Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient: Kathleen Lane

We’re excited to introduce each of our 2017 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients on our blog this winter! For these fellowships, out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating the 439 applications we received. These judges named nine writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each. The 2018 OLF applications will be posted online soon, and the deadline will be toward the end of June. You can read more about the application process by clicking here

2017 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient

Kathleen Lane


Young Adult


Kathleen Lane writes short fiction and stories for young readers. Her middle-grade novel, The Best Worst Thing (2016 Little, Brown), is among this year’s Oregon Book Award finalists, and she is currently working on a short story collection and young adult novel. Kathleen lives in Portland where she co-hosts the art and literary event series SHARE, teaches writing through Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools program, and thanks to a grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council, will soon begin working with six-graders at three Portland middle schools.

Q&A with Literary Arts

1. What are your sources of inspiration?

Lately I’ve been asking a lot of questions, trying to sort out why I write, what I have to say, what’s in me that wants to come out… that’s worth devoting 5 years of my life to… and I’ve been trying very hard to look at these questions as an opportunity and not a mid-writing-life crisis! So I’m most inspired these days by writers (artists, humans…) who seem to be operating out of some deep and true place in themselves, and who aren’t afraid to put it all out there, who aren’t looking for any kind of approval from the world. For me, blocking out all the noise (internal and external) can be a challenge, so I’m grateful for any reminders to keep my head down and stay the course.

I’m also inspired by all the generous souls in our writing community who give so much of their energy to lifting up other writers and artists—Tom Spanbauer, Laura Stanfill, Gigi Little, Domi Shoemaker, Liz Scott, Lidia Yuknavitch, Steve Arndt, Kate Gray, Davis Slater, Adam Strong, Sean Davis, so many others. If I think about what’s been most meaningful to me in my writing life, it’s by far the love and support I feel all around me.

Too many creative inspirations to name, but right now I’m reading/loving Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck.

2. How would you describe your creative process?

My process is to catch a feeling or random thought and follow it down a dark tunnel until I see light. Sometimes there’s light and sometimes there’s a train speeding toward me. The light is usually where the story brushes up against my own feelings or experiences. Sometimes it takes awhile to find the connection so I try to stick with a story long enough to know where it came from and what it means to me. Most of the time it’s a complete surprise— which for me is the joy of writing, when a story you thought had nothing to do with your life becomes all about your life. The Best Worst Thing started out as a short story about a father’s need to be needed. It was my agent who suggested I explore it as a middle-grade—which turned out to be the more honest story, the one I had been carrying around in me for forty years. It was personal in a way that took me by surprise, reminding me of my own experiences as a sensitive kid (and adult), and making me want to reach out to kids who are having a similar experience.

3. What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?

I’ve been so caught up in my head lately, spending too much time questioning and not enough time creating, so I’m choosing to take this fellowship as a much-needed “shut up and write.” I’m also looking forward to spending some time being a student again, beginning later this month with David Ciminello’s flash fiction workshop at The Attic. Thank you Literary Arts and this year’s fellowship judge for the confidence and support and push to keep going.

4. What are you currently working on? 

Right now I’m revising a draft of a young adult novel and finishing up a short story collection that I’ve been “finishing up” for about three years now. With the support of the Regional Arts and Culture Council, I’m also putting together a writing workshop for kids struggling with similar fears as the narrator of The Best Worst Thing. I’ll be working with sixth-graders at three Portland schools this spring.

5. What advice do you have for future applicants?

Same advice I give myself all the time: Be kind to yourself and try not to take it all too seriously or too personally. As my friend Robyn texted me on one of my doubt-filled days: “Ain’t nobody messing with you but you.” —Grateful Dead

OLF Judge’s Comments

“It’s the night we’re going to get murdered so we’re sleeping on the living room floor.” So begins Kathleen Lane’s enchanting middle grade novel The Best Worst Thing, the story of eleven-year-old Maggie, second of three sisters and two days shy of starting middle school, who uses frequent rituals to deal with her anxiety. Although the story opens with a delightfully funny scene about the girls’ conviction that a murderer is lurking outside the house, we quickly begin to learn that for Maggie, worrying is no laughing matter. As the narrative continues, Lane artfully reveals Maggie’s need to say or do things twice, or to make sure things around her exist in even numbers rather than odd. Using Maggie’s direct and engaging first-person narration, Lane depicts a sensitive, endearing main character who wins our hearts as we accompany her through a world that presents her with extra, unseen challenges that her family cannot always understand. Lane has a gift for natural-sounding dialogue in both her adult and child characters, and for blending humor and emotion throughout her scenes. Anxiety-prone young readers will no doubt find much to identify with in Maggie, but so will other readers as they recognize and admire her determination to make her way forward despite her many fears.

—Andrea Hairston, YA judge

Excerpt from current work:

from The Best Worst Thing:

Sometimes, in the dark, when we’re in our beds, after she’s done praying and before she falls asleep, I can whisper Tana and she won’t yell What! She’ll whisper it back, quiet like me, and I can ask her the things I want to know. About being older. About all the things she does now instead of the things she used to do. Like why she likes sitting on her bed more than playing in the yard and why she doesn’t ever wear dresses anymore and why she paints her nails green and black instead of pink—and how could she just get rid of her entire horse collection? Mostly she says she doesn’t know why, but one time she said it was just part of getting older. It’s not like you change, she said. Inside. You’re still the same person inside.

In the dark I saw a littler Tana inside of bigger Tana, like the wooden doll at Grandma’s house with the littler and littler dolls inside. I saw Tana who used to play Squirrel with us, Tana who played Pet Store and Dance Teacher and Lewis and Clark. I saw Tana the mama cat who purred in our baby kitten ears.

Sometimes I think about all the little me’s inside of me. The me who used to put stickers on my face (even on my eyelids!), the me who kept a hurt slug in a box and cried so hard when he died. Me who was scared of Teletubbies. And sometimes I wonder when the me I am right now will get covered up by a bigger me, and I wonder who the bigger me will be.

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