Tuesday, September 27, 2016


post by Lynn

I confess. I eavesdrop – anywhere and everywhere.

I will catch a voice, a murmur, any sign that an exchange is taking place. I tune in. Then I skulk away and write it all down in a small notebook.

Here’s a sampling of the results:

At a cafĂ© in Denver –

“I had a cousin who shot himself in the head just minutes before he was going to sign the papers to make him a partner in his father’s business. What does that tell you?” 

At the airport –

“My grandma never got a social security check. She never earned a salary. When she was old, her only money came from two houses she rented out. Can’t tell you how many times some scumbag stiffed her on the rent and left a house trashed. And that being her only income.” 

On a bench –

“My hearing aid doesn’t work worth a damn. You can say it twice if you want, don’t make a difference.” 

Next booth over at the diner –

“Yep, come sheep shearing time, he asked me, ‘You want my best crew, or the one that speaks English?’ Course I told him I wanted his best crew and by God, those Mexicans work hard for the money, ya gotta give ‘em that.” 

In line at the post office –

“How’s your boy doin’, Jim?” followed by “Still in the marines, for now… not checkin’ them doors in Fallujah anymore though, thank God.” 

Shameless, aren’t I?

 I suggest you try out my guilty habit, if you haven’t already. Writers can learn by listening in.

I mean, how do people really talk to each other? What about the silences, the non-answers? Do they answer every question? Do they interrupt, leave sentences half-finished?

All that and more.

Eavesdropping helps you develop an ear for dialogue, and writing it down gives you practice in putting the sounds onto the page as truthfully as possible.

And stories? Try and tell me there are no stories in the snippets of conversation I’ve shared with you.

So go ahead, listen in.

Just let me know if you’re in the booth next to mine, okay?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


‘Cause if you cannot make yourself a good noise 
tell me what you're doing here? 
 - John Gorka 

Lynn here:

Chris Ellsworth, in his many-chaptered blog/story Slash/20, introduced me to a new term: sacking out.

It’s an old timer’s term for desensitizing a horse, a way to get him so he doesn't spook so easily at strange things.

First you tie the horse to a stout post and then you wave a feed sack at him until he quits spooking at it.

Since I pretty much equate everything to writing, I asked myself, “How do I sack myself out as a writer?”

One way, I realized, is to participate in open mics. By sharing a short piece of writing out loud in front of an audience, I desensitize myself so I don't spook at the sound of my own words.

Then I wondered what other writers have to say on the subject, so I asked a few. Their contributions are below.

Chime in, if you are so inclined, in the comments section and share your thoughts on Open Mics.

See you at the next open mic reading 

By Michael Shay 

Some beginning writers would rather get a root canal than read their work in public. They may lack confidence in their work or may just be “mic” shy. I’ve seen many newbies sign up for readings, specifically those held each June at the Wyoming Writers, Inc., conference. “I’ve never read in public before,” newcomers may say, knees quaking, fear dripping from their eyes. Still, they get up and read their own work, defying shyness for the first time. Their voices may quaver. They may mumble their words or speak too fast. But at the end of five minutes, they can resume their seats, confident that they will never again be a rookie at an open mic reading.

It’s an appreciative crowd. They have been to the microphone and survived. We’ve heard from published writers with numerous books. We’ve heard from unpublished teen writers. We’ve heard from Wyoming Poets Laureate such as Rose Hill, Echo Klaproth and Pat Frolander. We’ve heard from me, the guy who often serves as emcee. At long last, I now am a public speaker.

That wasn’t always so.

I was 39 before I dared read in front of an audience. I was in graduate school, studying creative writing. Reading your work aloud was part of the program. My first efforts were not recorded for posterity. I mumbled my work into a microphone and quickly sat. Later, I upped the volume but read so fast that only New Yorkers could have understood.

“Slow down and enunciate,” my profs told me.

I did. I watched experienced writers, especially poets. Words are so crucial to poets. I remember watching Chicago’s Gwendolyn Brooks read her famous poem, “We Real Cool:

We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk Late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Die soon. 

Brooks pronounced each syllable and moved deliberately from one word to the next. It’s a short poem, only 24 words. But she took her time, emphasized the punctuation with short pauses. Those final three words hit me like a punch to the gut.

The idea is the same for prose writers. Take your time, and don’t worry about finishing the story or chapter. Pronounce the words. Vary your cadence. Pause when needed. It’s OK to stop for a couple of beats if the audience laughs. When actor Gene Wilder died recently, tributes talked about his ability to use pauses to milk audience laughs. Words are important but silence can be your friend.

Open Mic Can Inspire Students

By Cindy Jackelen 

As a teacher, I continually strive to inspire students to write for authentic purposes. Imagine, if as adults, all of our writing was done for teachers who gave us feedback with a red pen with a grade at the top of the paper. Not a very inspiring thought, is it? However, teachers are charged with teaching students to write narratives, arguments and informational text so they are prepared for college and careers. But adult writers know writing does not always fit those neat categories outlined in Wyoming State Standards. Creative teachers find ways to inspire our youth to write creatively in many ways and develop their voices as writers.

Open Mic gives students a genuine audience to have their voices heard, regardless of the genre being written.  In primary school, many teachers provide an “author’s chair” for students to share their writing. This early version of open mic builds a classroom community of writers who attentively listen and celebrate the piece with the author.

In upper grades, teachers use Open Mic in a variety of ways to encourage students to write beyond the classroom. I’ve hosted lunchtime poetry club open mics, during which students share deeply personal struggles through poetry. A community of writers allows them to test their emerging voices in a safe setting.

In high school, many teachers collaborate with public libraries or local coffee shops to host poetry slams, a competition using elimination rounds for the reading or performance of poetry. Next year’s National Poetry Slam competition (http://poetryslam.com/) will be held in Denver, CO August 7-12, 2017. This is a great opportunity for Wyoming students and teachers.

One of my fondest recollections as a teacher is students staying after school to orally rehearse their writing for a coffee house open mic night. Proud parents and other audience members were genuinely delighted to hear the voices of emerging student writers.

Head Held High

By Darrah Perez 

Head held high, I look out into my new audience, I always get nervous in front of a new crowd. My voice a little shaky, but knowing it must be heard, slowly reciting every word.

Every time, I see the words open mic--my heart flutters, knowing an opportune door has just opened to share with an audience; my voice, my message, my world.

Being afraid, and to have fear is normal in the life of a writer. Success can be a scary thing, but, it shouldn't be. The ripples and tides that get us to sit on top of the world to peer down upon the dream: the dream of being who we really are; we are meant to be writers and poets and artists.

So you see, to take advantage of every opportunity, to perform in every open mic, and to share the message within our hearts, is indeed, exactly what we are meant to do. Open mics are considered, "blessings in disguise."

Acting Out at Open Mic Sessions

By Abbie Taylor

I was born in New York City to want-to-be actors who realized the importance of having a day job in order to support a child. That didn’t stop them from acting, though. We moved from New York to Colorado to Arizona and finally to Wyoming, and in just about every town, my parents became involved in local community theater.

As a child, fascinated, I watched my parents rehearse. Alone in my room, I acted out my own scenes. In Tucson when I was eight, I got my first role, a small one, in the local theater guild’s production of Lysistrata by Aristophanes. Despite my limited vision, I was able to acquire minor roles in high school and college plays. I was also active in the speech team where I performed interpretations of drama and poetry for competitions and won a few awards.

Therefore, when I attended my first Wyoming Writers conference over ten years ago, I was not daunted by the prospect of two open mic sessions. I wouldn’t win any awards for my performance, but it would be a great way to share my work.

The first night, I read an essay about how I thought my parents’ fights were plays they were rehearsing. After the first few paragraphs, the audience’s laughter nearly knocked me flat on my back. I’d spent months polishing the piece and reading it for practice and forgotten how funny it was. I managed to get through the rest of my performance and keep a straight face, and many people afterward told me how much they enjoyed it.

Since then, I’ve usually been one of the first to sign up for open mic sessions at workshops and other events. Because I love to sing and have been told I’m good at that, I enjoy sharing poems I’ve written that incorporate song lyrics and sing the lyrics, as I read the poems. You can hear an example at https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/when%20star.mp3.mp3 . This past summer, fellow writer Christine Valentine and I brought down the house in Riverton during this years’ Wyoming Writers conference with our rendition of Christine’s poem, “Driven Insane by Mitzi Gaynor,” which uses lyrics from South Pacific and Brigadoon. Christine has written another poem she thinks we can do together so maybe by next summer if not sooner…

Instead of being on a stage under bright lights strutting someone else’s stuff, I’m in front of a lectern in a meeting room, sharing my own work, promoting my books. My latest, a memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, is now available from Createspace, Amazon, and Smashwords. To learn more and order from these sources, go to http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com/memoir.htm.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Making Words Speak in a Different Language

Susan chimes in: Ever wonder what goes into translating a work of writing  from one language to another? When we looked at the Sept. 22-23 Casper College  and ARTCORE Literary Conference offerings, we saw that Julia Whyde, an instructor at the college, is doing a session on that very topic. In another session, she'll share the Chinese “mountains and rivers” poetic tradition. Julia was kind enough to guest post for us to share some of the issues she faces in translation.

by Julia Whyde

Umberto Eco, the great semiotician, translator, medievalist, and writer who recently passed away, insisted that translating should introduce readers to multiple possible “worlds” (See his Experiences in Translation for more information). With Eco’s ideal in mind, literary translation, for me, is a process that begins by getting myself (language habits and assumptions, my cultural associations) out of the way long enough to enter into the original text. I have yet to become completely proficient at this kind of simultaneous immersion and “letting go,” but translation for me begins in vulnerability – entering into an uncomfortable space where the “I” with its world view is held in abeyance long enough to encounter another world.

I am not a cipher or medium, however. At some point, I have to pull myself back into my language, and the associations and interpretations of the world inherent in language, and think about what will work for an English language reader (which, of course, is not a pure descriptor; there are many versions of “English language reader” and these also require their own levels of translation!).

Prioritizing is important here: I try to think about which aspects of the text I want to bring to life. When I translate by myself, I usually work purely in academic writing, which is easier, I think, since I can read closely, provide definitions, and then write on for pages at a time – discussing nuances, ambiguities and complications to an audience already familiar with theory or the original text. This type of translation rarely works well outside of academic writing. When translating for a more general audience, I work first with the authors or experts in the language and culture (usually native speakers). I spend much of my time listening, allowing the native speakers to do the translation heavy lifting work and provide information on language, cultural, and historical cues. This includes the jokes, puns, and intentional ambiguities that often differentiate literature from technical writing.

When I work on a team, I often ask to what extent the native speaker/writer wants the text to remain “distant:” maintaining names, measurements, et al. in the original language and using footnotes to explain names, events, or unique structural elements. The alternative is to make the text as close to the “target language” as possible. Such a process attempts, to varying degrees, to find names, cultural allusions, or jokes in the target language’s cultural and language-background that would, hopefully, evoke the same reader reaction as the original in the original language. This collaborative process takes longer, but I generally feel as though the translations are more fluid and engaging as literature.

Ultimately, however, I am always aware of the “translator/traitor” (traduttore, traditore) conflict; I have to choose those elements that I feel might most evoke the original to a reading audience, and this often comes at the cost of other aspects in the text.


Julia Whyde grew up in Wyoming. She holds a BA in Spanish from the College of St. Catherine  and an MA in Comparative Literature from Indiana University, Bloomington. She is currently ABD (all but dissertation) in Comparative Literature and, when not teaching at Casper College, parenting, and enjoying Wyoming's great public lands, spends time revising her PhD dissertation. See her at the Casper College and ARTCORE Literary Conference Sept. 22-23.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

30th Annual Literary Conference Looks at "Migrations"

By Lisa S. Icenogle, reposted from Casper College. We will have a guest post from conference presenter Julia Whyde on the blog on Tuesday.

The 30th Annual Casper College and ARTCORE Literary Conference “Migrations” will be held Thursday and Friday, Sept. 22-23, 2016. The conference will feature a variety of writers and educators who will give both presentations and workshops during the two-day event.

Thursday morning will feature three speakers: writer Mark Spragg at 9, Julia Whyde at 10 and Linda Hogan at 11. Spragg, who along with his wife, Virginia, wrote the screenplay for the Lasse Hallstrom film “An Unfinished Life,” will speak on ”The Necessity of Narrative.” Whyde, Casper College English instructor, will share the Chinese “mountains and rivers” poetic tradition through an introduction to Wei’s “Wheel River Collection.” Hogan will discuss her work as a Chickasaw poet, essayist, novelist, and activist.

A banquet will be held at noon at the Goodstein Visual Arts Center and will include the Goodstein Art Gallery exhibit “Blackfeet Indian Tipis: Design and Legend.” The exhibit will feature a display of silkscreened plates, which show how tipis from the encampments of Blackfeet or Blood Reserves in 1944 or 45 appeared.

That afternoon two workshops will be held. The first, “Establishing Voice,” will feature Spragg who will focus on how a central character’s syntax, grammar, tempo, pace, and concept of time reveal story. The workshop will run from 1:15-2:45 p.m. Whyde will present “Translator/Traitor” from 3-4:30 p.m. Whyde’s workshop will provide attendees with an opportunity to think about issues in translation and will include practice translation exercises.

That night, Montana Skies, an award-winning musical duo playing electric cello and guitar across a wide variety of genres, will perform in concert at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church located at 318 E. 6th Street. Tickets for the concert will be available at the door and also through ARTCORE.

Friday morning’s offerings will begin at 8:30 when Rachel Clifton will announce the Wyoming Arts Council 2017 Fellowship Recipients in poetry, fiction and nonfiction. At 9 Joseph Campbell, Ph.D. will present “Breaking in to the Business: A Talk.” The novelist and Casper College English instructor will provide participants with an overview of the process of how to get their writing into the hands of the right people. A special showing of “Peacock’s War” will begin at 10 a.m. and will be followed at 11 a.m. by filmmaker and writer Doug Peacock who will discuss “Combat Veterans, Wilderness Warriors: The Legacy of George Washington Hayduke.”

Two workshops will be held in the afternoon, the first featuring Hogan from 1:30-3 followed by Campbell from 3:15-4:45. In “Enchantment of the Ordinary,” Hogan will focus on the art of poetry. Campbell’s workshop, titled “Take the Safety Off” will focus on ways for writers to make their work more edgy and transgressive by taking away habits that can make their work safe for themselves and their readers. This particular workshop is for those 18 and older only.

The conference will finish with an evening poetry slam moderated by George Vlastos beginning at 8 at the Metro Coffee Company, located at 241 S. David Street in downtown Casper.

All morning presentations will take place in Durham Auditorium, located in Aley Hall, while all afternoon workshops will take place in Strausner Hall, Room 217. Aley Hall, Strausner Hall, and the Goodstein Visual Arts Center are located on the Casper College campus. Continuing Education Units are available for each workshop. All events, with the exception of the Montana Skies concert, are free and open to the public, but registration is required for all workshops. To sign up for workshops or for more information, contact Ann Dalton, workforce-training specialist, at 307-268-2085 or adalton@caspercollege.edu.

The 2016 Casper College and ARTCORE Literary Conference “Migrations” is sponsored by ARTCORE, the Wyoming Arts Council, Metro Coffee Company, the Parkway Plaza Hotel and Convention Center, the Casper College Art Galleries, the Casper College Foundation, and Casper College. A complete listing for the conference can be found at www.caspercollege.edu/literary-conference.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Talk Like a Pirate ... Within Reason

by Susan

Avast me hearties! International Talk Like a Pirate Day is coming up September 19. Perhaps the rest of the world doesn't notice, but librarians take this celebration seriously. In fact, the University of Wyoming Library purchases Mango Languages for all Wyoming residents to use, and you can find a short course in Pirate among the offerings. (Your library card and PIN gets you in.)

The event got me thinking about writing in dialect -- conveying the accents, rhythms, and word choices of someone who "ain't from 'round these parts," so to speak.

Writing dialogue, in general, is a balancing act of making it sound as if real humans said it without replicating what real humans actually verbalize. No one wants to read all the "umms" and "errs" and awkward moments where someone excuses themselves for passing gas.

Dialect raises that tightrope a little higher. Too little, and it might not be clear it's a pirate talking. Too much can be difficult to read. Too little and you can sanitize a character. Too much may even descend into stereotype.

Since I'm no expert -- I only know how much of the stuff I can tolerate as a reader -- I thought I'd collect a few links for you:

I happen to like a light touch where dialect is concerned. I never could make heads or tails of Brer Rabbit as a child. And although Their Eyes Were Watching God is a classic, and an amazing story, I had trouble deciphering the language. On the other hand, many people admire it for the very language that made me struggle. You'll have to find your own balance.

As with any writing, you can only get better with practice. Give writing dialect a try. And don't forget to Talk Like a Pirate on September 19. Arrrrr!