Tuesday, July 22, 2014

We want.... a SHRUBBERY!

One that looks nice. And not too expensive.
"Almost anyone can write. Only writers know how to rewrite. It is this ability alone that turns the amateur into the professional."
William C. Knott

One of my favorite Mark Spragg moments at the last Wyoming Writers conference was when he discussed how he sometimes got too cute, too in love with a phrase or sentence that didn't belong. His editor flagged one of those lapses with a note: "Why don't you save this for your book of witty f**king sayings?"

I'll come back to this thought. For now, let's talk shrubbery.

My husband doesn't like to kill or even discourage plants. Sort of a Plants Rights Activist. For years, he refused to let me trim the shrubs, with one exception: per city ordinance, the sidewalks had to be kept clear. Along the walk, I hacked them in a sharp line. On the top and other three sides, they put out sprawling limbs. For several years it looked as if the cotoneasters wore mohawks.

Where I trimmed, I hadn't just lost the excess. The shrubs filled in, become thicker, more attractive. Just like my writing when I revise it. Where I cut, it leaves room for words and thoughts that matter. The writing becomes more solid.

I finally persuaded my husband to let me trim the other three sides. Once the long and rambling shoots were off, the gaps were evident, as if the shrubs had developed some form of cotoneaster pattern baldness. I have faith that if I keep trimming them back, they will take shape over time.

Cutting words can be painful. Even a writer like Mark Spragg sometimes can have trouble getting the last of the clutter out. But revising doesn't just take out the unwanted material. It makes room and space for more good writing to fill in the gaps. So don't  be afraid to cut pieces from that poem or prose. You may end up with more than you started with.


for those of you who read the title and were hoping for your Monty Python fix, here 'tis:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Book Review: The Coffee Break Guide to Business Plans for Writers

by Susan

Not long ago, I was advised to create a business plan for my writing, so I was excited to find The Coffee Break Guide to Business Plans for Writers on the new book shelves at the Laramie County Public Library.

This slender paperback is on a needed topic and offers some good tools, but falls short of the mark in some regards. Amy Denim breaks the planning down into manageable chunks. She tailors the concepts of business plans for a writing business, and even renames business plan sections with more writerly names, such as "blurb" for what's typically known as the executive summary. The writing is friendly and down to earth. She lays out the to-dos clearly. Additional resources are offered on the Coffee Break Publishing website.

However, The Coffee Break Guide focuses almost exclusively on book writing, not any of the myriad other choices writers have for making their living with words. Business writing, magazine freelancing and the like get only a cursory one-page mention as a way to pay the bills while churning out novels. The book also seemed vague on financial planning topics.

Amy Denim lists The Secret as one of her recommended titles, and that book's influence is clear in The Coffee Break Guide. Some of the advice seemed to me less plan than wishful thinking, especially since book publishing is a fickle business. In particular, I questioned her concept of creating a 25-year plan in a rapidly changing publishing environment. Those who find the principles in The Secret useful may find this book of more benefit.

I would describe The Coffee Break Guide to Business Plans for Writers as useful, but incomplete. Writers may want to peruse the front of the Writers' Market for more information on what pay to anticipate. One of the books Denim recommends, The Right Brain Business Plan by Jennifer Lee, is geared toward creative professions and looks useful. And at least a look-through of some traditional business plan resources wouldn't hurt.

Publication information:
Coffee Break Guide to Business Plans for Writers: The Step-by-Step Guide to Taking Control of Your Writing Career by Amy Denim
Denver, CO: Coffee Break Publishing, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0615946856

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


post by Lynn

Maybe I should act like a coach, prodding you into productive action. Seat to chair! Fingers to keyboard! It’s time to exercise plot and point of view and revision!

But that would not be honest. Because today I am in summer mode, and if anything, I’d like to take you by the wrist and pull you down into the grass with me. It’s summer, and I don’t want to spend hours at the computer.

I want to spit seeds and listen to the swish of warm wind through the maple. I want to throw a tennis ball for Luna the span-triever. I want to pick flowers I know are weeds, but that I think are pretty anyway.

That’s my agenda today. And you know what? That's okay. Downtime has restorative qualities. Play has its place in the creative process.

But don’t take it from me--listen to these folks:
What do I want to take home from my summer vacation? Time. The wonderful luxury of being at rest. The days when you shut down the mental machinery that keeps life on track and let life simply wander. The days when you stop planning, analyzing, thinking and just are. Summer is my period of grace. 
- Ellen Goodman
Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water or watching the clouds that float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time. 
- John Lubbock 
Play is the highest form of research. 
- Albert Einstein 
So, come on. Let's go soak up summer--before it goes away again. As long as we keep a notebook in our pockets to capture the images and thoughts that bubble up, it qualifies as writing time.

Trust me on that.

Let's go outside and play!

Photo by Aunt Lynn

Friday, July 11, 2014

WyoPoets features Writing Wyoming's Lynn G. Carlson

by Susan

Our very own Lynn G. Carlson is the featured poet over on the WyoPoets site today. Check out the link to learn more about Lynn and for a sample of her poetry.

Each month, WyoPoets asks one of its members to summarize their writing lives, poetry backgrounds and inspirations for their Featured Members page. This is a chance to learn how WyoPoets members get their poetry onto paper. Each poet’s voice clearly shines through.

WyoPoets is an organization for those who write poetry for publication and/or as a hobby. Although most members are in Wyoming, it welcomes poets from any part of the world. WyoPoets provides a base for mutual help and inspiration by encouraging interest in poetry through writing, publishing, studying, and sharing poetry in its many forms.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Writing as a Help to Healing with Art Elser

Art Elser during the time he served in Vietnam.
Guest post by Art Elser

The first serious poem I ever wrote was in 1993. I felt a strong need to express my grief over the death of my mother-in-law, a very special person in my life, and the joy I felt that she was finally free from the pain of her cancer. Then, in 1995, after dropping our daughter off at college in Philadelphia, we went to DC and I visited The Wall. Seeing the names of classmates, friends, and 58 thousand comrades in arms etched into that black marble, moved me to write a second poem.

In the late 90s my son was in college and would often ask about my role in the war, so in 1999, I decided to write a memoir about that year and the emotional trauma that resulted from it. That book, What's It All About, Alfie?—we called our son Alfie as he was growing up—brought up a lot of pain that I had to deal with. I worked a couple of hours almost every evening after dinner on the book. cried lots, and had lots of nightmares, daymares, and flashbacks. I also uncovered a lot of anger at politicians who lied to us and mismanaged that war.

Writing not only brought stuff I had repressed to the surface, but also seemed to help me deal with it. More and more seemed to surface after writing Alfie. I turned to poetry to tell about what I felt. I wrote a poem about a grunt who was suffering flashbacks, although I was not a grunt, but I supported them almost every day. My cousin suffered flashbacks and emotional problems for many years. Incidentally he read Alfie, and reading my story seemed to prod him to get help. Another poem I wrote is about a patrol being blown apart by a booby trap set off by a young boy, similar to an incident that happened to a patrol near one of my bases.

Since Alfie, I've written many poems about my experiences, some very recently. A sound, smell, sight, will trigger a memory or a flashback and a poem starts. My writing process begins with chewing over the memory in my head for days, sometimes weeks. I often journal about it and do free writing exercises to pin down memories and emotions. Those writings help get the poem into a draft.

I think writing about deep trauma helps because to write well, one must also revise well. When I revise I look for the right words, syntax, and structure. That means I have to look the memory right in the eye, think hard about it, and recognize the emotions it evokes. That, I believe, is how serious writing can promote healing. At least it seems to have helped me. I no longer have heart pounding flashbacks or nightmares that keep me terrified for days. I no longer wake up shaking and soaking with sweat at night from a dream I don't remember but do know terrified me.

The trauma never goes away, but it becomes easier to deal with. Or I could be a raving lunatic. After all, I am a poet.


Art Elser saw combat in Vietnam as a forward air controller. He has been published in Owen Wister Review, High Plains Register, Emerging Voices, Science Poetry, The Avocet, and Open Window Review. His chapbook, We Leave the Safety of the Sea, received the Colorado Authors' League Poetry award for 2014.

Susan chimes in...

Art was kind enough to send me both his book about his war experiences, We Leave the Safety of the Sea, and also The Healing journey -- Morning Haiku to Repair Hearts. The latter was a book of haiku co-authored with Christine Valentine when he was healing from another trauma -- a massive heart attack. The two exchanged haikus every day while Art worked his way back from the fog of illness. The chapbook contains poems selected from their exchanges. 

Art's poetry is compelling. Many of us have found healing in our writing; not all of us have shown that in the writing we've shared. Reading his work, I was able in a sense to take the journey with him, and I am  grateful for that gift.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Photo courtesy of the
motion-activated camera at Uncle Cleve's cabin :)
When it comes to my reading habits, I'm as omnivorous as a black bear in August.

Here’s a recent sampling:
The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (third time through, first time in last decade)
Married Into It by Patricia Frolander
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland by Cathryn M. Valente (Young Adult)
Writing Wild by Tina Welling
Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
Tinkers by Paul Harding

As for my reading tempo, I am more like a cow. I read at a grinding pace, ruminating over the story/information and writing about it in my journal. I am a bovine moving its cud from stomach to stomach, making sure to absorb all the nutrients.

Photo of Swiss cow by Lynn Carlson
I’ve heard—you have too, I'll bet—that a writer must be widely read and up-to-date on current trends in their particular genre. The good news is I’m pretty widely read due to the fact that I’ve been a life-long reader, my undergraduate degree is in English/Journalism, and I come from a book-loving family. My husband and I like to read out loud to each other. I read books to my vision-impaired mother. All of this has accumulated over time.

But staying up-to-date? I read recently that in the 1600’s, a reader of the English language had access to about 2,000 books. I have close to that many in my house! Then there’s the library, the internet, my Nook, my generous family and friends who keep giving me books… how’s a writer to keep up, and still find time to write?

Plus, I’m still leapfrogging in my writing from creative nonfiction to fiction to poetry, so staying up-to-date in “my” genre is impossible.

I give up.

But there are these flies buzzing around my ear that say, “When you try to get published, you’re going to be laughed out of the room because you haven't read X, don't know anything about Y, and haven't even heard of Z.”

Okay, dear reader, help me out here. What’s a bear-like, cow-like writer to do with these pesky flies?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Paddle Me, Baby

by Susan

A dramatization. Not the actual paddles used.
"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."

(Source uncertain. Often misattributed to Dorothy Parker.)

Ever dropped a book like a bad transmission before making it to page two? Most readers have. So have agents and editors faced with finding the best manuscripts in the pile.

At the Wyoming Writers Conference, Chuck Sambuchino shared the two deadly sins of book openings: too slow and too much exposition. The Sunday morning paddle panel put this idea into action.

Paddle panel panelists (say that five times fast) each have a YES and NO paddle. Writers submit just the first page of their work in progress. As it is read aloud, panelists hold up YES if that first page would keep them reading, NO if they would set it aside before discussing their decisions.

Lest you think this was a lesson in public humiliation like the "Gong Show," pieces were submitted anonymously, the panelists -- literary agents April Eberhardt and Jessica Sinsheimer, publisher Nancy Curtis and past Wyoming Poet Laureate Robert Roripaugh -- were kind and not cutting in their remarks, and there were no boos from the audience. Still, it takes bravery to put out your work for an up-down vote.

Even the best writers can fall flat on the first page. Over on Writer Unboxed, you can go Flog a Pro (or paddle them.) Given the name on the cover, most fans will slog through for a bit if necessary, but most of us don't have that luxury.

As the session went on, I found myself holding up my own mental paddles. One piece might start strong and then plunge into too much backstory. Another might have beautiful language, but meander too much.

Others were simply gripping. The best let you know what was at stake right away. It put a question in your mind that you wanted the answer to, if it meant you had to read to the very end. (And a good idea, per Lee Gutkind in his creative writing workshops, is to NOT answer that question until the very end.)

The latter half of the session, I found it hard to pay attention as I was scribbling notes to myself for a piece of fiction I've been playing with. The light had come on: I knew where to start it and where to go with it. I may still fall flat, but I had some better ideas of how not to.

A paddle panel might be a good exercise for a local writing group. You could also go down the shelf of nonfiction at your local library and pull one book at a time. Stay away from names you know where you might have a preconceived expectation. Don't read anything on the cover or flaps. Just pick up the book, read the first page and ask yourself if you would keep reading. Then, more importantly, ask yourself why. Analyzing what works and what doesn't allows you to watch for -- or strive for -- those same things in your own work.

I nearly skipped the paddle panel in favor of an early start down that long, lonesome highway from Sheridan to Cheyenne. I'm glad I didn't. Every session I attended at the conference was great, but I would have to say I learned the most from this one. Additional lesson learned: hold up a big YES paddle to new writing experiences. You never know what you'll take away from them.