Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Holding On

Susan chimes in: We were intrigued when Joey Truman, a novelist from New York City who was born in Wyoming contacted us. Geography informs our writing lives, and Joey has gone from the sparse, open spaces of the West to the bustling excitement of the big city (and they don't get much bigger). Along the way, he has gathered insights he shares here with you.

Guest post by Joey Truman

Joey Truman posing on his 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme
in the badlands around Worland.
When I moved to New York I was nineteen. Well not yet, not specifically. I was living on Race street in Denver, just off of Colfax, the longest street in America. My friend Iver had come blazing through town on his way to Tacoma to meet a friend of his, hold on, I just got ahead of myself.

Denver was the Big City. The catalyst to the world. Being from a small town in Wyoming it appeared vast, foreboding, and dangerous. But there wasn’t another option. Salt Lake was insulated and Chicago was too far away. Denver seemed like a cattle guard, scary at first, but if you understood it, it was just something to be navigated. 

I had been living in Powell, playing in a band with a couple of friends and wishing for something more. A friend of ours was living in Denver at the time, and needed roommates. Turns out that this was something common. Something we would be good at, filling up space for friends with houses. 

We took the Greyhound to Greeley. We spent a few days there playing music in peoples living rooms and smelling burning blood from the meat processing plant. That smell still sticks to me to this day.
Joey's band playing a street fair in Laramie in the '90s
When we got to Denver we moved in with our friend Mike. There were two bedrooms and five of us. Mike got his own room because he had the lease and the four of us in the band shared the other bedroom. Nobody had a mattress. We all slept in sleeping bags. On the floor.

We got jobs at Ticket Master and took the 25 bus to work. At night we drank beer and thought about the future. We were poor but happy. We had a rehearsal studio downtown, and the band sounded good.

When my friend Iver came through town he told us about his apartment in New York, about how he had an extra two rooms and the rent was cheap. We stayed up all night talking about moving there. We decided to move there.

This was October, 1996.

Now writing in New York City.
I think of this often because it informs the way I write. I was always so terrified of the outside world while growing up in Wyoming. Even Denver, the most milk-toast of cities, and I don’t mean that as an insult, but I have been all over the world, and Denver is a very easy and simple city, but it was so absolutely terrifying that just hanging out on Colfax gave me a jolt, the weirdoes and the disabused. And how scared I was moving to New York, and how tame it seems now. I don’t know, just the thought process of dealing with that makes me embarrassed.

But at the same time when I go back home I find myself on the edge of mountains during a casual hike, like, wherever, Carter Mountain, and can’t look down because I am unsure of my footing. And my brother telling me to relax, you couldn’t fall down even if you wanted to. 

But here, here in New York, I am the essence of courage. Making art that no one else would make, because it is on the perimeter, and almost nobody else would like it except a few people in Wyoming, I don’t know, I think of my brothers hunting sheep in the Bighorns and I think:

Art is not scary, who gives a sh*t, it’s just Ideas.

You can’t be afraid of Ideas.

I think of this every time I go to put something out in the world:

You couldn’t fall, even if you wanted to.

-----

Joey Truman is a Writer/Performer/Musician/Visual Artist/Actor in precisely that order. He is from Wyoming. He now lives in Brooklyn, NY. For the last 15 years He has worked most notably with The Collapsable Giraffe and Findlay//Sandsmark (Iver Findlay, Jim Findlay, Marit Sandsmark, Pal Asle Petersen). During this period he has also worked with Jim Dawson, Jeff Sugg, Jack Warren, Gandalf Gavan, Young Jean Lee, Diane Madden, Eric Dyer, Stephen Moses, Claudia La Rocco, among other very notable artists.  As a musician he is currently in three bands: Um, Wet Dream Machine, and Bronco Dilator.
He has written 2 novels, and has three in progress. His first novel, Postal Child, was published by Whiskey Tit Press. His latest novel, Killing the Math, is set in Worland, Wyo.: "Five brothers, one just on the cusp of realizing he might be too big for the place. What could possibly go wrong?"


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

PEP TALK

post by Lynn

I remember one time I was visiting my father, Jim Griffith, and he leaned over, patted my leg and said, “Little Lynnie, the cheerleader.” He had a smile on his face and his voice was warm, even proud.

I was in my forties at the time.

“Dad,” I said, “That was more than twenty years ago!”

I didn’t say out loud what I was thinking, which was: Is that all you can say about me? Haven’t I done anything since high school worth noting?

Lynn, third from the left. Go Tigers!
I was a cheerleader at Niobrara County High School for two and a half years. But if you’re thinking of a Hollywood cheerleader with blond hair in a ponytail and a fluorescent-white smile, think again. This was Lusk. There were 42 students in my graduating class. (We’re great, we’re alive—we’re the Class of 75!) Those of you who went to small high schools know that kids there are involved in pretty much everything; there are so many spots to fill and so few students.

So, yeah, I was a cheerleader. I was also a National Honor Society member, played drums in the band, joined Spanish Club and FHA, played an old lady in the Junior Class Play and worked on the yearbook.

National Honor Society; Lynn in the middle,
focused on keeping her knees together
I tried out for cheerleading my sophomore year, but didn’t get a spot. Jeanie Oliver beat me out. I like to think it was because she was blond and shapely, and I was… not. But maybe I blew the try-outs. At any rate, mid-semester it was discovered that Jeanie’s grades had slipped, so I got the job after all.

I went after it whole-hog, catching up quickly. I studied the routines, practiced at home in front of the mirror and kept my uniforms spotless. I even learned how to do the splits, which was recently permitted since we had a new cheerleading sponsor. The previous sponsor, Mrs. Bramlet, forbade the splits—something to do with it not being “virginal.”

My senior year I was elected by the squad to be Head Cheerleader. I think it was because I could yell really loud. Everybody in the county knew what the cheer was going to be when I bellowed, “Two Bits!”

Cheerleaders can be pensive, on occasion.
Lately I’ve been wondering about Dad’s statement, “Little Lynnie, the cheerleader.”

It’s true that I like to cheer people on, especially my fellow writers. Just the other day I got an email from a writing buddy—let’s call her Ruth—who was struggling after a writing critique. She was wondering if she should give up on fiction, thinking maybe she didn’t know what the average person wants.

I sent her this response:

A CHAT WITH RUTH’S EGO

Lynn: What makes you think Ruth should be able to write a perfect novel, right out of the gate?

Ego: Well, if it were up to me, she wouldn't even try to write. Much too risky. She might get hurt!

Lynn: But she likes to write and she's good at it. Obviously, it enriches her life. When she gave it up for a while, she got really sad.

Ego: Yeah, but it's my job to remind her of the dangers. To tell her daily that she might fail, she might not do it perfectly. To point out that whatever genre she is currently working in is probably not the “right” one for her. That keeps her scrambling and ensures that she doesn't get much done. I'm sure she'll thank me some day for keeping her from failure.

Lynn: And from success too.

Ego: Well, yeah. I guess I just want her to keep from trying. Pretty much anything.

Lynn: That's so kind of you.

Ruth, darling, this has nothing—nada—zip to do with writing. Your problem is you let the numbnuts in your mind rule the show. You listen too much to the critic, the ego, the naysaying voice.

Get this: we ALL have reservations, questions, insecurities, negative voices in our heads. Sorry, you're not that special :-) It's just that most of us don't hand them the microphone and say,
"Tell me again how shitty my writing is."

Suggestion #1: Ignore those nasty voices and keep writing, wherever the juice is: poetry, nonfiction, fiction. The more you do that, the quieter the voices will get. They never go away entirely. You have to work on in spite of them.

Suggestion #2: Screw what "the average person wants in fiction"—since when were you even interested in the average person? You're quirky, oddball, one of a kind, and that's why people love you. Dampen that down for the sake of a story and I will give you a hiding you'll never forget. Damn! Don't talk to me about writing for the average person again. Ever. You've got a unique voice, a talent for sardonic wit, and an oh-my-God-that's-strange imagination. Write for people like THAT!

Suggestion #3: It's way too early to be seeking out feedback on your novel. Write it. Then let it sit. Then dive into revision. Complete drafts #2, #3, #4... and on. Learn more about the art of writing fiction. Yeah, that sounds like a lot of work, and requires a lot of patience. Develop it.

The analogy that arises for me in this whole situation is: Ruth grabs a tennis racket and takes a swing. Thinks she should be going to Wimbledon. Crumbles in despair when that doesn't work out for her.

Just write, my friend. Just keep writing.

~~ End of Pep Talk ~~

Ruth liked it. I think my urging helped. She gives me encouragement, too, usually by saying things like, "I love the way you put words together."



I also give myself pep talks, usually when I journal in the mornings:

The anthology editing is almost done. Finish strong, Lynn! 

Story rejected, so what? Submit again. Today! 

The critique said I need to tighten the story. I’m not sure what that means, exactly. Grab that book on revision and find out—Go! 

Dad and me

My father died in 2001, but I hear his voice often, offering counsel, giving encouragement, and, yes, saying,

“Little Lynnie, the cheerleader.”

Maybe he knew something about me I didn’t know about myself?


How about you? 
Do you cheer yourself on? 
Who gives you pep talks?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Why Don't You Write Me a Letter

by Susan

This year my darling sister-in-law developed complications halfway through her pregnancy, right at the time they did the gender reveal. I nicknamed the kid Baby Zip, since he was trying to arrive too fast. She was on enforced bed rest; the rest of us were on tenterhooks.

Living 1,500 miles away, I couldn't very well pop over to their house and bake them lasagna. I did the only thing I could think of: I wrote letters. The old-fashioned type in an envelope, with a stamp, sent via the trusty U.S. Postal Service. I thought it might give her something to read while flattened. Plus, since letters are a rarity these days, I thought it might be a nice surprise.

As I wrote to her, I found that I was benefiting from the process as a writer. How? Let me count the ways:
  • I was writing to only one reader: I've heard it said when you write for everyone, you write for no one. No matter how many readers we may have, we connect to each as individuals. Having only one reader in mind to please was good practice.
  • I was writing from my heart: I was writing things that meant something to me. I was delving into emotion. I was trying to make her laugh. I wanted my writing to be a gift to her. As writers, we need to bring that personal emotion into our work and that desire to express something that touches someone else's heart.
  • I was writing in a natural voice: I was having a conversation, not trying to impress anyone. I was using plain language and not running for a thesaurus every third word. We all know how stories seem to flow so naturally verbally but can become stilted when we put them into text. This was a good exercise in writing in that natural speaking voice.
  • Most importantly -- I WAS WRITING: I am notorious for getting so blocked I can't even journal. Writing letters gave me the motivation to put words on the page. (If you're one of those prolific types who drips words from pen every waking moment, I envy hate congratulate you.) 

Kyden and baby brother Kole.
Photo by Melissa Wostl.


My good writer-friend Beth has worked with Natalie Goldberg, who discusses writing as a practice, and that can include writing letters. If you haven't tried it in a while, I recommend giving it a go. You'll keep your writing muscles limber, and you might just make someone's day.

I am happy to report that all ended well. Baby Zip arrived in late May, barely a week shy of his full-term due date. Kole (their name for him, I'm still calling him Zip) is healthy and was a hefty nine-plus pounds at birth. Three-year-old Kyden is thrilled beyond measure to be a big brother.

And what did I send for his zeroth birthday? Why books, of course. The first step in turning that kid into a writer is turning him into a reader. Maybe a few years down the road he'll write me a letter.





Monday, June 13, 2016

Free Poetry Workshops with Lori Howe


by Susan
 
Wyoming poet Lori Howe is traveling the state, offering free poetry workshops and holding book signings. She provided fantastic inspiration at Wyoming Writers Inc.'s recent conference. (I came away with two draft poems I'm eager to revise and polish from her sessions.) If you didn't get a chance to learn from her at conference, or if you did and want another dose, here is where she'll be:

WORKSHOPS
  • Casper - June 13, 5:30-8:00 p.m. at Natrona County Library
  • Sheridan - June 14, 6:00-8:30 p.m. at Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library
  • Basin - June 16, 6:00-8:30 p.m. at Big Horn County Library
  • Cody - June 18, 1:00-4:00 p.m. at Park County Library
  • Thermopolis - June 21, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Hot Springs County Library
  • Rock Springs - June 27, 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Rock Springs Library
  • Green River - June 28, 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Sweetwater County Library
  • Pinedale - June 29, 5:30-8:00 p.m. at Sublette County Library
  • Centennial - June 30, 11 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. at Centennial Branch Library
READINGS/SIGNINGS
  • Sheridan - June 15, reading/signing from 5:30-7:00 p.m. at Sheridan Stationery Books, and Gallery
  • Cody - June 17, book signing from 1:00-3:00 p.m. at  Cody's Legends Bookstore
  • Thermopolis - June 20, reading/signing from 5:30-7:00 p.m. at  Thermopolis Storyteller Books

Lori will also be at the Jackson Hole Writers Conference June 22-26. There's still time to register, and anyone who attended the Wyoming Writers Inc. conference may request a discount.

Lori Howe holds an M.F.A. in poetry, and is a doctoral candidate in Literacy Studies at the University of Wyoming. She has been teaching creative writing workshops with all kinds of writing populations for the last ten years, at the college level and in communities around Wyoming. She is the editor in chief of Clerestory: Poems of the Mountain West and the author of Cloudshade: Poems of the High Plains and Voices at Twilight.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A BIT OF BRICOLAGE

post by Lynn

Two things have converged in my life recently and seem to have fused in my mind. The first is that my omnivorous reading habits (which I discuss in this post: Bears, Cows and Flies—Oh, My!) led me to a new word. New to me anyway:

Bricolage: something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be at hand, patched together.

As an architectural term it refers to the jumbled effect produced by close proximity of buildings from different periods and in different architectural styles.

I instantly cottoned to the word. It’s from the French and they use it to refer to odd jobs or do-it-yourself projects. Bree-coh-lahge. I love the way it rolls off my tongue. TrĂ©s bien!


I’m also a fan of bricolage in the architectural sense. I find I am repelled by samey-samey architecture. Case in point: Breckenridge, Colorado. There are ordinances in this lovely mountain town that require structures—even fast food joints—to build in a Victorian look-alike style. The result makes me shudder. Faux Victorian elements everywhere. I don’t mean to diss the fine people of Breckenridge, but I just don’t appreciate the effort at consistency. I like a community that looks like it grew up over time, and is a mix of this and that in terms of structure and style.

The second thing is that I attended the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference this past weekend. It was held at the Wind River Casino in Riverton.

I’d like to give a shout out to the staff at the casino for being so cordial and helpful to the writers in attendance. As far as I could tell very few of us spent much time at the blackjack tables or slot machines, so they can’t have made a killing off of us. I especially appreciated Gary. He gave me a personal tour of the Northern Arapaho museum which is housed in a small space near the hotel’s registration desk. He was a real storyteller, jokester and gentleman—an unexpected treasure in my conference experience.

A Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference is a village, and about as bricolage as you could ever find. It has to be in order to meet the needs of the writers in this state who are small in number but diverse in genre and interests.



In the WW, Inc. conference village, the hotel hallways are side streets where you might run into old cronies, wide-eyed newbies or even a sage poet/pilot who’ll give you a wink and an encouraging word.





Open mic sessions on Friday and Saturday nights are the coffee house of this village. You listen, and emit that magical “Ah” at the end of poems, the one that says the poet hit the sweet spot. Or you approach the front of the room yourself, try like hell to hold your paper without shaking, and read the words you have crafted, out loud. The fear subsides as you feel every writer in the room lean in, urging you on.

A miracle: they laugh when they are supposed to, or tear up as you intended. The rush from feeling the impact that your writing has had on other human beings will power your efforts long after the conference has ended.


The village plaza is the general session room where meals are shared, awards are awarded and where town crier Tom Spence announces whatever needs announcing, in a style all his own. You can linger there and share your cringe-worthiest insecurities about your writing with someone you just met, but feel you can trust.




You wander into the construction zone where John Calderazzo, master nonfiction builder, works. He’s a writer who knows how to frame and brace, hew and grout words into a structure. When you share with him your half-built poem or essay, he will stand back with you and look it over. Together you can discuss the most important question as you inspect the bearing wall of words: “But will it stand?”


When you enter Lori Howe’s cottage-like workshop space, you feel like plopping down in a chair. Maybe sipping some spearmint tea. Her smile and soft voice invite you into her poetry world. Her writing prompt prods you to invite multiple voices into a poem, as she did in “Old Carbon, Wyoming," where the long-passed voices of a seamstress, a glassblower and a baker enunciate the story into existence.



There is a campfire in this village, too, tended carefully by Joseph Marshall III.

His stories flicker and flare and time dissolves as you lose yourself in his deep-bass voice, learning about—no, experiencing—a different time and place.

His admonition to embrace your writing as a calling lift you and send you home with renewed purpose.




And, of course, there is a bookstore in this village.

Did you doubt it?


I want to offer my thanks to the Wyoming Writers, Inc. board of directors and volunteers who build this village anew each year in a different Wyoming town.


BY THE WAY

The Writing Wyoming blog is not officially affiliated with Wyoming Writers, Inc. This blog is a project by two writers, myself and Susan Mark. Yes, we are WW, Inc. members and we absolutely support the organization, but the blog and WW, Inc. are separate entities.

Just wanted to clear that up.

SUBMISSION OPPORTUNITY

Lori Howe has graciously invited us all to consider submitting to an upcoming anthology titled “Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone.” Lori will serve as editor and the publisher is Sastrugi Press. They are seeking writing that “gets at the heart of life in this wild and beautiful state, and which offers readers a lens as unique and authentic as daily life in the mountains, towns, and on the high plains we call home.”


NOT REQUIRED, BUT SUGGESTED, READING

Intrigued about Joseph Marshall III? Visit his website, and read this Huffington Post article for a taste of his writing and wisdom.

For a look at one of my favorite edifices constructed by John Calderazzo, read this Brevity short piece titled “Lost on Colfax Avenue.” Small IS beautiful!