Tuesday, June 27, 2017

CROSSING OVER

guest post by John D. Nesbitt

One of the best pieces of advice I received when I was trying to find a home for my first novel came from an agent. She suggested that I not be afraid to try writing a genre western. As I had been writing short stories, articles, reviews, and poems for several years and was taking a big step toward book-length fiction, I was hesitant to try a second novel if my first one wasn’t going anywhere. But with her encouragement, I went to work on an idea for a traditional western. It took me a couple of years, in and around the shorter things I was writing, in addition to my full-time teaching position, but I ended up with a western novel.

When I wrote to the agent to ask if she was interested, she told me she had had to give up agenting because she wasn’t making enough money and had to find another line of work. She wished me well, and I still appreciate her good will and good advice.

Other writers have seconded this advice. I remember more than one person in Wyoming Writers, people who were further along in the journey than I was, who told me that an agent or an editor wanted to know where to put a manuscript—what to call it, how to perceive it, how to present it to the world. On my own, I figured it was not a good idea to call a story something that it wasn’t (for example, my first novel, a contemporary story about a hunting guide, was not men’s adventure, even though the protagonist was a man who had adventures).

Finding a publisher for my western took me a couple of years more, but I ended up with a nice hardcover publisher in New York who published three of my traditional westerns before the owners canceled their western line. I worked with a good editor who was willing to consider original story lines rather than the usual gunfights, stagecoach robberies, and Indian battles. I came to understand that even if a person wanted to try something different, he or she had to fulfill the expectations of the genre. In other words, if something was going to be marketed as a western, it had to have some of the recognizable characteristics, not only in subject matter but also in story line or structure.

My next publisher was a mass-market paperback company, and again I had the good fortune to work with an editor who was willing to try something different while staying within the general lines of the genre. From the beginning, my westerns often had an element of mystery, so I continued to write in that style from time to time. I found myself writing more deliberate crossover stories, which I began to think of as western mysteries, even though they were marketed as westerns with the beloved covers of men and guns and horses. (I also had a love story in almost every novel, but women never appeared on the covers.) I was doing well, with a new western mystery written and under contract, and the next one in progress, when that publisher folded.

In my search for a new publisher, I saw what I had inferred before, which was that even though genre publishers say they want “something different,” most of them want a product that not only is safe, tried, and true, but that also resembles other products in their lines. As I was not writing a lawman series, or a series about a fugitive accused of a crime he did not commit, or thick novels with a plethora of historical details and adverbs, I was disconsolate.

Again through good fortune, I found yet another publisher who was willing to try something a little different. Five Star Publishing was bringing out a new line of Frontier fiction, which meant stories that did not fit neatly into the usual patterns. Furthermore, Five Star was (and still is) interested in Frontier mystery. To date, I have published seven hardcover novels with them—three with a series character who is a sleuth, three standalone amateur detective stories, and one novel for young or new adults. These works are marketed as Frontier fiction (no men and horses on the covers of my works), not westerns, but they are reviewed and regarded as westerns.

So the lesson remains. One way to get somewhere as a writer of book-length fiction is to write within a recognizable category or genre. Agents and editors and booksellers know what to do with it. One way to earn distinction is to do something original but to stay within the parameters of the genre, which may or may not be flexible, depending on the editor or publisher. It does seem as if, today, there is interest (especially in smaller publishers) in crossing over between genres such as western and mystery, western and young adult, historical and romance, romance and mystery, and so forth.

Perhaps the overarching rule is that genre fiction in general, even when it crosses over, needs to have a strong story line with clearly defined conflict and a definite resolution. During my first half-dozen westerns, I experimented with subdued, non-violent endings, but I found that I wasn’t connecting with the readers as well as I would like, and I wasn’t writing satisfying stories (or at least, once I had done it a few times, I had done it enough). I went to work at writing stories in which the protagonist has to work his way up the chain through a sequence of encounters and, of course, deal with the worst character last. This, for me, has been the biggest lesson and the hardest work.

I am still not at the top of the pyramid, not of western writers, much less fiction writers on a national scale. But I am doing better than I did before I received and followed good advice and figured out a couple of lessons on my own.






John D. Nesbitt lives in the plains country of Wyoming, where he teaches English and Spanish at Eastern Wyoming College. His articles, reviews, fiction, and poetry have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. He has had more than thirty books published, including short story collections, contemporary novels, and traditional westerns, as well as textbooks for his courses.



John has won many awards for his work, including two awards from the Wyoming State Historical Society (for fiction), two awards from Wyoming Writers for encouragement of other writers and service to the organization, two Wyoming Arts Council literary fellowships (one for fiction, one for non- fiction), a Will Rogers Medallion Award for Dark Prairie (a frontier mystery) and another for Thorns on the Rose (a poetry collection), a Western Writers of America Spur finalist award for his novel Raven Springs, and the Spur award itself for his short story “At the End of the Orchard” and for his novels Trouble at the Redstone and Stranger in Thunder Basin.



His most recent work consists of Field Work, a retro-noir fiction collection; Thorns on the Rose, western poetry; and Destiny at Dry Camp, a frontier mystery. A contemporary western mystery, Blue Springs, is forthcoming. Visit his website at www.johndnesbitt.com.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Meaning of Success

Echo Klaproth
Guest post by Echo Klaproth

How do you define success? The only person who can answer that question is you. I am neither able nor willing to prescribe the ultimate definition for others because every person’s thinking is different and we each must define what triumph means or how it is achieved for ourselves.

For many, perhaps most, success is the opposite of failure and is the status of having achieved and accomplished an aim or goal. I believe it is important to make ourselves aware of what that in general means in our life. Some might define it as luxury and title, whereas others might consider a life full of joy and happiness with their family as the true meaning of success. Once you have figured out what is important for you personally, you are able to focus on your visions and goals.

How does this pertain to me or you as a writer, whether novelist, playwright, poet, journalist, or critic?

As I sat in on different workshops at our 2017 Wyoming Writers Conference in June, I couldn’t help but appreciate a truth that was stated by the presenters regarding their success as determined by the number of times they’d been published or the number of books that they’d sold, or the number of awards they’ve received over the years for their writing. With numbers being a key player.

The truth is, they all stated that they started by experiencing something that moved them to put pen to paper. Whether that something ever amounted to much either as an article, poem, or chapter in a book was secondary to their thinking at the time. They simply were moved to save the experience with words. And whether or not a work won a contest, was published, or sold was secondary to the effort and eventual accomplishment of getting their thoughts saved, maybe for no one else but themselves, in a cohesive form. The reward was extended whenever and through the sharing of their writing another person(s) enjoyed and likewise was able to experience an emotion, a reaction, from their effort.

For me, that’s enough. That’s success simply and succinctly defined.  Over a 40 year career of writing, it has been my pleasure to work and play with words with no other intention than to save them and maybe share them with someone else. If a particular piece doesn't raise much of a reaction, so be it. If the writing is well-received and someone tells me that it touched their heart, then and in the cowboy vernacular, WAHOO!

My point is, one of the most important and key steps to achieving success in writing is to define what success must look like in your personal life. It goes beyond any common definitions such as: being wealthy, owning a lot of tangibles, having earned degrees, or selling thousands of books. Quite the opposite for me: true success in life is measured instead with the reaction from people who are able to smile, shed a tear, or feel they are not alone in their emotions because of a piece of writing I created. For this writer, that’s the meaning of success.

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Echo Klaproth is a fourth-generation Wyoming rancher, writer, retired teacher and ordained minister from Shoshoni. She served as Wyoming’s sixth Poet Laureate from 2013 to 2015. Her writing reflects stories of her family’s heritage; of her struggles, gains, and growth as a woman, wife, mother, friend, and Christian; and of the blessings she experiences because she was born and raised in Wyoming among good and honest folks. She loves to travel around the state meeting people and celebrating her love of life through poetry, through programs, and/or writing workshops. She is the author of Words Turn Silhouette, a collection of prose and poetry. She edited Scattered, Lasting Remnants, a collection of "fine lines" excerpted from modern cowboy poetry and songs, and produced A Nameless Grace: Poetry and Songs Honoring Women of the West, a CD book devoted to ranch women past and present.



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

WORD LARCENY

post by Lynn

According to Roy Peter Clark, author of the book, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, 
“All of us possess a reading vocabulary as big as a lake but draw from a writing vocabulary as small as a pond. The good news is that the acts of searching and gathering always expand the number of usable words. The writer sees and hears and records. The seeing leads to language.”
Search and gather, yes. See, hear and record, by all means.


I also advocate for outright theft.

So how can writers pick language’s pocket? I can think of several time-tested ways:

STEAL FROM THE PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE

My co-blogger, Susan, introduced me to the word “stupiphany” (not sure where she got it). She even used it in a sentence for me: “I spent 15 minutes trying to unscrew the pump top on the shampoo bottle before I had the stupiphany that it unscrewed in the other direction.”

Ain’t that a great word?

You can steal from family too.

My nephew-in-law occasionally uses a word I adore: "flustrated." Obviously a combination of “frustrated” and “flustered” but doesn’t it just nail that “I’m frustrated and can’t seem to spit anything out” feeling we’ve all had?

I also had the pleasure of getting acquainted with this certain nephew-in-law’s grandmother, Betty. She introduced me to a phrase I hadn’t heard before, although I’ve been told it has been around a long time:

"She doesn’t know siccum."

Which, apparently, is a phrase that was shortened from the original: "doesn’t know come here from sic ‘em," as when a dog doesn’t know how to obey commands.

Betty used it frequently in reference to the people who ran the retirement home where she lived for a time. Betty is gone now, but her phrase lives on in my mind, complete with her disdainful delivery of it.

Such treasures!


STEAL FROM OTHER LANGUAGES

I had the great pleasure of learning Bambara, a West African dialect, when I was in the Peace Corps. Bambara is chock full of onomatopoeia—that neat little trick where you form words that fit with what you are naming, like “sizzle” and “plop.”

One of my favorite Bambara words: "fitini." It means small. The Malians would add extra “ni” at the end when they were describing something really small: "fitini-ni-ni-ni."

Even if you don’t speak the language, you get the drift of what they’re saying, right?

Some languages have a knack for creating words that encompass big concepts and are very stealable. 

The Japanese language, for instance, has "shinrin-yoku." It means “forest bathing” and speaks to the clarity and relaxed feeling you get when you spend time in the company of trees.

Oh, I could use a little shinrin-yoku right now—thank goodness camping season is here.


Something else from the Japanese I’ll bet we ALL relate to: "tsunboku"—the act of buying a book and leaving it unread, often piled together with other unread books.

Yup.

Maybe it’s my Welsh heritage that makes me love "hiraeth," a Cymraeg (Welsh) word that doesn’t translate fully into English, but generally describes “a deep longing for home.”

STEAL FROM THE PAST

I'm of the opinion that some words, lost from everyday use, need to be found again. Who knows--we might be just the writers to do it.

Like "chobbling," which is a long-ago British word from Gloucestershire. It means “fragments of pulp as when an apple is chewed and ejected by a rat.”

Or "squitterers," a word used in the 18th century for grapes. Apparently had to do with the idea that grapes act as a laxative. Quite a sensory word, wouldn’t you agree?

STEAL, STOCKPILE AND SELECT FROM YOUR BOOTY

Stealing words doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll use every one (I have yet to try out "fitini-ni-ni-ni" on anybody here in the U.S.) but that’s not really the point.

It’s more about playing with language, fiddling on a regular basis with the raw material of our literary art.

Simply by stealing and stockpiling vocabulary you ensure that when you are writing and looking for the perfect word, your brain is limber and has plenty to pick from.

So go ahead and pilfer—I promise I won’t squeal.

Just one of the "tsuboku" in my house


Resources used in the writing of this post (yes, I stole some language here, I confess):

You English Words—A Book About Them by John Moore.

(Susan Mark bequeathed me this book, printed in 1961. The cover is falling off but I keep it nearby and often find juicy words in it.)

Buzzfeed: 22 Intensely Pleasurable Old Words We Need to Bring Back

Popxo: Meraki & 9 Other Beautiful Words

Buzzfeed: 28 Beautiful Words the English Language Could Steal


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Few Meditations on Place

By Susan
"No setting is to be underestimated ... What may seem to be a boring town, once you begin to analyze its history, its people and its stories, may become an amazing place."
- Josip Novakovich, Writing Fiction Step by Step 

Along the rail line on the way to Hillsdale. No clue where this went,
and wasn't about to explore it in a Ford Taurus.
The road turns to dirt six miles west of  Hillsdale, Wyoming, population 47. Roads lead away from the town in all four cardinal directions, but the only asphalt is to the south, toward I-80. From the Wyoming highway maps, it looks like that stretch of pavement wasn't laid down until 1961,

In 1917, this town's fledgling newspaper, the Hillsdale Review, boasted of the local hotel, grocery, bank, and lumber company. Only that first issue of the Review is found in Wyoming Newspapers. Either the paper folded quickly, or subsequent issues were lost. Also lost is evidence of the thriving businesses touted on the Review's front page. Hillsdale is one of many towns in Wyoming that dotted the rail routes, but were left off the main drag when America fell in love with the automobile and built the roads to prove it.

Durham was between Cheyenne and
Hillsdale. It has vanished.
Even as I seek out hidden places like Hillsdale, I know that too often I have passed by places without seeing them or, worse yet, lived in them and left them unseen. I grew up in Ohio, but was amazed when I moved here at how much history Wyoming seemed to have. I think now, Dayton's history was all around me and I just didn't see it.

At the WyoPoets conference in April, poet David Mason pointed out that Homer did not write about epic settings. Those places became epic in our minds because Homer wrote about them. And every story about place is in reality a story about the people within it.

I think about the people who moved to Hillsdale with high hopes in the early 1900s, and I wonder about the ones who still live here. It still has a post office. The Methodist church stands tall. Cemeteries stay in one spot even when towns vanish, but in ghost towns they're not mowed so neatly, nor are the graves as freshly decorated.

Put me on an interstate and I want to keep going, looking for the next magical place. "Omaha 494 miles." I wonder what it's like to live in Omaha. I could keep driving. I have a credit card in my purse. I could start a new life. I want to find some locale on some map that will make me feel complete, while entirely missing what my own place in life offers.

As I drive, I think I might go on into Pine Bluffs and find a place where I can get a slice of pie and a cup of coffee. Then I think, no. I'll go home to my own place instead of looking elsewhere. I'll make my own pie.

As a writer, I want to see a place intimately, whether it's one where I've lived, visited, or imagined. And then, I want to take the reader there.

On that note, I'm going to give you some of my favorite place-based links to explore:
And yes, I did make pie: strawberry. Delicious. I think I'm finally getting this pie crust thing down.