Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Oh 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


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.