Writing, Wine, Women, and Collaborative Community: A Conversation with Jo Ellen Burke of 200 Main Gallery

200 Main Gallery, 200 Main St, Eau Claire

200 Main Gallery, 200 Main St, Eau Claire

By Chloe Ackerman

I met with Jo Ellen Burke of 200 Main Gallery, and she told me about her hopes of bringing together Eau Claire’s creative community with their future events. The gallery’s latest attraction is Eau Claire’s first wine dispenser. Gallery patrons can buy wine and hang out before local events, read, write, or meet with friends. 

As Burke gave me a tour of the gallery, she explained how Eau Claire’s diverse art scene has seen much of its success because of constant collaboration and support from local artists and venues.  We also talked about the history of the 200 Main Gallery’s building (200 Main St., Eau Claire), how Eau Claire’s art culture has developed over time and the gallery’s new series of literary events focusing on local women writers. Join us on our virtual tour!


JO ELLEN BURKE: Often people will just come in and work. They’ll work on their computer or read at the bar. During the week we are open Wednesday through Saturday noon to ten or eleven depending on what’s going on. As I show you around, you can see, we have a lounge area with some merchandise for sale, but it’s also a meeting room for book groups or writer’s groups. It can fit about eight or ten people. We really like the privacy of this room; it’s kind of a cozier spot. 

You might like the idea that the whole place used to be a book bindery, so as a book bindery they kept their paperwork in a vault instead of a bank. Paper was precious; there was no way to back books up in terms of a computer, so they treated it as a very valuable source. Now the book bindery’s vault is where we keep our wine.

CHLOE ACKERMAN: Is a lot of the art throughout the gallery by local artists? 

JB: It’s pretty much local artists except for just a few. There’s a sculptor from Wausau, and we have a ceramic art teacher from Sturgeon Bay, and then we have another ceramic artist from Lake Geneva, and the rest are pretty much from Eau Claire.

I do a lot of textile work, so I do the mirrors and napkins, and I like painting on textiles, so that’s a lot of what I do along with some painting. A lot of the work around here is from Terry, who’s my partner and is a sculptor and a painter. Terry sculpts a lot of horses; you’ve probably seen them at the Oxbow. He did the big tall steel horses that were downtown for a while, they called it Tres Caballos

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Could you tell me what types of events you hold that bring together different facets of the local art scene, and about the upcoming events? 

JB: We will have writers and authors. We are also going to have demonstrations. For example, Terry does live painting, and we auction off what he’s painted. So you can come and watch him; he’s very comfortable painting in front of people. 

We’ve had two musicians here. We like to have live music and collaborate with the area musicians. We had Robin Mink on guitar, and we had Julie Majkowski on flute. We really like the ambiance that that’s created for the arts through music as well.

Our only restriction is space, but it’s a cozy atmosphere; people feel comfortable here. In January or February, we are going to launch what we’re calling 200 Main Mobile, and that’s a means of getting artwork out to the public and to public businesses and nonprofits.

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Why did you choose to host events highlighting local women writers?

JB: One of the big things that we believe in is an array of art.  We believe in music, theater, writers, and others, and we know we have so many great authors in town. As we talked about writers, we saw many events that were highlighting the great writers in our area, but we didn’t see too many that focused on women. 

I felt it was timely, and it is a nice opportunity to focus on women writers. We decided that, on the first Wednesday of every month, we’d host something called Women Writers on Wednesday. Now, we’re thinking we should probably do it more than once a month because there are so many great writers, but we’ll just start with every month for now. 

The first natural choice was Cathy Sultan. She is so knowledgeable and articulate. She writes beautifully, and she has this expertise in the Middle East that is really instructive. She was here on the 5th of December. We ended up selling out the first day; we filled thirty seats with free tickets.

In January, we’ll have Patti See. Then in February, we will have Molly Patterson, and we are eager to have her and get to know her a little better. In March, we are going to have Jan Carroll, and we have others that we are reaching out to.

There is such a great writers community in this town. People really support each other, people like BJ Hollars, he’s a wonderful person and I think he’s done a great job collaborating with writers and bringing some light to the talents that we have here. The Pablo Center has done wonderful things for writers, too. We want to really support and continue that kind of momentum. There’s this wave in the creative economy here. I think it’s less of a wave, and it’s embedded in our culture now in a way that is very positive and strong. 

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CA: I grew up in Eau Claire, and I can tell that the art scene has definitely grown since I was younger. 

JB: Yeah, it’s such a different city. You might remember just five to eight years ago, you’d go downtown and there was nothing going on. Now, thanks to Volume One and other investors like Zach Halmstad, it’s really made a difference.

Not to get too philosophical, but our community has embraced the arts so well, and I think the momentum for the arts has just really carried on. The factors in the creative economy are somewhat like silos. I think that theater is a silo, music is a silo, the fine arts are a silo, and writing is a silo. I think if we can do a little more collaboration and meshing of those, it creates a better and more fluid art scene. I am hoping that we can be a part of that and show the respect that we all want for the other disciplines of the other types of art, so it’s a win-win.

From Query To Publication

Walter Rhein

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Two years ago my friend Dan Woll, the author of North of Highway 8, approached me with a manuscript.

“I’ve got this book,” he said, “and I think there’s something there but I can’t quite make it work, and I’m sick of trying. How about this, you work on it for a year and if we can make something of it, we’ll publish it as a co-authored project.”

Initially, I was skeptical. I knew Dan to be a very talented writer, but it’s always difficult to find a publisher for a manuscript. I have relationships with Perseid Press and Harren Press, but I didn’t feel inclined to leverage those situations to get a co-authored work published. That meant if I took on the project, I’d be starting from scratch.

However, I had just finished The Literate Thief for Perseid, which had several books queued up ahead of it for publication. I had some time on my hands, so I concluded the least I could do was jump into Dan’s manuscript and see what I thought.

The manuscript had the working title ‘Fortune’s Fools.’ The book followed the lives of a young boy and a young girl. The story contained a philosophical exploration of mundane moments of ESP; like when the phone rings and you intuitively know who is calling. Everybody has had an experience like that, so it’s a relatable way to begin a discussion on a subject that people are curious about, but are also tempted to dismiss. I thought it was a strong hook so I kept reading.

The manuscript was as Dan presented. It had moments of really great writing and strong ideas, but it tended to lose the thread. Rather than read it through to the end, I began to do rewrites as I went. I figured I’d either finish the book, or give up at some point, but at least I was being productive. As I worked, I would send the rewrites to Dan to get his input.

“How are you doing this?” he asked.

“Doing what?”

“How are you rewriting a story that you haven’t even finished reading?”

“I’m picking up the narrative clues that you put in the book and I’m emphasizing the ones that most appeal to me. I trust your instincts as a writer so I think it will go somewhere. I hope it works!”

Throughout the process, I always thought there was the possibility that the book could become unwieldy, or the narrative structure I perceived would break down. But I had free time because of the delays with ‘The Literate Thief,’ so I kept working. The book eventually did have a sort of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ breakdown where the narrative took a sharp left from where it seemed to be heading. But by then, I could see how the book was supposed to end and we made the corrections.

It took a little over a year, but we finally produced a fun paranormal/romance/historical/thriller. I liked the fact that the book fit into so many categories because that meant it would be easy to market and therefore more attractive to a publisher.

About the time we finished, I saw an article about Amazon’s Kindle Scout program. Like it or not, Amazon essentially runs the publishing industry today. They have all the emails of everyone who has ever bought a book, they can push whatever they choose and make any novel a bestseller. The first place we submitted our manuscript, now called ‘Paperclip’ was to Kindle Scout. However, about a month after our submission, Amazon informed the world that they were dismantling the program. The news was rather irritating because it struck Dan and I as being a big waste of our time.

From there, we went through the usual process, scouring the Internet and web pages like Submittable for potential markets. I always enjoy working with the small presses that have developed loyal reader groups. Yes, getting placed with one of the major publishers would be like winning the lottery, but it’s just as likely. I’ve always been more inclined to follow the Michael Perry method of getting your work out there and making a big enough pile that somebody eventually starts to notice.

I found a small publisher out in West Virginia called Burning Bulb Publishing that had a Facebook group with nearly 40,000 members and I sent them a query letter.

Within a few weeks, Burning Bulb requested the manuscript, which is always a major achievement in itself. A lot of writers discuss how often they get rejections, but sometimes it is not emphasized how many books get rejected without an editor ever reading a single page of the work. As a writer, it’s easy to become dejected at a rejection letter, but it’s important to remember how difficult it is to get an honest evaluation. Editors and publishers never say, “I didn’t even look at this because I don’t have time right now, good luck placing it elsewhere.” Instead, their form letters contain language like, “Your work wasn’t right for us,” and you get those letters even without sending an excerpt from the actual manuscript.

The acceptance process always takes a few months, and during that time we continued to look for alternative homes for the book. When Burning Bulb finally offered us a contract, I was allowed a glorious day of going through my submission list and withdrawing ‘Paperclip’ from the dozen or so other places where it was still under consideration.

One publisher on Submittable had been evaluating the book for six months, and they wrote me a very kind email saying that the manuscript really stood out and that they had been strongly considering it. They even offered to help with promotion upon release. That email was encouraging because the next time I have a manuscript ready, they will be among the first publishers I contact.

Both Dan and I have similar expectations for this novel, it’s a small release with a small press and we hope that people find it entertaining and thought-provoking. We are already starting to organize library appearances, and public reaction has been encouraging. This is the start of a new journey, and I’ll be posting updates on my web page StreetsOfLima.com to let you know how it goes. Thanks in advance for the support!

Walter Rhein can be reached for questions or comments at: WalterRhein@gmail.com


“What Happens When The World We Know Becomes A Little...Odd?": A Sneak Peek Into the New Radio Drama, Oddly Enough

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Emma O’Shea

The concept of oral storytelling has always captivated audiences, whether between three campers nestled in the woods or the enthusiastic professor dazzling some hundred students in a lecture hall with dramatic readings. Sinking into the imaginative setting of listening to a story is a treasured experience, and a few regional writers have created a new take on a radio show that embodies the enthralling experience of storytelling. Taking inspiration from shows such as The Twilight Zone, Oddly Enough— a new radio show featuring stand-alone episodes by writers Jodie Arnold, Laura Buchholz, BJ Hollars, Jane and Jim Jeffries, and Ken Szymanski—combines a passion for the weird and an enthusiasm to create stories.

Twisting and turning the world we see, Oddly Enough reimagines the radio drama with content that swirls genres of anthology, drama, humor, and sci-fi. Karen Drydyk, the showrunner of Oddly Enough, explains the incorporation of regional writers into the show.

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“The most exciting part of show-running a radio drama like this is definitely finding people in the community to breathe life into the characters,” says Drydyk.

After playing two roles in Bend In The River, Drydyk says the cast is filled with familiar faces from past ventures. Although having never been a showrunner before, Drydyk says, “organization and communication are two of my strong suits as an educator, and these skills easily transferred into this role.”

I also had a chance to ask one of the writers on the show, Laura Buchholz, a few questions about her anticipation of the show and what went into its creation. While coming together for brainstorming sessions, Buchholz says, “we discovered how much we like doing weird stuff and watching shows like Twin Peaks and X-Files, and so there is plenty of enthusiasm and lots of potential avenues to explore.” The structure of the show is fluid, Buchholz explains. “We wanted to keep the structure more open, with each episode self-contained so that anyone could start listening without having to do a lot of homework.”

After writing for Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion for close to ten years, Buchholz is excited to journey back into writing for radio. I asked Buchholz what she is most excited about when venturing into radio as a channel for storytelling again with Oddly Enough. “Prairie Home was comedy, and that is what I'm best at, but this genre lends itself to comedy, too,” says Buchholz. “It allows for a nice back-and-forth of weird and funny. I was also very excited to work with other creative people again and to discover who the creative people are in Eau Claire, aside from the obvious ones we read about on the regular. Somehow I'm a writer who knows a lot of musicians, so it's been great to see all these other types of creative people come out of the woodwork. Maybe I was the one in the woodwork, who knows.”

Buchholz also describes the dynamic of the show. “We were just doing a thing, trying to create something cool. Your skills adjust as you go as a consequence of doing the work. That said, darker, weirder material is good because you can just go for it and don't necessarily have to pay attention to the laws of reality,” say says. “You want to create a river monster with tentacles that only targets drunk kids coming home from Water Street? Go for it. How about a kid who wakes up one morning and only speaks Latvian? Fine. It's fun. I think writers should take more risks. Why not? It's just a story.”

The show begins airing Friday, January 18 at 7PM on Converge Radio 99.9 and will stream on their site soon after. Future episodes will air subsequent Friday at 7PM through February 15!



"Nobody Cares What You Think": A Q&A with this Month's Craft Talk Presenter, Mike Paulus

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On January 17 at 7:00PM at the Pablo Center at the Confluence, Mike Paulus—writer, editor, and True North co-producer—will present the much anticipated craft talk “Nobody Cares What You Think (And Other Lessons Learned From Over a Decade of Column Writing.”  Snag your FREE ticket here.  (Note: To keep our costs low, please only snag a ticket if you intend to come!).

Mike began his column writing career in July of 2004 when he agreed to fill the back page of every issue of Volume One. (Two years later, he would accept an editorial position at the Eau Claire-based magazine.) Over the years he’s crafted over 350 columns for the publication, clocking in a quarter million words worth of columns (give or take 30,000 words).  His work has also been featured on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Wisconsin Life and Central Time. During his craft talk, he’ll chat about how his style, skills, and attitude have evolved over the years, as well as offer practical tips for the most important writerly lesson of all: how to start with a blank page and deliver something week after week.  We recently chatted with Mike, who provided insight on a range of issues—everything from how to keep the writing fresh to the column he’s most proud of!

 Read on!  And see you on January 17!

 BJ Hollars: How do you keep a column fresh?  At some point, does it become difficult to crank out an original column every two weeks?

Mike Paulus: Yeah, over the years, looking back, I can see long dry spells where it was really hard to come up with ideas I was excited about. But I think that has everything to do with where your head's at and how you're doing emotionally. There are always ideas to be found, mostly by digging into the small parts of your life, the parts you don't analyze very often. But at the end of the day, I don't have a choice – I have to produce something, whether it's "fresh" or not. And I think that's where the best writing lessons have come from. I don't have a choice not to learn about writing. I have to write. And when you write you learn. 

I've never thought to myself, "how can I keep this thing new and exciting." Maybe I should. But for me it's always come down to each idea, one at a time. And I always remind myself that a dumb idea can be a good column if you write about it well enough. At that point, you're just putting writing skills to the test.

BH: Without giving too much away, do columns follow a general format?

MP: Yes, a lot of my columns have a basic formula, or basic formulas. There's an order to things that fits my voice. If everything goes well – you find an idea you're excited about, your head's in the right place, etc. – you can go from zero to a finished column in a few hours or less. And part of that speed is having these basic structures to fall back on. They develop over years. Don't get me wrong, my columns are ALWAYS better when written over the course of a few days, multiple drafts, all that. But in reality, I don't always have time for that any more. 

BH: Has your column voice changed over the years?  If so, how?

MP: Oh, yeah. That'll be a big part of my upcoming Craft Talk. I developed a certain writing voice years and years ago writing these reminder emails for the poetry slam I ran with my wife. We had an email list and a Hotmail account and a few times a month I'd try to be funny with this little audience, through these emails. I tried to be funny and entertaining when I hosted the poetry slams, live on stage, but these emails let us say things that don't work when spoken out loud. I guess that's where my writing voice started. Then I started the column, and for a bunch of years I kept developing that voice. Eventually I got pretty bored with the whole thing and my columns became a real chore. And that was all about the voice, not the topics I was writing about. So I shifted things. And I'll be talking about that shift at the Craft Talk. 

 BH: Has your column changed in subject matter as your own interests have evolved?

MP: Oh, big time. I used to work in a lot of commentary on specific local happenings. Cultural stuff. City stuff. But that was never my real forte. Hopefully, as you grow older, you keep finding new things to get excited about, and that informs what you write about, of course. But the biggest changes stemmed from a growing confidence in what I'm actually good at writing about – a confidence in turning inward. 

 BH: What's the most unexpected column you've ever written?  

MP: All the best columns, my very favorite ones, just showed up out of nowhere. Writers talk about how "it all just poured out of my head." Well, that really happens – and it's the best feeling. If you have some writing skills in place and a solid voice so you're ready to capture a gush of ideas ... well, it's like nailing your target from 5 miles away. It still takes some hard work, but it's just different, more exciting. The problem is, we intentionally try to repeat that magic. And the harder you try, the bigger mess of it you make, and you end up feeling like crap. So it's a numbers game. The more you write, the more it happens. That's it.

 But you didn't ask about that. One time I started writing about pajama pants and ended up writing about our tiny place in this cold, black, vast, unfeeling universe. That was unexpected. I promise I'll talk about that column at the Craft Talk.

BH: What's the column you're most proud of?

MP: I wrote a column about the weird light you see at night in the wintertime, here in the city. Staring out your windows at night. I feel like that was a culmination of where I was at, at the time. Emotionally. And I was exploring things people like my wife had taught me to see over the years, realizing this is a shared experience, this weird light. Shared by the people of the Midwest. And I didn't feel the pressure to be funny or make jokes about it. 

And like most of my columns, as soon as it was published, I found a hundred things to change about it. 

BH: Spoken like a true writer!

Click here to listen to the most recent version of “Dark Winter Light” which appeared on Wisconsin Life in January 2017.

Helping All Our Stories Flow: Why YOUR Gift Matters TODAY

credit for all photos:  Justin Patchin Photography

credit for all photos: Justin Patchin Photography

B.J. Hollars

In the fall of 2002, as a prospective student at  Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, a creative writing professor named Robin Metz sat across from me at a table and said, "You, my friend, might have what it takes to be a writer." Only later did I learn that he hadn't actually read a word I'd written. (Why would he have? I was a prospective student!) But the sentiment was still true.

Maybe I did have it!

Also…maybe not.

But at 18, what he said was what I needed to hear most: he planted the seed of a possibility, and he dared me to dream it to be true.

Robin Metz died on November 27, 2018.  He leaves behind over half a century’s worth of students.  I count myself lucky to be among them.

Robin taught me many lessons, though the most important was the one he shared with me late one fall evening in 2014.  I’d returned to campus to visit my alma mater, and while there, crossed paths with my mentor outside the campus library.  It was dark out, the stars shone overhead, and I was so caught up in the swirl of nostalgia that I asked Robin I question I’d never considered asking him before: “What’s the most important lesson we can teach our students?”

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Robin leaned in close, and in a voice that bordered on a whisper, said, “It’s your job to persuade students that their stories matter.  And that ultimately, all of our stories flow into the very same river.”

Spoken like a true poet.

Though, of course, I know exactly what he meant.

Since February of 2016, the Guild has worked tirelessly to do just that: persuading writers of all levels and genres that their words matter.  We’ve hosted dozens of craft talks, dozens of readings, published two issues of Barstow & Grand, created the 6x6 Reading Series, the Sound and Stories Series, The Weekend Writers Retreat at The Oxbow, Cirenaica Writers Retreat, as well as a brand new venture to be revealed shortly. 

Along the way, our work has been recognized at both the local and state level.  Most recently, by our invitation to become a member of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission, a commission whose charge it is to serve as a “statewide emissary for poetry and creativity,” in addition to selecting the state’s poet laureate every two years.  We’re proud to join the ranks of so many literary leaders, including the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, the Wisconsin Humanities Council, the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, the Wisconsin Center for the Book, the Wisconsin Arts Board, Write On, Door County, and the Council for Wisconsin Writers.  Our role on this commission speaks to the good work we’ve accomplished both at home and afar.  And with your help, that good work will continue to grow.

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It’s hard to measure the work we do .  Do we measure it in publications?  In programs?  In partnerships?  Or by way of the nearly $25,000 economic impact we contribute to our local economy year after year?

My preferred measurement is by way of people.  How many lives have we touched?  How much writing have we supported?

If, as Robin Metz says, the most important lesson we can offer is to persuade people that their stories matter, then how many people have we persuaded?

Moreover, if all our stories indeed flow into the same river, then how wide must that river be?

Please.  We need you.  Make your tax-deductible gift today.

Together, we’ll make that river overflow with words. 

Write & Publish Captivating Narratives: A New Workshop Hosted by Elizabeth de Cleyre

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As our writing community grows, so too do our opportunities! Elizabeth de Cleyre, in partnership with Odd Humyns—a new store and workspace from Odd Brand Strategy founders Serena Wagner and Elle McGhee—has just released information on a new workshop opportunity right here in the Chippewa Valley. Read on to learn more, and how you can be a part of it.

1.) Tell us a bit about your new 5-week writing workshop.  What are some of the subjects you're most excited to share with writers?

This new workshop for School of Odd is a crash course in writing and publishing, and over the course of five weeks we'll read and discuss short pieces, workshop one another's drafts, and generate new writing. It's structured so the six participants cover all the bases of reading, writing, and critical reflection, and do so in an ongoing, consistent form. The goal is to get people to generate habits over these five weeks that they'll be able to continue after the class is done. 

I'm most excited to cover literary movements and voices that resist categorization or are hard to pin down--such as hybrid works, autofiction, and corporeal writing. There's so much potential and possibility in writing right now, whether you're generating new work or seeking innovative methods for revision. Ultimately, this workshop is a possibility space, and I'm eager to what each writer brings to the table. 

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2.)  In your program's description, you note 21st century writers' struggle to maintain "attention" in a content-flooded market. Without giving too much away, what should writers do to bring attention to their work? Is it a matter of content, form, platform, or publication outlet?

Annie Dillard wrote, "the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you."

So let me answer this freely and abundantly: If you, as a writer, want people to pay attention to your work, then you must pay attention to your work. For me, that means building a consistent writing practice, and investing in my education by studying writers whose work I admire.

It may sound reductive, but when we consistently read and write we become better readers and writers, and when we become better, more consistent readers and writers, the leap from writing to publishing becomes that much easier. I'm not afraid of giving too much away because it doesn't feel like much of a secret to me, especially here in Eau Claire, where there are countless examples of writers who pay attention to their own work. (I've also noticed in Eau Claire that writers who focus on their own work are often also excellent supporters of the work of others.)

We can sweat over Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter algorithms to promote our work all day, but if we're not paying attention to our own writing, we're hard-pressed to make progress on it. Yes, the internet brings with it a flood of new content, and while some writers see that as a detriment (read: more competition), I see it as a huge opportunity. The final lesson in this course is about how to take your writing out into the world of publishing, so we'll discuss how to cut through the noise and get your voice heard.

3.) Your workshop will be held at Serena Wagner and Elle McGee's newly-opened Odd Humyns space--a shop and studio space in downtown Eau Claire.  Can you share about this exciting collaboration?  Are there opportunities for future offerings in this space?

I'm insanely honored to count Serena and Elle as collaborators and friends, and one of the main reasons I asked Odd Humyns to host is because of their commitment to building an inclusive space. Writing is sacred and personal to me, and in order for the writing workshop to be a possibility space, all participants need to feel safe, honored, and know their perspective is valid. 

As for future offerings, School of Odd and Odd Humyns are planning on a bunch of different workshops, courses, and events throughout the year, and they are open to pitches from folks about offerings. Their aim is to act as a well-rounded hub for all creative mediums, including writing in its many forms. (Definitely keep your eyes on their Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/oddhumyns/

I'm personally excited to see where this workshop takes us, and I'll use participant feedback to craft new courses that align with School of Odd. Since I recognize that not everyone is available to meet in person, I'm also exploring an online-only version of the course. On a somewhat related note, Serena, Elle and I are at work on a zine/journal tackling the topic of the 'creative economy.' 

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4.) Finally, tell us a bit about you!  Favorite book?  Favorite writer?  Favorite piece of writing advice?

I'm a NH-native, a former Portland, OR transplant, and somewhat hard to keep up with. I started a book club at Red's Mercantile when I moved here in 2016, which then prompted me to co-found Dotters Books. As an editor and publishing consultant, I've guided over 70 authors to publication and worked behind the scenes of literary magazines. When not writing (or reading), you can find me behind a sewing machine, making made-to-measure clothing for clients. (I have a knack for analog endeavors.)

Nicole Krauss wins the title of "favorite writer" for me, as her novels are some of the few works I re-read in full, especially Great House and Forest Dark

As for writing advice, something Charles Baxter said in his 2017 lecture at the Chippewa Valley Book Festival has stayed with me: "sublime confidence." 

To register and learn more, click here!

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!

Behind The Scenes at "True North"

by B.J. Hollars

What happens when you bring together some of the region’s best storytellers, musicians and multimedia creators?  That’s what Nick Meyer and members of the Volume One crew were determined to find out.  The result—True North—will be performed live in the JAMF Theater at the Pablo Center at the Confluence on November 16th and 17th.

What is True North?  For one, it’s not your run-of-the-mill storytelling series.  Rather, it’s a highly produced, carefully curated evening of, as its website notes, “authentic stories, dynamic multi-media, and curious collaborations from some of our favorite writers, filmmakers, performers, artists, and musicians — all live on stage.”

Jodie Arnold

Jodie Arnold

The show will feature a range of storytellers, including Nick Butler, Kobi Shaw, Ward Rubrecht, and Jodie Arnold, all of whom will share some of their most poignant and powerful stories alongside a live score produced by S. Carey.  Adding to the ambiance will be “signature pieces” of film, multimedia, animations, and other live artistic performances.  In short, the show’s a true collaboration of true stories performed live.  And at the direction of Jake Lindgren, surely audiences are in for a treat.

“This is truly a complete multi-media experience,” True North performer Jodie Arnold says.  “For lovers of a good story, this will bring it to life like never before.”

As writers, the question of how far we can stretch a story—and how we can enhance it by way of collaborating with other arts—is always at the forefront.  It’s one thing to write the words on the page, but how do we give them life beyond the page?  On November 16th and 17th, you can find out.  Click here to watch a teaser for the show, and here to order your tickets today.  And remember, the show’s only the beginning of your True North evening.  The afterparty at the Pablo is another opportunity to share your own stories, as well as reflect on what you’ve just seen, heard, and experienced.  

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. 

Dear Writer - October 2018

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Dear Writer,

I finished the first draft of my poem/short story/novel/essay over a year ago. Since then, I’ve revised it on my own, and I’ve incorporated feedback from my workshop group. Three drafts later, here we are. I love the idea of being done and moving on to writing something else, but I’m terrified that the second I submit my piece for publishing, I’m going to notice some obvious issue in my work. How do I know when my piece is done?

Yours truly,
Third Draft’s A Charm


Dear Third Draft’s A Charm,

Almost three years ago, I saw a call for contributors to an online publication that I had been reading and admiring for years. While my confidence in my craft was still developing, I figured I had nothing to lose by simply submitting something. I researched past articles to get an idea of the content they published, and I jotted down ideas I hoped would feel unexpected, compelling, and would make me stand out among the other applicants. After lots of consideration and even more trepidation, I settled on and submitted my sample piece about my love of the movie The Sound of Music. To my surprise and joyfulness, the two sisters who started the publication were impressed and asked me to join the writing team. My experience with them was my first encounter with the power of creative communities, and I continued to contribute regularly for about two years.

The first piece I published with them was a sort of love letter to my mother, which, looking back now, was neither particularly fresh nor compelling, and it certainly had room to grow. That being said, at the moment of publication, it meant something to me, to my fellow writers, and most importantly, to my mom. Additionally, if we aren’t constantly seeking growth, then we really aren’t challenging ourselves as artists. It is important to remember that sometimes a piece can appear technically or stylistically unfinished, yet the heart of what you are seeking to say shines brighter than any fumbling or doubt you experience. As cheesy as it sounds, sometimes it is all about trusting your gut; it can be more valuable than all of the workshop critiques and machete-style revisions combined.

Of course, the finality of submitting something for publication can often feel terrifying, and it is almost inevitable you will second guess your work after pressing “send”. Ultimately, though, I would argue it is better to take the risk of sending something off than to force your work to float in the in-between because, honestly, it is rare that a piece of writing is ever truly “finished”, especially in the writer’s eyes. I used to think if I published or submitted something, then that piece could be filed away in a drawer to take a nice, long nap, but I have learned that is almost never the case. There are poems I have published that look completely different now than they do in the book and that’s okay! Our work, like ourselves, is constantly growing, and we can honor that while also giving it a chance to be recognized or left alone. At the end of the day, you will never truly know if something is finished, but you can take the leap to find out if someone else thinks it is!

Sincerely,
Katy Hackworthy

The Story’s The Thing: Jason Smith Craft Talk Recap

by Emma O’Shea 

Jason Smith

Jason Smith

Inside Eau Claire’s L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, as a storm raged outside, a captive audience listened to Jason Smith speak about how to pull readers in and think outside the box as a writer. As editor of Wisconsin People & Ideas magazine and associate director of Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, Jason gave craft talk attendees a few tools to hone the skill of writing a good story and getting published. 

  1. Use the barstool approach when pitching to a magazine or publisher. This is a quick pitch that captures the interest of the reader. It reveals the “why” of the story and concludes with a proposed outcome while relating an individual story to a larger cultural climate. 

  2. Pay attention to the outcome of the story. What do you want the reader to come out with? The reader could make an informed decision about the piece, feel inclined to engage, or take action and tell others.

  3. When trying to get published, look at the values and content of the magazine. Research what they publish and think about how your contribution could add to their publication. 

  4. In the process of going from pitch to paper, incorporate any feedback you received while giving your pitch and build an outline around the theme versus telling the story chronologically. You want to reflect a humanness of the subject and show the reader what is happening. 

  5. A good lead is made up of surprising facts, compelling quotes, declarative statements, and endearing anecdotes. As Jason puts it, a bad lead is like a poppy seed stuck in the speaker’s teeth; it’s distracting and leaves the reader only thinking about the lead. 

  6. Elements of a great piece include no more than three sections of the main narrative and smooth transitions between sections. You also should have clearly articulated themes and a conversational tone that keeps the reader going. 

  7. When crafting your piece, it’s best to avoid using dead-end details, meaningless idiomatic phrases and prepositional phrases that lose the interest of the reader and dilute the story that you are trying to tell. 

  8. Work with your inner-editor-self and go over your piece! Check your facts and read your writing aloud to make sure your piece is error free. 

  9. When looking for help, look local, take it online or get some help via editors or published writers who can give you the insight that you need. 


To see more of Jason’s tips on how to write a compelling story, here is the PowerPoint from his talk: https://www.dropbox.com/s/1069zoh9w5u6l5r/Smith_Storytelling%20Talk.pdf?dl=0

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! 

Chippewa Valley Book Fest's Past, Present, and Future: An Interview with Fest Co-Chair Mildred Larson

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by Chloe Ackerman

The Chippewa Valley Book Festival began on Monday, October 15th and goes through Thursday, October 25th, spreading literary events across the Chippewa Valley. The festival’s lineup includes a variety of events like writing workshops, dinner discussions, events for children, and much more, so there is something for everyone!

I had the chance to sit down with Mildred Larson, a co-chair of the festival, who has been with the Chippewa Valley Book Festival since the very beginning. We talked about how it has grown over the years and what she is looking forward to in this year’s festival.

CHLOE ACKERMAN: How did the book festival start?

MILDRED LARSON: The book festival started out as a partnership between the L. E. Phillips Memorial Library and the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center 19 years ago. I was working at the public library, we had a grant from the American Library Association for a series of authors and discussions, and we needed a co-sponsor separate from the library. We found the Literary Arts Committee from the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center. Their representative was Karen Loeb, now a retired UWEC English department faculty member, so she and I did that grant. It just seemed to work well, and I think that’s how it got started. We were able to get a few more grants to bring more authors in so obviously it wasn’t the size of the current festival. At first, it was called The Festival of the Turning Leaves. I think people didn’t quite get the pun of turning pages in a book and fall, so that was kind of lost. We decided to change the name to something more obvious, and it became the Chippewa Valley Book Festival.

Many people have helped with the festival over the years, but the UWEC English department has been very helpful all along. Nadine St. Louis, who has passed away, was an English professor and poet and one of the first chairs of the book festival committees. After she passed away, we started to have a memorial poetry reading at the festival in Nadine’s honor at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The theme of this year’s reading is called Words Without Borders: A Celebration of Poetry in Transition. It’s at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, October 19th.

How has the Chippewa Valley Book Festival grown since it began in 2000?

It’s grown in a lot of different ways; we have expanded the number of days, and we’ve expanded to include more locations. This year, we have programs in five public libraries: the Eau Claire Public Library, and then also in Menominee, Chippewa Falls, Altoona, and Fall Creek. We’ve tried various locations around town, for example, we have had programs for several years at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation. We have programs on university campuses, and this year for the first time we have a program at UW-Stout.

We’ve also added different kinds of events, such as writing workshops and a theatre event. The biggest addition has been authors in the public schools. We have ten authors coming to public schools in Eau Claire, Menominee, and Mondovi so it varies each year. It’s a wonderful experience for the kids. We have writing workshops for children and a Young Writers Showcase.  For the showcase, young writers submit writing to be selected by English honors students at UWEC.  Those whose work is selected will read at the Grand Theater in Eau Claire on Sunday, October 21st in the afternoon. It's fun and lively, and the children are excited to read to an audience.

What are you most excited for in this year’s Chippewa Valley Book Festival?

I am most excited about moving some of our programs into the Pablo Center. Barstow & Grand, David Treuer’s Native Americans and the Imagination, and then the third one at the Pablo Center is Caroline Fraser, author of Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. David Treuer’s talk will be in the JAMF Theatre, the Barstow & Grand release party will be in one of the rehearsal rooms, I believe, and then the final one, Caroline Fraser, will be in the big RCU Theatre which is a large auditorium. So we will be using three different spaces in the Pablo Center.

What kind of connections do the authors in this festival have to the Chippewa Valley?

We have local authors and we also have authors coming from Los Angeles, California, Spartanburg, South Carolina, and other faraway locations. This year we have three authors who are regional or local, there is Nickolas Butler who is going to be at UW-Stout, there’s Thomas Pearson who is going to be at the Fall Creek Library talking about frac sand mining, and then Molly Patterson who will be at the Menominee Public Library. Every year we have sort of a mix of local and regional writers and writers from around the country.

What do you hope those who attend The Chippewa Valley Book Festival events will take away from them?

I mostly hope they enjoy themselves. We look for authors who are going to be exciting presenters and we have scheduled a great range of types of literature and topics, so people should be able to find whatever’s of interest to them. For writers, we hope some of them will be inspired by the writers we bring, and then the people will maybe find some reading they want to follow-up with.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Because it’s a long festival, it’s sometimes hard to get all the events out in front of people. I hope people will go to the website and look for more information on the authors and the programs. I hope that they will be coming all the way through October 25th when we have two very excellent programs; there’s Molly Patterson and there’s Heather Swan who is going to be at the Chippewa Falls Public Library. She has a book about honeybees, and it’s a very beautiful looking book. I am certainly hoping that people will continue right through the 25th of October.

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!


Our New Bookstore Is Open for Business: An Interview with Dotters Books Co-Owner Margaret Leonard

Dotters Books co-owners Margaret Leonard (left) and Jill Heinke Moen (right)  credit: Drew Kaiser

Dotters Books co-owners Margaret Leonard (left) and Jill Heinke Moen (right)

credit: Drew Kaiser

B.J. Hollars

No city is complete without a independent bookstore. And now, Eau Claire can boast its very own! Dotters Books, located at 1602 Hogeboom Avenue, is now open and ready for business! Enjoy the grand opening festivities beginning at 10:00a.m. on Saturday, October 6!

Read on for an interview with co-owner Margaret Leonard.

Congratulations on your new store!  What makes Dotters Books different from other book stores?

We're planning to stock a smaller, curated selection of books on our shelves. We're focusing on women, authors of color, and small presses - like Graywolf Press, Milkweed Editions, Two Dollar Radio, and so many other great small publishers. We're facing all of our books out, privileging every voice, and we're trying to stock books that we have read and loved, or that we cannot wait to read. We have a dedicated room for children's books with a reading nook and mural painted by Serena Wagner. It is so cool! 

Throughout high school, I had the great pleasure of working in an independent bookstore in Indiana.  It was, perhaps, the best education I ever received.  How have bookstores played a role in your life?  What role would you like Dotters to play in the lives of your patrons and the larger community?

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It has always been my dream to have my own bookshop. I loved going into libraries and bookshops as a kid and getting lost among the shelves. That love never went away. When I lived in Milwaukee, I tried to get a job at Boswell Books - one of my absolute favorite bookstores! - and they just kind of looked at me with pity and said they weren't hiring. No one EVER leaves a job at a bookshop because it's the best! So, in order to finally work at a bookshop, I opened my own. 

I think it is so important to have a space where people can come together to talk about the things that are important to them and to their community, and what better place than a neighborhood bookshop. Books teach empathy in such an active way, asking the reader to imagine a life very different than their own. We're hoping to be a space where readers of all ages can come together and listen and learn from each other. 

How have books impacted your life?  

In countless ways. As a kid, I devoured books. I suppose that hasn't changed a whole lot as I've gotten older. When I was in high school I had a few teachers who changed the way that I looked at books. I recently read a quote from Maggie Nelson (in the introduction to The Seas by Samantha Hunt) and it has stuck with me: "It took me back to how I felt as a kid, when you're newly falling in love with literature, newly shocked by its capacity to cast a spell." That's how I felt when I read books like Great ExpectationsThe Great Gatsby, and As I Lay Dying. A whole new world opened up and I knew I wanted to live in it forever. I studied English in both my undergraduate and graduate programs. I met some of my best friends as we bonded over our love, and hatred, for certain books, fought over whether Fitzgerald or Hemingway was better - now, I say neither, but back then I was a diehard Fitzgerald fan. The books that I have read throughout my life have helped me to become who I am. They have shaped my worldview and broadened my perspective, much like traveling. Each book is an opportunity to learn about other people and about yourself. 

How do you see Dotters Books fitting into the larger arts community here in the Chippewa Valley?

We are so excited to be a small part of the very impressive larger arts community of the Chippewa Valley. We are looking forward to hosting and sponsoring author events, children's Story Times every weekend, writing groups, and book clubs in our space and throughout the community. We're also hoping to have some live music, although we're still determining the best way to use our space for that. We're hosting our first concert here on October 29 - Siri Undlin and Shane Leonard - so stay tuned for more information about that event. Plus, artists need to read, right? We've got lots of books to keep you inspired.

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What's your favorite rainy day read?  Your favorite summer read?  Best book when you're feeling down?  Best book when you're at the beach?

I'm don't often re-read books, so I don't have specific go-tos for these situations, but I'll do my best. 

My favorite book that pairs well with a rainy day is M Train by Patti Smith, but, to be fair, this is one of my favorite books in any weather. M Train changed the way that I look at possessions, material and otherwise. This memoir is the story of Smith's life after the death of her husband. It is full of everyday moments in coffee shops, and trips all over the world - most notably to La Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo's home. It is beautiful, and moving, and heartbreaking, and so wise. 

One of my favorite books that I read this summer was Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated from Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori. It felt seasonally appropriate while I was reading it. It's about a Japanese woman who works in a convenience store and struggles to fit into the expectations often placed on women in society. It's a bit reminiscent of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, but it's set in Japan, not nearly as dreary, and quite funny and quirky.


One of the most uplifting books that I've read recently is A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney. This is a fascinating history of female writers and their friendships with other women, and it is written by two female friends. Each of these authors was writing at different times, so the social conventions that governed their interactions shifted and changed. If you're feeling down and are struggling to find evidence of progress and equality, read this book and, even if just for a moment, you'll feel like we've come a long way. 


My favorite book that I've read recently that would be great to read at the beach is The Seas by Samantha Hunt. Full disclosure: this is not your stereotypical light, airy beach read. The book takes place in the Pacific Northwest in an unnamed ocean town. The main character is a nineteen year old woman who may or may not be a mermaid. It's eerie and weird, and it features an unreliable narrator, my favorite kind. I loved it.

Be sure to drop by Dotters Books and pick up a copy of a great book today!

From Student to Self-Published: 3 Things I Learned About Being an Indie Author

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By Nathan Zeiter

I remember the terrifying feeling of sharing my work with other students in my creative writing workshops at UW-Eau Claire. Sitting there—unable to speak—as others pick apart my writing. Dozens of eyes stare me down as I squirm in my chair, biting my tongue and accepting every bit of criticism. Despite the fear, it no doubt made me a better writer.

I reflect on all that I learned about writing during my time at UWEC as my hand hovers over my mouse. The next click will submit my novel for self-publishing. Five years of off and on work. Countless days and nights spent crafting a tale that people will hopefully enjoy. Once I click the button, it’s out of my hands. The horrible, anxiety-inducing thoughts swim around as I try to build enough courage. What if people hate it and leave bad reviews? What if it doesn’t sell? What if I wasted all this time for nothing?

As choose to let go of those fears and my fingers finally click the “submit” button, I find myself thinking about all that I’ve learned on this self-publishing journey. Here are the three things every writer should know if they’re looking to self-publish their work:

1.)  You’re too attached to your story. Find someone else to edit it.

The other day, I re-read the beginning of the first draft of my novel. It’s garbage. A nonsensical, poorly structured collection of word-vomit. Then I re-read part of my second draft. A little better, but still missing key characters and plot threads. A quick glance at the third draft left me shaking my head, wondering what the hell the character’s motivations were. The fourth draft was finally a decent product, but I wanted my manuscript to be perfect. So I went through it again. And again. And again.

I toyed with the idea of not hiring an editor and just putting the best version of my manuscript online. That would have been a huge mistake. After shopping around a bit, I sent a sample of my book to a professional freelance editor, and she sent it back to me a few days later. I was confident there’d only be a few markups. Wrong. I missed so, so much. But how? I read the dang thing like twenty times! Turns out, I was too focused on the big picture. Narrative, characters, plot holes, etc. Grammatical errors and sentence structure slipped through the cracks because my brain saw what it wanted to see—not what was actually on the page. I didn’t want to put out a subpar product, so I hired the editor and she helped make my novel a million times more readable. 

Hire an editor, folks. It’s worth it. If you don’t have the cash at the moment, then I’d advise hitting the pause button. If you release an unedited book, then any readers you happen to attract might be put off by the lack of polish, and even worse . . . they might not return for the next.

2.) Grab Their Attention and Keep It.

Anyone can self-publish. You need to stand out.

We’ve all heard it: don’t judge a book by its blah, blah, blah . . . Thing is, if your cover art looks like someone opened up Photoshop and slapped the keyboard three times, then potential readers are just going to scroll right by and pick something else that looks more professional. In the massive sea of self-published work, your cover art is the beacon of light that is going to draw people toward shore (the shore is the page where you can buy the book). If you don’t have the graphic design experience to create your own cover, then make sure you hire someone that can assist you. You don’t have to break the bank, but you need something decent. Once you’ve hooked in a potential buyer with a sweet-looking cover, the next step is to entice them with a blurb (make sure an editor looks at it!). If they like the blurb, then they might check out the free preview . . . which means your first chapter better be intriguing.

3.) Keep Writing!

What do you do after you write your first book? Write the next! Sounds obvious, right? However, here’s what I did the entire first week after publishing . . . I constantly refreshed the sales reports, repeatedly checked the Amazon page to see if the first review has been written, and I suffered through dreams about both rave and terrible comments. 

By researching and talking to other self-published authors, I learned that the best thing to do is to move on to the next book, and you should, too. Don’t ignore the ugly behemoth known as advertising, but don’t let its shadow loom over you all day. There’s no one way to be a successful indie author, so keep writing while you try to figure out what works best with your schedule and style.

Keep writing more and more. The freedom of self-publishing means there’s nothing in the way to stop you, so you need to take that momentum and run a 5k with it. You’ve laid the foundation—now build on it. Write, write, and write. I know you can do it.

Read a description of Nathan’s new book: 

In the heart of Pinewood lies GRACIE’s, a clothing store supergiant where Henry Holloway is having trouble keeping his head on straight. Literally. When he wakes up the morning after a rather humdrum shift with nothing between his shoulders but a dark, endless void, all he wants is for someone to acknowledge his abnormality.

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Demanding answers and receiving little to no help regarding his headlessness, Henry turns to his friends, Sarah Rohmer and John Clemmens, only to find they have also undergone dramatic, inexplicable transformations. When they find themselves haunted by a ghostly being from another world and hunted by Pinewood’s neighborly, panini-loving cultists, Henry has no choice but to fight against a seemingly unstoppable force . . .

Headless: Book One of the World Eater is available right 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!

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