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Writers

Fall 2017

Where the trouble began

“Fiction is a document of trouble,” says novelist James Thayer ’71. The trouble began for Thayer as a teenager reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula on his father’s wheat farm in Almira.

“The narrator sees the Count leap to a window frame—and then crawl down the exterior of the castle wall like a lizard!” Thayer exclaims. “That scene scared me to death! It was a revelation as to the power of fiction.”

Now, decades later, the Seattle-based author of 14 novels teaches fiction writing through the University of Washington’s continuing education program.

“The main thing that keeps people from writing a novel is that it … » More …

Stephen B. Smart
Fall 2017

The accidental novelist

What began as a way to avoid going stir crazy while recuperating from a nearly fatal equestrian accident has become an award-winning western genre trilogy that blends suspenseful mystery and the allure of lost fortunes with good old-fashioned frontier fortitude.

Landscape architect STEPHEN B. SMART ’75 calls himself an unlikely novelist. He’s spent most of his life outdoors, designing everything from elaborate gardens and water features to a driveway gate cleverly concealed to appear as a fallen ponderosa pine. And in his free time, he’s more likely to be found atop a favorite mule exploring the Pacific Northwest backcountry than sitting at a keyboard … » More …

Fall 2017

James Thayer on the craft of the novel

James Thayer reads from The Boxer and the Poet

James Thayer ‘71 reads the first chapter of his romantic comedy, The Boxer and the Poet.

 

 

Tips and Techniques

Thayer started teaching the craft of the novel about ten years ago as a creative writing instructor at the University of Washington. He’s also a regular contributor to Author magazine.

Thayer, a natural storyteller, absorbed his craft through his lifelong voracious reading habit. When he first got the teaching job, he realized he didn’t have enough to say to fill a 90-hour, year-long course. So, as is his wont, he read a bunch of books. … » More …

Robot typing
Summer 2017

Robowriters

Subject. Verb. Object.

These are the basic building blocks of written communication. It’s what you need to make a complete sentence like the one you’re reading now.

Structured. Logical. Direct.

This also is why parts of my chosen career are ripe for takeover by robots.

For millions of Americans, the defining realization of how fast artificial intelligence is evolving came in 2011 when Watson — IBM’s now-celebrated language processing computer — won the popular TV quiz show Jeopardy by beating two of the game’s top champions.

I watched with fascination as well. But, for me, the point was driven home even harder a few years … » More …

John McCallum in his own words
Spring 2017

John McCallum in his own words

To immerse himself in the lives of those he wrote about, John McCallum would spend extraordinary amounts of time with them, their friends and their families. He collected numerous tidbits and observations along the way, many of which he shared in his 1969 autobiography, Going Their Way.

Here are a few excerpts:

 

On the miserly nature of Ty Cobb

The notoriously mean-spirited and confrontational baseball legend had invested his earnings wisely and was still worth millions of dollars nearly three decades after retiring, which is when McCallum began profiling Cobb for the first of two books he’d write about the Detroit Tigers star. … » More …

Robert Cantwell
Winter 2014

Lost writer from a lost time

A whole genre of literature, that of the American working class during the Great Depression, has all but disappeared. Now a WSU professor and a Northwest novelist are bringing writer Robert Cantwell, a Washington native, and his most significant book, Land of Plenty, out of the mists of time.

Cantwell, one of the finest American writers of the 1930s, was admired by the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, says T.V. Reed, professor of English and American studies. His masterpiece is set in a Washington plywood factory and his characters are based on the workers he once toiled alongside.

Born in southwest Washington … » More …

Fall 2011

Wendell Berry comes to Washington

Poet and author Wendell Berry visited Skagit Valley in May at the invitation of Washington State University students and faculty. He spent the day touring the WSU research and extension center and exploring a farm. He also visited with area farmers including Tom and Cheryl Thornton, left, and Anne Schwartz ’78, right.

Summer 2010

Dan Nelson ’89—25,000 miles of trails

Dan Nelson knows his way around Washington’s woods. As the author of a dozen books on hikes, snowshoe trips, and trails throughout the Cascades, Eastern Washington, and the Olympic Peninsula, he’s logged thousands of miles for research.

“I added it up last year for a biography,” says Nelson, as he searches his pantry for a treat for his new Labrador Sophie. “It was something over 25,000 miles of trails since I started my first book.”

In 1989, as a reporter for Pierce County Herald, and fresh out of Washington State University, Nelson covered general assignment stories, environmental issues, and county government. He enjoyed the demands … » More …