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with E.C. Murray
Ann Hedreen is a Seattle native, a graduate of Wellesley College and Goddard College’s Masters of Fine Arts program in creative writing. Ann’s achievements include: her memoir, Her Beautiful Brain, which won a 2016 Next Generation Indie book award; her blog, The Restless Nest, which received a 2016 honorable mention from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists; her article in Seattle Metropolitan Magazine “Alzheimer’s: Laughter and Forgetting,” which was awarded Society of Professional Journalists’ First Place/Pacific Northwest for Science & Health reporting, 2012; the film, “Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story”, which earned the Women in Film’s Nell Shipman award for Best Documentary. She and her husband Rustin Thompson own White Noise Productions which produces films and feature documentaries, including their newest film, Zona Intangible. A Hedgebrook alumna, she tutors for Horn of Africa Services and teaches memoir writing at Seattle Central College and Hugo House.
1.) A note to our readers – Ann and I are in a writing group together, I’m honored to say. Ann, readers are interested in how writers start on their path to success. How old were you when you discovered you loved to write? What were your first pieces?
When I was six years old, I was “writing,” but mostly illustrating, stories about cats dressed in costumes—pioneer cats were my favorite—in some surplus spiral-bound weekly diaries that my dad brought home from his office. When I was seven, I had a wonderful 2 grade teacher named Mrs. Lacrosse who encouraged me to write poems, and then let me type them on her typewriter. Seeing them in print was thrilling.
2.) How did your writing grow and develop through high school and college?
There was never a time when I did NOT love writing; I always thought of it as the very best thing about school, although reading was a close second. When I was 13, I began to keep a journal, a practice I have continued to this day. In my teenage years, I wrote poetry, some of which was published in the school literary magazine. In college, I majored in English and wrote stories. Even though I thought of them as fiction, they were nearly all barely-disguised tales from my own life.
3.) How did your writing career grow once you graduated from college?
After graduation I worked for about a year at Little, Brown in Boston. That short stint in publishing (I worked in the law and college textbook divisions—it was not glamorous!) made me realize that what I really wanted to do was write, not edit other peoples’ writing. I moved to England and then, Chicago where I landed a job as a general assignment reporter for the City News Bureau and then, as a broadcast writer for UPI. When I moved back to Seattle, I worked for KIRO, the CBS affiliate station, for five years as a writer and producer. After that, I worked in public relations (Seattle Art Museum) and (mostly) nonprofit media relations. Around 2000, our video work began to take off and White Noise Productions became my full-time day job. All of these jobs involved lots of writing.
4.) Your book, your blog, and your films are all thoughtful and heartfelt. What does your writing mean to you?
Although I enjoy speaking—both publicly and in private conversation—I feel like my writing is my true voice. It is also my best way of thinking: it’s in the act of putting words on a page that I often will have an insight I never would have had without scribbling or typing.
5.) Why did you want to earn a Masters in Fine Arts after having written professionally for so many years?
I wanted to write my mother’s story, but I wanted guidance and direction. I also wanted to try my hand at teaching. I liked that the MFA program included a teaching practicum. My writing changed in this way: at long last, after so many years of writing as objectively as I could as a journalist and, later, channeling clients’ voices, I finally learned to write confidently in my own voice. Before I went to grad school, I thought of memoir as a close cousin to journalism. My Goddard advisors helped me see that memoir encompassed not only good journalistic practices, but also reflection, rumination and a bit of poetry.
6.) What was your process in writing your award winning memoir, Her Beautiful Brain?
I took the first steps toward writing Her Beautiful Brain in 2004, when my husband and I made a documentary starring my mother called Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story. After making that film, I realized I had so much more to say about my mom’s life, about how her life shaped mine, and about Alzheimer’s disease. I also began to understand that, while I love filmmaking (which is what I do for a living), I have been a writer since I could hold a pencil and I longed to write much more than I was then writing as a filmmaker and occasional journalist. I began writing Her Beautiful Brain at Hedgebrook, the retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island, but I wrote most of it during the two years I worked on my MFA. During this time, I was also working my day job (making short films for nonprofits with my husband), although my husband did a lot more than his half of the work so that I could have time to write.
I queried maybe a dozen agents before I landed one. She received several requests for manuscripts, but ultimately we were turned down by all the big publishers. I then began to query mid and small presses on my own. She Writes Press, the company which published Her Beautiful Brain, is wonderfully empowering. It is a hybrid or partnership model: a curated press that asks for financial participation from the authors it signs, with the promise of strong distribution on all platforms through Ingram Publishing Services and a greater share of the profits than most presses offer their authors.
7.) Your work has been published in 3 Act Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Crosscut, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine) Courageous Creativity, Verbalist’s Journal, the Pitkin Review, the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Grist, the Sunday Observer of Bombay, and the Galen Stone Review. How does your current writing in film differ from journalism, and blog and memoir writing?
Writing for film is minimalist. Less is nearly always better than more. Sometimes it feels like writing haiku. Sometimes, if we choose to go with no narration at all, the writing consists of quilting together good interview soundbites in a way that will tell the story, with perhaps an occasional bit of text on screen if or as needed. I enjoy this kind of “writing,” and I think it has given me a good ear for the way people really talk.
8.) What is it like working with your husband? How do you decide which projects to take on? How to divide the work?
We work together pretty smoothly because we have different roles and skills, and we respect and trust each other’s talents and abilities. Rustin is a true renaissance filmmaker: he can do everything. When we work together, he shoots, edits and directs. I produce, interview, write and co-direct. (I don’t ever shoot or edit.) In a given week, we’ll shoot on one or a few days and then on other days, I’ll be working on a script for one project while he’s editing another. Our short films for nonprofit clients come to us via word-of-mouth recommendations from one client to another. Sometimes we have to turn someone down if we’re just too busy or if their mission is something that doesn’t feel like a good fit, but that’s rare.
9.) Another word much misunderstood by those not in the business is “producer.” What exactly do you do as producer?
A producer’s job is different, depending on what branch of the business you’re in. In documentary filmmaking, the producer comes up with story ideas, does the research, books the interviews and plans the shoots. The producer also does the actual interviews, works with the cinematographer on the shoots, transcribes the interviews, and writes the script, which is typically a mix of narration and interview soundbites. The producer also works with the editor to shape the final film.
10.) What advice do you give to aspiring writers?
As with exercise, any tiny amount is ALWAYS better than none at all. Write one page. One paragraph. One scene. Do it again the next day, or the next weekend, if that’s the only time you can carve out. Be kind to yourself. And read! Read, read, read.
Thank you, Ann. Ann is now working on a new book, The Observant Doubter. The White Noise film Zona Intangible will be showing in Paris in April. To learn more about Ann, please check her Web sites - https://therestlessnest.wordpress.com/about/, http://whitenoiseproductions.com/
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