Tuesday, March 21, 2017

WRITERS NEED RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS TOO


No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
-         Aesop

post by Lynn

Last month, members of Leadership Wyoming launched Random Acts of Kindness Week, and judging from the posts on their Facebook page, schools, businesses, organizations and just plain people participated in droves. They got really creative too.  

Students at Sagewood Elementary in Casper created Kindness Bingo cards. Whenever a kid yelled BINGO! they got some sort of incentive. The result? 950 acts of kindness.

In Campbell County, each resident at the Legacy Living & Rehabilitation Center received flowers and a card (handmade by Sunflower Elementary students) for Valentine’s Day.

Cheyenne’s Triumph High School decided a week wasn’t enough and created the “307 Random Acts of Kindness Challenge.” Students and faculty track kind deeds that they observe and morning announcements include recognition of these kindnesses. What a great way to keep kindness going! Way to go Triumph High School!!

Which got me thinking: 

What would Random Acts of Kindness toward writers consist of?

I begged, borrowed and stole some ideas…

DURING THE WRITING PROCESS

Toys and Tools

Buy your writer his/her favorite writing tool. Sleek pen, chunky pencil—whatever is preferred. My husband (sorry, I mean Santa Claus) always tucks pens and sticky notes inside my Christmas stocking.

Sanity, Time and Space

Another thing the man in my life does is provide tech service. I have this character quirk: I am very patient with people, but not with machines. So, whenever my printer stops talking to my Lenovo for some inexplicable reason, or when drivers mysteriously absent themselves from my hard drive, I yell, “Mike!” and he steps in. Such a kindness, I cannot tell you.

Anne Stebner Steele, writer of fiction and nonfiction, puts forward this suggestion: Offer to take the kids to the park to allow your writer-spouse time to write without being disturbed.

And another bright idea from Anne: if your favorite writer has a birthday coming up, buy her/him an issue of or subscription to their favorite literary journal.

Along these lines, Susan Mark, Writing Wyoming co-blogger extraordinaire, tells spouses/partners to:

Find a hobby or other activity that gets you out of the house. If you have kids, find a way to take them with you. Give your writer some time alone in their own house. (The dog can stay.) And while you’re at it, cook a healthy dinner with actual vegetable matter involved. No, French fries don't count.

Help your writer carve out actual physical space in the house that is theirs and theirs alone. Keep your own possessions and clutter out of it. Let your writer choose what items they'll allow into their space. 

Nudges

If you’re a fellow writer, you might say to your writing buddy, “Hey, want to attend this class with me?”

Or “Let’s have coffee and do some freewriting.”

Or (Anne suggests), you can offer to proof-read a piece the writer in your life is getting ready to submit for publication.


Or ask, “Where have you submitted to? Have you thought about submitting to X?”

It’s always nice to know somebody is paying attention.

Buddy Sessions

Adair Lara, author of Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay, describes how she and Cynthia, a co-worker and fellow aspiring writer, started a “writing club.” It was a small club—just the two of them—but it was an idea that produced results. And it wasn’t a complicated thing:

“We’d write 500 words every weekday and give them to the other person. We’d mark the parts we liked in the other’s pieces with a yellow highlighter before returning them. … It didn’t matter what the 500 words were—we could copy them from the yellow pages or the back of the Cheeios box if we wanted to.”

The result was that they wrote and shared “any old dashed-off thing—not because it was good, but because it was due.” The yellow highlights sparked enthusiasm and confidence, and more writing.

Eventually Adair and Cynthia began sending out pieces to a section of the San Francisco Chronicle that published first-person pieces. A few got published and that led Adair to a gig as a columnist.

Wow—that’s a buddy system that really paid off!

AFTER THE BOOK IS OUT

So suppose your writer friend/spouse has done the work and the writing is published. Time to really let the kindness begin…

Pull Out Your Debit Card

Nothing says I love you like buying the book or magazine—multiple copies, even, so you can share the wealth with friends and family.

Talk It Up

Take the book everywhere with you and when you see that somebody is peeking to see the title, lean in and ask, “Have you read it yet?” Use a tone intimating that absolutely everybody is reading this book and they better get on board but quick.

Get Social

Susan Mark suggests the following: 

Post on your own blog or Tumblr if you have one. 

If you're on Twitter, tweet away about this great book, using hashtags and mentions to maximize reach.

If you're on Pinterest, create a "books I like" board and add it. You should be able to use the Amazon or Barnes & Noble link to get the book cover.

Do an Instagram post of you with your nose in the book. 

As an aside: 

Susan will be presenting a workshop at the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference in Gillette, June 2 – 4, Blogging and More: Sailing the Social Media Seas. She will share strategies, tools, tips and tricks to help you connect with readers and build your online presence.

I can’t imagine a better person to reduce the seasickness experienced all too frequently by social media novices. I should know—she does it for me on a weekly basis.

Review, Please

Once you’ve read the book and told everybody, including your elderly aunt’s boyfriend in Santa Fe, about it, don’t stop there. Go directly to Amazon, Goodreads (then share it to Facebook), Barnes and Noble and write a review.

Shelfies

One of my favorite writers of fiction and nonfiction, Laura Pritchett, does this often on Facebook. It’s simple. Line up the books on your shelf and snap a photo. Say a few words about what you love about the writing/writers, and post.

Reading, reading and on deck:
I'm currently reading the just-out novel, The Blue Hour by Laura Pritchett. 
(Sensory, sensual, insightful about the beloved insanity of homo sapiens) 
and A Death at Tollgate Creek by Art Elser (a breath of fresh prairie air). 
Soon to read: The Luckiest Scar on Earth by Ana Maria Spagna 
(Young Adult fiction with a snowboarding protagonist named Charlotte). 
Promotion Suggestions

Speaking of Laura Pritchett, she so kindly offered me a suggestion recently—to contact the Podcast Master at Northern Colorado Writers and see if I can line up a podcast on Watch My Rising: A Recovery Anthology, which I edited last year. 

I’m on it, Laura—thanks!


“If you stop to be kind, you must swerve often from your path.

-          Mary Webb

Yes, we’re all busy. Hundreds of things scream for our attention. As writers, we need to guard our time and energies for writing. 

I get that, believe me.

But I also believe that thinking about, and performing, random acts of kindness for the writers in our lives is worth the effort. 

We're all in this together. 

I’m sure I forgot something. Anything kindnesses you would add to the list?







Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Let's Talk Politics. Or Not.


By Susan

This morning I made the blood-pressure-spiking mistake of watching the Sunday news shows. We seem to be a nation talking in hyperbole at high decibels these days.

Me after watching the news:
"The world can only be 
cleansed by fire."
But I'm not here to argue politics today.

Instead, I want to talk about how public we should be as writers about our political leanings. The short answer is: it depends. "Should" is not even the right word. "Want to" is more accurate.

I've been collecting advice on social media use lately to prepare for a workshop I'm presenting at the Wyoming Writers Inc. conference in June. Among the advice I've seen is to never, EVER discuss your politics on social media. On the other hand, I've seen some blisteringly funny political rants from authors whose blogs I follow.

I'll 'fess up: I probably wouldn't read their posts if I didn't agree with them. I might also be less inclined to pick up their books. Maybe I'm creating a bubble. Maybe I'm just human.

For many writers, politics shapes their work. Margaret Atwood makes no secret of her views on the role of women in The Handmaid's Tale. There is no doubt of Michael Crichton's global warming skepticism in State of Fear. Dystopian and apocalyptic novels are noted for taking our worst fears and concerns about the current world, and projecting them into the future.

These two authors were quite deliberate about making their point. Many writers view their gift of words as the tool they use to advocate for the world they want. Others might just want to write an entertaining story. There's nothing wrong either way.

All of us as writers face a choice of how much to reveal, particularly in a country that's divided with tempers running high. For the Atwoods and Crichtons of the world, there's little point in hiding their beliefs that are so clearly laid out in their work. Others might see no reason to enter the fray and risk alienating readers.

Still, your views may seep in more than you realize. Our politics and our stories grow from how we view the world and the people in it.

These days, social media adds another layer. Ideally, it's a conversation and an opportunity to connect with your readers. Conversely, you can alienate them.

Do you take a stand on your beliefs, or keep up a neutral public persona? I don't believe there is one right answer, only a balance to be weighed, My only suggestion is to make a conscious choice before you send out that Tweet or blog post.




Tuesday, March 7, 2017

ABC’s FOR THE WRITING LIFE

Sometimes, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I tell myself to get back to basics.

It was in such a moment recently that I had the inkling that I should work on my ABC’s. It became a writing prompt of sorts.

So, voila -- 

ABC’s for the writing life…


is for Awareness.

I pray for awareness, for the ability to see what I need to learn next—not for solutions, because I can figure that out or ask for help. Blindness to my writing faults is my greatest obstacle.

Just show me what I need to see.





is for Begin.

I push myself off the edge daily. “I begin with the first sentence and trust to Almighty God for the second,” said Irish novelist and Anglican clergyman Laurence Sterne.

Amen to that.





is for Change it up.

It is good to turn your mind upside down now and again, like an hourglass, and let the particles run the other way. I do this by reading in many genres (graphic comics, anyone?), going to out-of-the-way places and wondering what it’s like to be lightning or a chair or a pika.




is for Daily.

It’s taken eleven-plus years, but I’ve made writing a part of my days, as regular as tooth brushing, as routine as feeding the dog, as “don’t have to think much about it” as slicing tomatoes.

Note: I consider that all aspects of the writing process count—not only putting words on the page/in the computer, but also researching, ruminating and reading.




is for Emotion.

“Good writing begins where there is a knot,” says author Margaret Atwood.

I spend time locating the knots, through introspection and journaling. I dance around the knot until I finally go ahead and write about it, or from it.





is for Failure.

I fail often. I submit stories and poems and get the old thanks-but-no-thanks response. I apply for a Ucross residency and don’t get in. I start things and fail to finish them.

But I consider my failures part of the game, and I give myself credit for suiting up.


is for Grope.

“How do I work? I grope,” said Albert Einstein.

I grope a lot—for the right word, for the structure of a story, for the heart of an essay, for something to blog about. Nine times out of ten I grab thin air. The tenth time I latch on to something and I’m off and running.



is for Home.
“To find yourself as a writer, you’ll likely look in all the wrong places, then find yourself close to home.”
- Paul Raymond Martin 
Home is where I sleep, eat, love. Home is where I find many of my subjects. Home is my favorite place, so I try to make it as writing-friendly as I can.


is for Inquiry.

Diane Ackerman, author, poet and naturalist, said, “Writing, which is my form of celebration and prayer, is also my form of inquiry.”

Whenever life makes me anxious, I take the questions to my journal. This form of inquiry often blossoms into a poem, essay or story.



is for Je ne sais quoi.

Which is French for “that certain something.”

I notice when a story, essay or poem has that je ne sais quoi—a certain component that makes the whole more than the sum of its parts. I wonder how the writer found it, created it. I try to figure out how to get that elusive quality in my own writing. Sometimes I recognize when it’s there, sometimes I am absolutely sure that it isn’t there and sometimes I just don’t know.



is for Knack.

It’s good to know what you have a knack for. I found out I apparently have a knack for metaphor and dialogue. I found this out by being on the receiving end of critiques from instructors and writing group members.

This is the counterbalance to being aware of my writing faults. Knowing my knacks gives me hope and energy to keep moving forward in my writing life.


is for Later.

One of the most important tools in my writing toolkit is an assertion: I don’t have to figure that out right now. It applies to a hundred things—structure, point of view, grammar, who my target reader is, etc.

I would make myself crazy and never get anything written if I didn’t have this tool. I know that I can usually wait until later to figure it out... until my backburner brain comes up with a solution, until my craft improves, until life rolls an answer at my feet.



is for Music.

I agree with journalist Leonard Ray Teel, who said, “Good writing is like music. It has its distinctive rhythm, its pace, flow, cadence. It can be hummed. The great stylists seem to have an inner music…”

I will endeavor to find a little music in everything I write.




is for Now.

Write right now… the words in your head, the next paragraph in your novel, the image that wants to become a line in your poem. I have this mantra I use when I first arrive in my writing room: “There’s no place I’d rather be, nothing else I’d rather be doing right now.”




is for Orgasm.

"Writing is like making love. Don't worry about the orgasm, just concentrate on the process.
- Isabel Allende

Yeah… what she said :-)






is for Patience.

The Kanuri people of Africa have a proverb that says, “At the bottom of patience is heaven.” As a writer, I want heaven. I want to finish what I start. It will take patience, but it will be so worth it. I’ll inch along, if I have to, and do my best to be patient with the creative process.




is for Query.

As a writer, I have to emerge from my creative fog now and again and deal with the business of writing if I hope to share my work. I have to learn to query agents and publishers, format manuscripts, write a synopsis or logline, and tackle other intimidating projects.


is for Raise some hell.

“Writing is an act of mischief,” said Thoedore Roethke. I’m one of those pathologically polite people who doesn’t raise my voice in public. But on paper? Well, that’s where I can be loud.





is for Senses.

“We live on the leash of our senses,” said Diane Ackerman.

Ah, yes. I will breathe, sniff, run my hand along my skin. I’ll ask sensory questions as I write, pulling from my imagination and memory. How to describe the light coming through the window? What was the background noise at that moment? Was the grass squishy or springy? The air sultry or crisp? By concentrating on these sensory details, I'll transport the reader to that place and time, and make them feel what I felt.




is for Tide.

The ebb and flow of creativity is like the tide. And who sits and bitches about the tide? It comes in and goes out and we work with the rhythm. So, too, I must work with the rhythm of my writing.






is for Universal.

Carl Jung floated the idea that, strange as it seems, the more personal and individual the thoughts, the more they apply to everybody. “That which is most personal,” he said, “is most common.” I come back to this concept whenever I cringe at revealing my personal life in my writing.





is for Value. 

As a writer, I keep in mind that I barter with every reader. He or she gives me attention, and I must deliver some value in exchange. It might be information, an insight, an experience or a chuckle, but it must be something of value.




 is for Words.

Author Ivan Doig called language an “inexhaustible prop shop.” Every day I try to add something new to my supply.





is for Xenophile.

From the Greek, it is a word that describes “an individual who is attracted to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures.” While it’s a great word that would bring in a heck of a Scrabble score, it’s also a good thing for me, as a writer, to be. Writers are students of the human condition, and the more I learn about other, far-distant inhabitants of Planet Earth, the better my writing will be.




is for Yearn.

“What do you love and are willing to give to the page?” asks author, painter and “writing as a practice” instructor Natalie Goldberg. I keep an ear cocked, listening for the whining of my heart. When I hear it, I know I’ve found something to write about.






is for Zinsser.

As in William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well. It’s a classic. Although I wander far and wide in my reading-about-writing travels, I return often to this slim volume. Mr. Zinsser reminds me that clarity and brevity are paramount. Revisiting his fundamental principles of good writing is never a wasted trip.




Whew! I made it. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

I'd be thrilled to hear an alphabet letter or two from YOUR writing life, if you’re feeling generous.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Poetry Off the Grid


David Mason is the presenter for the WyoPoets Spring Workshop coming up April 28-29 in Buffalo, Wyo. We invited David to share some of his thoughts so you could get to know him a little better in advance.




By David Mason

The best poet I know is an Australian. You probably won’t know her name or even her pen name, but she is a rare thing—a poet steeped in tradition without being enslaved to it, a poet who pushes through to new insight and writes breathtaking lines. Here is a tiny poem of hers I have never been able to forget:

August Moon 
Grey- faced as worlds
flow fast away,
for worlds are done
with every day
for minds hot-wired
to the sun,

her news is blue,
her borrowed light
softens the truth.
The truth is night.

You can’t just read this poem. You have to re-read it, because in the history of literature no one ever said “The truth is night” before. How is it meant? Clearly, it is meant in many different ways, including the astronomical truth that, viewed from a distance, our blue planet is surrounded by an absence of light. Now read the poem again, one line at a time, and see how facets of meaning turn as you move down through it. The poem is utterly simple and utterly profound, like the best short lyrics of William Blake or Emily Dickinson. And it is easy to get by heart. It is unforgettable, which makes it counter-cultural—most contemporary writing just won’t stick in the mind.

Cally Conan-Davies
Now I must confess that it might be unseemly for me to praise this poem, because I am married to its author. Her name is Chrissy Mason—pen name Cally Conan-Davies. But this poet is 56 years old and has lived off the grid all her life. She has no system of support in America, no MFA, no cadre of doting professors. She is an original in the best sense of the word. She tutored students in Australia, co-founded a school called “Lit for Life” in which people from all backgrounds could read and study the best literature from Shakespeare to James Joyce and relate it to their own lives. She never wrote poetry until her late 40s.

I hope you will feel heartened by Cally Conan-Davies. Remember her when you look in the literary quarterlies and see that every poet is from an MFA program and has some academic connection in America. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, though I don’t have an MFA myself. I got an old-fashioned scholarly PhD because I’d worked a decade as a gardener and odd-job man and wanted to teach, and was told I couldn’t get a teaching job without a degree. I wrote a dissertation on W. H. Auden, and haven’t looked at it since. In fact, I even mailed my PhD diploma to a friend and signed it over to him with a Sharpie. I’ve got the job—he can have the sheepskin.

My disagreement with the MFA phenomenon—which, after all, has also given us a lot of great writers—is only that it creates tight social cadres of people who seem to write for each other, edit each other, support each other, and I’d like them to connect to a broader world. Poetry shouldn’t be published just to further the career of the poet, but should offer moments of indelible language for any intelligent reader seeking it. Poetry should help us live our lives.

We all need systems of support, don’t we? There may be a few saints who produced poetry in isolation, but even Emily Dickinson wrote to an editor, wanting to know if she was any good. We all seek community when we need it. I’m simply saying that our communities can’t guarantee our writing will be good. We have to stay humble and hungry and keep trying to write unforgettable poems. That means having examples of what we think good poems are. That means reading all we can, however we can find it.

I’ve now taught literature and writing for 25 years, but I’ve been trying to write for more than forty. And I mean trying. One never masters this craft. Every new poem, story, book review or essay is a new attempt—a new “raid on the inarticulate,” as T. S. Eliot put it. If I wrote a good poem last, week, that doesn’t mean I’ll write a good one today. It’s the trying that gives meaning to my days, even a kind of intoxicating delight.

So here’s a poem of mine—perhaps not typical of my efforts, but one that seems to have pleased others. All I know is that the writing of it scared me. I didn’t think it had the polish and literary style of real poetry, so I was afraid to show it to others. Turns out I needn’t have been afraid at all:

Fathers and Sons 
Some things, they say,
one should not write about. I tried
to help my father comprehend
the toilet, how one needs
to undo one’s belt, to slide
one’s trousers down and sit,
but he stubbornly stood
and would not bend his knees. 
I tried again
to bend him toward the seat,
and then I laughed
at the absurdity. Fathers and sons.
How he had wiped my bottom
half a century ago, and how
I would repay the favor
if only he would sit. 
Don’t you
he gripped me, trembling, searching for my eyes.
Don’t you—but the word
was lost to him. Somewhere
a man of dignity would not be laughed at.
He could not see
it was only the crazy dance
that made me laugh,
trying to make him sit
when he wanted to stand.

Writing this poem took me off the grid, you might say. It took me to a place that was real, and that’s what I have tried to do in many different kinds of poems, from sonnets to longer narratives.

If you come to our workshop in April, we’ll collaborate in a community devoted to finding the real subjects for poems—and trying to find the best words for them too.

-----

David Mason’s books of poems include The Buried Houses, The Country I Remember, and Arrivals. His verse novel, Ludlow, was published in 2007, and named best poetry book of the year by the Contemporary Poetry Review and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. His books also include essay and memoir, and he has co-edited several textbooks and anthologies. In 2014 and 2015 Mason published two new poetry collections: Sea Salt: Poems of a Decade and Davey McGravy: Tales to Be Read Aloud to Children and Adult Children. His next book, The Sound: New and Selected Poems, will appear in 2018. A former Fulbright Fellow to Greece, Mason served as Poet Laureate of Colorado from 2010 to 2014, and teaches at Colorado College. You can learn more from David by registering for the 2017 WyoPoets Spring Workshop in Buffalo, Wyo., April 28-29.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

WHEN THE MUSE POUNCES

guest post by Vicki Windle

photo by Vicki Windle
I drop things, trip over my own shoes and lose my phone. My driving gloves are a left and a right, but do not match. (How fortunate to have lost the right of one pair, and the left of another!) So, when asked about my writing process, I feel kind of “deer in the headlights,” because I write the same way I live; haphazard.

Ideas typically appear when my mind is at rest; a relaxing drive, in the shower, before falling asleep at night, at 3:00 a.m. I call these ideas “nuggets.” They are small, dense, and fleeting. So, I pull off the road, hop out of the shower, or leap out of bed to record them.

Then a process, of sorts, comes into play. That night, the next morning, a week later, I begin. Sculpting, stretching, carving, and embellishing that nugget into a poem. I add possible phrases, and search the visual catalogues of my brain for relatable scenes. When words seem weak, or imprecise, I drag out my hefty Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and trusty Merriam-Webster Thesaurus. A 3-D kind of gal, I write with quick-flowing ink pens on whatever paper comes to hand.

I have tried to write only in one journal, to keep all things organized and in place. It just doesn’t work for me. It seems as though, when I write on the backs of papers, on the edges of the newspaper, on envelopes, my mind feels free to wander where it will. What gets gathered in this walk-about is the fun stuff. This is where I get those random connections that others say, “I would never have thought of that.”

The next step is to weave these pieces into coherency, with much adding, circling and crossing out. I only move from ink and paper to the computer when the poem is nearly finished. Word processing makes those final changes easier.

This leaves me with a lovely poem, and a lovely mess of paper. Some writer’s self-help book said to save all your discarded words for future reference. The words may not have worked in this piece, but may in another. My drawer of words is a treasure trove (for me, anyway. I’m not sure how my grand-children will view the drawer full of old journals, newspaper articles, and other bits and scraps as inheritance.)

My most recent mini-book, “Writerly," contains six poems about writing. Each written in its own place and time, the collection in this booklet illustrates what may be called my writing “process.”

I wrote “Paper” during a long airport layover. I had pulled one of those perforated ads from the center of a magazine. The other end of it was a plain white piece; perfect for scratching out a poem. Waiting for inspiration I held the paper to the sunlight streaming in the nearby window.


Paper

Only white until,
Held to the light,
Its mottled fibers glow.
The ink, therein, floats
On its skin
Drawing me in
To know.




The beginning of “Sometimes, Waxing” came to me around 3:00 a.m., as much visual as verbal. I woke up long enough to jot down the imagery in my bedside journal. Those random pearls of thought rolled around in my head for a couple of days. The muse pounced again, while I was showering, so I wrote the ending on the bathroom mirror with a lip-liner!

Sometimes, I am overcome by feelings I cannot name. So, I attempt to express them in verse, like this one.

Attempting to sunder
Layers of wounds
And wonder,
My spirit oozes
Song, percolates
Poetry, articulates
Art, and strives
To weave
A wholeness
From parts.

Published in the Fall 2016 edition of WyoPoets, “On the Eating of a Poem That Aches,” began as a phrase which woke me mid-slumber. I recorded it in my journal. It made no more sense the next morning, but reminded me of an abandoned previous work. So, I dug through my drawer of journals, papers, and scraps to excavate the material to complete this one.

A music fan, I can be found at many, if not most, musical events in town. Casper is a thriving center for the arts. Authors, musicians and artists abound. “Poet” was written in a coffee shop, listening to live music, while a talented artist painted a watercolor of the band.

Poet

The painter strums music from color.
Musicians spin stories from sound.
And I?
I paint the scene in syllables.

The longest poem in “Writerly” is “Poetry and Pine Needles.” The Casper Writer’s Group meets monthly, but has a special gathering on the mountain once in summer. After the important business of eating and visiting, we spread out to write. Walking into the pines triggered memories from across six decades, and four states. The poem is published in the WyoPoets Winter, 2017 edition.

Photo by Vicki Windle
With the encouragement of my writer’s group, and surrounded by a pile of poems, I decided to publish. However, since I write what strikes my heart, rather than to a plan, I couldn’t see my poems in “a book.” I studied art in college, and my sister has long prompted me to do more, so I was captured by the idea of illustrating my work.

Inspired by a book-making workshop, I decided to produce a series of mini poetry books. One attempt at printing at home sent me seeking assistance from a local print shop. I write the poems, create the illustrations, and design the lay-out. After printing, I do all the folding, stitching, gluing, and such. Every book produced has been formed by my hands, hence my logo, “from my hands to yours.”
Photo by Vicki Windle

I currently have 10 different mini-publications, with concepts for two more. They are sold in Casper, Wyoming at Goedicke’s Art Supply and, through April 2017, at Art 321. You can also get them directly from me. I usually carry some in the car, nestled near my mismatched gloves.





Lynn chimes in

Haphazard, eh? I work in much the same way and prefer to adhere to the adage that "creative minds are rarely tidy." However Vicki puts the words together, I am a fan, and have been since the first WyoPoets conference I attended. I had the good fortune of sitting next to Vicki during the workshop, led by Echo Klaproth. I was wowed by Vicki's writing. 

Which reminds me--WyoPoets is in Buffalo this year. April 28-29 and Colorado poet David Mason will be our presenter. For more information visit www.wyopoets.org.  Hope to see you all there!

Bio for Vicki Windle

photo provided by Vicki Windle
A retired elementary school teacher, Vicki Windle fills her days and nights with poetry, art, and song. She also travels, kayaks, cross-country skis, and volunteers at various organizations. Vicki is a member of the Casper Writer’s Group and WyoPoets.

As well as being self-published, her work is included in Weather Watch; Poems of Wyoming, in Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone; an Anthology of Wyoming Writers, and in some WyoPoets newsletters.

Vicki's poem “Haircut Day” won honorable mention in the 2015 Eugene V. Shay National Poetry Contest. View her art at facebook.com/frommyhandstoyours2016. To purchase publications or to schedule an appearance, contact Vicki on Facebook, at vickiwindle@yahoo.com, or at 307-258-8829.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Writing is 10% Inspiration and 90% Craft

When we saw that Laurie Marr Wasmund had been selected to present at the Arizona Authors’ Association conference in Phoenix on Feb. 25, we thought it would be wonderful if she could share a sneak preview of her sessions. And WOW did she have a lot to share! See the details on the Arizona event and other places you can catch her below her bio. 



By Laurie Marr Wasmund

You've probably heard the comment: "In these days of indie publishing, you can write a novel in the afternoon and have it for sale the next morning." Yet if you are serious about writing, you know that the editing and revising process is just as important as putting your ideas on paper in the first place. So grab your red pencil and consider these tips for a more professional product.

Point of View:

  • Never "head-hop" within the same short story, scene, or chapter. This is the "golden rule" of fiction-writing. Always maintain one character's point of view throughout an entire cohesive section.
  • Include only those details that your character can see, hear, smell, etc.  I once wrote a short story in which a teenaged girl was sizing up her mother's new lover, who was driving, as she sat in the back seat of the car. She noted his "finely detailed cowboy boots." At my writers' group, someone asked me how she could see the boots. Obviously, she couldn't.
  • Create a "narrative distance" for your characters from the event. For instance, are you writing the story as if the events are happening to the characters at the moment? If so, very little reflection is likely to happen on their parts. However, if your narrative/voice indicates that the character is reliving and retelling events that happened in the past, you can include some observations. Whichever you choose, you must always maintain your chosen distance/voice in your work. I was once told by a reader in my writing group that my first-person character, a girl of eighteen, seemed to have insights that were too sophisticated for her age and education level. To solve this, I decided to rewrite the novel as if she were telling it after a long period of time, sort of a "Hey, kids, listen up, here's my life story" approach. By doing this, I could show my character on the emotional seesaw of an eighteen-year-old in love while giving her the benefit of a more mature voice.
  • Don't forget about sensory detail. Just as you created a certain vocabulary or way of speaking for each character, chart a sensory path for each individual. The way that each character makes sense of the world through his/her interpretation of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch can reveal important traits to your reader.


Resonance:

  • We've all heard the catchy slogan, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." It's the exact opposite in fiction: What happens in Vegas comes home with the character and the consequences of it stay with him for the rest of his life. In other words, experience is accrued and compiled in our characters' lives (and our own). The writer must acknowledge and "carry forward" what has happened before.
  • A good example of this comes from a fellow writer's autobiographically-based fiction. While writing about growing up in Buenos Aires during the Pinochet regime, her young characters, a brother and sister, witness the public arrest and beating of a beloved teacher from their school. They return home and start to bicker over who gets to play soccer (the boy doesn’t want to include his sister). There is no further mention of the teacher. The critics in our writing group pounced: This is a horrifying incident for these children (and for the reader). Why don't they talk about it? The writer explained that, in reality, everyone was so afraid of what was happening during the Pinochet reign that they suppressed it, forgot it, or pretended it didn't happen. For the reader who didn't know that, though, it seemed as if the author had simply been careless. The group suggested that the writer find a way to clarify the children's immediate reactions to the incident and to show how witnessing it had changed them forever--in other words, how the incident resonated throughout their lives, even as adults.

Microtension:

  • Every work of fiction is fueled by some grand conflict or tension, but on the paragraph-to-paragraph level, the story gains momentum through microtension. Think of the Harry Potter series. All of the books are propelled by the eventual confrontation of Harry and Voldemort, but along the way, the characters face much more trivial problems that must be resolved or managed.
  • Many of the suggestions listed above could fall in this category. Sharp, snappy dialogue creates microtension, as does a consistent point of view, and a lack of filters and other author intrusions in the writing. Microtension is also created when incidents continue to resonate in and influence the character's emotions, actions, and choices.
  • Much of the microtension in a piece comes from the use of strong verbs. We've all been told to use action verbs in lieu of passive verbs, but it's easier to preach this concept than to put it into practice. A good place to start is to replace "to be" verbs (is, are, were) with stronger, more indicative and meaningful verbs. (Dialogue is exempted from this purge.)
  • Author Ellen Gilchrist asks us to ponder "how to move the characters around so they bruise against each other and ring true.'' In general, relationships define themselves through conflicts (whether minor or major) and the resolutions (or not) of those problems. Choose a random paragraph in your manuscript. If you can't find at least one sentence that implies or states your characters' internal or external conflicts, think about how to rewrite it to achieve microtension.

I hope that this helps you to rethink and revise your work. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at lost.ranch.books@gmail.com.

Happy editing!

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LAURIE MARR WASMUND has worked as a writer, editor, community college instructor, and writing workshop presenter. Her short stories have appeared in literary magazines such as Cimarron Review and Weber Studies. She is the author of My Heart Lies Here, a novel of the Ludlow Massacre; Clean Cut, A Romance of the Western Heart; and To Do Justice, the first book of the White Winter Trilogy, set during World War I. 

Find her online at Lost Ranch Books.

Upcoming presentations

  • Arizona Authors’ Association is holding their 2017 Crafting the Written Word conference at the Embassy Suites Biltmore in Phoenix on February 25. She will present “Don’t Forget the Craft!” and “A Journey through Self-Publishing.” 
  • Parker Writers meets at the Parker (Colorado) Library between 2-4 every second and fourth Sunday. She will present “Pegging Your Tent to the Earth: Writing from the Senses” on April 9. 
  • Castle Rock Writers offers monthly workshops at Phillip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock (Colorado) the second Monday of every month at 6:30. She will present “Don’t Forget the Craft!” on June 12, 2017.