Contributor Spotlight: Kelly Fine


Photo Credit: Aaron Schultz

Kelly Fine’s essay “Shadows and Smoke” is featured in Issue 71 of the Bellingham Review.

What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?

“Shadows and Smoke” is a slightly altered excerpt from a longer essay, “Sabbath,” about savoring the world’s beauty when there are so many reasons we shouldn’t. In early versions, that essay was a philosophical slog. After overhauling it a ridiculous number of times, I condensed the reflections and expanded the descriptions of three aspects of the world I found so beautiful—a farmers’ market, wires shooting across the night sky, and owls duetting. I wasn’t sure if readers would stick with me through the long description of the farmers’ market. It was quite a surprise when the Bellingham Review offered to publish that section as an independent piece!


Tell us about your writing life.

For the past ten years or so, most of my writing has focused on my experiences outdoors, usually in wild lands bordering on cities. I fell in love with the natural world by watching evening and morning, fall and spring move through a Minnesota suburb, and I write a lot about the wilder aspects of residential neighborhoods too. There’s nothing I love more than sitting down with a notebook in my lap, opening my senses to the place surrounding me. I do much of my rewriting and editing outdoors, too. Right now I’m lucky—I have a small private yard, and I’m living in Seattle, where it’s warm enough to write outside in January if I dress right. My winter writing outfit would crack you up: two coats, four shirts, long johns, jeans, boots and a hat!


What writing advice has stayed with you?

Pay attention.

Which non-writing aspect(s) of your life most influences your writing?

The more-than-human world (David Abram’s term) and the way I sense it, environments both wild and built, ritual, wonder, spiritual thirst, a need to love the world.

What is your favorite book (or essay, poem, short story)? Favorite writer(s)?

For most of my life, I was primarily a fiction reader. Leslie Marmon Silko, Charles Frazier, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Marilynne Robinson are some of my favorite novelists. Sometimes I go back to early favorites like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hermann Hesse, Jack Kerouac, and Leonard Cohen (as a novelist, I mean, although I love his songs). In the last few years, I’ve been reading more creative nonfiction. Some of my favorite essayists are Annie Dillard, Gretel Ehrlich, Loren Eiseley, Kim Stafford, and Kathleen Dean Moore. Like any reader, I could go on and on.

What are you reading right now?

In the last few months I’ve been reading everything I can by Robert Michael Pyle (I’d especially recommend Sky Time in Gray’s River) and David James Duncan (I’d especially recommend The Brothers K). These two authors are the most recent additions to my list of favorites. I just finished listening to The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea and reading Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Now I’m listening to Mink River by Brian Doyle and reading Rogue River Journal by John Daniel.

What project(s) are you working on now, or next?

I’m revising an essay for an anthology of writing about wild lands in Orange County, California. Next I’ll try to write about the most important experience of my teenage years. I want to serve as a witness to what happened there, but it’s been quite a struggle to find words for it. And I recently finished co-editing the latest anthology of writing and photography from Fishtrap’s Outpost workshop. If you’re interested in writing about the American West, take a workshop through Fishtrap! You won’t find a friendlier writing community. In the Outpost workshop, you camp and write on a bunchgrass prairie in northeastern Oregon. Drop me an email if you want a copy of last year’s anthology.

Anything else our readers might want to know about you?

I cut my writing teeth scripting lyrical weddings and commitment ceremonies. Most of them took the form of conversations between partners. It was hard to find great ceremonies to guide me, and I wrote some God-awful stuff along the way, but I’m glad I kept at it. If you’re writing outside the standard forms, or if you’re struggling to find literary models or mentors or kindred spirits, please keep going—the world needs your voice.

Where can our readers connect with you online?

Cracked Offering, and they can email me.

KELLY FINE is seeking a publisher for Stepping Out, a book about her days and nights in the borderland between Los Angeles and the Angeles National Forest. She misses southern California’s wild mountains, ethnic diversity, and evening farmers’ markets, but she is now trying to put down roots in what soil scientists call “Seattle muck.” Find her at Cracked Offering.