Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Just Read It Already

by Susan

Do not ... fear .... the mic ....
Bearlodge Writers has a simple rule for their critique sessions:

"cut the crap and read ... and pass the chocolate!"

In other words, don't waste time explaining yourself before you read your piece to the group. Don't apologize if it's a first draft (remember... you can't edit nothing). Don't give a long-winded spiel with the entire history of your piece.

You know what? It's a good rule when you get behind the podium at a reading as well. Too often I have heard someone spend longer prefacing their poem than reading it.

Beware. It can suck the life out of the piece.

While some writing may need a small piece of context, most can stand on its own. You do not need to justify yourself before you share your work. You are a writer, and you have every right to be heard. It's natural to be nervous if you are inexperienced with reading, but your audience wants to hear your work. Go for it. Plunge right in. You don't need the verbal equivalent of throat clearing.

Trust your listeners. Have faith that your work stands on its own merits. Don't hesitate. Cut the crap and read.

And reward yourself with some chocolate after the applause dies down.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Writing What’s Real: A Hero’s Journey, with Darcy Lipp-Acord

by Darcy Lipp-Acord

"Ljubljana dragon Slovenia" by Les Haines
is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Writers weave connections.  One of my most important connections goes back to my years as a high school English teacher, when I first began studying epic and mythic literature in earnest. That’s when I first read the work of Joseph Campbell, and naturally made connections between his construct of the Hero’s Journey and the literature I was teaching my students. Later in life, the heroic arc Campbell speaks about became, for me, an apt metaphor for the writing life, as well.  As writers, we all prepare for the journey; we all experience the moment of actual departure; we all encounter detours; and we all, finally, must face our dragons. 

Rarely in epic literature does the hero, or heroine, depart abruptly: quests, after all, require planning and preparation.  Odysseus, and the rest of the Hellenic force, has to secure and supply ships before departing for Troy; even his homeward odyssey, for which he is most famous, requires preparation. Likewise, serious writing requires forethought. In my twenties, I mistakenly imagined long hours spent squirreled away with my pen and my notebook, words flowing freely. Wrong.  I soon found out that I needed to carve writing time from an already-busy schedule; I needed to find a quiet place; and I needed the support of, at least, my husband. Although we may not know exactly where our quest will lead – or sometimes, what the object of our quest even is -- we should at least give thought to when and where we will write, who we can trust as comrades, and what support we will need to sustain the journey.

Planning is not writing, however. Any adventurer will confirm that it is one thing to stock the hold, secure a crew, plan a route; it is quite another to board the ship and leave shore.  I love to plan, and can get so caught up in this stage that I don’t move forward. The “being stuck” between thinking about writing and actually putting words on a page can look like any of these scenarios: picking up all the clutter in the house before you sit down to write; getting out next year’s calendar to pencil in research trips; checking and re-checking your social media accounts. None of these activities are necessarily bad – and can, indeed, be valuable pieces of the first stage of the journey -- but sooner or later, one must actually leave Hobbiton. Once you have a basic plan for how you will write, you have enough to start. You’ll never be completely prepared, just sufficiently so. For me, a journal helps, particularly when there have been too many weeks of too few words: just putting ink to page stirs the writing spirit, and once again I set off.

My connection between the act of writing and a hero’s journey is nowhere as evident as in the next stage: the detours, road blocks, and obstacles that threaten to end a quest.  My book, Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman’s Journey took me over ten years to write and publish. Odysseus takes ten years to return home from Troy. Eragon spends five years learning to be a Dragon Rider before he can finally confront Galbatorix. We all have our own experience with the detours. Not all our writerly road blocks are as fascinating or as terrorizing as the navigation of Scylla & Charybdis or an encounter with Urgals. Our detours mostly look like real-life: earning a living, raising a family, healing from sickness. In epic literature, however, the detours form the meat of the story; they are what make an epic, well, epic. Our own detours may keep us from finishing the novel for a while, but they also give us depth as writers. The only type of detour that is considered deadly is the self-inflicted one: Frodo’s paralyzing fear and greed; the Greek fleet’s languishing on the Island of the Lotus Eaters; Odysseus’ near-tragic end at Polyphemus’ hands.

"Red Dragon" by rumpleteaser is licensed under CC BY 2.0
And in confronting these more deadly, self-inflicted road blocks to our creativity, we must face our dragons. Our dragons are precisely our tragic flaws: the self-sabatoging behaviors that threaten to derail the quest. When Odysseus escapes from Polyphemus’ cave – by blinding the Cyclops and sneaking out of the cave on the bellies of the monster’s sheep – his ego would not let him simply sail away, grateful to not be eaten. Instead, Odysseus taunts the Cyclops, and makes sure that his name becomes known. Polyphemus is able to pinpoint the location of Odysseus’ voice; he hurls a giant boulder and sinks one of the ships, killing all aboard. It is simple luck that Odysseus’ own ship is not hit; but it is his ego that is responsible for the killing of his men. There are many creatures in The Odyssey, but there are no dragons; at least, not physical ones.

In Western literature, dragons are portrayed as horrific beasts to be slaughtered and exterminated (with Eragon’s Saphira being one exception). In Eastern literature, dragons represent power and wisdom.   What if a more accurate idea of our dragons combines elements of both traditions?  When we don’t know our dragons, or when we deny that they lurk in the caves of our subconscious, their fire is a danger to us: like any power suppressed, its eventual explosion can burn, maim, even kill.  But a power that’s known, that’s been reckoned with, can be managed, can even help and support us in our quest.

At this critical point in the hero’s journey, the hero must face and either conquer, or submit to, his tragic flaw. At this point in the writer’s journey, we must face the truth of who we are and why we are writing. When I started my book, I thought I was writing to commemorate a lifestyle. My dragon, my controlling nature, wanted me to only write the good, to sugar-coat my experiences so as not to offend or to make myself look weak.  Perhaps the countless rejection letters came because the writing I had been doing was false, superficial. Truth was scary, like a big, slimy dragon. But even a dragon has beauty – in its iridescent skin, its glowing eyes, its majesty. Instead of facing and confronting my dragon, I “friended” it – finally acknowledging that the flaws I was trying to hide were the truthful details that made my story real. I was not only writing to capture the truth about a lifestyle, but also to honor a people and a place that I had previously dishonored.

A hero who confronts his dragon, who friends it and learns from it, returns home a changed person. When Odysseus finally reaches the shores of Ithaca, he possesses humility enough to endure shame and ridicule, in order to finally emerge victorious. A writer who faces her dragon, who writes the truth no matter how ugly/beautiful/embarrassing/powerful it is, completes a higher purpose. She writes now to serve something outside herself, and her writing, when done in this spirit, assumes a new restraint, maturity, and wisdom.

She has completed a heroic journey, and circles back home, changed. But, as any hero knows, there are always more adventures ahead, more dragons to friend, more stories to tell.  


Darcy Lipp-Acord, a native of South Dakota, is the granddaughter of German-Russian immigrants. She grew up on a farm worked by three generations of her family, and currently lives on a ranch with her husband, Shawn, and their six children near the Montana-Wyoming border.

Her first book, Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman’s Journey was published in 2013 by South Dakota State Historical Society Press. It was a finalist in the 2014 WILLA Literary Awards and a nominee in the 2014 Will Rogers Medallion Awards. Written over 10 years, Lipp-Acord’s essays compose a picture of endurance and grace as the author addresses her history and finds her way home. 


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Embracing Changes in Publishing with Tina Ann Forkner


by Tina Ann Forkner

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

 -- George Bernard Shaw

To date, I’ve had two novels published by a big legacy publisher and one from an independent publisher, but there was a time when I was afraid to take that step and pursue an alternative publisher as I waited for the big guys to call.

Even though everybody was saying to embrace the change, I didn’t want to. I wanted to keep doing things the old way. I’m not a business or economics major, so I can’t explain the business of publishing to you in technical terms, but for years I sat back and watched the ebook and self-publishing industries evolve as traditionally published authors like myself struggled to get new books out. Finally, last year, I started asking myself if I was missing the boat.

It didn’t seem right that thousands of people were publishing novels all by themselves and making money, while multi-published authors sat by their laptops waiting for their phones to ring with the unlikely news of a book contract. That’s when it happened. I decided to embrace changing technology.

I used to say I would never read an ebook, but that has changed as I’ve realized that while I love a traditional book, a story is a story, no matter its delivery to the reader. Likewise, I used to tell authors don’t ever self-publish, and while I still haven’t self-published my own books, I’ve changed my mind about that too.

I’ve never been one to rush into change, but as I’ve watched the industry transform, I had to ask myself why, as a traditionally published author with a legacy publisher who has some experience in publishing, was I not willing to step in and become a hybrid author.

I don’t know who first coined the term, but a hybrid author is a writer who has novels published by legacy publishers (Random House, Hachette, and the rest of the big guys in publishing), as well as novels that are self-published or published by smaller independent presses.

When I mentioned to my husband, the economics major, that I was thinking about pursuing another way to get my latest novel, Waking Up Joy, published, he was all for it. On the other hand, I, the English major, was leery of doing all that work. Plus, I had worked hard to be traditionally published. I didn’t want to bring a book out into the world only to be lost in a sea of self-published works, many of them subpar, from online retailers.

Not all self-published books were poorly written, of course, and many excellent writers were rising to the top, but when I looked at my friends who had written fantastic self-pubbed books and saw the amount of work they put into the publishing and marketing of their books, I was overwhelmed. My mind was opened to change, but my business capabilities and time priorities weren’t. That’s when a new publishing option came along for me in the form of a smaller independent publisher that specializes in mostly digital sales and some print.

Tule Publishing Group isn’t a self-publisher, but it is completely independent of the legacy publishers. When they wanted to do a contract with me to publish Waking Up Joy, I couldn’t believe my luck.

But maybe it wasn’t luck at all. If I had not embraced the change that was happening in the publishing industry, I would have never been connected to my new publisher and I would have never considered going with a non-legacy publisher. The opportunity would have sailed right by, which is what’s happening to too many authors.

My advice to other authors who have been doing this for years is to embrace change, because things really do change. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been saying what I’m saying now because all the pieces weren’t in place, but a lot has happened lately to give serious writers new opportunities.

Writers don’t need to give up the pursuit of traditional publishing in order to pursue other opportunities. In fact, I don’t think any writer should give that up, but it’s okay to consider another way. Whatever you do, I believe it’s time for serious writers to make a choice.

Are we are going to be so concerned with preserving the purity of our writing that the words we write are never going to be read? If the answer is yes, then I don’t judge you. I have been there. I have even had friends who decided to pull out of the publishing industry completely, all because they did not want to embrace the change. But if getting published is still a goal, then it’s time to mindfully explore new ways to share our love of story with our readers.

At the risk of sounding like I need a megaphone, the time for authors is right now. There are plenty of entrepreneurs who have caught onto this publishing game and are doing what they can to exploit publishing, but we are the authors. We write the books. I guess you could say it’s time for us to take back the industry.

---

Tina Ann Forkner is a women’s fiction writer and the author of the newly released novel Waking Up Joy. She is also the author of Rose House and Ruby Among Us. Tina was born and raised in Oklahoma where Waking Up Joy is set, but she makes her home in Cheyenne, Wyoming with her husband, three teenagers, and two spoiled dogs. In her spare time, she is a substitute teacher. Learn more about her and her books at www.tinaannforkner.com

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving from Writing Wyoming

As writers, we can be thankful for...
  • Writing group buddies who see the beauty in what we've created
  • Conferences where we can gather and connect with other like-minded souls
  • Time alone to think, reflect and write, maybe in a very special place of our own
  • Books we read that feed our own writing
  • The people we love who inspire us.
  • The joy of publishing that piece or placing in a contest.
  • Chocolate. And coffee. Maybe a glass of red wine.
  • And pie. Definitely pie.

Gratitude journals
Many people keep a daily journal where they write down what they are thankful for. If you do not already, you may want to consider making this part of your writing life -- either a separate journal, or as a beginning to your writing journal.

Every time my co-blogger Lynn starts a new notebook, she randomly puts sticker dots throughout the pages. Whenever she comes to a dot, she stops what she is writing and makes a list of things she is grateful for.


Thanksgiving Miscellany

Wishing you all a wonderful, happy Thanksgiving from Writing Wyoming!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

NaNoWri-When-I-Get-To-It

by Susan

"Untitled" by David Guthrie is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Here's the to the brave and hardy souls who are nearing the end of National Novel Writing Month (affectionately known as NaNoWriMo) challenge: write a 50,000-word novel, start to finish, during the month of November. 

Whether you're sailing through it with words to spare, coming down to the wire or panicking over your word counts, my hat's off to you.

Me? Didn't do it. I'd say couldn't do it, but "could" is more a matter of priorities. I'm afraid meals, sleep, clean laundry and hubby time took precedence this month.

Writing may not be my only priority, it is still a priority. It has to be. Right now, I am plugging away at my embryonic novel while others are finishing theirs. Although "embryonic" implies structure and order in how it's coming to be. Mine seems to pop into my head in assorted scenes and snippets of dialogue that I write down and hope to hang on a plot structure.

It's more like a mosaic than an embryo: I'm assembling, sorting and planning the pieces before I prep the wall and lay down the coat of adhesive. 

There are a lot of different styles for writing a novel. There are the careful outliners vs. those who prefer to fly by the seat of their pants. The ones who won't talk about what they're writing vs. the ones who corral their friends to brainstorm ideas. There are those who make each sentence perfect before moving on, as opposed to those who, to quote W. Michael Gear, use the "vomit and mop" method.

There are those who barrel through start to finish, unlike what I seem to be doing. Surely, I can't be the only one out there that works this way.

But you know what? It doesn't matter what your writing style is. It doesn't matter, because there is no wrong way to be a writer. Repeat: There is no wrong way to be a writer. There is no wrong way to put your heart on the page. The only wrong way to be a writer is to not write.

So I'll keep choosing and assembling my tiles and deciding where they go. I hope someday to make something beautiful of it.

What is your writing style? Please share with us in the comments!

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.