Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Rules for My Kitchen

by Susan

Banana-oat-blueberry-pecan muffins. Fresh at 4 a.m.
The middle of the night snack of champions.
Coffee first, then food.
Live dangerously. Lick the batter off the spoon.
Eat what you want. Listen to your body.
Make a mess. Clean it up.
I love you, but stay out of my kitchen when I cook.
Food is forgiving. Create recklessly.
Recipes are mere suggestions. Experiment.
You can never go wrong starting dinner with sizzling onions.
Although there are limits. Sizzling onions over ice cream? Doubtful.
On the other hand, I could be mistaken. Try onion ice cream if you want.
When in doubt, err on the side of too much butter.
Vanilla, too. Measure it over the bowl so the extra spills over.
Garlic makes life complete.
Fresh is better.
Invest in good knives. Chop with confidence.
There are no rules.

Coffee first, then writing.
Live dangerously. Release the muse.
Write what you want. Listen to your soul.
Make a messy first draft. Clean it up.
I love you, but stay out of my room when I write.
Words are forgiving. Create recklessly.
Writing guides are mere suggestions. Experiment.
You can never go wrong finding the sizzling, red-hot core of your story.
There are no limits to that sizzling core.
I am not mistaken on this one.
When in doubt, err on the side of too much writing time.
Self-care, too. Fill yourself until you overflow.
Words make life complete.
Fresh is better.
Invest in your editing. Chop with confidence.
There are no rules.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Post by Lynn

When I was in the Peace Corps, in Mali, West Africa, I used the gathering of proverbs and colloqualisms as a tool to learn Bambara, the local language. Turns out the Malians are big on proverbs, especially the elders who use them as ways to offer advice to the young.


Dooni, dooni, kanoni be so dila. 

In English: Little by little, the bird builds his nest.

Meaning: The Malian version of “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”


Dow be dow don, tow be dow don.

In English: Some people know one thing, others know another thing.

Meaning: You can’t know it all and that’s okay.

I always got excited when I discovered a proverb or phrase in Bambara that correlated with one in English. I remember learning that “to put your foot in your mouth” was exactly the same in Bambara and English—meaning that you had said something really stupid.

Cool! I knew that was a phrase I could use often.

The first time I used it (hoping to impress with my Bambara language skills) I got the word for foot (sen) mixed up with the word for breast (siin).

Close, right?

You should have seen the look on that guy’s face.

I’ve been collecting proverbs for a long time. Not surprisingly, they have intertwined with my writing life in a lot of ways.


When I get stuck during my journaling time, with no idea what to write next, I reach for a proverb. There’s always something there that gooses my muse and gets the words flowing.

I have several books of proverbs that I keep close by:

 - African Proverbs from Peter Pauper Press;

- “When the Road Is Long, Even Slippers Feel Tight” A Collection of Latin American Proverbs, by Roberto Quesada.

 - Japanese Proverbs & Traditional Phrases, from Peter Pauper Press;

- The Soul Would Have No Rainbow If the Eyes Had No Tears and Other Native American Proverbs, by Guy A. Zona.


Proverbs are almost as good as world travel, because through them you can learn about a people and their beliefs. Every culture and religion has embraced the pithy proverb as a way to express values and share advice.

“You can tell a people’s character from that people’s proverbs. Therefore any friend of the Japanese will know already what he will find here: a sentimentality about flowers and a cynicism about people; a confidence in the eternal and a distrust of the immediate…” 
- From the preface to Japanese Proverbs 

Proverbs are time-honored sayings that pack a lot of meaning in a small space. For example:

Proverbs are reminders of the universality of human experience: 

A loose tooth will not rest until it’s pulled out.
- Ethiopian proverb

They can shake a finger at you: 

It’s a fine sermon about fasting when the preacher just had lunch.
- Ecuadorian proverb

Or encourage caution: 

First we drink the wine
Then the wine drinks the wine
Then the wine drinks us.
 - Japanese proverb
Proverbs can be funny:

He on whose head we would break a coconut never stands still. 
- African proverb 
Or offer encouragement:

If we wonder often, the gift of knowledge will come. 
- Arapaho proverb 
Some proverbs can be really obscure:

There are old men of three: children of a hundred. 
- Japanese proverb 

Sometimes a proverb seems to speak directly to the issue I am currently struggling with in my writing life, like revision:

If you are building a house and a nail breaks, do you stop building or do you change the nail? 
- Rwandan proverb 

To me, proverbs are a poke in the ribs, a slap up side the head and sometimes a stab in the heart.

What about you? Have you ever been affected by a proverb? Ever used one to spark your writing?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Eat the Frog First?

by Susan

Mmmmm ... tasty.
Many people advise to eat the live frog, or at least the raw one, first thing in the morning, to knock out the toughest task before you go to the easy ones.

I tend to put it last on the tasting menu, after a few appetizers of varying appetizingness. Kermit sushi (with a dab of wasabi, followed by a slice of pickled ginger) is often last on the list.

Oddly, this works for me most days. Winnowing from too many tasks to one big one takes away a few distractions. Plus, I am never so efficient at one task as when I'm avoiding another one.

I've heard it referred to as "stack order:" the optimum number of projects a given person can juggle without boredom or anxious meltdown. Too many things on my to-do list and I jump from one to the other like a squirrel with ADHD. Better to knock one or two of the smaller ones out. Clear the desk, clear the mind.

A kitten ... about to be hit
by an asteroid
One caveat: I am a morning person. If it takes brain cells, it better happen before lunch because an increasing number of neurons go into hibernation as the day wears on. By late afternoon, I'm good for little more than watching videos of cute kittens and earth-ending asteroids.

Sadly, though, the frog I most often put off eating, often until tomorrow or the next tomorrow or the day after that is my personal writing. It's the one most tastily prepared. Soul-feeding frog.

I need my frogs. They're part of a healthy diet of challenge and accomplishment. Unfortunately, frogs with deadlines go bad after a few days. I still have to eat them.

Creative writing is the one frog, though, that never gets slimy around the edges before the meal. It's always the tastiest. It needs to go first on the menu.

I have been blessed with non-creative deadlines lately, which has kicked the creativity into high gear as I avoid the rest of the to-do list. Why do I usually put it off? I don't know. Fear that I will write badly. Fear that I will write powerfully. The distraction of ... SQUIRREL! My job now is to develop a writing routine that makes sure the best dish is on the menu.

We all develop our own work styles. What's yours? Frog first? Is frog not just for breakfast any more? And where does your own writing land on the menu?

Photo credits: "Red Eyed tree frog" from the Swallowtail Garden Seeds collection of botanical images and illustrations. This image is in the public domain. "Squirrel" by John Morgan and "Kittens" by Jennifer C. licensed under CC BY 2.0. Source: Flickr Creative Commons.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

April Writing Roundup: Why Go to a Conference?

Wyoming State Poet Laureate Echo Klaproth and
Lou Lenhart at the WyoPoets Spring Workshop

by Susan

In 1998. I went to my first Wyoming Writers Conference completely unprepared. And I do mean completely: I hadn't even booked a hotel room. Somehow I wound up rooming with then-President Virginia Wakefield and staying up late with her both nights talking of writing and life.

I was hooked. Writing can be an isolating endeavor. Conferences offer us the chance to connect with fellow writers and find support, advice and friendship. Workshop sessions offer a chance to learn something new from established authors. And, if you've got something ready to pitch, they can be the place to make contact with an editor or agent to take the next step toward publication.

Writers' conferences are an investment, definitely, but I can say I've gotten my money's worth over the years. That, and I treasure the dear friends I've made from across Wyoming.

With that, here are some upcoming conferences and workshops:

Aaron Abeyta, poetry, keynote speaker
Wyoming Writers Inc. 41st annual conference June 5-7, Cheyenne WY
Early Bird Registration Deadline May 15
A great lineup of presenters with Laura Pritchett, Kent Nelson and Aaron Abeyta. True West Magazine senior editor Meghan Saar will do workshops on writing narrative history and writing for magazines. Saar, along with editors Patrick Thomas from Milkweed Editions and Tiffany Schofield from Five Star Publishing (Cengage), will be available for pitch sessions. There are some deadlines coming up! Don't miss the May 15 Early Bird Deadline for a discounted conference price. Also by May 15: Sign up for a Friday afternoon critique panel, submit your story openings for either the Sunday morning "Paddle Panel," or for Kent Nelson's workshops, or sign up for one of those pitch sessions. Conference bookstore deadline is May 12. See schedule details on the website.

Laura Pritchett will also be doing a public reading and book signing at Cheyenne City News & Pipe Shop on Friday, June 5 at 1 p.m., 1722 Carey Ave. in Cheyenne.

Jackson Hole Writers Conference, June 25-27, Jackson WY
From their website: "For the 23rd year Jackson Hole Writers Conference we are bringing writers who have ignited and continue to ignite the literary scene.  Old-hands Tobias Wolff, Jeff Greenwald, and Jewell Parker Rhodes will join forces with Nina McConigley, Eric Paul Shaffer, and Stefan Merrill Block.  Our distinguished speakers, editors and agents join our resident faculty to deliver three days of engaging dialogue, collaboration and the opportunity for all of us to raise the stakes on our work." The Jackson Hole Writers Conference is offering a $150 discount to anyone who also attends the Wyoming Writers Inc. conference. Contact them for details.

Page Lambert
 Mount Vernon Writing Seminar with Page Lambert May 16, Golden CO
From Page's website: "'The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon,' Thoreau noted mournfully, 'or perchance a palace or temple on the earth, and at length the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.' This seminar will help you rediscover the high concepts and universal themes (those lofty ideas) that first inspired you to want to write this particular story. Don’t have a work-in-progress? Come anyway. Help the rest of us figure out how to build that bridge to the moon."

Some kudos!

WyoPoets honored four people with Awards for Excellence at its Spring Workshop in April: Arthur Elser, Echo Klaproth, Nancy Ruskowsky and Susan Vittitow Mark

Just in time for the upcoming centennial celebration of the formation of the National Park Service, Gene Gagliano has a new juvenile book out: Angel’s Landing. You might remember Gene from a guest post he did on Writing Wyoming on poetry. Or you may know him for C is for Cowboy: A Wyoming Alphabet, or as the (now retired) teacher who danced on his desk.

One Book Wyoming  coming to a library near you

About three weeks back we wrote about Cat Urbigkit and One Book Wyoming. A schedule of events is now available on the One Book Wyoming site. The Wyoming State Library will update the page as Cat schedules more appearances. You may also contact your local Wyoming public library for events in your community.

Got news?

Send it our way! We try to do a wrap-up every-month of Wyoming-related events. Email it to writingwyoming@gmail.com. We'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


post by Lynn

My dog Sammy, God rest his soul, used to love to sniff my head and snuffle through my hair. When he finished, he always gave me one of those silly grins that labs are famous for.

Why did he love to sniff my head?

Hell if I know. Why do any of us love what we love? I only know I was always glad to see Sammy happy, so I let him sniff away.

Which brings me to today’s topic: delight. If you are casting about for something to spark your writing, I suggest you give serious consideration to your delights. Quite often, we writers are elbowed into writing about our pain, fears and secrets. All well and good, and there is much to be had there. But don’t forget that there is treasure, too, in your delights.


 “The world is mud-luscious,”
 - e.e. cummings. 

Oooh, I think e.e. delighted in mud, don't you?

Do you know what delights you? I am not talking about what you’re passionate about. Delight is different than passion. Less demanding, in my mind. I’m not talking about what makes you laugh either. Delight is a very specific emotion.

For me, it’s when I simply stand and look and smile, or when I notice that I’d really, really like to just hang out in a particular moment for a good, long time.

A few years ago I started a Delights journal. The impulse came when I read this quote:
 “I put in my pictures everything I like." 
- Pablo Picasso
Hey--if it’s good enough for Picasso, it’s good enough for me.


Do I know what I like? I asked myself. It was a tougher question than it should have been.

It dawned on me that it might be fruitful to make note of things that spark that particular feeling in me. So I selected a small notebook, put a label on it reading “Lynn’s Delights” and started taping onto the pages images of (and written notes on) things I could honestly say delight me.

A sampling of what has made its way into this notebook:
  • Photo of a highway: open road, blue Wyoming sky;
  • Image cut from a dog calendar: a hot, panting retriever with his belly on a cool spot;
  • Notation: a steaming hot washcloth on my face on a cool camping morning;
  • Photo of my grandnephew at age 5 or 6. He is facing away from the camera, straw cowboy hat square on his head. He leans forward against a railing, watching sheep mill around in a pen. Safety pinned to his back is a sign (Laramie County Fair #13). It was his first mutton-busting competition and I delight in the set of his small shoulders as he concentrates on the upcoming challenge;  
  • Image clipped from Wyoming Wildlife magazine: pika with a mouthful of grass; 
  • Notation: Heard a guy say, "I’m flustrated" – I don’t think he meant to coin a new term, but I love it!
  • Photo of a gray-muzzled lab with his head tilted back in full-howl position; 
  • Image clipped from a magazine of a row of grinning children, posing in a garden with their rakes and shovels, each one slathered in dirt. 
 My delights have found their way into my writing on occasion.

The essay Naamu came from the delight I felt during a verbal exchange with the afore-mentioned grandnephew. The exchange is at the end of the essay, but that was the conversation which started me off on the essay-writing journey.

I know I’m not the only one who pays attention to my delights. I find evidence everywhere of it in the things I read:

Like Pat Frolander, delighting in food (and making my mouth water): *

Coffee burbles, 
potatoes steam, 
fresh bread awaits the knife, 
roast beef braises, brown gravy simmers.

Or Carol Deering, delighting in the delight of horses: **

The horses leap, swing their heads, 
then jog the periphery of joy.


Sometimes I find it helps to have permission to do things, so...

I hereby grant you permission to pay close attention to your delights,

in case you aren’t already.

In whatever fashion works for you, collect your delights. Then see where they lead when you sit down to write. If you write fiction, one of your delights might attach itself to your main character. Who knows?

It's an assignment, really. Do it for your writing.

Then pipe up in the comments section below, if you please, and tell us...

What delights you?

*        From “Second Table” by Pat Frolander, published in Married Into It, Glendo, Wyo.: High Plains Press 2011.

**      From “A Flurry of Horses” by Carol A. Deering, published in Weather Watch: Poems of Wyoming, s.l.: WYOPoets c2014

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Market Research: The Best Kind of Work

Susan chimes in: Rick Kempa was the presenter at the WyoPoets Annual Workshop in Casper over the weekend. This article was among his handouts for the afternoon session, "The Art of Getting Published," and he graciously permitted Writing Wyoming to share it with you. It was first published in the Wyoming Writers, Inc. newsletter in 2013.

Guest post by Rick Kempa

"Sailing" by John Morgan
Source: Flickr Creative Commons, licensed under CC BY 2.0
It's time for all good writers to sift through their body of finished work, polish the prose one last time, take a deep breath and launch the best of it out into the wide world, like little paper boats on the high seas of literacy, in search of their ideal ports.

The good news is that there are thousands of magazine markets out there -- online and print, literary and popular, mainstream and indie -- that depend on us to populate their pages with our well-made words.

The bad news is the same as the good news: How on earth can you find time to sort through thousands of markets to find the dozens meant for you? There's also this: tens of thousands of writers -- way more than ever -- are doggedly submitting their work to these markets.

That's why market research is such a critical part of the publishing process. If you are one of the relatively few writers who take it seriously, you will improve your odds dramatically and positions yourself for success. Happily, there are several excellent sources to aid us in this enterprise.

The Writer's Market claims 9,000 listings, including frequent updates and additions to what is in the book. One of its strengths is the detailed info provided by editors; another is its emphasis on paying markets. A subscription to the site -- $5/month or $40/year -- also includes hundreds of articles on the writing business and personalizable record-keeping tools.

Creative Writers Opportunities List provides a steady stream of publishing opportunities of all kinds in your inbox every day. Usually, for every ten or twelve that I delete, I find one that looks promising and that I save to a subfolder. To join the list, send a blank email message to crwropps-b-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and wait to receive a return message, with directions to complete sign-up.

Duotrope, another subscription service ($5/month or $50/year) has much to recommend it: a database of nearly 5,000 markets, statistics compiled by readers (percent of manuscripts accepted, average response time, etc.) and a submission tracker, which is a good mission control center for your publishing pursuits. Duotrope has the most listings for writers of fantasy, sci-fi, horror, romance and other popular genres. Finally, its "Calendar of Upcoming Themes" is the best I have found.

The Poets & Writers website is a comprehensive (and free) writer's resource brimming with value. Among its highlights are current calls for submissions (which can be found by clicking on "Magazine" and then "Want Ads"), its "Top Ten Topics for Writers," databases on small presses, contests, conferences and agents, and -- most impressive of all -- a literary magazine database that is searchable not just by genre (poetry, fiction, non-fiction), but by topics such as "Religious/Spiritual" or "LGBT."

My favorite resources is NewPages.com. It's free, attractively designed, and has links to all kinds of cool stuff: magazine reviews (both literary and alternative), writers' blogs, podcasts, independent bookstores, indie record labels, a young authors' guide, and more. Of special interest is its "Calls for Submissions," updated several times a week which includes listings from both startup and established magazines.

A few final tips:

  • Almost all magazines have websites -- even the ones that are print-only, and all four sources above have links to these websites. Study them! Check out the mission statements, editors' bios, submission guidelines, and the samples of published work. Would your work feel at home within the pages (or on the screen) of this 'zine? Sometimes you'll get a gut answer; other times you'll think it through. Either way, this is the question that matters most.
  • Buy sample copies of the print magazines that are of special interest. There are several reasons to do so: it's part of our job as writers to support publishing enterprises, it beats spending money on contests, and it can give you an edge if you choose to submit to the mags. (Naturally, editors like sentences such as, "I have read and enjoyed your latest issue, which I purchased at the Tattered Cover in Denver...")
  • Be alert for themes, whether for special issues of magazines or for anthologies. They make it easier to figure out what to send where. You may be surprised to find out you have already written work that fits many themes!
  • If your writing is anchored in particular places, consider the local and regional angle. An online search will turn up all the magazines in a given state or region. But don't assume that editors love where they live. They may not give a hoot for the Western hoot owl!
Market research is a kind of work, to be sure -- I am always acutely aware that it is time spent not writing. But it is among the best kind of work, leading to a greater awareness of the richness and diversity of the contemporary literary scene and -- if you persist -- to getting your own work in print.

Rick Kempa earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona, Tucson, in 1987.  Since 1988, he has lived in Rock Springs, Wyo., where he teaches writing and philosophy and directs the Honors Program at Western Wyoming Community College. Rick’s essays and poems have appeared in more than 100 journals, e-zines, and anthologies. He has been nominated for five Pushcart Prizes. He has authored two books of poems, Ten Thousand Voices (Littoral Press, 2013) and Keeping the Quiet (Bellowing Ark Press, 2008) He has also edited two anthologies, On Foot: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories (Vishnu Temple Press 2014) and, with Peter Anderson, Poetry of the Grand Canyon (Lithic Press, 2015).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Laura Pritchett on the interconnectivity of her novels, literature of the west, risk taking, and the three things that have helped her succeed.

Lynn here:

I caught up with Laura recently and begged her to come back to the Writing Wyoming blog (see her previous post here) and share some more about her novels and her writing life. I must have twisted her arm enough because she graciously complied. 

I also learned Laura has a Wyoming connection, one I didn't know about before: she was an undergraduate at the University of Wyoming for two years. 

"The English classes I took there took me away from law and biology and into the world of literature," Laura said. She also worked in the photography shop at UW and set a lot of her early stories there.

Luck for us that she was derailed from those other pursuits!

Oh, and congratulations are in order. Laura's novel, Stars Go Blue, has been named a finalist in both the Colorado Book Award and the Mountain and Plains Book Award. Yowsa!

Don't forget that Laura will be at the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference this coming June. She will present three workshops: 

A Novel Clinic: Lightning Bug Sentences; 
Book Length Works; 
Out of the Sheets and onto the Page.

Get more information and register for the conference at the WW, Inc website

Your last novel, Stars Go Blue (a novel about a Colorado rancher with Alzheimer’s), reintroduces some characters we first met in Hell’s Bottom – and your new novel, Red Lightning (about a woman running immigrants and a Colorado wildfire) brings back characters from your first novel, Sky Bridge. What brings you back to writing the same characters?

All I can say is the same thing many other authors will tell you: certain characters become more-or-less real to you and you wonder what happened to them. Ben and Renny – I actually love them. I wanted to know what had become of them. So when I conceived the idea to write about a person with Alzheimer’s, I knew it would be Ben. I knew the whole family (imaginary though it may be) so well that I could leap right into the family dynamic and personalities.

My next novel takes up the characters in Sky Bridge. So, yes, I’m drawn to expanding little universes that I wrote into being.

A few years ago, I started hearing the voice of a character named Tess in my mind, and she was basically saying, “Hey, I want my story told too!” She’d been a minor character in my first novel, Sky Bridge, and now, it seemed, she had something to say.

At first, I didn’t want to write her story: she’s really a tough character with some deep recesses and difficult flaws (although she’s beautiful for those same reasons). Anyway, I eventually heeded her request and sat down to write.

What resulted is Red Lightning. I’m glad I “listened” to her, because, in the end, she had a really interesting story to tell. She had been a coyote, transporting immigrants across the West, living what she thought was a free-and-easy life.

But then she saw something that made her Get Real and see humanity, and herself, in a new light. The novel is about her journey into a truer, better self.

I also notice that I circle around the same core themes – the tie to place, social justice issues, environmental issues, the bonds of family, the Western landscape, and our individual struggle for redemption and a life-well-lived.

What risks should (or do) writers take?

Well, sitting down to write at all is a risk. Writing a long work is a big risk, because you invest years! But as with everything in life, without the risk, there is no reward. But to be more specific, I hope to take one big risk in each novel. The big one for Stars Go Blue was that I was telling it from the point-of-view of someone with Alzheimer’s, which is not an easy thing to do. The biggest risk I took in writing Red Lighting was a choice in the narrative device. Basically, some of the text is set to the side whenever Tess disassociates from herself. I wanted to show on the page what was happening to her mind/body. I also meld words together, such as “dearheart” or “boneknowledge” or “heartfade” because the blended word works better than standard English. I am not sure how readers will respond to this. I’m excited to find out, to be honest.

What are your thoughts on literature of the West? 

Well, that’s a big topic, but briefly, I’d like to believe that I’m part of the cadre of writers who are re-invigorating literature set in this region. I’m very interested in writing the contemporary American West as it really is – no mythos, no John Wayne, no sentimental stuff. There are still wide landscapes, horses, mountains, big sky—but there is also meth, immigration issues, teenage pregnancy, political extremes, water issues. By re-seeing a place with renewed clarity, we can love it more fully. As in, by seeing the West as it really is, we can better inhabit it. That’s one reason I’m so excited to be teaching alongside Aaron Abeyta and Kent Nelson, [at the WW, Inc conference] who both push boundaries, help us see the West anew (and they’re just top-notch writers and human beings).

How important is place to a story and why? 

Place is enormously important in all my writing, both fiction and nonfiction. I’m sure that’s because place is important to me as a human being. I find my solace, my center, and my ideas while outside, engaging in the natural world. I hike or walk every day. Since my center is so tied up to place, it’s difficult (or probably impossible) for me to write about characters who are oblivious to place. As a writer, I think I’ve found ways in which place can contribute to plot and characterization – which is essential. You can’t just go on and on about place. Readers want to hear a story, and they want to see people moving through that story. But place can help you do that – and that’s one thing I’ll be teaching/discussing at this conference.

Name three things that have been the keys to your success? 

1. I didn’t have a TV for 12 years and don’t yet know how to turn on the one I do now have;

2. I put my head down and work like a mule. I may not be brilliant, but I do have tenacity going for me;

3. But contrary to #2, I also believe in daydreaming and cloudgazing—they feed my imagination.