The Every Person’s Writing Retreat

credit: Justin Patchin

credit: Justin Patchin

Erin Stevens

It isn’t often that I get an uninterrupted moment to write, much less an entire weekend. As a single-cat Mom who works a traditional 8 to 5 desk job who also tries to keep up with a social life (JK, what social life? I have a cat), there seem to be a million other things that I should be doing instead of writing (i.e. laundry, cleaning, calling my Mom to tell her about her grandcat, etc.).

It’s this lack of focus and a nagging sense of guilt that I was neglecting the stories and essays I wanted to be writing, that made the CVWG’s Winter Writers’ Weekend last year seem so enticing. A whole weekend spent away (from my cat), staying in Eau Claire’s very own Oxbow Hotel with nothing on the agenda but to write (and eat, but mainly to write).

I hesitated, though. While I graduated with a degree in creative writing and fancy myself a writer, I knew I probably wasn’t writing half as much as I assumed some of the other writers were. After all, aren’t retreats only for really serious writers?

I decided that I really had nothing to lose (other than my dignity and self-respect) and signed up, and I’m so glad that I did. As it turns out, the Winter Writers’ Weekend is actually a really great retreat for writers and  “non-writers” alike.


What do I mean by non-writer? I’m talking about those who have had an idea for a story or poem, but have never actually tried writing it. I’m talking about those who used to write pretty regularly, but have since fallen away from their craft and are a little rusty. Basically, any person who wants to write, but is struggling to make this happen.

Why is this retreat perfect for non-writers?

Because everyone starts at the same place. No one starts the weekend by bringing in a completed manuscript or collection of poems. The only things participants need to bring are themselves and something to write with. From there, writers will be given a series of prompts to work with, and then they’ll pick the prompt that they’d like to use in the development of a short piece (a poem, a short story or short essay).


The precious weekend dedicated to writing alone would be enough for me to return for a second year. Combine that with food from The Lakely and the atmosphere of The Oxbow, and I've already got the phone in my hand, ready to reserve my spot for this year.

And yet what really has me eager to return again this year (and leave my cat once more) is the sense of community I felt last year. This isn’t a surprise, really, as everything that the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild sets out to do is based around community, and providing a supportive environment for writers of all experience levels. So again, for anyone out there who has never written before, or for anyone who is looking comeback to writing again, this retreat is absolutely for you.


It’s good for me to remember this, too. Unsurprisingly, I’ve fallen back into the trap of letting everyday life distract me from all of the stories and essays I should be writing. It starts with skipping a few days, which then turn into a few weeks, which can even turn into a month or two if I’m not careful. And once I’ve slid away from a routine of regularly tapping into some creativity, it’s hard to get going again, and I end up leaving my desk in frustration.

And then a few days ago, I got an email reminding me that registration for this year’s Winter Writers’ Weekend opens Friday. While initially my old hesitations came back, I knew that I needed to get back to my community and to all of the pieces in my head that want to exist on paper.

I can’t think of a better place to help me get started again than the Winter Writers’ Weekend.  Looking forward to seeing you there!

5 Reasons To Sign Up for the Winter Writers' Weekend at The Oxbow Hotel


Karissa Zastrow

As a former participant of the Winter Writers' Weekend, let me just say there are plenty of reasons to sign up.  Here are my top five:

1. You’ll have the time to focus solely on your writing. I mean, how often do you have time set aside specifically to write without all the other chaos of life interrupting you?

2. There will be unique and fun writing prompts to get your creative juices flowing. Last year there were writing prompts based on board game questions, old photographs, and we even did some blackout poetry. 


3. At the retreat, you’ll meet other writers who want to improve their writing, and help you improve yours. You will work in small groups to workshop your writing and receive feedback.  

4. At the end of the night, you will have a chance to showcase the piece you worked on at the retreat. This is great experience for future readings. Plus, last year, we even had the Blugold Radio station record pieces to be played on the radio!


5. During the retreat, you get to stay at the beautiful Oxbow Hotel and eat delicious food at the Lakely. What more could you want?

Sign up today!

Giving Your Gift And Sustaining Our Community

Tis the season for gratitude, and we have much to be grateful for.  Most of all: you.  Thanks to your generosity, over the past two years the Guild has been able to provide robust, high-impact programming for writers and literary lovers throughout the region.  Our efforts have allowed us to host 12 summer retreats, a winter retreat, and a combined 6 more coming your way over the next few months!  That’s well over $33,000 in economic impact!

Barstow & Grand Release Party

Barstow & Grand Release Party

In addition, we’ve hosted dozens of free craft talks, sent you hundreds of free, locally written articles, and partnered with a wide array of business and organizations, from the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Foundation to Blugold Radio, Volume One, JAMF Software, Visit Eau Claire, the Chippewa Valley Book Festival, and most recently, our hot-off-the-presses community literary magazine, Barstow & Grand.  Your support is what keeps this collaborative spirit alive.  It’s what allows writers throughout the region to come together in common cause for the benefit of our community.      

By contributing today, you ensure that this good work continues.  And you send a clear message of support to the hundreds (and perhaps thousands!) of writers throughout the region that you value the way words make meaningful contributions to our lives.

Interns hard at work!

Interns hard at work!

  •  By becoming a $5.00/month sustaining member, you allow us to pay our talented interns.
  • By becoming a $10.00/month sustaining member, you ensure our craft talk series remains free.
  • For $25.00/month, you support all of our programming endeavors, while also ensuring the affordability of our retreats and continued partnerships with organizations that share our mission.

By making your gift today, not only will you support our thriving literary community, but you’ll be entered to win a pair of Forage gift certificates (a $60.00 value!) as well as one of several autographed copies of recently published books by local writers of national prominence.  One lucky winner, too, will be eligible for a free writing consultation with a Barstow & Grand editor. 

Your donation can be made electronically here. Simply scroll down and select the “Chippewa Valley Writers Guild Monthly Sustaining Membership” campaign.

Be inspired.  Inspire others.  And thank you for inspiring us.

B.J. Hollars

Executive Director, Chippewa Valley Writers Guild

7 Reasons to Sign Up For the Winter Writers’ Retreat at the Oxbow Hotel!


John Paluta

The Winter Writers’ Retreat isn’t far off and it is the best option for you to improve your craft! Here are seven reasons why you should sign up:

1.     The Attendees!
Writers-in-residence Melissa Range (her book, Scriptorium, was the 2015 winner of the National Poetry Series), Nick Gulig (Eau Claire native and winner of the 2017 Wisconsin People & Ideas Poetry Contest), Max Garland (Emeritus professor, former state poet laureate and the 2017 Brittingham Prize winner) and Austin Segrest will all be at the retreat! These four are all accomplished writers who represent a wide range of skills, from poetry to prose. You won’t get a better opportunity to learn what these four can do for your writing!

2.     Discount!
If you sign up before December 25th, you’ll get a hefty discount! Spots are limited, so saving cash as well as securing your spot now are excellent reasons to sign up.


3.     Improve Your Craft!
The time spent with these writers will be dedicated not only to learning, but to writing and revising your work! Workshopping will further improve your pieces as you build connections with not only the writers, but the other attendees of the residency.

4.     Community!
If you’re looking for somewhere to not only hone your writing, but also develop a community to share your writing with, then the Winter Writers’ Retreat at the Oxbow is the right place for you. Guild Director BJ Hollars remarks, “When I think back on last winter's retreat, what I remember most is the celebration following our Saturday night reading. People left the retreat proud of their work and excited to continue their writing. We hope to repeat that.”

5.     Relaxation!
Spend time escaping from the “real” world and enjoy the company of your fellow writers. Write, read, revise, grab a drink, eat some great grub, and spin a record on the turntable in your private room.  Not to mention, the Oxbow's not a bad place to avoid that winter chill.


6.     Anyone Can Come!
Whether your write poetry or prose, fiction or nonfiction, this is for you. The retreat is not meant for one particular discipline, but rather to encompass them all and assist you with whichever is yours!

7.     Fun!
And most importantly, it’s going to be fun. This weekend will not be one you’re likely to forget any time soon.  Join us for an inclusive atmosphere among friends.  Enjoy the perks, while also getting to work!  


So what are you waiting for? The Winter Writers’ Retreat takes place January 27- 28 at the Oxbow Hotel. The sign up process begins on December 1st, so save the date and get ready to write!  Click here for more!

Exploring the American War Experience Through Poetry and Prose


by John Paluta

November 16th is a day to celebrate our veterans at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Club! Author and Professor BJ Hollars (In association with the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild) will be exploring poetry and prose inspired by conflict with the event Of Verse and Valor: The American War Experience through Poetry and Prose.

The event is a reading for both veterans and non-veterans.  All are welcome to listen and participate! Previously scheduled readers are invited to share any work that personally connects to them or their experiences.

Screen Shot 2017-11-14 at 1.05.37 PM.png

The event itself stems from a series of events intended to commemorate US involvement with WWI, therefore several works about WWI will be read. But any related pieces are welcome, no matter what war or conflict they were inspired by.

According to event coordinator and Head of Special Collections, Greg Kocken, one of the things that stands out most is the venue. “This is something new, something different. There is an element of unknown to this event which excites me. When you think of a venue for a poetry event the University or The Local Store may jump out, but not the VFW. This is an opportunity to connect with a new audience, and that excites me.”  Professor BJ Hollars adds that it’s a chance to “use art as an entry point into broader conversations related to America’s experiences with war, while also honoring those who’ve served.”

Mark your calendars for this showcase of the power of words! Stop on by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Club November 16th at 6pm!  Click here for the Facebook invite.

Sponsored by McIntyre Library and UW-Eau Claire, Chippewa Valley Writers Guild, Student Veterans of America—UWEC Chapter, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, and the Chippewa Valley Museum.  These programs are part of World War I and America, a two-year national initiative of the Library of America presented in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the National World War I Museum and Memorial, and other organizations, with generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities

And the Most Valuable Patron of the Arts Award goes to…


B.J. Hollars

It’s award season here at the Guild, which means we’ll be bestowing five lucky individuals with “prestigious” awards the best way we know how: in the dead of night (or the dead of dawn) when the recipient least expects it.  Sure, it’s nice to roll out the red carpet, but who wants to deal with all the paparazzi?  And besides, nothing’s better than a surprise… 

On a crisp fall afternoon Guild director B.J. Hollars burst into the home of Jill Postlewaite.

“Surprise!” he shouted.  “You’re our Most Valuable Patron of the Arts award winner!”

She was stunned into silence.

“I’m sorry…are you selling something?” she asked.

“Of course not!” cried Hollars.  “At least of course not today.  We got you this award!  It’s our way of saying thank you for helping to dream Cirenaica into being!  Without you, it would never have been.  Thank you for sharing your space with us.”

Jill nodded, reaching for a notebook.

“What are you writing?” asked B.J.

“Just reminding myself to get the locks changed out at Cirenaica.  You know, so we don’t have any…um…unwanted guests.”

“Great idea,” B.J. agreed.

“Yes, I believe it is, too,” she said, staring hard in B.J.'s general direction.

“Why are you staring so hard in my general direction?” B.J. asked.

“Oh, no reason,” smiled Jill.  “No reason at all…”

Okay, okay, time to get serious.  A very sincere congratulation to Jill Postlewaite, who took a dream and made it a reality, helping hundreds of writers in the process.  If you’ve spent even a minute at Cirenaica, then you know the magical place she’s helped create.  We thank you, Jill! None of this would have been possible without your patronage to the arts!

And so concludes our 2017 “Most Valuable” awards.  Of course, you’re all valuable!  But come on, trophies ain’t cheap! (Well, they’re sort of cheap, but still…).  Until next year!

And the Most Valuable Knows How To Use the Internet Award goes to…


B.J. Hollars

It’s award season here at the Guild, which means we’ll be bestowing five lucky individuals with “prestigious” awards the best way we know how: in the dead of night (or the dead of dawn) when the recipient least expects it.  Sure, it’s nice to roll out the red carpet, but who wants to deal with all the paparazzi?  And besides, nothing’s better than a surprise… 

Mike Paulus was spending a lovely Saturday with his family when Guild director B.J. Hollars burst into the scene.

“Congratulations!” he hollered.  “And here’s a trophy!”

Mike stared at it, dumbfounded.

“Trophy?” he said.  “Are you sure it’s not a hood ornament?”

“Well, it’s not anymore,” B.J. mumbled. 

Mike read the carefully engraved script at the base of his award.  “Most Valuable Knows How To Use the Internet, huh?”

B.J. nodded.

“I can’t help but wonder if I’m the only person on the planet to have ever received such an…honor.”

“I’m certain you are," B.J. smiled.


Mike’s wife Shannon glimpsed the arms-flung-high golden figure atop the base and said, “Hey, that’s the exact pose Mike strikes every time he steps into the room!”

“Accuracy matters,” agreed B.J.

“All I can say is, thanks for the hood ornament,” Mike said.

“And all I can say is, you’re welcome,” B.J. grinned.

A hearty congratulation to Mike Paulus, who—on a more serious note—has been the behind-the-scenes web presence for the Guild since the beginning.  If you love our newsletter, and you love our website, then you’ve got Mike (and our amazing interns!) to thank.  We thank you, Mike! Keep your eyes wide, readers!  Maybe you’re the final recipient…

And the Most Valuable Everywhere All At Once Award goes to…


B.J. Hollars

It’s award season here at the Guild, which means we’ll be bestowing five lucky individuals with “prestigious” awards the best way we know how: in the dead of night (or the dead of dawn) when the recipient least expects it.  Sure, it’s nice to roll out the red carpet, but who wants to deal with all the paparazzi?  And besides, nothing’s better than a surprise… 

In that spirit, just moments before the Barstow & Grand release party on Thursday night, Guild director B.J. Hollars awarded Karissa Zastrow the Most Valuable Everywhere All At Once Award.

Awarded annually (or at least once), the Most Valuable Everywhere All At Once Award is given to the person who best exemplifies the gerbil-in-a-wheel mentality which B.J. himself strives toward. 

“So…you’re calling me a gerbil?” asked Karissa, her brow furrowed as she accepted her award.

“Of course not,” replied B.J.  “I’m calling you a gerbil in a wheel!”

She smiled (or maybe grimaced).

“So…you thought giving me this…award…minutes prior to the Barstow & Grand release party was a good idea?” she asked.

“I thought it was a great idea!” B.J. beamed.

Karissa, who for the past two years has attended dozens of craft talks, written dozens of articles for the newsletter, and has generally been, well, everywhere all at once, is most deserving of this award.  Though she no longer lives in the Chippewa Valley, she regularly makes the drive back our way to take part in our writing community.

“Well, I guess I’m honored,” Karissa said.  “This must have cost you…I don’t know…all of ten dollars!”

“All of six dollars,” B.J. corrected.  “Congratulations!”

A hearty congratulation to Karissa Zastrow, who—on a more serious note—has been a centerpiece of building the region’s literary community since the Guild's founding.  We thank you! Keep your eyes wide, readers!  Maybe you’re the next recipient…

7 Questions With Singer-Songwriter (and UWEC graduate!) Sarah Lou Richards

credit: Reto Sterchi

credit: Reto Sterchi

By Alex Zitzner

After the release of her fourth album Someone Who Gets Me, Sarah Lou Richards is touring throughout the U.S. playing shows. She will return to her collegiate alma mater’s town and perform at The Lakely on Friday, November 3rd from 7-11PM. With her goal of crafting lyrics which aim to be convincing rather than empty, we exchanged a few questions via email to get a better idea of what goes into being a singer and songwriter.

Guild: Are there any writers who have helped you understand how you want to write lyrics?

Sarah Lou Richards: Definitely! I wrote my song “The Fisherman” after reading The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri. Her storytelling inspired my songwriting on that one. I also read a fair amount of poetry (Mary Oliver, Emily Dickinson, Rupi Kaur) which is always a valuable tool. Poetry, like songwriting, is often succinct. You don’t have a lot of time or space to get your point across so you have to really zero in on what you mean.

G: When writing a song, do you generally start with the music or the lyrics?


SLR: Full disclosure, I don’t really have a method to the madness. Either can come first.  Occasionally I will sit down with a plan to write something specific (like when I wrote “Love Always Wins” for a friend’s wedding) and then the lyrics usually kick things off.  Once I get going though, it’s usually a beautiful mess of words and melody and there is no way to tell where it started and where it’s ending. It’s a pretty cyclical process that’s done when the song is fully realized!

G: How have your lyrics grown with each album? Have you noticed any shifts with theme or voice?

SLR: This is tough! I was late to the game; I didn’t start writing until I was 25. I still perform the first song I ever wrote. With each album I get better at saying just what I mean. I also feel like I put my writing through more filters as I create now. I’ll ask myself if there is a better way to describe the feeling I’m singing about or a way to paint a clearer picture of an experience. I did a writing workshop with David Wilcox & Beth Nielsen Chapman in 2015 and it’s been invaluable to my writing. They are masters of the craft!

G: Labels thought some of your songs were “too personal”, but isn't that the point of an artist? To be personal and connect with the audience through honesty?

SLR: Obviously I couldn’t agree with you more! I think the fear of labels, etc. is the commercial appeal of songs. They want to know what will make them money. So I think the more specific a song is, the greater the possibility that the audience could be narrowed.  From a business standpoint, I understand that, although it’s frustrating, but the great thing is that they can’t stop me (or anyone) from singing their hearts out about things that they love.  That is a wonderful thing about being an independent musician: everything goes! I will write songs that include the names of my family pets forever!

credit: Reto Sterchi

credit: Reto Sterchi

G: Could you briefly mention some of the ideas or stories touched on in your album?

SLR: This album feels like a story of my life! It covers my love of my niece & nephew and my husband, my belief in equal love for all (“Love Always Wins” was a commissioned piece by a college friend for his husband on their wedding day) working through the grief of losing a loved one, being in the right place and feeling nothing but honest happiness, looking in the mirror and being proud.  I feel lucky to have written these songs and to have brought them to life with my producer, Adrian Suarez.

G: How has the Midwest influenced your outlook on music while living in Nashville? Your Volume One article mentions your sound being Folk Americana. Could you explain that a little more?

SLR: There is an annual music conference called Folk Alliance where musicians & industry folks from around the globe come together for a long weekend of song sharing and networking. I help host a room at this event called “The Wisconsin Room.” We feature Wisconsin roots artists as well as the Wisconsin community that supports them. I’ve met and been influenced by so many Midwest artists. It is my favorite area to tour because the love of the arts is so rich and the audiences so receptive. Folk Americana is a pretty wide net to cast as a genre. I feel like it allows me as a singer/songwriter to create whatever I want and it will somehow fit. For me it kind of means, “no rules.” I can write about what I want and put any instruments with it and it will probably work and be pleasing to ears. I’m also not pigeon holed into a certain sound or topic as an artist. I feel like every time I create I’m starting with a blank slate and the sky is the limit. I love that.

G: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

SLR: Advice? Anyone can do what I do. The key is showing up and not getting discouraged. It’s a hard and blurry road. So many days I think, “It would have been easier if I had liked teaching and stayed doing that.” If I don’t do the work, no one will do it for me and honestly, no one will really notice! I’ve been in Nashville for over 10 years and I’ve been touring almost 7 years and it’s a slow go. There is no straight path.  Just because I put the work in doesn’t guarantee the outcome that I’m hoping for. At any moment, something wonderful or terrible could be waiting for me. Maybe my touring vehicle will break down or maybe a TV show will want to use one of my tunes. There is literally no way to know. And that’s not for everyone. But you can do it, there is room for everyone to succeed.

To buy tickets for her upcoming Eau Claire show, click here! You can buy and stream her music via Itunes/Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon. To stay up to date with Sarah Lou, like her Facebook page and check out her website.

And the “Most Valuable Started A Literary Magazine” award goes to…


B.J. Hollars

It’s award season here at the Guild, which means we’ll be bestowing five lucky individuals with “prestigious” awards the best way we know how: in the dead of night (or the dead of dawn) when the recipient least expects it.  Sure, it’s nice to roll out the red carpet, but who wants to deal with all the paparazzi?  And besides, nothing’s better than a surprise… 

In that spirit, at 7:15p.m. on Wednesday evening, Guild director B.J. Hollars took it upon himself to invade Barstow & Grand editor Eric Rasmussen’s personal space. 

“Ta da!” B.J. cried, entering the house and bestowing Eric with the prestigious “Most Valuable Started A Literary Magazine” award.

“Wow,” said Eric.  “I don’t know what to say!”

“Say thank you,” B.J. coached.

“Yes,” Eric said.  “That’s one thing I could say.”

B.J. beamed.

“And to think I’d planned on just taking it easy after a long day of work,” Eric said.

“Now you can take it easy with the award!”  B.J. said.  “And me!”  He helped himself to a seat on the couch.

Eric stared at the award for some time, shaking his head. 

“You know, I’m just astonished that you think so little of me…I mean…so much of me…as to drop by unannounced like this…”

“You’re welcome,” B.J. smiled, offering him a handshake.  “Congratulations!”

“Yes,” Eric said.  “That’s one thing you might say…”

A hearty congratulation to Eric Rasmussen, who—on a more serious note—had an idea, developed that idea, built the team, led the team, and created the first community-centered literary magazine the Chippewa Valley has ever known.  And if last night’s jam-packed crowd at The Local Store was any indication, the Chippewa Valley was ready for it.  Click here for more of his work.  And keep your eyes wide!  Maybe you’re the next recipient…



And the "Most Valuable Photographer" Award goes to…


B.J. Hollars

It’s award season here at the Guild, which means we’ll be bestowing five lucky individuals with “prestigious” awards the best way we know how: in the dead of night (or the dead of dawn) when the recipient least expects it.  Sure, it’s nice to roll out the red carpet, but who wants to deal with all the paparazzi?  And besides, nothing’s better than a surprise… 


In that spirit, at 5:56a.m. this morning, Guild Director BJ Hollars surprised our first recipient, Justin Patchin, with a “Most Valuable Photographer” award.  Justin, who was minding his own business in the moments before his workout at McPhee Strength and Performance Center on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus, was at a loss for words.

“I’m baffled[1],” remarked Justin as he scratched his head.  “So what’s happening here?”

So overcome by the honor, Justin could barely manage the pushups and jumping jacks soon to come.  But by hour’s end, once the workout had reached its conclusion and the magnitude of the award began to set in, Justin took inspiration in another “famous Justin” who has a tendency to receive awards (mostly Grammy’s) in this region.

“I’ll display this award in a place that reflects its dignity and honor,” Justin proclaimed to the rest of the workout class, who seemed mostly disinterested.


Marching proudly to the nearest toilet, he placed it near the handle, the fake gold glinting off the toilet water.

A hearty congrats to Justin Patchin, who—on a more serious note—persuaded a bunch of writers of a hard truth: that pictures are worth a thousand words.  Thank you, Justin, for giving us a thousand of them.  Click here for more of his work.  And keep your eyes wide!  Maybe you’re the next recipient…


[1] Author’s note: He may have meant “flattered.”


National Novel Writing Month is Nearly Here! Commit to your Craft Today!


National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual literary marathon that involves writing 50,000 words during the month of November. The idea behind this insane sounding challenge is to pack away the biggest foils many writers and would-be writers struggle with - procrastination and self-criticism. Chris Baty, author of No Plot? No Problem! and the mad genius behind NaNoWriMo, kicked off the event in 1999 when he discovered the power of a breakneck deadline to stick to a writing habit. 

Municipal Liaisons, local volunteers like Aimee Johnson, act as regional chapter heads and organize local events. One such event is the Kick-Off party, where local participants gather to meet and greet before NaNoWriMo actually starts. It's a chance to have questions answered, know your Municipal Liaison, get important dates for your region, play games, plot your novel, and pick up your Official NaNoWriMo Swag. This year it will be held at The Plus on Barstow Street, Eau Claire on Sunday, October 29 from 2 pm - 4 pm.  

Write-ins are staple events held throughout November. Participants gather to work on their novels as a group. It’s a perfect way to boost your word count by writing alongside your fellow WriMos. The combined energy of a room full of writers is a powerful thing - harness some of that for your own novel writing success. Dates and times can be found at your regional page on

Night Of Writing Dangerously is a fundraising, mega write-in! This is the only NaNoWriMo event that you have to pay to attend but it's for a good cause. The money goes to NaNoWriMo that in turn funds literacy programs. We will have word-sprints, contests, and a candy potluck. You don't want to miss out on the fun. It will be held on Friday, November 17 from 10 pm - 2 am, location to be determined. Register with Aimee Johnson at  

The Wrap-Up Party is held after the event ends and allows participants to celebrate the end of our writing marathon, congratulate, commiserate, play games, and get the chance to talk about our future novel plans. We will meet at The Pub Bar and Grill in Action City on Sunday, December 3 from 1 pm - 3 pm.  

To stay on top of the word count goal participants have to write 1,667 words a day, or about 3 pages. The benefits include a permission slip to put writing at the top of your to-do list, living out the fantasy of being a "real" writer, if only for 30 days, and discovering that a few stolen minutes to work on your novel quickly add up into pages and chapters that might not normally have been written without such a motivator.  So turn off your inner editor, sign up at, and come join us this November. 

Brand New Literary Event To Celebrate Chippewa Valley Writers

Write Here.png

By John Paluta

Get your creativity in gear, because Write Here, Write Now is just around the corner! On Saturday November 11th, Write Here, Write Now will takes place from 1:00 to 5:00 at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Library and from 5:30 to 7:00 at the Oxbow Hotel.

What is Write Here, Write Now? The event aims to celebrate writing and creativity through local writers and local writing opportunities. Many panels will be offered as well as readings, but the real attraction is going to be the attendees who are all interested and passionate about local writing. Every panel and reading brings something unique to the table, so make sure to check out each one! Every reader and writer will be able to take something away they learned from the panels.

See below for a brief preview of the panels:

  • 1PM: “Meet the Chippewa Valley Local Authors”
  • 2PM: “The ABC’s of Reading: A Practical Guide to the Art and Deadly Craft of the Literary Reading”
  • 3PM: “Publishing Near and Far: A Conversation on Finding the Right “Fit” for Your Work
  • 4PM: Writers Reception
  • 5:30PM: Writers Read (@The Lakely)

This is the first year for Write Here, Write Now! What started as an idea based off the print collection at the library featuring local writing has turned into a bigger community conversation designed to highlight local talent. Various organizations helped to put the event together, such as the Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild, Chippewa Valley Local Authors, the Eau Claire Writer-in-residence Max Garland, and others. The hope for this culmination of efforts is to foster a greater love and appreciation of local writing.

See you there!

The Book Fest Is Here!

By John Paluta

 The 18th Annual Chippewa Valley Book Festival is nearly here! Running from October 16 – 26, Book Fest has a myriad of programs for readers and writers alike. Over the course of the ten days, there’s sure to be something that’ll strike your fancy.

One of the highlights of this year’s festival is the attendance of Pulitzer Prize winner Matthew Desmond. On October 19th he will be reading from his winning book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Desmond has taken his experience of poverty and the extensive research he completed, and turned it all into a very readable story. You’re not going to want to miss this!

Several new events are taking part in Book Fest this year as well. One of which is ecWIT, a reader’s theater comprised of six women. They will be taking texts from various festival writers and interpreting them. Another first for Book Fest is the partnership with the Chippewa Valley Technical College. Two events will be held at the college, one of which is Jillian Weise presenting her talk titled Permission and Provocation. The other presentation will be by Jim Walsh (Also at the Technical College) about Prince and Bar Yarns: Music from Minneapolis and Beyond. One of the focuses of the talk will be the artist Prince.

Perhaps you fancy yourself a writer and the thought of workshops piques your interest! Two workshops are being offered for adult writers, the first of which being Writing Your “Wisconsin Life”. Author Patti See is an award winning writer and a frequent contributor to ‘Wisconsin Life’ on Wisconsin Public Radio. Prepare to write about your own Wisconsin story! The second workshop focuses on poetry, the name of the workshop being Narrative Poetry: Storytelling in Verse. UW-Eau Claire creative writing teacher Katie Vagnino will lead the workshop and explore narrative poems to understand how they work. Participants will have time to draft and revise their own poems!

And if you want to get the most out of Book Fest, you’re not going to want to miss Saturday, October 21st. Five events are taking place throughout the day. Four of which are at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library. ecWIT is one of these events, but other presentations include Charles Baxter’s Starting a Novel , Hilma Wolitzer’s The Late Bloomer and Judith Claire Mitchell’s A Reunion of Ghosts: When Historical Truth Meets Literary Truth and last but not least, a program titled Prodigal Poets Back in Town featuring Memorial High School graduates Graham Foust, Nick Gulig and Betsy Wheeler. 

Finally, don’t forget the book release for Barstow & Grand’s inaugural issue on October 26 at 7PM at The Local Store.  Come support the many regional writers who brought this dream to fruition!

Mark your calendars! Book Festival goes from October 16 – 26. You won’t want to miss any of these events.

Finding My Writing Home



By Jackie McManus

In 2010, I was going through something—a transition, maybe—to see what the next chapter held for me. As I was browsing the internet I came across a site that read, Hike Mt. St. Helen’s on Mother’s Day in honor of your mom and call her from the top. Wear a dress. Because I was struggling through my own personal mountain at the time, I thought: This. Sounds. Perfect. 

Along with 199 other people—that’s what the permits would allow on the mountain that day—I hiked with men and women, every one of us in dresses with hiking boots and crampons and pick axes. I made the hike on about two hours of sleep in my tent at the base of the mountain. But I hiked off that mountain seven hours later, better.

When I moved to Wisconsin last year to help my mother, who just turned 86, it was difficult for me to leave my beloved Northwest. Again I researched…and found Cirenaica. Cirenaica means “siren of the sea” so this time it wasn't land, but water.  This time it wasn’t hiking boots and a pick axe but pen and paper. And because there was no mention online of bug spray or deerflies, I told myself "I'm in."

In Montana and Washington where I've lived, I couldn’t touch the quality of this type of writing retreat. They were all beyond my teacher’s budget. But because Cirenaica wasn’t, and because I was drawn to the quality of the people facilitating the retreat, I get to carry with me some wonderful moments: of walking in the door early in the morning to nothing but hot coffee, a jar of candy, and people silently writing in their spaces. I once taught Kindergarten so silence is no small thing. There's no feeling like walking in that door because the air in the early morning is nearly tangible, thick but not empty, the feeling something is happening that you want to be a part of, that you are instantly grateful you are.

At Cirenaica (Image: Justin Patchin)

At Cirenaica (Image: Justin Patchin)

This July Max Garland took us on a hike to Big Falls on the Eau Claire River, a spot I had never seen. There we found baby caterpillars, one of whom we named Cirne, our retreat mascot. I offered to carry Cirne back to the lodge and I was okay sitting in the back seat of Max’s car until Cirne woke up and began crawling around the edges of her leaf. I thought oh no. What if I lose our mascot or worse, she gets squished and then Max will never speak to me again and he will go home and write a poem of lament and on and on… But then I remembered that I was riding in Max Garland’s car. At a writing retreat. I could do anything. Even safely see Cirne through his transition to a Monarch butterfly.

Back in the Northwest, I’d belonged to two writing groups. Additionally, I’d helped facilitate a community read at an art center and attended open mics. But no matter how we marketed these events, attendance always remained pretty disappointing. I have been nothing but surprised to discover a really large writing community in Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire and not just that, but that there is room for me in it. In the Northwest, it felt like the spaces were all filled, but here, for me, somehow there's room.

Cirenaica has in some way become my Mt. St. Helen's. I came for four days and left, better. I left with better strategies, better poetry, a better spirit.

Mapping Memories with Max (A Preview of Max Garland’s Upcoming Collection: The Word We Used for It)

Credit: Justin Patchin

Credit: Justin Patchin

By Alex Zitzner

Before the upcoming release of The Word We Used for It from the University of Wisconsin Press, I was able to grab a coffee with the latest Brittingham Prize Winner, Max Garland, and discuss his third collection of poems. Following two previous prize-winning books (The Postal Confessions; University of Massachusetts Press and Hunger Wide as Heaven; Cleveland State University Poetry Center), this third installment lends a new ear to topics of memory, nature, and how we account for each as our eyes become critical of our words. 

My immediate reaction was to pose a question about the title’s vagueness. With the word “It” being somewhat open ended, Max explained the title, noting how, “...we use words all the time as if we understand what they mean, but more often when we get down to it, we’re meaning very different things. Some of the most important things we try to say aren’t adequately conveyed…” By admitting the rift between what we experience and how we share those experiences, “The Word We Used for It” serves as a reference point for each trail of memories traversed in trying to find the right words to describe the journey. 

Max explained how memories often “...become colored with all we’ve experienced,” and become lost, slightly skewed retellings of stories. This idea can be found running throughout each and every piece of the book in its own way, allowing the reader to reflect on the theme as they go.  The poem, “The Woman Who Waved From the River” perfectly illustrates this sentiment.

Besides memories of childhood, another pertinent theme running through the collection involves nature and the urgency to depict the present before the next moment vanishes. As Max puts it, “There is a lot to be learned from creatures. Think of those rabbits and squirrels and the grit they have during the Wisconsin winters, there is a lesson in that. Look how invested they are on a day to day basis...look how alive they are, even if their life is going to be short.” A telling epigraph from Nazim Hikmet appears at the beginning of Max’s book: “Living is no laughing matter: / You must live your life with great seriousness / like a squirrel…” Hikmet’s words set the stage for Max’s, helping readers better understand nature’s constant state of motion, even if we don’t quite see it. 

The Word We Used for It will challenge readers to think deeply about language and its abilities. Having read it myself, I am certain the newfound perspectives will long stick with me, even as my memories begins to fade. 

Max will be releasing, reading, and signing this book at The Local Store on Friday November 10th. To hear Max read more about memory and nature, he will be reading with current Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Karla Huston, on Friday, October 20th at 4PM at the Unitarian Universalist Church as part of the Chippewa Valley Book Festival.

Barstow & Grand’s Inaugural Issue Available Soon (Interview with editor Eric Rasmussen)

Eric Rasmussen

Eric Rasmussen

By BJ Hollars

In anticipation for Barstow & Grand’s inaugural issue, we recently sat down with B&G editor Eric Rasmussen.  Read below for some behind-the-scenes details from the first issue, as well as what’s coming next! 

BJ Hollars: So B&G's inaugural issue will be released October 26 at 7PM at The Local Store!  Congratulations!  Tell us a bit about what people can expect at the release party?

Eric Rasmussen: The release party will be a mash-up of two of our favorite things: traditional literary readings, and office birthday parties. We will have about ten of our issue one authors on hand to read their work, as well as the editors of the journal. Then, we will stand around, eat cake, and make small talk.

Tell us a bit about the editorial process.  Who submitted and how many submissions did you receive?

ER: We received submissions from a wide assortment of people connected to the Chippewa Valley. Some of our authors have lived in Eau Claire their entire lives, while one woman from whom we accepted a prose piece and a poem is connected to the Chippewa Valley through her love of Leinenkugel’s products (she lives on the west coast). Taking this approach created an intriguing argument for what constitutes a “literary community” in the 21st century. What binds us in modern times is much more than geographic location, although our geography is still the focus of our communities.

We received almost 300 submissions from over 100 writers, of which we were able to accept a little less than 10%.

What surprised you most about the work you received?

ER: We knew going in we’d see lots of pieces about the themes that surround us in the upper midwest - the landscape, the seasons, rural living - but we were surprised by how predominant those themes were in the submission pile. This is a good thing and a bad thing - we want to capture the character of our home, but it can also be challenging to stand out if a few dozen other submissions are talking about the same thing. The other thing that surprised us was how many submissions we received from “new” writers. It’s obvious there are many people (who haven’t yet done so) looking for an opportunity to share their words. It’s exciting to give some of those authors a chance to do so.


What excites you most about the first issue?

ER: Honestly, that it exists. This has been a tremendous learning experience in all regards, from forming an editorial team, to soliciting pieces, to accepting pieces, to producing a physical journal. Now that we’ve got one done, we can implement all of the grand plans that had to be shelved while we learned the basics! Onward to issue two!

How can writers best contribute to Barstow & Grand?

ER: Buying an issue, without a doubt, would be the number one way to contribute. If we can build this endeavor into something that can someday pays its writers and staff, then we will have accomplished something really significant. Sending work is another fantastic way to support the journal. Not only would we cease to exist without quality submissions, we charge a small submission fee, which allows us to host a website, hold release parties with cake, and print the journal, so by submitting, writers are participating in our writing community in a concrete and measurable way. The other way is to keep working. Publishing writing is hard, and for most, only comes after lots of rejections and hours (days? months? years?) of toil. Our mission has always to be support the “professionalization” of the Valley’s writing community. Everyone who shares work with a writing group or who plunges into yet another draft is helping us achieve our mission.

What's coming up next?  When should people prepare to submit again?

ER: Submissions for issue two will open in March of 2018. We once again are looking for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry

Any final thoughts?

ER: There is so much involved in “becoming a writer,” and one of the final steps is seeking publication for one’s work. If you’re at that point in your writing life, Barstow & Grand is here to help. We exist for you. We can’t wait to see your submissions!

Looking forward to seeing you all on October 26 at 7PM at The Local Store!

From The Mouths Of Writers 3: Is there a personal item or a space that gives you inspiration to write? 


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 newest 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: Is there a personal item or a space that gives you inspiration to write? 

Allyson Loomis

Absolutely not.  My life is so busy with full-time work and full-time parenting and housekeeping, that if I get a stretch of free time to write, I just plop down wherever I am.  A lowered toilet lid in a quiet bathroom is a fine place to sit with a laptop and get a few sentences done.

Sandra Lindow

When I want to write something I usually go for a walk.  I sometimes take notes although I have found that some ballpoint pens don’t work in winter.  Now I know why poet Mary Oliver takes a pencil when she goes for a walk in the woods.  When I come home, I sit in my recliner and write on my laptop.  Our cat, Maisie, died last summer, but in the twenty years before that, Maisie added purrrpose to my writing by sitting on the arm of my chair.

Molly Patterson

I'm a strong believer in demystifying writing, so I don't have any talisman or any specific place that I need to write. I don't want to have to have a candle burning to inspire me, because what happens when I can't light that candle? For me, it's establishing the habit of writing that is important, not surrounding myself with objects that put me in the mood to write. The fact is, you're not always going to want to write. In fact, you'll probably very often feel like you'd better do anything else rather than write (I know I feel that way a lot), though usually, once you start writing you find that it's actually not so bad, after all. And then you get to feel glad that you have written today, which is much better than feeling guilty that you didn't write today, as you'd meant to do. If you're someone for whom an object or a space can be the thing that gets you to buckle down and open up that document, then that's great. For me, though, it's simply about a commitment: I will write most days, and I won't push it to the back burner as something to get to once I finish everything else. "Everything else" will never be done. You have to be selfish with your writing time.

Bruce Taylor

Inspiration is wonderful if and when it happens. But don’t rely on it. Inspiration is for amateurs.

Jon Loomis

Funny you should ask this, as I tell my advanced poetry classes to acquire a “mojo” item and keep it on hand while they’re working.  I’ve had a series of meaningful hats, and I seem to work pretty well these days at our cabin up north, although I don’t get up there as often as I’d like.  

Marsha Qualey

The main lecture hall we use at Hamline is known as GLC 100. So many times I have walked out of that lecture hall inspired by what I’ve heard, whether it’s about language or form or the writing life. My newest books, coming out later this year, are about Gracie LaRoo, a champion synchronized swimmer who happens to be a pig. They are a direct result of listening to other writers talk about writing in GLC 100.

Jay Gilbertson

Yes. I live on an 80-acre organic-certified farm in NW Wisconsin. I have an office that looks into the trees, up a hill and is filled with sky. I don’t buy into the muse deal and have never had writer’s block. Both rather odd excuses for not writing or writing poorly. When the flow is not there, we have wood to chop, chickens to chase and an unending chore list.

Nickolas Butler

Not really.  Personal spaces, totems, lucky-charms - all of those things seem like crutches to me, excuses.  I'm writing letters to a man right now in prison who wants to become a writer.  You think he's worried about such luxuries?

Sandra McKinney

Solitude & nature; finding segments of time without a schedule.


Brett Beach

The novel I am working on takes place in a fictionalized portion of Door County—where my wife and I honeymooned, and have returned to several times since. Sitting outside the Old Post Office Restaurant on a warm summer evening while eating the buttery, perfectly cooked plate from our fish boil, I looked out at the Peninsula Park Beech Forest State Natural Area, where the green hills rose above the softly moving waters of the bay, and I felt that magical moment in which the idea I had been toying with in my mind found a location in which to land.

Since my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country of Cape Verde, I have returned to those islands again and again in my fiction. I am also a Midwesterner by birth, and so Ohio and Wisconsin pop up in my stories. We write what we dream, I suppose, and my dreams are infused with the cornfield and suburbs and churches of my youth, of low dark clouds that signal tornados approaching and snow piled thick on the bird feeder outside my kitchen window, the deer in the backyard triggering the back porch light’s sensor, the unknowable blinking communication of lightening bugs in summer.

Cathy Sultan

I have two spaces that inspire me to write. One is my office which overlooks my gardens and the rolling hills beyond and Beirut a city full of untold stories, intrigue and skullduggery.

Dear Writer - October 2017

Dear Writer,.png

Dear Writer,

It seems many writers have 'writer's block.'  I have friends who are always staring at a blank screen, and they get more desperate when they fail to write what they are thinking. But that's not my problem. I love the writing, but I always have trouble knowing when to stop. I'm usually well over a word limit by the time that I'm done writing. Can you help me with this problem, or at least convince my editor that I need more space for my stories.

Whole Lot of Words

Dear Whole Lot of Words,

Congratulations on not suffering 'the block.' I know writers who would trade spell check for such a gift.

As to not being able to fit your 700-word masterpiece into a 500-word bag, you are not the Lone Writer. And there are assignments requiring more space, for example a topic requiring deep background. But the common problem is not the story but the storyteller. One way to sabotage a word limit is the Cinnamon Syndrome: If a recipe calls for a teaspoon of cinnamon, two teaspoons must be better.

No. A sports editor once supervised a reporter who wrote great feature stories filled with interesting detail and anecdotes. But that same writer's deadline stories given the same treatment were overwritten. Whole phrases and in some cases paragraphs could be wiped clean without touching the heart of the story. “The wet, gray sky hung low, the wind continually impacted the flight of the ball during pass plays and the field itself turned to soup, impacting the Raiders' vaulted ground attack” would find publication as “Blustery weather and a muddy track stalled the Raiders' offense.”

It's a game story requiring crisp, active prose. Every paragraph, every sentence, every word should be essential or be gone. Apply this test to everything you write, whether an article on landscaping or a short story. Does a detail or idea advance your story, or do they exist because you are in love with them? There are times when a detail or idea may have fit when you wrote it, but stories change. Revisit everything. If it doesn't move it, remove it.

When I edited magazines, more than half of my writers' stories came back racing well past the assigned word limit. And there was this note: “I think I wrote long. Feel free to edit,” illustrating both problem and solution. The writer wrote long and should own up to it and state it clearly, “I wrote long,” saving two words. And “Feel free to edit?” Well, yes, I WILL feel free to edit. I am the editor. It's what I do. You wasted another four words. You used nine words where three would serve. And going through the article, I find this problem repeated: Nine words where three would serve. The edited story was a leaner, cleaner piece.

Whole Lot of Words, you can solve your word-limit angst AND become a better writer. Hopefully you're familiar with Strunk & White's Elements of Style. Find your copy and read it again. This is the Bible of Composition, and the First Commandment is “Omit Needless Words.” Now exercise your new muscle. Retrieve a piece you've already written and get a word count. Edit out 20 percent of the words. Seek and destroy unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. How many times did you use the word “that?”

If 20 percent seems harsh, consider advice offered students in a freshman English class by the late Laurence Perrine, professor at Southern Methodist University and author of numerous books on literature. “How can you achieve this well-tuned, economical, smooth-operating style? The answer is simple. For every 300 words you write, cross 100 out. When assigned a 500-word theme, write a first draft of one thousand words; then cut out the fat without losing the meat. This apprenticeship is rigorous, but it brings results.”

Finally, Whole Lot of Words, let's revisit your letter. How's this?

Dear Writer,
My stories always go over the word limit. Can you help?

Good luck,