Anne-Marie Oomen is a poet, memoirist, and playwright. Among her titles are Love, Sex, and 4-H; Pulling Down the Barn; and Uncoded Woman. She is writer-in-residence at Write On for the week of October 23 and will offer a workshop on finding inspiration for any form of writing from visual art on Saturday, October 29, 1-4 pm, at the Popelka Trenchard Glass Studio in Sturgeon Bay. Maggie Peterman recently talked with Anne-Marie about writing, Steinbeck, and islands.
Maggie Peterman: Where do you live?
Anne-Marie Oomen: Empire, Michigan
MP: Who is the author and/or book that has most influenced your own writing and why?
AO: I’m always in love with what I’m reading in the moment and I’m usually reading four or five books at once. So there is an ongoing influence from whatever is currently on my radar. That said, the writer who probably influenced me the most is John Steinbeck. This choice makes me unpopular with my feminist friends, but when I was coming into writing and started reading his work as a writer, his earthy grit mixed with a powerful sense of place, his exceptional development of both character and symbol led me to write with greater consciousness of land and deep imagery. The man, yes, a troubled and flawed human, but as a writer, I learned a lot.
MP: What can you share with us about your writing discipline?
AO: On the ideal days when I am not teaching or speaking to literary communities, I wake, have a cup of coffee, meditate or have a short walk, shower, then write until I am hungry. That’s the best part of the day. I eat breakfast, then take a second cup back to the desk, and go at it again until noon or so when I have to walk, stretch, catch up on emails, do errands, eat a little. Mid-afternoon, I can do revision work or blogging. Evenings I can sometimes go back to it, but more often than not, I need to interact with people (otherwise I get lonely), or read material that will help me with the next day. That’s an ideal day. Usually I’m doing a myriad of things through a day: teaching, elder care, family responsibilities, daily interruptions, and all the attention that life requires. Because I get an “ideal” day once every couple of weeks, I strive for some part of that writing discipline every day. However, I end up working in surges, pushing myself on weekends, or on breaks. That’s how disciplined my undiscipline is.
MP: What is your current writing project?
AO: I’m working on three fabulous projects. A collection of poems for young people of all ages with the poet, Linda Nemec Foster, and artist Meredith Ridl; a new memoir about this time caring so much for my mother—called The Mom Book, and I’ll be editing an anthology of Michigan nonfiction for Wayne State University Press.
MP: What is your favorite place to visit in Door County?
AO: I’m still learning about all the wonderful places, but so far, I love Washington and Rock Islands. Islands hold a lot of mystery for me.
MP: How did you become acquainted with Door County?
AO: Elizabeth Wallman invited me to bring my workshop and memoir “Love, Sex and 4-H” to Washington Island for the annual literary festival. So I came for a long weekend, stayed at her farmhouse, and fell in love with it all. The Trueblood Performing Arts Center is a real treasure. I met earod there and he introduced me to the Write On work.
MP: What is your favorite activity unrelated to writing?
AO: Stand up paddleboarding. Starting as early as I can get on the water, and lasting until October, I am on my paddleboard as often as I can get away to good water. I’m not a surfer, but I love that flat water peace.
MP: What are your favorite books?
AO: Where do I start? I almost always have a favorite among my current reads and this week, it’s Into Great Silence by Eva Saulitas, a memoir of life and research about Orca whales at the time of the Exxon oil spill in Puget Sound. It’s an astonishingly beautiful and sad story that has captivated me. Another recent favorite was the novel, All the Light You Cannot See, and a way back favorite is Peace Like a River. But to name all time favorites, I’d list poets: Whitman, Dickinson and Frost.
MP: What can people coming to your workshop expect?
AO: We’ll look at art, discuss ways of letting art infiltrate our conscious and unconscious minds, learn some skills about using art for writing, and practice letting it inspire us. It’s fun, absorbing in a new and different way, and you can build easily from these pieces into something larger.
MP: What advice can you give to aspiring Write On writers?
AO: Practice hard. Thinking about writing is not the same as actually practicing the craft. Like a sport or any skill, you have to practice. That and read. You have to be a reader to write.