Tuesday, December 26, 2017


post by Lynn

I’m not normally one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I decided this year that I will—resolutions for my writing life.

I hereby resolve to fail more 

“Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.”
- Jon Sinclair 
In 2018 I want to accumulate failure because then I’ll know I’m stretching my abilities. In order to fail I must put my writing out there (submit!) and in order to do that I must complete poems, essays, stories and blog posts and in order to do that I must write, write and write!

So if you see me on December 31st, 2018 with bruises all over, you’ll understand why I have that big smile on my face.

I hereby resolve to cut down on my screen time 

To get my face into a book instead of Facebook.

Next up: A Wrinkle in Time. by Madeleine L'Engle. I’ve never read it and I want to before I go and see the movie.

I hereby resolve to stick to my writing rituals 

“The pleasure of doing a thing in the same way at the same time every day, and savoring it, should be noted.” 
- Arnold Bennett 

It’s such a soothing thing to wake up (5:30 am-ish) and know exactly what I’ll be doing as soon as I get my cup of coffee ready. I’ll be crawling onto my chaise, pulling the quilted throw over my lap, extracting my journal from the bookcase and writing.

Unless I’m traveling (and often when I am) I know this is how I’ll start my day. No equivocation. No “what should I do first today?”

I have a system, a process, and I stick to it. (See what James Clear has to say about system vs. goals here.)

Here’s what I know for a fact: 99% of what I produce as a writer has its genesis in those early morning hours.

Why would I want to mess with that?

I hereby resolve to treasure my time with my writing group 

I need the instruction, distraction, the traction and writerly interaction, and even more than needing it, I derive a lot of pleasure from it.

Here’s looking at you Judy, Mike, Beth, Susan and Thesanica!

I hereby resolve to trust my intuition more when it comes to feedback on my writing 

“He who builds according to every man’s advice will have a crooked house.” 
- Danish proverb 

I also resolve to offer feedback to other writers with less fervor—as if I know exactly how the writing should be changed. Hubris!

I want to remember that the best gift to a writer is the gift of a close reading. I can point out where I get confused, or stuck, or bored, but it’s up to the author to decide what to do with that information. 

There you have it—5 resolutions. I’ll print them off and revisit them frequently.

So what do you hereby resolve to do for your writing life in 2018?

And by the way...

Susan and are grateful that you visit the Writing Wyoming blog, and wish you a happy, healthy and writing-filled 2018!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


guest post by Michael Shay

Lynn here: The following was originally posted in October on Mike's blog: Hummingbird Minds 

I follow Mike's blog and enjoyed his insights here on the rambling route many of us take into the writing life. 

When we speak about books, we often speak in the singular case: the writer's vision, the poet's voice.

We talk very little of writing communities.

Writing is a solitary pursuit. Beginning in childhood, we are influenced by our family and friends and teachers. The media, too, of course, a factor that surrounds us in 2017.

But what turns this interest into a passion?

The rewards can be substantial. Fame and riches await. Pause here for laughs. There are easier ways to get rich. So why do writers persevere?

My parents were readers but not writers. My father was an accountant, my mother a nurse. They read books. They bought books and took us to the local library.

My mother often joked about writing a book. She had subjects: nine kids, plenty of pets, a profession that put her in contact with suffering and transcendence, skill and ineptitude.

She was sociable. She had friends. She had a career, unusual for that generation.

My father read books and hung out with his kids. He had few friends, typical of his generation of men. War chums, college friends, a few relatives. He only had one sibling and they didn't get along.

On occasion, my Catholic parents made babies. How and why they did this remains a mystery. They left it to the nuns and priests to explain it to us. They were no help. I grew up surrounded by mysteries. I remember things forgotten by my siblings. Or they remember things differently.

What is memory and why does it play such strange tricks on us?

I thought about this [on October 7th, 2017] as writer Sharman Apt Russell explored the reasons that writers write. She presented the morning talk at Literary Connection, the annual literary gathering at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne.

Russell and fellow writer Craig Johnson were part of a long line of writers who have appeared at this conference.

I've attended every one going back at least a decade. Annie Proulx, Tim O'Brien, Kent Haruf, Laura Pritchett, Pam Houston, Mark Spragg. Those are some of the names you might recognize. There are so many others. Ernest Cline attended one year to talk about his best-seller "Ready Player One," now being turned into a film by Stephen Spielberg. Connie May Fowler talked about her southern heritage and her work. Her 2005 novel, "The Problem with Murmur Lee," is one of the best books I've read with a Central Florida setting. It's simply a great book. I had a hard time finishing her memoir because the pain and the person it was happening to were so real.

I blogged about Poe Ballantine's 2013 appearance at the Literary Connection. I read his true-crime book "Love and Terror on the High Plains of Nowhere" and was dazzled by it.

One of the book's subjects did not appreciate my commentary. The book world is sometimes a very small place.

Russell began to write when she was eight years old. Not unusual for writers. Her father, a test pilot, died when she was two. People write, Russell said, for many reasons. "We love to read, particularly when we were children," she said. "Those who fell in love with reading as children, it's entered your bones. You want to be part of something that's given you so much."

So true. My parents read to me. They taught me, and I read as soon as I could. I have fallen out of love with books and reading and writing on many occasions. I keep coming back to it, probably because it's in my bones.

Writers like to play. We make up stories to learn how to survive as a human and to try on other roles, as actors trying out different characters. We are storytelling animals. It's part of our engagement with the world. "When you write, you find your thoughts being clarified," Russell said. "It's your conversation with the world." Writing is discovery. It helps you to be vulnerable and honest. Russell thinks you not only should write a book but publish it.

Technology has never made it easier to publish, whether it be with a small press or one we call our own. You can publish online. You can publish here. You can publish there. You can publish anywhere. This gave me hope. Most writers worry too much about publishing. I do.

It's the goal of our writers' critique group. We want to be better writers. But we also want readers. "Getting readers is the follow-through for writers." She half-jokingly wrapped up her talk with this: "If you are spending a lot of money on therapy, just write books." And it got a big laugh.

I thought to myself: "I spend my treasure on therapy and also write books."

Michael Shay is the author of the short story collection, “The Weight of a Body.” He retired recently as communications and literary arts specialist at the Wyoming Arts Council. 

For insights on writing dialogue, read Mike's post, "Writing Realistic Dialogue"--first published in May, 2016. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to Get Your Books into Libraries

Guest post by Steve Rzasa
Reposted from his blog

The title’s misleading. Any author can get his or her books into a library. Simply walk through the door, offer them a free copy, and say, “I’d like to donate this to your collection.”

Librarians like free books. Especially good ones.

What I want to talk about, though, is what indie authors have a greater concern for—convincing libraries to buy their books. There’s several factors to take into account. As a guy who’s both a published author—traditionally and indie—as well as a librarian, I’ll lay them out.

This is the biggest issue. Libraries are mostly public funded. When times get tough, and they have to make budget cuts, acquisition for collections suffers first. Most libraries I know of (in the state of Wyoming, where I work, anyway) don’t want to cut staff. If you can determine whether or not your library is fiscally stable, then you’ve already got a better chance than offering your book for purchase by a library facing tight financial times.

This one’s trickier, and it helps if you have a relationship with a librarian who has a good handle on what the patrons of that institution like to read. Granted, sci-fi and fantasy have small readership, generally speaking. But does your local library have a core of readers who like one or the other? If so, that gives you an in. Librarians are more likely to spend money on a book and put it on their shelves if they know of people who want to read what you’ve written.

Yes, librarians read reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads, especially younger staff. However, if you can get into a journal like Publishers Weekly or Library Journal, you’ve got an even better chance of being considered for purchase.

(Susan here: Speaking of reviews, go check out the one on Steve's book, Man Behind the Wheel, on the Wyoming State Library blog.)

Patron Recommendation
This is one of the best ways. If you have even one or two people ask the library to buy your book to stock on your shelves, they will likely do it—especially if it’s people who put their name on a list to check out the book once it is processed into the collection.

Of course, it’s better to have a librarian ask the bosses to buy one of your books.

Year of Publication
This one was mentioned in one of the comments in the Realm Makers Consortium, as one library only takes books published within the last six months. Why? Well, without speaking to the staff at that library, I can only guess, but I’ll make a few educated ones.

It is likely a simple space issue. Our building has about 40,000 items in it. Every year, I process between 900 and 1,000 novels, both YA and adult fiction. The vast majority were published that year. Our bookshelves fit 20 to 25 books on each one, and there’s six shelves per unit. Math that one out: 120 books per shelf unit means we add nearly ten shelf units to the building each year. Have you tried to add ten bookcases to your house? You’d run out of space quick. So libraries weed older books, damaged books, and those that don’t circulate in order to find room.

Bottom line, a newer book is more likely to get onto the shelves—unless you’re local, then convincing the library to buy your book is easier. Our library in particular loves to have local authors added. It’s part of our mission, and our director even waives room rental fees when writers have book signings.

Silver Lining
I don’t mean this to sound hopeless or hard. Your best bet is to aim local. If you can find champions of your book among hometown librarians, they’ll recommend your book to readers – and better yet, to other librarians. I’d also suggest banding together to do a vendor table at library conferences. Those tables aren’t cheap, but if a bunch of people can do something like the Realm Makers Mobile Bookstore at library conferences, that gets you seen by the people who decide purchasing.

I’m an author, and a librarian. Feel free to ask me questions anytime about what goes on behind those bookshelves!


By day, Steve Rzasa works as your local technical services librarian in Buffalo, Wyoming. By night, he dons his spacesuit and authors speculative fiction. (We asked, but he wouldn't send a spacesuit author photo.) Steve has written eleven novels, including Broken Sight, which won in American Christian Fiction Writers’ Best Speculative Fiction award in 2012. He’s a fan of all things sci-fi and superhero, and a student of history. His most recent book is Man Behind the Wheel. Find him online at www.steverzasa.com.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Making the Most of Your Manuscript Analysis

Guest post by Dallas Jones

To formally start the assessment and revision process for my first novel, Meet the Boys of Casper, I hired a professional to perform a manuscript analysis. The insights gained from this effort not only provided tangible suggestions to improve the quality of my writing—which I was expecting, but they also unexpectedly forced me to consider why and to whom I was writing my book.

A manuscript analysis is a high-level review of a prospective book. Rather than addressing detailed considerations such as sentence structure, its purpose is to assess the general flow of the story. Does the plot make sense, and is it well executed? Are the characters developed? In my mind, the manuscript analysis is an advance critique prior to starting the back and forth interaction with an editor. In fact, adjustments in your story as a result of feedback from a manuscript analysis might make the difference between being accepted or rejected by a publisher.

In my case, I had already decided to self-publish; however, I had reached the point where I needed some other eyes to review my work. After taking a few passes at my manuscript and bringing it to what I believed was a semi-polished state, I solicited feedback. Earlier in the effort, I ran my work by family, friends and some independent publishers. Their reactions tended to be positive, but no one offered any substantial type of constructive analysis, so I searched online for some help and ran across an indie publisher/author who offered a manuscript analysis for $125. I thought her price was reasonable, so I pursued an engagement. Within two weeks after submitting my work, my reviewer delivered a thorough and candid analysis.

She carefully described my writing style and assessed the story’s content. Specifically, she observed that I wrote from an omniscient point of view in an expository manner. Having never taken a creative writing course, these terms were new to me. I’d never really thought about my particular style—only that if felt natural to me—and appreciated the fact it had a formal definition. She also accurately described my book as a set of character studies. Finally, she provided a sample edit for the first few pages of my manuscript and pointed out some weaknesses.

In her summary, she identified the problems she perceived with my manuscript. First, she indicated though my prose was good, my type of writing style is out of date and would not grab/maintain readers’ attention (especially young adult readers). Then, she noted my work was long on detailed character descriptions and devoid of plot. Again, she stated I would lose the readers’ attention because the story lacked tension that is created from a conventional protagonist/antagonist conflict. Further, she indicated my characters had no connection with one another and their existence and events were haphazard. She concluded by saying the manuscript needed a major amount of rework before it would be attractive to a publisher. Then to her credit, she provided some constructive tips and resources for novel writing.

After roughly a year’s worth of sweat, this was not the analysis I was hoping to hear. I stepped away for a few days and then began thinking about her comments. Finally, I decided to perform my own analysis of her review, and in doing so used this feedback vehicle as more than just mere guidance on writing mechanics. This exercise forced me to revisit the most basic questions in my effort—How did I write this story, why did I write this story, and for whom did I write this story?

In one of her summary statements, my reviewer noted while I might enjoy writing character studies readers wouldn’t enjoy reading them. Her observation consisted of two parts: 1) I enjoy writing character studies, but 2) readers wouldn’t. She was spot on regarding the first part. I hadn’t thought about it previously, but I do enjoy writing character studies. It’s my style and my voice. Instead of changing to a different style, I decided to own it and move forward.

When I thought about part 2, readers’ reactions to my story, I was conflicted. It was apparent from her detailed comments that she did not enjoy the story; however, when I had previously run my material by others, several liked it including another indie publisher. The thought of readers rejecting your book is terrifying, but that image of rejection forced me to honestly address why I was writing it in the first place. And then I realized my “Eureka” moment. I wrote my story because I wanted to create a tribute to my teenage friends that said, “Once upon a time, we roamed this land, and this is how we rolled.”

Along with this realization, came clarity about my target audience. I decided my primary audience consisted of my old classmates. I would declare my effort a success if my peers concurred my novel accurately captured the spirit of our teenage years (and I could put a few smiles on their faces). However, that cluster of friends represented a tiny audience. Was my novel commercially viable as written? The reviewer didn’t think so, and she was a publisher. I believed her take on the young adult market was accurate. This story was too slow for them, but still I believed my potential audience was greater than just my friends. The key was to identify readers with whom I shared something in common.

I had tried to write a story I would enjoy reading, so I speculated that people with similar experiences or reading tastes to mine could fit into my potential audience category. I am a male who grew up in Wyoming during the ‘70s, and the following novels influenced me: The World According to Garp, Catch 22, and Lamb. Perhaps my novel might resonate with the following subcategories: men, anyone who grew up in the ‘70s, someone having familiarity with Wyoming, or readers who enjoy literary fiction with a splash of humor.

Having considered my own traits, I thought again about my reviewer and what, if anything, we shared in common. The answer was not much. She was female and a citizen of another country who liked stories packed with conflict and tension. At best, she represented a tangential member of my target market. At this point, I realized not everyone will enjoy my book, and I had better mentally prepare for those instances when someone does not.

Now at peace with my purpose for writing and an understanding of my target audience, I read through the reviewer’s analysis again. She had made two excellent points that I wanted to incorporate into my revision. First, I had established little, if any, connection among my characters early in my narration. This absence left readers confused throughout the story. I would address this issue by adding a chapter to the beginning of the book. Second, the narration was too passive in too many places. I would revisit each chapter and look for opportunities to apply a “showing” vs. “telling” technique.

In summary, the small investment I made in a manuscript analysis paid off handsomely. It not only identified areas in need of improvement but also forced me to understand my purpose and expectations in writing a novel.


Dallas Jones was born and raised in Casper and is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Though currently residing in Colorado, he still loves everything about Wyoming except the wind. Dallas has written professionally about travel, education, and fantasy baseball. MEET THE BOYS OF CASPER is his first novel. Find him on Facebook.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Countdown Days to Contest and Christmas

Guest post by Myra Peak

Count down the number of days until Christmas or the number of days until the WyoPoets Eugene V. Shea National Poetry Contest deadline (December 15).

When you count down days are you wasting or using the days?

My grandmother accused my mother of wasting my grandmother's life by counting the days until any big event. As with many relationships, you'd have to know those two to appreciate the solemnity of it all. I, on the other hand, prefer to look at what I've gained or achieved in the ensuing counted down days.

Use the 21 days to Christmas to find ways to be kind to others. Open a door for someone, find a dollar bill on a store floor for someone who looks like they need chocolate, sweep snow off a neighbor's sidewalk, or offer cookies to a stranger or a friend walking by your house. The surprise could be that you get new material for the poems you will write in the next 11 days before the deadline for the Shea Contest. 

A member of WyoPoets has challenged his writing friends to enter the Shea Contest, touting the ease and low cost of entering. His encouragement has been tempered by his caveat that he expects to win as many prizes as possible so he has shared his condolences to us early on.

I challenge each of you to make him work harder for his poetry. He and we will appreciate it.

Entry guidelines can be found at http://www.wyopoets.org/contests.html.