Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Writing Opportunities in Wyoming

Susan here: today just want to let you know about some contests and events coming up for writers in Wyoming and beyond. Both these organizations are near and dear to our hearts — Susan is president of WyoPoets, and Lynn serves on the board of Wyoming Writers, Inc. We encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities:

WyoPoets Chapbook Contest
Deadline October 15, 2017
This is a members-only contest, but it's easy to join WyoPoets, and only $20 a year to be part of a wonderful organization.

Theme is Hunger and Yearning: Hunger denied and yearning fulfilled. Dreams dashed and wants satisfied. What do your mind, soul, body ache for? What is your deepest desire? Have you found it, or do you still long for it? Our judge, Art Elser, suggests this might include:

  • Hunger for justice 
  • Hunger for a simpler life 
  • Yearning for some life-time dream 
  • Yearning for someone long lost friend, person, parent 
  • Yearning of a teenager for city life 
  • Yearning of someone who wants to go back to childhood 
  • Hunger for peace in the world 
  • Yearning to be a better person, poet, writer, parent, grandparent 
  • Yearning for a trip to the home of immigrant grandparents, parents, great grandparents

These are just idea-starters -- there are many other variations on this theme.

Download the guidelines and send your entry by Oct. 15, 2017. Chapbook contest open to WyoPoets members. Not a member? Join us! You may send your membership fee separately to our treasurer, or include it with your submission. Questions? Contact wyopoets@gmail.com.

WyoPoets Eugene V. Shea National Poetry Contest
Opens October 1, 2017; Deadline December 15, 2017
The WyoPoets invite submissions to the 2018 Eugene V. Shea National Poetry Contest. First prize is $100, second place $50, third $30, and fourth $20. Up to five honorable mentions will be awarded. Poems, published or unpublished, of up to 40 lines, including title and line breaks, are eligible. Entry fee is $3 plus $1 per poem entered, no limit on number of poems entered. Questions may be directed to Katie Smith, contest chair, at wyopoets@gmail.comDownload full guidelines.

This annual contest is named in honor of Eugene V. Shea of Hanna, a long-time member and past president of WyoPoets. Shea chaired the national contest for eight years, represented WyoPoets at numerous meetings of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, and served as a juror for poetry contests in other states. A prolific writer, he wrote more than 1,300 poems and published eight volumes of poetry.

WyoPoets 2018 Spring Workshop
April 27-28, Cheyenne, Wyo.
WyoPoets is pleased to announce that our 2018 workshop will be held in Cheyenne on April 27-28. Friday evening at 6:30 we will meet at the Laramie County Library, 220 Pioneer Ave., for an open poetry reading. On Saturday from 9:00am to 4:00pm, award-winning Colorado poet Art Elser will share his insights on poetry at the Lions Park Community House in Cheyenne. A light morning snack, coffee, and lunch will be served. The cost will be $50.00 per person, with some youth scholarships available. Please contact Chere Hagopian at 307-287-6413 or chere@batteryship.com with any questions. More info coming soon at http://www.wyopoets.org/spring-workshop.html and on our Facebook page.

An added bonus to the conference: Dubois is beautiful!
Wyoming Writers, Inc. 2018 Conference
June 1-3, Dubois, Wyo.
Save the date! Lynn here: if you're like me, your summer gets planned out well ahead of spring (aka mud season). I already have several dates on my calendar for June--yikes! That's just the way it is for people who have a lot of interests, family and desire to travel when it (hopefully) isn't blizzarding out.

One of the dates, a very important one, is for the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference, June 1st through 3rd, 2018. The conference is going to be in Dubois, which is a lively small community, nestled in a beautiful part of Wyoming. I'm on the WW, Inc. board this year, so I've gotten to hear about all the great presenters who are going to teach and inspire us. Not my role to divulge yet, but the program is definitely going to be diverse, engaging and ambitious. Worth a spot on your calendar so go write it down, right now! June 1st through 3rd, 2018.

Check out the website. If you're on social media, follow Wyoming Writers on Twitter and the Facebook page and group. Consider joining! It's the most encouraging group of writers you'll find, and open to all.

A few bonus items
And don't forget...
You can find Writing Wyoming on Twitter and Pinterest, too. We'd love to have you follow us!
 



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Metaphor and Magic in Poetry

by Susan

Anyone who's ever taken a high school English class has, at some point, been introduced to simile and metaphor.

  • Simile compares one thing to another using "like" or "as" or a similar connector: Her eyes are like the sea
  • Metaphor doesn't just compare. It equates the two: Her eyes are the sea.
Both are used often in poetry. Both are powerful techniques. Neither is necessarily better than the other. Yet, I find myself drawn more to metaphor because for me, it evokes a tinge of magic.

When you say her eyes are like the sea, it draws on my senses and logic. Say her eyes are the sea, on the other hand, and it draws on my dreams and imagination. I picture not just the gray-green of her irises. I feel the cresting wave from the kraken rising from the depths, wrapping its tentacles around a doomed ship, its sailors paling with fright.

Perhaps it's because I've always loved fairy tales and magic. Give me a world where wolves speak, rivers demand the occasional drowning victim, and a little girl built of snow comes to life and runs through the woods in a red cape, a red fox companion at her heels.

Metaphor breathes life into inanimate objects so that I can enter into an almost human relationship with them. It makes abstract emotions and experiences concrete so that I may experience them with my senses. And it evokes my sense of wonder.

Lyndi O'Laughlin is a fine Wyoming poet from Kaycee. She has graciously allowed me to publish this poem of hers from Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone: An Anthology of Wyoming Writers (ed. Lori Howe, Sastrugi Press, 2016), that deepens beautifully as rock turns to metaphor partway through.

















Kayak on Spring Run-off

It's a small boat I'm in, a thumbnail really,
spit down the Shoshone as if a tongue
were trying to separate itself from a seed,

and there is a lichen-covered boulder
squatting in the middle of the river,
at its base a muscular current,

like a toilet flushing, and it threatens to
block any forward progress I might be
entertaining in my mind, sucking me

and the kayak closer and closer
until I can't help but notice the tiny
snails attached to the rock;

they must think I'm one of them,
just another snail hauling her house
around on her back.

The boulder has a deep voice,
and he pulls me alongside and asks
if I will stay with him forever;

tells me that he knows how hard
I have tried, and asks me if I am
maybe growing a little exhausted

from all my clamoring for approval.
I jam my paddle in his eye to free myself,
and think of you, what you asked me

on that day before I left you
standing on the porch --
"What's wrong with you?"


Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with simile. I use it myself. And many fine poems employ neither metaphor nor simile. Be aware, however, if you have a simile only because of hesitance to make the leap. Don't let it be a bashful shuffling of the feet or a literary throat-clearing. I dare you: go out on a limb. Make that connection concrete. Her eyes are the sea. See if it creates the magic. If it doesn't, you don't have to use it.

What brought this all to mind was preparing for a poetry reading and presentation. It dawned on me that many of the poems that speak most to me -- including my own -- are those that employ metaphor and let me dabble my toes in fantasy. With that, I'll conclude with one of my own, also from Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone. I'll leave it up to you as to whether the metaphor succeeds.


Canoeing on Saturday

I want to wear this day
raindrop rings on pale olive water
circle upon circle
spreading, joining, fading

I want to wear
fuzzy, waddling, gold-brown goslings
silver trout breaking the surface
yellow warbler -- an egg yolk in flight
slicked umber otter swimming
within and oar's length

"Three yards of this fabric, please."
The clerk grasps the bolt by its clouds
water splashes against her fingers
ducks scatter before her scissors
geese honk in the crisp paper bag

I spread the lake on a table in a sunny room
pin brown tissue pattern to shoreline
run shears down grassy sleeves
toll tracing wheel along the darts that slip
between willows and snags
match front side to front, sew a 5/8" seam
I sew a sheath of rain

At the party, the hostess takes my hand
"That dress is beautiful," she says
"Oh this? I smile,
"I'll have it forever."

-----

Thank you, Lyndi Bell O’Laughlin, for allowing the reprint of her poem. Lyndi's poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse (Lost Horse Press, Fall, 2017), Troubadour: An Anthology of Music-inspired Poetry (Picaroon Poetry Press, 2017), Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone: An Anthology of Wyoming Writers (Sastrugi Press, 2016), Gyroscope Review, The New Verse News, Picaroon Poetry, Unbroken Journal, and elsewhere. She currently serves as Vice President of WyoPoets.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

KIDS AND STRAWBERRIES

post by Lynn

Mom, Aunt Nancy and Uncle Barney
I have been blessed to spend lots of time around kids through the years—the children of friends, my niece and nephews, step-grandchildren and now my grandnephews.

I’ve found that there’s nothing like a kid to bring you great ideas, an amusing twist on life and plenty of chuckles. Not to mention somersaults and bubble gum.

And for writers? Kids are the mother lode.

We can look to them for…

GIVING FRESH WORDS TO SENSORY EXPERIENCES
One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.                                                                          - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
It was the child of a friend who first pointed out to me that sagebrush has a lemony aspect to its scent, and another child who told me that raw broccoli tastes a lot like crunchy dirt.

Kids express their immediate, unsullied reaction to the things they encounter in the world. They haven’t learned all the clich├ęs that adults use. Because of this they can be wonderful guides in explaining things in fresh ways.

Ask a child, "What do you think that smells/tastes/feels/looks/sounds like?"

Take notes accordingly.


MASTERFUL WORD PLAY

As writers we often get into vocabulary ruts. We really need to lighten up and play with words, the way kids do. Even mistakes can be turned into fun new words and phrases to bring originality to our writing.

During make-believe time my granddaughter Claire said to me:

“Okay, you are gonna be the momma alligator. I’ll be the ala-baby-gator.”



And not long ago my grandnephew Mason was asked about where he lives. His response?

“We live in the middle of the nowhere.”

He does have a point there...

Last summer at Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Colorado, there was a marmot sitting in the grass next to the river. I showed it to my grandnephew Lance. He called it a hedgehog.

“No, it’s a marmot,” I said.

Whereby Lance ran around telling everybody, “Come and look. There’s a varmint in the grass!”

OUT-OF-THE-BLUE COMMENTS

Need to get whacked out of logical thinking in order to write more imaginatively? Follow a kid around for a day.

Inside a big gazebo at Elitches amusement park in Denver, there was a sea of colored balls for the kids to play with. Mason was in heaven.

I noticed he only picked up the green balls, though, and asked him why.

“Those are good for the birds,” he said, as if the answer should have been obvious, and went on playing.

Whaaaa? 

SURPRISING WISDOM

I wrote a blog post about the motivating kick-in-the-rear I got from Lance one day, with a simple statement,

“I do my part.”

 AN APPRECIATION OF BOOKS

Jen Campbell, poet, short story writer and author of the Sunday Times bestselling “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops” series, shares some stuff kids have said in her bookstore:

Little girl: I’ve written a book.
Me: Have you? What’s it about?
Little girl: I don’t know. It’s in my head. I haven’t read it yet.

and...

Little girl (whispers): They gave us Kindles to use at school, but I prefer books.
Me: What do you love about books?
Little girl (thinking hard): I like how quiet they are.
Me: Yeah?
Little girl: Yeah. Stories should be quiet, and whisper to you inside your head.


Author and Illustrator Bill Peet collected a few humdinger things kids have said about his books in their letters to him, including:

“I like your books. My whole family likes them. My cat does not know we have them.”



 … NOT TO MENTION A DOSE OF HUMILITY

Another of Bill’s pen pals wrote…

“I am in grade two. I enjoyed your books. What do you do for a living?”


How can writers capture these pint-sized verbal pleasures? Here's a few suggestions...

Find ways to be in the presence of children.

If you have your own, or plenty of young ones in your family or neighborhood, you’re all set. If not, you’ll have to seek out settings where kids are talking and then eavesdrop shamelessly.

For Cheyenne folks I highly recommend the second floor of the Laramie County Library as a spot to listen and watch kids. I’m sure other county libraries would work well too.

Fast food restaurant playgrounds are another hot spot for kid watching.

Lance being, well... Lance
When we lived in Lusk, my mother, husband Mike and I were “Grandma Readers” for the local kindergarten class. (Yes, Mike was a Grandma Reader too. No gender bias in that designation, eh?)

In this role, we would go to the school, gather our assigned 4 or 5 kids, and read books out loud to them. Lots of chatter about book-related and not-so-book-related topics went on. Maybe your community has such a program?

Slow down and really listen when you are in the presence of children. 

This takes discipline and effort. We adults are always trying to get someplace or get something done. But the rewards are immense when we take time out to really hear what the kids are saying.

Ask questions, and give the kid plenty of time to respond. 

I was one of those kids who mumbled, stammered and talked in convoluted circles. Lots of kids do as they are learning to talk.

Patience with these ramblings will not only allow you to gather all those good things kids say, but will also present the child with a great bonus: the gift of your attention and practice in putting their squirmy thoughts into spoken form.

"Dragons are very stretchy," notes Mason. 
Designate a notebook just for their words. 

When I started to take care of my grandnephews, I bought a small notebook in which to gather snippets of things they have said along, with descriptions of memorable events. Initially my goal was to share the notebook with their parents someday, and eventually with the adults that Lance and Mason will become.

Now I admit I do it mostly for myself—for all those insights, revelations and chuckles that I get when I look through the pages. And, of course, to pilfer all those unforgettable, juicy-squishy words.

My "Lance and Mason" notebook
Do it--find a kid and get 'em talking...

This is perhaps the best writing assignment I could ever share with you. Follow through with it, and I promise your writing (and mood) will improve.

But just remember…

“When you are dealing with a child, keep all your wits about you, and sit on the floor.”                                                                                                    - Austin O’Malley




CRUCIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Tomorrow (Wednesday, September 6th, 2017) is National Read a Book Day.  To celebrate we are invited to grab a book and spend the day reading.

Alert your boss as to this important directive immediately.



 




Resources for this post included:
Children Say the Best Things in Bookshops, Jen Campbell
What Kids Say, Bill Peet


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Being an Active Writer



Guest post by Mandie Hines

Being an active writer involves more than getting words on paper. It’s more than consuming books on the writing craft. Although both of these are important, the piece that’s still needed is active participation in a writing community.

Many parts of writing are solitary, and for those of us who are introverts, that’s part of the appeal. However, our writing practice is enriched by the inclusion of other writers.

Writing groups and communities are part of the writing experience, and if you’re not part of a group and community, you’re limiting yourself.

Even more than being part of writing communities, participating actively is key. Joining a group is good, but are you bringing your work to your writing group for feedback? Are you engaging in conversations in online writing communities or with other local authors? I encourage you to seize the opportunity to learn and grow, while sharing your knowledge with other writers through participating in conversations about your writing, others’ writing, and writing in general. The more you give, the more you get.

There’s an additional step. The tools, tips, and tricks you learn from other writers won’t work until you put them to use. If you get feedback on a story, but never make the edits, you might miss an opportunity to improve. If you’ve been struggling to keep track of your story submissions and another author tells you about a tool that makes tracking submissions easier, but you never try it, you’ll continue to struggle.

Here are a few benefits of participating in writing groups and communities, but it is by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Editing
  • Beta Readers
  • Exchanging Ideas
  • Support
  • Encouragement
  • Writing Resources
  • Networking

Sometimes there’s advice you already know, but you have to hear it from somebody else before you can make the change.

While you’re passing your knowledge to other writers, you’re helping yourself too, in two ways. First, the best way to learn or remember something is to teach it to someone else. And second, by growing writing communities, you’re also growing potential future readers. When I connect with another writer, I feel excited about their stories, and I’ve purchased and read many books simply because of the connection I had with the writer.

Recently, I created a Facebook group to unite the writing community in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It’s made the importance of being an active writer clearer. Previously, I would have been content being a lurker. I would have looked for announcements for events I found interesting, but my engagement in connecting with other writers, participating in conversations, or creating events of my own would have been nonexistent.

Changing my role from observer to creator has made me realize how much I want to expand my life as a writer. I want to engage with my website, my writing community, my readers, and pass on what I’ve learned to other writers. It enriches me to participate in all these different areas, and it allows me to help more people too. I want to show up, do the work, and I hope that other members come through and do the same. There’s so much more to learn if we each add our voice to the groups we belong to.

It is easier and more comfortable to live a solitary life as a writer, but it is more fulfilling to participate in the world of writers. Chances are, many of them are much like you and me in their struggles, in their writing goals, and in their passion for writing.

At the end of the day, I want to give writing everything I have, not holding back, participating in every part of the writing world, not just the part where I’m writing a story, and I want to be surrounded by writers who are active as well.

-----


Mandie Hines writes in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains where unsettling ideas knock around in her head, screaming for an outlet, compelling her to create horror stories and psychological thrillers. She’s not satisfied until her stories keep her awake at night, fearful of what lurks in the dark. She’s also driven to write flash fiction and poetry that capture moments of human vulnerability. Her work has recently appeared in Down in the Dirt, Scarlet Leaf Review, and The Flash Fiction Press among others. She’s a member of the writing group Page Turners, Wyoming Writers, Inc., and the Facebook groups Cheyenne Writers Community and Wyoming Writers. Visit www.mandiehines.com for more.

-----

Susan here: While we are talking writing groups, I'd also like to add a shameless plug for WyoPoets for all you poets out there. Check it out at www.wyopoets.org.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

MAKING A SPECTACLE OF IT

guest post by Alec Osthoff 

If you have been in a beginner fiction workshop, there is a good chance you’ve either been told that a story must be built around conflict, or that every character must want something, and must struggle trying to achieve their goals. These are effectively the same statement. And I often question if this is the right way to get students thinking about writing.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the rule. Unless you are writing microfiction or something highly experimental, it is almost certainly true that the story will feature conflict of some kind. And the word “conflict” is awfully broad. Even the quietest of struggles or questions suffices for this rule.

What I find problematic about this maxim is more what it implies, which is that conflict is the hook that keeps your readers interested. Any piece of the book or story can be used to hold the reader’s interests, usually multiple are being used simultaneously. By handing this assumption to young writers, we limit the kinds of stories they will produce, both in these intro level classes, and potentially far into the future, as these early assumptions are often difficult to dislodge.

While this isn’t a bad way to think about writing, it can be a narrow approach, and many students would benefit from taking other avenues for considering their own work.

As an example of conflict gaining too much weight in a story, I wrote an overblown collapsing marriage plot for my advanced fiction writing course in undergrad. I had no idea how to write a collapsing marriage, and it was all really an excuse for providing sketches of late night Minneapolis. A conflict where the narrator is an insomniac would have sufficed better for getting my character out into the world I was interested in, but I felt the conflict needed to be bigger.

This is a bit of an embarrassing theme in my earliest stories—I always assumed that the conflict should be the most important piece because my intro course, like many intro courses, taught me to think about stories in that way. And these earliest short stories make me cringe now with their inflated conflicts, when clearly the Midwestern setting is what I was most interested in presenting.

Again, the rule wasn’t the problem, and my intro to creative writing teacher shouldn’t be blamed either. My problem was that I saw the rule, and like many students, gave it more weight in my stories than was helpful. I heard the narrow implication behind the broadest of statements, and following that implication led to stifling my own work. I needed to change the way I thought about stories, and after thinking on it for several years, I believe I have it boiled down to something I can explain to other writers.

There are as many ways to think about writing as there are writers. But what has helped me think about my own work is that all stories have a spectacle. That is, all stories have something the reader will ideally pay attention to.

Often there will be several spectacles, but the writer should be aware of the ones that stick out the most and have the biggest impact on a reader’s interpretation of the story.

To illustrate the point, if I had taken that divorce narrative and instead of thinking of the story as a centralized conflict, thought of it as a spectacle, then I would have built the story around the strange late-night wanderings my protagonist moves into. When building the story around the spectacle, I would have focused on the part of the story that most interested me—the after-midnight culture of a city I was very familiar with. And I could have spared myself the embarrassment of trying to prop the story up on a conflict I wasn’t committed to.

For example, if a setting is particularly strong, readers will generally take notice, and that will inform how the reader internalizes the rest of the story.

Maybe there is a strange item at the center of the story, or an anticipated event the characters are looking forward to. These things do not have to relate to the conflict to hold a reader’s interest if they are properly emphasized. With this approach, it will be immediately clear to students that the narrative glue does not necessarily have to be the story’s conflict, and by starting students out this way, I think we open the potential for more diverse narratives.

If the writer doesn’t have control over their spectacle, or is unaware of what piece of the narrative is drawing attention above the norm, then they don’t have control over how readers value or interpret the story, so this new method doesn’t let students off the hook. Really, this teaching method requires that students have a greater understanding of their work, and may result in a greater struggle for them, but the result is a classroom of writers who won’t be bogged down by a particular assumption. If we change the way we think about building stories, we change the stories we produce. And by taking this broader approach to story building, we expand the kinds of stories we have at our disposal.

What’s worth emphasizing about this method of thinking about stories is that it doesn’t overwrite the classic rule about conflict. This method in no way challenges that most stories will require characters, conflict, and a setting. This new way of thinking doesn’t even discredit or discourage conflict focused stories, as conflicts make great spectacles.

What this method does do is encourage more diverse approaches to storytelling than the standard workshop adage. The way we think about building stories impacts the stories we create.


Alec Osthoff is a recent graduate from the University of Wyoming MFA program in Fiction. He is a 2017 Mari Sandoz Emerging Writer, and his writing has appeared in Atticus Review, Midwestern Gothic, and as winner of the 2016 Blue Mesa Review Fiction Contest. 

Alec recently attended the Story Catcher Writing Workshop, where he met Lynn Carlson and many other talented writers. He currently lives in Laramie with his wife, August, and two cats.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

YOU'RE JUST A ROCK

guest post by DeAnna Nolan 




But first, Lynn says: 

DeAnna's contribution comes to us by way of Kristin Abraham, who is one of DeAnna's professors at Laramie County Community College.  I'll be working with Kristin this fall to bring more fine posts to our blog from LCCC students... love those student voices!



Rocks and poetry have always been a passion of mine. When I was a kid, one never topped the other. And to be honest I do not know where the love for either one stewed from. They just grew on me like weeds in my brain.

Now being a tad bit older and even more curious I think constantly about how writing and geology connect and intertwine with each other. Geology is more than just rocks. It is the study of the earth, its structure, processes, and history.

Which, if you really think about it, is a lot like being a writer. We want to study human nature (and many other things) and put it into words. Just like Geology, we have a structure of writing, our processes of how we get words from our minds to paper, and we all have a history we need/should share with the world around us.

One of my favorite things I think I have discovered about the connection between geology and being a writer is that both are delightfully unpredictable. This is truly amazing and fascinating because this is what fuels a writer to write such astonishing things, the way that tornadoes can randomly show up in the middle of a beautiful day.

Writers can be in the middle of doing taxes and be hit with a sudden idea about a character who has the ability to see the numbers he/she writes. This interruption is both a blessing and a curse because just like a tornado that can turn a quiet town into an upside down, barren land, being hit with ideas at random times can really mess up our flow and get us distracted. But to be honest, I think that is when our best ideas come to life.

I also like to think about some of the anxieties I have as a writer. Some of them are being constantly afraid to write, terrified of revision when I do write, and wondering how I can be a writer when my punctuation and grammar are so terrible. When these anxieties hit me (and they hit me quite often), I like to think about the layers of the earth. The earth has many layers, some in rock formations and the layers right under our feet. These layers come about by sand or mud being built on top of each other and the weight causing the rock below to become solid.

Just the way a writer (or human in general) is made of layers. We are not just one thing. If we were just one thing then some of our best stories would not have layers. Therefore, I like to think of my anxieties about writing as being part of my layers. We all have them and they are a part of us. There are other layers inside, I know, that are on top of those anxieties and that help me realize that “Hey! I can write and I will write because I know I have improved from then until now.”

There are many other things about geology and writing that really make me giggle and shake with excitement. Because how wonderful is it that we can look at where we are now--the sky, rain, the dirt--and know that we are not so different and we share such creative things about us.







DeAnna Nolan is an English major at Laramie County Community College. She also has the pleasure of working at her college library, where books surround her all day (her second favorite thing next to cats). When she is not at school you can usually find her writing poetry, reading, or dancing at her second home, Act Two Studios, where she also teaches.

When she has the time or just needs to unwind, you can find her at home with her two dogs and cat watching Bob’s Burgers or The Twilight Zone.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Escaping the Land of Lethologica

by Susan

Lethologica 

Grandiloquent Word of the Day defines "lethologica" (LETH-oh-LODG-ik-a). as "The inability to remember a word or put your finger on the right word." Lethologica impels us to use language like "whatchamacallit" or "whatsit" or "dooflackey.

Photo by sean Kong on Unsplash
Lethologica is that feeling when a word dangles on the tip of your tongue, elusive. It's like a sneeze that won't come, an itch you can't scratch, or the desire to have a good cry when you're too heavily medicated to do so.

I love the sound of it: lethologica. Try saying it without putting your tongue back in your mouth -- it's almost possible. (Now, clean the spit off your screen.)

How would it appear in a travel guide if it were a country?
Lethologica is located just north of Aphasia, the border  between the two countries demarcated by the Lexicon River. From the Plain of Shush, tourists will see stunning views of the Stuttering Mountains. Travelers should beware the Jabberwocky and bring their own maps, as the locals are notoriously bad at giving directions to wheresit.
If lethologica were a disease, it would be benign in the majority of the population, but drive writers to madness. Writers do not rest until they find exactly the right word. At least, I don't like to.

I most often find the cure for lethologica in a thesaurus, when I can get to one. What writer doesn't love, adore, cherish, prize, and cherish a thesaurus?

I've stumped the occasional reader with words like "tallow" and a "gibbous" moon. I suppose I could use "sheep fat" and "nearly full," but those don't have the sound and spirit I want. English is a rich language, and I revel in its riches. I'm not using those words to impress, but to express it exactly.

On my bookshelf is a 1935 copy of Rats, Lice, and History* by Hans Zinsser. At one point, he uses the word saprophyte. A helpful footnote at the bottom of the page reads, "If the reader does not understand this word, it is too bad."

The utter lack of damns he gives is heartening. It was the precise word he wanted, he used it, and he expected the reader to figure it out one way or another.

I will keep his book forever for that footnote alone.


* Rats, Lice, and History: Being a Study in Biography, which after Twelve Preliminary Chapters Indispensable for the Preparation of the Lay Reader, Deals with the Life History of TYPHUS FEVER

Why yes, I do have strange reading tastes.

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Expect delays in comment moderation this week. Your faithful co-bloggers are off enjoying their summers and may not be at the keyboard at all times. Please do still comment -- we love to hear from you!







Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Writer's Homework

Susan here: I'm not sure how I connected with Nicholas Trandahl on Facebook, but I'm grateful I did. After getting to know him more online, I invited him to send us a guest post. Again, I'm grateful I did. When I read this, I felt like I had a cheerleader in my corner.

by Nicholas Trandahl

Nicholas Trandahl at Hemingway House.
I’d made it. I was in Ernest Hemingway’s house on Whitehead Street in Key West, Florida. I was in the sanctum of my literary hero, where most of his body of work was written. There were his books, his typewriters, his photographs, his fishing rod, his bed, and everything else that comprised his life when he lived in Key West during the Great Depression.

I’d walked the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard with my wife in an October breeze, beheld a massive herd of elk graze way above the tree line in the Colorado Rockies, and flown over the glittering lights of Baghdad in a March night. But stepping through the rooms of the Hemingway House in Key West was an entirely new type of experience. It was when I realized that great writers, perhaps the greatest, were mere men and women, no different than you or I. They suffered the same struggles that all of us contemporary writers struggle with concerning our literary craft.

But I was not there for sightseeing and not even necessarily to have a life-changing moment or epiphany as a writer. I was there as a collector of experiences, i.e., writing material.

When I write poetry, I pull words from the things that I see and the places that I go. I write about my life. When someone tells me that they don’t know what to write about, I like to reply:
“If you’re breathing, there’s always something to write about.”
And it’s the truth. This world we live in and all the people that inhabit it are pure unfiltered inspiration for poems, stories, art, and lyrics. It’s all just begging for someone creative and observant to pay attention to it.

I’ve written my whole life, but things didn’t get serious for me until I was serving in the Middle East as a soldier in the U.S. Army. I started writing poetry over there as way to cope with the things I was feeling and the stresses I was experiencing. However, over the years, my poetry has become observational as opposed to introspective. I’ve plumbed the depths of my internal demeanor enough, and as a resident of this planet, there’ll never be a shortage of new material for me or anyone else. It’s limitless.

How do you become inspired? There’s nothing simpler or cheaper than inspiration. You stand outside for a moment or two and watch the colorful artwork as the sun falls away into the west, or you watch the primal strength of a coming storm, or the snow drifting down like ashes through the boughs of an old pine, or the stars flickering like chips of diamond in the vast vault of the night.

In fact, you don’t even need to go outside. Sit at your writing desk or at the kitchen table. Lay in your bed even! If you can watch the light fall through a window and paint the ice in your drink or the color of your lover’s eyes, then your capacity as a writer will never be diminished.

Go outside. Travel when you’re able. Adventure. Experience things. Because even fiction is not entirely fiction. And poetry is best when it’s honest.

And now you may be saying to yourself that inspiration doesn’t entirely cut it. You might have loads of ideas: barely-started stories or errant lines of poetry that mark notes on your desk like half-remembered dreams. You’re overflowing with ideas; that’s not the issue. The issue is completing your idea, seeing it come to fruition in publication.

There’s no easy answer to this, no poetic answer. Despite what non-writers may think, writing is indeed actual work. A story, a poem, a novel, or a collection of poems will not write itself, no matter how marvelous you think your ideas are nor how outstanding and poetic your experiences may be.

Writing is hard. It takes a commitment. People that have spoken with me about their multitude of ideas but their lack of finished work lament their predicament. And so do I.

It’s a problem we all suffer from. But there’s hope; it can be controlled. It takes a single-minded devotion to your work that borders on obsessiveness. Finish it! Work on nothing else when it comes to your writing. Pound away on those keys until the final word is reached. Write every day. Set aside writing time, early in the morning or in the evening when things are quietest.

Remember, your story and its characters depend entirely on you. They came to your mind, and are counting on you to reveal them to the world. Without you telling their story, it will never be told. Think about how tragic that would be. Without you to write it out, your story, poem, or novel is no more than a quickly-forgotten dream. There’s so much responsibility in being a writer. It’s no wonder we’re all a little crazy.

As you’re writing your current piece and ideas for a new story come to you, don’t fret! But also, don’t ignore it. That idea may not be coming back if you ignore it. Don’t, under any circumstances, ignore your inspiration and imagination. But how do you do this without neglecting your important work-in-progress?

Don’t worry. It’s easy, as easy as jotting down a note. Write some brief sentences about your idea that came from out of the blue. Take notes until you think it’s all written down. Then put the note away and get back to work on whatever it was that you’re devoting your writing time to. The idea won’t be forgotten as you complete your work-in-progress. In fact, in the time it takes for the current work to be completed, your idea may bloom into something even better, or you may even realize when you look again at your note that it wasn’t really that good of an idea anyway.

So, there’s my writing advice in a nutshell. Get inspired. Seek out inspiration in the honesty and simplicity of the beautiful world around you. Also, devote yourself to your single work-in-progress until the rough draft is finished. It’s counting on you, and only you, to bring it into being.

Hemingway himself said it best when he wrote in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “You just have to go on when it is worst and most helpless—there is only one thing to do with a novel and that is to go straight on through to the end of the damn thing.”

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Nicholas Trandahl is a newspaper reporter from northeast Wyoming. His poetry is currently published by Winter Goose Publishing, and he's had several novels published by Swyers Publishing. His work has also been published by River Ram Press and, most recently, by Selcouth Station. Trandahl’s latest book of poetry, Pulling Words was published by Winter Goose Publishing in 2017, and they will release his next collection, Think of Me in the spring of 2018. He will be a featured poet in the upcoming poetry compilation from Swyers Publishing, Heart of Courage. Trandahl is happily married and has two daughters (with another on the way). Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

SANER, WISER AND WEARING PANTS: THE WRITING PROCESS

Lynn starts off...

I have mentioned before that the writing life introduces me to a boatload of amazing people, right? Well, this morning's post is the result of a "friend of a friend" thing. I got introduced to Carol Steingreaber through a mutual friend, Mary Donahue, whose post, "Write What You See" graced our blog almost a year ago.

Proof that good things just keeping arriving in your email's in box when you hang out with writers. Enjoy.

Guest post by Carol Steingreaber

Ah…is there anything more glamorous than the idea of writing a book?

Let’s close our eyes and envision Hemingway in a lovely pub in Paris, occupying a corner table, smoking a cigarette, with a watered down drink at the ready and staring out of a dusty window. So romantic!

If this picturesque scene played out for any of you authors reading this I applaud you. I had high hopes of keeping some form of the “romance of writing” alive as I penned my autobiography. My wooden desk was clean and had a faint scent of lemon Pledge. My land line was turned off and my cell phone on silent. Kids were at school. No interruptions. I was showered and smelling like a fresh ocean breeze. I had set the mood and the romance was on fleek, right up until I spilled coffee on myself, ten minutes into the writing process. This was an omen I did not heed. From that moment on, I entered an alternate universe. When I emerged a year and a half later, I was saner, wiser and wearing pants.

Funny, I pictured my published book arriving at my doorstep, all shiny and glossy, TV and radio crews at the ready for my author visits and book signings. I imagined the residents of the city of Cedar Rapids all clapping, violins playing and brooks bubbling with excitement.

Why didn’t I imagine the journey I would embark on the minute I sat down to write? Why had I left out this important part of the process? Why could I not imagine it? Because you don’t know what you don’t know. As a writer ready to embark on her first book, I had no idea what lay ahead of me for the next year and a half and that was a blessing of great proportions. Spoiler alert: First time writers stop reading. Seasoned writers read on so we can commiserate together.

Writing in the middle of the night became the norm for me. I was a baby with her days and nights mixed up. My brain would not shut off when the sun went down. I would lie in bed and write the stories in my head. When my brain was ready to explode from too much garbbley gook (scientific name), I got up and wrote the stories down. I would fall asleep at my desk in the coffee-stained clothes I had on the day before. I would jar awake, brush my teeth, tell my husband to have a safe trip, then find a real bed and collapse for five hours.

My family perpetrated my behavior unknowingly. During part of my writing journey into the underworld, both kids were in college and my husband traveled every week. I would have days and days where I wouldn’t leave my laptop. It was glorious and insane all at the same beautiful time. I would sit down to write and eight hours would pass, with my coffee gone cold, a bag of Cheetos, empty and laying on the floor, my keyboard orange and crummy. How many bags of Cheetos can one person consume in a year and a half? About 25 pounds worth, give or take. I would oscillate between the crunchy and the puffy kind. I greedily overused the term “writer’s block” when my family would find me in front of the TV, binge watching Will and Grace.

Life went on around me and I tried to cooperate and participate. I would attempt the grocery store with my greasy hair and sweat-stained baseball cap. No makeup adorned my face (perhaps I was frightening small children but I couldn’t muster the energy to care). I would create giant casseroles on Friday, knowing my family could eat leftovers for the next three days and I wouldn’t have to cook. 

The worst would be running into an acquaintance two days in a row. They would look at me, confused and “concerned”. Then it would dawn on me that I had the same sweats, running shirt, and baseball cap on the day before when they saw me at the gas station. These same people would never see me when I was showered and sitting upright in church or out at a restaurant (in non-workout attire) using utensils to eat a meal not prepared on a paper plate.

They would say, “Carol, are you okay? Is there anything I can do to help?” not really meaning it and just hoping to get some juicy bit of information to share with their real friends. Thoughts running through their heads were so loud I heard, “Is she having a midlife crisis? Is she depressed? Is Paul leaving her? Is her curling iron broke? Did her hairstylist die?” I would just smile (not a big smile because I probably had Cheetos stains on my teeth) and convince them I had just come from a 24 hour camping trip. My real friends knew I was writing my life story and would leave ice-cold diet coke and bags of Cheetos at my doorstep, never ringing the doorbell, knowing they might wake me or interrupt the brain waves working on the next great chapter.

When my body screamed for real food and there was none in the house, drive-thru’s became my best friend. I could jump in the car, put on giant sun glasses that accompanied my wrinkled, stained clothing and roll down the windows to get my fifteen minutes of allotted fresh air, returning with a greasy bag of hot food that would sustain me for the next couple of days. It was magical.

I remember the day I put the last period on my last sentence of Pants Optional. It was the summer of 2014. This bizarre journey had begun on January 2, 2013. It was a sunny, glorious day and I stood up from my laptop with tears in my eyes. I was shaking from excitement, malnourishment and dehydration. It was finished. I wanted desperately to tell someone.

At that moment my son, who had been mowing the lawn, came running into the house and yelled, “MOM! Can you make me a sandwich? I am going to be late for my shift at Coffeesmiths! PLEASE? Where are you? Can you hear me?” Door slams. It only made sense that this moment wrapped up my stream of unconsciousness, subconscious and barely conscious writing that had been pouring out of me for a year and a half. I had officially entered the realm of the fraternity of writers. I had been hazed and made it out alive.

Alive, sane, wiser and wearing pants.


About the Author:

Carol Lynne Steingreaber was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She graduated from Loras College with degrees in English Literature and Writing. Carol has experience as a correspondent, proofreader, copywriter and marketing director. The author started writing her first humorous autobiography, Pants Optional, in 2013 in honor of her mom.

Pants Optional has been on the Amazon’s Best Sellers list, reviewed in the Cedar Rapid’s Gazette and has been featured on her local CBS news. Carol has been a guest on The Michael S. Robinson Show, a New York talk radio program, on Microbin Radio in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and has done numerous author visits and books signings.

For more information visit Carol’s website at pantsoptionalstories.com, follow her on Facebook at Pants Optional and on Twitter @PantsOptStories.

About Pants Optional:

Pants Optional is a refreshingly honest book and a quick read that offers hilarious insights on life and motherhood. While the author tries to navigate through marriage, sex, and friendships, Carol reminds us that it’s okay to laugh at ourselves and not take life so seriously.

Carol shares 33 UNconventional tips on how to use humor, comedy and parenting genius when disciplining your kids, caring for an elderly parent or while experiencing eternal moments of embarrassment. Pants Optional gives women an excuse to sit down, put their feet up and just laugh.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Writing Rules I Can Live With

by Susan

I chafe at lists of writing rules, all the nevers and don'ts that imply there is one way to tell a story. If I want to use a dialogue tag other than "said," Mr. Leonard, I will. (She opined.) Despite that, a couple of years ago I wrote my own list that I'm reposting this morning.

Photo by Neha Deshmukh on Unsplash
RULES FOR MY KITCHEN
Coffee first, then food.
Live dangerously. Lick the batter off the spoon.
Eat what you want. Listen to your body.
Make a mess. Clean it up.
I love you, but stay out of my kitchen when I cook.
Food is forgiving. Create recklessly.
Recipes are mere suggestions. Experiment.
You can never go wrong starting dinner with sizzling onions.
Although there are limits. Sizzling onions over ice cream? Doubtful.
On the other hand, I could be mistaken. Try onion ice cream if you want.
When in doubt, err on the side of too much butter.
Vanilla, too. Measure it over the bowl so the extra spills over.
Garlic makes life complete.
Fresh is better.
Invest in good knives. Chop with confidence.
There are no rules.

Photo by PICSELI on Unsplash
RULES FOR MY WRITING
Coffee first, then writing.
Live dangerously. Release the muse.
Write what you want. Listen to your soul.
Make a messy first draft. Clean it up.
I love you, but stay out of my room when I write.
Words are forgiving. Create recklessly.
Writing guides are mere suggestions. Experiment.
You can never go wrong finding the sizzling, red-hot core of your story.
There are no limits to that sizzling core.
I am not mistaken on this one.
When in doubt, err on the side of too much writing time.
Self-care, too. Fill yourself until you overflow.
Words make life complete.
Fresh is better.
Invest in your editing. Chop with confidence.
There are no rules.

I'd also like to share Chuck Wendig's post, A Very Good List of Vital Writing Advice — DO NOT IGNORE! With a language warning. I'd have to meet him in real life to be certain, but I think the man might swear more than I do, which takes some doing.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

CREATIVE WANDERINGS

guest post by Rich Keller


There are moments in your life when one door closes while another opens. This doesn’t happen on a regular schedule. It can take place anywhere and anytime in your life. It can be so subtle that you may not even know it. Then again, thunderous crashes and creaks can represent the closing of one portal and the opening of another. For me, the path between doors led to a revelation in which many more journeys will take place.

For privacy reasons, I shan’t go into too many details. Be assured I’m not seriously ill, or going to war, or heading off to Alpha Centauri with my new alien friends. For simplicity sake, let’s say I came to a great epiphany during one of the lowest points in my life. A change in my domestic situation provided a great gift … freedom. And I decided to utilize this precious commodity by shedding many of my unneeded objects though minimalism and transforming myself into a digital nomad.

For clarification, I am not traveling across the Sahara on the back of a camel while I try to get a signal for my laptop. The ever-growing community of digital nomads use the opportunities the current age of communication provides to work from anywhere across the globe. They shed mortgages, cars, bills, and personal objects to work and play for extended periods of time in places like Costa Rica, Vietnam, Hungary, and Thailand.

Instead of seeing the world through the microcosm of the media, they experience it firsthand.

For creatives, including myself, taking on the world as a digital nomad is so right. I’ve always been a traveler, gaining experience for two weeks each year when my father took us on our annual summer vacation. I learned more about this country than I could through textbooks and AAA pamphlets. And I took this love of travel into adulthood.

Unfortunately, the culture of consumerism drew me in. I bought houses and cars, thinking I would feel better if I could keep up with the Joneses. But, I never did keep up nor feel better. The weight of bills, lawns, and oil changes kept the love of travel at bay. In turn, it also kept the creativity on simmer instead of quick boil.

Thing is, we’re a nomadic society. Think about your great, great, great, great, etc. ancestors who walked across Pangea and the land bridges which once spanned this planet. They had to be creative to survive. And they didn’t “settle down” to spend time rocking on their rocks and complaining about the kids who wouldn’t get out of their mud pits. They continued to move, to explore, to see things from a new perspective.

And this is what I’m doing as a wandering creative. I want to see the world for myself, to draw energy from other cultures and environments, for that is bound to forge a new spike of power in my creative soul. Sometimes, this will be through my podcasts and videos. Other times it will be through my writing, and still other bouts of creativity will come from the challenges I make myself take. To minimize all of this into one statement … I’m going to take responsibility for myself as well as others in my life.

I understand this type of journey isn’t for everyone. However, should you have the chance, step outside of your comfort zone, close the door behind you, and seek out the adventure which is behind the new entryway. It’s the next step to determine who you really are.


Lynn chimes in...

I met Rich through my past involvement with the Northern Colorado Writers organization. Then I had the opportunity to be a guest on The Daily Author podcast, promoting Watch My Rising: A Recovery Anthology. Rich is a bright, humorous guy and I'm excited to see what he'll do as a digital nomad--hopefully he'll send back lots of dispatches from his travels!

Richard Keller is the owner of Wooden Pants Media and host of The Daily Author podcast. His new video and podcast series, The Wandering Creative, premieres in July. You can learn more about Richard, his company, and his books, at http://www.woodenpantspub.com.

You can listen to past episodes of The Daily Author on Blog Talk Radio, TuneIn, GooglePlay, and iTunes.