Recording – Poetry, with Art Elser

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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 or

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?

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.
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.
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.
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, 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.”)
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:
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.
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.)
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.
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.

On Quitting Writing: “I Can’t Go On. I’ll Go On.”

Photo Credit: Flickr via PhotoPin
By Becky Tuch
Recently I read a moving essay by a writer at a crossroads. He had worked hard at his literary career, but things had not quite panned out the way he’d hoped. He felt the pressures of getting older and was facing more serious responsibilities. Thus he found himself facing a painful question: Do I keep writing?
What will I gain? What do I stand to lose? Ultimately, the writers who keep going seem to be the ones who simply must keep going. Some unwritten story, some fragment of a sentence, some image–being haunted and inspired by these things is ultimately what separates the ones who stop from the ones who simply could not stop, even if they tried. (That, and the six figure book advance which is undoubtedly around the next corner.)
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So how do writers walk through these moments of self-doubt and questioning, and come out sane and whole on the other side? Below, some writers and editors weigh in:
Kate Flora, author of Redemption and the Thea Kozak mystery series
After four mysteries and two contracts, I finally sold my “break out” novel–except the book didn’t earn out, my series publisher dropped the series, no one in New York would touch me because my book hadn’t taken off…and overnight, I went from the top of the world to the bottom of the barrel. I decided I had three choices: Quit writing and go back to practicing law; go out on the freeway at rush hour and throw myself into traffic (a choice that briefly seemed right); or I could start taking chances. I chose taking chances.
From that very dark time, taking chances led me to spend seven years as one of the editors and publishers of a series of crime story anthologies, putting more than 120 stories, and many, many voices, new and old, into print. It led me into a collaboration on a true crime book that garnered an Edgar nomination and has been optioned for a movie. It led me into writing a new police procedural series that I love.
My bottom line would be: acknowledge how much it hurts, but remember that ONLY YOU get to decide that you’re a writer. It takes the hide of an alligator to survive this business. But when it is good, it’s very, very good.
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Mark Polanzak, writer and editor of Draft: The Journal of Process 
I have experienced discouragement and declining enthusiasm to write for many reasons at many stages in my writing life. I have felt like giving up writing when encountering work that totally stuns me–but also when hearing of writers getting book deals for hackneyed book proposals.
At this point in my writing career, torn between selling out and being a really good writer, I am striving to improve and mature rather than dedicate time to selling myself out somehow. I have never actually thrown in the towel, but I have taken time off. For a time, I’ve given up sending out manuscripts, but I’ve never really stopped writing stuff. That’s the difference.
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Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks
I have been tempted multiple times (perhaps once a month) to bag this freelance writing gig and get a proper job. But the more I think of what I’d lose–freedom, flexibility, and the true privilege of being allowed to think and craft with words each day–the less inclined I am to give up the writing life.
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In my darkest moments, I think of the Samuel Beckett quote: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” It’s a contradictory state of being that makes no sense, yet makes all the sense in the world.
Matthew Frederick , author of 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School
Necessity keeps writers going. One writes because one has to. I started my first book over 20 years ago and still haven’t finished it. Yet I’ve written seven others, and I keep realizing the need to write more before I can go back to my magnum opus.
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A person who helps me go on in such circumstance is the late, great Jane Jacobs, who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961. Not only is this one of the most compelling nonfiction argument books you will ever read, it is beautifully written. I had the privilege of speaking with Jacobs a few times in the 1990s when I had already spent six years on the project. She read some of my early drafts. “Take the time you need to figure out your message, and don’t worry about others beating you to it,” she told me. “Other people don’t know how to think like this.”
Marc Foster, writer:
I went through a rough patch in 2006 and 2007 when I was sending out seventh and eighth drafts of stories and not placing anything. What got me through that were mentors. Pamela Painter said, basically, “Look, this story is on its thirteenth draft, but it’s not finished–so stop whining and keep revising.” Steve Almond gave me the same advice. The kindly visage of Jenna Blum hovered over me like Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel in “The Lord of the Rings.” Without encouragement from these three I would have quit, no question. I owe each a heavy debt.
New Line Cinema
Ilan Mochari , author of Zinsky the Obscure
What inspires me to persevere are the books that got me through tough times as a kid. I have reread them so many times since then. (Short list: Catcher in the RyeThe Lords of DisciplineOrdinary PeopleThe Last Picture Show), and–this is where it gets cheesy–I think about how one day there might be a young person out there who’ll be a little less blue because of something I wrote. And this thought, slightly narcissistic though it is, truly keeps me going and makes me want to do nothing else.
J.D. Salinger

Yael Goldstein, author of The Passion of Tasha Darsky
My mom. Unceasing encouragement bordering on browbeating. Would likely have stopped writing long ago if not for her.
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Cara Blue Adams, writer and editor of The Southern Review

One major thing that gets me through the times I consider giving up: reading interviews with writers I admire, in part because it reminds me of the closeness writing engenders and makes writing seem less solitary and more an ongoing conversation, and in part because it reminds me that all writers’ processes and lives are their own, and therefore there is no right or wrong way to work and live–that there are no rules, no deadlines for art. Another major thing: a picture of a Leonberger puppy I keep on

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my desktop. He looks radiantly happy and like he has complete faith in me. Some days I rely on him.


So it is. Quitting and persevering are struggles that every writer faces, and faces anew with each project and each new foray into the unpredictable waters of publishing. What about you, dear hardworking writer? Have you ever quit? Ever wanted to quit? What has brought you back, time and time again, to the page? Tough questions. But they’re always worth answering.

Becky Tuch is the editor-in-chief of The Review Review, an award-winning blog providing news and reviews of literary journals where writers are published. Since founding the website in 2008, she has spoken about her love of literary magazines with The Somerville News, Writer’s Relief, The National Writing Project, and Ploughshares. In 2011 and 2012, The Review Review was listed by Writer’s Digest Magazine as one of “101 Best Websites for Writers.”

How to Work a Book Festival So It Works For You

Plan to succeed at a book festival–and you will. 

By Patricia Fry
If you have a book to promote, sooner or later you’ll probably participate in a book festival (such as the upcoming Colorado Book Festival). I once sold nearly 200 copies of my local history book at a county fair. I’ve also set up booths at arts and crafts fairs and various other community events.
What’s a secret to making a book festival pay off? Choosing the right venue. Bring the right books to the right festival–both a strategic and practical tactic. When I participate at a writing festival such as SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network), I bring my writing-related books. If I take part in a book festival or craft fair close to home, I bring my local history books.
Of course, book sales aren’t the only way to measure success. Exposure also has value. Anytime you display your book or talk about it, you’re getting exposure. The point is to view each person you talk to as your potential customer or book fan. If he or she doesn’t buy your book today’s book event, that person certainly may become a buyer in the future.
View each person as your potential customer or book fan.
So how can you turn potential buyers into customers–and maybe even friends? Here are a few tips:
Offering appealing handouts can promote your book long after an event is over. Indeed, a good promotional piece is a reminder-and a sales pitch–and should provide timely book-related information. A good promo also should reflect the tone and appearance of your book
At a recent author festival, for example, I found a lovely poetry book featuring photographs of charming kittens. The cover image showed a basketful of adorable kittens in full color. I wanted to remember this book and possibly order copies for holiday gifts. The book’s promo material, however, consisted of a dull mimeographed flyer–a throwaway that, in the end, helped me forget the book and how much I loved it.
What’s a good promotional piece? Consider an easy-to-handle postcard or bookmark featuring a color copy of your book jacket. Print that color image on one side of a light- to medium-weight card stock. On the flip side feature a brief description of the book, your writing qualifications (if pertinent) and easy-to-follow ordering information.

If you’re showcasing one book, bring a display stand, a small standing poster to show off your book cover, 50 books (or so), promo material and maybe even candy or stickers to hand out to passersby.

At SPAWN, booths often offers visitors stickers that say, “I love books”–a fun giveaway for book lovers. I’ve also seen authors provide a display of advertising pencils as giveaways. Give people a reason to come to your area.
Bring monetary change in appropriate denominations. I generally round off the prices of my books for festivals. Rather than charge $15.95 plus tax, I’ll ask $16 and I’ll pay the tax. Sometimes for my $6.50 book, I’ll ask $7, letting the customer pay the tax.
While virtually all book festivals will feature food and drinks for sale, bring your own water and lunch. For outdoor festivals, bring sunscreen, a hat and a sweater. Throw a folding chair in the trunk of your car for extra seating if needed.
Invest in a luggage carrier with wheels to transport boxes of books. I bought mine at a garage sale. As a substitute, use a piece of luggage with wheels.
Multiple books draw people to a table display.


If you have only one or two titles to sell, consider inviting others to participate with you. By sharing the booth cost, you stand a better chance of profiting. Additionally, people are drawn to booths that are interesting and inviting. A larger display of books will attract more people than just one or two titles.
Choose your booth partners carefully, however. Avoid authors whose books compete with yours, but consider authors with books of the same nature. Some good combinations: a book for preschoolers and one for teens; a book of poetry and a book for young writers; a book featuring extreme sports and an action novel.
Wearing a costume can attract attention to your book’s theme or setting. (Photo via PhotoPin.)

Another good pairing: a product with a book. If yours is a children’s book, a toyshop owner’s wares or a woodcarver’s wooden toys may make a good match. Wearing a costume also attracts attention. If your novel is set in 18th century England, dress the part and decorate your booth appropriately. If the main character in your children’s book is a clown, become that clown.

Book festival organizers generally provide a table, table covering and a sign. Make sure your booth is appropriately categorized–plus add the title of your book on the sign.
If booth signs are tacked to the front of the tables, buyers will having trouble seeing your sign when others are standing in front of your booth. Make a large banner to post for extra signage. A small sign that says “autographed copies” will also impress and draw some shoppers.
Bring a small folding table to cover with a large tablecloth for hiding boxes of books and other items to store.
Also bring extra pens, felt markers, tape, bookstands, scissors, paperweights (we use painted rocks), business cards, advertising posters and your promo pieces. Bottom line: planning carefully pays off.
Presentation is everything. If you have a sweet little book of poems, wrap some in pretty paper and tie with a ribbon. An appealing display.
For my book on journal-keeping for teens, I package it with a journal book and a pen. The result? A nice gift package.
If your book cover is particularly lovely, create note cards featuring the cover. Offer them for sale separately or together with the book. Have gift bags made with the cover of your book on the front.
Plant seeds about gift giving. Wrap a few books in appropriate gift paper. Put up signs that state, “Perfect Gift for Dad,” “Easter Gift Idea” or “Do Your Holiday Shopping Now.”
A final key to selling books at a festival? Connect with buyers. If someone is looking at my books on writing, I simply ask, “Are you a writer?” Invariably, such questions turn into conversations, allowing me to make a sales pitch.
Challenge yourself to connect with potential buyers.
I once watched a man with a children’s book ask everyone who walked by, “Do you know a child who is around 12 years old?” Many people did and many of them bought his book. In fact, he sold out before the day was over.
If someone expresses an interest in your book, but doesn’t buy it, make sure that person walks away with one of your professional-quality promo pieces.
It’s a balance, however. Don’t oversell. In contrast, don’t just stand at your booth saying nothing. There’s a happy medium, and here’s how to discover it:
  • Know how to talk about your book.
  • Be observant. If someone shows interest, open up and offer information.
  • Read body language and act accordingly.
  • Practice your sales pitch.
  • If you need help learning to connect, join a Toastmaster’s club. Then practice!
Make it easy for people to purchase your book. Have plenty of change. Accept checks. Accept credit cards. Provide bags for purchases.
Most of all have fun. Book festivals can be worthwhile endeavors, but you have to be well prepared and willing to stretch and grow. The result? Book exposure and book sales–both worth the effort.

Patricia Fry, creator of the Klepto Cat Mystery Series, is a manuscript consultant, editor and writing teacher whose articles have appeared in more than 300 publications including Writer’s Digest, Entrepreneur, Mature Outlook, Cat Fancy, The Toastmaster, Woman’s Own, Catholic Digest, Executive Update, Quarter Horse Journal, Kiwanis Magazine, Your Health, Pages, The Artist’s Magazine, and many others. Learn more about Patricia at her author site.
(All photos featured in this article are from PhotoPin.)

Recording – Goodreads, with Terry Whalin

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