"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Marlene Farrell

By on March 27, 2021 in Arts with 0 Comments
Sometimes featured on The Good Life pages running mountain trails,  Marlene Farrell also has a varied literary life that blends her writing and her lifelong interests. Photo by Kevin Farrell

Taking the long run to be a published author

By Susan Lagsdin

Leavenworth writer Marlene Farrell needn’t go far from home to enjoy an enviable medley of work, art, recreation and family — not always symmetrically balanced but full and fulfilling. 

We spoke in front of the fireplace at her neighborhood’s O’Grady’s restaurant, pre-pandemic one of her away-from-the-house writing spots.

As a young girl, Marlene pictured herself in Africa about now. “I thought as an adult I’d be in the savannah, following lions around,” she said, “studying animal behavior and the needs of threatened species.” 

She did use her college degrees in ecology and biology to work (albeit in this country) as a wildlife biologist, but she also continued to hone — with one voluntary break — an early and ongoing talent for writing.

Marlene enjoyed fiction and poetry as a child and was involved in her high school’s literary magazine. Then she headed off to college and found the creative writing staff at Princeton, with notables like Toni Morrison and Joyce Carol Oates, somewhat intimidating, so she backed off that course of study. 

On the other hand, she said, “I was like a kid in a candy shop with the number of biology classes — I took as many as I could.” 

A love of the natural world led Marlene to Leavenworth in 2004, where she’s now involved year-long in outdoor sports. 

Trail running is a personal passion, she sails an ocean-worthy boat with her husband Kevin and their two teens, and she coaches Nordic skiing through Leavenworth Winter Sports Club and running, on several levels, in the local schools.

Her literary life is just as rich and varied. 

She’s honed her craft over the years with a few online community college classes as well as intensive writing workshops through Write On The River and Washington State Artist Trust. 

She uses National Novel Writing month (NaNoWriMo), a daunting 50,000-word challenge, to start novels and is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. 

Inspired initially by Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, Marlene and her local writing group continue to support and challenge each other. And this spring, she’s excited about an upcoming three-day writing residency with the Icicle Fund’s Conservation, History and Art (CHA) program.

Marlene is intent on finding her voice and her place as a writer. 

An anthology of essays by female natural scientists will contain her reflections on interning on a Panamanian island and later as a wildlife biologist for the Forest Service working in the field while pregnant. “I distinctly remember being on a survey crew,” she said, “and making the connection between my in vivo daughter and the fish I was observing.”

In 2016, her children’s picture-book, a first-time submission, won a prize in the prestigious Pacific Northwest Writers Association competition; that affirmation gave her the confidence to submit other manuscripts (40 at last count), without illustrations, for possible publication.

Local readers have seen her by-line frequently. In her two years as coordinator of the Cascade Medical Foundation, Marlene built a robust newsletter and social media presence and recently wrote her first (very) successful grant. She covers school issues and news events for the Leavenworth Echo, writes an occasional story for The Good Life and is composing a feature for Foothills.

“I have so many small projects going,” she said, “And I admit it — sometimes I use those frequent freelance deadlines to avoid the big ones.” 

The “big ones” are her middle-grade fiction books: one tucked away as the starter novel, one half-finished with serious revisions already made, one already 30,000 words and growing.

“Write what you know” is time-tested advice, and Marlene does that. 

She brings her passion for both running and the natural world to young readers and aims resolutely toward seeing her books in print, whether through an agent or through assisted self-publication.

Using advice gleaned from mentors, writing seminars and a dose of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, she keeps a flow chart of slowly accumulating chapters. The plot thickens and she logs the book’s steady progress, though weekends are the only time she can block out hours to work on her fiction writing.

Not only do a job, sports and freelance assignments make it difficult to dedicate the hard time a novel takes, the literary world has tipped a bit from 2016 when she first started writing her most current middle-grade fiction books.

Writing for a budding generation, Marlene is as sensitive to cultural appropriation as she is to story arc or point of view. 

Does a boy’s conversation with a (real? Or imaginary?) otter on Washington’s coast ring of Native American animism? Might the LatinX girl protagonist’s home and school issues in Airborne be inadvertently misrepresented? 

With these questions, she’s gone back to her manuscripts-in-progress to ensure that her writing is as empowering, true and personal as she can make it.

Being truthful is important to her, and to her readers. Marlene describes it this way: “I stumble on connections while I’m writing or thinking about writing, insights that make me want to share my work. Maybe they will help someone else the way they’ve helped me.”

Marlene walked home from our interview in the chilly late afternoon sun, and I guessed she’d probably try to make time for a quick trail run before dinner. 

And if she did, as she wended her way through local woods she was likely thinking hard about her newest novel.

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