Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A BETTER GOODBYE

post by Lynn


A few of us Peace Corps trainees had joined Seth and Adam, two of our trainers, and the Malian language teachers to take Arabic tea beneath an acacia tree. The western sky was showing off in streaks of oranges and reds and the air was cooling from its hundred-degree-heights.

I was beat. I’d spent all day trying to speak French and Bambara, learn the customs of Mali and construct clay stoves.

No amount of caffeine was going to keep me going, so I slipped out of my chair, stepped into the darkness and turned for home, or in this case, for my room at the Keita family compound.

“Not so fast,” Seth’s voice followed me into the dark. “You can’t do that.”

“Can’t do what?” I tried to sound innocent.

“Can’t just leave like that.” Adam chimed in. “It’s incredibly rude. You’ve got to say a good goodbye.”

I hate goodbyes. I always have. At parties in college I’d just disappear and the next day my friends would say, “Hey, where’d you go? You just left.”

Yeah, I just leave. I’m an introvert, and while I can’t always avoid a public entrance, I sure as hell can attempt to escape unnoticed.

Sometimes I’m even plotting my exit when I first arrive at an event, looking for the back door, parking where I know I won’t be spotted as I drive away.

Well, damn it all, Seth dragged me back into the circle and made me do the traditional Malian leave-taking routine which begins with an announcement to the group of N taara (I’m leaving), followed by a hand clasp with each person.

Who’d say: K’an bu fo. (Greet the people for me.)

To which I’d say: U n’a men. (They will hear it.)

To which would be added: K’an be somogo fo. (Greet your family for me.)

To which I’d say: U n’a men. (They will hear it. Although they wouldn’t because my family was a world away, back in the states.)

To which they’d add: Allah k’a su here caya. (May God grant you a peaceful night.)

To which I’d reply: Amina. (Amen.)

This exchange for every person present! Ack!

Do you see why I wanted to sneak out?

But I do get it. It’s not very polite to just slip away. Kind of a jerky thing to do, actually.

So while I entertained the thought of letting Susan handle the final post for the Writing Wyoming blog, I remembered Adam’s words: You’ve got to say a good goodbye.

Okay. I’ll try.



Before I leave, I want to thank you. Thanks for reading. It’s been an amazing feeling to know that when I post, there’s somebody out there listening. Not always a huge crowd, mind you, but somebody. Some readers checked in every Tuesday (I'm looking at you, Art Elser) and some only visited the blog one time. No matter, I am grateful to you all.

And sometimes we even heard from those readers, which was really cool.

Because of this blog, I now have a pen pal, of sorts. Sebastien Bouchereau is a writer and international journalist from Agen, France, who found our blog (ain't the internet amazing?) because he's interested in Wyoming and wants to improve his English. He sent an email, a correspondence ensued, and now I get postcards and text messages from Italy, Africa and Florida. We're hoping he and his family will visit us in Wyoming soon.

Knowing there were some people out there forced me to stretch forward and try harder, to revise again and again because I didn’t want the post to be, you know, lame. I wanted to find a way to express that nebulous thing I was trying to say, in the fewest words possible.

It was a hell of an every-two-weeks writing prompt/assignment and I highly recommend it. I know I'm a better writer because of it.

Thanks also to all of the writers who shared guest posts. They have provided me with such a vast pool of information and insight that I’m still swimming around it.

Thanks most of all to my make-me-smile-any-time-day-or-night friend and co-blogger, Susan Mark, who took this four-year foray with me. I couldn’t have (wouldn’t have) done it without you.

For most of our readers, this is so long, not goodbye. We’ll be running into each other, in person and online, God willing.


To all:

I wish you well, with every fiber of my being. Keep writing, a little bit every day. I look forward to reading your work.

K'an bu fo... 

Greet the people for me!




Tuesday, May 29, 2018

On Half-Filled Lemonade Glasses and Goodbyes

By Susan


Once a wise counselor pointed out to me that I was like a pitcher of water, and that I kept trying to pour and pour and pour out without ever stopping to refill.

I prefer lemonade, so we'll go with lemonade. And I've been trying to serve so many glasses of it that I'm having to leave many half-filled. It horrifies me to do this to guests, but it's all I got sometimes. Not only is the pitcher running dry, but truth be told, I'm running out of lemons in the fruit bowl to make more.

So with that, I am bidding goodbye to this blog. I'd like to say I'm proud of (some of) the work I did on it, but I'm prouder of the different voices we've been able to bring in. This has become a place where many writers shared their thoughts on writing. I learned from every one, and I'm grateful they allowed us to share their words. To all those who contributed guest posts, I offer a sincere thank you.

Thank you to all our faithful readers who've stopped by for our weekly dose of quirk and maybe commented or shared. Or just enjoyed. Enjoyed is enough.

We'll have one more post by Lynn next week. We'll leave the blog up for a few months, just without any new posts. We'll have the email address, if you want to reach us, for as long as we keep the blog up. We're shutting down our Pinterest and Twitter accounts mid-June.

I've often joked that I should start an Etsy shop and sell jars full of "NO!" for busy women. Just a mason jar, some frilly fabric to decorate it, with slips of paper inside -- different colors, different fonts -- that just say "NO." Any time a busy woman is asked to do something else, she could simply reach into her jar full of NO and pull one out.

I realized lately that I don't say YES because I feel guilty, but because I get excited about things. This is a good thing, but too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I recommend you put down that fork before your third slice of lemon pie. Or worse yet, pecan.

I've had a blast doing this, but there is only so much lemonade in my pitcher and it's time for me to focus on other things. My writing journey is taking a different path. I wish you well on your own journey.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

To My Fellow Misfits in Writing



By Susan

In my ongoing quest to avoid writing, I was lying on the couch looking for a good TED Talk. I found this one and wound up with tears rolling down my face.

Take 12 minutes of your life and watch it now. I'll wait.

Perhaps I was drawn to writing because I was a misfit. Or thought I was. Still think I am. Still think I am broken in ways no one will understand.

But so often, when I see powerful writing it comes from a place where we have been broken and transformed. So often, I see that the things we hide, that make us feel like misfits, are the very things that connect us to others in a shared human experience. I have a sense of relief that I am not alone in my misfittery.

The Japanese have an art form called kintsugi. When a piece of pottery is broken, they do not throw it out. They do not repair it with a clear glue to try to disguise the cracks. They repair it with gold, to make it even more beautiful than before it was broken. They transform it.

Maybe being a misfit is what draws me to put words on the page so that one other human will read it and feel less alone. Maybe if I accomplish that, I've done enough.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword, but What About the Dragline and the Drill Rig?

guest post by Jeffrey A. Lockwood, Professor of Natural Sciences & Humanities, University of Wyoming

Lynn here:

Jeff Lockwood is a kind of Renaissance guy and I've long admired the way he melds science, philosophy, creative writing and observations on the natural--and unnatural--world. I read his book, Grasshopper Dreaming: Reflections on Killing and Loving a number of years ago and was intrigued by Jeff's exploration of how nature can lead us to examine ourselves more closely. We can, and should, learn from bugs!

In today's blog post, Jeff tackles a topic that ought to be near and dear to every writer's heart: free speech. As with every topic he takes on, Jeff doesn't hold back. This is a guy who has been known to ruffle corporate feathers and cause administrators to cringe in ivory-tower corners. He also forces us to think harder than we sometimes want to.

Ultimately Jeff's writing pushes us to get clear on where we stand and what we're willing to fight for. That's brave and important and I admire him for wielding his words in defense of his passions.

I'm reminded of a quote I found a while back:

"Genuine bravery for a writer... It is about calmly speaking the truth when everyone else is silenced, when the truth cannot be expressed. It is about speaking out with a different voice, risking the wrath of the state and offending everyone, for the sake of the truth, and the writer's conscience."


- Murong Xuecun

Upcoming opportunity alert: 

Jeff Lockwood will be the Nonfiction Writer-in-Residence at Chadron State College's Story Catcher Writing Retreat, this June 5th through 7th, at Fort Robinson State Park. (Another Wyoming writer, Nina McConigley, will be the Fiction Writer-in-Residence).

For more information on the workshop and to register, visit the StoryCatcher website.

Now on to Jeff's words...




It’s been a year since the release of Behind the Carbon Curtain: The Energy Industry, Political Censorship and Free Speech, and I’m often asked whether there’s been fallout for having challenged the hegemony of the fossil fuel corporations and their political minions in Cheyenne and at UW.

Well, it’s complicated.

My Fellow Citizens

Let me begin with the citizens of Wyoming, given that they are the folks to whom I have a deep, moral obligation as a tenured professor. They agreed to protect my job in exchange for my working hard to find and tell them truths that might otherwise remain hidden. Since the book was published, I’ve given public talks in Casper, Cheyenne, Gillette, Jackson, Lander, Laramie, Rawlins, and Sheridan to more than 500 people. Based on these events I’ve come to two conclusions about my fellow citizens.

First, the people of the state are remarkably civil. Folks have directly but politely challenged my conclusions (e.g., doubting that energy companies are as duplicitous as I contend). In response, I explain that corporations aren’t evil, they’re amoral. Their sole purpose is making money for shareholders. Censorship is the modus operandi of power—conservative or liberal. The respectful back-and-forth has given me hope at a time during which angry rhetoric is so prevalent in the country.

Next, people get it. They see the relation between money and liberty. Folks understand that any community dependent on a single industry will face the brutal realities of being a company town. Economic diversification in Wyoming is not just a fiscal necessity, it is crucial to our liberty. A diversity of businesses sustains a marketplace of ideas.

Students and Youth

I know—young people are citizens. But I want to address the under-30 demographic because this is the future of Wyoming. And in this context, I offer two observations.

This semester I taught a course on censorship and free speech to some really smart students. They read, discussed and wrote papers about freedom (we started with John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty), corporate censorship (yes, we read my book), offense versus harm, and hate speech. They were opinionated and passionate. They were strongly libertarian. All eight of them. That’s as many students as were interested in a course on free speech. That’s a worry.

In my presentations around Wyoming, most of the audience has been 50 years or older. I have a theory (hey, I’m an academic). There are, I believe, roughly two kinds of young people in the state. There are those hoping to stay and wanting the status quo to continue so they have the same opportunities as their parents. These 20-somethings aren’t looking to rock the boat. And there are those planning to leave, who don’t care about socioeconomic inequities in Wyoming as their opportunities lie elsewhere. These young people aren’t interested in fixing a sinking boat. I’m not sure I’m right, but I’m worried.

The Rich and Powerful 

The folks with power and money have been eerily silent. At the university, my book launch a year ago was hosted by the Sierra Club. Nobody from the administration attended, to my knowledge. The institution’s only official response to the book was given on PBS’s “Wyoming Chronicles.” 

Chris Boswell, vice president for governmental and community affairs, defended censorship based on the assertion that such silencing exists at all universities in deference to those who provide dollars. According to Boswell, “[Faculty must understand that] if you stand on a chair and shake your fist at Cheyenne [then] the legislature, might not… warmly embrace funding proposals for the University of Wyoming. There’s a give and take.” They give funding and take our liberties. The administration’s view is that when faculty fail to self-censor and offend those in power, they can expect to be punished.

Storm Clouds on the Horizon? 

With plummeting revenues from fossil fuels, the Governor cut $45 million from the university’s budget in 2017. The administration was told to develop “worst case” plans. I was told that unless alternatives could be found, I’d be terminated along with the entire Department of Philosophy (my primary academic home).

Why would a university eliminate philosophy? We’re small (philosophy is a notoriously difficult subject, so we don’t have hundreds of majors or award plentiful A’s). And we’re dangerous (critical thinking threatens power structures).

Did exposing the collusion of energy executives and public officials paint a bull’s eye on my department? Under pressure from corporations and the legislature, the university has fired scientists and destroyed art—grim stories that are detailed in my book. Was the plan to eliminate my department a warning to those who speak truth to power?

For now, the “solution” is departmental mergers rather than wholesale eliminations. But there is a price to opposing a company town’s corporate master. And recent developments suggest that the institution’s masters are consolidating power in ways that engender grave concerns among the faculty—and the citizens of Wyoming who hope that their university will be a source of truth in troubled times.

This summer, the trustees are slated to vote on a radical change in university regulations that would allow these political appointees the sole authority to, “reorganize, consolidate, reduce and/or discontinue an Academic Program for educational, strategic, realignment, resource allocation, budget constraints, or combinations of educational, strategic, and/or financial reasons.” The Trustees are giving themselves the authority to terminate tenured faculty (See an excellent article on the topic by BetterWyo.org here. View the details of the proposed policy on this pdf.)

Not to be paranoid (although as Kurt Cobain observed, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you”), who might the trustees be targeting? Consider that I called out the new president of the Board of Trustees, David True, for his having failed to declare an unambiguous conflict of interest given his Casper-based oil conglomerate directly benefits from the university’s Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute. Eliminating faculty who challenge those in power might well be strategic.

If you value the integrity of Wyoming’s only university, the academic freedom of its faculty, and the veracity of its scholarship, I encourage you to contact the Board of Trustees before their July meeting and express your concerns on the UW Members of the Board of Trustees website.



BIO: Jeff Lockwood was born in Connecticut and grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He earned a B.S. in biology from New Mexico Tech and a Ph.D. in entomology from Louisiana State University. He worked for 17 years as an insect ecologist at the University of Wyoming, publishing more than 150 scientific papers and pioneering a safer method of rangeland grasshopper management that is now used across the western United States.

In 2003, he metamorphosed into a Professor of Natural Sciences & Humanities in the department of philosophy (where he teaches environmental ethics and philosophy of ecology) and in the program in creative writing (where he teaches workshops in non-fiction).

His writing has been honored with a Pushcart Prize, the John Burroughs award, inclusion in the Best American Science and Nature Writing, and a silver medal from the Independent Book Publishers Association for his recent venture into fiction with a noir mystery based on an ex-cop-turned-exterminator (Poisoned Justice, Pen-L, 2016).

His most recent nonfiction books are Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War, The Infested Mind: Why Humans Fear, Loathe and Love Insects, and Behind the Carbon Curtain: The Energy Industry, Political Censorship and Free Speech.

This latter book has drawn the attention of public officials, environmentalists, industrialists, and educators across the nation. A review in Science concludes: “For those moved to take action by this book, Lockwood advises a mix of courage and caution. His job as a tenured professor at the University of Wyoming is secure; he can and is obligated to speak truth to power no matter how uncomfortable. But each of us must decide what free speech is worth compared with the cost of speaking out.”

Friday, May 11, 2018

TIPS ON PITCHING TO AN AGENT

guest post by Becky Lejuene, associate agent at Bond Literary Agency

Lynn here:  

There are opportunities for you to pitch to an agent at the upcoming Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference, June 1 - 3 in Dubois (visit www.wyowriters.org for more information and to register). 

In this post Becky is going to walk you through the pitching process--so kind of her! 

Appointments to pitch (15 minutes each) are open on Friday and Saturday of the conference on a first come/first served basis. Sign up in advance by emailing Judy Matheny at vicepresident@wyowriters.org and include the name of the agent you'd like to pitch to (info on website). A limited number of openings may be available at the registration table. 

But you can't pitch if you don't go! Register for the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference soon--the deadline for the early bird registration fee ($235 by May 15) is closing in!




Hi, author!

Congratulations, you’ve finished a book (or are close), you’re attending conferences, meeting other authors, and pitching to an agent. You’ve made it!

The very first thing you should do—after you’ve signed up for the conference and have decided to book a pitch session—is research the agents. Find the agent you think would be the best fit for your project. If you don’t see one who represents what you’ve written, it’s ok to pitch one of us just to have the experience and get some feedback, but be sure to let us know that at the start of your session.

Next, be aware of the time allotment. You should be told ahead of time how long your pitch session will be so whether it’s 10 minutes or 5, make sure to prepare your pitch and practice with that timeframe in mind.

Now, imagine your pitch like the back or flap cover copy of a book. Typically, there’s a call out at the top (sometimes called a log line or an elevator pitch)—one sentence that’s meant to grab our attention and give us a feel for the book right off the bat—and then a short and sweet paragraph that identifies the main character, conflict, and plot. Notice that cover copy of a book doesn’t give everything away; it’s a teaser with enough information to get us interested and wanting to know more.

Design your pitch similarly. Start with an elevator pitch (that call out) to grab the agent’s attention. This is just a sentence or so meant to intrigue us.

The next part is a bit up to you. You can launch straight into your brief summary (not an outline of the book, not a synopsis; again, something akin to what you’d see on a book’s cover) or you can begin with a few of the nitty gritty details: what genre is it; who’s the audience (is it young adult, middle grade, adult, etc); is it currently complete or, if it’s not, when do you estimate it will be complete; and what’s your word count. Whichever you start with, the summary or the details, follow up with the other.

By now, hopefully, you’ve left a little time in your session so the agent can follow up with some questions. Typical questions might address any of the details mentioned above, if you haven’t already covered them. We might ask if this is your first completed book, what authors inspire you, and what books you might compare yours to in terms of readership (readers who like x popular title will love my book). We’ll also ask you a bit about yourself—what’s your background (if you’re a science fiction author who works in the STEM field, we want to know!) and what inspired this story.

If we still have any time left, we might ask whether you are currently querying or if this pitch is your first time—this last bit is important because we understand your pitch might be on your query letter and can give you some tips in that regard.

Last but not least, we know you’re nervous—you’re not the only one—so be sure to breathe! Take a deep breath and remember, agents are just people. Even better, we’re book people and you’ve written a book. Relax, you’re with friends!

Becky Lejeune is an associate agent at Bond Literary Agency. She worked previously with the Denver Publishing Institute, as the managing editor for a cookbook imprint, and as an acquisitions editor at The History Press. 

She is currently building her client list and is interested in adult and teen horror, mystery/suspense/thrillers, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy and general fiction.

Learn more about Bond Literary Agency at https://bondliteraryagency.com/



Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Write Like No One is Reading

Polly Letofsky is one of the presenters at the upcoming Wyoming Writers Inc. 44th Annual Conference June 1-3 in Dubois, Wyoming. View the sessions she has planned on the conference schedule, and get to know her a little better in this blog post before you go. May 15 Early Bird deadline is coming soon, so get your registration in soon.

Guest post by Polly Letofsky

Polly Letofsky
My dad was a writer. My mom was a writer. My brother was a writer. And I wasn’t. It wasn’t a conscious rebellion, but more likely a lack of confidence to have to compete with such talent.

In college I got a C on my grade-defining creative writing project, which confirmed in my little head that the writing gene did not get passed down to me. I was fine with that; it wasn’t a passion anyway.

Years later I was working at an enormous ad agency on the east coast when the creative director himself stopped by my little cubicle. He said he had noticed some of my pithy notes to the creative team and thought I had quite the writing talent, and would I be interested in helping them write an ad campaign for McDonalds. I gasped and ran for my life. What on earth was he talking about. He had the wrong person.

And so it was. Any writing skill that was hiding inside me refused to come out and be seen.

Fast forward a decade. In 1999 I left my home in Colorado to pursue a childhood dream to walk around the world. My timing was particularly lucky as the computer age had just started to sweep the planet – along with cell phones, digital cameras, the internet, and these things called websites.  Because my GlobalWalk was a fundraising effort, a highly skilled web designer volunteered to design a website for me. (The first of all my friends to have such a thing!)

To keep in touch with my friends and family about my life by foot on the road, I started to write daily journals (The word “blog” didn’t exist yet) and sent them to my webmaster to post. On the road I discovered a new-found freedom with writing. Free to be myself. Free to make up words. Free to choose the silliest of topics and not give a hoot if anyone understood “my angle.” I wasn’t getting graded on it and I wasn’t being paid to write about someone else’s product. It’s as if the right side of my brain opened up and came pouring onto the keyboard.

And a following began to build.

One day while walking across the high desert plains of Arizona, with nothing but sand and sky before me, my dad called. He marveled, “How did you learn how to write like this?!” Cautiously, I responded, “Like what?”

“Your stories are silly, yet gripping, they pull me in from the first sentence and you always wrap them up in a nice little bow at the end. How did you learn how to do that?” I wanted to tell him it’s because I’ve been watching TV sitcoms my whole life but didn’t want to ruin the moment. 

I always had a good relationship with my father, but the writing bonded us. We had something to talk about, to exchange ideas. “Dad, can I make up words?” “You can do whatever the @!$#% you want, as long as you’re consistent.” (Words of wisdom I use today.) “Dad, what’s a dangling participle?” “I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. That’s what editors are for.”

Three months later when I walked into Los Angeles – where Dad lived – I noticed a travel writing contest on a website. The topic was simple – to write about a unique experience you had with a foreign culture, and it couldn’t be over 900 words. I chose to write about an experience I had walking through the Ute Indian Reservation in southwest Colorado where I was invited to a Sweat Lodge Ceremony. It was a comical, fish-out-of-water, near-death story that I couldn’t get under 903 words. I handed it over to Dad, the writing master, the nationally renowned word king, to fuss with it. He did. But a new confidence swept over me when I realized I liked my version better. So I tweaked and poked and maneuvered and squeezed my version into 899 words.

Boom! I won.

As the miles and years continued, I walked across 22 countries, 4 continents, and over 14,000 miles. Every night my fingers pounded the keyboard in stream-of-consciousness thought as if this little computer was my confidant, my shoulder to cry on, to bitch and moan with no care of proper punctuation, arching storylines, or God forbid, those dangling participles. Whatever those are.

It took me five years to walk around the world, and six years to write the book about it. When I got settled back home in Colorado I dove right into a bustling American life of two jobs, friends, gym, neighbors, etc., and found it hard to sit down and write anymore. One night dad called and asked how the book was coming along. “Dad, can’t I just get a ghostwriter to write it for me? I’m busy.” Silence filled the cell towers from Colorado to Los Angeles, and finally I heard a pained whisper, “No. No one can write this but you. It couldn’t possibly have the same voice. You have to do it.”

Of course he was right.

Writing, I’ve discovered, is a discipline. You’ve got to put time aside, put it in your calendar as a time blocked event. It’s not like when I was on the road and looked forward to my nightly writing because, well, there was nothing else to do.

When Dad was diagnosed with liver cancer that threw me into a writing schedule. I would send him chapters to fuss and giggle over. He gave me direction and advice, and our writing bond was back in swing. 

Dad never did see the final version of my book. But he would be proud to know it went on to win six national awards. Who knew?

Sure, that writing gene was probably swimming around the gene pool, but I knew it was something else.

I was set free. Free to be myself. Free to be comfortable with my own unique voice. Free to not give a hoot. Free to write like no one was reading.  And I still have no idea what a dangling participle is.

-----
  

Polly Letofsky is owner of My Word Publishing, a publishing consulting company that helps authors professionally self-publish their books. Her book 3mph: The Adventures of One Woman’s Walk Around the World has won six national awards. Polly will be a guest speaker and presenter at the Wyoming Writers Conference. She will give a presentation on her walk around the world, and will also present three publishing workshops.  You can contact her at Polly@mywordpublishing.com.






Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Can a Writer #DeleteFacebook ? Should they?

By Susan

The furor over the Cambridge Analytica scandal has died down, and most people who were going to flee Facebook have fled (say that five times fast), although there is no way to take the data with them that's already been scraped.

We hear it often as writers -- you need social media to promote your work. Publishers don't want to look at you unless you already have a platform. And yes, social media is a powerful way to engage with people. Two years ago, Pamela Fagan Hutchins wrote on "The Optimal Use of Social Media" on our blog. Her take:
Love it or hate it, social media is a critical part of marketing.
But is it what you need? It may depend on your goals and on the stage of your writing. About a year or two ago (my memory's going) I did a presentation on social media at the Wyoming Writers Inc. conference (you should go this year.) One of the first things I said was that you need to evaluate whether you need to be there. Don't jump on the bandwagon just because someone told you that you and the trumpet player would hit it off. He might not be your type.

I only joined Facebook because of my job, which requires it. I would delete my account if I could, but it's simply not feasible.

What I was not required to do, though, was get sucked down the rabbit hole of cheap dopamine hits from new friends, likes, comment, and all the rest of it. I did, and that was my naivete and lack of discipline.

This morning, oddly enough, a trending story on Facebook was a piece from NPR saying that Americans are too lonely, and Millenials and Generation Z -- the ones allegedly so "connected" by all these new technologies -- are the loneliest. The article cites another study:
In fact, some research published in 2017 by psychologist Jean Twenge at San Diego State University suggests that more screen time and social media may have caused a rise in depression and suicide among American adolescents. The study also found that people who spend less time looking at screens and more time having face-to-face social interactions are less likely to be depressive or suicidal.
I don't know how lonely I was, but a friend of mine pegged how I was feeling. She said that when you spend much time on Facebook, you come off of it feeling like you have Attention Deficit Disorder. I always said that it made me feel like I was being hit in the face by a swarm of bees. Since I've pared it down, my focus is returning. I'm able to read deeply again.

I do not have a book to publicize. I don't really need a platform yet. I'm at the stage where I need to focus more on craft and creation and less on promotion. And I realized that the constant pull of Facebook was interfering with that process. Instead of getting my pats on the back from more significant achievements -- crafting an essay, getting a poem published -- I was getting cheap dopamine hits from Facebook.

Since I can't get rid of my account, I did what I could. I unfriended everyone, and I mean EVERYONE. I unliked all the pages that weren't directly work-related or writing-related. I created an author page for the few things I would still want to share, and I am being sparing on that front. Now, there is little in my feed to distract me -- no politics, no jokes. What comes in on my feed is all business.

I deleted my entire nine years of history one tedious post at a time. Facebook doesn't make it easy to eliminate your posts. It was a good motivation, though, not to start liking and commenting again to create a whole new history.

I have to say I shuddered at a few of the things I shared, but I can't unring that bell.

When I opened my presentation that time by saying that you need to decide if you really need to be on social media, I meant it. If you do need to be, you need to decide how much you need, how many outlets, how much time. You need to assess the effects on you.

Do you need Facebook? Or are you just there because someone told you to be? And does it do you more good than harm?




Tuesday, April 24, 2018

PEP TALK

repost by Lynn


I remember one time I was visiting my father, Jim Griffith, and he leaned over, patted my leg and said, “Little Lynnie, the cheerleader.” He had a smile on his face and his voice was warm, even proud.

I was in my forties at the time.

“Dad,” I said, “That was more than twenty years ago!”

I didn’t say out loud what I was thinking, which was: Is that all you can say about me? Haven’t I done anything since high school worth noting?

Lynn, third from the left. Go Tigers!
I was a cheerleader at Niobrara County High School for two and a half years. But if you’re thinking of a Hollywood cheerleader with blond hair in a ponytail and a fluorescent-white smile, think again. This was Lusk. There were 42 students in my graduating class. (We’re great, we’re alive—we’re the Class of 75!) Those of you who went to small high schools know that kids there are involved in pretty much everything; there are so many spots to fill and so few students.

So, yeah, I was a cheerleader. I was also a National Honor Society member, played drums in the band, joined Spanish Club and FHA, played an old lady in the Junior Class Play and worked on the yearbook.

National Honor Society; Lynn in the middle,
focused on keeping her knees together
I tried out for cheerleading my sophomore year, but didn’t get a spot. Jeanie Oliver beat me out. I like to think it was because she was blond and shapely, and I was… not. But maybe I blew the try-outs. At any rate, mid-semester it was discovered that Jeanie’s grades had slipped, so I got the job after all.

I went after it whole-hog, catching up quickly. I studied the routines, practiced at home in front of the mirror and kept my uniforms spotless. I even learned how to do the splits, which was recently permitted since we had a new cheerleading sponsor. The previous sponsor, Mrs. Bramlet, forbade the splits—something to do with it not being “virginal.”

My senior year I was elected by the squad to be Head Cheerleader. I think it was because I could yell really loud. Everybody in the county knew what the cheer was going to be when I bellowed, “Two Bits!”

Cheerleaders can be pensive, on occasion.
Lately I’ve been wondering about Dad’s statement, “Little Lynnie, the cheerleader.”

It’s true that I like to cheer people on, especially my fellow writers. Just the other day I got an email from a writing buddy—let’s call her Ruth—who was struggling after a writing critique. She was wondering if she should give up on fiction, thinking maybe she didn’t know what the average person wants.

I sent her this response:

A CHAT WITH RUTH’S EGO

Lynn: What makes you think Ruth should be able to write a perfect novel, right out of the gate?

Ego: Well, if it were up to me, she wouldn't even try to write. Much too risky. She might get hurt!

Lynn: But she likes to write and she's good at it. Obviously, it enriches her life. When she gave it up for a while, she got really sad.

Ego: Yeah, but it's my job to remind her of the dangers. To tell her daily that she might fail, she might not do it perfectly. To point out that whatever genre she is currently working in is probably not the “right” one for her. That keeps her scrambling and ensures that she doesn't get much done. I'm sure she'll thank me some day for keeping her from failure.

Lynn: And from success too.

Ego: Well, yeah. I guess I just want her to keep from trying. Pretty much anything.

Lynn: That's so kind of you.

Ruth, darling, this has nothing—nada—zip to do with writing. Your problem is you let the numbnuts in your mind rule the show. You listen too much to the critic, the ego, the naysaying voice.

Get this: we ALL have reservations, questions, insecurities, negative voices in our heads. Sorry, you're not that special :-) It's just that most of us don't hand them the microphone and say,
"Tell me again how shitty my writing is."

Suggestion #1: Ignore those nasty voices and keep writing, wherever the juice is: poetry, nonfiction, fiction. The more you do that, the quieter the voices will get. They never go away entirely. You have to work on in spite of them.

Suggestion #2: Screw what "the average person wants in fiction"—since when were you even interested in the average person? You're quirky, oddball, one of a kind, and that's why people love you. Dampen that down for the sake of a story and I will give you a hiding you'll never forget. Damn! Don't talk to me about writing for the average person again. Ever. You've got a unique voice, a talent for sardonic wit, and an oh-my-God-that's-strange imagination. Write for people like THAT!

Suggestion #3: It's way too early to be seeking out feedback on your novel. Write it. Then let it sit. Then dive into revision. Complete drafts #2, #3, #4... and on. Learn more about the art of writing fiction. Yeah, that sounds like a lot of work, and requires a lot of patience. Develop it.

The analogy that arises for me in this whole situation is: Ruth grabs a tennis racket and takes a swing. Thinks she should be going to Wimbledon. Crumbles in despair when that doesn't work out for her.

Just write, my friend. Just keep writing.

~~ End of Pep Talk ~~

Ruth liked it. I think my urging helped. She gives me encouragement, too, usually by saying things like, "I love the way you put words together."



I also give myself pep talks, usually when I journal in the mornings:

The anthology editing is almost done. Finish strong, Lynn! 

Story rejected, so what? Submit again. Today! 

The critique said I need to tighten the story. I’m not sure what that means, exactly. Grab that book on revision and find out—Go! 

Dad and me

My father died in 2001, but I hear his voice often, offering counsel, giving encouragement, and, yes, saying...

“Little Lynnie, the cheerleader.”

Maybe he knew something about me I didn’t know about myself?


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Writing at the Ranch

Guest post by Gayle M. Irwin


The amber sun rises above the shadowy hillside. Standing on the wooden porch of the white-framed home, cup of steaming Costa Rican coffee in hand, I hear mourning doves greet the early spring morning. I’m about to start the first day of my self-imposed writing retreat – witnessing this tranquil sunrise is an inspiring way to start, and one reason I keep returning to this place.

Wyoming’s majestic landscapes spark my creativity, and at the JKL Ranch along the Powder River near Kaycee I find that inspirational ignition. Therefore, I take self-imposed writing retreats here each winter and spring. My friends, Judy and Kevin Lund, graciously open their guest house to me, and from this location I compose short stories, magazine articles, and pet-oriented books, including last year’s children’s work A Town Dog Named Mary Visits a Ranch.

Tranquility abounds at this semi-remote location. Daylight street noise and nighttime light pollution don’t exist. Cell service is limited, and internet isn’t an option here. Therefore, interruption from vehicles, door-to-door sales people, telephone, text, email, and social media are absent. I’m able to set aside hours for idea generation, writing manuscripts, and editing my works without noise or other disruptions.

Solace also comes from the land itself. The acreage sits amid bluffs above the river to the east; the Bighorn Mountains rise in the distance toward the west. These surroundings revive, restore, and reveal. Writing at my friends’ Wyoming ranch opens the windows of my senses and stirs my creativity.

Spring is especially vivid. Ripples of snow-melt water flow over the rocky river bed and splash along dirt-filled banks. Geese honk as they float the current, encouraging feathery friends to join the party. Tree leaves flutter with the breeze, while meadowlarks trill from fence posts. Sandhill cranes arrive to raise their young in the shelter of Russian olive hedges. These tall, gangly birds dance in the fields and trumpet their air travel over the acreage. Blooming wild iris and developing barley fields create fragrances as delicious as that of full-bodied wine. Red-tailed hawks and golden eagles soar through the azure sky. Woodpeckers drill their bills in large cottonwoods, and the occasional hen turkey with youngsters strut along the dirt driveway, pecking for bugs and seeds. White-tail and mule deer drink from the same river and often forage the guest house lawn as well as the nearby grain fields. Other animals, such as raccoons, bobcat, and coyote, live on or pass through the property, although usually only tracks and scat speak of their presence.

I observed my first owlets on the Lund’s property last spring. Three downy birds first confined to a large cottonwood cavity became fledglings perched on a nearby branch, their great-horned mother overseeing them a tree away.

Livestock also reside here, their scent often wrinkling my nose. Cattle roam the ranch, including a pasture abreast of the guest house. They trade grazing grounds with two llamas and two yaks. Various breeds of sheep also forage for food and drop their offspring every March. A donkey named Humphrey keeps vigil over the lambs and their parents.

While many writers find their muse at coffee shops or libraries, mine is enriched by nature and solitude. Each visit to the ranch refreshes my body and spirit and fuels my creativity. Writing ideas sprout, bloom, and flourish, including essays for WREN (Wyoming Rural Electric News) and books for children and adults. This year, I plan to complete my first novel, new chapters generated while visiting the ranch.

Nature’s beauty inspires me, and as spring approaches renewing the vast Wyoming landscape, I look forward to my next trip – writing at the ranch!

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Gayle M. Irwin writes inspirational pet books and stories for children and adults as well as serves as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in seven Chicken Soup for the Soul books, including last year’s “The Dog Really Did That?” Last year she authored a children’s book based on being at the JKL Ranch titled A Town Dog Named Mary Visits a Ranch, which she’ll share with young audiences during Children’s Book Week in May. Gayle is a member of Wyoming Writers, Inc. Learn more about this Casper, Wyoming, writer at www.gaylemirwin.com.




Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Life-Altering Magic of Middle Grade Books

Guest post by Nanci Turner Steveson

One of my four brothers asked me a few years ago why I write literary fiction for the Middle Grade market, when authors who write Young Adult books make all the money and get movie deals. Good question, right?  I come from a family of six kids. Both parents, and my five siblings, all either graduated from Ivy League colleges, or UT Plan II (for the genius people). Not me. I didn’t go to college, so everything I know, I learned through grit, determination, a whole lot of reading, traveling, and studying on my own. Thank God for my insatiable curiosity.

My brother’s question is a fair one — although for me it came with that lifelong sense of not being quite up to snuff as the rest of my family. It is the rare, literary middle-grade novel that makes a big splash and earns an author a lot of money. It wasn’t even a writing “voice” that came naturally to me, as my editor at HarperCollins will attest. I had to work hard to move past my stuffy, overly-poetic prose to learn how to write for this age group. I read hundreds of books over many years to understand the specific voice that is comfortable and exciting to a middle-grade reader. Writing for a different market is certainly something I considered more than once — yet my commitment to upper elementary through middle school children remains strong and steady.

Here is the thing: If you are in a room with 100 people, and ask them all what their favorite book was as a child (“child” being an unspecified time period), 90% of them will remember a book they read when they were between 8-12. Charlotte’s Web. Anne of Green Gables. Walk Two Moons. My Side of the Mountain. The list goes on and on. And, when they answer you, they’re going to smile. Not only is this the prime age which determines whether a kid becomes a lifelong reader, but they are perched on the cusp of adolescence when they begin the arduous hike through oh-so-murky-waters, and stumble upon the trickiest paths of their young lives. The books they’ve read can give them better footing as they navigate their way toward adulthood. It is the age when we, as authors, can assure them, “You’re okay — now go forth and stumble.”

Sometimes I hear rumblings of criticism about a theme in one or another of my books. This always startles me. I believe it is our responsibility to offer youth a glimpse of what real-life looks like, outside the cocoon of their upbringing. Death happens. Anxiety happens. Difficult relationships between parent and child happen. Blended families happen. Moving happens. Divorce happens. And what safer place for children to explore these things than on the pages of a book?

Where else can a young child raised in a homogenous society develop empathy and understanding for those whose lives are very different than their own? I point to Linda Sue Park’s book, A Long Walk to Water; R.J. Palacio’s Wonder; and Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. It is here where children can explore the ideas of bi-racial marriage; different cultures; same sex parents; adopted and foster kids; single moms; single dads; people with disabilities; kids with an incarcerated parent; or, as in my third book which comes out next January, kids who are experiencing homelessness.

This is often where children see families like theirs who are viewed as different, and the message is: You’re okay.

One of my favorite reviews was from the Center for Children’s Books at Johns Hopkins University about Georgia Rules. The reviewer wrote: “Steveson takes time to develop and round out each of her characters and their histories, resulting in a singular, intricately woven story of people’s complicated, rule-surpassing existences. This book gives young readers a useful perspective on the negotiation of power in their lives, and it sheds a soft light on the imperfections of adults, creating space for honest and open dialogue.”

What a beautiful thing: to allow a child to experience power, and to create space for open and honest dialogue when they discover that we, as adults, are fallible and flawed.

I admit, I did not start out writing for middle-grade readers with these noble concepts in mind. I didn’t struggle to learn how to write for this age group because I held such lofty ideas that my books might change lives. I decided this intentionally for two reasons: One, when I was nine and knew someday I would be an author, I constantly had my face buried in books that took me away from a rather complicated moment in my life. They gave me comfort when no one else could. Two, because I regret not going to college. I would have been a teacher, and writing for the Middle Grade market allows me the opportunity to go into schools now, to teach and inspire kids to read and write, and to let them know that whatever challenges life puts in front of them, if they want something badly enough, they can make it happen. I am living proof.

The understanding that my books could make a significant difference to a child came about by default. In my first book, Swing Sideways, I never use the words “anorexia” or “panic attacks,” but it is clear that the main character struggled with these in her recent past. About two months after Swing Sideways came out, I got an email from a librarian who wanted me to know the impact that story had on one of her young students. The girl was eleven, a dancer, and a voracious reader. After reading my book, she recognized something of herself in Annie’s story, and was able to find the courage to tell her parents she had been hiding her own anorexia for a long time.

At age eleven it is easy to not fully understand what it means that you can’t eat, and it’s equally easy to hide what is happening by wearing oversized clothes so no one notices you are shrinking. The effects of this girl’s anorexia were already so severe, she spent several months in the hospital and out-patient care. I spoke to her mother once and, with a wobbly voice, she said to me, “I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t read your book.”

Imagine how humbling those words were for me to hear. I don’t write books with a planned “message.” I write from that deep, dark well inside me, that place we should all visit from time-to-time whether we are authors or not. I write about once-in-a-lifetime friendships that happen in a place where the rules of the real world don’t apply. I write about love and laughter, forgiveness, rising up from the ashes, and overcoming the odds. What young person doesn’t need to experience that, whether in real-life, or through the magic of the perfect words?

There are many days when I struggle with that frightening blank page, but then I remember that little girl and the difference my words made at a time when she desperately needed to read them. That isn’t to say other genres can’t have an impact on readers, of course they do. But for me, as a person who found great solace in books, it is a wonderful thing to offer hope to a child who might just need to hear me say, “Yes, yes, you really are okay.”

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Shameless plug time: Nanci Turner Steveson is on the faculty of Wyoming Writers Inc.'s 44th annual conference coming up in Dubois June 1-3. We thought we'd let you get to know Nanci a little bit here, then pop on over and register for the conference to see more of her. You can also learn more about her on her website at www.nanciturnersteveson.com.

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Nanci Turner Steveson grew up with a book in one hand, the reins of a pony in the other. After her children were grown, she moved west with her horse, a golden retriever named Peach, and a mysterious box given to her by a ghost. Nanci now is Stage Manager for a professional theatre and lives in a historic, meadow cabin in the shadow of the Tetons. In addition to writing books for middle-grade age readers, her favorite thing is to inspire young writers by teaching in elementary and middle schools across the country. Nanci is on the Board of Directors of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference, and mentors high school students through Writers Club!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD

post by Lynn

I remember a time, before we got married, when Mike and I were eating lunch and he asked, “What should we have for dinner?”

I told my sister about it.

“Oh, he’s gonna fit in with our family just fine,” she said.



Food is a big part of my life, and I make no apologies about it.

So I often wonder when writers leave out of their stories all the muffin crumbs, lemon zests and long, cheesy strands of life.




I concur with the Italian writer, Aldo Buzzi, who wrote, “The writer who never talks about eating, about appetite, hunger, food, about cooks and meals, arouses my suspicion as though some vital element were missing in him.”

Not including the growing, gathering, purchasing, preparation and consumption of food in your essays, stories and poems is, in my opinion, a lost opportunity.

A LOST OPPORTUNITY FOR…

Waxing philosophic:

“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” 
- Luciano Pavarotti 

Paying homage:

“When God sets the table for dinner, I would bet my grandma’s rolls are right next to the butter.”
- Susan Mark 

Expressing disdain:

“Cucumber should be well sliced, dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out.”
 - Samuel Johnson 

Humor:

“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.” 
- Calvin Trillin 

Portraying attitude:

“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” 
- Sophia Loren 

Expressing the sublime:

“Strawberries are the angels of the earth, innocent and sweet with green leafy wings reaching heavenward.” 
- Terri Guillemets 

Characterization:

“Mariam’s right hand scoops peanut sauce and rice from the communal bowl. Her thumb nudges it into a ball, which she slips into her mouth using only her forefingers. Not a grain of rice is dropped."   - me 

Delivering a good insult:

“Americans will eat garbage provided you sprinkle it liberally with ketchup.”
 - Henry James 

REMEMBER?

Food is a portal, too, to memory.

What is evoked as I remember my father serving my sisters and me a dish he called “goop” (creamed tuna on toast--pretty much the only dish he knew how to cook, having learned it in the military) after my mother’s departure when I was eight years old?

Goop filled the hole in my stomach, but I missed my Mom’s tacos, how she used paper towels to  press all of the grease out of the hamburger for me, because I was a finicky eater, and couldn’t stand any kind of fat.

And in remembering my father’s dish I am whisked back to that time. I feel again the craving for my mother's tacos and I feel again the hole in my insides that no amount of food could fill.


There’s so, so much more to food than just the ingredients, the cooking, the eating. There’s a whole other world of sensation, impression and connection.
“I tell about myself, and how I ate bread on a lasting hillside, or drank wine in a room now blown to bits, and it happens without my willing it that I am telling too about the people with me then, and their other deeper needs for love and happiness.”  
                         -- M.F.K. Fisher, The Gastronomical Me 

A WRITING PROMPT

In our writing group, we have an exercise called “Tag, You’re It.”

Between our monthly sessions, the person assigned to be the “tagger” selects a writing prompt and emails it to that month’s assigned “taggee.” The taggee writes to the prompt and at the next session, shares the results with the group. 

Mike recently tagged Susan with a writing prompt from Natalie Goldberg that encouraged Susan to write about a food memory.

“A Lemon Pie Worth the Work” was the result. Susan’s depiction of a scene in which she was performing her little-girl job of adding flour as her carpenter-father kneaded bread dough, told me all I need to know about how she reveres her father. The image stays with me like a note of music hanging in the air after the musician has set down the instrument.



So, all I’m saying today is don’t forget the food.

Let your characters argue over pickles in the potato salad. Resurrect the sound of your grandfather chewing his pot roast. Summon in your poem the taste of a single blackberry, just plucked from a bush in the shadow of the Tetons as you keep an eye out for bears.



Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Poetry Can Open Space for the Imagination

Susan chimes in: April is National Poetry Month, a time to read, write, and celebrate poetry in all its forms. In Wyoming, WyoPoets marks National Poetry with their annual Spring Workshop. The 2018 event, "The Art and Craft of Poetry," will feature today's guest contributor, Art Elser. Learn more and register on the WyoPoets website.

Guest post by Art Elser

In these times of constant connection to the world, waves of information that daily inundate us, fears many have because of the recent events, is there room in our lives for poetry? Can we measure its cost effectiveness? Its effect to the bottom line? Its return on investment? Since April is National Poetry Month, perhaps we should properly ask: What value does poetry add to our lives?

As with all art, we have difficulty finding a use or value or price we can assign to poetry, no schema that sorts it into an economic priority list. Art finds its value not in utility, ROI, or cost savings but in feeding the imagination, in creating a room or space in the human soul where we can be encouraged, nourished, calmed, healed by it.

The ancients knew the value of poetry. It was first the vehicle by which fathers passed knowledge to sons, mothers to daughters, elders to new leaders. Poetry told the farmer when to plant, harvest, how to tend the crops. It told the healer which herbs healed illnesses and where to find them. Youngsters learned the social customs, laws, and taboos of their tribe, shamen passed on religion to novitiates. As cultures became more sophisticated poetry took the form of oral history and legend, for example, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf. More metaphorical forms emerged like the Psalms.

A friend recently sent me an article by the poet, Matthew Zapruder, "Poetry and Poets in a Time of Crisis." In it Zapruder points out that prose often has a utilitarian purpose, to explain, to describe, to elucidate, to persuade, and successful prose stays the course to its conclusion, never wandering off on a tangent.

But poetry, Zapruder says, has no such discipline. The poet attempts to persuade you to take a course of action but is suddenly distracted by that field of wildflowers over there beyond that wooden fence. So we climb the fence with him and wander through the "bee-loud glade." We see the beauty of the lupine, mallow, fireweed, primrose, the iris by the stock pond. We smell their fragrance and feel the warmth of the sun on our face and arms. We hear the meadowlark singing on that mullein stalk over there near the cottonwoods, hear the wind whispering through the dry wheatgrass, the cottonwood leaves clicking in the breeze, the bees buzzing from lupine to lupine. We follow the poet over that fence and imagine ourselves in that flower-filled meadow, almost tasting the honey the bees are making.

Or we walk with the poet who is complaining about the busyness of her days and her lack of time to write because of a stack of laundry waiting to be ironed. She also mentions she has to take the dog to the vet and that suddenly reminds her of the homeless couple she saw on a street, their shopping cart stacked with their belongings. They treat each other with such love and respect that in spite of the stale-sweat smell around them, the beauty and dignity of their lives shines from their eyes through the dirt on their faces. And the love between them and their brown and white mongrel radiates in their faces and in its wagging tail as they share their meager lunch with it. The poet invites us open our imaginations to a world unknown to us. To imagine the humanity we have in common with that couple. Perhaps we suddenly find ourselves more open to empathy and compassion. We discover a reverence for all humanity.

Poetry then can open space in our minds, our imaginations, our souls, in which we can see, smell, taste, feel, hear, life's  beauty and joy as well as its pain, horrors, and disappointments. It helps us experience and better understand life happening around us. We learn to experience beauty and joy by just looking up from our smart phones and tablets long enough to see the smile on the baby coming toward us in the arms of a young mother whose face glows with joy. Or we look up from the screen filled with wonder at the beauty of the poet's imagery that has made us see or feel something we have never seen or felt before.

Poetry helps to imagine what others feel, their pain, their losses, the futility of their lives, and also to imagine the beauty and dignity of their lives despite their hardships. Poetry helps us become more sensitive to the of the world around us and to others no matter their color, status, religion, sexual preference, country of origin. We learn empathy and to treat others with love and compassion.

Perhaps in this age in which, by many accounts, attention spans are getting shorter, people are isolated, spending more time online, and many want to get away from the violence and horror in the world, poetry can open up ideas and feelings to help assuage the pain that seems to fill our world. A short, effective poem that fits nicely onto a small screen may be more apt to be read than an editorial or op-ed piece.  Poetry that feeds our imagination and opens spaces in our minds for beauty and joy and truth and empathy and compassion and reverence can heal our anxious souls and help us see our way back to our humanity.
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Art Elser is a poet and writer who has been published in many journals and anthologies. His latest book, As The Crow Flies, is a collection of 120 haiku selected from over 2,000 he has written. His other books include a memoir, What's It All About, Alfie?, and two books of poetry, We Leave the Safety of the Sea, and A Death at Tollgate Creek. Art lives in Denver with his wife, Kathy, and their pup, Walker.  He will be the presenter at the 2018 WyoPoets Spring Workshop, April 27-28 in Cheyenne, and was the juror for the soon-to-be-released 2018 WyoPoets chapbook, This Box for Dreams.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

KEEPING IT FRESH


guest post by William Kent Krueger

Lynn here: 

Kent Krueger is one of the stellar authors who will be on hand at the 44th Annual Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference this coming June 1 - 3 in lovely Dubois, Wyoming. (Turns out Kent has been to Dubois, doing research for his novel, Heaven's Keep.)  

During the conference, Kent will be the keynote speaker at the banquet. At his breakout sessions Kent will provide insight on finding the soul of the story, creating suspense and elevating setting and place. 

Little known fact: Kent was born in Torrington.

For more information on the conference, visit the Wyoming Writers, Inc. website. Registration is now open! 

Without further ado... here's Kent:

I’ve just completed revisions of the manuscript for the seventeenth novel in my Cork O’Connor series. Seventeen. That’s a number hard for me to believe. In 1998, when Iron Lake, my debut novel, was published, if you’d told me there were going to be sixteen more (and probably then some), I’d have wondered what you were smoking.

Of course, I’m thrilled, and one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is how I manage to keep the series fresh and maintain my enthusiasm. So, for anyone who has launched into the writing of a series or is contemplating that move, I offer a few suggestions from my own experience.

The most important decision I made when I started out was to create a protagonist who would not be static. What do I mean by that? I believe you have only two real choices when considering the essential, central character for your series. You will create a protagonist who is either static or dynamic. A static protagonist is someone who never changes, who is the same story after story.

Think Sherlock Holmes. You read one Sherlock Holmes tale, and he’s the same guy in every other Arthur Conan Doyle story you read. A dynamic protagonist, on the other hand, is someone who does change, who ages, someone for whom what happens in one story affects how he or she sees the world in the subsequent entries. When I began my series, Cork was a man just past forty. In Sulfur Springs, the most recent entry, he’s in his mid-fifties. He’s aged fifteen years. His children were young in the first book; now they’re grown and one of them has a child of her own.

What this choice has done is to help frame the series as a journey for the O’Connor clan. Each time I sit down to write a new story, I’m writing about slightly different people. Events and time have changed them. They see the world and themselves a little differently. They may relate to one another with different dynamics. Which means that the series is a journey for me as well, and I’m always discovering something new along the way.

Here’s another thing to consider when writing your mysteries: Try putting at the story’s center an issue about which you feel passionately. At one time, there was a kind of story often in literature referred to as the Social Novel, a fiction created around a very real, contemporary social issue that the author wished to bring to the attention of a larger audience. Think Dickens or Victor Hugo or Upton Sinclair or Theodore Dreiser. We don’t really have the Social Novel anymore. What’s taken its place? To a large extent, our genre has shouldered this responsibility. Many of our fine crime novels today hit hard at issues important in our society.

In my own series, I’ve dealt with the on-going battle here in Minnesota over Native hunting and fishing treaty rights, the influx of the drug and gang cultures on the reservation, the sexual trafficking of vulnerable Native women and children, the rape of the land by uncaring corporations, and most recently, the tragic situation involving refugees coming across our border with Mexico. When you construct a story around an issue you feel passionately about, it’s not hard to create a compelling narrative in which you can invest your heart and your artistic sensibilities fully.

Here's another suggestion: Educate your readers. Without being didactic or becoming pedantic, offer your readers information about an area they probably don’t know very well. Everyone likes to feel that, along with a good read, they’re learning something. Tony Hillerman informed a huge audience about the Navajo culture. When you read Nevada Barr, you get the inside scoop on so many of our national parks. From Keith McCafferty you might learn everything you need to about fly fishing and wilderness survival. It’s fun to show off what you know or what you’ve learned through research, as long as you do this judiciously.

In my own work, for example, I continue learning about the rich and complex culture of the Anishinaabeg. With each entry, I try to offer readers something I haven’t previously, a slightly different perspective. This means that I have to keep learning myself, and I find that I continue to grow in my appreciation of these fine people.

Finally, I offer this: Write because it’s what you love to do. If you’re following your passion, that’s going to be evident on every page. There’s nothing more compelling than a story that comes from the heart.

I told myself a long time ago that I would write the Cork O’Connor stories until I had no enthusiasm left for them. I’m at work in my head on number eighteen in the series and I even have a glimmer of what number nineteen might look like. At the moment, the energy still flows, I’m excited about the possibilities ahead, and I feel very blessed.

William Kent Krueger: Bio


Raised in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, William Kent Krueger—he goes by Kent—briefly attended Stanford University, before being kicked out for radical activities, a dubious honor which he continues to be unduly proud of.

Before becoming a writer fulltime, he worked in a number of manly enterprises, including logging and heavy construction. Kent writes the New York Times bestselling Cork O’Connor mystery series. 

His 2013 stand-alone novel Ordinary Grace was honored with several awards, including the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Desolation Mountain, the 17th entry in his series, will be released this August. He does all his writing in a couple of wonderfully funky coffee shops in St. Paul, Minnesota.