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Poetry, Pizza, and Politics with Eau Claire City Council Member Emily Anderson

 Dr. Emily Anderson

Dr. Emily Anderson

by Chloe Ackerman

Under the pen name, Max Howard, City Council member Dr. Emily Anderson wrote her novel Fifteen and Change. This book follows a boy named Zeke, who works at a pizzeria and chooses to join the fight to raise the minimum wage.  I had the opportunity to sit down with Anderson and talk to her about her new book. Anderson described how the topic of having a living wage is significant to her life and experiences, how she wrote the book in several forms, including villanelles, and how it is difficult to identify genre while creating literature. 

To celebrate her book, on December 19th, Emily Anderson will be having a book reading, with pizza, at The Plus on Barstow Street in Downtown Eau Claire.

CHLOE ACKERMAN: What made you want to write the book Fifteen and Change?

EMILY ANDERSON: It’s directly personal to me because I’m a writer and also an academic. Right now, I have a Ph.D., I can get a job, it just won’t be a living wage job. I was involved with a fight for living wages for graduate students and adjunct professors while I was in Buffalo, New York getting my Ph.D., so that was a personal fight. One of the advantages of that fight, or one of the things that I drew strength from, was that we were also coordinated with a Fight for 15 Movement. We were protesting in solidarity with fast food workers and others in the service industry, and that was really great to be a part of that broader labor struggle, so I was kind of carrying that in my mind. The second thing is the knowledge that 43% of kids in Eau Claire schools now are in the ALICE statistics, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Basically, low income affects 43% of Eau Claire residences, and that’s so many children in our schools. Many kids are in a position much like the character Zeke in my novel who are really struggling with all the problems that economic inequality can create. I wanted to write something that reflected what is a really common experience that gets treated as a very unusual or special experience. The overarching structure of the series that the book is a part of is on social issues, and that is the one I felt I had the most personal connection to. 

In addition to other forms, This book makes use of the villanelle, which are 19-line poems. How did you go about writing this book within such confines?

For me, writing is easier when there are some limits or some constraints. Each little poem is about 50 words, and I had to do exactly 192. I kind of had a sense of what should happen every 20 poems or so to add a movement or pace to the narrative. I mapped that out and then went in and put those smaller pieces together, so it made structuring the narrative really easy, which was great. I write prose fiction as well, and I feel like I learned a lot about saving myself some time by knowing how many words something should be. I normally work more organically so having an imposed structure helped a lot.

Do you see any crossover between your work as a council member and your writing?

So much. I am motivated by the same concerns of wanting to make the world a fairer place and wanting to do my best to amplify the voices of people that are fighting for equality. So that’s definitely a motivation that I share, but I also think that the work of writing is actually really similar to politics. One thing I think of a lot is, the poet, Percy Shelley, who called poets, “the unacknowledged legislators of the world” because it’s creativity that breathes life into an idea and once an idea has life, or momentum, or energy, it captures people’s imaginations that’s what it takes to change the world. I think you see that a lot in politics, for good or ill, that people use language in imaginative ways, and it captures people’s hearts. This stuff happens whether it’s good or it’s bad. It’s a real power.

Is there a person or something that has influenced you a lot in your writing or in your work?

I think I wouldn’t have been able to continue being a writer if I didn’t have amazing teachers, friends, and family members that are always encouraging me and supporting me. I think I have been really lucky with the kinds of relationships I have in my life, and I don’t think that I would be able to persist in a rejection heavy career if I didn’t have people that have my back. 

What do you hope your readers will take away from this book?

One of the things that I try to emphasize in the book is that when Zeke becomes more directly active politically, it’s because he loves the people around him. It’s something that he does with a spirit of both love and also playfulness, and it’s this idea that getting involved and making change happen can be something that is playful and happy. It has to do with love and good feelings and not just like some abstract principle, and it can be a baby step and not necessarily a big step to make a difference. 

What question would you like to be asked that gets at the core of you as a writer and/or your writing?

One thing I’m thinking about a lot as a writer these days is the question of form or genre. I never know when I start a project what the form or genre is going to be. That’s something I learn as the ideas form and come together. I feel like people ask, “What do you write? Do you write fiction? Or do you write poetry?” And I always have a hard time answering that question, because I don’t know what something is until I am done making it, and even then sometimes I don’t really know exactly what it is. I think form communicates with content in a way that makes the genre a challenging thing to pin down. 

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Is there anything else you would like to share?

Yes! I have a book party on the 19th of December, and anyone can come. It is going to be at The Plus at 7:00pm, and there is going to be pizza because my book is about pizza. 

Traveling 34 Years through UW-Eau Claire Summer Theater History with Wil Denson

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by Chloe Ackerman

Dr. Wil Denson is a professor emeritus of theater arts at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and in his new book Life Upon the Wicked Stage”: Director’s Cut he recounts the summers that he spent working with the Summer Theater in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He describes the plays, the good times, and past traditions, as well as all of the people he worked with over the years. 

Denson’s book allows those who were once a part of Summer Theater, or those who were in the audience of a Summer Theater production, to relive the time that was shared. It is also an excellent record of some of Eau Claire’s art history. In this interview, Denson talks about his process writing this book, how writing books differs from writing plays, and what it was like to relive his experience with Summer Theater while writing his book. “Life Upon the Wicked Stage”: Director’s Cut, can be found at The Local Store, or it can be bought directly from Wil Denson by mailing $15 to Wil Denson, P.O. Box 1828, Eau Claire, WI.

CHLOE ACKERMAN: What made you want to write your book “Life Upon the Wicked Stage”: Director’s Cut?

WIL DENSON: Over the years, a number of people have suggested that someone should write an account of Summer Theater here in Eau Claire. Since I was the person most closely associated with it, the writing seemed to fall, logically, to me.

Also, University Summer Theater closed in 1998, twenty years ago last summer; the time seemed right.

I wanted to ensure that the memory of our work was not lost. I worked with Summer Theater for over twenty-five summers, and it formed a large and important part of my life. For many seasons, Summer Theater WAS MY LIFE. I didn’t want it forgotten.

Finally, hundreds of UWEC students were involved and deserved to be recognized.

This book is nonfiction about the history of the UW-Eau Claire Summer Theater. Although you were with the program for much of the time that it was running, was there any research that you had to do to write this book? Did you learn anything or rediscover anything that surprised you in the process of writing this book?

I joined the company in 1966 during its second summer. And, although I knew and worked with personnel from the first summer and with people from every year thereafter, my memory was not sufficient for everything I hoped to include. 

Therefore, I spent about five months reading old newspaper reviews and articles, interviewing former personnel and examining production programs and photographs.

My greatest surprise in researching came in discovering the sheer number of people who had gone on to success on the national professional stage as well as in Hollywood film and television. I hadn’t actually forgotten these past people, I’d been in contact with many of them over the years, but I didn’t realize how many there were.

In the book, you mentioned plays that you wrote, Company 10 Musical, Life Upon the Wicked Stage, Remembering the Valley, and many others for the Summer Theater to perform. What is your process for writing a play? Does this process differ from writing other types of literature, like this book for example?

It’s difficult to describe the playwriting process in a short space, plus I suspect each writer works differently. I began with an idea that I hoped was viable, a story that would sell tickets. (In choosing stories for Summer Theater, the very specific EAU CLAIRE AUDIENCE was taken into consideration. What were they most likely to be drawn to?) Then I roughed out “an action” – what happens in the piece, the plotting, the setting, characters, etc. For our situation here in Eau Claire, my next step was determining if the idea was possible: could we financially afford the scenery, costumes, etc., and could we find actors, designers, director and technicians who were able to successfully bring the work to our stage. (Some ideas are simply too hard or too expensive to produce.) 

Next, I tried to put the ideas and characters on paper, actually writing the dialogue, describing the characters and scenery, presenting the action, etc. 

Finally, of course came the proofreading, edits, an infinity of re-writes, etc. (A huge advantage in writing for our own theater was the possibility of doing re-writes with the piece already on stage in rehearsal; if we found that something didn’t work as anticipated, I could re-do an act or a scene on the spot and make it more suitable).

The chief differences separating playwriting from other writing forms are its reliance on dialogue, its dependence on visuals and its immediacy. A playwright has to continually show the story to the audience; they cannot tell the plot the way a fiction writer does, the action must be seen. The playwright must ‘place the characters in action, doing something.’ A character is revealed best by what they do. 

Too, the ‘live audience factor’ features in prominently. In a film or novel nothing can be altered; what is written on the page or seen on the screen is set in stone and cannot be changed. But in a play, audience reaction is possible and hugely important; a production changes from night-to-night. A playwright is able to take advantage of this.

Since this book covers a lot of your life and you experienced and saw a lot of what was in this book, what was it like to write “Life Upon the Wicked Stage”: Director’s Cut?

What struck me most in doing the book was how much the writing took me back in time. Every day when I sat down for my three or four-hour sessions of work, I was transported back in time, back to summer mornings thirty-five or forty years ago. I vividly remembered people and places and shows I hadn’t thought about for seemingly a lifetime. Writing the book became an exotic time-travel-like experience for me. (When former actors and technicians heard I was working on the book, many of them contacted me, and we rekindled old friendships and shared old memories, thereby furthering my feelings of time travel).

What do you hope that readers will take from this book?

I hope the book brings back memories of our thirty-four years of productions, of opening nights and strikes and rehearsals. I want readers to recall the hundreds and hundreds of people involved in Summer Theater and the thousands of performances we gave. I hope it brings back a smile and a memory.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Given the changes in economics and audience tastes, it seems unlikely Summer Theater as we knew it can ever return to Eau Claire. Everything has become too expensive, too difficult, too complex. Audience tastes have changed; people have moved on with their careers; the competition has become too intimidating. TV offerings, film, sports, local music festivals, etc. all are greatly expanded and have become too difficult to compete with.

But Summer Theater accomplished what we set out to do. Over fifty of our people now work professionally on Broadway, in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Minneapolis. Hundreds of our student actors, designers, directors, and technicians were able to learn more about their craft. Thousands of Chippewa Valley residents came to enjoy and appreciate the art of theater more due to our work. The number of then-young children who saw our work and decided to launch their own careers in theater has been tremendously gratifying.  

Looking back, our thirty-four summers became golden to me and, I hope, to the community – but can never return. 

(If you read the letters in the back of the book, you will gain a better appreciation of audience reactions.)

The theaters of the Chippewa Valley were all influenced by our work. For example, the Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild, the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre, Fanny Hill Dinner Theatre, etc. were all conceived and initiated by former UWEC-Summer Theater performers, directors and technicians. Summer Theater at the University was in large part the start of theater in the Valley. I’m very proud of that.

Finally, during the several readings/book signings I’ve done throughout the area, it’s been extremely gratifying to meet former performers and technicians and to hear about their families, lives, and successes.

Dear Writer - November 2018

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Dear Writer, 

I keep hearing people talking about a writer’s “voice.” What exactly does that mean? And how do I know if my writer’s voice is any good? And if it isn’t good, how do I find my voice?

Sincerely,
Lip Syncing to my Own Words


Dear Syncing,

I, too, have wondered what the hell people were talking about when they talked about finding one’s own “voice.”  When I was starting out as a writer, it seemed to me to be the kind of thing teachers said when they couldn’t think of anything else to say about my work.  I mean, how could I not write in my own voice?  Whose voice was I writing in, if not my own?  The mailman’s?  Some roving phrenologist’s?  Did I somehow inadvertently sound like that guy sitting alone at the end of the bar, drinking Jack and Cokes and shouting out wrong answers to Jeopardy?  Should I write the way I talk, I wondered—should my work be full of sentence fragments and mild stuttering and swear words?  Or should I write the way I sound to myself when I’m thinking?  What an incoherent and obscene jumble that would be!  

But then I started thinking about voice as I read the work of other writers, and of course, I noticed a few things.  First, some writers are capable of doing all sorts of voices—they’re regular impressionists, now writing from one character’s point of view, now another, then again in a kind of neutral, authorial tone, two books later in a completely different voice again.  Other writers seem to have a distinct style that they use in story after story, book after book.  Think of the great stylists of the early-to-mid 20th century—Hemingway, Faulkner, Joyce and Woolf, for starters—you’d know their work anywhere.  But is voice the same as style?  Is that what we’re talking about?  

Well, yes and no, to my way of thinking.  I think ultimately voice is made up of a few things: diction, which is to say the words you use, the size and scope of your writer’s vocabulary.  Do you use simple, common words, or big, fancy Latinate words?  Or some mix of the two?  There’s also syntax—how you string a sentence together.  We all do it a little differently, it seems to me—we fall into syntactical patterns that become, over time, stylistic markers for our work.  I like multi-clause sentences, as you can probably tell, with lots of punctuation (and even the occasional parenthetical statement).  But I also like to mix in some short sentences.  Fragments, even.  Good writers pay attention to rhythms, too—where the natural, spoken emphases come in a phrase or a sentence.  And then there’s tone, of course—some writers manage to keep a very neutral tone, while others may sound angry or sardonic or urgent or conspiratorial, and so on.  

Ultimately, though, I think I was right to begin with.  For better or worse, whatever you write, you write in your voice.  Even if you’re trying to imitate or parody someone else, unless you’re an unusually brilliant mimic, it will still probably sound like you trying to sound like someone else. That voice may change over time—you may find ways of doing things that work better and seem more natural or more compelling—but no matter what, you’re going to sound like yourself, and, with a little luck, a better, smarter, more entertaining version of yourself.  

And maybe that’s how you know if it’s any good: would you, as a reader, want to spend an hour with that voice?  A day?  A week?  Could you be naked with that voice?  Would you want to hear it when you’re eating, or in bed, or sitting next to a crackling log fire with a nice scotch on the rocks?  Or would you find it tedious, annoying, full of clichés and lifeless dialogue?  Does it natter on with too many big words and extraneous commas, perhaps?  Is it, as Dorothy Parker is supposed to have said, not a book to be set aside lightly, but one to be thrown with great force?  If even you can’t stand the sound of your own voice, it may be time to re-think your career as a writer.  But if it seems okay to your ear—mostly in tune and on key, as it were—then maybe it’s time to get feedback from your smart friends (don’t bother showing it to your dumb friends; they won’t get it), from other writers, and from teachers and agents and editors, too, if those opportunities arise.  With time and work and constructive feedback and lots and lots of reading and thinking about how other writers do things, that voice will develop of its own accord, like a bodybuilder’s biceps develop with weight training.

All of which is a long way of saying, just write the story.  Or the poem.  Or the essay.  Don’t try to sound like someone you’re not.  Don’t try to sound a particular way, even.  Just be you, telling a story.  That’s your voice.  If people like it, it’s good.  If they don’t, then maybe try to sound like someone else, and see how that goes. 

Best of luck,
Jon Loomis

Winter Is Coming...And So Is The Winter Writers Retreat!

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Update: SOLD OUT!

by Emma O’Shea 

As the winter weather rolls in, freezing leaves off the trees and blowing fog out of our mouths, so comes the Winter Writer’s Retreat. With it, the creative minds of published authors and ambitious writers looking to hone their talents and discover new insight into the world of writing. As a way of exploring our own writing and writing in different genres, the retreat gives an opportunity to nestle into the winsome Oxbow Hotel and center our attention on our passion of pen to paper. The weekend allows writers of all genres to spend time away from the day-to-day tasks and tap into our creative reservoirs. 

The retreat embraces advanced writers and those who are just beginning to explore their own writing. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, all are welcome. With an agenda that is purely focused on writing and soaking up the atmosphere of The Oxbow (and delicious food of The Lakely), it is the perfect haven for anyone who has an inkling towards writing. 

Each year the Guild weekend retreat, hosted by BJ Hollars, invites different authors from around the region to be featured. They’ll discuss writing techniques during craft talks and work with fellow retreaters in workshop. This year, we’re excited to offer plenty of different perspectives and published authors from a variety of genres. A. Rafael Johnson, author of The Through, is one of our writers-in-residence. Johnson comes with a fresh perspective on our ideas of writers, challenging the stereotypes we sometimes intimidate ourselves with when contemplating who we are as writers, both beginners and seasoned alike. Johnson says, “In America, the arts - particularly writing - is too often thought of as a solitary pursuit. We've romanticized the lone wolf writer, alone in a garret with a typewriter who produces a work of singular genius. But I ask, when did isolation outweigh conversation? I'd like to reconsider the role of artists and writers in society, as people who put their gifts of imagination in service of their communities. We are the ones who can imagine something different, something better than what we have now. If we don't, no one will." Expect new ideas on how to approach writing and how to hone skills throughout the retreat nestled in The Oxbow. 

Whether this is your first retreat or it’s a tradition dedicated to the love of writing, please join us at the perfect retreat as we approach the winter season! 

Details

EARLY BIRD RATE: $215.95 Flats / $240.95 Main House

Cost includes Saturday night lodging, breakfast, lunch, fruit, cookies, muffins, coffee, drink ticket, live jazz, and mini-group workshop (capped at 5), as well as all craft talks and instruction. Room upgrades available; ask, too, about special writers' rate for Friday night lodging as well.

EARLY BIRD DEADLINE: December 31, 2018

RATE STARTING JANUARY 1, 2019: $235.95 Flats / $260.95 Main House

RETREAT DATES: February 2-3, 2019

Space is limited!  Reserve your spot today!

Exploring Children’s Literature, Writing Processes, and Libraries with Rob Reid

 Image: Volume One

Image: Volume One

by Chloe Ackerman

Librarians open doors and create portals to thousands of possible worlds. Rob Reid has worked much of his life to show to young kids that libraries are fun places. When he worked as a librarian he toured libraries and performed raps that he wrote using the names of children’s books. Now he’s a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire where he teaches how to use children’s literature to future educators.

Rob Reid explains his process and motivation for writing the songs, activities, and musical activities for his new book, 200+ Original and Adapted Story Program Activities, in this interview.

CHLOE ACKERMAN: What has had the most influence on you as a writer?

ROB REID: I have always been a writer but not always a published writer, and I found that my published niche was writing for my peers. Before I came to the university where I teach children’s literature, I was a children’s librarian in public libraries both here in Eau Claire and in Pueblo, Colorado. I came up with a lot of original ideas to kind of encourage kids to come to the library and hopefully make them lifelong book lovers. Then I found out that my peers were really interested in what I was doing. Then I made a connection with the American Library Association. They have a publishing arm called ALA Editions and they bought my book Children’s Jukebox which was a subject index of children’s recorded music. So if a daycare worker came in and said they want a song about friendship or frogs there wasn’t any research tool like that out there. I listened to about 200 children’s recordings and divided up the subject headings. I found the publisher then when that book was published they said, “what do you want to do next?” Which is something you want to hear an editor say. Then I was doing multigenerational story programs for grandma and grandpa or mom and dad and the kids and we called it family story time. That was the second one. I was lucky to find that publisher because then they kept saying what’s your next idea and so I have published 13 books with the ALA. This is my 20th book overall and 13th with them. The marketing editor and I are calling it the lucky thirteen. 

What is your writing process?

I basically pitch an idea to an editor, they say let’s go with it, then we set up a deadline that looms over my head for a year. I don’t write well without a deadline, and sometimes I do other kinds of writings too, so I do my own little deadlines. I find that kind of crucial for me, and it helps to be in a teaching environment as well because you have deadlines all the time. It helped my writing to quit the library field and come over here to UWEC because I used to work a nine to five job. I had four kids at home, they are all grown up now, and once everybody was done eating and in bed, I would try to write at night and I was exhausted. Over here at the university, I can have an early morning class, a mid-afternoon class, and in between grading and meeting with students I’m still fresh, and I have an hour or two to write. So that is helpful. 

What is your process for writing the songs, dances, story programs, and activities that go into your books?

I sit in a chair and a lot of the material comes because I want to match an activity with a particular children’s book. This is what librarians do with story programs and then follow it up with a finger play, musical activity, or a movement activity. You probably grew up knowing “The Wheels on the Bus” and “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” and I got tired going on a bus or going on a bear hunt over and over, so I started “We’re Going on an Elephant Hunt” and it created that new version of that old thing or instead of the wheels on the bus it’s “The Wheels on the Sports Car”. 

It’s not all just adaptation, it’s a lot of original stuff too. I’ll have a picture book in mind, and I’ll think back and I go “what would be a fun activity to do with it?” I like to fill up a legal pad with just broad ideas, then put them together, go to the computer, and take different verses that work well together then read or sing them aloud. It takes several passes before I finally have something. Then I like to test it on somebody besides myself. When my kids were little they were around so I could test it out on them. My wife is, unfortunately, the person now. 

As I say, in one of my books I get as much satisfaction coming up with a little four-line poem as I do with a 50,000-word book. A lot of it is poetry, it’s almost all poetry if you boil it down. I get a lot of inspiration from camp songs and things like that. I do a lot of audience participation stories where the kids make sound effects to an original story. A lot of it is just sitting back in a chair and just having a pen and a paper and just starting to scrawl stuff. 

Are there any lessons that you hope the teachers, librarians, parents, and kids who use your programs and activities will take away from this book? 

The main thing is that the library is a fun place to go. I did a lot of outreach as a librarian with these activities and stories. I would get in front of groups of kids, and if nothing else if they see me and say, “hey, there’s that guy from the library,” and tell their parents, “let’s go down to the library.” You try to make lifelong library users, and, I’ve written about this in Volume One, libraries are as relevant today as they have ever been despite everybody thinking the internet’s here, we don’t need it. You know the L. E. Phillips Memorial Library had 400,000 people go through their doors last year. Almost half a million people, so don’t tell me the library is not relevant. 

Why do you want to write this book specifically?

I used to have a contract with Library Sparks Magazine where in every issue I would have an article, like a lesson plan for Story Time, and I would always like to have original stuff in there. Then the magazine went out of business, and I’m kind of at the age now where I don’t write like this as much anymore; I have other writing projects that I am putting my energy into. So I realized that some of the older books that are 25 years old or so, they’re not necessarily out of print, but people aren’t buying them as much now. This would be kind of fun to pull all that material that people might not have access to anymore and put it in one place, kind of like a one-stop shop 200+ ideas for mostly a children’s librarian, or it could be a parent or a teacher to use with kids. We collected them all together. Like here I have a bunch of “Hello” activities divided up into different themes “animal”, “my world”, and “the literary world”, that’s where I put the library raps. We have some spoonerism stories, that’s where you take parts of words and flip them around so I have some original ones of those. Instead of telling the story of “Little Red Riding Hood”, I tell it as “Little Rude Riding Head” and throughout the story, it’s “Once a time upon there was a gritty little pearl named Little Rude Riding Head…” then the kids try to decipher it. Then there are some “Goodbye” activities too, and I have a picture book called Wave Goodbye that’s based on a poem, “Wave high, wave low, I think it’s time, we gotta go. Wave your elbows, wave your toes, wave your arms, wave your nose…” That kind of stuff. We reprinted the lyrics of that in here, too. The idea was that rock star’s have greatest hits albums, so that’s like my greatest hits album. 

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Is there anything else you would like to share?

People will probably gawk at the price a little bit. It’s a pricey book because ALA Editions is a publisher geared towards institutions versus individuals. So schools buy it, libraries buy it, you can get it right now through ALA Editions Publisher, I just checked Amazon they don’t have a price listed yet, but they will have it up there soon. If you gawk at the price, then that’s understandable, it’s $50, but it’s a lifetime’s worth of material especially if you are working with young children. 

An Interview With Amanda

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by Emma O’Shea 

This past week, I got to chat with Amanda Zieba; a young adult novel author, professor and avid writer. We talked about what she has in the works for her new publishing venture, her opportunities for writers on her website and the content of her blog. 

Emma O’Shea: Can you delve into the phrase "word nerd" and how it correlates to your style of writing and teaching?

Amanda Zieba: I love everything about words. I love their power, their precision, their diversity. I love the entertainment and joy they bring into my life. I love consuming words and using them to create. Words are amazing. When it came time to write my author bio and set up my website, these themes emerged again and again. I decided to call myself the “word nerd” because it satisfyingly encompassed all the ways I love words, and succinctly defined me.

Can you tell me a little bit about your venture with KWiL publishing and what you're working on now?

KWiL is a new traditional publishing company in Milwaukee. I met Abby Nies Janowiec, the founder and president, at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) event last year, and we hit it off right away. Throughout the past year, we have been working on taking the exciting concepts of geocaching and regional/state facts and molding them into a “read it again” worthy early chapter book. The first book in this series is in the nearly-finalized manuscript stage (illustrations soon to come!) and has a planned release date in spring 2020.

What book(s) have fortified you as a writer?

My answer for this question isn’t going to quite match up with the project I mentioned above, but the overall lesson is something that has deeply impacted me as a writer. Author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley wrote the Newbery Honor Award-winning novel, The War that Saved My Life and its sequel, The War I Finally Won. These novels have been very instrumental in my thinking as a writer. In them, Kimberly tackles very tough topics. Neglect, war, alcoholism, reactive attachment disorder, self-worth, physical disabilities. This woman is fearless on the page and does not back away from anything. And yet, she is gentle. At no point in time do her stories feel inappropriate or inaccessible for young readers. And THAT skill truly amazes me. Holly Black is another children’s writer who tells honest stories about hard things in a way that does not “dumb it down” for kids. Kate DiCamillo is yet another. It is their stories of real life, told honestly for children, that fortifies me not only as a person but as a writer who aspires to do the same.

Could you tell me a bit about your blog and what got you started?

I love my blog. I am proud of my blog. I probably spend more time writing my blog than anything else. Every Wednesday I post a piece of writing wisdom. It may be a tip or technique, or about a helpful resource I found, or an inspiring book I read. Sometimes I share writing prompts or pieces of a workshop that I have taught. Occasionally I share a short story. I post a lot of different things, but the intention and purpose are always the same. TO HELP WRITERS. When I first started taking my writing seriously (about seven years ago) I was hungry for writing wisdom. But everywhere I looked, help seemed inaccessible due to distance, price or exclusivity. It was so frustrating (not to mention demoralizing). Now that I have some knowledge, I want to share it. Not only that, I want to make it as easy as possible for people who are interested to get it. So, I give it away, one piece at a time, one Wednesday at a time, on my blog.

What does literary citizenship mean?

Being a good literary citizen means contributing to the literary world in any positive way possible. Not sure what I mean? Look at the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild. The Guild is a role model literary citizen. Through planning events, lifting up writers, sharing literary news and resources, offering residencies and so much more, they are making the literary world a better place. THANK YOU CVWG! Being a literary citizen is awesome because, in addition to helping others, you are also able to grow and learn and experience writing in new ways.

Are there any new opportunities for writers in the works?

One opportunity I am really excited to share is Story Seedlings. Writing a story is hard work and knowing how to start can sometimes feel like the biggest part of the battle... especially when you’ve never written a story before. Story Seedlings is a digital download product that features 24 prompts that will help you construct your story, one scene at a time. Specific story elements that are covered include characterization, world-building, conflict (internal/external) and resolution. In addition to the prompts, I offer tips and resources to enhance your story. Story Seedlings is also an excellent way to build a daily writing habit.


If you want to know more about Amanda’s work and her opportunities such as Story Seedlings, check the links below! 

Barstow & Grand Issue 2 Sneak Preview!

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by Erin Stevens

The second issue of Barstow & Grand will soon be released into the world, and we’re getting ready to celebrate. Consider this your formal invitation to the issue two release party on Tuesday, October 16th!

At this year’s release party, you’ll have the chance to purchase issues one and two of Barstow & Grand, as well as any other books or publications by the contributors of issue two. The editors of the journal will be our hosts for the evening, so you’ll have the opportunity to get to know them, say hi, and ask them any questions you may have about submitting to the journal.

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Then, of course, there’s the main attraction of the evening: a reading. You’ll be able to sit back and listen as the issue’s 14 contributors read from the work they submitted to the journal.

“The mix of contributors will show off the range of writers we were able to publish,” says Eric Rasmussen, Editor of Barstow & Grand. “People who live in town and who are traveling over to participate, young, old, folks who have published widely, and others for whom this will be the first publication.”

One of those contributors who submitted her work from outside Eau Claire city limits is Rebekah Morrisson. Morrisson, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2014, currently lives in Maine where she works as a Trail Specialist at Baxter State Park. She drew from her trail building work for the short story that’s featured in issue two.

“Having my first published short story featured in Barstow & Grand's second issue is more than an honor,” says Rebekah.

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Since graduating from UWEC, she’s lived in parts of California and Maine for months at a time, making it difficult to find writing communities. That’s why she’s so grateful that Barstow & Grand exists so that she can stay connected to a community she loves so much.

“While I can't attend the release party, I can share in the excitement of another issue by reading it and experiencing the stories there which ground me in a community that I always want to be a part of,” says Rebekah. (Click here to hear a recent piece written by Rebekah).

Something else for attendees to look forward to 一 a chance to check out Eau Claire’s brand new arts center. Yes, you read that right! This year’s release party will be hosted at the Pablo Center at the Confluence. Come for the reading, mingle with members of your favorite local writing community, and also see what this new venue has to offer.

When asked what he’s most excited for, Eric’s answer came without hesitation.

“My favorite part is handing issues to the contributors and everyone who helped with the issue,” he says. “Producing the journal is a lot of work, and that moment when people see it and flip to their names or pieces - that’s a pretty cool moment.”

You, too, can be part of this moment! Make sure to come to the Pablo on Tuesday, October 16th at 7 p.m. to grab your copy of issue two and support our talented community! In advance, please snag your FREE ticket here!


Telling the Truth about the Middle East through Cathy Sultan’s New Novel Damascus Street

 Cathy Sultan

Cathy Sultan

By Chloe Ackerman

Writer Cathy Sultan grew up in Washington D.C. where she yearned to know more of the world. In 1969 her wish came true when she met her Lebanese husband and moved with him to Beirut, Lebanon. She quickly fell in love with the city. When the Lebanese Civil War broke out blocks away from their home in 1975, they continued to raise their family in Beirut until it was no longer manageable.

Cathy Sultan uses her experience and unique knowledge of the civil war in Lebanon to write her latest book Damascus Streetthe sequel to The Syrian. Sandy Tolan, author of Children of the Stone, which was a 2015 L.A. TimesBook of the Year finalist, wrote "Her insights into the region's history and politics go far deeper than your average thriller, exploring U.S. imperial meddling, the heartbreak of Palestinian refugee camps, and the complex and fragile construction of Lebanese society. Damascus Street will stay with you."  Damascus Street recounts the story of American physician Andrew Sullivan, whose fiancée is kidnapped by an important Lebanese ex-political figure. This book follows Sullivan’s thrilling mission to get her back. The following is an interview with Cathy Sultan about her latest book.

CHLOE ACKERMAN: Your book Damascus Street tells the story of a man whose fiancée was kidnapped in Syria by a former intelligence chief after a civil war in Lebanon. What is your writing process for such a serious topic 

CATHY SULTAN: I think it is my ability to imagine the impossible. After all, I am writing about the Middle East, and particularly Lebanon, which I know intimately, and where skullduggery is an everyday occurrence.

This book includes many specific dates and historical events that took place in the Middle East; what kind of research was involved while writing this book?

I am a news junkie and so I read extensively about events as they unfold across the Middle East. Most of the research in the book is first-hand knowledge and other than fact-checking on some events and dates, I needed little research. Some of the events in the book, like the explosion that took the life of an important intelligence chief, happened a block from my apartment. Our building shook and I was there to cover it first-hand as the aftermath was reported. He was such a colorful, shady, and important figure with four different passports, and once the rumors began flying about who he actually was and what he did, I began collecting any and all articles I could get my hands on, assuming I would get to use it in some future work. When I got to that part of Damascus Street, I knew it was the right moment to get out my notes and reconstruct his assassination, the details of which, without much invention on my part, were true. 

Are there any challenges you face as both a fiction and a nonfiction writer?

Other than accepting the challenge from my editor to take on fiction, I have not faced many challenges. Writing fiction is actually more fun. No footnotes, no intense fact-checking and I get to use my imagination, which works overtime, due, no doubt, to the exciting life I have had the privilege of living. I don't rule out returning to nonfiction, particularly if Lebanon is attacked, but in the meantime, I feel that fiction gives me the vehicle to tell what I perceive as the truth, only through fiction I get to hook into fast-paced thrillers which makes it easier for the reader to learn something while enjoying a good read.

According to your website, you wrote the memoir A Beirut Heart: A Woman’s War as a project for your children. What made you want to write the novels Damascus Street and the first book The Syrian?

Yes, I began writing A Beirut Heart for my children, but I soon discovered that it was also a way to mourn my loss of a city I loved. Although I didn't know it at the time, I was also discovering a way to combat what came to be called PTSD. For a very long time, I could not even read sections of A Beirut Heart without crying. Over the years I have gotten better but the trauma of war never disappears. On the upside, the experience of war has not only defined my life, it has driven my motivation to better understand the destructive forces of conflict across the Middle East and to place blame where I know it belongs.

The trilogy which includes, to date, The Syrian and Damascus Street, centers on regime change in Syria. The characters involved in carrying out the West's agenda, and those willing to risk their lives to stop such an atrocity, are the people I want to see rule our world. I know for a fact that our mass media has distorted the news coming out of Syria, and I took it as a challenge to refute those reports and incorporate more accurately what is really going on in the region.   

On your website, you explain how it was frustrating before you wrote your memoir that when you wanted to tell stories about your time living in Beirut during civil war, no one seemed to want to listen. Have people approached you since you started writing your books to share any of their stories relating to the Lebanon Civil War? 

I did find it frustrating and at times hurtful when no one initially wanted to hear me talk about my life in Beirut during the war. Once A Beirut Heart was published attitudes changed. People's aversion to things they can't comprehend is part of human nature. I also attribute that attitude to the fact that we as a country have never had to face the challenges of a war. A conflict far from home enables us to "turn it off" and pay it scant attention. When we are confronted with someone who actually lived through one of those wars, it disrupts our complacent lives and makes us uncomfortable. State-side, no one has approached me about their own Beirut stories, but in Beirut, among my friends, we often reminisce about the years we shared together and that forever changed our lives.

What do you hope the readers will take from this book?

I hope my readers will better understand the West's intervention in Syria and the motivations behind such destruction and upheaval. I also hope readers will realize mass media oftentimes, with its close affiliation with the military, industrial complex, has a political agenda in promoting war. Remember Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction lies!

To purchase Damascus Street, visit The Local Store

A Note from the Guild Director: Saying Goodbye To Cirenaica

 The Cirenaica crew.

The Cirenaica crew.

By CVWG Director B.J. Hollars

On the last night of our last summer retreat at Cirenaica, I waved goodbye, wished the writers well, and then slipped out the door into the cricket-filled night.  

What I knew—but what few others did—was that it would be our last night there forever.  

After three glorious summers at Cirenaica, we are saying farewell once and for all.  The property was a perfect fit during our early years, but as our program grows, so too must our venue.  In chats with the property owner, patron of the arts Jill Postlewaite, it seemed the timing was right on both ends.  And so, on that last night, I closed the door, and with it, concluded the last of my magical nights out at the lodge.

I’ve been putting off this article for a while now.  Mostly because by writing it, I’m acknowledging that this chapter of my life is now closed.  And certainly, it’s one of my favorite chapters.  When reflecting on my various professional duties, it’s clear to me now that aside from my time in the classroom, nothing I’ve done—no meeting I’ve attended, no committee I’ve chaired, no anything—has offered me such a rewarding experience.  If you were a part of this magic in any capacity—as a participant, or a writer-in-residence, or a chef, or an assistant arts administrator, or simply as a guest—I want to thank you.  The truth is, you brought that magic.

Of course, that magic’s a little easier to come by when secluded in a beautiful lodge on 43 pristine acres.  But what remains true—and what I was reminded of throughout our combined 16, three-day sessions at Cirenaica—is that the magic resides in the people, not the place.  It’s the spirit of Cirenaica that must live on, and it will.  

Last summer was filled with all the usual fare: great writers, delectable food, and raucous ping-pong battles that raged deep into the night.  But what made this summer different was the way in which the participants seemed to take full ownership of their time there.  If there was a problem they fixed it.  If all was going well, they worked hard to make their time better still.  

One of my fondest memories involves a toilet seat, which, one afternoon, came a bit loose from the bowl.  A quick-thinking participant grabbed his tools, ran to Menards, and replaced the seat without so much as an ask.  And in doing so, he created a brand, new Guild award: The Toilet Seat Award.  After giving it a thorough scrubbing, we began awarding this toilet seat to the participant each week who, in the opinion of Cirenaica staff, best embodied a spirit of generosity.  And week after week, the recipient appeared to be over the moon at the chance to lift that toilet seat high above his or her head.  Yes, it was goofy, and maybe even a little strange.  But for me, it was confirmation of the bond we’d forged together.  In 72 hours, we’d grown comfortable enough to take pride in such a silly thing.  

Which, of course, isn’t a silly thing at all.  In 72 hours, strangers became friends and writers became a writing community.  That so much could be accomplished so quickly is a testament to that aforementioned magic.  Empathy was at the core of everything we did, and that will hold true for everything moving forward.

We’ve got something very, very special in the works for next summer.  And if I were you, I’d block off July 18-21 on your calendar right now. We’ll have more details soon, but for now, just know that though we’re saying goodbye to Cirenaica, we’re holding strong to its spirit.

It’s a spirit that you helped create.  And we’re hopeful you might bring it with you next summer, too.

Be inspired, inspire others,

– B.J. Hollars   

Bruce Taylor On His New Book, Breaking Forms, and Fish Chowder

 credit: Justin Patchin

credit: Justin Patchin

by Chloe Ackerman 

I will never stop being amazed by the awe-inspiring power of words. In my studies as a creative writing major at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, I have consistently found myself motivated by the writing processes of other writers. I was especially excited to have the opportunity to interview Bruce Taylor—former poet laureate of Eau Claire, and professor emeritus at UWEC—about his new book Poetry Sex Love Music Booze & Death. Bruce Taylor will be reading from this book at The Local Store in downtown Eau Claire at 5PM on Monday, October 8th. Be sure to swing by and pick up a copy!

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Chloe Ackerman: Has your poetry style evolved over time? If it has, how has it changed? 

 Bruce Taylor: As a young poet in the 60’s I would say, along with many others, things like “the sonnet is where old poets go to die” What I didn’t know I meant was I wasn’t good enough to write one. It takes a while to get your chops. Formal poetry is easy to do badly but hard to do well. You try.

CA: Have you noticed any changes in the poetry or literary scene around Eau Claire?

BT: I don’t know if more folks are writing across the Chippewa Valley, though it seems so. There are certainly many more venues to share: the readings at places like the library, The Local Store, The Pablo Center, publications such as Local Lit, Barstow & Grand, Twig. And the CVWG is directly responsible for injecting new energy and interest in writing. For a population the size of ours, the CVWG list an extraordinary number of writing groups, and book clubs.

 CA: At what point in the poem writing process do you decide to put it in a form?

 BT: Very early, and you don’t “put” it into a form as much as coax, tease, worry, beat it in that direction. The form can always be abandoned, and the poem turns into something more free (er) verse, and often better. Or you can simply cheat. We call it “pushing the envelope.” I have some 16-line sonnets, 3-line couplets and an envoi-less sestina. A form is only as good as it can be challenged, stretched, adapted. Still only about half of my poems are in traditional forms. The new book brings them together for the first time in one volume.

 CA: What question would you like to be asked that gets at the core of you as a writer and/or your writing?

 BT: You just asked it.

 CA: On October 8th at 5pm you are reading from your new book, Poetry Sex Love Music Booze & Death, at a Local Lit: Off the Page event in the Local Store. What do you hope people will take from this event and other events in the series with other local authors?

 BT: A book.

 CA: Is there anything else you would like to share?

 BT: I make a very good fish chowder.

 

On Eating Fire, Following the Research Trail, And Enduring, Enduring, Enduring: A Q&A with Tessa Fontaine

 credit: Annie Agnone

credit: Annie Agnone

BJ Hollars

During my time at the University of Alabama, I had the pleasure of sharing the classroom with nonfiction writer Tessa Fontaine, whose debut memoir The Electric Woman, has received rave reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Vogue, among many other venues.  Additionally, her book been named a New York Times Editor's pick, as well as a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick.  Which is the long way of saying: I’ve got some pretty talented friends.  On October 19, Tessa will host the program “Recklessness, Obsession and Wild Abandon” as part of the Chippewa Valley Book Festival’s annual dinner at The Lismore Hotel.  Purchase your tickets here.

Read on to learn more about Tessa, her writing, and the books that inspired her own.

 BJ Hollars: In graduate school, your work explored an array of topics—from Alabama ghost stories of hoboes riding the rails to Jacques Cousteau.  Did your interest in immersive journalistic techniques, such as joining the last sideshow, seem like a natural progression, or were you spurred to action due to your mother's health issues?

 Tessa Fontaine: I love writing nonfiction because it gives me permission to follow the trail of something I find interesting as deep into the story as I can go. That's what I loved about those earlier nonfiction projects I was working on, and it's the same thing that prompted the beginning of my investigation into the sideshow. But I think my mom's illness—and her impending trip to Italy, from which I didn't think she'd return—that gave me the final push to actually join up with another life entirely. I didn't really know much about immersive journalism before that, but I was hungry to be swallowed by another world, since the one I knew seemed to be falling apart. 

BH: Over the years, I've regularly taught your essays with students, and they're always astonished by your bravery.  Specifically, your willingness to leave school to pursue a life wholly unknown to you.  Can you describe those first moments when you transitioned from graduate student to fire-eating bally girl?    

TF: The transition from graduate student to fire-eater wasn't immediate. In graduate school, you are valued for your brain, for what kinds of things you can think and write. In the sideshow, while quick wit and a fast tongue are important, the most fundamental skill was a physical ability to endure. So I found myself, in my first few days out with the sideshow, still trying to define myself and connect with people by how I could talk about myself, by my accomplishments. But there was always work to be done. Packing and scrubbing and eating fire. So I quickly adapted, understanding that the way to be valued out on the road is to eat fire with such confidence and allure that the audience can't help but buy tickets for the show inside. To work for hours putting up the circus tent without complaining that you're too tired, or the sun is too hot. It was a shifting of work values and skills, neither one better than the other, but a definite rearrangement. 

BH: In writing about learning to eat fire, you note, “The only way to do it is to do it,” adding later that “There is no trick.”  For me, this seems an apt metaphor for many of life's difficulties.  (Robert Frost's line "The only way out is through" also comes to mind.)  When grappling with the loss of your mother, did you find yourself experiencing a similar sentiment?  Does grief, too, transcend the notion of a trick?     

TF: I think grief absolutely transcends the notion of trick. In the face of a profound and sustained loss, as was happening with my mom for years, there's an understandable desire for things to change. For there to be some shift, some miracle, some departure. I came to understand why so many people find themselves alienated from their loved ones in the face of a long-term debilitating illness—choosing to be distanced. While my mom was sick, I kept waiting for something to change, and the heartbreaking and exhausting reality that she wasn't going to get better was almost impossible to accept. But ultimately, that's all there was to do. There was no trick, nothing to make it easier or faster. There was just this: endure, endure, endure.

BH: Some have compared your spirited prose and adventurous spirit to memoirist Cheryl Strayed's work, in particular, her bestselling book Wild.  Did Strayed's work—or the work of other writers—inform The Electric Woman? 

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TF: Yes! I love Cheryl Strayed's spirit and am honored to be compared to her. I think stories of people—especially women - doing physically amazing things are some of my favorites. I had a lot of other books open near me while I wrote The Electric Woman as well—Lidia Yuknavitch's memoir The Chronology of Water, Justin Torres' novel We the Animals, anything by Anne Carson, Jazz by Toni Morrison—I keep a pretty wide array of books open around me and imitate their prose as best I can. 

BH: What don't readers know about your book or your experience writing it?

TF: For me, writing is one of the greatest exercises in empathy. To write the characters in The Electric Woman, I had to think of them as both real human beings, and also characters, versions of the real people, since it's impossible to show all of who someone is. And to do that, as is necessary with a fictional character as well, you have to show all sides—the good, the bad, and the ugly. The lovely things they do and their flaws. I think it helped me become a better person— to have to think through a person's best sides as well as their mistakes. It created such a swell of empathy, and I'm very grateful for that. 

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

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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. 

WE NEED YOUR HELP

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.

Yours,
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.  

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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.”


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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.”


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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."


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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.

An Interview with Lindsay Starck, 2018 Cirenaica Writer in Residence

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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

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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!

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

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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!

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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!

 

 

Having Trouble Writing? Write Faster

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by Katie Venit

Ah, writing. That’s what we’re all here for, right? Connecting with readers through telepathic magic, transmitting our thoughts to someone else...it’s a powerful experience. But first you have to fill that blank page, and sometimes that really sucks. You have an idea, a word, a character in mind… but then what happens? What if it’s just slop? What if the ideas vanish before they can be fixed on the page? These doubts can really get in the way of productivity. 

One of my favorite writing adages is that rough drafts are perfect just for having been finished. You should have doubts about your rough draft--but not until after it’s done. Somehow you have to ignore the doubts to complete the perfectly imperfect first draft. 

Enter fast writing. 

With your writing group, take a minute to reflect on your intentions. Set a timer for 30-40 minutes. Everyone writes as fast as they can, with absolutely no edits, no pausing, no doubts. Don’t correct your grammar or spelling. The backspace key does not exist. Your goal is to get as a high a word count as possible. 

After the timer dings, each person reads aloud. Listeners take turns sharing something that they liked about the draft. Constructive criticism is verboten; after all, it hasn’t been revised yet. 

If I have a good idea of what I want to write (or if I’ve had half a beer), I can write almost 900 words in 30 minutes. One of my groupmates consistently tops 1,000. I may only get about 400 words if I don’t really know where I’m going (or if I’ve had the entire beer). Either way, that’s several hundred more words than I had only a half hour earlier, and I can push forward from there in revisions.  

Variations

  • In person, this works best with groups of 2-4 people. If you have a larger group, split into pairs or triads.
  • In addition to giving positive feedback, talk about directions the piece could go in, bring up questions about the piece, or answer any concerns the writer herself brings up. Still, no negative constructive criticism. Just positive energy.
  • Everyone can respond to the same prompt, choose one of several prompts, or continue whatever they’re already working on. My favorite sessions are when I finally pin down an idea that’s been knocking about loose in my head for several weeks. What a relief!
  • Writing longhand on paper is the ultimate way to avoid editing. You probably can’t write as many words per minute, but there’s no backspace key. I also find that I can think more creatively when I write longhand. 

Distance variations

  • Call up a friend and say, “go!” Both of you write for 30 minutes. When time is up, call her back and read your pieces to each other. This works best with two people, unless you’re better at conference calling than I am. 
  • For an online community, set a prearranged time for everyone to start writing into wikis, a private blog, or google docs. When time is up, share the documents electronically and leave feedback for each one. Remember, no one has edited their documents; positive feedback only. 

 

 

 

When the Pen Won’t Work, Try the Axe: On Chopping Writers Block Out of Your Life

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by Ron Davis

A coffee cup holding pens, pencils, a Daisy Duck Pez dispenser and, for some reason, a size 9 blue Rapala sits on my desk. Boldly lettered in dollar bill green on the cup’s side is the phrase, “Will Write For Food.” As a motorcycle magazine columnist, feature writer and reviewer, I do that. But as any writer trying to turn words into bank deposits knows, writing for food often means butting up against the most creativity-crushing, soul-sucking, motivation-murdering impediment to writing anything you’ll ever be happy with: deadlines. Deadlines force compromises; you may never find that certain word, that certain slant you know is out there. Worse, deadlines may also lead to dead ends. A stalled vehicle on the side of the road, at night, in the rain, with no cell phone bars—not just writer’s block—writer’s paralysis. In the words of Old Lodge Skins in Little Big Man, “Sometimes the magic works. Sometimes, it doesn’t.”

What do I do then? I stop writing. But just walking away to scarf a sleeve of Caramel deLites  Girl Scout cookies or watch one more season of Homeland doesn’t work. I head out to the wood pile.

Splitting and stacking wood works, sometimes. Barring no wood pile, I try mowing the lawn. As long I don’t have to worry about garden hoses, rocks and the neighbor children, it’s a meditative state, the sound of my aged mower even sounding like a mantra…Ommmmmm, cough cough, ommmmmm... Walking the dog can be good, too, though there is a certain level of distracting focus and dexterity involved in daintily bagging dog poop. Driving? I don’t think so—too much imminent danger uses too much brain. Riding a bike? Maybe, but motorcycling, definitely not. Huddled over a luke warm cup of coffee while gazing vacantly out the Acoustic Café window has never beckoned the muse for me. And drinking Scotch just makes me want to, well, drink more Scotch. 

Shoveling snow, now there’s something to try when nature cooperates, but snow blowers, no. Painting has its merits, but isn’t a half-done wall just another deadline? Cleaning the garage, washing the car, all pretty good, as long as I don’t get too fussy. Reading, I would not recommend—too demoralizing to know some smug writer has actually hit his or her deadline.

For me, to break a stalemate with the keyboard, an activity has to walk that wobbling tightrope between having just enough self-absorption to counter the heebie-jeebies of the approaching deadline, while leaving enough room for my “inner writer” to work. As Michael Perry aptly wrote in Coop, “While the bones and meat wrassle, the mind is free to sort and ponder.” 

So, my coffee cup taunts me. Another looming deadline with not so much as a first paragraph, and it’s once more into the backyard where the wood pile awaits. It’s a frosty morning, and breaking the silence, a lone cardinal chimes from the highest branches of a barren ash. It’s working, the oak splits cleanly, and with it the Gordian Knot of another writer’s block. If you’d like to try it, I have about five cords. Bring your own maul.

Our Organization Is Now A Two-Year-Old

 ABOVE: Launching the Chippewa Valley Writer's Guild, February 2016 

ABOVE: Launching the Chippewa Valley Writer's Guild, February 2016 

by CVWG Director B.J. Hollars

On a Thursday night in February of 2016, I arrived at the Volume One Gallery half an hour early in anticipation for our first ever craft talk.  Titled, “Jump Off the Cliff and Build Your Wings On The Way Down” (an homage to my literary hero, Ray Bradbury), I’d prepared to talk about how our fledgling organization might grow for the good of the community.  But the truth was, I had no earthly idea how it might grow.  What might we be?  I wondered.  And how might we do the most good?

Two years later, we’ve found our footing.  Not only do we work hard to provide an array of high-impact educational opportunities for residents of the Chippewa Valley, but we also strive to provide support beyond our craft talks, writers retreats, and other regular events.  What does that support look like?  It comes in many forms.  Maybe we’re partnering with other local organizations to expand our shared missions, or maybe we’re providing an outlet for your work by way of Barstow & Grand or our newsletter.  The point is: we’re here for you, and we’ll continue to be here for you.

And already, our work is receiving notice.  In February, the Guild received more recognition than we could have hoped for.  For starters, on February 27 the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild received a proclamation from the City of Eau Claire in recognition for our commitment to the literary arts.  “Eau Claire values all the writers who live and work among us because they open our minds to what is familiar and challenge us to understand what is different,” said City Council President Kerry Kincaid.  “I am pleased to help elevate the craft to its rightful place among the arts.” And we’re pleased to accept such an honor.  

In addition, on February 9, I was extremely humbled to receive a Vanguard Award on behalf of the Guild’s work.  Once more, to be abundantly clear: this is your award.  Admittedly, my mug (rather embarrassingly) takes up all the air time on the recipient video (who says writing doesn’t make for good film?), but that doesn’t make this award any less yours.  For me, it’s a testament to the power of our literary community, and it’s a reminder, too, that people are paying attention.  

Now that our organization is a two-year-old, I fully except a lot of crying and temper tantrums in the days ahead.  (I imagine I’ll be the one doing both).  But on a more serious note, we’re at a point where there’s still so much to look forward to.

On that note, I’m pleased to announce the formation of 6x6, a new reading series to be held right here in the Chippewa Valley.  What’s 6x6 mean?  It means each reading will feature 6 readers for 6 minutes each.  The catch: once you read in the series, you’ll never read in it again.  This isn’t meant to be exclusionary.  Quite the opposite!  We have so many talented writers in this region that we can fill the series again and again and feature new voices every single time.

In short, we’ve already put some great days behind us, but we’ve got plenty more great days ahead.  Let’s look forward to the good work (and good writing!) ahead of us.