Claudia Putnam

Local Author Spotlight: Claudia Putnam

Claudia’s fiction and poetry have appeared in dozens of literary publications such as Cimarron Review and Confrontation for fiction; Rattle and Spillway for poetry. A New Hampshire native, she attended college in Boulder then lived in Eldora and Lefthand Canyon outside Boulder before moving to Glenwood Springs in 2012. She’s marketed software for IBM and Microsoft, taught comp-rhetoric at the University of Colorado, worked as a journalist and is now a craniosacral therapist. 

Read on to learn about Claudia’s current project, a literary novel set in northwest Colorado; along with the daily habit that’s had a big impact on her writing progress and her advice about writing residencies.

When did you become a writer?
Like many of us, I’ve been writing most of my life. At boarding school, I was accepted into a prestigious creative writing workshop. However, it was such an intense, competitive experience where we were so mean to each other that afterward I didn’t want anything to do with being a writer. When I was in college, majoring in international affairs, I stumbled into a Native American religion class. The framework for the discussion seemed to be symbolism and metaphor and the questions humans ask about life–in other words, the things writers think about. I loved it and found myself itching to write again.

What are you working on now?
“Strong Brown God,” a novel that spans the life of a woman in northwestern Colorado from 1890 to 1964. It’s based on a real person. Butch Cassidy makes an appearance in the novel too. I think of it as a feminist, revisionist, anti-Western, anti-romance novel, though obviously that’s not the official pitch. One theme I explore in the book is the many ways theft has played a role in American history, from the settlement of the land, to our romanticization of outlaws, to the back-and-forth thievery between the big and little ranchers. Years ago, I wrote a poem called “While Butch Robs Trains” that featured the woman in my novel. I’m interested in that things that go on in real people’s lives–the people who aren’t robbing trains.

The novel also is about making peace with loneliness. My character is brilliant, sensitive and living in a place that has about 50 families in a valley that now takes about two hours to cross by car. She falls in love multiple times, has children, and almost everyone moves away. Finally, she makes peace with the fact that the landscape is the only real partner for her, the only “lover” that is ultimately up to meeting the challenge that is her. 

I’ve been privileged to get to know a few of the descendants of the people I’m writing about. They say their grandparents hated Butch Cassidy, by the way!

What’s some of your best writing advice?
I have a group of people around the country and we’ve committed to writing during a specific time period, five days a week. We text when we start. Afterward, we text each other to say what we got done. We don’t trade pages or critique each other’s work; it’s about accountability. The progress of my novel has taken off. It’s been so valuable to have contact with my project every day. I treat writing like a job and don’t make calls or do errands during my writing time.

That said, I think it’s important to keep in mind there’s no single formula that works for everyone. Some writers write every day, others don’t. Do what works for you.

In 2011, you did a yearlong residency at Phillips Exeter. What can you tell someone interested in a residency?
They’re useful to have on your writing resume and a good place to meet other writers. I recommend doing a residency where there will be other artists around so you’ll have people to talk things over with. Also, if you want to increase your chances o getting accepted, apply to one in the dead of winter in a place like Minnesota or Wyoming. There’s more competition for summer residencies, including from people who have time off from teaching jobs.

And once you start a residency, give yourself a little time to decompress and get used to it. Before you begin working, you need to rest from your life, otherwise you won’t be productive.

What are some of the books you’ve loved recently?
Colm Toibin’s “The Master” and C.E. Morgan’s “The Sport of Kings”

For more about Claudia and her writing, visit her website.

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