Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
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|Writing creatively in Taos
my memoir very soon, perhaps not primarily for the purpose of selling my story but simply to introduce myself to my
grandchildren who don’t really know me, for they grew up without me in their lives. I thought that just maybe, I could
bridge that connection with them through my life story.
So off I went to Taos, New Mexico.
This piece is about that wonderful experience in a unique and beautiful place with a group of people, each with a life
story worthy of publication.
The place is so unlike any other place I have been to. It’s a paradise of spectacular scenery, seemingly still
untouched by America’s commercial giants, where small villages of adobe houses jut out at points least expected,
where ancient rocks of varied shapes and colors paint the mountainsides, where wild flowers and butterflies greet
hikers up and close to the sky, where creative art in all forms abound, and where the spirit of native peoples never left.
Where on earth can you find a place containing high desert land at 7,000 feet above sea level, remote and rugged,
yet surrounded by verdant hills and mountains, breathtaking vistas, millions of cotton ball-like clouds that change
shape by the second? I’ve seen several double rainbows after brief showers that seemed to connect one mountain
to the next; colorful birds that dotted the bluest of the blue sky. In Taos, nature at its purest would sweep your dreams
The center of the town has cafes, restaurants for varied international tastes, museums and art galleries, boutiques
and shops. Unlike any other American town’s shops, however, Taos shops seem so small yet absolutely cute; and
simple, yet oozing with works of art and hand-made crafts reflecting varied cultures that started from, emigrated to,
and stayed in, Taos.
Taos is a paradise of sorts — exciting and beautiful regardless of the season. A tourists’ and retirees’ haven, Taos
isn’t for the faint of heart, though; because you have to have that sense of adventure and fitness when you decide to
go to Taos to visit or stay.
Taos is therefore a perfect place for artists. It’s a perfect place for creative writers. It’s a perfect place for me to
attempt to be one.
The 15th annual Taos Summer Writers’ Conference
We were hundreds of participants in this year’s conference at the Sagebrush Conference Center, to attend specific
workshops for the week or the weekend. There were several weeklong/weekend workshops and master classes
whose facilitators were book authors and experts on their assigned topics: fiction, novel, screenwriting, advanced
prose, prose style, beginning memoir, beginning fiction, life writing, poetry, publishing, travel writing, and humor
writing. According to Founding Director Sharon Oard Warner, this year had the most number of participants — a
testament to the conference’s growing popularity nationwide. Warner was so proud that this year’s faculty had
Robert Boswell, Wally Lamb, Joy Harjo, Summer Wood, Pam Houston, Robert Wilder, Ouida Touchon, Valerie
Martinez, Bruce Spencer and Jonis Agee, among other famous writers.
The book table in the conference lobby featured books of conference faculty and some participants; about writing and
New Mexico; and on literary fiction and nonfiction. It was also a place where many participants met and conversed as
they browsed books of their interest for purchase and for author’s signing.
The conference opened on Sunday afternoon, July 14, with special events, starting with a round table discussion with
Jane von Mehren, who discussed “Making Sense of Today’s Publishing Landscape,” a topic of extreme interest to
every serious writer who wants to get published. Afterward, the Opening Ceremonies with dinner provided program
participants the opportunity to meet their respective classmates and faculty, as they were grouped together in the
same table. U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway graced the occasion through a keynote reading after dinner.
The following five days, morning and afternoon classes of three hours each were held at various rooms of the
conference center. Minivan excursions , either in the morning (for afternoon classes) or in the afternoon (for morning
classes), gave participants special tours to historic places such as D.H Lawrence Ranch, Taos Pueblo, San
Francisco de Asis Mission Church, Hardwood Museum of Art, and Mabel Dodge Luhan House. Early morning yoga
exercises were freely taught by Jane Schell and Laura Stewart. We had lunchtime readings and round table
discussions between noon to 2 p.m., and after classes, we were never short of faculty readings. Individual
participants even had the time to taste a bit of Taos nightlife—open mic, music with a live band, and dancing with
The Life Writing Workshop
Brent Spencer set the tone for our class by telling us about himself in detail and describing his memoir, “Rattlesnake
Daddy.” For more than an hour, we learned about his life and his relationships with his late father, whose marked
accomplishment was having two families, each not knowing about the other. He also described the darkest secrets
of the family; his struggles from childhood onward and later working as a farmer; and how he ended up writing and
building a career in the field. For three days, each of the ten participants in our class introduced ourselves in like
manner, punctuating our narratives with emotional expressions as we were carried away by our own stories. After
those lengthy introductions, I felt —and I assumed all of us felt likewise — that I have known each of my classmates
very well. I truly felt I was there with whoever was telling his/her life story. My classmates were great storytellers! They
could either make one cry, smile or laugh just by a word or two, an incident, or something said or done.
The remaining two days of classes were spent listening to each participant read a portion of his/her work, either a
book in progress, or a piece written specifically for this particular workshop. After each presentation, Brent and the
class gave constructive feedback/comments, focusing on making the piece better and encouraging creativity to really
flow naturally. Brent wrote some helpful tips and quotes from famous authors to guide us along the way.
There were no written exercises, but the oral presentations and lively reactions and interactions were truly a great
learning experience for me. Brent and my classmates gave me that push to continue to hone my skill at creative
writing. I have actually published online a part of my life-writing project, titled “The House on Cailles Street.” I still have
to do some rewrites based on my classmates’ feedback. And I am going to continue to write my life story, one
chapter at a time, and see how it goes. I am lucky to have nine other editors to help me polish it!
Our class decided to maintain a Google doc site where we’d send our articles or pieces of ongoing book project or
any literary work for everyone to look at and comment. It’s wonderful to keep our class connection. I just hope that all
members of the class would keep the momentum going.
I plan to attend next year’s Summer Writers’ Conference in Taos. I’d probably enroll in a film script-writing class.
There’s absolutely no harm in continuing my education, expanding new horizons, learning new techniques and
current practices, and of course, meeting people sharing my interests. I want a repeat of my recent experience in
Taos—a perfect place for artists.
Taos is perfect for me.
Top right: Heidi poses with "D.H.
Lawrence"; Bottom right: Brent Spencer
(2nd fr. left) facilitates the Life Writing
“Everyone has a life that’s worth reading about. The challenge is to find
ways to convey that life in writing.”—Brent Spencer
I have been a journalist for many years now, so I know that creative writing
is something that is new to me. I can write editorials, feature and news
stories, short poems, short stories, short plays and short scripts for radio
and/or TV. That’s the magic word — short! I never imagined myself writing a
novel or a life story that could take years to complete. I have always
preferred the here and now, a piece published right away, giving busy
people just the right amount of spare time to read it. After all, who would
really be interested in my life? I myself do not really like to read any memoir,
unless it’s the life story of a famous person I am interested in knowing
further, so I assume that others feel the same way, too.
When I decided to attend the week-long 15th Summer Writers Conference
hosted by the University of New Mexico in Taos this past July, I had wanted
to enroll in a screenplay-writing class. It was actually more of my desire to
rekindle my love for the performing arts, a dream that took the backseat
when I started a family. I have to confess I was never into journalism; it was
not even my undergraduate degree. My diploma says “Bachelor of Science
in Mass Communication, Major in Broadcast Communication,” so lengthy
writing was never in my to-do lists. I thought I’d rather perform, or direct
stage plays, or write short scripts for others.
But I was drawn into enrolling in the life story-writing class under Brent
Spencer, author of “Rattlesnake Daddy”—a memoir—and other books.
Spencer is also Creighton University’s director of creative writing. I
convinced myself I should try this one because I just might want to write