Tuesday, November 18, 2014

DEAR REJECTION

post by Lynn

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
https://www.flickr.com/photos/madame_furie/
Dear Rejection,

Ouch. That hurt. But I assure you I don’t take it personally. Well, maybe a little. I figure you have your reasons.

What are your reasons, may I ask? I take it more personally when you are mute. Say something-- anything--because the muteness tells me (or at least I think it does) that I’m not even worthy of the effort of a nice letdown. Come on, I deserve that at least.

Let me spell it out for you. Just say something along the lines of “not a fit for our current edition” or “we’ve had a lot of submissions similar to this lately, so unfortunately…” or even (oh, I wish) something specific to my piece like “the ending happens a little too quickly, need to flesh out the character arc a bit more.” That’s not asking too much, is it?

Still and all, it’s a far more frightening thing when I don’t even risk you. When I shrug my shoulders and say, "If I don’t play, I can’t lose."

That’s bad--awful, in fact. I know that if I’m serious about writing, I’ve got to get on the field. Jump in the scrum and fight for the ball, even knowing I'll get banged up.

Okay. I have to go now. There's some, well, LOTS of work to do. We’ll meet again soon. But I think I’m going to take our frequent encounters as proof that I’m in the game, and getting better every day.

Respectfully,

Lynn G. Carlson


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

No Tears in the Writer...

by Susan

... no tears in the reader. Or so I've heard it said.

I often write in the time between I get dressed and when I have to leave for work. One drawback is that if I am writing a particularly emotional scene, I start crying. I keep writing. I keep crying.

There's nothing like showing up for work with red-rimmed eyes and a headache from crying -- 10 minutes late as well because I was trying to get the last few sentences down.

As writers, we try to plumb those depths. In fiction, we feel what our character feels so that we can put that experience on the page. In memoir, we remember those emotions. Lewis Nordan, author of the memoir, Boy With Loaded Gun said he wanted to make his readers laugh and cry in the same sentence. I want that, too, because that is how life is. But how?

At some point, I find I need to real it back in, lest I slip over the edge into maudlin. I need to step back and keep the details that convey the power of the scene without lapsing into self-pity. Self-pity is an easy thing to write and a dreary, annoying thing to read.

In The Poetry Home Repair Manual, Ted Kooser writes:

"To write a poem that is not just a gush of sentiment but something that will engender in its readers deep, resonant feelings, you need to exercise restraint to avoid what is commonly termed sentimentality."

Or worse yet, gushiness. Yet if you take too much of the emotion out of the piece, it loses its heart and its human connection. It's a fine line to skate.

When working with beginning poets, Kooser said he will make them write without any overt statements of feelings. No outright statements of love or grief, but only the situation that would cause such things. Trust the reader to have the emotional reaction to it, he advises. You do not need to lead them by the nose.

His advice works for prose as well. I've often felt the most powerful stories are best told most simply, most concretely. Details tell the tale. I am more moved by a woman's hand shaking as she smooths her mother's hair in the coffin than I am when the writer tells me the character is grief-stricken.

As I scribble this zeroth draft, I am likely gushing. My job as a writer is to go back and reel it in, find the fine details. Maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll make you cry, too.


And in honor of Veterans Day
Chris Valentine, a long-time WyoPoets member, sent us a collection of war poetry that honors those who have served. We also invite you to read on our blog Art Elser's words about finding healing from his Vietnam War experiences through writing.

Today, our thanks go out to all who have served our country.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Bit More on Place

Just outside Glenrock
by Susan

After Susan Marsh's wonderful guest post earlier this week, we came across a new discussion from Page Lambert on the same topic, a summary of a panel discussion, "At the Heart of Place," that she was on with Dawn Wink, Julene Bair and Susan Tweit at the Women Writing the West conference.

Each offered her own perspective on the places that shaped them and shaped their writing -- from a west Kansas farm, ranchland, even the stars.

Lambert notes:

How then, is setting or location different?  When narrative, story, brings a place to life, it becomes the Place where something happened

I know every place I have lived or encountered shapes me in some way and spills out in my writing. There are the places I treasured, like Alaska, that always felt like magic to me. There is the city I grew up in, a minor rivet on the rust belt enduring hard times then and even harder times now. I wanted to leave it desperately, but I will carry a piece of it with me always. Cheyenne was like an arranged marriage for me. I came here for my husband's job and wasn't too sure about this place in the first place, but I fell in love with it over the years as I made my home here.

What about you? What is your place, the place that feeds your writing? Please share!




Tuesday, November 4, 2014

BEYOND SETTING: PLACE AS CHARACTER

guest post by Susan Marsh

Photo of Miller Lake in the Wind River Mountains
by Susan Marsh

When I started writing this guest blog a few weeks ago, I had no idea how hard it would be: I thought I knew my subject well, since it’s one I have long pondered. There is always more to learn, so I am sharing with you my latest thinking on the subject.

Here are the opening lines of two novels I have written:
"Sunlight touched the cottonwoods, their leaves dark and glossy as if it were the middle of summer." 
and
"Dawn brightened into daylight, revealing miles of rawboned country." 
In both of these sentences I have introduced the main character: the place where the story occurs. We all understand what setting is—the time and place of the story that interweaves with character and plot. But when I speak of Place, I mean more than setting. As I try to understand the difference between place and setting, it helps to recall what setting is supposed to do in a story: to ground the characters and plot, to help the reader visualize what is happening and when, to give metaphorical meaning to the plot. Place does the same, but it abides less authorial manipulation. My story must be true to the place, to wrap itself around the place in an authentic way.

Setting is used to serve the author’s needs; place resists this. It can intervene as I write, the same way my characters do: “Cross that out – I wouldn’t say that,” says a character as I struggle with early-draft dialogue. Place likewise demands to be portrayed on its specific terms.

In my mind, place is larger than setting—both geographically and emotionally. If setting is the era/location of a story, place transcends time, containing a past, present and future. It is the essential spirit of a region in all its wildness: even if it has been turned into strip malls it holds the memory of what once was and could again be. Setting is a device; place has power. Its wild nature comes to inhabit the people who live there just as the people inhabit the place, making us inter-permeable.

It’s a deep level of belonging that I can only describe by an example that may ring true: you are hiking along a familiar trail where you feel at home, and it is late fall when the undergrowth is brown and crispy underfoot, a skiff of snow on north facing slopes above. You love that late season hike, yet part of you anticipates the wildflowers you know will bloom again there in a few months’ time. That knowledge is a manifestation of what I call the ‘interpermeability’ between people and place. It comes only through deep inhabitance.

Place, when rendered lovingly and thoroughly, gives the overall story a certain truth that I can’t find any other way. If a real place is shown well, everything that happens in it seems more realistic to the reader. Real people live in real places that matter to them, and I think the characters of a story have to as well. In writing about the West, it is hard to ignore the place, which so strongly shapes our lives. Wild country and big skies crack us open in a wonderful way, and that is what happens to the characters in my stories.

My focus on place has allowed me to find ways to write less plot-driven and more contemplative scenes. In both my fiction and nonfiction, the main character spends a good amount of time alone in the wilderness where there’s not much opportunity for dialogue or other devices to move the story along. This gives readers a break from the momentum of action scenes, and lets them follow the gentler pace required of solitude in a quiet place.

But how can a place be a character? Characters have a number of purposes in a story: they move the plot forward, interact with each other, influence, persuade or sometimes force one another to react, and they evoke emotions and memories in one another—as well as in the reader. The land where the story happens does the same as it takes on the role of character. The people in the story don’t normally engage in dialogue with a place the way they do with each other, but they certainly interact with it, learning from their intimate experiences and relating to place at a deep emotional level. Over the course of the story, the reader gets to know the place and its unique character, just as the human characters reveal themselves over time.

I often start with the far view of the place, trying to suggest its overall essence in terms of mood and tone, while at the same time trying to make the human characters as compelling as possible. Later in the story, the place asserts itself with more depth, detail, and meaning.

As an example, my novel War Creek was conceived to shed light on the vanishing traditions of the Forest Service, the plight of endangered species, and the grandeur of the national forest just east of North Cascades National Park, a place dear to me on many levels. People who have read the book all comment on the intense evocation of place. It wasn’t something I did consciously; the place lives within me as a writer.

My memoir A Hunger for High Country attempts to evoke a place in a different way. I tell a story of my experiences working as a woman professional in the Forest Service, but I’ve seen the book as a profile of the Yellowstone country as much as it is my story of personal experience and growth.

I’m working on other place-centered stories at the moment, and think that I will never write anything else. I am most interested in the connection between people and the wild earth, a connection that has been with us since the beginning, and one that seems now in danger of being forgotten.

Lynn chimes in...

I read once that setting is where characters are in duel with their difficulties. This is definitely the case in A Hunger for High Country, where the setting both contains and reflects Susan's struggles in being one of the first generation of women to work as a field-going professional in the U.S. Forest Service.

The memoir takes the reader along on Susan's wild ride, and en route you are introduced to grizzly bear biscuits, a coffee mug altered to read "Forest Circus--Department of Aggravation" and a stand of "twisty trunk" aspen that wrap around the author to soothe her in bewildering times. You also learn a hell of a lot about the history of wilderness in these United States, and get a good elbow in the ribs to not take all this amazingness for granted--maybe even do something about preserving it.

Susan's dedication to the wild is embedded in every phrase of the book. This excerpt from the last chapter of the book, reflects her passion:
With each act of service I peel another layer away, coming closer to the core, fueled by the hot fire in the heart that says This Matters. Each time I introduce another person to a favorite untrammeled place or a delicate wildflower, I shine a light on the satisfying depth of experience that accompanies reflective time outdoors. 
-- From A Hunger for High Country, by Susan Marsh.

A little more about Susan...

Born in Seattle, Susan Marsh is a naturalist and award-winning writer now living in Jackson, Wyoming. She has over thirty years’ experience as a wild land steward for the U. S. Forest Service. She was drawn to the wild from an early age, and animals were her primary conduit to this place of beauty and mystery. This loss of the wild and affinity for animals has driven Susan’s lifelong path.

Susan’s books include the novel War Creek (MP Publishing), The Wild Wyoming Range (Laguna Wilderness Press), A Hunger for High Country (Oregon State University Press), Targhee Trails (White Willow), Beyond the Tetons (White Willow) and Stories of the Wild (The Murie Center). Her writing has appeared in Orion, North American Review, Fourth Genre, Talking River Review, Weber Studies, North Dakota Quarterly, and numerous other journals.

Susan received the 2003 Neltje Blanchan Memorial Award, awarded by the Wyoming Arts Council.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween: A Writing Roundup

Happy Halloween! We hope you've been enjoying this exceptionally nice October in Wyoming. We've put together some bits and snippets of news to wrap up the month.

Limber up those typing fingers...
Opportunities
Nature Conservancy Writer's Residency: The Nature Conservancy’s Red Canyon Ranch is seeking applications from writers who wish to pursue a writing project or are in need of inspiration and solitude. The applicant must be a writer with an interest in the Conservancy’s scope of work. Residents will be provided rustic accommodations in a log cabin on Red Canyon Ranch, high in the Wind River Mountains, The ranch is located 13 miles from Lander.

The Wyoming Arts Council is accepting applications for its 2015 Blanchan and Doubleday writing awards. Deadline is midnight on Monday, Nov. 17. The Neltje Blanchan Award of $1,000 is given for the best poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or script which is informed by a relationship with the natural world. The Frank Nelson Doubleday Award of $1,000 is given for the best poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or script written by a woman author. This year’s judge is nature writer Kurt Caswell, who teaches creative writing and literature at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

The Wyoming Arts Council is also now accepting applications for its artist roster. Deadline is Monday, Dec. 1.

 WyoPoets is accepting entries for its Eugene V. Shea Annual National Contest through Monday, Dec. 1



Save the Dates
Yes, it’s a long ways out, but jot the dates down anyway. You’ll be glad you did:

Kudos!
Cat Urbigkit's latest book, When Man Becomes Prey was published in October.

Darcy Lipp-Acord was a finalist for the 2014 WILLA Awards for her book, Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman's Journey. The awards were announced at the Women Writing the West conference this month.

Several Wyoming authors were honored in the High Plains Book Awards:
  • Laurie Wagner Buyer won the nonfiction category for Rough Breaks: A Wyoming High Country Memoir
  • Nina McConigley took the short story category with Cowboys and East Indians
  • Julianne Couch was a finalist for her nonfiction Traveling the Power Line
  • Cody-based Pronghorn Press was the publisher for finalist Meadowlark by Dawn Wink.
Laramie County Community College's newest edition of the High Plains Register is now available.


Three writing prompts for Halloween from the folks at the Writers Write Creative Blog. They post great prompts daily, so check them out:
  1. What is the most terrifying book you've ever read?
  2. Which Halloween costumes did the main characters in your novel wear when they were children?
  3. Use these words in a paragraph: melted ice cream, November, skeletons, whisky.

And also for Halloween -- Five Reasons Why Stephen King Must DIE!


NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow
November is National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel, start to finish, in one short month. Are you going for it? Learn more on the website and blog.


Have writing news you think we should include next month? Please drop us a note at writingwyoming@gmail.com or leave your comment below.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What is Your Why?

by Susan

Maybe she should have asked me after I'd had another cup 
of coffee. 
When I was at the Wyoming Library Association conference this year, I walked into a session first thing in the morning, bleary-eyed and wondering whether there was enough coffee in Colombia to salvage the morning.

The presenter handed me an adhesive name badge with the words, "What is your why?" in red letters at the top. She asked me, what is your passion? Why do you get up and go to work in the morning?

Lately I've been joking that I hate my job with the fiery passion of a thousand blazing suns*, so my first response was, "Because I like to eat?"

But as I sat there a few minutes it dawned on me the common thread as to why I write and why I chose librarianship: stories matter.

Let's say that a little louder... in parentheses.... capital letters.... quotated....

STORIES MATTER!

THIS is my why. Stories matter, YOUR stories matter. Novels, short stories, memoir, history -- you name it. The stories we write, the stories we tell weave us all together in a shared experience. 

With caffeine finally taking effect and cynicism tossed aside for the moment, I proudly wrote "Stories Matter" on the nametag and wore it the rest of the day.

Which brings me back to the question: What is your why? Why do you get up and write? What drives you to it? Writing is a lonely and often unrewarding (at least financially) endeavor. Why do you do it?

We want to know! Please share in the comments: What is your why?


*For the record, it's a good job. I'd just rather be writing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

SHHH...

post by Lynn

Sshhh! Don’t talk about it.

I was in a memoir writing group once with a fellow who wrote really good stuff during the free writes, in response to writing prompts. Afterwards, he’d read out loud what he had written and say “I didn’t have time to write the whole story.” Then he would proceed to tell us the rest of it.

We always told him to write the story, that it was a good story and he could publish it if he wrote it all down. But somehow, he never did. He had lots of stories started, but he didn’t finish them. Or maybe, in his head, he had finished them, because he had told us the whole story.

Maybe this is why so many writers don’t share their first drafts with anyone or talk about their works-in-progress.

Margaret Atwood flat-out said, “I never talk about books I’m writing.” Ray Bradbury said, “Don’t talk about it. Write.”

Never? Don’t talk about any aspect of writing? Really?

Marshall J. Cook, in Freeing Your Creativity:A Writer’s Guide, says it’s a matter of order. 

“In the idea-gathering stage, you should let everybody know what you’re working on. They’ll contribute materials for the mental composting that helps you develop possibilities… as the idea gets ready to take specific shape and form, you must protect it from the corrosive effect your words could have on it. Your imp wants to tell the story… and does so strictly for the joy of the telling. If you let it blab the story now, the imp may lose all interest in telling it again, on paper, later. … Your first telling will likely be your best telling in terms of the richness of your invention. Save that first telling for putting words on paper."

Oh, it’s a two part deal, is it?

1. Part One: gathering and composting phase. Feel free to throw it out to your friends that you are working on a story that deals with shamans, or guinea pigs, or Stonehenge, or whatever. Let them give you the benefit of their knowledge and experience with those things. You might learn something, get a lead, or find out that unbeknownst to you your good friend has a fetish about rodents that, frankly, you wish you hadn’t learned about.

2. Part Two: the story unfolds. This part should happen in two places: in your head and on the page. Nothing should come out of your mouth.


Ernest Hemingway also divided it in two, in a 1958 Paris Review interview, when he told George Plimpton:
“Though there is one part of writing that is solid and you do it no harm by talking about it, the other is fragile, and if you talk about it, the structure cracks and you have nothing."

There is a lot of good discussion on this anti-discussion topic on the web, like in this New York Times article: “Don’t Ask What I’m Writing” by Mark Slouka. And this one by Steven Pressfield titled, “Don’t Talk About It.”


But personally I think Robert Frost said it best and briefest:

“Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes the pressure off the second.” 

As for me, I’ll discuss writing—the art and craft of it—as much as you want. And if you have any good information on rattlesnakes, let me know. But don’t ask me about my stories.

I’m not talkin’.


So, maybe this no-talking thing is a bunch of hooey. What do you think? Go over your stories with a friend or clam up?