Tuesday, March 31, 2015

KENT NELSON


photo of Kent Nelson 
taken by Julio Mulero on 
Attu Island, Alaska, the last Aleutian


Meet Kent… 

Kent Nelson and his stories are all over the map, and I mean that in a good way.

His recent short story collection, The Spirit Bird: Stories (winner of the 2014 Drue Heinz Literature Prize) covers a lot of territory, and the author does some shape-shifting to become many different people to tell the characters’ stories.

And as you’ll discover, Kent himself has really been around and done a lot of things—he has been an algebra tutor, doorman, city judge, dishwasher, ad salesman, ranch hand, professional tennis player and inn keeper, and a college professor (part-time), just to name a few. He has run mountains, died, and chased birds.

Kent on birding… 

Birding is the perfect passion for a writer. (I chase rare birds, but I appreciate local birds, too.)

Birding requires travel to remote places – for me, Alaska, Newfoundland, Costa Rica, Bhutan, as well as to outlying areas of Arizona, California, Texas, and Florida. From every trip I come back with locations, that is, backgrounds for stories. A bird person pays attention to habitat, weather, terrain, but with training, he or she sees much more about the elements in landscapes that affect the people living there.

Kent on The Spirit Bird…

The Spirit Bird is my new book of short stories (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014), and students thinking of signing up for my workshops at the Wyoming Writers Conference in June might find it helpful to read a few of these pieces.

The stories are a pretty wild mix, with backgrounds in the west and south, and one in Costa Rica. One story is set in Cheyenne. The narrators are of both genders, and stories are told from both the third-person and first. Most of the stories are serious, but some are meant to be funny or to have an edge to them.

There’s also a range of uses of personal experience and invention. “Race,” for example, is based on my falling over dead in a half-marathon (August 29, 2009), but “Alba,” is about a nineteen-year-old Mexican kid who lives in Hatch, New Mexico. “My Crazy Father” is loosely narrated (and made up) by one of my daughters. “Who is Danny Pendergast?” is about a man who turns into a donkey. The title story is a first-person account of a woman’s experience birding in Gambell, Alaska.

The first lesson I learned…

The first exciting lesson I learned in a class of fiction writing – we had to write a 300-word story every day for eight weeks – was to pay attention to everything around. The corollary epiphany came later in the semester: you can spend your whole life being curious about everything in the world. That idea affected me. Everything that happened to me (or that I made happen) could be put into some aspect of a story. Life as part of work – what could be better than that?

Writing is a combination of work and magic… 

I understand the struggle to write and write better. I work at it every day in a six-by-twelve shed, or in my girlfriend’s four-by-foot basement storage area. I am still curious, still eager to make something of nothing – writing is a combination of persistence and magic – and it requires a daily ritual. I still love getting up in the morning and meeting the people in my stories.

Back to Lynn… 

We get to meet and learn from Kent at the 2015 Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference in Cheyenne this coming June 5 – 7. Click here to register for the conference.

Kent will present three workshops, one on

CRAFT: Thirty neglected craft issues that will make your writing better;

and two on

GETTING INTO THE STORY: An examination of strategies to get the reader involved right away.

A bonus that you’ll want to know about is that in the Getting into the Story workshop, Kent will read, critique and discuss a selection from the first 20 story openings (100 words max) submitted by participants.

Your story opening can be among them! Send the submission to Kent at kentsnelson@yahoo.com by May 15th.

Learn more… Here’s a link to some information about Kent and The Spirit Bird on Colorado Public Radio. Take some time to listen to the audio interview—definitely worth it!







Saturday, March 28, 2015

March End of Month Roundup

In like a lion, out like a lamb...
"Lamb" by Noel Reynolds, on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0
National Poetry Month begins April 1! Check out Writing Wyoming's poetry posts and Pinterest board. Consider becoming a member of WyoPoets. Read some poetry. Write some poetry. Celebrate!

Conferences and workshops
Last few days to catch the Early Bird discount for the WyoPoets Spring Workshop April 17-18 in Casper WY. Get your registration form postmarked by April 1 to get the full-day workshop, including lunch, for $50. After April 1, it's $55. Registrations are accepted any time up to the workshop, including at the door. Download the brochure here.

Online registration is now open for the Wyoming Writers Inc. 41st Annual Conference in Cheyenne WY from June 5-7, 2015. Early Bird discount rate good through May 15. All conference registrations include a one-year membership in Wyoming Writers. Learn more about the faculty here and also check out the full schedule. Don't forget that scholarships are available; application deadline for scholarships is April 30.

Early Bird rates are available through May 11 for the Jackson Hole Writers Conference in Jackson WY from June 25-27, 2015. The Jackson Hole Writers Conference is offering a $150 discount for anyone who also attends the Wyoming Writers Inc. conference. Contact them for details on the discounted rate.

Others: The Pikes Peak Writers Conference will be held April 24-26 in Colorado Springs, CO and the Idaho Writers Rendezvous will be held May 14-16 in Boise, ID.

Job Opportunities
The Wyoming State Library has two openings in its publications and marketing office for a Multi-Media Specialist II and Senior Multi-Media Specialist. This office is responsible for communicating the value of Wyoming's libraries, and its tasks include putting together the Wyoming Library Roundup magazine.

The Wyoming Arts Council is accepting applications for an Office Support Specialist.

Owen Wister Review extends deadline until April 15
The Owen Wister Review has extended its submission deadline for the 2015 issue until April 15. Send your short stories, essays, poetry and artwork to be considered.

Call for Applications: Taft-Nicholson Center Artist-in-Residence Program
This one comes our way from the Wyoming Arts Council blog. The Taft-Nicholson Center Artist-in-Residence Program offers dedicated artists a supportive and transformational environment to further their creative development. The 2015 Artist-in-Residence Season begins on July 1 and ends on September 30. The online application deadline is April 15. Details and the application are at http://taft-nicholson.utah.edu.

TulipTree: Stories That Need to Be Told
Contest Open for Submissions
Category: The Story
Deadline is August 29th, 2015. Cash prizes of $1,000; $500 and $250. 1st through 3rd place winners and Honorable Mentions will be published in TulipTree Review and receive a 1-year subscription to TTR. Additional details can be found at http://www.tuliptreepub.com/contests.html


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

GUEST POST FROM AARON ABEYTA

tierra
Aaron Abeyta will present workshops and a
keynote address
at the 2015 Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference
in Cheyenne, June 5 - 7. 

        we sit in the cab of an aging 3/4 ton ford pick-up. the road in front of us is what any country road should be, filled with ruts, washboards and dust. we make our way east toward the sangre de cristos. it is winter. my brother drives, me in the middle, and on the passenger side sits my abuelito; his name is Amos Serafin Abeyta. at this point in my life i am still afraid of him. he has eyes that see through people. abuelito knows only work. six a.m. and it is time to feed the animals. this is how i remember my childhood in moments of what needs to be done at a certain time. the bible says that for everything there is a time. today is our time to load the aging ford with bales of hay, alfalfa and tasole. to the west above the san juans there are clouds gathering, white above the peaks of white. it is the white on white of snow gathering up its breath before it descends into the valley and blows over the brown vegas, the newborn calves, the frozen conejos. it is winter in canon. we, my brother and i, load the truck, seven high, 63 bales, and then we tie it with a come-a-long and a lariat that has lost its loop. Andrew is the expert. he has always been the one my abuelito admires. he throws the bales perfectly. one motion. they always land where they should, how they should.

        i am the listener. i do not know enough. i struggle with the bales, up to the thigh, turn the wrists, regroup my weight underneath myself and heave. for a moment the bale does what it should. it is a half turn side over side the orange twine parallel to the earth, but i have put too much of my right arm into the lunge, the push, the heave of the 80 pound bale. it twists in a way it shouldn't, does not sail high enough, seven high. Andrew, left handed, reaches down and with one hand he grabs it, places it where it should go. i am the listener. abuelito tells me how it should have been done. how it was done in the 1930's, 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, and how it should still be done in the 1980's. Andrew is the worker. the left handed worker is like the mountains which surround us, he is what my abuelito likes to look at. i am now 25 years old and this is finally o.k. with me.

        Juan Sanchez is and was his name. he is my great grandfather, bisabuelo. i never knew him. mogote flowered beneath his touch; with the urging of his shovel he was able to make anything grow from this rich rocky soil. bisabuelo Juan knew how to irrigate. the hay we have just finished loading is a testament to his irrigating. the fields he plowed alone, irrigated and harvested alone have made it through the decades, and they still grow. i listen. abuelito tells the story as we return with our load of hay. El Juan como puedia regar. by the time we reach canon with our teetering load we too agree that, yes, Juan Sanchez sure could irrigate. it is an art. irrigating is the brushstroke for what becomes the winter painting of two young men loading hay as their abuelito watches. 

        tierra means earth. everything good comes from the earth or to the earth. what travels through the air, snow, rain, sparrows, must eventually come to this field of dormant clover where 63 bales like broken, scattered, surrounded by cows, sheep, and the ever present horses. i listen. abuelito tells us about the beauty of feeding in the same fields where the hay was harvested. the bales are full of seed and our feeding them to these pregnant cows replants the tierra. in time this earth will give birth to a windy spring and the cows will have moved south to the llano with its white sage. the earth is a protective mother. Juan Sanchez knew this.

        poetry means listening. a word well thrown side over side twine parallel to the earth is a beautiful thing. 63 words well stacked, tied down and later scattered over the earth are a poem. the poem is a protective mother. Juan Sanchez can live there with the windy colorado spring, the thick rivers, the ditches, the rocky fertile soil. Amos Serafin Abeyta can become a man i no longer fear. his eyes can be something i never knew them to be. Andrew, my brother, can be proud of his work in the poem.

        the snow approaches quickly from the west. it is a light snow at first. come morning there will be at least a foot. my brother and i will wake during the malignant blue of dawn. that first thin strip of blue which forms over the sangre de cristos, changes hues, then grows beyond anything the night can counter with. we will dress, go out into the cold, and both of us listen to the snow fall.

- excerpt from Aaron's book, Colcha, for which he received an American Book Award and the Colorado Book Award.


Lynn chimes in...

Ah yes... I can see abuelito's eyes, feel the motion of Andrew's toss of the bail, and smell the hay and the coming snow. Well stacked words, indeed.

Aaron Abeyta is the author of four collections of poetry and one novel. His novel, Rise, Do Not Be Afraid, was a finalist for the 2007 Colorado Book Award. He also was awarded a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for poetry. He teaches at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado. All this, and he is mayor of Antonito, Colorado, population 873 and a whistle stop bumper block town for the San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad.

We have the distinct pleasure of welcoming Aaron to Cheyenne this coming June 5 - 7 at the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference. He will be the keynote speaker at the banquet on Saturday night and present three workshops during the conference:
  1. Poem as Prayer; 
  2. The Outer, The Inner and the True Poem; 
  3. and The Four Homes of Poetry. 
I'm in! How about you? For conference info and a registration form, go to the Wyoming Writers, Inc. website. Whatever you do, don't miss the May 15th early bird registration deadline.

Thanks to Aaron for sharing this bit of writing with us, especially since National Poetry Month is just around the corner...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A LITTLE BIT OF LIFE

post by Lynn

I looked out my window last Sunday morning, bleary-eyed from a late night (got home from the Mountain West basketball tournament in Vegas – go Pokes!) and there it was on a branch of the crab apple tree: the first robin of spring. 

Then I had a memory of one day last spring when my husband, Mike, called to me from outside, “Come here, I have something to show you.” 

I went out in my robe (pays to live in the country) and he pointed at a fledgling robin, blinking up at us from a patch of grass. Fortunately, Luna, our span-triever, had not spotted the little guy. She was focused, as usual, on the green tennis ball in Mike’s hand. 

As Luna stood right next to it, the fledgling looked up at the big red dog and simply opened its beak in gaping trust.

Later that morning we found the fledgling in a small pine tree. We spotted the parents nearby, one with a beak full of food, the other keeping watch from high on the power line.

Mike changed his plan to mow that morning, in case the little robin might be hiding in the tall grass. For a time we did a sweep of the yard before letting Luna out.

Silly, that obsession with one little fledgling. Not at all practical. And why did we even care? There are tons of robins around, and many of the babies don’t make it past the fledgling stage anyway, which is why birds lay so many eggs.

Still, Mike and I couldn’t help but cheer on that little bit of life.

It occurs to me that I should do as much for my fledgling stories, essays, poems, and blog posts. 

Many writers, myself included, tend to hatch a clutch of words and think that the things should fly immediately. There you go, off to be published

Maybe we could take some cues from parent robins—experts in the care and feeding of fledgling life:

  • Feed them. Stories need our energy just as much as baby birds needs mushed worms. They need periodic visits and infusions of fresh words. When they are small they need shelter from the hail stones of criticism. 
  • Be patient. Step back and wait. Your babies are still growing the feathers necessary for flight. But have faith that flight is possible, even inevitable. All in good time.
  •  Let them flail and flop and fall. It’s all part of the process.
  • Accept that not all of your babies will live to fly. You’ll lose a few. Some are stunted, not meant for the sky. A hard fact, but you have to move on, focus on the fledglings you have left, lay some more eggs. Make more life.


So, there you have it, straight from the robin's beak: 

Cheer on the little bit of life that is your writing today.




Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Expand Your Writing: Play With Paint!

My painting inspired by "Canoeing on Saturday."
by Susan

"But in order to catch the poetry, the art, the beauty, we have to see." 
 - Linda Hasselstrom

Many of us have used photos and images as prompts. But how about using our words to prompt an image? Or creating our own image to spark creativity?

Our writing group, the Gang of Five, made a painting date. For a fee, Flydragon Design Art Studio in Cheyenne set us up with paints, canvas, brushes and even decorative papers and ModPodge if we wanted to use collage. All we had to do was show up.

Each of us used one of our own poems as a starting point.The results were as unique as our individual writing styles (see photo below).

There is something to be said for not just bringing the visual world into our words, but also creating those visual images ourselves. It stretches different mental muscles. It's relaxing, meditative -- things that can open a space for creativity.

In an interview with the Wyoming Library Roundup, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx said she grew up with pencils and paintbrushes in her hands, thanks to an artist mother. Proulx said she often starts with images. “I have just sketch books full and full and full of places for landscape description. You look very hard at something for 20 minutes or so, try to draw it and get the colors and so forth right, it sticks in your mind and is much easier to describe than if you wrote ten thousand words while sitting there."


The Gang of Five with our creations (L to R): Susan Mark,
Beth Howard, Mike Carlson, Lynn Carlson and Judy Schulz
Photo courtesy of Flydragon Studio
Over on the Women on Writing blog, Anne Greenawalt gives several reasons why art journaling improves her writing, such as inspiring ideas: "Working in a visual medium taps into a part of the brain that isn’t used when just writing down words."

I've heard it said that all children begin as artists and writers -- it's just that most of us forget that we are.

Creating art helps me be that child again. Unlike with writing, I have no expectations that my drawings, paintings or collages will go anywhere. There's no anxiety involved. I can create for the sheer joy of it.

So how do you tap into that visually creative side? Here are some things I've done or heard of or plan to try:
  •  Buy yourself the big box of crayons, the huge one, the one you wanted as a kid but didn't get.* Go for a Sunday drive with your spouse so you can make him/her drive. Break out your crayons and sketch what you see. 
  • Keep an art journal, just as you keep a writing journal. Set aside time to play with it. Do you set aside writing journaling time? Set aside art journaling time as well.
  • Collect images from magazines that speak to you -- faces, scenery. Heck, if the toilet bowl cleaner pictures speaks to you, cut it out and keep it with the others in a file. Pull them out and scatter them on your desk. Arrange them, maybe even collage them.
  • Wander every aisle in a craft store and buy a few items that speak to you. Get the ribbon pattern that strikes you and the bright red clay to play with.
And, most importantly, have fun! Play!

How about you? Have you tried art as part of your writing practice? What have you done?


*I have to confess, I DID get the monster box of 128 crayons with the sharpener in the side once. It was the year I only asked for two things for Christmas: a guitar and a box of crayons. They could not pry any other requests out of me, so they must have figured they'd better go big on the crayons.



Tuesday, March 3, 2015

EXCAVATIONS

post by Lynn
What we have once enjoyed we can never lose... All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.                      
                                                               - Helen Keller

For five years I led a writing group at the women’s addiction treatment center in Pine Bluffs. Every other week I sat down with eight women who were all trying to rebuild their lives.

We wrote for 10 minutes at a time, using prompts—simple questions or open-ended phrases. Then we had the read-around, where we read aloud just what we had put down on the page. No critiques, just a round of applause after each reading.

If a woman didn't want to read what she had written, she could say “pass” and we would move on to the next reader.

During those five years I shared maybe three hundred different prompts with the group. Some of them turned out to be confusing, or didn’t evoke much of a response. Others sparked excited writing and dense insights. Those are the ones I used again and again.

One of the most revealing prompts was this: “When I was a kid I loved to…”

No matter how closed off or angry a woman was, this prompt turned her back into a little girl. I would glance around the room frequently when we were writing to this prompt and never fail to see a quiver of a smile or eyes looking up as the writer tried to snag the wisp of a memory. During the read-around the group always buzzed with energy. Heads nodded. Laughter erupted.

No one ever said “pass” on this prompt.

And another thing—no matter how many times I wrote to this prompt (of course I wrote with the women, why do you think I started the group?) I always found a new memory, usually something I hadn’t thought about for years. Like:

  • I loved to stretch out in the back yard on a summer’s afternoon, belly on a cool spot, with a pile of new (or not-so-recently-read) comic books. I’d prop my chin on my hand and get lost in the world of Casper the Friendly Ghost, or Archie, Veronica and Reggie. 
  • I remember I loved to play games with names. In junior high I instigated an odd game of switching the first letter(s) of your first and last name. I was no longer Lynn Griffith, but Grin Liffith. My friend Connie Brewster became Bronnie Crewster. Poor unfortunate Marty Fernau was dubbed “farty manure”-- kids can be so ornery! 
  • I spent hours alone in my room, turning the floor space into a Liddle Kiddle town. Each doll had its own home and story line. Frequent natural disasters swept in and required my intervention to save the town. 
In those snippets of memory I find the origins of my love of reading, word play and storytelling.

I guess what I’m saying is that our first loves are often our enduring loves. If a childhood fascination with something has gotten buried over the years, writing about it lets you play archeologist and uncover it. You can excavate the memory tenderly and with respect for that child and his or her world.

I think, like me, you’ll find there’s a bedrock truth in those memories of what we loved that can serve our writing. It really doesn’t matter if we are trying to heal or trying to make words come alive on paper.

So, try it now… I promise you’ll find something revealing:

When I was a kid I loved to…