Thursday, August 28, 2014


photo by Lynn Carlson
We at Writing Wyoming like to celebrate every piece of good news we hear concerning our Wyoming writers. There’s a lot happening.

Whoop it up with us for…

WAHOO! Nina McConigley has won the 2014 PEN Open Book Award for her book, Cowboys and East Indians (FiveChapters Books).

YEEHAW! Darcy Lipp-Acord is a WILLA Award finalist in the creative nonfiction category AND a finalist for the Will Rogers Medallion Award for Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman’s Journey (South Dakota State Historical Society Press).

YIPPEE! Lee Ann Roripaugh has a new book of poetry out: Dandarians (Milkweed Editions).

HOT DAMN! Cat Urbigkit has a new nonfiction book coming out in October: When Man Becomes Prey (Globe Pequot Press).

John Nesbitt is a finalist for the Will Rogers Medallion Award in two categories: Western Fiction for Dark Prairie and Poetry for Thorns On the Rose.

Lots of good writing happening around here - we are inspired and hope you are too.

Now, get back to work.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


guest post by Mary Beth Baptiste 

After reading my book, Altitude Adjustment: A Quest for Love, Home, and Meaning in the Tetons, people often ask me, “Has your ex read it? What about those guys you worked with? What was their reaction?”

We memoir writers struggle with privacy issues. As human beings, we’re concerned about the reactions of others. When I write, I want to project a personal truth that represents a universal human condition. But I also realize that people close to me may not relate to my personal truth in a positive way, particularly if it involves behaviors or personality traits they themselves have struggled with in the past. My earliest decisions about how to write my book revolved around other people.

I knew I had a strong story that would strike at the hearts of many readers. But how could I tell it while keeping my family, ex-husband, coworkers, and former lovers from recognizing themselves and getting upset, and God forbid, suing me?

First I thought I’d fictionalize the story and write a novel. Sure. That would do it. A novel about a woman of Portuguese descent from Massachusetts who followed her lifelong dream and moved to Grand Teton National Park to work as a wildlife biologist. Complete protection. Total anonymity. Yeah, right.

I was suffering from what I call memoir angst: the disabling fear of facing the truth about one’s life and the roles others played in it.

After years of soul-searching, I decided, “Okay. I’ve got an unusual story with universal themes. I’m going to write it as memoir.”

I first wrote the book like someone else’s true confessions: no holds barred. I’ll show them and everybody else what jerks I was dealing with. My readers will see what I went through, how persecuted I was. They’ll get it.

Then I went back and read it. It was awful. That’s not real life, I realized. No one is that bad. This is how time lends perspective to life: Had I written this story soon after the events occurred, it would have been nothing but whiny drivel, what counselors call “emotional diarrhea.” And, thank goodness, no reputable publishing company would have touched it.

So I got off the pity pot, gathered my wits, and grew up. I took more time and delved deeper. As I perused old journals and photos, poignant details surfaced. The deep-gut horror I felt when my ex-husband’s birthdate came out so high in the Vietnam War draft lottery. My parents’ love and devotion, even after I turned my back on everything they held dear in life. My boss’s restrained laugh, and how I could, just by being my own goofy self, coax it into a full guffaw. My confused lover’s bumbling but sincere attempts to help me through a rough time.

These are the things that give substance and depth to life, that strike harmonic chords in the human soul. These are the complications, the ‘yes buts,’ the messy things that infuse commonness with inspiration and beauty.

I still don’t know if my ex or my Grand Teton coworkers have read the book, or what they think of it, and I’m a little uncomfortable about that. While I did my best to change names, physical descriptions, and other details, the characters will know who they are and wonder if others will recognize them. My friend “Rachel” in the book, told me she enjoyed reading an account of parts of her life. When I expressed concern about the reactions of my ex and my other coworkers, she said, “I doubt any of them could read the book without it bringing a smile to their faces.”

If they do read the book, I hope they can see it merely as my personal journey. I hope they understand how our interactions strengthened me and made the story possible. I feel only gratitude and affection for all of them now, and wish them all good things in life.

Sure it would be great to receive a surprise email from my former boss or ex-husband, singing the book’s praises and congratulating me as others have. It would bring the work full-circle and wrap things up neatly. But real life seldom comes in neatly-wrapped packages.

Mary Beth Baptiste is the author of a memoir, Altitude Adjustment: A Quest for Love, Home, and Meaning in the Tetons, published this year by TwoDot/Globe Pequot Press. A winner of a 2014 Wyoming Arts Council literary fellowship, Mary Beth has published her creative nonfiction in a number of periodicals and anthologies. She lives in southeast Wyoming with her husband, Richard. 

Lynn chimes in…

In Altitude Adjustment, Mary Beth Baptiste battles inertia as well as family, ethnic, and religious tradition to pursue her dream of becoming a woodswoman in the Rocky Mountains. She takes the reader along for the bumpy ride as she recreates her life and herself.

I finished reading Altitude Adjustment while on a camping trip at Vedauwoo. The book read like a novel, the questions tugging me along: Will she be able to stay in the Tetons? Will she find her match? Will her family reconcile themselves to the new Mary Beth? I squeezed chapters in between hikes, throwing the tennis ball for Luna, and cooking chili.

When I read the last page at dusk, I leaned back in my chair, watched the bats plunge through the pines, and felt, well, satisfied. And why not? I’d been educated (so that’s what wildlife biologists do--I never knew!), entertained (with a romance-novel-worthy description of copulating boreal toads, for one), and inspired (what dreams have I been postponing?)-- all in one memoir.

This book is a good reminder that some of us were born where we belong, and some of us have to bushwhack our way there. I’m glad Mary Beth found her way to Wyoming, the home of her heart. I’m happier still that she shared her story with us, goading us to stop kicking our own dreams down the road and get on with the business of making them happen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Ego and Ira Glass

 by Susan

I woke up one morning and everything I had ever written had turned to utter dreck. The essay that placed second in a contest? Ugh. Every poem in my notebook was a dud. The embryonic novel-in-progress? What was I thinking?!?

I emailed my trusted friend and co-blogger Lynn, knowing she would have the right words of wisdom. Which she did:

I think it's time you slapped your ego in the face, hard, and said, "Shut up." That's where all that shit's coming from, darling. And if you give it your undivided attention, it will never shut up.

I know if I do not give myself permission to write badly, I will never write as well as I could. It's tough to give up that desire to be perfect every time, the first time, no matter how unrealistic it is. On that note, this is a good time for Ira Glass's take on the creative process. Every time my ego gets the better of me, I need to watch this again:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


photo by Lynn Carlson
post by Lynn

Toponymy is the study of place names. A toponymist is someone who studies the science and origins of place-names. If all that sounds dry as sawdust to you, I beg to differ.

Because of one little book, I find toponymy fascinating and full of things to think and write about.

“The romance of Wyoming is included in the names of its rivers and mountains, in the titles of its cities and counties…”

So says Mae Urbanek in the preface of her book, Wyoming Place Names (copyright 1967). 

Mae wrote many books (poetry, fiction and what she calls “historical prose”) at her ranch in my home county of Niobrara. She died in 1995. When I was growing up, I’d hear my father talk about Mae but I always misunderstood the name. I thought he was saying “Mayor Banek” and so I had the notion that this person ran the town of Lusk. But I digress…

Wyoming Place Names is a book I sit with often. It has a simple format: place names, in alphabetical order, followed by the county and whatever Mae could dig up on the origin of the name. She threw in stories attached to the place, too, when she found them.

There’s history in those names, to be sure, but much, much more. There’s…

MYSTERY: Bad Medicine Butte. Fremont. Named by Shoshone Indians because of the unexplained death of one of their scouts who climbed the butte to scan for enemies. They found him there, dead, with his face on his folded arms. 

POETRY: Ishawooa Mesa, in Park County. A Shoshone name meaning “lying warm.” (Can’t you just imagine someone stretched out on the mesa in, say, April, letting the wind pass over, sponging up sun and naming this place by how it made them feel after a long Wyoming winter?)

DISCOURAGEMENT: Fourlog Park, Albany. A prospector started a cabin here in the 1870’s, and quit after he had laid up four logs. 

TRAGEDY: Meadow Creek, Natrona. Homesteaders of 1890s thought this a beautiful meadow in which to live. When a big flood in August 1895 struck the tents in which the people lived, they hurried to grab quilts, and get to higher ground. Mrs. Nuby and her three children drowned. Their bodies were caught in piles of driftwood. 

LONGING: Bosom Peak, Fremont. Named for its resemblance to the female figure when seen from Dinwoody area. (No doubt some guy had gone for a very long time without female companionship!)

HUMOR: Drizzlepuss, Teton. A pinnacle where it always seems to rain or hail when a climbing party is taken there by Exum Mountaineering School. 

REVENGE: Dead Man Creek, Albany/Carbon. Named about 1868, when the body of Jack Hockins was found buried in the gravel of creek bed. Hockins had assaulted and killed a girl in the east. His body was found after the brother of the dead girl learned where Hockins lived on this ranch.

Some place names have stories attached to them that smack of a certain WYOMINGNESS: Big Warm Springs Creek, Fremont County. When President Chester A. Arthur, with a military guard… traveled this valley in 1883, they tried to camp on Clark’s place near the mouth of DuNoir creek. Clark ordered them off. General Sheridan called him down saying, “This is the President of the United States.” Clark answered, “I don’t care what he is president of, he’s camping on my property without permission. I want him off.” Camp was moved.

Or a YEAH, WHATEVER attitude: Dutch Creek, Sheridan. First called Hungarian Creek for a Hungarian who homesteaded there. Word was too long for settlers who shortened it to “Dutch.”

Photo by Lynn Carlson
Wyoming Place Names is full of barely-hinted-at tales and half-forgotten voices… so many stories it makes me itch. I’m always reading them out loud to my husband, “Hey, Mike, listen to this…”

Saying that I am a toponymist who studies these place names is a stretch. It’s more like I use them to catapult my imagination into new territory. Sometimes they serve as writing prompts (see below) that lead me into the thicket of story.

So, thanks, Mae Urbanek. I’m grateful you weren’t the mayor of Lusk and had the time and inclination to gather all this information so I could go tripping through the toponymy of our Wyoming. I bet you never suspected that your book would live on to feed my imagination so generously.

Note: Words in italics were taken from Wyoming Place Names, by Mae Urbanek.

Here are two writing prompts inspired by Wyoming Place Names: 

Cache Mountain, Yellowstone Park. Takes the name from creek where Indians surprised prospectors, and stole their horses, except two mules; men had to “cache” what mules could not pack. 

Write a scene where three of the prospectors return to dig up the cache. What do they find?


Nightcap Bay, Teton. A small bay in Jackson Lake named by John D. Sargent, pioneer of 1887: brilliant and erratic, he claimed the bay was visited by an apparition—a man in a boat which appeared at midnight on a certain night each year. 

It’s 2014. You discovered some old journals that reportedly were written by Sargent. One enigmatic entry says “Jackson Lake: October 13, 12:01 am. Three years in a row.” Your friend makes you a $100 bet that no ghost will appear. You take it. You and your friend push the boat away from shore at 11:30 pm on October 12th. What happens?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Guest post by Eugene Gagliano

In my heart, I’ve always been a poet.  Lucky?  Maybe. Sensitivity has been a gift and a burden.  Even in my childhood, I looked at the world differently than my friends.  Especially attuned to nature, I was the guy who stopped to smell a flower, listen to a stream, or study the clouds.  I appreciated small things. 

My first poem appeared in a middle school newspaper, after my seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Erwin, recognized my ability to write. Later other English teachers encouraged me and my poems appeared in national high school and college anthologies. Today I continue to write and share my poetry.

Recently, I tried to capture my morning walks in June in a poem.  I wanted the reader to share some of the beautiful summer mornings the way I experienced them.  This is how I went about writing the poem.

First, I honed in on my senses, letting one particular morning consume me.  I noted everything. When I returned home, I jotted down my impressions on a note pad, and decided to wait to write my rough draft until after I’d taken a few more walks.  Each day I focused on how the walk affected me, and wrote down my impressions.  I gathered my notes and then began to write the rough draft.
Next, I wanted to describe everything my eyes saw in a unique way.  The blue flax that flowered along the road became like spattered pieces of the sky. The leaves of the cottonwoods were like green coins glistening in the early morning sun light, as it floated to noon through threaded clouds.  The rancher’s irrigation wasn’t just watering the land, but creating rainbows through pulsating surges of water. 

Then, I wanted the reader to be immersed in the fragrance of the morning. I spoke of how I breathed deeply of the yellow clover that blanketed the landscape with billows of blossoms that hummed with bees, and the sweet scent of newly cut hay drying in furrowed fields that contrasted with the pungent pleasing corrals of manure.

The early morning sounds needed to be included, like the muffled bellowing of Black Angus bulls and the mountain run off of the gurgling stream, and the meadowlark’s solo song as pickup trucks swished by.

I wanted the reader to see and feel the cottonwood’s bark like wrinkled elephant skin, and the cool metallic sensation of an old iron wheel rusting into eternity.  Even the sweat on my upper lip should be tasted.

The morning walks were beautiful, but they also needed to be grounded in reality, and I had to take off the rose colored glasses and include the rancid smell of diesel fumes and the sickening stench of road kill, all part of the walks.  Then, I remembered seeing the passing blue pickup truck of a friend.  He was driving into another day with the burden of the loss of his son.

After completing the first draft, I put the poem aside for a few days and then looked at it again with fresh eyes.  I read it aloud, then revised and edited. 

Simple walks down a country road held a sensory palette for me, with a seasoning of emotions.  I guess I’m lucky; I see the world through a poet’s eyes.

Eugene M Gagliano’s love of nature developed early in the suburbs just outside the woodlands and farmlands of Niagara Falls. He began writing poetry in seventh grade, and his poems were published in national high school and college anthologies. He has authored several children's books. He taught in grades K-5 for 34 years. Now he is a full time writer and author presenter.