mentor

Not sure how many of you have had the chance to catch the first season of David Letterman’s Netflix show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, but Letterman’s return to television has made me realize how much I miss those “Top Ten” lists he used to rattle off on the Late Show.

If Letterman had done a survey of the top ten questions writers were asked while sitting in a bar, it might have gone something like this:

10. Didn’t I see your book on a bargain table at B&N?

9. Does your agent go by 007 or just Bond, James Bond?

8. What’s it like to sit about in your pajamas all day chasing the muse?

7. You wouldn’t write about me now would you? Would you?

 6. How’s the day job?

5. Is Stephen King a little edgy or what?

4. What are those voices in your head telling you?

3. Are you sure I haven’t read any of your work?

2. Who gets more in royalties–you or J.K. Rowling?

And

1. Need an idea for your next novel? Well, pull up a stool. Today’s your lucky day.

Obviously, this list is all in jest–and thank God I’m not a comedy writer looking for a gig at SNL any time soon.  One thing that occurred to me while creating this list, however, is how many times we find ourselves on the opposite end of the spectrum, in a position where we’re too timid to ask another writer about his/her process or about how to navigate the craft because we don’t want to appear foolish, or worse, ignorant in front of someone whose work or career inspires us.

I’ve always believed in the importance of a generous and supportive writing community.  There is so much we can learn from one another. I’d love to open up the conversation and take this opportunity to invite you to contact me via my contact page with any questions you may have concerning the writing life, craft, publishing or otherwise. I’ll do my best to address these questions in future blog posts and hopefully, others will feel compelled to weigh in and add their comments and/or experiences to the mix as well.

My hope, really my wish, is that this forum of sorts will become a soft place to land for those writers who need a little guidance and/or the occasional boost so they feel emboldened enough to propel themselves forward. After all, there’s nothing more comforting than knowing you’re not swimming in the big pool alone. I’m excited to hear from you.


Photo Credit: Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

writing group

I don’t know about you, but cabin fever has dug in pretty deep over here in Wisconsin. A friend of mine posted this meme on Facebook the other day:

winter-meme

At least some of us still have our humor intact. The rest? Well, let’s just say it’s been a very, very long winter.

One ray of sunshine, though, registration has opened for a number of summer writer workshops and retreats. Maybe you’re looking for an opportunity to finally put the finishing touches on that short story collection you’d like to publish, or you have questions about how to ramp up tension, or you’d like to talk shop with someone other than your dachshund who’s been giving you the eye since the last ten inches fell in the backyard.

If so, here are few opportunities that might interest you:

Write-by-the-Lake Writers’ Retreat & Conference — Madison, WI

Held June 17-21, 2019 at the Pyle Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.  Professional instruction for writers of all levels and genres.  Instructors include Christine DeSmet, Ann Garvin, Tim Storm, Marilyn L. Taylor, Angela Rydell and others. Guest speakers include Jen Rubin and John DeDakis.  Early bird registration ends May 20th. 

Priory Writers’ Retreat–Eau Claire, WI

This is the inaugural year of the Priory Writers Retreat, which will be held July 18-21, 2019. Situated on 120-acres wooded acres, The Priory once served as a monastery for Benedictine nuns in Wisconsin’s Chippewa Valley.  The retreat offers workshops, instruction, open-mic, as well as shared excursions and camaraderie.  Faculty includes poet Dasha Kelly Hamilton, fiction writer Nickolas Butler, humor writer Mary Mack, and non-fiction writer David McGlynn. A keynote address will be offered by poet Max Garland. Application deadline is April 30, 2019.

Interlochen Writers’ Retreat–Interlochen, MI

The 14th annual Interlochen Writers Retreat will be held June 10-13, 2019 at Interlochen Center for the Arts.  The retreat offers four courses–Plot with Rebecca Makkai; People, Places, Prose with Eric Charles May; Shaping the Raw Material of Family History with Rebecca McClanahan; and Getting Your Story on the Page with Christine Maul Rice. Early bird registration ends April 1st. Deadline for scholarship opportunity: March 1st.

Bear River Writers’ Conference–Petrosky, MI

Sponsored by the University of Michigan, this conference is located at Camp Michigania on Walloon Lake near Petrosky, MI. This year’s conference will be held May 30-June 3, 2019. Workshops are offered in fiction, poetry, nature writing, flash fiction, memoir and essay writing.  Poetry and manuscript consultations are also offered. Registration traditionally fills quickly. Scholarships are available.

Barrelhouse Writer Camp–Port Matilda, PA

Barrelhouse sponsors two writer camps each summer at Godspeed Hostel located in central Pennsylvania.  This year’s camps will be held June 20-23, 2019 & July 31-August 4, 2019. The camp atmosphere is advertised as laid-back–no mandatory sessions or readings. Writers set their own schedule.  Editorial conferences are offered, but not required. Evening campfires and camaraderie, if desired. Applications for both camps are open until March 31st.

Iowa Summer Writer Festival–Iowa City, IA

This summer marks the 33rd year for the Iowa Summer Writer Festival held at the University of Iowa.  Over 125 workshops are offered covering a wide range of craft topics and genres.  Throughout the summer, week-long and weekend workshops are available, as well as a selection of two-week intensives.  Class sizes are capped at twelve for the week-long and weekend workshops. Two-week intensive workshops are capped at ten participants, who are selected via an application process. Check out the festival’s website for workshop and instructor listings, as well as information on how to register.

Minnesota Northwoods Writers’ Conference–Bemidji, MN

Since 2003, Bemidji State University has welcomed writers to their Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference. This year’s conference will be held June 17-23, 2019. Instructors include: Peter Orner (Fiction), Camille Dungy (Poetry), Ada Limón (Poetry), Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Poetry/Creative Nonfiction Hybrid), and Dustin Parsons (Creative Nonfiction).  Terrance Hayes is this year’s Distinguished Visiting Writer. As of February 4th, all workshop sessions were filled, however applications are still being accepted for those wishing to be placed on a waiting list. 

Flash Fiction Retreat w/ Kathy Fish & Nancy Stohlman–Grand Lake, CO

Flash fiction extraordinaires, Kathy Fish & Nancy Stohlman will hold a retreat for flash fiction writers at Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge in Grand Lake, CO, which is about an hour and a half north of Denver, CO.  The retreat takes place August 14-18, 2019 and will include instruction and one-on-one mentoring sessions with Kathy and Nancy, as well as plenty generative writing time.  It’s noted that the terrain surrounding Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge requires a fair amount of climbing so those who might have mobility issues may find some activities difficult.


Obviously, this is just a small sampling of all the wonderful workshops, retreats, and conferences available to writers. If you’d like to search for more retreats and/or conferences, Poets & Writers Magazine keeps an active database on their website, which you can find by clicking here.

Are there any summer writer workshops and/or retreats that you’ve enjoyed in the past? Feel free to share your experiences below. Always love to hear from you.


Photo credit: Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

books 2

I’ve been a subscriber of Poets & Writers magazine for almost a decade now.  It never fails to deliver and has been a resource I’ve returned to time and time again. One of the features I enjoy most is called “Page One,” where the first lines of up and coming books and collections are highlighted.

Here are a few favorites from the January/February issue:

“When I was a girl I would sneak down the hall late at night once my parents were asleep.” From Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro (Knopf, January 2019).

“You deserve your beautiful life.” From Loves You by Sarah Gambito (Persea Books, January 2019).

The reason I love this feature so much is because it reminds one how important those first lines are when it comes to building trust between reader and writer.  A reader wants to be drawn into the story, to be given a reason to care either about the character or what is to happen next.  A reader also wants to be entertained and perhaps, be able to escape the real world, even if just for a little while. As writers, hopefully, we’re able to deliver on all accounts.

Obviously, there are a myriad of ways one can open a story.  You can:

Set the Mood

Meet in expensive beige raincoats, on a pea-soupy night.—from “How to be an Other Woman” by Lorrie Moore, Self-Help: Stories, Vintage Contemporaries, 1985.

Introduce a Character

This blind man, an old friend of my wife’s, he was on his way to spend the night.—from “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver, Collected Stories, Library Classics, 2009.

Have a Conversation

“Tell me things I won’t mind forgetting,” she said. “Make it useless stuff or skip it.”—from “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” by Amy Hempel, The Collected Stories, Scribner, 2007.

Ask a Question

How could a grown man with any self-respect sit in a Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory at eleven o’clock in the morning and eat a hot fudge sundae with mint chip ice cream, hold the nuts?—from “Nerves” by Ann Packer, Mendocino and Other Stories, Vintage Contemporaries, 1994.

Make a Statement

I know when people will die.—from “Wait Till You See Me Dance” by Deb Olin Unferth, New American Stories, ed. Ben Marcus, Vintage Contemporaries, 2015.

Be Active

The girls were searching Arleen’s room and had just come upon her journal.—from “The Girls” by Joy Williams, The Visiting Privilege, Vintage Contemporaries, 2015.

Shock

Here is a snake with a girl in his mouth.—from “Passengers, Remain Calm” by Dan Chaon, Among the Missing, Random House, 2001.

No matter how you choose to begin, the opening ought to pique the reader’s curiosity and propel the story forward.  Read the examples above again.  Ask yourself whether they pass muster. Snake with a girl in its mouth? Curious? Heck, yeah.  Propel the story forward? Definitely.  You get the picture.

Author Colum McCann wrote an article in the Guardian back in May 2017 titled, “So you Want to be a Writer? Essential Tips for Novelists.” He cautions writers not to stuff too much into the first line and/or page, that one ought to consider the opening a doorway.  He says, “Once you get your readers over the threshold, you can show them around the rest of the house.”  Makes sense, don’t you think?  Get in, but let the story unfold in it’s own time.

One last thought.  Remember you don’t have to perfect the first line before you dive into writing your story draft.  Sometimes it takes a while for things to gel enough before one discovers the best way to invite the reader in.  All I can say is trust the process.  It will come.


Do you have a favorite first line? Feel free to leave a comment below and tell us why it resonates with you.


Photo Credit: Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

writing podcast

I’ve been a multi-tasker my entire life.  Who knows—maybe it has something to do with the continued circus act of trying to find the right balance between writing and the rest of life.  Nonetheless, one of my guilty pleasures while folding the laundry or working out at the gym or sitting in traffic on my way to get groceries is to listen to writing podcasts. There are several out there, but I thought I’d share a few of my favorites:

 

  1. Writerly Podcast: Hosted by award-winning authors Danielle Trussoni and Walter Kirn. Trussoni and Kirn discuss all aspects of the writing life. Topics include everything from craft and productivity tips to how to find an agent and navigate the ins and outs of the publishing world. I suggest checking out Trussoni’s recent interview with author Panio Gianopoulos (A Familiar Beast; How to Get Into Our House and Where We Keep the Money) about how he manages to get in his daily word count while also holding down a full-time job and staying actively involved with his family. Talk about multi-tasking! Gianopoulos writes in short, focused micro-sessions while on his train commute to and from work. It’s amazing what he’s been able to accomplish in those snippets.

 

  1. Creative Penn Podcast: Hosted by award-winning author Joanna Penn, who’s website The Creative Penn has become a must for aspiring writers wanting to learn more about how to publish and market their books, as well as how to create an author brand or platform.  Episodes run every Monday and include interviews and other valuable information on what it takes to become an effective creative entrepreneur. Joanna recently celebrated The Creative Penn’s tenth anniversary. Hear all the details on how she went from writing her first book to managing her six-figure writing business in Episode #405.

 

  1. Beautiful Writers Podcast: Hosted by BookMama.com’s Linda Siversten. Awesome interviews with all your favorite authors about the writing life.  Recent interviews include Seth Godin, Ann Patchett, Maria Shriver, and Tom Hanks—yes, that Tom Hanks.  Who doesn’t love Tom Hanks?  If you haven’t read his short story collection Uncommon Type, find a copy.  His story, “A Month on Greene Street,” which is included, was also picked up by One Story (Issue 232).  And if you haven’t already guessed, you’ll hear Hanks’ distinctive voice in your head for days after reading it.

 

  1. Dabblers & Doers Podcast: Hosted by Dan Blank of WeGrowMedia. Dan interviews writers and artists about their creative journeys and how they made the shift from merely dabbling or thinking about their creative work to taking action and becoming a “doer” who creates, finishes and shares work with others. It’s always inspiring to hear about another writer’s success story and to realize we all share the same struggles along the way.

 

  1. Author2Author Podcast: Hosted by the effervescent Bill Kenower, editor-in-chief of Author magazine and author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence. Bill interviews a wide range of authors from all different genres about how writing and life connect and are, in essence, one in the same.  If you’re feeling a little self-conscious about calling yourself a writer, check out Bill’s interview with Andre Dubus III about identity and persistence.  You’ll feel better.

 


I’d love to hear what podcasts inspire you as a writer.  Feel free to share your comments below.  It’s always a pleasure to hear from you.


Photo Credit: Photo by Melanie Pongratz on Unsplash

POV

How do I know which point-of-view (POV) to use when writing my story?  It’s a question I’ve heard over and over again in workshops and/or critique groups I’ve participated in.  And yes, I’ve raised my hand alongside everyone else in hopes that someday a profound, no-fail formula will sprout up to demystify it for us all.  Sad to say, I haven’t come across one yet.  In the meantime, here a few things to consider when making the choice of who can best tell your story:

Point-of-View centers around two decisions one must make up-front:

  1. Whose story is this? From whose perspective will the story be told?
  2. How much distance will the POV character/reader have from the events of the story?

Point-of-View can be broken down into four categories:

First-Person

Seems pretty obvious, but in first-person the main character is referred to as “I.”  The character can either be the protagonist, a participant, or if it suits your fancy, a disinterested observer.

Most times the first-person POV is written in the past tense, simply because the narrator must know how the story will end, which means he/she can never die in the story—that is, unless the narrator is a ghost or some other-worldly being.

The main advantage to writing in first-person is the intimacy it provides the reader.  The story unfolds simultaneously for both character and reader, thus allowing the reader to personally invest in the story.

This, however, can also be considered a disadvantage, since the reader is then restricted to only the knowledge and/or information the POV already possesses and makes the character unreliable at best.

There are a few other things to consider when you choose first-person. The POV character must be in every scene; otherwise, there’s no story.  Also, the POV character can never physically describe him/herself from the outside. Everything must rely on introspection—that is, unless there’s a mirror or shiny surface nearby.

Still, if you ask me, the intimacy and the degree of emotional resonance the first-person can create for the reader–well, it might be worth giving it a try.

Second-Person

In second-person, the POV character is referred to as “you” or “your.”

The one main advantage to the second-person POV is that it allows the reader to totally immerse and become a participant in the story.  This works well for shorter pieces, such as flash fiction, but can be difficult to maintain over, say, 300-pages.

Second-person can also be used to step in for a first-person narrator who feels alienated from him/herself.  Many of the stories in Lorrie Moore’s collection, Self-Help fall into this category.  Check them out and see how they make you feel as a reader.  What do you notice?

Third-Person Limited

The third-person limited character is referred to as “he” or “she.”

Third-person limited allows the reader to focus more on the story at hand rather than on the specific worldview of the narrator.  You also have the ability to withhold information to maintain suspense.

One disadvantage, of course, is the perceived distance between the narrator and reader.  Yet, there are different lens at the author’s disposal:

  1. Close Third-Person, which resembles first-person in that the events are narrated from a point closely related to that of one character but told in plain English instead of in the character’s own diction. To read an example of close third-person, try Mary Gaitskill’s “Tiny Smiling Daddy.
  2. Third-person Objective, which uses a cinematic approach, describing the events from a camera-like perspective where the reader is limited to what can be seen and/or heard without going into the consciousness of any of the characters. A good example of third-person objective is Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.”

You’ll find that most contemporary literature is written in third-person.  It could be because it’s the most forgiving.

Third-Person Omniscient

The third-person omniscient narrator is not a character in the story, but simply the all-knowing presence telling the story as it plays out. The reader has the ability to observe the story from many angles and perspectives at once.  There are zero restrictions.

This POV is probably most associated with classic literature. Think Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. There aren’t too many writers who use this today, even though it sounds fabulous to have the ability to know and see everything taking place.  Who doesn’t want to be a god, right?


So, there you go—point-of-view in a nutshell.  Still, unsure which is the best fit for your story?  As an exercise, try taking a piece of your own writing and rewrite it in a different viewpoint.  How does it change the story?  How does it relate to your reader?  After doing this a few times, one will begin to grow on you.  Trust me.