A Bit of Planning and a Lot of Luck – A Graduate Course in High Adventure

By Robert G. Williscroft
I thought you might enjoy learning a bit about your new Editor. This article may be somewhat longer than the typical feature article, but if you take the time to read it, you definitely will learn more about the guy occupying this chair than you ever knew before (and you might even enjoy the story).

It started out when I was a youngster in Montana where my father pastored a small church in Conrad in the southwestern corner of the state. The other kids wanted to be…well, whatever kids want to be in rural Montana: Farmers, postmen, bankers. But little Bobby – me – wanted to be a fireman, because it clearly was the most exciting thing a person could do, so far as I knew from my extensive three-and-a-half-years experience in the big world.

When a missionary working as a doctor in pre-Red China came to our church, I discovered something more exciting than putting out fires: I decided to become a medical missionary in China.

This lasted through my early teens. At the time, the idea of going into Space seemed impossibly remote, but the idea of studying about Space and the Universe seemed to me even more exciting than being a medical missionary in China, and so I shifted my focus again.

And then two things happened. The International Geophysical Year was launched, where, among other things, the United States mounted a Trans Antarctic Expedition and set into motion plans for a permanent presence at the South Pole, and, in October, 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik.

Suddenly just studying about Space was not nearly so exciting as actually going there. It was a long stretch from my boyhood dreams of becoming a fireman, but I was driven by the same underlying urge – high adventure.
I tested with the Naval flight program, and essentially aced all their exams and work-ups – except one small portion of the eye exam. Bottom line: I could not become a jet fighter pilot; ergo sum, no Gemini or Apollo in my future. My brush with Naval Aviation, however, opened a new door to adventure, one that I had touched back in 1950, when I found myself exploring a regional exposition set up on a commons green in the ancient English city of Bath. The British Submarine Service had set up a periscope and recruiting station, where I spent several happy hours playing with the scope and being regaled by a crusty British submariner.

Outer Space was out, but Inner Space opened its doors, and I spent several exciting years as an enlisted submariner.
USS Von Steuben (SSBN 632)
USS John Marshall (SSBN 611) 
and USS Von Steuben (SSBN 632)
Then I got lucky, was selected for a scholarship program, and attended University of Washington at the Navy’s expense. While there I joined a ship-born expedition into the high Arctic.

And it happened again! I suddenly remembered my excitement back in 1957 as I read about the intrepid adventurers crossing frozen Antarctica and establishing a permanent post at the bottom of the world. My mother had written me expressing her disappointment that I had turned away from my childhood religious beliefs, and I wrote back, encouraging her to see her son standing one day at the bottom of the world.

I completed college, was commissioned an officer, and went back into submarines for several more years. But the tug of the Earth’s frozen wastelands formed a backdrop for all my activities: Vietnam (adventure), deep sea diving (more adventure), very deep, long duration saturation dives conducting esoteric underwater espionage (high adventure), and finally transferring my commission to the NOAA Corps, and finding myself actually in the high Arctic for three years of spine tingling adventure in the frozen north.

In the Bering Sea Ice Pack NOAA Ship Surveyor (R-101)
In the Bering Sea Ice Pack  –  NOAA Ship Surveyor (R-101)
And then the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself, and – for me – it was a no-brainer. I accepted the assignment, and in the Summer of 1981, found myself underway for Antarctica and the South Pole, where I would remain for the next thirteen months. In mid December, 1981, I disembarked at the bottom of the world from a ski-equipped Hercules C-130, and took my first breath of the icy thin air on that ten-thousand foot plateau.
Amundsen-Scot South Pole Station
Amundsen-Scot South Pole Station
It was so cold that I feared I had frozen the tops of my lungs. After just a few steps I was panting and out of breath. My face and lips felt seared, and I quickly understood the reason for the standard hood with a deep, fur-lined tunnel protecting the face – preventing skin, eyes, and mucus membranes from nearly instant freezing in the frigid air.
The Protective fur-lined hood
The “Protective” fur-lined hood
As I surveyed my new home, I recalled my letter to my Mom so long ago. This was adventure, I thought, this was high adventure, extreme adventure.
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station - The Pole
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station – The Pole
In an ironic twist, although my primary task was to monitor the National Science Foundation atmospheric experiments at the Pole, I was assigned the additional task of Station Fire Marshall.

I had come full circle.

Most people don’t understand how dry Antarctica really is. The atmosphere is so dry, in fact, that nearly everything exposed to outside air eventually dries up, and if it is inherently flammable, it becomes even more so in this brittle condition. Consequently, we took fire very seriously down there.

During the first three months there was a moderately large crowd at the Pole, reaching 65 at one point. We drilled for various emergencies, but most importantly for fire. We actually had a small fire in the roof of the power plant that we were able to extinguish without much difficulty.

As Summer came to an end, the population dwindled until only eighteen of us remained to watch the last C-130 depart, leaving us in total isolation for the next nine months.
This Hercules C-130 was the last plane to leave marking nine months of total isolation
This Hercules C-130 was the last plane to leave marking nine months of total isolation

Whatever I had experienced before, I thought, THIS was really high adventure, in CAPS, primed. With hindsight, it’s probably good that I didn’t know what lay ahead.
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station Winter-over Crew 1981 - 1982
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station Winter-over Crew 1981 – 1982

Months passed as our activities became simple routine. We practiced our firefighting skills under every conceivable scenario – except inside the corrugated steel arch that contained our Goodyear fuel bladders. The reason was simple: In our tests, we had been unable to ignite the DFA (diesel fuel arctic) that was doped to stay liquid down to eighty below. As Fire Marshall, however, I began to feel guilty, and eventually I approached the Station Manager with a proposal to drill at least once in the Fuel Arch.

We set it up, and a week later spent an entire day running through the plan and practicing the actual procedures we might need in case of fire in our fuel supply. We even blanked out our Scott Air Pack face masks to simulate not being able to see in the inevitable thick black smoke. It was fun, and we all felt better for the drill. During the drill we had discovered that the Scot Air Packs did not function very well at 80 and 90 below zero. The regulators froze up, but we were able to get a few minutes of additional air time by storing the air bottles inside, and bringing them out just before using them.

One week later I was sitting in my lab located a couple hundred yards upwind from the main Pole Complex. It was about noon – and suddenly the fire alarm sounded. Shortly after, the Station Manager announced over the speaker system that this wasn’t a drill, and that the source of the alarm was the complex that contained our small sickbay and the fuel bladders.
The Clean Air Lab - Located about 100 yards upwind of the end of the Fuel Arch and about 200 yards from the Dome main entrance
The Clean Air Lab – Located about 100 yards upwind of the end of the Fuel Arch and about 200 yards from the Dome main entrance

I hustled to don my outer clothing, since rushing to the main station without it would risk almost certain death. The end of the fuel arch was about a hundred yards from my lab door.
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station as seen from my lab. The nearly drifted over Fuel Arch is the closest part of the complex. The door is clearly visible in the middle at the top of the end of the Arch. The main entrance is in front of the Arch, halfway alo
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station as seen from my lab. The nearly drifted over Fuel Arch is the closest part of the complex. The door is clearly visible in the middle at the top of the end of the Arch. The main entrance is in front of the Arch, halfway along the Arch, just this side of the small white tower with the black top
I ran the entire distance, and arrived at the door at the top of the arch well winded from my exertion at the Pole’s extreme altitude. I turned the door knob, and the door blew open from internal pressure, knocking me on my back. Black smoke billowed from the open door.

I got up, forced the door shut, and hurried along the outside of the arch to the main entrance – another hundred yards. Clearly, I had a major problem.

As I made my way to the entrance, I pondered our situation. Obviously, a fuel bladder was on fire. We were totally isolated, some 900 miles from the nearest help, even if it could actually arrive – which was doubtful, and I had no idea how to solve the problem. Sure we had drilled a week earlier, but this was the real thing. It wasn’t a game, and it wasn’t funny.

As an added safety measure, earlier in the year we had constructed a double barrier with snow blocks between the entrance to the fuel arch and the rest of the station. When I arrived, gasping from my exertions, the station personnel were assembled at the barrier, awaiting my directions.

We had to extinguish the fire, for without fuel, we had no heat, no electricity, no water – without the fuel we were dead!

I donned a fresh, warm Scot Air Pack, and then gingerly opened the door after ensuring that everyone else was safely behind the snow barrier. Greasy black smoke roiled out. Four of us cautiously entered the pitch black, smoke filled arch – unable to see our hands in front of our faces. It was hot, even though the outside temperature was minus 80 degrees. And the noise was deafening. All we could see once we got to the site of the fire, were red flames through the thick smoke.

We attempted to reel the dry chemical PPK or “Purple K” extinguisher hose from the back wall toward the fire, but the hose shattered into thousands of pieces. It was never designed to withstand such cold. As a backup we each carried a portable PPK extinguisher, and together we played our purple streams ahead of us as we approached the blazing inferno.

The cold was on our side, and the combination of chemical and cold helped to beat down the flames, but we couldn’t extinguish them. The blazing bladder was covered with a three foot thick insulating layer of fiberglass. This material was soaked with DFA, and as soon as we removed the Purple K, the flames came right back with a vengeance.

We had to do something fast!

Larry Antonuk, the electrician, figured that the electrical heat blanket under the insulation must have been shorted, and was feeding the fire with continuous sparks. We didn’t have time to go to the power panel at the other side of the station to throw the breaker – we had to solve the problem right then, or we weren’t going to solve it at all.

Heroically, Larry told us to beat down the flames, and as we did so, he slogged across the burning bladder through the thick smoke to the local connection on the far side, and literally pulled the plug on the fire. His shoes filled with DFA at about minus 80 degrees, so he was in immediate great personal peril.
Aftermath - Note the liquid DFA and the piles of DFA-soaked insulation
Aftermath – Note the liquid DFA and the piles of DFA-soaked insulation
Aftermath - As seen from the other side where Larry unplugged the heat blanket
Aftermath – As seen from the “other side” where Larry unplugged the heat blanket
Aftermath - Looking down the Arch, past a melted snow tower that had formed over the winter from fine snow and ice particles (called spindrift) seeping through a tiny hole in the Arch.
Aftermath – Looking down the Arch, past a melted “snow tower” that had formed over the winter from fine snow/ice particles (called spindrift) seeping through a tiny hole in the Arch
Fortunately, Larry’s idea worked, and this time the fire stayed out. We rushed him to sickbay where the Doctor commenced immediate treatment of his frostbitten feet.

Later, we took stock of our situation. Half our remaining fuel was gone, but if we were careful, we could last until new fuel could be flown in – about two months out. Most of our “Purple K” was gone, but we still had some CO2 extinguishers. We determined that the bi-metallic circuit breaker that should have opened the circuit to the heat blanket had crystallized in the cold. It was completely non-functional, like the Purple K hoses.

Then we got to thinking. What if we had not drilled, what if we had not practiced with blanked out masks, or what if the fire had happened in the middle of the night? It certainly would have taken us a lot longer to get our act together. Thus we would have arrived at the snow barrier perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes later that we actually did. By this time, most of the oxygen in the arch would certainly have been consumed, and the arch would have been filled with super hot explosive gas.

When we opened the door to enter the arch, the fresh oxygen most likely would have caused a gigantic explosion, funneled by the arch straight at the entire station crew, except for the female cook who was pregnant and away from the immediate vicinity, and the 18 year old radio operator who was keeping McMurdo and the rest of the world appraised of our situation.

I don’t believe they could have survived by themselves.

As it turned out, because of a bit of planning and a lot of luck, they didn’t have to, Larry’s feet healed nicely, and the rest of us earned the right to tell a dandy tale of high adventure.
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in twilight - a three-month affair
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in twilight – a three-month affair



Spinning Gold From Straw: The Magical And Transforming Roots Of Creativity


By Page Lambert
Editor’s Note: To help celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the CAL Writing Awards, we asked CAL member Page Lambert to share this post from her blog on the roots of creativity. Read on and be inspired! 
In the deep recesses beyond what we can see or touch, in the world where the Great Mystery dwells and where our greatest works of art germinate, are the intertwining roots of MIND, BODY and SPIRIT.  Our literature, our music, our paintings, our sculptures, our architecture, our textiles — all these expressions spring from the creative synergism between mind, body and spirit.
Rumpelstiltskin
How do we transform our creative visions into artistic expressions? How does the intellect imagine form, and then breathe life into it, animating it, imbuing it with spirit?  What magic ingredient gives one story the deep resonance of soul, while another lies limply on the page?
To embody is to make manifest, to bring forth — whether on the page, on the stage, on the screen, in clay, or marble, or paper, with raw earth or molten glass, whether tempering steel or spinning gold.  In the classic Grimm’s fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin, it was the magic words of an old song that turned the spinning-wheel and spun gold out of straw.  In Romeo and Juliet, metaphor was the magic Shakespeare used to first manifest Juliet on the page.


O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! 
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear; 
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!

In this 1870 oil painting, Ford Madox Brown vibrantly depicts Romeo and Juliet in the famous balcony scene.  In living color, we see Romeo’s lips reaching to kiss Juliet’s neck, we see her arm embrace him, we see the fluid movement of her night shawl, the whiteness of her bosom.  These star-crossed lovers become more than figments of our imagination. Our eyes behold them. Shakespeare’s vision is made manifest through the tactile imagery of the physical world.

This bronze funeral urnsculpted by artist Roxanne Swentzell to hold the ashes of her beloved father-in-law, embodies both the physical and the spiritual.  The figurine embraces the ashen remains of the body of her loved one, at the same time symbolically clinging to that which cannot be contained — the spirit.  When my mother died in my arms a few years ago, I clung to the vessel that had housed her spirit and felt her slip away — not her body, which had been slowly withering away for months, but her spirit.
“What man experiences most emotionally,” wrote Wyoming poet laureate Peggy Simson Curry, “knows intuitively but cannot explain away intellectually, is embodied in the world of symbolism.”
Our task as artists? To make meaning, beauty, utility and joy from life experience.
Emotions. Intuition. Symbolism. These are the mysterious workings of an artistic mind determined to make meaning from life experience.
Carla Piestewa and Jessica Lynch

Twenty-four hours before my mother’s death, John Gritts and I were in New York City for the American Indian College Fund’s Flame of Hope Gala, where Iraqi POW Jessica Lynch and the family of fallen soldier Lori Piestewa were guests of honor, along with four of the remaining Navajo Code Talkers from WWII.  Lori, of the Hopi Tribe, was the first Native American woman to die in combat for the United States Military — and the first woman from the U.S. military killed in the Iraq War.  John and I spent the day at Central Park with Lori’s mother and father, who were now raising her two children Brandon and Carla.  Little Carla grew tired of walking, so I lifted her up and as I wrapped my arms around her, I thought of Lori, no longer alive to hold her child.

The next day, back in Colorado, I held my own frail mother in my arms and thought of Carla and Lori, and of the circular love between mother and child.  I felt Lori’s spirit reaching out to my mother and felt the invisible union of mind, body and spirit.  Someday, I thought, I will write a story about this, and then it will all make sense.

Now may the Spirit of Creativity bless you as our

An image of “Ronde au Soleil” (Sun Circle) by Pablo Picasso.

spring season transitions into summer, and may the artistic visions that you bring forth help reveal at least an inkling of the Great Mystery.  I wish for you all things bright and beautiful.

NOTE: “It is said that Picasso could paint a yellow spot and turn it into the sun.  Our lives are worthy of such transformation.” (From “Writing Life” by Page Lambert, published by the Peaks, Plateaus & Canyons Association in Sojourns: Journal. Memory. Land.)
Author Page Lambert, a presenter of over 260 seminars, workshops, and conferences on connecting writers and people with craft and nature, will this year present the “August, 2017, River Writing & Sculpting Twentieth Anniversary Celebration.” For more information and to register, visit http://www.pagelambert.com/river2017.html.
Photo Credits: (Top) Rachel.Adams, “A Trip to the Outside” via Photopin; (Yarn spinning photo) “Wool” by Sukanto Debnath via photopin.



Poetry Opens Wide A Deep Space For The Writer’s Imagination While Healing Our Anxious Souls


Editor’s Note: For April, which is National Poetry Month, we invited Art Elser–a longtime CAL member and an award-winning poet–to reflect on why poetry matters to our global soul and how it ignites the imaginations of all writers and readers, not just poets.
 
By Art Elser
 
In these times of constant connection to the world, with waves of information that daily inundate us–fears many have because of current events–is there room in our lives for poetry? Can we measure its cost effectiveness? Its effect to the bottom line? Its return on investment?
Poet Mary Oliver
Since April is National Poetry Month, perhaps we should properly ask: What value does poetry add to our lives? Does it help us probe, as nature poet Mary Oliver does in “The Summer Day”:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
The grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand…
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
As with all art, we may have difficulty finding a use or value or price we can assign to poetry, no schema that sorts it into an economic priority list. Art finds its value not in utility, ROI, or cost savings but in feeding the imagination, in creating a room or space in the human soul where we can be encouraged, nourished, calmed, healed by it.
Whose soul, indeed, isn’t salvaged from the day’s news when poet Tom Hennen writes in “Outside Hay Pile 1956” that:
Dark summer nights lead into autumn
And the frost that floated about me.
Cold air from the shadows flowed over me
Onto the sheepskin coat I wore
That smelled of the barn and tractor oil.
On my back in the hay pile
I watched the Milky Way
Turning through the far-off dark
Like a country road,
Stars billowing thick as dust clouds
Behind a pickup truck.
If someone were to ask where the road leads,
Who would dare answer?
When the big dog pushed his head into my face
I held on to his fur with both hands
To keep from falling into the sky.
Poet Tom Hennen
The ancients knew the value of such poetry. It was first the vehicle by which fathers passed knowledge to sons, mothers to daughters, elders to new leaders. Poetry told the farmer when to plant, harvest, how to tend the crops. It told the healer which herbs healed illnesses and where to find them.
Youngsters learned the social customs, laws, and taboos of their tribe, shamen passed on religion to novitiates. As cultures became more sophisticated, poetry took the form of oral history and legend, for example, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf. More metaphorical forms emerged like the Psalms.
A friend recently sent me an article by the poet, Matthew Zapruder, “Poetry and Poets in a Time of Crisis.” In it Zapruder points out that prose often has a utilitarian purpose — to explain, to describe, to elucidate, to persuade — and successful prose stays the course to its conclusion, never wandering off on a tangent.
POETIC DISTRACTIONS
But poetry, Zapruder says, has no such discipline. The poet attempts to persuade you to take a course of action but is suddenly distracted by that field of wildflowers over there beyond that wooden fence. So we climb the fence with him and wander through the “bee-loud glade.” We see the beauty of the lupine, mallow, fireweed, primrose, the iris by the stock pond. We smell their fragrance and feel the warmth of the sun on our face and arms. We hear the meadowlark singing on that mullein stalk over there near the cottonwoods, hear the wind whispering through the dry wheatgrass, the cottonwood leaves clicking in the breeze, the bees buzzing from lupine to lupine.

We

Poet Art Elser

follow the poet over that fence and imagine ourselves in that flower-filled meadow, almost tasting the honey the bees are making. (Or, in my case, hopefully willing you to see our Sun in the star motes of the “shattering brilliance” of the Milky Way. [Click here for a sample of Art Elser‘s nature poetry and, by name, for Mary Oliver and Tom Hennen samples. ])

Or we walk with the poet who is complaining about the busyness of her days and her lack of time to write because of a stack of laundry waiting to be ironed. She also mentions she has to take the dog to the vet and that suddenly reminds her of the homeless couple she saw on a street, their shopping cart stacked with their belongings.
They treat each other with such love and respect that in spite of the stale-sweat smell around them, the beauty and dignity of their lives shines from their eyes through the dirt on their faces. And the love between them and their brown and white mongrel radiates in their faces and in its wagging tail as they share with it their meager lunch.
OPENING OUR IMAGINATIONS
The poet invites us open our imaginations to a world unknown to us. To imagine the humanity we have in common with that couple. Perhaps we suddenly find ourselves more open to empathy and compassion. We discover a reverence for all humanity. [For examples, click the poet’s name: Ted Kooser, Barbara Crooker, Art Elser]
Poet Barbara Crooker
Thus, we are grateful when Barbara Crooker visits a small child in a special education preschool, honestly declaring in “Driving Under the Clerestory of Leaves” that:
The architect who made these trees
was sleeping when he made this boy.
And my heart, like the leaves, burns and burns.

Poetry then can open space in our minds, our imaginations, our souls, in which we can see, smell, taste, feel, hear, life’s beauty and joy as well as its pain, horrors, and disappointments. It helps us experience and better understand life happening around us. We learn to experience beauty and joy by just looking up from our smart phones and tablets long enough to see the smile on the baby coming toward us in the arms of a young mother whose face glows with joy. Or we look up from the screen filled with wonder at the beauty of the poet’s imagery that has made us see or feel something we have never seen or felt before.

CONSIDERING OTHERS’ HARDSHIPS
Poetry helps to imagine what others feel, their pain, their losses, the futility of their lives, and also to imagine the beauty and dignity of their lives despite their hardships.
Thus, our hearts are deepened when poet Ted Kooser introduces us to this aging couple, saving money while “Splitting an Order” in a restaurant:
I like to watch an old man cutting a sandwich in half,
maybe an ordinary cold roast beef on whole wheat bread,
no pickles or onion, keeping his shaky hands steady
by placing his forearms firm on the edge of the table
and using both hands, the left to hold the sandwich in place,
and the right to cut it surely, corner to corner,
observing his progress through glasses that moments before
he wiped with his napkin, and then to see him lift half
onto the extra plate that he asked the server to bring,
and then to wait, offering the plate to his wife
while she slowly unrolls her napkin and places her spoon,
her knife, and her fork in their proper places,
then smooths the starched white napkin over her knees
and meets his eyes and holds out both hands to him.
Poet Ted Kooser

With such words, poetry helps us become more sensitive to the world around us and to others no matter their color, status, religion, sexual preference, country of origin. We learn empathy and to treat others with love and compassion.

EASING THE PAIN
Perhaps in this age in which, by many accounts, attention spans are getting shorter, people are isolated, spending more time online, and many want to get away from the violence and horror in the world, poetry can open up ideas and feelings to help assuage the pain that seems to fill our world. A short, effective poem that fits nicely onto a small screen may be more apt to be read than an editorial or op-ed piece.  Poetry that feeds our imagination and opens spaces in our minds for beauty and joy and truth and empathy and compassion and reverence can heal our anxious souls and help us see our way back to our humanity.

Art Elser

CAL member and poet Art Elser

retired after 20 years as an Air Force pilot. During that time, he flew combat in Vietnam in 1967-68 and retired in 1979. He worked 30 years as a technical writer for various computer, software, and communications firms. He has a PhD in English and was a professor of English at the USAF Academy, and an adjunct professor at Chapman University, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and Denver, Phoenix University, American University, and New Mexico Tech. His chapbook, We Leave the Safety of the Sea, won the Colorado Authors’ League poetry award in 2014. Art has recently published A Death at Tollgate Creek: Songs of the Prairie.




Recording – Poetry, with Art Elser


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https://www.anymeeting.com/WebConference/RecordingDefault.aspx?c_psrid=E955DC86804F3A

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5 Mental Tactics to Lift Your Unfinished Writing Over Annoying Hurdles


 
By Nina Amir
You’ve got a list of writing projects to complete before 2017, but nothing’s happening. You can’t seem to focus on your writing, and the closer your deadlines loom, the slower you work.
You need to be productive, but the words won’t flow. What stopping that flow, and what can you do to churn out the work with ease?

Try these 5 mental strategies to help you become a productive writer on demand.
1. Determine Your Payoff
Writing has a payoff for you. So does not writing. If the payoff for not writing is stronger than the payoff for writing, you won’t write.

For example, if you’ve received negative feedback from an editor, your payoff for not writing is avoiding her criticism. If you’ve received a big fat check from an editor, your payoff for writing is earning good money for your efforts. But is either the payoff you desire?

Maybe your payoff for not writing is avoiding doubt or uncertainty about what–or why–you’re writing. Make a list of your payoffs for not writing and for writing.

                                                        Photo Credit: Unsplash
Each time you sit down to write, remind yourself of what you gain when you complete your project. Focus your mind on the positive payoffs.

2. Know Your “Big Why”

What do you hope to accomplish with your project? Your answer indicates your reason, purpose, mission, or calling. It’s your Big Why.
If you don’t know your purpose, mission or calling in life, it’s time to find it. That reason keeps writers writing day in and day out. Your Big Why doesn’t allow you to give up or fail. A Big Why gives you a reason to write and to bring your ideas and career to life.
Photo Credit: Unsplash
You could have a Big Why for a particular project that is different than the Big Why related to your writing career. In each case, though, the reason you want to produce the work will help you complete it.
If you haven’t articulated your Big Why recently, write it down. Post that statement on your computer monitor and, whenever you get stuck and find yourself not producing work, read it. Our loud.

3. Use Your Imagination
Dream big. Imagine what it would look and feel like to produce your best-ever work. Close your eyes and imagine the final product and your experience of producing it.

When you get stuck, creatively visualize the project as successfully completed. This will turn your negative focus to a positive one, helping you get in the flow.

A crazy idea? Runners and other athletes gain confidence by imagining themselves crossing the finish line, overcoming a challenging obstacle, reaching the top and conquering their goal.
Photo Credit: Agberto Guimaraes/Unsplash
They visualize themselves moving through a difficult part of a race or a tough physical challenge. Our unconscious minds don’t know the difference, experts say, between visualization and physically doing something.

So imagine yourself writing–words flowing fast and furious, getting a letter of acceptance from an editor or agent, or the article or blog post successfully published. With the end in mind, you’re more likely to get there.

4. Define “Done”
Sometimes finishing a project seems impossible. It’s difficult to know when it is officially “done.”

You might even find yourself worrying you need to do more research, write another section or chapter, or tear it all up and start over.

A better approach for each project is to define “done.” Of course, “done” can be a difficult–and subjective–call. If you know in advance what “done” looks like, however, you are more likely to attach your work to an email and hit send.

                                      Photo Credit: Bethany Legg/Unsplash
A smart strategy? Write down the criteria that would qualify your project as complete. Make it a regular practice to evaluate your work against this list. When you’ve checked them all off, stop writing, “ship” that work and call it done!

5. Chunk It Down
Overwhelm keeps the mind from working and the fingers on your keyboard from moving. That big-picture view of your project makes you freeze. You worry: it’s too big a project. I can’t do it. I don’t know where to start.

The solution to this problem is simple: Chunk down your big project into smaller projects or pieces. Or think of your project like a rock. Break off little chunks you can tackle individually. For instance, write one section. Do the necessary research. Set up your interviews. Then move to the next small part.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Every magazine article, blog posts or chapter consists of smaller sections. Think subheadings, for example. These divide up your work.  Also, every project has different tasks–research, writing, interviewing, editing, fact checking, etc.
Approached in this manner, your project is just a bunch of smaller projects–pebbles–each one much more easily completed than the whole. But as you complete each one, you move closer to producing the whole.
I like to think of these chunks as short-term goals. The long-germ goal is to finish the whole project. The short-term goal is, for example, to write your book’s introduction.

Consider your project. Make a list of three to five action items. Tackle each one at a time. When you can’t write, the problem is not always what you’d expect. Deal with the real problem–your mind–and before long, you’ll reach the page where you type The End.

Nina Amir is author of How to Blog a Book, The Author Training Manual and Creative Visualization for Writers (October 2016). As the Inspiration to Creation Coach, she helps writers, bloggers and other creative people combine their passion and purpose so they move from idea to inspired action and “achieve more inspired results.” An international speaker and award-winning journalist, Nina is founder of the National Nonfiction Writing Month and the Nonfiction Writers’ University. For more information, visit www.ninaamir.com or www.booksbyninaamir.com.



How Far Will You Go to Get Your Story Facts Right?

By Barbara Nickless
Editor’s Note: In this month’s InPrint feature article, crime novelist Barbara Nickless –a new member of CAL and winner of the 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence–explores the challenge of doing real-life research to authenticate facts, characters and atmosphere for her award-winning debut thriller “Blood on the Tracks.” The article originally appeared at CriminalElement.Com, a blog covering “mysteries, thrillers and all things killer.”
 
“If you want to get shot,” the SWAT leader said, “go ahead and reach for that gun.”
I froze, my hand inches from the revolver lying on the counter.
Minutes earlier, I’d been full of bravado. Talking smack with my fellow drug dealers and preparing to relax on the sofa and count the day’s take. Now, looking into a pair of the coldest eyes I’d ever seen, I was suddenly unsure. Should I throw up my hands in surrender? Or go down in a blaze of glory?
My fingers twitched as my hand hovered over the gun.
“Go on,” the cop said. “I dare you.”
What I’m talking about here is not my life of crime, but the research I did in order to play the part. Crime writers have to get it right, and sometimes it’s a steep learning curve. When I set out to write my first thriller, a novel about a former-Marine-turned-railroad-cop, I had to convincingly depict guns, murder investigations, trains, railroad cops, the CIA, the Iraq War and Mortuary Affairs, the Marines, military working dogs, K9s, hobos, railroad gangs, and skinheads. And that was just the start.
When writers create a work of fiction, they hope to beguile readers into suspending their disbelief. Research plays a big part in this. Readers can tell when an author knows what they’re talking about, and they see right through any attempt to shine them on. I conduct mountains of research in the hope that my stories will ring true.
But is it all about the difference between an M16 and an AK-47?

MORE THAN THE FACTS
Hemingway advised, “Write the truest sentence you know.” Which, for me, means going beyond simply getting the facts straight. It means creating believable characters who stand up from the page. One of my favorite authors, Alexandra Fuller, says that while she was writing The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, she so inhabited Colton’s Wyoming world that she set a place for him at the dinner table every night. That’s creating character.
When I set out to write Blood on the Tracks, I knew my biggest challenge would be finding a way to get inside the head of my protagonist. Special Agent Sydney Parnell grew up in a blue-collar railroading family, was orphaned at a young age, then joined the Marines and served in Iraq where she processed the dead. Her life was a world apart from my own.
MAKING PEOPLE TICK
So, a lot of research was in order. In an effort to understand what makes people like Parnell tick, I studied post-traumatic stress disorder: its history, how it manifests and is treated, and the controversy surrounding some of those treatments. I also worked hard to imagine what it is like to go to war and then come back home, how daily life plays out when you’re a female in the hyper-masculine Marine culture, and–as ugly as it sounds–what you feel before, during, and after you kill someone. Creating Sydney Parnell was a tall order!
For other characters in the book, I dug into stories written by and about neo-Nazis. I learned what it means to be severely burned over a large part of your body and how it is to carry those scars for the rest of your life. I worked to grasp the subtext as well as the overt conditions of being poor and homeless and desperate in America. And, in order to sympathize with the victims in my novel, I read stories about people who’d endured natural disasters, war, or had been victims of crimes.
Nickless takes aim during the 2016 FBI Citizens Academy.
GOING THE DISTANCE
So how far will I go to get it right? And am I certifiably crazy to do some of the things I do? Maybe. While I’ve stopped short of trying to jump onto a moving train (don’t ever, ever, ever try this), I have observed dead bodies, shared a gun range with someone who had no idea what he was doing (and who didn’t let that stop him from waving his weapon around), watched K9s take down criminals while I scrambled to get out of the way, and had my clothes cut away before I was repeatedly showered with ice-cold water during a disaster simulation. In order to understand a character’s world view, I’ve shot bad guys in interactive video real-world simulators, then revisited the scenario in my mind for hours afterward. When I fired my gun, did I do the right thing? Is this a small taste of what it feels like for law enforcement officers when they discharge their weapon in the line of duty?
Sharing a laugh with Inspector Troy Bisgard of Denver Police Department’s Homicide Unit.
During a single night of riding shotgun with a sheriff’s deputy, I found myself standing just inside the front door of a house belonging to a domestic violence victim, then scrambling for cover when the doorbell rang; the offender had sworn to come back with a gun. I watched kids get busted for drugs, sat with a terrified home owner while the deputy investigated a suspicious noise on her lonely, sprawling property, waded through a single-car accident that left a car nose-down in a deep ditch, and was accidentally locked in the back of a cruiser during a murder investigation.
REAL-LIFE RESEARCH
For the next book in my series, Dead Stop, I’ve continued with a lot of the same research, but I’ve added new elements. That book will feature the FBI, the dark web, child abduction, and serial killers. So I’ve gone to lectures on serial killers and the internet, attended the incredible and eye-opening FBI Citizens’ Academy, and interviewed agents and officers on the intricacies of searching for a stolen child.
Back to that small home and the gun lying on the counter. When the door burst open and twelve SWAT officers poured in–swathed head to toe in black body armor, assault rifles at the ready and aimed at me–I lost my courage completely. All I could see of them were their eyes, and the look in those eyes meant business. My hands went up in surrender, the gun stayed on the counter, and I missed my chance to get shot. With a paintball gun.
Barbara Nickless has always been interested in things that might get her killed, or at least maimed. She’s rehabilitated wild birds of prey, explored little-known caves, handled rattlesnakes, and raised two children through their teenage years. Her bestselling debut novel, Blood on the Tracks, is how she imagines life would be for Harry Bosch–if he were a railroad cop with a death wish.



Fiction Writing: What Makes Readers Care So Deeply About Your Story’s Best Characters?

“Really scary books succeed because we come to know and care about the characters. I like to say, ‘It’s the PEOPLE, stupid’–NOT the monsters!” Stephen King
 
By Men With Pens
What makes readers care about your characters? What makes them hate with a passion or fall in love? What keeps them reading? How do you create that bond between real people and people that only exist on paper? Consider these five timeless reasons:
1. Recognition
When you see yourself or someone familiar to you in a character concept, the connection is instantaneous. It’s like meeting a stranger and knowing immediately that you’re going to share a long-lasting friendship.
The situations that your characters experience and the actions they take achieve that bond. When we see situations a character faces as ones we’ve been through ourselves, we feel closer to the character.
Katniss Everness, portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence, inspired a nation of slaves to become an army in “The Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins. (© Lionsgate Films)
Some experiences are universal. Who hasn’t told a lie to spare feelings? Who hasn’t faced a tough decision between what’s right and what’s tempting? Who hasn’t wished for a lifelong bond with someone who loves us?
Or, maybe the situation is even closer to home. Maybe the character is a single mother, trying to do the best she can to support her family – and you’re in that situation, too. Perhaps the character is disenchanted with having an empty life that means nothing – and that’s your life right now.
Recognition often creates a bond you can’t find anywhere else. You relate to the character and the lives they lead. You feel for their difficulties. You take comfort in characters knowing that you’ve felt their feelings, too.
You take these characters into your heart–and they never leave. By the end of the book, you can’t bear to part with those beloved people.
2. Personality
A character’s personality often seals a bond by making us relate as kindred spirits or by encouraging our smiles. Look at the people you like being around, and then look at the types of characters in your favorite novels.
For example, I enjoy witty, charming personalities. Characters like these make me fondly roll my eyes and shake my head. They make me smile.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved detective Sherlock Holmes, played most recently by Benedict Cumberbatch on Masterpiece Theatre, battles addiction, crime and his nemesis Moriarity with conflicted sidekick John Watson, portrayed by Martin Freeman. (© BBC and PBS photo)
My character Cole has a way of saying the funniest things in the middle of a bad situation.
Other characters often have two faces that help endear them. They’re multi-faceted and complex, just like real people can be. Diego is hard-ass with soft moments that shine through when you least expect them.
Cass takes himself far too seriously but puts his brooding aside the moment his best friend Sunny does something totally off the wall.
And Sunny is… Well, he’s an impulsive firecracker, holding back his emotions and the world with his mental walls. But he hesitantly lets his loved ones inside those walls, cautiously showing how much he truly cares.
Personalities touch the reader in such a way that heartstrings tug on a deep emotional level. The reader can’t help but give in and feel emotion for the people they grow to love.
3. Humanity
Even the most heinous villain has moments that make him human. Think of Hannibal Lecter: He was awful, but he did have a soft spot for Clarice and courteous manners. Another example is the dark, imperial Darth Vader. Feared leader by all, he came around in the end.
You don’t have to like a character to feel something for them.
Sometimes you even start caring about them, because you see the potential for good in their souls. The brief moments of humanity show there’s hope for change. Snippets that show that an evil character was once good quickly bond readers to even the worst murderers.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the fictional cannibalistic doctor of Thomas Harris’s horror novel, “The Silence of the Lambs,” was immortalized by Anthony Hopkins’ Academy Award-winning portrayal in a 1988 motion picture. (© Strong Heart/Demme Production, Orion Pictures)
Sometimes characters are just so bad that they’re good.
The HBO series Deadwood is another fine example of characters with humanity. They have vices, but there are certain lines that even they won’t cross. Their integrity shows through.
Characters–good or evil–need facets to come alive. If they don’t, they come across as flat. Think of your favorite characters. What is it about them that makes them human? What are their vices and virtues? What line won’t your character cross, no matter what?
And maybe most importantly, how low can your character go?
4. Enrichment
Give your character real problems to face and real decisions to make.
Also, give them realistic solutions. The obstacles characters come across throughout a novel, no matter how big or small, should always highlight the character’s traits and enrich them in some way.
Celie, the protagonist and narrator of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” is poor, uneducated and abused–both by hurtful men and life. But she captured readers’ hearts by finally finding self-confidence, hope and love. She’s portrayed above by a young Whoopi Goldberg in a film directed by Steven Spielberg. (© Amblin Entertainment)
How does your character deal with a crisis? Does she fall apart at the seams, or does she rally like a trooper? If she’s constantly in control, what happens when she finally loses it? What triggers make her explode? How does she handle pressure, stress and struggle?
Nobody’s perfect. Sooner or later, a situation presents itself where we all crack. How a character works through the situation to the ultimate solution enriches him, enhancing the bond you create with the reader.
The moment could simply be running out of coffee and it’s 3am. How does he feel? What’s he thinking? What does he do? Maybe the moment is a burst of frustration at a pen lacking ink. Maybe it’s a high-drama moment as your character faces death by stoning or the terrible loss of eyesight.
How your character handles himself in difficult situations gives a reader valuable insight that enhances personality, humanity and recognition.
5. Pain
Many authors fear hurting their characters. They fear exploring deeper into the character’s psyche. They don’t want their characters to be sad or feel lost or have pain.
Don’t hold back. Put your characters through hell. Take chances and explore your character’s struggles through the situation. The pain is temporary, and the outcome is often amazing.
Computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, played by Rooney Mara in the 2011 psychological thriller “The Girl with the Golden Tattoo,” embodies malevolence, pain and brilliance in Stieg Larsson’s best-selling novel. (© Scott Rudin Productions/Yellow Birth, Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)
Don’t you want to know how your character will grow and develop? Don’t you want to see whether your character emerges unscathed or whether he’s emotionally scarred? Wouldn’t you like to know how he changes as a person?
Before exploring how you can endear your character to readers or how you can instigate emotion, think about some of your favorite characters from novels you’ve read. Obviously, if you can remember them, something about them touched you deeply.
Now think some more. What was about those characters? What made you care?
Men With Pens comprises “the many mysterious and intriguing people” who guest post on the popular Canadian blog, Men With Pens. It was named among the Best 100 Websites for Writers in 2016 by WriteLife.Com. 

 (Top photo shows Darth Vader, also known as Anakin Skywalker–an iconic “Star Wars” character–created by George Lucas for Lucasfilm, acquired by the Disney Company in 2012.)



How a Freelancer Out West Broke Into ‘The New Yorker’ From Afar

Freelancer Charles Bethea first turned heads in New York City while writing from the West. 
By Charles Bethea
The New Yorker is famously hard for freelance writers to crack. It took John McPhee, who has since written 29 books and won a Pulitzer Prize, more than 10 years to gain entry.
Even when new writers do sneak in, there’s no guarantee of a repeat performance, something I know firsthand. Back in 2008, in my mid-twenties, I was working as an editor at a now-defunct travel magazine based in New Mexico. This didn’t particularly suit me — I wanted meatier subject matter, some bylines, and maybe (if I’m being honest) some Almost Famous action — but this was during the recession and I understood that having any publishing gig was lucky.
Freelancer Charles Bethea ponders a pitch.
In my down time, I sent “Talk of the Town” pitches after another editor at the travel magazine shared the email address of an editor at The New Yorker with me. (My fellow editor openly harbored the same goal/delusion of writing for The New Yorker.)
These pitches of mine were, in fact, fully written and reported little stories. I remember one about a web site called GarbageScout.com, which offered an interactive online mapping system that allowed users to post and discover discarded curbside treasure in New York. (My cute suggested title: “Trash Talk.”)
ALMOST THERE?
Close but not quite, replied Lauren, the editor. A reply! She was encouraging, too: I’d done a pretty good job of imitating the section’s voice. So I kept at it, and more kindly worded rejections came back in turn.
I’d submitted a half dozen pieces to Lauren when I received a mass email from a friend. Its contents didn’t matter, but crucially, I’d noticed the odd email address of another recipient: barackobama@gmail.com.
Obama wasn’t President yet, but he was a historic candidate and well on his way. Who, I wondered, had managed to obtain this address, and did this person — assuming it wasn’t Obama himself–receive misdirected emails all the time? The delightfully odd answer was an email away. About two weeks later, the story of Guru Raj and his email address was a “Talk” story in The New Yorker with the title “Obama’s In-Box.”
An editor walked into my office and congratulated me on “building a life raft.” (A prescient compliment: The travel magazine would go under that year.)
A few months later, I quit the editing job and launched my freelance career — a bit prematurely, it turns out, but with a head full of steam and the kind of out-sized ambition that often follows a taste of early success.
LEARNING THE ROPES
It wasn’t until seven years later, however, that I placed another story in The New Yorker. I wasn’t trying much in the interim, after a flurry of near-misses. Instead, I spent most of those years learning how to really report and write, which I really didn’t know how to do back in 2008, despite my initial luck.
I labored at a city magazine in Atlanta, where I had moved to, and then at a few national titles, including Outside. I was writing long investigative stories, profiles, adventure narratives, essays.
My sights had shifted to longform. But I was still a magazine writer, and The New Yorker, the magazine I most admired, remained my goal: usually far-off-seeming, but sometimes maddeningly close.
Last fall, as the presidential campaign got under way, I actively began searching for “Talk” stories again. My first and only “Talk” piece had been election-related, so why not try that tack again? (The “Talk” section of the magazine is typically New York-focused. But during presidential campaigns, the possibilities expand.)
COMBING CONNECTIONS
With Donald Trump burrowing into my brain last September, I Googled “history of the comb-over.” A few hours later, I was emailing with a Baltimore-based hairdresser named Janet Stephens, who moonlighted as a “hairstyle archeologist.” The new “Talk” editor thought my paragraph summary of this woman’s sideline gig was funny. She suggested — without guaranteeing she’d want what I found — that I ask Stephens to comment on the hair of the candidates, with attention to any historical precedents. That approach led to “By a Hair,” a funny “Talk” story that appeared in the magazine a week or so later.
You don’t have to live in New York to write successfully for The New Yorker, says freelancer Charles Bethea.
My presidential election focus has led to a half dozen “Talk” stories in the past year. All have been reported by phone, usually from Atlanta. One examined a poetry web site full of poems about the candidates. Another focused on the creation and campaign-related peregrinations of a bronze bust of Trump. Most recently, I found a retiree in Poughkeepsie, New York, whose phone number has been mistaken for Trump’s for three long and frustrating years.
Most of these stories were discovered through an imaginative (if peculiar) Google search: “poems about Donald Trump,” “Trump statue,” “history of the comb-over.”
The recent phone number piece, however, came about through a number of calls to directory assistance. I wondered: Are there other people in this country who share the name Donald Trump? If so, what’s that like right about now?
I looked for Donald Trumps in a number of cities before stumbling upon the apparent phone number of one such man in Poughkeepsie. It turned out, the man — whom I called maybe six times before finally reaching him — was not named Donald Trump. Instead, through an unfortunate Verizon mix-up, his phone number had been mislabeled as Trump’s. So, while the story wasn’t quite what I thought it would be — most stories aren’t — it turned out to be funny, timely, and “Talk”-worthy.
WRITE IN THE RIGHT VOICE
The takeaway here, I think, is that you don’t need to live in New York to write for The New Yorker (or any other magazine), so long as you understand how to write in the magazine’s voice and are creative in your search for story ideas.
The “Talk” section is a viable way to land in The New Yorker if you focus on short stories that touch on nationally relevant issues, like a presidential campaign, through quirky characters and surprising narratives. The weirder the better.
In the meantime, don’t quit your day job.
Charles Bethea is a journalist who writes cover stories, features and essays for OutsideThe New York Times MagazineThe New RepublicThe New YorkerThe Wall Street JournalGQEsquireRolling StoneDetailsGrantland and others. Now based in Atlanta, he likes to connect on Twitter @CharlesBethea. He invites members of the Colorado Authors’ League to follow him there.



Sharpen Your Focus on Historic Fiction with Experimental Literary Devices



 By Jerrie Hurd
I was stuck–needing new ideas–for a current writing project. I noticed that one section of Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program focused on “history as an energy node around which writers can build significant works of prose.” Seemed like an interesting idea that might address my current struggle.
My dirty little secret is that I have known about Naropa’s famous Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics for years, and live a mere city block from where the summer classes are held, yet I never considered attending. I assumed it was mostly for poets.
This year, using a grant from the Colorado Author’s League, I applied to the Naropa summer writing program and got in.
Novelist Laird Hunt

Laird Hunt, acclaimed author of Kind One and Neverhome–his breakout novel of a woman who passes as a man in order to fight in the American Civil War–was teaching a class on writing historical fiction, which also is my emphasis. Naropa writing programs tend to encourage experimental writing and I was giving myself permission to step outside my comfort zone. That started with sitting meditation for an hour each morning–not something I normally do, but Naropa is serious about adding contemplative education to the general curriculum. And that was only the beginning of my being challenged.

In short, Hunt said most historical novels are like pop-up books. The reader opens the cover of the book and a particular period of history jumps to attention. Nothing wrong with that, except it’s been done and done and done again. Also such writing fails to acknowledge the present world of both writer and reader. Historical writers, especially historical fiction writers, don’t write history. Mostly they relate what is relevant about a particular event in history from their present world perspective. Once a writer is willing to acknowledge a view is skewed, experimental techniques that more honestly bridge the past and present make sound sense.
Hunt, whose latest fiction titlewas inspired by the Civil War and Civil War era documents, offered a number of possible devices to try. It is not an exhaustive list. Hunt offered the list as a starting point. Part of the class included choosing one or more of these devices and applying them to our own projects. Here’s a summary of those devices–all from Hunt, who teaches at the University of Denver and edits DU’s respected literary magazine, The Denver Quarterly:
  1. Write a fictional memoir as if it had been written by some historical figure who didn’t actually leave a memoir.
  2. Gather and list various memories surrounding a larger event that define and redefine the event without actually recounting it.
  3. Create newspaper clippings (made up) about an ongoing event from history. (If you’re writing fiction, you don’t have to be restricted by actual accounts, Hunt says.)
  4. List categories–such as character, place, time, language, etc.–and then retell the same event over and over, but each time with emphasis on a different category
  5. Do an update on an historical character: how are they currently viewed?
  6. Write an alternative history such as imagining that the Roman Empire never fell or that modern Druids still worship at Stonehenge.
  7. Introduce something into the history that didn’t actually exist. For example, what if Native Americans invented gunpowder?
  8. Adopt an innovative form–such as the kind of Japanese autobiography called shishosetsa that is completely made up. Could that be made acceptable in American culture?
  9. Ask the same question over and over but with different answers. If Hitler didn’t die in his Berlin bunker, where did he die? How many different ways could that question be answered?
  10. Build history around objects left behind–a book, a dress, etc. etc.
  11. Work with memory and associations. Memory is not trustworthy, but it is the key to opening forgotten bits from the past. How could that be the focus of a narrative?
  12. Interview some historical character and let that person lie to you. Everyone tries to shape history to prove that they were justified or right. When does that become a lie and when does the interviewer/reader know it?
To help students practice, Hunt taught an imitative approach in his morning classes. Students read examples of various ways different authors have used historical information in their writing. Then Hunt instructed us to imitate those same styles and/or devices in our own writing.
Fo  r example, novelist and poet Michael Ondaatje, the Sri Lankan-born Canadian author of The English Patient, uses a caption for a nonexistent photo of Billy the Kid to open his imaginary hybrid novel, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. Imitating that style, Hunt’s students at Naropa then shared and discussed our writing. I found some of these exercises more useful than others. In every case, however, I felt challenged. No complaints. I wanted a new approach to what I was writing, and Hunt’s exercise forced me outside my comfort zone.
I have an MFA in creative writing from a traditional writing program. I’m used to writing something in private, bringing it to class, getting it critiqued, feeling deflated, going home, rewriting and repeating.
Hunt’s approach avoids the angst of discussions centered on personal work. Instead he encouraged playing with words and ideas. He wanted us to notice whether or not we had understood and mastered a particular style or word experiment. If so, maybe we’ll find a way to use it in our own work. If not, move on.
I found this an exciting way to teach writing. For the first half of the week, I struggled. Then I experienced a major breakthrough in how I was thinking about my current writing project, which, of course, was the reason for attending.
Hunt assumes his students can write and write well. His goal is to help his students find the most effective approach to his or her writing-the one that tells true what the writer wants to say. Interesting and very effective from what I observed.
For that reason alone, I recommend Naropa’s summer writing program. It is an old program–going on 50 years–offered every June and July on the Boulder campus. If you are a journalism trained, straight-up novelist, it will challenge everything you thought you knew, which is good.
Jerrie Hurd is a writer who has done it all–novels, essays, short stories and nonfiction. She is currently finishing Deep Dirt: Adventures in Digging Up Family Stories, a memoir. She is also working on a series of mysteries based on a real-life sheriff currently working in one of most remote corners of the American West. The first title in that series is Rainbow Horses. Jerrie speaks and teaches at various conferences. She lives in Boulder.