We’re thrilled to introduce the 2018 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients with individual features on our blog! Out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating the 400+ applications we received, and selected eighteen writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each. The 2019 OLF applications will be posted at the end of April, and the deadline to apply will be Monday, July 9, 2018.

2018 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient
Naomi Ulsted

Category
Drama

Bio

Naomi lives in Gresham, Oregon with her husband and two boys. She writes fiction, personal essays and screenplays. Her work has been published in Mud Season Review, The Forge, Salon, Full Grown People and Luna Luna. She’s a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and Willamette Writers. She’s also the Center Director for the Springdale Job Corps, which offers career and technical training to under privileged young adults.

Q&A with Literary Arts

What are your sources of inspiration?

It seems like this world is so full of interesting people, I don’t know how I could run short of inspiration. Usually while working on one project, I’ll have several others bouncing around in my head, sort of lining up to wait their turn. I picture them as shadowy characters, vague and partly formed, hanging out in my brain, just waiting. Then usually there’s a certain kind of environment into which I want to throw those characters.  Our society is rife with interesting, terrifying, dark or unusual situations right now. For my screenplay The Thin Line, I wanted to tell the story of a woman who had always made safe choices and lived her life on a foundation of fear. So I threw her into something terrifying over which she had no control. At the same time, I wanted to look at gun violence in this society and the devastating reach it has, so putting that particular character into that specific situation resulted in the story I wanted to tell.

 I think characters are everywhere. In college I worked at an old school type of drug store/diner. These old folks would come in every day and sit at the diner drinking coffee. This one man would shuffle up to the counter and buy a bag of those orange candy peanuts every day. He didn’t say anything much, kept to himself, drank his coffee and ate his candy peanuts. That’s a great character. I love that stuff. Of course, if I ever run short on material I can also just write about myself. I’ve written most of a manuscript based on experiences from my childhood. In that case, there’s tons of material, but it’s just about finding the arc of story and trying to figure out what I’m really trying to say.

How would you describe your creative process?

I mentioned above how I often have kind of a queue in my mind of characters or stories asking for my attention. So, when I’m ready to move onto one, I’ll start obsessing about it. Throughout the day, that story is in the back of my mind and I’ll jot down thoughts or ideas as they come to me. At work, while doing something entirely different, a small scene or bit a dialogue might come to me, so I’ll write it down on slip of paper and dump in my purse. I value my driving time to and from work, because driving time is great for thinking. Once I have the basic story I’ll see if I can write a general outline. Depending on the genre in which I’m writing, the process might be a little different. For instance, if I’m writing a screenplay, the outline will be much more detailed and precise before I actually start writing. With fiction, I give myself more freedom to find my direction while I’m writing. The fun part of any project for me is just dumping the words on the page. I try to turn off my critic then, stop thinking about who might read this piece or what people might think of it, and just write for fun. Write for me. On the bulletin board in my office, I posted the words “You cannot edit a blank page.” I pinned this up when I was trying to start something new, because I was getting bogged down in whether or not what I was writing was good enough. I just had to tell my internal self to shut up and trust that what came out could be fixed later. After the initial story dump onto the page, then there’s revision. So much revision. Everything always takes longer than I think it’s going to. Finally, I’ll decide it’s time to get a different set of eyes on the piece, so I’ll find a way to workshop the piece or get some feedback from fellow writers. And then more revision. By then, I’m sort of sick of the whole project, to be honest, but usually that’s when there’s going to be at least few more months of work (if it’s a novel or full length screenplay) to get it into the form it needs to be. That’s when I’m tempted to pay attention to that queue of other characters in my mind, but I need to stay focused on completing the project I’m on, so I try to be really disciplined with myself.

 

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?

It’s probably one of the most encouraging things to ever happen to me with my writing. Like many writers, for years I’ve just been writing, going to workshops, writing, trying to improve and develop skills. I’ve had to sit back and just hope that my writing is getting stronger, that I’m getting to the truth of what I want to say, and that the stories will resonate with people. There are really long stretches of time when I don’t know if that’s actually happening or not. When something like this comes along, it’s really an amazing feeling.

What are you currently working on?

I’m finishing up a middle grade urban fantasy right now. I’ve lost track of the revisions, so I hope I’m on my final, but we’ll see. The story centers on the relationship between two brothers as they recognize their own powerful abilities. I’m also rewriting a number of narrative non-fiction pieces I wrote years ago that need a new perspective. I do those in between larger projects or when I need to step back from the novel for a couple weeks. My next project is a screenplay for a TV pilot about an emotionally damaged woman who finds personal redemption as the principal of a failing and neglected high school. It’s in the planning stages now, but it’s got some great characters.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

This is the fourth time I’ve applied for this fellowship. To be honest, the first couple times I submitted, my work wasn’t ready. I think for me, it’s easy to jump the gun and throw stuff out into the world before letting it sit and rest for a while, then going back in and revising yet again. I struggle with feeling like I’m running out of time in my life, but taking the time to develop craft is important. On the other hand, I also believe in getting yourself and your work out there, which can be nerve wracking. So, when you’ve taken your time and when your work is as strong as you think you can get it, and then put it out there. And move on. Submit the material, and then don’t think about it anymore. Move directly on to the next project, the next submission, the next piece you’re working on. Don’t waste time stressing. Whether or not you’re selected, the next day will be either a good writing day or a bad writing day, and you’ll work hard, get stronger, and most importantly, tell the stories.

             

Excerpt from The Thin Line

SCRIPT TITLE

Written by

Name of First Writer

Based on, If Any

 

INT. JULIA’s HOUSE – NIGHT

 

It’s dark outside.  Julia and Ashlee enter. During the following dialogue they deposit their bags, hang up their coats, etc. They are both physically exhausted.

 

JULIA

We’re home!  Joe?

ASHLEE

What’s for dinner? I’m starving.

JULIA

(She calls for him) Joe?  Your dad was going to get dinner ready. I mean, it’s cooked and everything. It’s just in the crockpot. (Checking the crockpot). Well, maybe overcooked.

ASHLEE

What is it? Or, what was it?

JULIA

Chicken enchiladas.  I think it’s edible still.

ASHLEE

I’m going to change my clothes.

 

Julia quickly prepares dinner for the two of them. She checks her phone for a text. Nothing.

 

INT. DINING ROOM

 

Julia and Ashlee eat dinner. Julia has poured herself some wine.

 

JULIA

Do you have math homework?

ASHLEE

Yes, of course.

JULIA

Do you need help? I can help you.

ASHLEE

Nae Nae just got back from a vacation to Orlando. She said the Harry Potter exhibit was amazing.

JULIA

That sounds fun. You loved those books.

ASHLEE

We never get to go anywhere. How come we never went to the beach this summer? You said we would go, and now summer is way over and we never did.

JULIA

It just seemed like there wasn’t a good time. Your dad was working a lot. Want another enchilada?

ASHLEE

Dad’s always working.

 

INT. KITCHEN

Julia pours herself more wine as she talks on the phone.

JULIA

Mom, do we really have to talk about Thanksgiving now? It’s September. Yes, I’ll bring the vegetable.    I was thinking of something different. I saw this recipe for sautéed brussel sprouts. (Pause) I didn’t know Dad didn’t like brussel sprouts. (Pause) I also saw one online for caramelized carrots. I thought that sounded good.  What? (Pause). Oh, well green bean casserole is good too.

Right, thanks (Defeated) Okay, I’ll just bring the usual green bean casserole.

 

INT. DINING ROOM

Julia helps Ashlee with her homework.

 

INT. LIVING ROOM

 

Julia sits alone, a magazine on her lap. She pours the rest of the bottle of wine into her glass. What the hell. Joe enters.

 

JOE

My god, sometimes those guys can really talk you know.  I’m exhausted.

JULIA

I thought you were going to be home for dinner.

JOE

I was, but we had to finish that meeting. I’m starving though, what’s for dinner?

JULIA

Chicken enchiladas.

JOE

You know I can’t eat that much cheese.

 

During the following exchange, Julia follows Joe into the kitchen and begins wiping down counters that are already clean and straightening things that are already straight, while Joe rummages in the fridge for something to eat.

 

JULIA

It’s not that much cheese.

JOE

It definitely is, and I’m trying to limit my lactose intake. Never mind, I can eat this sushi in here.

JULIA

(She’s a little drunk). You’ll eat old sushi but the cheese is going to kill you?

JOE

(Noticing her empty wine bottle). Where’s Ash?

JULIA

She’s probably already asleep. Did I mention you’re late?

JOE

Yes, you did. Are you repeating yourself?

JULIA

If I need to.

JOE

You don’t. 

JULIA

She wants to know why we didn’t go to the beach this summer. Why didn’t we go to the beach?

JOE

Don’t start this. You know I tried to get away, but it just didn’t work out. Look, you guys could have gone on your own.

JULIA

You know that makes me nervous.

JOE

Well, then it’s your own fault. (Softening) Look, why don’t you get some sleep? We’ll get to the beach next month maybe. I’m going to watch some “Sharktank”.

 

He exits downstairs with the sushi. Julia unplugs the crockpot as if it was the crockpot that has pissed her off. 

 

 

2018 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient Naomi Ulsted