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Willamette Writer Thrills Portland Blogger.

Ellen Urbani via

Ellen Urbani via

Join a writers group, they said.

It’ll be fun, they said.

They were right on both counts. Join Willamette Writers and have some fun.

Some meetings are more fun than others, but they all begin with promise.

Show up early at the Old Church in Portland to network with other writers.

Show up too early and go to happy hour at McMenamins Market Street Pub.

Drinking a beer is a literary tradition in Portland, a city of many brews.

But I’m a writer, you say. Writers are introverts. You learned the news at a Willamette Writers meeting.

So get an introvert beer.

Don’t be surprised if an innocent request turns into a literary epiphany. That’s also a Portland tradition.

“What’ll it be?” the bartender asks.

“PBR, please,” you say, pleased with your alliteration.

He slides an unopened pounder in front of you. No draft PBR, and no glass. Just like home.

The man next to you is doing ten key data entry by touch, doing it super fast. You’re impressed.

He talks to the bartender. Mentions baseball. You know baseball, but you’re an introvert, right?

No, you’re not, so you jump in. Soon enough, about half way through a 16oz. can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, you hear yourself talking baseball like you miss having a team in Portland.

That’s the bond you’re waiting for. Baseball crosses all generations, that’s what you say. Then you talk about generations.

One thing leads to another and the conversation turns to Ten Key’s dad, a Vietnam veteran.

The vet wrote a book about Vietnam, but his son hasn’t read it yet.

“You’ve got your dad’s book? Is it typed out in a box or bound in a book?” you ask.

“Typed out. I’ll be reading it soon.”

“I remember The French Lieutenant’s Woman was a story within a story. If you’ve got a story to compliment your dad’s book you could combine them into one book,” you say, pleased with your literary recall.

“Good idea.”

“Or you could edit it into a series of connected stories like Dispatches, Michael Herr’s Vietnam book.”

“Don’t think I’ve read that.”

The man on the ten key is busy. He runs Market Street Pub.

“Saul Bellow wrote something called Humboldt’s Gift about a writer who gets a big hit by telling a story about a poet / friend who died.”

“Sounds good.”

“He won a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize.”

“Wow. That’s big.”

“If you do anything with your dad’s book, remember Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.”


“He wrote what he thought was a great book, then killed himself when it was turned down.”

“I’ll remember that.”

“But his mom kept submitting the manuscript. Someone bought it and it was a huge success.”


“Won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction eleven years after Toole died.”

You’re so happy to remember these books you order another beer from the taps, look at your watch and discover you’re late.

You chug the pint, say goodnight, and head for the Old Church to hear another introverted writer struggle through an hour talk from the stage.



The speaker is a woman in a red dress, the best red dress you’ve seen since Gone With The Wind.

She can’t be a writer. She’s bright and engaged with the audience.

Probably the new Willamette Writers president.

You make a note to check with Bill Johnson later.

The lady in red keeps talking. She’s not introducing anyone. She is the speaker.

It’s a stunning revelation. Then it gets better.

If you have a favorite author it’s no surprise: you like who they like. You hope you’ll still like them afterwards.

What do you do when your favorite writer endorses someone? You read them.

Pat Conroy is my favorite.

He likes Ellen Urbani. She’s the speaker in red and you like her, too. That’s her at the top of this post.

Instead of coming to town in her Portland gear, Ellen made an appearance. She was camera ready, a nice surprise except I didn’t bring my camera.



Ellen talked about her writing process and her book, Landfall. 

“If you don’t ask for a blurb on your book from your favorite author, you’ll never get it,” she said.

She moved in and out of the overhead spotlights in cinematic style.

You recall Michael Jordan saying he missed every shot he didn’t take.

“Get out of the way of the people working on your book,” was more advice.

“No one can work on your book if they don’t feel it’s their book, too.”

Is that what an introvert would say?

It’s not what a control freak would say.

When Ellen said it, it was believable. She’s that sort of writer, the believable kind.

The best part of her presentation was how she handled the audience.

Her kindness flowed from the stage. She reminded the crowd to say thank you to anyone helping on a book project.

Thank you is the most important thing you can tell someone working toward the same goal as you.

Is it too much to thank Willamette Writers for bringing writers in each month to speak to the membership?

Is it asking too much to give a thank you? No, it’s not.

Ellen Urbani follows a Portland tradition of writers encouraging writers. She just did it a little better, bless her heart.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear, “The reality is, if you get a book published you’ll sell a few thousand copies. It won’t be the next Wild and you won’t be the next Cheryl Strayed.”




Home runs happen, but remember the motto of the contact hitter: “Just get on base, Slappy.”

Every book is a foundation block to building a writing career.

Ellen’s got two on her own done before an agent called and asked if they could represent her.

There’s magic out there and it happens.

Keep writing until you feel it.

Will you get a phone call from an agent? Only if you keep working, keep producing, and find a way into their life.

If the manager of Market Street Pub makes his dad’s Vietnam book work for the rest of us, he’ll get a call.

If your WWII story about winning the War in the Pacific from the hot tent of a bomber mechanic on a jungle island finds the light of day, you’ll get a call.

Wait a minute, that’s my WWII story. This Portland blogger gets that call. And I’ll say thank you. A lot.

Thank you.













About David Gillaspie
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