Thursday, July 27, 2017


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

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


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, 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.

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.

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


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

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

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

My Failed Declaration of Independence

By Susan

This whole househusband thing isn't working out quite as intended.

My husband retired a month ago, much to my joy and delight. I anticipated a life with time for writing. Someone else will clean the house! Shop for groceries! Cook me gourmet meals every night!

I'd have a kept man... a cabana boy... a scullery lad. All those tasks interfering with my writing were off my plate, and I would devote my hours to the written word. Needless to say, those large swaths of time did not materialize. Nor has the vastly increased word count.

Certainly, the house has been cleaner. The grocery fairy has been leaving fresh fruit and vegetables in the fridge. I can't complain. He stays busy. Living with this man is like living with a border collie. "Gotta have a project! Gotta have a project! Woof, woof, WOOF!"

But he's not at my beck and call like some handsome manservant. He has his own things to do: tackling all those house projects that built up over 11 years living in an old house, mountain biking up at Vedauwoo, playing guitar. And when I get home at the end of the day he wants to spend time with me doing something other than staring at me while I type.

Then there's the bathroom (groan).

A scrub of the scrungy tub led to a strip of dislodged caulk led to the discovery of water damage in a corner of the floor. Now we have no sink, no vanity, no shower hardware or walls, and half of the linoleum is ripped up. (I guess technically, it's vinyl flooring, but I love the sound of the word, "linoleum.") On the other hand, we've got $200 worth of brand new ceramic tile out in the truck waiting to be unloaded.

He'll do the work himself. (WOOF!) He's a DIY kind of guy. He even bought me a tile saw for Valentine's Day one year.

When he was kicking around the idea of retirement, I envisioned coming home with evenings galore to sit at my laptop. In my mind, it promised freedom, my declaration of independence from the tasks that weighed down my writing. But truth be told, my writing is only weighed down when I do not make it a priority.

As I write this, I think forward to my own retirement in 2,405 days, 7 hours, 33 minutes, 30... 29... 28 seconds (not that I'm counting.) THEN, I will have hours upon hours to write... won't I?

I won't, unless I declare my independence from the fears and anxieties that paralyze me. I must battle my inertia, ignore distractions, and develop the ability to say "no" to unnecessary tasks and obligations. I must make writing my priority.

I can do that -- as can you. We carve out our own space for writing. Maybe, just maybe, today is the day I declare my freedom and start putting the words on paper that I'm meant to.

My one concern writing this post is that some will think I'm making too light of Independence Day. I hope you do not take it that way. I wish you all a Happy Fourth of July. May this great country celebrate many birthdays to come.


And as I now get ready to hit the PUBLISH button, it's 2,403 days, 11 hours, 31 minutes, and 20 seconds until I retire. Not that I'm counting...