disappear from our lives, in one way or another. How did you select that theme?

The truth is I didn’t select that theme as much as it picked me. Before I had even a thought of a book in my brain, my brother-in-law went missing. Decades later, sadly he still hasn’t reappeared. Though the opening story in World Gone Missing—“Bigger Than Life”—has a similar through-line, I completely fictionalized the characters and specific plot points. What remains true to life is the feeling you get when a loved one seems to vanish into thin air. The best way I can describe it is a sinking, helpless sensation. As the years wore on, I began to see my brother-in-law in new ways. I appreciated his subtle kindnesses and sharp wit, along with his sometimes brash and irrational nature. Thought I’m not sure this would have changed anything, I wish I could have been more compassionate.

As I finished the “Bigger Than Life” story and embarked on others, I realized that losing a loved one can trigger many conflicted feelings, and conflict is at the heart of fiction. Sometimes a person’s absence can free up a character to do things they’d never done before, wonderful things. Sometimes they find it almost impossible to move on. This realization got me going and in this book I’ve explored both the loss and liberation that absence can bring. But I had to get a chunk of stories written before that unifying theme floated up.

What makes dialogue good? So many people stumble over their words and not everyone speaks in an interesting way.

I love writing dialogue, and there’s a lot of what I hope is interesting dialogue in World Gone Missing. The tricky thing is that dialogue in fiction and memoir should sound like authentic speech, even though it’s not. Strong dialogue is distilled, rather than transcribed, speech. If you tape record people talking, you’ll hear lots of “filler” words: um, uh, yeah, etc. On the page, this needs to be edited out.

At my October 15 Dialogue Workshop, we’ll talk about the importance of giving the reader only the most dramatic elements of what was said. Usually less is more. Consider keeping your sentences or phrases short. The Russian author Anton Chekhov advised, “A line of dialogue should always leave the sense that more could have been said.” Depending on your character, you don’t have to necessarily be grammatically correct or eloquent. Quirky is great! If within character, use of profanity is also fine.

Consider the difference between “It’s a pleasure to meet you”—vs.—“Hey man, what’s up?” Or “I feel unwell”—vs.—I feel like crap.” Good dialogue accomplishes many things at once; it reveals the character and their relationships, creates tension, advances plot, and modulates the story’s pace.
On fascinating aspect of dialogue is that people often don’t mean what they say, or avoid the “real” subject. Strong dialogue also creates subtext, or the unspoken meaning underneath the words on the pages. Consider what your characters are not saying, where they are not finishing their sentences or falling completely silent. What is the implicit tension, as well as the explicit tension?

If you’re coming to this Sunday’s meeting to meet Laurie Ann Doyle, don’t forget we’re at a new location: Preservation Park.

Your workshop covers dialogue in both fiction and memoir. How do you think the ability to craft good dialogue could benefit the nonfiction author?

Dialogue is every bit as important in memoir as it is in fiction, because it’s vital in creating compelling drama and powerful scenes. In a nonfiction piece, you don’t have to accurately reflect every word that was said. It’s fine to reconstruct the conversation and give us the gist, including the most dramatic elements, as I discuss above. The key is to stay true to the people you are portraying and how they expressed themselves.

If you need more information, consider talking with a relative or friend, or reading old letters. If appropriate, you could even eavesdrop. Base your dialogue on the knowledge of the people you’re portraying. If they swore, include swear words. If they were excessively polite, craft your dialogue to show that. Again, work to stay true to the experience of them and yourself.

On October 15, we’ll go into greater depth on all this, and you’ll have a chance to try out some new dialogue techniques in a free-write exercise yourself.

Join us this Sunday at Preservation Park to meet Laurie Ann Doyle and learn all her tricks for writing terrific dialog.