Saturday, January 31, 2015

January writing roundup

Hope you are staying warm this January! We've got a few bits of news we've corralled for you.

Blanchan and Doubleday Writing Award winners

The Wyoming Arts Council (WAC) is pleased to announce the winners of the 2015 Blanchan and Doubleday Memorial Writing Awards.

Matt Daly of Jackson won the Neltje Blanchan award for nature writing for his manuscript, Wolf Hunter and Other Poems. Winner of the Frank Nelson Doubleday award for women writers is Marylee White of Wilson for her prose manuscript, Bird Barometer, Each of the writers will receive a $1,000 prize and a stipend to travel to a public reading later in the year.

Honorable mentions in the Blanchan category went to Nonie Proffit of Evanston and A. Rose Hill of Sheridan. Doubleday honorable mentions went to our very own Lynn Carlson of Cheyenne and Amy Staehr of Jackson. The competition received a total of 82 entries.

Judge for the awards was Kurt Caswell whose new book of travel writing, Getting to Grey Owl: Journeys on Four Continents, will be published by Trinity University Press later this year. He was born in Alaska, grew up in Oregon and now is associate professor of creative writing and literature in the Honors College at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

The Neltje Blanchan and Frank Nelson Doubleday awards are made possible through the generosity of private donor Neltje of Banner, Wyo. The Blanchan/Doubleday awards program is an annual competition administered by the Wyoming Arts Council. For more information about the awards visit the WAC website at or contact Michael Shay at or 307-777-5234.

Upcoming deadlines

  • Feb. 9: Creative Nonfiction is seeking personal essays for a book, Beyond "Crazy": True Stories of Surviving Mental Illness. No entry fee, although there is a $3 convenience fee to submit electronically.
  • Feb. 28: Deadline for the WyoPoets Members-Only Contest. Entry fee: $2 per poem, or three poems for $5. Not a member? You can join for $20 when you send in your entry. 
  • March 9: TulipTree Publishing has a Short Fiction, Nonfiction and Poetry contest on the theme: Begin. It can be about anything, really, as long as it's about the beginning of it. Entry fee of $20. TulipTree is newly launched by this week's guest post contributor Jennifer Top.
  • March 15: Wyoming Writers 2015 Contest deadline. Entry fees $10-$25, depending on genre and membership status.

Save the dates:

Wyoming author appearances
Feb. 9, Sheridan: Bonnie Sargent will be signing her first children's book, Good Knight, Deano Dragon, at Sheridan Stationery Books and Gallery 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. Deano Dragon will be there in person!

Have something you think we should include in our next writing roundup? Send it to

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Guest post by Jennifer Top

Lynn here: Our guest post today is from Jennifer Top, editor fabulaire. Jennifer and I met in a Northern Colorado Writers online writing group. The group is gone, but Jen and I have remained friends and writing buddies. I asked her to clue us in on what an editor does and doesn’t do, and to give us some pointers on working with members of the editor species. Read on, and learn… I sure did

So, What Does an Editor Do, Exactly?

I’ve been meaning to order business cards for about two years now, but I can’t decide what to put on them because the job description under my name keeps fluctuating: proofreader, copy editor, publisher--or self-publishing consultant? Book designer? Cover artist, critiquer. . . It’s no wonder there may be a little confusion among others as to what I do, so here’s an overview of my role as a freelance editor, as well as what to expect when you need one.
Jennifer Top, editor and publisher

My Editing Philosophy 

A common misconception I hear from writers who are looking for an editor is that they expect an editor to essentially assign a grade to their work. As in, they’ve been working on this book for a while, their close friends say it’s great, but they want to know if a professional would give it an A or B or C. It’s kind of fascinating to me in a psychoanalytic way, actually, but that’s a whole ’nother blog post.

I personally don’t have any interest in assigning grades to my clients’ work. In fact, I find the thought of that highly unproductive and judgmental. I view my role this way: You’ve written this work for a reason. My job is to read the work and give you my perception as to why it seems you’ve written this work. The remaining work to be done is in bridging any gaps between the two.

I’m extremely conscious of the fact that editors, writing coaches, critique groups, and even well-meaning friends can do real damage to a writer. Therefore my guiding philosophy when it comes to giving feedback is, “First, do no harm.” I begin with appreciation for the time and effort this writer has invested to create this brand new thing, with a purpose in mind, and my job is to help her accomplish that purpose. I also realize that once a story is loose, readers will interpret it in as many different ways as there are readers, but before that happens, we do the best we can to get to the author’s point.

Proofreading vs. Copy Editing 

Another question I’m often asked is, what is the difference between proofreading and copy editing? This distinction is clearest with my academic publisher clients. Books are sent to a copy editor in pieces, each chapter in a separate Word file. As copy editor, my job is to read for sense, sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation, and in some cases to tag the text for formatting (mark for A-level vs. B-level headings, extract quotes, etc.). Changes are tracked and sent back to the author for review, then depending on the publisher the text is cleaned up either by me or by someone “in house.” Then the book goes to the typesetter for formatting. Once the book has been formatted and there will hopefully be no more shifting around of any tables, charts, pictures, and such, the book is sent to a proofreader.

As a proofreader I’m looking for many of the same things in the text that I would if I had done the copy editing (generally the copy editor and proofreader should not be the same person for one book, as fresh eyes are more likely to catch mistakes). However, oftentimes typos are much easier to catch when the book is in book form versus in a marked up Word document, so both are crucial to a professional-looking book, in my opinion. As a proofreader I’m also looking to make sure there is overall consistency, which is often more difficult in the copy editing stage when every chapter is a separate document. This goes for both the text itself as well as book design. For example, I will look for correct running heads, page numbers in the right places, even for typos in the front matter and Cataloging-in-Publication data.

In short, proofreading is the last step before you send it out the door (unless you’re doing an index, which is done last to ensure page numbers won’t change), and I think it’s always a good idea, even if you’ve had a copy editor work on the book before it was formatted, to make sure the book is proofed in its final format.

More Fun with Publishing 

Part of my role with the writing organization Northern Colorado Writers is to coordinate their annual writing contests in short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I screen every entry, and after the judges pick the top winners, and I add my own picks, I publish the winners’ anthology, Pooled Ink, via CreateSpace. I do all the formatting and cover design and get the PDFs ready to upload for printing.

I can do the same thing for others who are self-publishing, including the editing and the formatting, or just one or the other, depending on client needs. Because of what I’ve learned from my academic publisher clients after observing their publishing processes, I strive to follow a similar pattern with my self-publishing clients. Thus, I will work on editing first until we have arrived at the text the author is happy with, and then we will move on to the formatting.

On Healthy Writer-Editor Relationships 

Professionalism is important on both sides of the equation. With my publisher clients that’s easy—they are a business, they have accountants, they have predetermined pay scales and budgets for each project that comes to me. I have a reasonable expectation of the quality and condition of the projects they will send me and I know that each one will require the same level of work, more or less. I submit an invoice and I know roughly when to expect my payment. It’s formalized and that is somewhat like the saying “good fences make good neighbors.” The boundaries are clear and so are the expectations and I’ve never had any problems or sticky situations because of it. They also just happen to be good clients, too.

For individual clients working with a freelance editor, there’s much more room for things to fall out of formality, but that doesn’t mean professionalism isn’t just as important. I think having a more relaxed relationship with your editor is perfectly wonderful and reasonable when both parties respect each other’s time and the expectations on both sides are clear.

I have been blessed with wonderful clients and I approach each one with gratitude for trusting me to help them with their stories.

A good working relationship usually begins with an email or a phone call (hopefully an email) in which the client explains their project with some background on why they wrote it, and I try to clarify what it is they need from me: copy editing, critiquing/story evaluation, formatting for publication, proofreading as the last set of eyes, or a combination of any of the above. We also discuss price. Some are fine with knowing simply that my hourly rate for editing is $30. Others want a more precise estimate (see the tips below).

Once cost and expectations are determined, they email their work to me when they’re ready, and when I’m finished I send the work back to them with my invoice. I go by a business standard of 30 days from invoicing until I start getting worried about payment.

A Word about “Free” Samples 

As writers, we must value our time. As an editor, I also value my time. In the past, potential clients have asked me for a “free” sample of my editing. I’ve even read editorials, from editors (!), saying you should have an editor do a “free” sample edit before you pay them.

Ultimately, I have found there is no way for this to not feel disrespectful. To me, this is like walking into a restaurant and saying, “I’m looking for a place to eat, therefore I think you should give me a free meal to decide if this is the place.” A restaurant has the accepted economic advantage of being able to scoff at you and ask you to leave. Editors are stuck in a difficult position. Should I be guilted into this rationale? Or do I put my foot down realizing there is no “free” when it’s my time, attention, and life force that I will never get back (hence the relentless scare quotes)?

As a professional, and as a human being making a living like most everyone else has to, I realized I had to make a decision. Then, as if to test me, just a week or so ago someone else I had never met emailed me on behalf of his writer client and asked if I do free samples. I rewrote my response about four times before whittling it down to this: “No, I don’t do free samples. I must insist on respecting my own time and effort.” And his radical response, for which I had to brace myself because the entire world must be crumbling if I’m being so mean as to actually say no I won’t give you my time for free? He said, “Okay. That makes sense.”

A Few Things to Consider When You’re Looking for an Editor 

Here are some tips to keep in mind for establishing a healthy and mutually respectful professional relationship:
  • If you’re unsure about an editor you don’t know and you don’t want to commit to hiring the editor for a large project, hire her to do two or three chapters first. If you are unhappy with the work, you’re not committed to paying for more and can keep looking. 
  • When asking for an estimate of cost, make sure the work is formatted according to industry standards: size 12 Times New Roman font, fully double spaced (not 1.5). When formatted this way I estimate that I can edit approximately 10 pages per hour (this is usually conservative). If your work is 100 pages and therefore your estimate is 10 hours, but I discover after receiving it that it’s single spaced and size 10 font, don’t be upset if it actually takes 25 hours. (I assume this is why many editors charge by the word, which I will also do if clients are uneasy about not knowing how many hours it will take to edit their work.) 
  • Be clear about what you want from your editor. If you have your story the way you want it and aren’t interested in feedback, don’t be afraid to say so. That way your editor won’t waste time on unwelcome comments, which will also save you money if you’re paying by the hour. Similarly, if you know your story needs work and you are anticipating substantial rewriting, there is no reason to have the editor mark up typos and punctuation mistakes when what you are really after is a story evaluation and feedback. 
As freelancers and artists in general we are free agents. We don’t have barcodes to show people what our time is worth. I think that’s a good thing. But it also saddles us with greater responsibility to understand the value of our own time and consequently that of others. Beginning with an appreciation of both will help ensure good working relationships across the board, so that rather than having to worry about who’s feeling cheated, both of us can focus our energy on putting forth the best work possible.

Jennifer Top is a freelance editor, proofreader, and publisher in Fort Collins, Colorado. She recently launched TulipTree Publishing, LLC, and is Editor in Chief of the new literary journal, TulipTree Review, which is currently seeking submissions for its inaugural issue! Learn more at and

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Post by Lynn

“If you want something to last forever, you treat it differently. You shield and protect it. You never abuse it. You don’t expose it to the elements. You don’t make it common or ordinary. If it ever becomes tarnished, you lovingly polish it until it gleams like new. It becomes special because you have made it so, and it grows more beautiful and precious as time goes by."
 – F. Burton Howard

Instead of making a New Year’s resolution this year, I have decided to renew my vows. Not with my husband of 18 years, although I don’t have anything against the idea. What I’m talking about today is renewing my vows with my writing.

About seven years ago I had the epiphany that writing is a relationship, not unlike marriage, and it was time I quit flirting and made a commitment. It was time to lock into this endeavor for real, for better, for worse.

So I wrote my vows and printed them up on card stock. 

The increasingly-tattered paper lives in the revolving bookshelf that sits next to my upholstered chaise—the spot where I journal every morning.

During my stalled-out times I pull out the list and find something that encourages me. During productive times I pull out the list and find something that pushes me to do even more.

But it's been some time since I really studied my vows.

Here they are:

I hereby make these vows…

·         I will respect, feed and protect my creativity.

·         I will honor my Muses, making neither idols nor slaves of them, but treating them as the special partners they are in my creative endeavors.

·         I will honor my daily life as part of my creative process. I will not crave cafes in Paris or remote cabins in the woods, but use the people, places and things I encounter every day as inspiration. Every moment is a writing moment, if I choose to make it so.

·         I will maintain fidelity to where I am right now in my creative process, knowing that I am forever evolving.

·         I will set no artificial deadlines on the development of my writing, but respect the process and trust that all is unfolding as it should.

·         Each day I will acknowledge my starting point and move forward. I will celebrate each bit of progress.

·         I will do my utmost to stay awake and never take for granted the abundance offered up by the universe for inspiration.

·         I will recognize the connection between my writing and my spiritual development.

·         I will honor my introverted nature as I develop my writing abilities.

·         I will honor my inspirations, and follow them where they lead without expectation.

·         I will maintain honesty to myself, my voice and my creative process. In nonfiction I will be vulnerable and truthful; in fiction I will be faithful to the story, the setting, and the characters as I imagine them.

·         I will not ignore my family or my responsibilities for the sake of my writing. I will not dress all in black and complain that the world just doesn’t understand artists. I will live my writing life in a balanced and organic way, striving always to be in alignment with my authentic self.

So be it, for the good of all concerned.

It’s a powerful thing to say the words out loud again, to renew their meaning and think about how they apply in 2015. It’s good to check in and ask myself how my relationship with my writing has changed, and if I’m living up to my vows. It's good to say YES again. Yes, this is what I want to be doing, with my whole heart. 

It also helps to remind myself that not only are my stories, essays, poems and blog posts Works In Progress— so am I. So is my creative process. So are my writing skills.

Much of what we do as writers is invisible to the outside world. I’m reminded that the important thing is that I know I am working, learning, and evolving as a writer, and to have faith that the evolution will show up in the quality of my writing. I have to believe that all is well as long as I am keeping my vows.

How about you? How have you expressed your commitment to writing? I’d love to hear about it. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Local Wyoming Writing Groups

by Susan

"If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, 'When you’re ready.'"
- David Mitchell, Writers Write Creative Blog

Well that's what it might feel like anyway. At least at first. However, the good news is that people in the Wyoming writing community I've met over the last 20 years are some of the most welcoming and encouraging people I've ever met.

One of the best ways to take your writing to the next level is to find a local group of writers who will read and critique your work. WyoPoets has compiled this list of local writing groups. If one is in your area, you might start here:

  • BUFFALO: Writers' Ink meets 1st and 3rd Wednesdays at 4 p.m., at the Occidental Hotel. For more information, contact Margaret Smith at 
  • CASPER: The Casper Group meets the 2nd Wednesday night of each month 7 p.m. All genres welcome. For more information, contact Neva Bodin at or Gayle Irwin at
  • GILLETTE: Prairie Pens meets monthly except December, third Saturday at 1:00 at Campbell County Public Library. We welcome writers to join, although we ask that they just listen and learn what we do and how we do it for a couple of meetings.
  •  JACKSON: Jackson Writers Group meets 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month. 6:30-8:30 pm, in the conference room at the Center for the Arts. All genres welcome. For more information contact Linda Hazen
  •  RIVERTON: Westword Writers, Fremont County, meets on 2nd & 4th  Mondays of the month at 1:00 p.m. and 2nd and 4th Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. in the Riverton Public Library. Visitors are welcome as are all genres. For information, email Teri Wiblemo:
  • SHERIDAN: In Sheridan: 3rd Thursday Poets meet on the 3rd Thursday of each month at the Senior Center from 2-4 p.m. Range Writers meet on the 2nd Saturday of each month, usually at the Library. For more information, contact: Abbie Taylor at 307-752-0033 or
  • SUNDANCE: Bearlodge Writers, Sundance, is open to all who are serious about learning the craft of writing, whether they're beginners or published authors. This multi-genre critique group meets on the first Tuesday (11 a.m. until about 3 p.m.) and on the third Tuesday (5 p.m. until about 8 p.m.) of each month at the Crook County Public Library. Email Andi Hummel at
  • WORLAND: Chapter One Writers Guild meets in Worland the 1st and 3rd Friday of each month at 5:00 p.m., SoHL (School of Holistic Living), 701 Grace Street.
Writing group meetings may be found on our calendar, courtesy of WyoPoets. Have one to add? Put it in the comments or email WyoPoets at

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

If the Real World Were a Book...

by Susan

"If the real world were a book, it would never find a publisher. Overlong, detailed to the point of distraction-and ultimately, without a major resolution."
 - Jasper Fforde, Writers Write Creative Blog

As writers, we strike a balance creating a world readers can believe in while leaving out the mundane details that distract from the central truth, the central story. We want telling details, not dragging ones.

If we model off of real life, though, we may be sorely disappointed. Life can get a bit dull at times.

I have to admit, I love a good mundane detail that immerses me in the story. The moment I knew the movie Fargo was brilliant was after the fleeing car flips off the road and the driver opens the door to run from the killer, the dome light and open door warning go off. Ding... ding... ding. I am there.

I'm glad they left out the driver forgetting to check his tires and the salt truck driver calling in sick and the dietary habits (paleo) of the civil engineer who designed the road. I just need that light and that ding to immerse myself.

We really don't want to know the practicalities of attending management seminars once Charlie inherits the chocolate factory. It might lead off into a new story, where Charlie finds himself embroiled in a huge, business-threatening scandal due to poor treatment of the Oompa-Loompas. But that's a new story, and one that still (we hope) won't go down the checklist of questions you can't ask in a personnel interview.

Where is the line between telling details and dragging details? I don't exactly know myself until I see it. On first draft, I tend to put in everything from the protagonist waking up in Vegas with a strange man in her bed to her brushing and flossing. (She hates when popcorn gets stuck between her molars.)

Ah, but that is a first draft. My general feeling is put everything in a first draft, all those details. Get them down on paper. I can always pick and choose later. Maybe she insists on flossing when she's still in that cheap hotel room with a still-sleeping stranger. Maybe that reveals something about her.

I never know when I might find my dome light and door alarm.

How about you? How do you find and choose those telling details?

Jasper Fforde is a British novelist who is is known for his Thursday Next novels, which began with The Eyre Affair in 2001. He has written several books in the Nursery Crime series and has begun two more series, The Last Dragonslayer and Shades of Grey.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


post by Lynn

flickr: Harborne Happy Brick Holgafied by Stephen Boisvert

When I first took up creative writing (nine years ago—can it be that long?) I was exhilarated by the chance to write scenes, to transform memory or imagination to a single you-are-there moment. I also loved the idea that scenes are the bricks you use to build your wall of story.

Since then I’ve spent a lot of time writing scenes, like the one where I am leading a writing group at a women’s addiction treatment center.

I reached way back in my memory bank and extracted several scenes from my time in the Peace Corps and put them in “Today We Work.”

Nine years later I still love to write these chunks of story. “I will write a scene,” I tell myself, over and over, not “I will write a novel or short story or essay or poem.” Maybe it's because a scene seems so much less intimidating--a brick, not a wall. 

Loving is one thing but, as Adair Lara says, “…writing a scene is a distinct skill,” and I still have a lot of skill-building to do. But I’m motivated because I’ve been told that if I become a better scene-builder, I’ll be a better writer.

I thought I’d share a few of the things I’m learning about scene with you. 

Or let someone else do it for you, like Peter Selgin: “Scenes are capsules in which compelling characters undertake significant actions in a vivid and memorable way that allows the events to feel as though they are happening in real time.”

We can also take a clue from the origin of the word “scene” itself. It comes from the Greek word for a temporary shelter or tent that formed the background for a dramatic performance. In other words, a scene “contains” the story.

Scene is about time and place. Actions, events, and interactions between characters that happen in one place during one uninterrupted period of time equals a scene. It helps to know this, because then you understand that if you move to a new place, it’s a different scene. If you have a break in time, even if you come back to the same place, you’re in a new scene.

Scenes move the story forward, reveal character, create (or build) dramatic tension or conflict, and foreshadow important events. The best scene does as many of these as possible. Things happen in a scene.

Here’s a list of scene types created by Jordan Rosenfeld, author of Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time:
  • Suspense
  • Dramatic  
  • Contemplative
  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Flashback
  • Epiphany
  • Climactic
“These different types of scenes,” Rosenfeld says, “are like the notes in a symphony: Individually they may be intense or mild, contemplative or dramatic, but when they are used in combination, they form a fantastic narrative that feels rich and complex.”

You are the camera operator for the scene. You show the reader where to look, and whose eyes they are looking through. You decide whether to zoom in, pan the crowd or provide a panoramic view.

“Like a story in miniature,” says Peter Selgin, “a scene has its own miniplot, a buildup to some sort of climax or resolution.” It has a narrative arc that must be bent to the needs of the story.

  • Is the scene grounded in time and space?
  • What does your character feel, right now, in this moment? What does he/she want to have happen?
  • How does the action convey the desires and emotions of each character?
  • What mood am I creating in this scene? 
  • How does setting impact the scene?
  • How does the scene fit into the whole story? 
  • What change takes place? 
  • What happens to move the story forward? 
  • Does it have a beginning, middle and end?
Scene-building is a huge part of learning to write. Before you can even worry about stringing them together to form a larger story, you have to write a lot of scenes. Write and revise, over and over.

Here’s a scene exercise to play with:
Get On Board
Write a scene where your character is getting on:
  • An airplane
  • A float in a parade
  • A sheep wagon
  • A gurney
  • A Harley
Okay, now read what you wrote in light of what we’ve studied. Check Rosenfeld's list and decide what kind of scene you wrote. Go back to the list of questions and quiz yourself about the scene.

Whew, that’s enough for now. This whole scene study thing can make my head spin, but it’s better if I just remember to point and shoot. Because…

Now it's your turn:

What have you learned about scene writing?


By Cunning & Craft: Sound Advice and Practical Wisdom for Fiction Writers, by Peter Selgin. Chapter VI: Scene, Summary and Flashback.

Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time, by Jordan E. Rosenfeld. The whole darn book is about scene. Great resource – Rosenfeld comes at the topic from every imaginable angle.

Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay, by Adair Lara. Chapter 12: How to Write Narration and Scene. See my post on about this book on The Writing Bug here.