Dispatches from Dan: A Reflection on the Last Day of a Cirenaica Retreat

 photos by  Justin Patchin

photos by Justin Patchin

by Dan Lyksett

July 22, 8:15a.m.

Last Day of the Retreat

I forgot to take my memory pills this morning. It’s been a rough couple days.  Who woulda thought a fiction writers workshop could be so demanding?

Physically demanding. Mentally demanding. Emotionally demanding.

Physically we don’t do a lot of manual labor. A lot of typing and scribbling in notebooks. The physical challenge comes when the hard work is done and lid on the beer cooler is opened and the campfire kindled and we pace around to collect in groups and sit and share and pace around some more and collect in different groups and sit and share. The waking nights last long enough to dance on the deck and attempt to roast cookies in the flames with bare hands. And when there should be sleep there is instead sorting through the various flavors we tasted in the knowledge cake we’ve eaten that day. Cinnamon? Point of view? Anise?


The mental challenge comes with the people, 10 writers, one mentor, assorted ages, occupations and backgrounds with the one common denominator that we write, and we want to write gooder. There is book learning here and there is native talent here. There is success here and the not yet successful here, and each teaches you something. The retired English professor inadvertently reminds you there are words in the language you do not know, and the mentor pleads that your fiction is “Lies, all lies, and the lies must seem real.” And you are forced to consider your hard-earned lies anew.

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.54.17 AM.png

The emotional toll comes at the end. Writers live as a solitary species, and so the inevitable separating from the rare herd is difficult. Writing is paddling a canoe upstream, alone, and with a broken paddle. There’s comfort in being within earshot of others fighting the current, scraping rocks, ducking under an overhanging waterfall, and someone to help push you off the sandbar of an awkward transition. I will miss those voices and those helping hands. But if I remember my pills tomorrow, I’ll perhaps remember some of what I’ve learned. I think I’m leaving with a little better paddle and more worthy canoe.

You Get When You Give: A Special Note From Director BJ Hollars


A few months back, after my beloved writers group provided me with some firm but fair feedback on an essay, I wandered back toward my minivan in a haze. I’d spent weeks on that essay, and yet it seemed as if every last word had fallen flat. Frustrated and dejected, I returned to my minivan, collapsing into my seat and putting my key into the ignition. Or rather, I tried to put my key into the ignition, but it wouldn’t fit.

Odd, I thought, taking a closer look. It worked an hour ago.

And it still would have worked had I entered the right minivan. But in the midst of my writerly haze, I’d entered a stranger’s vehicle. That’s right: I’d inadvertently broken into somebody’s van. I leapt out, scanning the darkness for the cops who would surely arrive any minute. 

When I was certain the coast was clear, I began to laugh. Ahead of me, I saw the silhouette of my buddy Ken, who by then was walking toward his own vehicle (and the one he owned, I might add). “Hey Ken!” I called. “I just got into the wrong van!”

He laughed. This was exactly the kind of thing he’d come to expect from a writer like me.

I share this wholly embarrassing anecdote to make a larger point: when we writers spend too much time in our own heads, we lose sight of the larger world. And losing sight of the world—and each other—is a trespass far greater than momentarily entering the wrong van. 

The fix, of course, is to come together as a writing community. To rely on one another so we don’t have to rely fully on ourselves. For the past two and a half years, the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild has worked tirelessly to provide such opportunities. Over the past year, we’ve made our greatest strides yet, including grants from the Eau Claire Community Foundation, JAMF Nation Global Foundation, Visit Eau Claire and the Wisconsin Arts Board, as well as a city proclamation, and the formation of 6x6: A Reading Series, Writers Anonymous, and Barstow & Grand and continued partnerships with The UW-Eau Claire Foundation, The Eau Claire Regional Arts Center, the UW-Eau Claire English Department, Blugold Radio, Volume One, Wisconsin Public Radio, the Chippewa valley Book Festival, the Brewing Projekt, and so many other local organizations. In addition to all this, one of the accomplishments I’m most proud of (thanks to the generous support of Dotters Books, the Sultan Family, the Guild, and a pair of anonymous donors) was our ability to offer scholarships to 10% of our Cirenaica participants this summer. We are changing writers’ lives in fundamental ways, and through their writing, changing our world, too. 


I come to you now because we need your financial support. For as little as 5.00 a month, you can ensure the Guild’s long-term sustainability with your tax-deductible donation. Not only that, but by joining at any level (Scribblers, Scribes, Wordsmiths, Practitioners, or Patrons) you’ll be eligible for a wide array of gifts: free Barstow & Grand and Cirenaica submissions, stickers, postcards, as well as being entered to win personalized first-edition copies of books by authors from near and far. You can also receive a consultation on your own writing courtesy of a Barstow & Grand editor.

For complete details, click here, then click the “Give to the Guild” button and direct your gift to the “Chippewa Valley Writers Guild Monthly Sustaining Membership” campaign.

It’s hard to quantify just how significant an impact we’ve made together over the past year. Do we measure our success by books published, words written, or the friendships we’ve forged while pounding at the keys? As for my own success, I’ll rely on a single measure: my ability to avoid entering any minivans that don’t belong to me. 

If you value our work, then help ensure that we can keep doing it. We are here for you, but we need you to be here for us, too. 

Please make your gift today. And then, directly following, let us get back to the important work that warms our souls, enriches our lives, and helps build our community one word at a time.

B.J. Hollars
Executive Director, Chippewa Valley Writers Guild

Chippewa Valley Writers Guild Awards Five Scholarships for 2018 Summer Writing Retreats

Thanks to the support of Dotters Books, the Sultan family, Chippewa Valley Writers Guild donors, and a pair of anonymous donors, this year the Guild was thrilled to award five scholarships for writers to attend Cirenaica, a writers retreat in Fall Creek, Wisconsin.  


This year’s recipient of the Dotters Book Scholarship is Katy Hackworthy of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  She writes, “I feel incredibly humbled to receive this honor from a group of women who I respect and who truly display a passion for literacy and equity in the Chippewa Valley.  This award will help me continue to create works that highlight issues I am passionate about, as well as give me the opportunity to further engage with a community of artists that motivate and inspire me.”  Elizabeth de Cleyre, Margaret Leonard and Jill Heinke Moen of Dotters Books say, “Dotters Books is excited about this opportunity to support a local woman writer and her literary work at the Cirenaica Writers Retreat. As women owners, we aim to promote literacy and equality in literature by creating spaces for other women to create. It is our belief that supporting the literary community will help foster collaboration and creativity within the Chippewa Valley.”


The recipient of the Sultan Scholarship is Sarah Merrill of Sarasota, Florida. “During my time at Cirenaica, I’m hoping to generate new material for a collection of short fiction, set primarily in my home state of Florida. This will be my first time visiting Wisconsin, and I'm excited to broaden my horizons by spending time in a new region of the country. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to connect with fellow writers, as we all strive to delve deeper into our craft.” Author Cathy Sultan, and the scholarship’s underwriter, remarks, “I was very fortunate to have had someone offer help and encouragement in my early writing career. Now it is my turn.”

Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 2.00.24 PM.png

The recipient of the CVWG’s Alumni Achievement Award is Dan Lyksett of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  “I'm so grateful to the CVWG for its generosity, allowing me to participate in another Cirenaica workshop. The retreat experience not only directly impacts my writing, but more importantly connects me to new friends and mentors in our growing writing community."


Finally, our Undergraduate Creative Writing Awards go to Caleb Rosenthal (above, right) of Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin) and Andee Erickson (above, left) of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.  Caleb writes, “I am thrilled to attend the Cirenaica retreat with Holly Hughes because it will give me the opportunity to immerse myself in an inspiring and creative atmosphere generated by the presence of other passionate writers, and it will allow me the time to focus on growing as an artist and person."  Andee writes, “I applied to a Cirenaica retreat to expand the way writing exists in my life. Writing creatively is a passion I've kept to myself and I'm excited to celebrate the process with a supportive community. And I'm looking forward to learning from Michael Martone about how to care for each part of the story.

Thanks to these generous donors, this summer, 10% of our Cirenaica participants are scholarship recipients.  “We’re moving in the right direction,” says Guild director B.J. Hollars.  “One day I dream of being accessible to 100% of participants.  We welcome any and all local businesses, organizations, and individuals who’d like to help us reach this goal.”

Both the Dotters Book Scholarship and Undergraduate Creative Writing Awards were selected by a blind submission process.  The CVWG’s Alumni Achievement Award was selected by Cirenaica staff.  The Sultan Scholarship was selected by CVWG executive director B.J. Hollars.

Three Books In A Year: A Q&A with Chippewa Falls' Dedicated Writers Society

CFalls Writers.jpg

Few writing groups have flourished as mightily as the Dedicated Writers Society, Chippewa Falls' premier writing group.  The group describes its vibe as "warm and welcoming, supportive and constructive," which seems to be the perfect conditions for a thriving community of writers.  Over the past year, three of its members, Jackie McManus (author of The Earth Mover’s Daughter , Connie Russell (Happily Ever After), and Everin Houkom (author of Crazy Music and Daddy Didn’t Come Home) have published new works.  Read on for a Q&A with the group members.

Tell us about your writing group.  How did it begin?  Can you describe the meetings?

Connie:  After a book talk by BJ Hollars, a discussion I had with him and Joe Niese, Chippewa Falls Public Library director, led me to think we might try a writing group at the library.  We meet from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. the fourth Monday of each month.

What makes it successful?

Ev:  One reason it’s successful is that Connie sees that everyone has a chance to read and respond.  We also welcome anyone who would like to attend.

Connie: I keep my eye on the clock, but so far everyone respects the others’ time.  If there is time before 8 o’clock, a person can take a second turn if they have more they would like to share. People come and go, but there are about six of us who come regularly, and we trust each other to be honest but supportive.

How has the group helped you grow as a writer?

Ev:  We were tentative at first, but we’ve evolved.

Jackie:  As a poet I thought at first I might not come back.  People said they didn’t understand my poetry, and they couldn’t give feedback because as writers of prose, they were unsure how to critique poetry.  But I came back, and they have been helpful and are trying.

Ev:  I’ve gained confidence as a writer here and at Cirenaica.

Connie:  Me too, and knowing we’re meeting on a regular basis keeps me writing.

Ev:  With my first book, I didn’t know how much to bring.  My second book went better. I’ve gained confidence.

For more information on the group (and other regional writing groups!), check out our directory here.


You Can Go Home Again: On Returning to the Midwest and Finding A Community At Cirenaica

 credit: Justin Patchin Photography

credit: Justin Patchin Photography

by Ty Phelps

I grew up in Wisconsin: Summers meant farmer’s market cheese curds on the Capitol Square in Madison, swatting mosquitoes around the campfire at night, the smell of cow manure from the farms, the temperature drop after a thunderstorm. I became moderately comfortable with my adolescent body through the forced nakedness of tick checks and skinny dipping at summer camp. I was a Midwesterner through and through, attending Carleton College in Minnesota, canoeing in the north woods each summer, and even smugly muttering to myself when I traveled in France, yeah, France, you may have the Louvre, and Haute Cuisine, and vineyards up the yang, but where I come from, we’ve got Leinenkugel’s Creamy Dark, the Boundary Waters, Walleye on Fridays, and Bob Dylan.

And then I left. I lived on the West Coast for over a decade.

The idea of moving back to Wisconsin had just started percolating in my mind when my mother mailed me an article cut out of a magazine. A review for a book called Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler. Soon I had read it. I’m not sure I’ve ever read any fiction that more perfectly captured the overall feeling of my homeland. I cried after the first few pages, read the rest in a couple of days, and spent the next weeks scratching phantom mosquito bites, craving the North Woods sky and the tepid taste of bad Milwaukee beer.

Soon, I decided to move back. And just before returning, I applied for and was invited to Nick Butler’s weekend fiction workshop at Cirenaica through the Chippewa Valley Writers’ Guild. I couldn’t believe my luck: I was going to meet a Midwestern writing hero of mine.

The weekend was phenomenal. The mixture of writers was delightful: young, old, in-between, teachers and journalists and mothers and fathers. Camaraderie was quickly established among the group as we dove into critique under Nick’s focused but gentle guidance.

Cirenaica itself was lovely, nestled in woodsy farmland, with a beautiful kitchen, comfortable rooms, and ample nooks for writing, thinking, or sipping coffee. It was a productive weekend: I left with multiple friends, excellent feedback, and a complete first draft of a new story.

Also, we ate like kings.

An Interview with Lindsay Starck, 2018 Cirenaica Writer in Residence


By Emilia Hurst

I recently got the chance to chat with Lindsay Starck one of our writers in residence.  Lindsay is a professor at Augsburg University and the author of Noah’s Wife.  Get the chance to work with her at the Cirenaica retreat this summer, “Thickening the Plot: On Creating Tension and Suspense in Fiction” which will run from August 2-5.

Emilia: What would you say are some of your best personal writing experiences? 

Lindsay Starck: I heard another writer say once that 15% of writing happens when you’re sitting down in front of your paper or your computer, and the other 85% happens when you’re out interacting with the world—walking or cooking or talking with friends. 

Some of my best personal writing experiences have occurred when I’ve stepped away from the page and sat down to talk about the craft with fellow readers and writers who are willing to swap ideas and share experiences. 

How would you say writers can look forward to growing in their craft at this retreat? 

Writing is typically considered to be an activity you do in isolation, but this retreat provides the opportunity to reflect on the process and the product with other writers. Participants will share ideas about stories and techniques, and we’ll be able to experiment with new ideas and new styles. Ideally, we’ll all leave the retreat feeling more inspired and excited by our projects than we were when we arrived. 

What's something you'd like to tell us about your own writing? 

My first passion as a writer is for language. When I wrote my first novel, I believed that beautiful sentences would be enough to create a strong story. I revised that manuscript for several years, during which time I learned the importance of narrative elements—tension, rising action, questions—that help keep readers engaged. Now I’m trying to write stories that balance poetry with plot. 

What are some more specific things writers can look forward to at this retreat? 

Plenty of time to work and reflect on the craft; engaging conversations with fellow writers and mentors; delicious meals; insight into the publishing world of literary magazines; a few days free of all other obligations so that you can immerse yourself in the life of a writer. 

What are some things you've been reading and enjoying lately?

I’ve been slowly working my way through Prairie Fires, the new biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The book does a wonderful job describing the historical context surrounding the Little House series. It’s also very cool to be reading it while living in the Upper Midwest, since Wilder spent many of her early years in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The most recent novel I read was Jenny Offhill’s Department of Speculation, which was experimental and moving. I might reread Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels this summer, since I enjoyed them so much the first time around. 

How would you describe your writing process? 

I’m very type-A, so I like to plan out my project before I begin it. But once I start writing, the story goes in a different direction. So I have to scrap my plan and come up with a new one. Then I start writing again, and the story slips out of my grasp once more. So the writing process, for me, is a constant balancing act between plotting out the narrative and allowing the story to find its own shape. 

What is one of your favorite places/settings to write in? 

I like to write in coffee shops. Sometimes I put my headphones on and listen to white noise, and other times the din of the coffee shop is white noise enough. Lately I’ve been getting up and writing before doing anything else, like reading my phone or checking my email or even making my breakfast. I heard a writer say that this early morning hour is the perfect time to work because part of you is still in that hazy, vivid dream world, which gives you the space to form fresh sentences and ideas.

What do you do when writing gets tough? 

I spent five years revising my first novel, and I learned from that experience to be patient and have faith in the writing process. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a piece of fiction is leave it alone. Go outside, or clean the house, or play the piano. Let your thoughts wander, and when you come back to your writing, the solution might be waiting right there for you on the page.

8 Questions with Nickolas Butler: Cirenaica Writer-in-Residence


By Emilia Hurst

I sat down with hometown hero and international bestselling novelist Nickolas Butler to chat about his writing as well as his past summers at CVWG’s Cirenaica writer’s retreat.  Here’s what he had to say.

Emilia:  What are some of your favorite memories from Cirenaica?

Nickolas Butler:  Honestly, what springs to mind are the mornings at Cirenaica.  Typically, I'll leave my house and drive over to Cirenaica about eight in the morning.  And even before we begin our first workshop of the day, all the attendees are generally working away quietly, or bouncing ideas off one another.  You can see that it is a very productive time and space; I always expect to find a few of the attendees either sleeping-in or hungover, but that's never happened.  Everyone really utilizes their time.

What have you learned about writing from teaching at Cirenaica?

Just that everyone has a different path, a different vision for what they want to do with their writing.  People are coming from different starting points in terms of how much they've read, how much they've workshopped in the past, how much they've worked on their own craft, what they want for their careers...  It's good for me to be reminded that we all come to Cirenaica because we love writing, and hopefully books.

How would you say writers can look forward to growing in their craft at this retreat?

It can be really difficult to find unbiased readers of your work—folks who will give you honest feedback.  To me, it's rewarding to watch attendees become friends, fans, or at the very least, supporters of one another's work.  And I'm part of that, too.  I'm really honest with attendees; I write every attendee a personalized letter, every attendee gets individual feedback from me, and I read every story over multiple times.  Our workshops are positive, safe places for criticism - we're trying to make the work better.  And sometimes, it's reading another person's work, or witnessing their workshop that really brings into focus some aspect of your own work.

What's something you'd like to tell us about your own writing?

That's a huge open-ended question...I don't know.  I've published three books, my fourth will be published in early 2019...I'm a full-time writer who feels like the luckiest guy on the face of the planet.  I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing as long as I can and hopefully I can get better at it along the way.

What are some more specific things writers can look forward to at this retreat?

Great food, great camaraderie, a cool rural setting, nice people, a restorative blend of work and relaxation, good conversations, cold beer…

What are some things you've been reading and enjoying lately?

I'm really into the Austrian writer, Robert Seethaler.  Check out his books, A Whole Life and The Tobacconist.  

How would you describe your writing process?

I have none.  I write when I can, when I'm inspired, when I'm afraid I'll forget something...  Sometimes I write at the kitchen table, sometimes in my bed, sometimes in a cafe...  Some folks need a routine or a process.  I'm not one of those people.  I'll take 8 months away from writing to just read books or think or work in my garden, and I don't feel guilty about that.  

What is one of your favorite places/settings to write in?

One of my favorite places to write is the L.E. Phillips Public Library in Eau Claire.  My kitchen table has also been a pretty productive spot.


Don’t miss out on the chance to work side by side with this accomplished writer at “Building a Solid Base: Getting Your Fiction Off On The Right Foot,” which runs from July 19-22 at Cirenaica.

See you there!

5 Reasons Why You Should Apply to Michael Martone's Prose Writing Workshop This Minute!

 Credit: Theresa Pappas

Credit: Theresa Pappas

This summer (July 12-15), we’re thrilled to welcome University of Alabama (Roll tide!) professor Michael Martone to Cirenaica, where he’ll host “From Start to Finish: On Beginnings, Endings, and All the Words In Between”.  Michael’s the author of several books, including the newly released essay collection, Brooding.  In addition, he’s also the author of several beloved books, including Four for a Quarter, Fort Wayne Is Seventh on Hitler’s List, Racing in Place, and Michael Martone (no, that’s not a typo).  Read on for 5 great reasons to sign up for his writers retreat today.

1.)   The Importance of the Parts

The workshop model often attempts to tackle a piece of writing “in total.”  What’s working, what’s not, etc., etc.  But in Michael’s summer retreat, participants will focus on the various parts of a piece of prose.  As the title suggests: beginnings, endings, and all the words in between.  It’s a unique approach sure to get writers thinking more critically about the various part of their work to ensure the improvement of the work at-large.

2.)   The Beloved Writing Teacher

Few writing teachers in America are as beloved as Michael Martone.  Perhaps the best way to describe Michael’s commitment to his students is to speak about his unique way of staying in touch.  For years, Michael has sent thousands of postcards to former students and friends.  He stresses the importance of maintaining connections, and of making new friends along the way.  Sign-up!  There might be a postcard in it for ya!

3.)   Process > Product

In the classroom, Michael stresses the importance of the writing process over the writing product. In short, if one’s writing process is attempted with enough repetition, eventually the product will come.  It’s a philosophy that, for decades, has made writers feel more comfortable with their words.  Like anything, writing is a practice.  And like everything, it becomes easier with time.

4.)   Special guest B.J. Hollars


Full disclosure: B.J. Hollars may (or may not?) be the one writing these words.  And so, it’s rather presumptuous (well, no “rather” about it, really) for him to hype himself in an effort to further hype Michael Martone.  To try to steer clear of that particular can of worms, he’ll just say this: B.J. Hollars studied under Michael Martone while receiving his MFA at the University of Alabama.  Under Michael's tutelage, Hollars learned the importance of experimenting.  From the hermit crab essay to writing in the third person (this paragraph’s a good example…), Hollars’ writing grew dramatically during his time working with Michael.  Michael served as Hollars' thesis advisor as well, and provided vital guidance in what would become Hollars’ first book, Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence and the Last Lynching in America.  And he's continued to be a major supporter and inspiration for every word since.  Suffice it to say: Hollars looks very forward to the reunion. Click here for a story on Michael and B.J.'s somewhat awkward first meeting.  

5.)   One word: food.


Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’ve heard this one before.  But trust us, food is vital at a writers retreat.  If you’ve got good grub, you’ve got good writing fuel.  This summer, we’re proud to welcome chefs Michelle Thiede and Kristen Dexter, co-owners of FORAGE, to the Cirenaica team.  They’re bringing their cooking skills out to the lodge to ensure that we’re all always well fed. From chilled corn soup to pepper crusted tenderloin, there’s something for every taste bud. Click here for the full menu.

The deadline is May 1!  Submit your application this minute by clicking here!

5 Reasons Why You Should Apply to Nickolas Butler’s Fiction Writing Retreat Right Now


This summer, we’re thrilled to welcome back Nickolas Butler, who will host “Building a Solid Base: Getting Your Fiction Off on the Right Foot.”  Nick’s the author of several books, most recently The Hearts of Men. Read on for 5 great reasons to sign up for his writing retreat.

1.)   He’s an award-winning novelist!

If we were to name all of Nick’s accolades, there’s a good chance we’d break the internet.  From the PAGE Prix America Award to the 2014 Great Lakes Great Reads Award, the 2014 Midwest Independent Booksellers Award, the 2015 Wisconsin Library Association Literary Award, the 2015 UW-Whitewater Chancellor's Regional Literary Award, the…okay, better stop there.  Just last week he was the recipient of the Friends of American Writers award for The Hearts of Men. If you haven’t read it, you must!


2.)   Three words: generous, generous, generous.

Ask any of Nick’s past participants about their experiences working with him, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: Nick is one generous writer.  For the past two summers, he’s hunkered down with writers of all levels to ensure that they leave his retreats with a clear path forward.  Some of our fondest memories of past summers involve Nick chatting with people on the back deck, providing personalized feedback on their work.  What an honor it is to have Nick’s editorial eyes on your writing.  

3.)   Peter Geye’s the special guest! 

In addition to working with Nick, we’re excited to have a special visit from novelist Peter Geye.  Peter’s the author of several books, most recently Wintering.  Of Wintering, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Richard Russo wrote, “The last time I read a literary thriller so profound Cormac McCarthy’s name was on its spine.”  Not a bad blurb!  Click here to learn more about Peter.

4.)   Scholarships!

Thanks to Dotters Books, the Sultan Family, and an anonymous donor, this summer we’re excited to offer three scholarships.  If you’ve wanted the chance to work with Nick or another writer-in-residence, but the cost proved prohibitive, this could be your chance!  Apply today, and be sure to note your interest in our scholarships!

5.)   One word: food.

Yeah, yeah, this will be our fifth reason to sign up for every retreat.  But for good reason!  Food matters!  And nothing gets writers more ready for the hard work ahead than a wonderful meal prepared by wonderful chefs. This summer, we’re proud to welcome chefs Michelle Thiede and Kristen Dexter, co-owners of FORAGE, to the Cirenaica team.  They’re bringing their cooking skills out to the lodge to ensure that we’re all always well fed. From herb roasted fingerling potatoes to cheese and red pepper risotto, there’s something for every taste bud. Click here for the full menu.

The deadline is May 1!  Submit your application this minute by clicking here!

On Writing "Bend in the River"

Bend Promo2.png

By Emilia Hurst

It’s not easy writing an 8-episode radio drama, but then again, writing of all kinds can be difficult.  Yet writing Bend in the River proved particularly tricky due to its plot line: the story of 25-year-old David Sundy who, while boarding a ferry en route to his grandfather’s funeral, time traveled to 1958. 

Had any of the writers been alive in 1958, things might have been easier.  But since they weren’t, they relied upon research and the audiences’ ability to suspend their disbelief—the latter of which is a staple in science fiction stories.


Co-writer Charlotte Kupsh hopes the radio drama’s science-fiction elements will appeal to listeners. “I actually don't read a ton of sci-fi and fantasy, so writing a podcast about time travel was an exciting and new experience for me. But I think that, broadly, the podcast is echoing the trend in popular literature toward stories that are crossing tonal and genre boundaries. So, our podcast is about time travel and there are definitely some classic sci-fi elements to the plot, but it's also a really funny show. Similarly, we have a lot of laugh lines in there, but we also have quite serious moments where characters are grappling with issues like gender inequity and stereotypes in the late 1950s. We're doing a lot of things at once.”

The radio drama was collaboratively written by local writers Charlotte Kupsh, Jim Rybicki, Ken Szymanski and B.J. Hollars—a process that Charlotte says proved to be a lot of fun.

“Personally, I really enjoyed the opportunity to work collaboratively with BJ, Jim, and Ken,” Charlotte says.  “We all have different strengths as writers, and we functioned really well as a team. We ended up working through a lot of individual scenes together, with all of us in one room bouncing ideas off one another and trying to come up with the right line of dialogue that would really pull a moment or scene together. Those were some of my favorite moments in the writing process.”

Once the words were written, it was up to Blugold Radio station manager Scott Morfitt and his producers, Nathan Baughman and Eli Klatt, to bring those words to life.  Following several recording sessions with a group of talented voice actors, Scott and his team got to work editing.  Asked about his favorite part of the process, Scott didn’t hesitate: “Watching our producers work to mold the amazing work the writers and actors did into one larger piece.”

When asked where she got the inspiration for Bend in the River Charlotte credits the collaborative process.  “I actually got a lot of inspiration from the other writers. BJ is such an energetic person, and that translates to his writing—he's willing to try anything on the page. And Jim is full of great ideas. He has a way of visualizing the inner workings of the plot and figuring out exactly what's missing--he wrote us out of more than one tricky plot hole. And Ken has a really good understanding of what words or phrases just sound right in the script—he did so much to help polish our scripts. With a team like that, it was hard not to be inspired.”

 You can listen to Bend in the River Fridays at 7PM with re-airs on Sundays at noon and Wednesdays at 7PM only on Blugold Radio 99.9. In addition, you can catch up on previous episodes here.  The live dramatic reading of the final episodes will be held at The Metro at 7pm on Saturday, May 5th.  Tickets can be purchased here (10.00 for general admission, 25.00 for VIP).  Don’t worry if you fall behind; the live reading will feature a special recap to ensure that both new and old listeners know everything they need to about the twists and turns in Bend in the River.

5 Reasons Why You Should Apply to Holly Hughes’ Multigenre Writers' Retreat Right Now

Holly&Foxy2 (1).jpg

This summer, we’re thrilled to welcome Washington-based poet and mindfulness expert Holly Hughes to Cirenaica where she’ll host “Words to Hold A Glittering World: Crossing Genres Mindfully.”  Holly’s the author of several books, most recently Passings, a collection of poems on extinct birds.  In addition, she’s the co-author of The Pen and The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World.  Read on for 5 great reasons to sign up for her writers' retreat.

1.)   It’s multigenre, which means it’s for everyone!

Whether you’re a poet or prose writer, this retreat is for you.  While Holly’s first genre is poetry, she’s published prose widely as well.  On her website she describes herself as a writer, poet, teacher and editor.  And she's all these things and more!  Her retreat is centered on “crossing genres mindfully,” which means exploring how to use all the tools in your writerly tool belt to select the perfect genre to write the perfect piece.  By expanding beyond genre distinctions, we give ourselves (and our work) new opportunities to grow.

2.)   She’s an award-winning poet!


In 2017 Holly’s book, Passings, was the recipient of the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation.  What an honor!  It’s a rare treat to work with a poet of this caliber, and she’s excited to work with you!   Click here to read about all of her work.

3.)   Three words: Mindfulness, mindfulness, mindfulness.

What began as a correspondence between Holly and Brenda Miller soon turned into much more.  As the pair of writers continued exchanging letters they realized that their thoughts on writing in a busy world might be of use to others, too.  Their letters resulted in the formation of The Pen and The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World, a book that discusses “how to achieve mindfulness and creative fulfillment in spite of long to-do-lists.”  The book couldn't have come at a better time.  Learn how to let the world go and give yourself to your words.    


4.)   Max Garland’s the special guest! 

Cirenaica alums surely know Max Garland, the former poet laureate of Wisconsin and the winner of the 2017 Brittingham Award in Poetry for his book The Word We Used For It.  Max’s commitment to his fellow writers is second to none, and he’s excited to spend a bit a time with us this summer.

5.)   One word: food.

No writing retreat is complete without a bit of gluttony.  At Cirenaica, we’re happy to accommodate by way of 9 chef-prepared meals at each retreat!  This summer, we’re proud to welcome chefs Michelle Thiede and Kristen Dexter, co-owners of FORAGE, to the Cirenaica team.  They’re bringing their cooking skills out to the lodge to ensure that we’re all always well fed. From Mason Jar watermelon feta salad to lemon caper grilled salmon, there’s something for every taste bud. Click here for the full menu.

The deadline is May 1! 

Submit your application this minute by clicking here!


5 Questions With Alex Zitzner, the 2018 Cirenaica Assistant Arts Administrator


A hearty welcome to poet and UWEC student Alex Zitzner, who will serve as Cirenaica's Assistant Arts Administrator this summer.  Get to know him by reading a brief interview below!

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I am currently going into my senior year at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire where I have been studying/doing creative writing the whole time. In addition, I am the Editor-In-Chief for their fine arts magazine, NOTA, an English Ambassador, and an intern for the Barstow & Grand literary journal.

Do you have a favorite book, poem, or author?

I am primarily a poet, so most of my taste revolves around poetry, but my favorite novel is either Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, or Albert Camus’ The Stranger. The kinds of stories I enjoy have a lot of philosophical backing to them, and these two books are chock full of ideas on existentialism and modernism.

As far as poems, I think I have read too many to pick a favorite, but I will get two birds with one stone and just list a few of my favorite poets. These days I have been enjoying Kaveh Akbar, Ocean Vuong, CAConrad, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Tyehimba Jess, and Tommy Pico’s work a lot. My longstanding favorites are the New York School of poets though, mainly being Frank O’Hara and Ted Berrigan. And Rimbaud. Can’t forget about Rimbaud.

What is the best writing advice you have gotten so far?


I’ve been extremely lucky to meet Karla Huston and Max Garland at different points in my life and both gave me the same advice: “Keep writing.” As simple as it may sound, these are the words I live by. I think this is the secret to it all too, but don’t tell anyone I told you.

Are you looking forward to anything in particular at the Cirenaica retreats?

I really am looking forward to meeting so many people who are passionate about their writing. We have something special here in the Valley when it comes to literature. To be a writer here or even be a writer visiting here, there is an energy that is inescapable because there is always something going on because people are passionate about sharing their work. So, to spend a few days around people who really care about their craft is going to be amazing, I get stoked to see people work so hard on something. It’s awesome. I’ve also heard the food is pretty good, so that will be a treat.

Any final thoughts?


I would just like to give a big thank you to Geoff Carter, who has helped me figure this new role out, as well as the UWEC Office of Research and Sponsored Programs for allowing me to take on this role. Without the help of these two, I would not be able to do what I am looking forward so much to do, and I am very grateful. With all that being said, I am excited to help make these residencies as helpful, fun, and impactful as they can be. See you all this summer!

Writer Rites of Passage: AWP


By Eric Rasmussen

A writer’s journey is full of milestones. The first draft of a first novel. The first rejection. The one-hundredth rejection. The first publication. These events are shared in common with everyone who has attempted to produce words that others may want to read. Like getting a driver’s license or graduating from high school, they not only function as necessary steps on the way to maturity, mastery, and fame, but also as symbols of all the work it takes to hone your craft and produce quality writing.

I ended up in the second-to-last row of seats on my flight to Tampa, and before the engine noise made talking impossible, I overheard the three women chatting in the row behind me. Two of them were writers heading to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference (AWP) like me, and the third passenger, sitting in the middle, had no idea what she had gotten herself into. At one point this non-writer asked, “So, what are you each working on?” One of the authors commenced describing her collection of environmental poetry, after which the other detailed her memoir about growing up on a farm. During a lull I glanced backwards to make some funny (dumb) comment about writers, and in doing so, my awkwardness completed our version of the AWP writer stereotype, because this exact scene was simultaneously occurring on hundreds of planes bound for central Florida. We even looked the part—me in an ironic t-shirt, the environmental poet in wild bright colors and tattoos, and the rural memoirist in full librarian garb, with thick glasses and sensible shoes.

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference (AWP) is an annual event that attracts about 12,000 writers and publishers, and it is a fascinating and draining endeavor that supports the community of writers across the country, offers sometimes-elusive rewards, and, at the very least, adds an impressive number of steps to attendees’ pedometers. AWP hosts its conference in a different city each year, so traveling there becomes a mini-vacation, with meals out, parties and readings every evening, and the enjoyment that comes from spending several days with people who share common interests.

There are several types of writing excursions, and each offers different advantages for a writer’s travel time and dollars. AWP is not workshop-focused, like traditional writing retreats and residencies. AWP also differs from smaller, regional writing conferences (like Madison’s Writers’ Institute, for example) in that its size does not allow for an emphasis on connecting individuals with agents and editors. Plenty of literary journal and small press editors are present at AWP, but it’s more of a free-for-all. A giant room (the Bookfair) hosts hundreds of publications and writing programs, each at their own table, where writers can network and make connections. AWP also offers hundreds of presentations from writers, editors, agents, and other industry professionals, each of which is attended by dozens to hundreds of hopeful wordsmiths.

AWP is enormous and unwieldy and it’s where most of the literary publishing industry gathers to examine itself. Walking around the Bookfair, I saw what I observed on the plane, times ten-thousand: every writer stereotype imaginable trying to awkwardly talk to each other, hoping each contact will spark a relationship that produces some future writing or publishing opportunity. Some hate these types of interactions, others relish in them, and everyone goes home hopeful about some connections and disappointed in others. Everyone also goes home with a large (and heavy) stack of books procured from the Bookfair.


Sometimes it’s hard to judge our progress towards our goals. Most high school graduates wake up the day after graduation not feeling any different, but that’s the nature of rites of passage. On Saturday, before departing for the airport to head home, I had lunch in a quiet café in downtown Tampa and tried to reflect on my first AWP. I met lots of people, and connected with many friends. I spent three days thinking of nothing but my writing. I saw George Saunders’ driver waiting for him at the airport, and I visited Tampa’s aquarium. If the airline fees and personal days didn’t yield any measurable outcomes, they definitely produced some great memories and the fact that I am now the level of writer who has been to AWP.

Next year’s conference is in Portland. Maybe I’ll see you there?

Click here to read more of Eric's work!

Great Grub Awaits At Cirenaica!

No writing retreat is complete without a bit of gluttony.  At Cirenaica, we’re happy to accommodate by way of 9 chef-prepared meals at each retreat!  This summer, we’re proud to welcome chefs Michelle Thiede and Kristen Dexter, co-owners of FORAGE, to the Cirenaica team.  They’re bringing their cooking skills out to the lodge to ensure that we’re all always well fed. 

They agreed to give us a little taste (get it?) of their tentative menu.  Warning: you will be hungry after reading... 

forage 7.jpg

The tentative menu includes:

  • Lazy Monk Smoked pork country style ribs

  • Farmers market grilled vegetables

  • Herb roasted fingerling potatoes

  • Mason jar watermelon feta salad

  • Pulled buffalo chicken sandwiches 

  • Fingerling potato salad,

  • Crudité with bleu cheese dip

  • Lemon caper grilled salmon

  • Grilled asparagus

  • Cheese and red pepper risotto

  • Chilled corn soup

  • Red pepper purée tortilla strips

  • Gazpacho

  • Baked cheese crostini

  • Caprese salad 

  • Pepper crusted tenderloin

  • Shrimp cocktail

  • Parmesan grilled cauliflower

  • Fresh strawberries, pound cake and whipped cream

  • Fresh baked scones,

  • Banana nut pancake muffins

  • Fresh fruit with berry yogurt dip

  • Mini broccoli cheese egg cups

  • Smorgasbord with meat, cheese, hummus, spreads

  • Quinoa grain bowl with roasted veggies and…

I could go on...

Are you hungry yet?  What are you waiting for?  Nurture your stomach and your soul today! 

What’s the Tuning Protocol? The Strategy That Might Just Changing Your Writing Life


by Katie Venit

Confession: revising is my favorite part of writing. I love chipping away detritus to uncover a story’s themes and motifs. I love giving and getting feedback. When group members share their insights on my story, I can finally see what I’m missing. 

Confession: I stink at giving feedback. Constructive feedback is easy for me; I always want to hear what parts of my story didn’t work so I can improve, and I (incorrectly) assume the same for others. In my enthusiasm for improvement, I forget to mention the 95 percent of the draft that I loved. But knowing what does work is just as helpful as knowing what doesn’t. 

At the most basic level, the Tuning Protocol is a structured path to give everyone positive feedback and constructive criticism. (Protocols are highly structured activities.) Each group member offers warm feedback (something they liked). Although subsequent members can agree with those who came before them, each member has to say something original. Repeat the process with cool feedback (constructive criticism). The key is that the warm and cool feedback are not diluted. In other words, warm feedback shouldn’t be lukewarm. 

After all the rounds of feedback, the writer can weigh in. Perhaps she explains her reasoning behind an unpopular section, and the group can work through it together; perhaps she asks follow up questions. Finally, the writer reflects on the experience and identifies her next steps. 


  • The writer can either stay silent through the feedback round or engage in conversation about the piece right away. Silence helps if your group has difficulty staying on task, but it’s not necessary. 
  • Consider setting a time limit for each person if you have a lot of pieces to get through, or if you have loquacious members.
  • Reviewers can offer additional feedback other than warm and cool. For example, they can also comment on their emotional response to the piece, where that emotional response was interrupted, parts where they were confused, what they think the overall theme, message, or feel of the piece was, etc. Speaking from experience, feel can be an interesting topic: what the writer may have intended as positive could be perceived as something else entirely.
  • The writer can ask a specific question about the piece, and each reviewer can answer that question.
  • Distance variation: This works very well in an online community; reviewers already have the floor to say what they have to say. Maintain the structure of separate warm and cool feedback. 

The Rundown: Meet This Summer’s Writers-in-Residence


by BJ Hollars

A successful writers’ retreat generally boils down to two factors: the generosity and enthusiasm of the writer-in-residence, as well as the generosity and enthusiasm of the participants themselves.  And so, when trying to find the perfect mix of people to place together in the woods for three days, we at the Guild are often left trying to use one’s words as an entry point into one’s intentions.  Does the writer-in-residence seem fully committed to the participants and their creative work?  And on the other end, do the participants seem excited to grow alongside the writer-in-residence?  We can never know for sure, though the applications go a long way in helping us determine how to best create the supportive community we so deeply value.  

Learn more about our Cirenaica Writers Retreats

My main job is to work hard to provide the best summer programs possible.  Which means I spend a lot of time getting to know our prospective writers-in-residence.  And this year, let me tell you, we’ve got quite a line-up, indeed. Read on for the stories you didn’t know about this year’s writers!

Holly Hughes: Queen of the Birds (And Mindfulness, Too!)

Let’s begin with Holly Hughes.  Holly and I first met, quite by chance, when we were thrust together for a joint reading on extinct birds at Magers & Quinn Bookstore in Minneapolis in the fall of 2017.  We’d never met one another, but at the bookstore’s prompting, we were glad to share the mic.  Holly and I had barely shaken hands before I knew she’d be a perfect fit for Cirenaica.  She exuded kindness, and as she shared her work, I sat quietly in the front row imagining just how much Cirenaica participants could benefit by her expertise both as a poet and a mindfulness expert.  Since our initial meeting, Holly and I have continued to keep in touch.  The writers-who-write-about-extinct-birds club is unsurprisingly small, and every time I think I catch a flicker of a Passenger Pigeon out of the corner of my eye, I always make sure to drop her a note.  Check out her retreat, “Words To Hold A Glittering World: Crossing Genres Mindfully” which runs from June 21-24.

Karla Huston: Wisconsin’s Bard

Next up, Wisconsin poet laureate Karla Huston.  So many kind things can be said about Karla that it’s hard to know where to begin.  But I suppose the story that touched me most involves meeting her last fall, when she took the time to hear me read as part of the Fox Cities Book Festival.  Given her many poet laureate duties, I imagine Karla’s time is a little tight.  Yet the fact that she was able to spare a bit of it to hear me was quite humbling, and further reaffirmed her kind and generous nature.  Over the past two years, Karla has toured the state promoting poetry.  And how lucky are we to share three days with her this summer.  Check out her retreat, “Speak, Write, Memory: On Writing Poetry By Searching Within” which runs from June 28-July 1.

Michael Martone: Modern Day Magellan (At Least Compared To Me)

And now, onto my mentor and friend, Michael Martone.  Michael, like me, hails from Fort Wayne, Indiana.  When I stumbled upon this fact as an undergraduate while reading one of his contributor’s notes, I immediately dropped him an email.  “There are two writers from Fort Wayne!” I said excitedly.  Of course, there are many more than just two.  Soon after familiarizing myself with Michael’s work, I begged my college to bring him to campus, and they obliged.  The one catch: I had to pick Michael up from the airport.  When the big day arrived, I picked both Michael and his son, Sam, up from the Davenport Airport and prepared to drive them back to Galesburg, Illinois.  The problem, though, was that I soon became utterly lost.  Utterly, utterly lost.  As the miles dragged on in the wrong direction, I found myself incapable of admitting defeat.  How far would I have driven, I now wonder?  Would I have driven us to California had Michael not intervened?  Thankfully, Michael intervened, and as politely as possible, suggested that I might consider turning around.  It was good advice.  And while I thoroughly enjoyed all that time together, what I enjoyed most was how charmed he seemed by the entire ordeal.  Or at least not utterly put out by my ineptitude.  Two years later, we studied together at the University of Alabama.  And a few years after that he served as my thesis advisor for my first book.  These days, when faced with a dilemma in the classroom, I often ask myself: “What would Michael Martone do?”  And then, I proceed just as he might.  Apply for his retreat, “From Start to Finish: On Beginnings, Endings, and All the Words In Between” which runs from July 12-15.

Nick Butler: Hometown Hero / International Star

Of course, international bestseller (and hometown favorite!) Nick Butler needs no introduction.  This is his third summer at Cirenaica, and each session with Nick just gets better and better.  Nick’s writing chops hardly need any endorsement from me.  (Though if you want my endorsement, here it is!).  But beyond his writing, he’s also about the kindest, most supportive guy you’ll ever meet.  In summer’s past, I’ve loved watching him meet individually with participants on the back deck, talking folks through their stories.  At the conclusion of each conference, participants always leave with a smile.  Nick always finds a way to help writers find their footing, and he plans to do so again this summer!  Click here to apply for “Building a Solid Base: Getting Your Fiction Off On The Right Foot” which runs from July 19-22.

Lindsay Starck: Writer/Teacher Extraordinaire

Last but not least, meet Lindsay Starck!  A professor at Augsburg University and the author of Noah’s Wife, Lindsay came highly recommended to us by way of Barstow & Grand editor, Eric Rasmussen, who has the pleasure of studying with her in Augsburg’s MFA program.  Last week the three of us enjoyed tacos together at a writers’ conference in Tampa.  What a joy it was!  Lindsay’s welcoming personality and writing talents make her a perfect fit for Cirenaica.  She, like the others noted above, is generous and enthusiastic.  Frankly, the summer can’t come soon enough.  Click here to apply for “Thickening the Plot: On Creating Tension and Suspense in Fiction” which will run from August 2-5.

In an effort not to bend your ear (or your eyes) too terribly, allow me to simply say that these writers are ready and waiting to work with you.  And did I mention that each session has a special guest as well (Max Garland, Jon Loomis, Peter Geye, Eric Rasmussen, and others)?  

In closing, there’s always a reason NOT to apply for a writers’ retreat.  And it’s easy to say, “Maybe I’ll try next year.” I’ll encourage you not to wait.  Your art deserves your attention, and we’re here to support your art as best we can.

So what are you waiting for?  Apply today!  Tell your friends!  We’ll save you a seat around the campfire.




Let Nothing Stand in Your Way: Fiercely Guard Your Writing Time!


by Jan Carroll

Do you put time for writing on your calendar, like you would plans for a romantic evening out (with a heart drawn around it), an appointment with your doctor (underlined twice), or regular time with your best friend (circled and then made into a sun or a flower)? Maybe for you, writing time is so established, so habitual, so ingrained in your schedule that you don’t need to write it down or enter it into your phone—you know when it will happen, like you know what hours you have to be at work, what time to start getting the kids ready for bed, and which night to drag the trash can to the curb. If so, good for you! But that’s not true for all of us.

First Give Yourself Permission

For years, I really wanted to write, but it took a long time to realize that first I had to give myself permission. That among all those other voices, all those other really important things to do—work for money, recover from work, prepare to work again, spend time with loved ones, exercise, mow the lawn, take the car in for a checkup, get my teeth cleaned, do the dishes, scrub the floor, help a friend, do my part to make the world a better place, take the dog out—writing too is important! And for writers—for me—it needs to be a priority. Writing can be seem to be held as less important than so many other things in our culture. But it is important—for what the creative process does in and through us, as well as for whatever potential “product” it yields. For me, writing is like getting enough vitamin D, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I just feel better, more whole, more me. Writers need to write, and we need writers to write.

Then Make It a Date

Once you’ve given yourself permission and have assigned writing a prominent position in your life (and in your schedule), fiercely guard the time you make for it. Rest assured, hordes of reasons to put writing aside will sweep in to distract you. If you think of your writing time the same way you would a romantic date or a great conversation with a good friend, you’ll be less inclined to put it on the back burner if some other enticing or guilt-inducing possibility presents itself. Poet Mary Oliver, in A Poetry Handbook, explains why maintaining this focus is so crucial. 

If Romeo and Juliet had made appointments to meet, in the moonlight-swept orchard, in all the peril and sweetness of conspiracy, and then more often than not failed to meet—one or the other lagging, afraid, or busy elsewhere—there would have been no romance, no passion, none of the drama for which we remember and celebrate them. Writing … is not so different.

Sure, sometimes you might not be as excited about going to dinner with your sweetie. And true, not every talk with that friend is scintillating. But showing up and being there for that person, and that person reciprocating, over time yields a beautiful relationship. But you have to make the date and show up—on time! If you are consistently there for your writing, it will be there for you. Stephen King, in On Writing, says:

Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you're going to be every day from nine 'til noon or seven 'til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he'll start showing up.

If you find you’re not really that into your writing times, maybe you’re not really that into writing, and you should consider watercolor, piano, community theater, hiking, or chess. But before you throw the baby out with the bath water, first give your writing time some of your best attention, the benefit of the doubt, and approach it with a sense of expectation. Give the relationship a fair chance.

But Maintain Consistent Focus

Why all the fuss? Can’t you just write when you feel like it? When you have a few minutes? Yes, impromptu, spontaneous times to write can be wonderful too. But there’s something about writing at a set time, a regular time, that yields the benefit of continuity of thought. Even if you have to eventually pack up, head home, and get ready for work, if you’ve set the intention to return to the work at the same time tomorrow, or whenever you’ve planned to, it tends to keep your head in the game. Instead of the first twenty minutes of each now-and-then session being you trying to reorient yourself to writing in general and to the mindset of the particular piece you’re working on, you can more easily jump right back in. You don’t have to spend time catching up with your old friend. You can venture right into new territory.

Steven Pressfield, in The War of Art, concurs, describing how purposefully dedicating time for the writing to occur is key to the writing actually happening:

When we sit down each day [or in regularly scheduled sessions] and do our work, power concentrates around us. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.

How quickly that magnetic hold can be lost, though. If too often I exchange a writing session for some other fun and possibly quite worthwhile activity, the “iron filings” scatter, and it takes time and work to restore that magnetism. Of course, if the dog is throwing up, a child is bleeding, you get called into work, or fire or flood threaten, do your due diligence. Your muse will understand. 

And Declare and “Wear” This Commitment

Zadie Smith, in her “Ten Rules of Writing,” says, “Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.”

Decide when and where you will write. Discuss this with loved ones who share your space and time. Then when other opportunities come up, be prepared to say, “Oh, I can’t. I have another commitment,” or “Can’t. That’s my writing time, and that’s sacred,” and follow through. Over time, most people will get used to this; they’ll respect the time you set aside to write, if you do—so honor it.

Where you write has a lot to do with being true to it. Planning to write at a busy café during busy hours means you’ll probably run into someone you know, and even brief chats eat up precious time and defer concentration. Write away from Internet connection. You can research later, or beforehand. Turn off the phone. Have a bag prepared with all your writing paraphernalia or a space cleared at home dedicated to authorial pursuit. The dining room table, unless you live alone, is not the best spot. Having to clear it off every time, unless absolutely necessary, is not ideal.

Yet, Be Aware of and Open to Spontaneity

While regular, scheduled writing times do the heavy lifting, at times you will experience surprise insight, sudden bright ideas, and great lines coming to you at the least convenient times—in the shower, just as you’re falling asleep, or driving in hectic traffic. That’s ok! In fact, these lightbulbs suddenly glowing above your head or metaphoric faucets turning on can be a wonderful residual result of your regularly scheduled (and kept) sessions. I have often had to slog through a tough writing time when nothing much was coming to me, not much was working, or way more pondering was occurring than composing only to pack up, head home, and then BAM—everything seems to cohere, and choice words flow freely. Good idea to have a pen and paper or recording app readily available.

So, Fiercely Guard This!

If you haven’t yet, first work through giving yourself permission to write—and do! Then, passionately make it a priority—a date, resolutely stay focused and attentive, own this commitment as a valid and vibrant part of who you are, and guard your writing time stubbornly, while anticipating unpredictable, schedule-averse but fruitful deluges. 

Oh—and Have Fun!



Cirenaica Spotlight! On “Palpable Energy”, Poetry, and Loss” An Interview with Wisconsin Poet Laureate Karla Huston

  Karla Huston

Karla Huston

by Emily Hurst

Calling all poets!  Are you looking for the chance to work closely alongside Wisconsin’s poet laureate?  Excited to share your poetry and contribute to the growth of other poets?  The Chippewa Valley Writers Guild has you covered! 

This summer, Wisconsin poet laureate Karla Huston will host a three-day writers retreat titled, “Speak, Write, Memory: On Writing Poetry By Searching Within,” from June 28-July 1. In addition to working closely with Karla, this retreat also will include a guest visit from poet and novelist Jon Loomis (The Mansion of Happiness, the Frank Coffin series, among others).

Read on for a Q&A with Karla Huston to learn more about her writing as well as what she is looking forward to this summer at Cirenaica.  

EH: What do you feel is going to be a unique experience or aspect about this retreat?

Karla Huston: There is an energy that's palpable in any writers retreat as folks get to know one another and feel comfortable sharing what they have written. It's like magic.

What part of the retreat are you most excited for?

Karla Huston:  I'm most excited to meet those who attend. It's always a pleasure meeting people who are invested in poetry and the arts. I love their stories about how they "came to poetry" or how poetry found them.

Who would most enjoy and benefit from this retreat?

Karla Huston:  Anyone who writes or is thinking about writing might benefit. Even beginners! The ideas and exercises can be used for poets and prose writers, alike. 

How would you say your latest book Grief Bone is unique to your previous work and poetry in general?

Karla Huston:  My book Grief Bone is about loss. The poems are perhaps less personal and with less (maybe) sass. But readers beware! Most poets are consummate liars. You can't believe everything they say as the "literal truth." Perhaps a metaphorical truth is more accurate. Poets are artists, and they may take an idea and create a new way to express that idea. 

What can people expect to take away from this retreat?

Karla Huston:  It is my hope that attendees will take away an abundance of energy (and inspiration?) for their own writing. They can also expect a handout that (I hope) will be useful to them after the retreat!

Don’t miss this fantastic opportunity!  Click here to apply for this unique experience!  

From the Mouths of Writers 7: Any advice for upcoming writers?


by Jeana Conder

Several months ago I set out on the task of asking local writers to answer a series of eight questions I compiled.  The responses I received are now creating our series, “From the Mouth of Writers.”  We hope that this series allows upcoming writers to gain knowledge from others with the same passion. 

This month’s question:  Any advice for upcoming writers?

Allyson Loomis

(1) LIVE (2) READ (3) WRITE (4) THINK ABOUT WRITING (5) REPEAT UNTIL DEAD—the most important one is #5.  Writing is a practice.  Keep at it, and be patient with yourself.

Sandra Lindow

Unless you have been trained in technical writing, don’t quit your day job in order to write. Best sellers are hard to come by and you need to eat and pay your bills.  Developing as a writer is a very long process that requires discipline and cognitive development..  Poets rarely make much money unless they are already celebrities.  Spend time every day writing.  Try new forms. Go to workshops. Share work with other writers and take their critiques seriously.  Read, read, read, especially work that challenges such as nonfiction.

Bruce Taylor

I taught writing for 40 years so I have nothing but advice for upcoming writers. What it’s worth, if anything, is up to each individual writer. 

Learn to use Microsoft outline. Start there.

Early in the process stay away from sentences, paragraphs, any extended rhetorical construction for as long as you can.

Write or try to write what only you can, nobody else.

Pay attention. This is everything.  Pay attention.

Jon Loomis

Don’t wait for inspiration.  Inspiration is bullshit.  If you’re serious, put aside the things that distract you and start writing.   

Molly Patterson

Form the habit of writing. Don't wait for inspiration to hit; sit down and do the work with regularity. This might mean every day or it might mean three times a week, or it might mean every Saturday morning for one solid hour. But stick to it, and make sure it's a regular thing. If you write regularly, and with tenacity, you're a writer. Don't feel like you have to write from page one to page three hundred. Write bits and pieces, write specific moments, write half-scenes if need be, but keep getting words on the page. And don't be afraid to throw things out. Once a story starts taking shape, you'll probably find that a lot of what you wrote at first no longer fits. That's good: that means you're developing a discerning eye. Keep all those scraps somewhere in another document or another notebook, and know you can always use them if you want. Write, write, write: that's the best advice I can give.

Martha Qualey

Read out of your usual topic/genre/form zone and find or build a writing community. Watch out for those exclamation marks.

Brett Beach

Read. Read widely. Read curiously. Read books across genres. Look at what you’ve read and ask about authors who aren’t represented—writers of color, women, LGBTQ authors, foreign authors in translation. Read. Read. Read.

It’s old advice, but true. Some people say that if you read while you’re writing, you might be infected by the author’s voice, and write in an imitation. Well, good, I say: their books were published because they are good writers, most likely. There are worse things than mimicking someone you admire. I copied author’s voices when I started. I still do, probably. And then I revised, as I revise now, and other authors’ voices transformed into mine.

When Kao Kalia Yang visited UW-Eau Claire, she said, “Art inspires art.” I sometimes picture us, as writers, standing in a long line. We can look behind us at all the authors we love, who influence us, who mean the world to us, and their books are a record of what came before and how we used to live. We can look ahead at the uncertain future and try to guess what we might have to say. The two aren’t unconnected. Guiding us along, all the while, are the voices of our influences and our idols, singing in a chorus, melding together, coaxing us to put pen to paper, asking, Now what? Now what? Now what?

Jay Gilbertson

Try and shut me up! First off, finish. And you know exactly what I mean. Get it done. And read. Read your ass off. Go to workshops and take classes and meet other writers and join a few things, but not too many, and keep writing. And more than anything, don’t forget to have a life. How else can you write about it if you’re not in it kicking it around and falling once in a while? It’s the falls that make your story/poem/song/painting/life full of the passion we all need to know about. Now go and make you some art!

Nickolas Butler

Read, read, read, read, read.  That's it.  Telling me you want to be a writer, but that you don't read very much, or that you only read Harry Potter (I love the Harry Potter series and JK Rowling's exquisite universe) is sort of like telling me you want to be a carpenter but all you have in your toolbox is a few nails and maybe a pliers.  Good luck.  Take your time, read widely, live a full and interesting life, work strange jobs, take your education seriously, but mostly—read.

Cathy Sultan

Write about something you are passionate about. You will be spending long, lonely hours at your computer so love what you’re writing about. Patience and perseverance are also very important. You will write and re-write any number of times to “get it perfect” and then write it again and again so never let yourself get “down” and never say “I can’t do this.” Of course, you can, but you may need an extra dose of determination to get the job done. And I pass along what an author friend once told me: your book is never finished until it goes to press, so stick to it.

Sandra McKinney

Read good writing; pay attention; love the power of language and story

Avoiding the Sucky Sequel: Tips On Making Your Book Just As Good The Second Time Around

by Walter Rhein

Perseid Press has just released my novel, The Literate Thief, which is a sequel to my 2014 release, The Reader of Acheron. Although I’ve been writing for more than ten years, this is the first time I’ve had an opportunity to do a sequel, and it has been a truly gratifying experience. Assuming you’re writing out of a sense of literary integrity and not just making a blatant cash grab (like many sequels), there are several unique challenges you face when writing a sequel. The sequel has to be an extension of the first work, but not a retread. The sequel has to reference the preceding volume, but also stand on its own merits. Your aspirations as an author are always to create a manuscript that exceeds its predecessor, but your chance of success is dependent on having an initial thematic vision larger than what can be contained in a single book.

Part of the reason that many of the sequels we’re subjected to are seen as failures is that the initial project was never conceived as anything more than a single narrative. When a book or film achieves a certain level of success, there is pressure to create a sequel even in instances where the narrative is artistically complete. Many “bad” sequels come as a result of forcing further narratives when the story doesn’t call for them. The series of “Hangover” movies fits into this category. They’re all entertaining, but, let’s face it, you’d be better off watching the first one three times than engaging parts two or three.

Some examples of “good” sequels are simply the case of a publisher breaking a large manuscript into smaller volumes to increase sales. For example, Tolkein did not conceive of The Lord of the Rings as three volumes. The manuscript he submitted was complete and the publisher added the volume breaks. Other authors such as J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin have vast outlines for further volumes in readiness upon submission of their initial manuscripts. They knew in advance where the story would go, and they probably would have written them whether or not the first volume had achieved critical or financial success.

Years ago, when I was initially planning this project, I had an interesting conversation with Janet Morris of Perseid Press. Morris is famous for having written the Thieves’ World novels, and she now dedicates herself to publishing thought-provoking manuscripts. Perseid doesn’t have the advertising budget of some publishers, but the encouragement to create intellectually stimulating narratives is, for me, of foremost importance. It’s a relief to know a discerning reader like Janet Morris will be the first to evaluate my manuscript, because I know if I become intellectually lazy the work is going right in the trash where it belongs.

In 2014, Janet gave a speech at the Library of Congress, and I had the opportunity to present her to her audience. The Reader of Acheron was in print at that point, and after her talk we chatted about where the series would go. I remember saying, “This world I’ve conceived of has more problems than I can resolve in a single volume.” Even as I said it, the phrase struck me as something of a mission statement. I remember the look of knowing satisfaction Janet flashed me in response. That moment, for me, cemented the justification for subsequent books.

In fact, in the early days of writing The Reader of Acheron, I realized the narrative was growing too large. Initially I’d planned concurrent plots involving many characters in separate locations, but a month or two in I realized I was working on two books. I cut out four chapters and set them in a folder, and those chapters became the beginning of “The Literate Thief.” Actually, the very first chapter that I wrote for “Reader” was cut only to show up in the subsequent book.

What you hope for in a sequel is to convey further detail of your concept so that you retroactively enhance the first volume. The best example I can think of that illustrates this idea is The Empire Strikes Back. It’s interesting how much of the Star Wars mythos was only introduced in the sequel. The progression of the narrative from Star Wars to Empire is also honest, truthful and reasonable to the development of the characters, but much, much bigger. There is a huge advantage to bringing your readers into a sequel. You’ve established a certain kind of narrative and trained your audience to be familiar with that narrative. Now, you can accelerate your thematic ambition. You can build upon concepts and use shorthand representation of items you had to explain in great detail in volume one. When done right, a sequel is a tremendous chance at advanced storytelling. Most of the sequels that fail, do so because they try to repeat the success of the original without making an effort to introduce anything new or expand on the existing themes.

I had a tremendous time writing The Literate Thief, and I’m happy to have conveyed some themes that were necessarily cut from The Reader of Acheron. However, the underling thematic narrative of this series still gnaws at me, and there is still a lot to say. There will certainly be a third book, but at this point I’m not entirely sure if it will continue after that. I have almost 40 pages of notes ready as I work on the last volume, and it remains to be seen if all of those ideas will make their way into the last volume, or will turn up in another series. I can guarantee this though, I care too much about my characters and my readers to subject them to a work without purpose.