Tuesday, March 20, 2018


guest post by William Kent Krueger

Lynn here: 

Kent Krueger is one of the stellar authors who will be on hand at the 44th Annual Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference this coming June 1 - 3 in lovely Dubois, Wyoming. (Turns out Kent has been to Dubois, doing research for his novel, Heaven's Keep.)  

During the conference, Kent will be the keynote speaker at the banquet. At his breakout sessions Kent will provide insight on finding the soul of the story, creating suspense and elevating setting and place. 

Little known fact: Kent was born in Torrington.

For more information on the conference, visit the Wyoming Writers, Inc. website. Registration is now open! 

Without further ado... here's Kent:

I’ve just completed revisions of the manuscript for the seventeenth novel in my Cork O’Connor series. Seventeen. That’s a number hard for me to believe. In 1998, when Iron Lake, my debut novel, was published, if you’d told me there were going to be sixteen more (and probably then some), I’d have wondered what you were smoking.

Of course, I’m thrilled, and one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is how I manage to keep the series fresh and maintain my enthusiasm. So, for anyone who has launched into the writing of a series or is contemplating that move, I offer a few suggestions from my own experience.

The most important decision I made when I started out was to create a protagonist who would not be static. What do I mean by that? I believe you have only two real choices when considering the essential, central character for your series. You will create a protagonist who is either static or dynamic. A static protagonist is someone who never changes, who is the same story after story.

Think Sherlock Holmes. You read one Sherlock Holmes tale, and he’s the same guy in every other Arthur Conan Doyle story you read. A dynamic protagonist, on the other hand, is someone who does change, who ages, someone for whom what happens in one story affects how he or she sees the world in the subsequent entries. When I began my series, Cork was a man just past forty. In Sulfur Springs, the most recent entry, he’s in his mid-fifties. He’s aged fifteen years. His children were young in the first book; now they’re grown and one of them has a child of her own.

What this choice has done is to help frame the series as a journey for the O’Connor clan. Each time I sit down to write a new story, I’m writing about slightly different people. Events and time have changed them. They see the world and themselves a little differently. They may relate to one another with different dynamics. Which means that the series is a journey for me as well, and I’m always discovering something new along the way.

Here’s another thing to consider when writing your mysteries: Try putting at the story’s center an issue about which you feel passionately. At one time, there was a kind of story often in literature referred to as the Social Novel, a fiction created around a very real, contemporary social issue that the author wished to bring to the attention of a larger audience. Think Dickens or Victor Hugo or Upton Sinclair or Theodore Dreiser. We don’t really have the Social Novel anymore. What’s taken its place? To a large extent, our genre has shouldered this responsibility. Many of our fine crime novels today hit hard at issues important in our society.

In my own series, I’ve dealt with the on-going battle here in Minnesota over Native hunting and fishing treaty rights, the influx of the drug and gang cultures on the reservation, the sexual trafficking of vulnerable Native women and children, the rape of the land by uncaring corporations, and most recently, the tragic situation involving refugees coming across our border with Mexico. When you construct a story around an issue you feel passionately about, it’s not hard to create a compelling narrative in which you can invest your heart and your artistic sensibilities fully.

Here's another suggestion: Educate your readers. Without being didactic or becoming pedantic, offer your readers information about an area they probably don’t know very well. Everyone likes to feel that, along with a good read, they’re learning something. Tony Hillerman informed a huge audience about the Navajo culture. When you read Nevada Barr, you get the inside scoop on so many of our national parks. From Keith McCafferty you might learn everything you need to about fly fishing and wilderness survival. It’s fun to show off what you know or what you’ve learned through research, as long as you do this judiciously.

In my own work, for example, I continue learning about the rich and complex culture of the Anishinaabeg. With each entry, I try to offer readers something I haven’t previously, a slightly different perspective. This means that I have to keep learning myself, and I find that I continue to grow in my appreciation of these fine people.

Finally, I offer this: Write because it’s what you love to do. If you’re following your passion, that’s going to be evident on every page. There’s nothing more compelling than a story that comes from the heart.

I told myself a long time ago that I would write the Cork O’Connor stories until I had no enthusiasm left for them. I’m at work in my head on number eighteen in the series and I even have a glimmer of what number nineteen might look like. At the moment, the energy still flows, I’m excited about the possibilities ahead, and I feel very blessed.

William Kent Krueger: Bio

Raised in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, William Kent Krueger—he goes by Kent—briefly attended Stanford University, before being kicked out for radical activities, a dubious honor which he continues to be unduly proud of.

Before becoming a writer fulltime, he worked in a number of manly enterprises, including logging and heavy construction. Kent writes the New York Times bestselling Cork O’Connor mystery series. 

His 2013 stand-alone novel Ordinary Grace was honored with several awards, including the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Desolation Mountain, the 17th entry in his series, will be released this August. He does all his writing in a couple of wonderfully funky coffee shops in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


post by Lynn

If I’m cornered and asked that oh-so-annoying question, “What kind of writer are you?” I’ll usually answer that I’m an essayist and blogger.

So then why do I belong to the WyoPoets organization, and why am I going to their 2018 Spring Workshop in Cheyenne on April 28th?

Because sometimes I write poems.

Because I learn so much from the poets I meet.

Because I love the way poetry turns my brain upside down and helps me see new things while I’m all upside-down-ey.

So I am going to try to convince you that even if you are primarily a prose writer, like me, you should consider dabbling in poetry.

Starting with… 

1. Writing poetry helps you learn how to capture emotion on the page. 

“A poem begins as a lump in the throat… a homesickness.” 
- Robert Frost 

Wordsworth called poetry "the spontaneous overflow of feelings." If a prose writer is occasionally accused of stilted writing, studying poetry will help him/her to overcome that tendency. I have found that if I can’t figure out what an essay is really about—what is at the heart of it—writing a poem can help me zoom in on the emotional core of the story.

2. Writing poetry encourages you to write in sensory language

 … and that’s good for all forms of writing.

“Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t often use enough. Poetry keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your tongue, your hand.” 
- Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing 

Bad poetry is abstract and unclear. Good poetry encapsulates a single moment or image and presents it to the reader intact and pulsating with life.

We need more of that in all of our writing, don't you think?

3. Poetry experiments with form

… and that helps a writer learn to experiment with form in other styles of writing.

Ghazel, sestina, rhyming (and not), cinquain, acrostic, haiku or sonnet--poets have, through the centuries, come up with thousands of ways to stitch a poem together.

As writers, we can all get stuck in certain styles, formulas and formats. Poetry encourages me to break out and try new ways of organizing words. Because of poetry’s (usually) short form (not a huge investment of time in writing a first draft) I’m more apt to be playful and experimental.

4. Poetry encourages you to pay attention to rhythm, sound and pacing in a piece of writing

In linguistics it’s called “prosody” and in poetry we learn to use intonation, rhythm, the sounds of consonants and vowels, stressed and unstressed syllables in ways that enhance the meaning of the poem.

Poets learn to use punctuation and line breaks to control the pace at which a poem is read (out loud or in your head).

They use assonance (putting words with similar vowel sounds together) to produce a flowing, musical effect, or sharp consonance (repetition of similar consonants) to jar people awake.

These are all skills that can absolutely be transferred to prose… hallelujah, amen.

5. Poetry pushes you to focus and condense 

Poems don’t allow for long lead-ins, so they teacg a writer to jump right in where the story-image starts. What's more, learning how to edit and revise a poem is great training for editing and revising longer prose pieces. 

Poetry also encourages you to read close, and slow, and in this all-in-a-rush world, that’s a very good thing.

 6. Poetry encourages you to play with words and all their layers 

Poets geek out on things like connotation and denotation. (See a post on the topic at This Itch of Writing.)

Poets are aware that using long Latinate words, with a multitude of syllables, will tend to impart more formality to a piece of writing, while short ones that sound like how folks talk are more informal.

I think Samuel Taylor Choleridge nailed it when he said, "Prose: words in their best order; poetry: the best words in the best order."

A writing friend chimes in… 

Jim Littwin is a writer I “met” when he submitted a poem to Watch My Rising: A Recovery Anthology. Like me, he is a big fan of studying poetry to improve your writing overall.

I quote from his comments…

Because so much depends on word choice in poems, because by its very nature poetry is a more concentrated and condensed form of writing, because poetry is necessarily imagistic, and because poetry is expressed in narrative, lyrical, metaphysical, and surrealistic manners (to name just a few) and in a wide variety of traditional (rhyming and unrhyming) forms, as well as in free verse, organic poems, prose poems, and other “experiments,” poetry in itself is a veritable "art institute" of many galleries, each one offering experiences that can awe us, enrich us, inspire us, and teach us about life and writing in a relatively small space, each poem a “canvas” that we can get lost in, then emerge from, changed forever as both persons and writers. (Whew!) 
Yes, yes, poems, by their very nature, demonstrate effective writing strategies and skills.

Yeah... what he said.

We could go on and on about how poetry can make you a better prose writer, but let’s not.

My co-blogger Susan, reading her off-the-cuff poem
at last year's workshop
So how about it? Will you join me and others at the WyoPoets 2018 Spring Workshop?

For all the reasons above.

And also because the workshop is so damned reasonable ($50 before April 14th, a mere $55 after).

And because Art Elser is the workshop leader. (You won’t find a more delightful combination of sagacity, sly humor and humility in a single person, I guarantee.)

Here's that sly fella I mentioned who will guide us through the
 "Art and Craft of Poetry"
and as a bonus, share his experiences in
publishing his own poetry.
And because the folks involved with WyoPoets are such an eclectic, welcoming and word-loving bunch. Just the kind of people I like to hang out with.

For more information on WyoPoet’s Spring Workshop, “The Art and Craft of Poetry,” visit www.wyopoets.org.


I often use poems as a writing prompt when it’s my turn to provide one to my writing group.

Try this poem/prompt and see where it leads you, and let's all say "Thanks!" to Jim Littwin for loaning us this fine poem.

Lost Gospel
by Jim Littwin

And at that time
Jesus broke away from us
and waded into weeds,
plastic bags,
and broken glass
under a billboard
and knelt beside
a drunken man
curled and cursing,
shivering in his own sickness.

There in the dirt
Jesus sat him up
and said words to him
we couldn't hear,
for we wouldn't go near.

And the man did not
stop drinking immediately
thereafter, but followed us
at a distance,
from that day.

And sometimes,
Jesus would wave us away
and turn to walk with that man,
to ask him questions,
then listen and listen.

--"Lost Gospel" was originally published in Watch My Rising: A Recovery Anthology

Prompt question:

What would you add as a "lost gospel"? Or what lost chapter, idea or element would you add to another work, such as the Chronicles of Narnia, The Odyssey, Crime and Punishment or another classic?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

When Friends Have Asked Me

Art Elser will be the presenter at the upcoming 2018 WyoPoets Spring Workshop in Cheyenne April 27-28. He was kind enough to share his thoughts with us on how he became a poet. 

Art Elser
Guest post by Art Elser

I’m taking a poetry class this winter from an educational institute that caters to retired folks. The class is The Distaff Side: Seven Women Poets, and each week we hear background about and read five or six poems by a female poet. For homework we’re to choose one poem and use it as a prompt for our own poem to be shared in class.

One week’s poet was Lisel Mueller, a women who was born in pre-Hitler Germany Her family left for American when the Nazis came to power. The poem I chose, “When I Am Asked,” is her response to being asked about starting to write poetry. I chose this poem because it seems appropriate, as I’ve often been asked by those who knew me in one of my previous lives how in the world I became a poet. As I sat down to write my poem, I realized I haven’t often mentioned the real reason.

Mueller writes in the poem  “When I am asked” how she got started:

It was soon after my mother died,
a brilliant June day,
everything blooming. 

My tale is similar to Mueller’s, except it was the death of my mother-in-law, not my mother that got me started. I was closer to my wife’s mother than to my own, and her death combined the shock at losing her with my joy at seeing her released from the pain of her year-long battle with metastatic breast cancer. I was moved by my grief to write a poem about her death, and that got me started.

At the same time, I was having flashbacks and nightmares about my combat experiences in Vietnam. After realizing that writing about Mom’s death had helped me accept it and heal me, I decided to write poetry about the flashbacks and nightmares. This is what I have told my friends is what got me started, to heal from the trauma of war.

I was fortunate at the time to be in a critique group led by a poet in her 80s, Lois Beebe Hayna, who started writing poetry in her 60s. I was in my late 50s, early 60s, so I saw it was possible. Incidentally, she died this past April at the age of 104, and published three of her best books of poetry after turning 100.

I had read somewhere a poem by Mary Oliver that clicked with me, and I bought and read every book of hers I could find. I started to imitate her subjects and style. At the time I was learning to be a volunteer naturalist on the prairie, so her work was a good fit.

After I had written perhaps a dozen poems, I moved from Colorado Springs to Denver and tried to join a critique group to help me continue to learn to write poetry. I couldn’t find one and another poet who had had the same problem suggested WyoPoets. I joined in 2008 and was fortunate to learn from Barbara Smith in the workshop that year. Then I joined Wyoming Writers in 2009. I was fortunate that Ted Kooser was the leader of the poetry workshops for Wyoming Writers, and he helped me also. I had read several of his poetry books, so I knew his work.

I took Kooser’s and Oliver’s advice and read as much poetry as I could to see how others did it. I read lots in earning my degrees in English, but took no creative writing courses. I could dissect the frog but not create one for an imaginary garden.

I read books on writing by Kooser, Oliver, Steven King, Anne Lamott, Natalie Goldberg, and many others. I wrote as much as I could, sent poems off, and finally got some published. I’ve now had over 120 poems published and three books of poetry, with a fourth soon to come.
Mueller closes by writing what I cannot write nearly so gracefully:

I … placed my grief
in the mouth of language,
the only thing that would grieve with me.  

My goal is to be like Lois, my first mentor, and help others learn the craft and joy of writing poetry. And oh yes, would love, like Lois, to live to at least 104 and keep writing poetry along the way.

Art Elser is a poet and writer who has been published in many journals and anthologies. His latest book, As The Crow Flies, is a collection of 120 haiku selected from over 2,000 he has written. His other books include a memoir, What's It All About, Alfie?, and two books of poetry, We Leave the Safety of the Sea and A Death at Tollgate Creek. Art lives in Denver with his wife, Kathy, and their pup, Walker.

Want more from Art? Sign up for the WyoPoets Spring Workshop for a full day of workshops on poetic art, craft, and self-publishing. Learn more on the WyoPoets website.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

From Typewriter to Pen

Susan here: This post by Fred Rife came along at an opportune moment. I was reflecting on the value of journal writing in my own life when this came across this blog post on that very topic. Fred said it so beautifully, I wanted to share his words with our readers. He has graciously allowed us to repost it here.

Fred's Journal
Guest post by Fred Rife

I’ve been reading about writers’ choices of tools for getting words into the world. Some write exclusively by hand in journals, or by hand as they create draft upon draft while working towards a published piece. Others use computers, and others bypass finger usage and dictate verbally into recording devices.

While thinking about the methods and almost-religious fervor with which writers prefer their chosen method for extracting words from their souls, I remembered my first experience using a machine to write nearly fifty years ago.

As a boy of about eight years, my dad took me to his office on weekends as he caught up on reports or other work. He let me “help” him by teaching me to use the office typewriter. The typewriter felt like magic as I rolled a piece of thin paper into the carriage and began striking keys with my fingers that caused metal-armed letters to hit the ink ribbon, seeing the letters on the paper, the clickety-clack of striking the keys, the bell ringing as I learned to throw the carriage return back to the left and begin a new line.

While writing in my journal today I began remembering my journey from that heavy, mechanical device to electric typewriters to desk computers to my current laptop. I’m remembering how, with each new device, I thought the improved technology would make me finally become a writer, how it would unleash my words that always seem stuck behind a wall covering my soul. As if writing is about tools instead of words.

I also remembered how, with that first typewriter, I began editing on the go by ripping page after page out of the machine and tossing them in the trash when I made even a single mistake. I’m still mining that memory and its implications across the years as I’ve struggled to lay perfection aside and simply write shitty first drafts.

In recent months I’ve begun writing in lined journals using a 0.5 mm micro black-ink pen. My handwriting has only ever been barely legible and I’ve always despised the slow speed of writing by hand. But after a personal coach encouraged me to keep a handwritten journal in recent years, I’ve begun to appreciate the tactile and contemplative nature of writing by hand. Initially I used a pencil for journaling but realized I was spending as much time erasing as actually writing, like my first typewriting experience. Writing now with a pen I’m less inclined to edit as I go, and I simply write to get words on the page, whether for my own viewing or to work into a piece of writing using my laptop.

I’m thankful for my new practice of writing by hand in a journal. It may not produce publishable pieces but at my age I’ve finally, and hopefully, learned that my first and most helpful goal is to simply mine the words from my soul.


Fred Rife lives and works in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He graduated from the US Naval Academy (political science major), piloted Marine Corps KC-130 flying gas stations, and has spent many years serving humanity as a state government bureaucrat. He’s married to artist Jennifer Rife, and their daughter, Michaela, is a PhD candidate in art history. The family talks a lot about visual, literary, and music culture, and they binge watch Parks & Recreation. In previous decades Fred wrote personal columns and opinion pieces for small-town newspapers. Today he runs from politics and conflict, and leans in to things of peace and beauty. He avoids topics in his personal writing that might jeopardize his exciting life as a bureaucrat. Fred’s on Twitter (@fredinwyo) and his newest blog site is Writing behind the lilac bush.

Sunday, February 25, 2018


... to bring you this important announcement. 


Because it's about writing, it's going to take place in Wyoming, it's a heck of a learning opportunity (at a very fair price) from a fine writer and we just wanted to make sure you knew about it!

The WyoPoet’s 2018 Spring Workshop, “The Art and Craft of Poetry,” will be held in Cheyenne on Saturday, April 28th from 9 am to 4 pm.

Award-winning Colorado poet Art Elser will lead the workshop, which will take place at the Kiwanis Community House at 4603 Lions Park Drive.

There will also be a poetry reading, open to the public, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm on Friday evening, April 27th in the Legend/Frontier Room of the Fairfield Inn and Suites at 1820 W. Lincolnway. The 2018 WyoPoets chapbook will be unveiled during this event, and coffee and light snacks will be served.

Art Elser is a familiar face to many of us through his involvement with WyoPoets and his attendance at past WW, Inc. conferences. He recently served as juror for the 2018 WyoPoets chapbook, selecting 34 poems from a large submission pool where “the level of writing,” according to Art, “was consistently high.”

Art has published three books of poetry, We Leave the Safety of the Sea (winner of the 2014 Colorado Authors’ League Poetry Award), A Death at Tollgate Creek, and his most recent book, As the Crow Flies.

Art draws from his diverse life experiences to create poetry--as an Air Force pilot in Vietnam, as a technical writer and writing instructor for 30 years and as a volunteer naturalist. He has published in numerous journals and anthologies and written over 2000 haiku.

For the workshop’s morning session, Art will address “Poetic Craft: Line and Stanza Breaks.” He’ll lead participants in the reading and discussion of poetry that exhibits the variety of approaches to line breaks, and provide several group exercises.

A light morning snack, coffee and lunch, catered by Girls Gone Gourmet, will be served.

The afternoon session, “Poetic Art: Inspiration in Ekphrasis,” will introduce participants to the ekphrastic poem, which is a vivid description of a scene or work of art. Art will incorporate four paintings and a sculpture into the discussion and let participants experiment with a poem inspired by a painting.

As a bonus, Art will hold a Q & A session to discuss ways of publishing your own books. He’ll walk us through his experiences and discuss such topics as obtaining ISBN numbers, eBook options, creating an Amazon author page and print options.

The Early Bird rate until April 14 is $50 per person. Late and at-the-door registrations are $55, lunch not guaranteed. For out of town registrants, WyoPoets has arranged for a room block at the Fairfield Inn and Suites.

For more information and to register, visit www.wyopoets.org.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


guest post by Alan Wilkinson

Lynn here:

My favorite Brit is back. (We first introduced Alan to the Writing Wyoming blog back in August of 2016 with A Jobbing Writer.)

Today Alan's talking about what he calls impersonation--or capturing voices in writing--something he does exceedingly well. 

I never set out to be a chameleon, and when it was first suggested that I might be one I wasn’t happy. It was the late Malcolm Bradbury, founder of the United Kingdom’s first M.A. program in creative writing, who pointed out to me that I seemed to have a gift for “impersonation,” adding that it might be an issue.

That was back in 1989. I had recently completed a degree in American Studies, the third year of which I spent in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Back home, in my final year, I pointed out to my departmental head that I’d spent most of the year abroad attending writing classes (and cleaning windows around town in order to feed my family). I requested that I be allowed to submit a creative final-year dissertation. God bless him. He said yes, and I gave in ten short pieces, all based on my experiences in The Land of the Free, and mostly narrated in an American voice. Over the next year or two managed to publish seven of those stories in literary quarterlies.

I was still engaged with American tales when I started my M.A., and that’s when Professor Bradbury puffed on his pipe and opined – during a workshop when I was under the microscope - that there was “of course” the issue of impersonation. I don’t recall that he offered a solution, and there the matter rested.

Recently, a friend who has been interviewing me for a project on writers, their methods and lifestyles, asked me whether I had learned about impersonation while doing my M.A. at the University of East Anglia. Absolutely not, I replied. And, as I considered the question, it occurred to me that it went back much further than that.

As child, my siblings and I copied the adults around us. There were five of us: three older ones, born before the War, two more of us post-1945.

We spoke like well brought up middle class children because, despite living in public housing, we had a well-spoken father.

His mother – who raised us in those formative years – was the daughter of a ship’s captain; her father-in-law was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. We were constantly lectured about grammar, pronunciation and usage.

I was the youngest. Until I was six I hardly mixed with other children. Then we moved to a new neighbourhood, teeming with kids who met up to play on the open spaces that now surrounded us. I joined them for games of football, cricket, cowboys-and-Indians. And they mocked me, for sounding posh.

Naturally, I did what children of newcomers (we might say immigrants) have always done. I copied the locals. I learned some colourful expressions; I learned to swear. My father harrumphed and told me I sounded like a “gutter-snipe,” a “street urchin” and suchlike. But I loved this Cockney argot. I got pretty good at it – and I could switch it on and off.

Chip butty?
By the age of nine I was picking up Americanisms from the TV, as were my mates. It was cowboy talk, mostly, with a smattering of Highway Patrol. Ten-four.

In the early 1960s we suddenly became aware of our own regional accents. Thanks to the Fab Four we all introduced Liverpudlian words and phrases into our daily talk, glibly punctuating our conversation with words like “wack,” “gear,” “fab,” “chip butty” and “I’m gonna comb me hur.”

And so it went on. I simply loved the music of those words. I was utterly convinced that I came from a place (outer London) with no accent, no character to its language, no inflection - and I wanted all of those. At 18, 19, 20, I spent hours, late at night, listening to French radio to study the accents and cadences of a language I longed to master. I would still give my eye teeth to be word perfect. I learned Spanish and adopted all manner of linguistic affectations when it suited me. But whenever the conversation turned to football (soccer) I invariably lapsed into Cockney. I still do.

You dirty rat!
When I started writing – vignettes from the factories I worked in – the dialogue was frequently in a Yorkshire or Cockney voice, occasionally Geordie (that is, from the north east of England). It depended on who I was working with at the time. But my authorial/narrative voice, by contrast, was generally in the elevated diction of the authors I was reading: P G Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, G K Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Henry Fielding, Charles Dickens, Daniel Defoe. I developed a liking for long sentences.

But in conversation with friends my talk – theirs too – was still laced with Cockney, or with a new vocabulary we’d picked up from 1930s gangster movies: “You dirty rat!” delivered, naturally, from the side of the mouth. It was fun. It made life more interesting.

Having fun on a typical "summer" holiday--
in the French Pyrenees in May
When I developed my passion for American writing it was as if I had another language to learn – which in truth I did. I wanted first to decode it, then to speak it, like a native. So I practised. Finally, finally, my ability to imitate paid off. I remember a proud moment when I was one of a team of 14 writing for a TV soap. In conversation, the producer remarked, “Let’s face it, you’re the most authentic Yorkshire voice on the show.”

Over the past 25 years, as a self-employed writer, a lot of my bread-and-butter work has involved gathering and writing other people’s stories – either as part of a corporate history or as a straight ghost-written project. The ability to capture their words, and the musicality of their native tongues, the inflection of their voices, the cadences, and to translate it all to the page, has been a crucial part of the service I can offer - and the way I make my living.

And I must stress that it’s more than a service. In many cases it’s an homage, a measure of my own respect for a person’s character, as reflected in the way they speak. So yes, call me a mimic. I’m okay with that.

Alan Wilkinson lives and works in Durham, England, where he has had to tune into yet another regional accent - although he still struggles with such local constructions as ‘He’s went’, or ‘I telled him.’.

He has recently published a first novel, Cody, The Medicine Man and Me, (available here) and is currently working on the biography of a Welsh Member of Parliament (retired).

Next up will be a reflective piece on his life-long attempts to establish an intimacy with the landscapes he loves.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Scavenger Hunts and Lemon Pies

I resorted to a Ziploc to contain everything, particularly the larger items.
By Susan

Right now, I'm in a creative writing class with the inimitable Kristin Abraham. One of our assignments is The Pocket Scavenger, a quirky little book that asks you to find everything from "four squares" to "something that was given to you" to "a hair sample."

I'm about ⅔ of the way through the hunt. What is fascinating to me is how everything seems to turn into a writing prompt. Every bit of detritus I've stuffed into the pages and the Ziploc bag that holds it together sparks a story.

The four square pieces of decorative glass from my writing cabin recalls the hours my husband spent wiring and drywalling a bare garden shed for me. The hand-painted watercolor bookmark was given to me by an inebriated man in a bar at Denver International Airport. He carried a briefcase full of them and said he handed them out when he thought someone needed one.

I've got more than a "sample" of hair -- it's a giant hunk from the first time my hair was cut short when I was seven. It was in a box of keepsakes my siblings packed up from the house after my parents died. I screamed when I pulled it out. Kristin, be forewarned. And be grateful a dear friend reminded me that I couldn't use the stitches from my mole removal for "something on your body" due to the whole bloodborne pathogens thing.

Almost there! Zesting and sectioning a pound of lemons is a
bit of a pain in the orifice.
For "something that was discarded" I saved a label from a bag of lemons. I sent my husband to the store for three lemons to make ONE pie, and he returned with an entire bag because "they were cheaper." Twice as much as I needed, so in a short few days he started making noises about baking a second one to use them up. Wouldn't want them to go bad, after all. I smell an ulterior motive for his hidden agenda. I also smell lemon pie baking right now.

This project has opened my eyes to the abundance of stories that has been right under my nose all this time. The book has a few lines for each item to tell its story. For most of these, I could go on for pages.

I clearly have little patience with drawing maps.
I'm not entirely sure I'm doing this scavenger hunt exactly as the author intended. I get the impression she envisioned her dear readers donning clothes with ample pockets and heading out to explore the world. She even has a space to draw a map.

I turned inward, instead. As I went down the list, I would think, "I have that. I know just where." Another lesson for my writing, indeed. I have what I need already. I don't need to look outside myself.

I don't know about you, but some days I feel blank, devoid of stories to write. Maybe after this experiment, I'll look around and fix on one item. Maybe one I've had so long I've ceased seeing it. I'll bet dollars to donuts it contains a story.

I'll invite you to do the same. Let me know how it goes.