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Stories have arcs. Characters have arcs. Writers have arcs. We write, we get better at our craft. We read, we get better at our craft. We interact with other writers and our readers, we get better at our craft. Whether you are a professional writer or just starting out. Hobby or career. We are all in this together. Welcome.

Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

The Interview Part II

Scroll down to read Part I

      How does being an actor impact your writing, does it change how you think about story and/or dialogue?
I’m probably annoying to be around when I’m working. I play all the parts as I’m writing whether it is fiction or plays. I’ve been accused of having a “voice” in my writing. I visualize how a piece would play on a stage or as a movie. I hear the unique voice and dialect of the characters. I smell the aromas in fiction, hear the sounds, I make it my virtual reality. I live it.

I have a B.A in Drama, emphasis in acting, of which I have played maybe 100 roles off and on over the years from stage to screen. I went to graduate school for Drama, but did not finish as I took a guiding job in the Selway Bitterroot of Idaho/Montana, saddled up a horse, loaded a pack string of horses and mules and went where cell phones can’t live, which is a quirk I seem to have between the scholarly process of writing and theater and disappearing out there in the out there for a spell in what some term as wilderness but I refer to as the middle of a very big somewhere, a place where I feel at home and safe. I never returned to graduate school. I continue going out there in the out there. That should tell a fella what his priorities are, eh? The mountains have gotten taller, the canoe beaches earlier in the day, and I carry a lighter pack, but it’s still home.

I’d venture that training as an actor is most beneficial for a writer. However, theater is a collaborative effort, very social. Writing is a very reclusive art. I am social in small doses. Ergo, being alone in the woods is a comfort and a satisfaction to me, as is being completely immersed in writing. I would say that the ability to concentrate, as an actor must do, is a snug fit for a writer. I get in a bubble, like Michael Chekov’s acting training: you place yourself in a bubble on stage and expanded and retracted it to take in one or more actors or just yourself, all the while being aware of reactions from the audience at their distance. Writing for me is much the same. Often I don’t hear the call to dinner; I’m out there in the out there with those people; we’re doing things.

You are also a photographer, do you find images prompt your writing?
I am not a professional photographer, nor do I have ambitions in that direction, but I do shoot frequently. In high school we had this great photo lab and we shot with those big 8 X 10 old box press cameras, an 8 x 10 negative, wow! Outside of a couple of ribbons at county fairs and an Alaskan winter image sold at a charity auction for a couple hundred bucks I’m just a shooter as I was as a photojournalist, with heavy on the journalist. I have thousands of images, on slides, film and now digital. I was enraptured with black and white each time I had a dark room somewhere. Now it is digital color, black and white only a click away, which also enables one to have thousands of times the trash photos one could ever have before. A bold, rational person would hit the delete button frequently. With film, especially those old press cameras, best think and compose before pulling the trigger—great training, like learning to fly an airplane using the stick.

What was the question? Oh, yeah. My images sometimes prompt a piece of writing, but more often they remind me of a detail in the midst of piece. On my office wall I have framed photos, one is of a bear holding a fish in his mouth that he had just caught. I took it sitting on the bank next to him at a distance of about 20 feet. This bear was one of the Twins, we called them that season, a pair of probably 3 year olds the first year without their mother. They were characters. They had been running salmon up the creek that day. I took a client with me and we sat on the bank watching them. This Twin caught a salmon right in front of us, looked up, fish hanging out of his mouth and said, “Woof.” Dumb luck. Great shot. I have about four stories about bears from my bear photos. Confession: I’m not a wildlife photographer; I just shoot wildlife when they show up. I prefer more abstract images and landscapes.

Gary Freeburg, who now lives back east, is a professional black and white (mainly) landscape photographer who just came out with a photo and essay book, The Valley of 10,000 Smokes, which was the largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century, 1912, on the Katmai Peninsula. I was with Gary on his first trek into the Valley. We backpacked in with 120 rolls of film and spent a week in the upper end of the valley that is filled with hundreds of feet of volcanic ash and some fumaroles still smoking. I wrote a journalistic piece with photos based on the Grig’s expeditions of the early 1900’s that was published. Gary sent me my complimentary hard back; I’m in the credits. There is more story there.

      What are you working on now?
A series of flash fictions are in the work, three of which have seen print in Over the Transom. This series seems to be going back to my California days of living in San Francisco after the Navy and working in the gambling casinos of Nevada for 15 years or so. I still love the Sierra Nevada Mountains, my old backpacking haunts. The mere smell of a pine, especially the Jeffery Pine, and fir forest is a strong image. I’m outlining a novel. An agent from back east has sent me an inquiry several times asking if I’d like to write a novel, I assume he has read some of my pieces in small presses, most likely the South Dakota Review as literary themes around the west are their niche. 

Also on the list is a fiction novella with bears as the main characters, taking the reader through the life of a bear family, their habits and habitat. My idea is it could be an action fiction of use in a classroom or for pleasure and laden with facts of how bears spend their days, their food sources, their relationship to one another and us—it has fighting in it and drama and comedy. Marketing of that bear story is a crapshoot. Only teddy bears get a good review. Also on the list are more Montana stories, my grandparents were homesteaders in Montana. The first of those stories was just submitted for consideration.

I have a play in my head, but it seems be taking a back seat to fiction and the days are only so long and we now are caring for a marvelous just turned one granddaughter during day shift, Monday to Friday. My wife does most of the work. I’m comic relief.

I believe I have enough nuts stashed to keep me busy for about 50 years or so, which would beat the odds of longevity.

 Final Words of Wisdom.
      I do not profess to be wise or frugal. Where to place the work is always the conundrum. Years ago I told an experienced writer friend of mine that this one publisher had published five of my stories. He said, “Stick with him.” Sound counsel. Publishers are people who have likes and dislikes. There is several well know markets out there that will never publish my work unless I become a household name because, “I write about a planet with people on it.” I’ve had rejections of pieces from these markets that have found publication elsewhere. For years I subscribed to multitudes of small and large presses, some most prestigious, to see what they were publishing. It took a while for the sun to come up, but eventually I realized that I didn’t like the majority of what they were printing anymore than they liked what I wrote.


I have found that I’m better at writing the more I do it, and I’m better at it if I like what I’m writing. That probably holds true for all of life. Shoot for the stars but enjoy the journey even if you don’t get the Oscar or the Pulitzer Prize. Of course we want to be published, but we should be proud of what we publish. One can write for fame and fortune, one can shoot for the great American novel, and one can be a successful journalist. However, if writing is your only trail to wealth and fame, I hope you have packed your best possibles and know that winter is anon.  

Two of my favorite authors will most likely never be on the tip of a New York cocktail party tongue: Don Skiles, poet and fiction, of San Francisco and Mark Gibbons, poet of Missoula, Montana. Ever heard of them? I also met this great playwright at the Valdez Theater Conference a few years back: Elena Hartwell.   (Awww - shucks. Thanks Jerry!)

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