One of the great gifts given to regional writers is access to other regional writers of substance – not only of talent but friendship with that special spice which is the understanding that comes only writer-to-writer. Yesterday I enjoyed the day-long Sinclair Lewis Writer’s Conference in the company of one such talent, Julie Jo Larson – MStorian and road-trip pal of excellence.
We hit the road at 6:30 a.m., neither one of us thrilled with the early October black-out and fog morning. We arrived at the Sauk Centre High School in plenty of time to register and down cups of coffee before the first event of the day. The conference opened to a panel discussion with questions offered by the event organizer, Jim Umhoefer, fielded to an impressive panel represented by Faith Sullivan (Keynote Speaker), Judith Guest (author and screenwriter), Lorna Landvik (author and comedian), and Erik Hane (literary agent and editor).
Each attendee had the opportunity to learn from the professionals in one-hour sessions:
- Writing a Screenplay – Judith Guest
- Honor Your Imagination and Find the Fun in Writing – Lorna Landvik
- Keys to a Strong Book Proposal – Erick Hane
Breaks were short and learning was intense with interesting questions and discussions between participants and guest presenters. JulieJo and I were ready for the conference reception at 4:30 in the Palmer House Pub. We later ate in the dining room then hiked up to our rooms on the third floor of the hotel, fully prepared for a night’s sleep interrupted by whatever bumps in the night at the haunted historic Palmer House. I slept soundly, thank you, but Julie Jo did have a visitor who chose her bedding as a better place for the bathmat to reside.
Faith Sullivan – the author of Repent Lanny Merkel (1981), Watchdog (1982), Mrs. Demming and the Mythical Beast (1986), The Empress of One (1997), The Cape Ann (1988), What a Woman Must Do (2002), Gardenias (2005), Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse (2015).
Judith Guest – author of Ordinary People (1976), Errands (1996), Second Heaven (1982), Killing Time in St. Cloud (1988), The Mythic Family: An Essay (1988), Ice walk (2001), and The Tarnished Eye (2004).
Lorna Landvik – author of Patty Jane’s House of Curl (1995), Your Oasis on Flame Lake (1997), The Tall Pine Polka (1999), Welcome to the Great Mysterious (2000), Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons (2003), Oh My Stars (2005), The View From Mount Joy (2007), Tis the Season (2008), Mayor of the Universe (2012), Best to Laugh (2014), Once in a Blue Moon Lodge (2017).
For twenty-eight years, the Sinclair Lewis Writers’ Conference has helped aspiring writers of all levels and genres better understand their craft. Through lectures, workshops and social events, this annual conference provides learning and encouragement from the best minds in the industry.
Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, was born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, in 1885. Although he was proud of his Midwestern roots, he traveled widely and was interested in many different aspects of American society, from business and medicine to religion and small-town life. His concern with issues involving women, race, and the powerless in society make his work still vital and pertinent today.
As Sheldon Norman Grebstein wrote, Lewis “was the conscience of his generation and he could well serve as the conscience of our own. His analysis of the America of the 1920s holds true for the America of today. His prophecies have become our truths and his fears our most crucial problems.”
Sinclair Lewis was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Main Street and Babbitt and won the award for Arrowsmith (although he turned it down). He was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He died in Rome in 1951. His cremated remains are buried in Sauk Centre, Minnesota.
The Palmer House Hotel
When you stay at The Palmer House, choose from a room tucked away in the recesses of the hotel or directly above the Original Main Street where you can observe the hustle and bustle of small-town life. The spacious lobby is perfect for whiling away the hours reading & visiting. The distinct photography scattered throughout the hotel, restaurant and lobby tell the tale of Sinclair Lewis and his night clerk duties, as well as the story of the town. The Palmer House Hotel was at the center of Sinclair Lewis’ boyhood home, and the Original Main Street, of Sauk Centre, at 500 Sinclair Lewis Avenue, Sauk Centre, MN.
The Sinclair Lewis 2017 Writers Conference is made possible by the financial sponsorship of the following organizations: The Stearns History Museum, Minnesota National Bank of Sauk Centre, First State Bank of Sauk Centre, Central Minnesota Federal Credit Union, Stearns Electric Association, and the Sinclair Lewis Foundation. This activity is also made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Central MN Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund. Private donors include Pat Hanauer, Dick and Pat Lewis and Dave and Linda Simpkins. Sauk Centre Community Education is a co-sponsor of the event.
I’m looking forward to the North Shore Readers and Writers Festival , November 2-5 in Grand Marais, MN, featuring authors and book professionals: Erik Anderson, Mary Casanova, Sharon Chmielarz, Tim Cochrane, Lily Coyle, Staci Drouillard, Katie Dublinski, Chris Fischbach, Peter Geye, Diane Glancy, William Green, Emily Hamilton, Patricia Hampl, Erin Hart, William Kent Krueger, Julie Landsman, Lise Lunge-Larsen, Shoshanna Matney, Ann Regan, Kathryn Savage, Sun Yung Shin, Nina Simonowicz, Moheb Soliman, Faith Sullivan, Bart Sutter, Kari Vick, and Kao Kalia Yang.
Maybe I’ll see you there!
I’ve abandoned my posts recently – okay, it wasn’t that funny – for good reasons. The garden vegetables needed to be harvested and processed and packaged and frozen for deep winter consumption. Home-grown veggie lasagna with eggplant noodles tastes like sunshine on a dark and frigid January night. Pans and pans of lasagna and squash gratin were prepared, cooled, tasted, tasted some more, then flash frozen. And I’m not done yet. No.
Now come the winter squash bakes and apple cakes, sauce, and crisp. And the pumpkins – not just for carving – are better in pie and cake and pudding. And then the gardens have to be put to bed.
In this year of learning about being a full-time creative, my intended work-a-day schedule has been blown over and over. I may not go to an employer’s office any longer, but the household demands continue to fight me for time and attention. How can we ever find the time to do our creative work when there is so much else to be done, that has to be done?
Do the work when the work needs to be done.
I suspended writing for the summer to prepare work for the Arts off 84 art crawl on Labor Day weekend. I discovered that I missed sketching and drawing and painting and that I love it as much as I do love writing. This past year, painting had its season during the summer months. The upcoming year will find a few hours each week – maybe even every few days – set aside to plan and prep and start the next collection of paintings.
But I also have self-imposed deadlines to meet. My first novel, “Saving the Ghost,” was sent out into the world as a finished work in search of an agent. It received the attention of a small press and an agent – which in itself for a first work is an achievement. The agent provided feedback which let me know that the book is not quite where it needs to be. Thanks to the Five Wings Arts Council and the McKnight Foundation, I’ve received a 2017 Artist Project Grant, to go back into editing and revision. I also have a second novel in the works. Both projects need to be off my desk by April 30, 2018.
And that’s how getting things done works. If I hadn’t picked the tomatoes and squash at the right time and done the work to turn them into meals at the right time, all my soil prep and seed planting and garden tending would have been wasted effort. I love my writing and my painting as much or more as I do my homemade marinara sauce. I won’t waste my creative efforts by wondering when I might find the time to do the work when the work needs to be done.
You can read my latest flash fiction piece, “Abel March,” in Talking Stick 26.
The Talking Stick is a Minnesota literary journal published by the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc. Produced entirely by Minnesota writers for Minnesota writers since the beginning in 1995.
Hi, everyone. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that writing a novel is a new enterprise for me. I’ve always written stories and poems and ad copy. I’ve never attempted anything like assembling words into a flow for a reader of a novel. It’s hard work.
I see people all day long, launching their 2nd and 3rd and more in a series – mostly romance and dystopia – and self-publishing on Amazon. They’ve got giveaway programs running and pleas out for reviews. I have trouble believing that there can be much value to this material, and yet, this is exactly how Andy Weir published “The Martian.” http://www.npr.org/2015/09/27/443192327/sandstorms-explosions-potatoes-oh-my-martian-takes-its-science-seriously It’s being done right and well, but I am not that writer, not yet.
Going into this, I knew I had a strong story but to create a novel from a good idea requires some talent, dedication, education, and great editing. I received a grant from the Five Wings Arts Council, my regional arts support organization, for an online class with Mary Carroll Moore on how to write a novel. I also received money for a first draft edit. This past May I began to send the book – finished as I thought it to be – out to agents and publishers. I wanted the validation of acceptance by a traditional channel.
I got lucky. I was right. The story is strong. The writing is good. But I lost out on a deal with an agent because I still don’t know how to write a novel. I’ve taken a lot of classes and workshops. I’ve been dedicated. I’ve done a good job as far as that goes. But there was something missing.
I know I need a new editor. I know I need to work a little harder. I know I’ll have to ask for more funds to complete this book. As of tomorrow, I’m diving in with an application for a writing residency and an application for editing help and a little more education tied to networking.
Turns out, writing a novel is as much work as any job I’ve ever done. It is the most satisfying and exciting work I’ve ever done. I believe in my story. My writer community believes in me. It’s a new day to learn a new way to get this book done and in your hands via traditional agent or publisher.
The new editor I will be working with has given me these notes – followed by 6.75 pages of all the work I’ll need to do.
Let me begin right off the bat with yet another testimonial to the power of this book. The soul, the heart—it’s strong. These are some of the realest and most compelling characters I’ve ever met. That, by far, is your strongest talent as a writer. And on top of it, you’ve created an emotional journey for these characters that is fraught with pain, yet it leads us toward healing. It’s one of the most universal human stories, with the power to change the reader’s life—even if it’s quite difficult to face this particular topic of sexual and physical abuse.
As I keep saying, our goal is to make sure the story’s bones and muscle and flesh are as strong as its soul. So let’s dive into how we might do that.
I’m going to start again, again. Follow along for weekly updates. But you’ll have to wait until October. I have a lot of reading to catch up on in September.
I know, I know, it’s Tuesday, not Sunday. Before sharing my experiences at Cirenaica (sarah-neye-kah), I needed some thinking and recovery time. I’m awake now and exploding with thoughts and notes for you.
The intention behind this year-long weekly series, Greyhairs Rising, was to share with anyone – especially retirees – how I reconstituted my artistic career in both writing and painting. I’ve given you a lot of how to get started and stay in the game information. I’ve shared a load of resources to explore. I am now in a state of being with my work that goes beyond the nuts and bolts of how to.
I was ready to take a big leap forward and chose to apply to Cirenaica, knowing full well that I might be overwhelmed and overrun by REAL writers – educated, perceptive, smart, critical thinkers who know how to use their words in writing and speaking, offering up the very best of critique and support for their fellow artists. Truth be told, I didn’t know all of that going in. I wanted to have the experience of being in residency with other writers, in a teaching environment, without letup, but I was also worried.
My apprehensions were about:
- Living among, young, energetic, creative types
- Could I keep up?
- Could I stay awake?
- Would I have any “senior” issues that would get in the way? (You all know what I mean!)
- What if I didn’t like the people, place, or any of it?
- Would anyone care about what I had to say?
- Would I have anything of value to contribute?
I can say to you happily, that not one of my concerns was an issue. When it came to keeping up with the lively younger folk, I didn’t have to. Eight or nine o’clock in the evenings, when I disappeared, they might ask, “Where’s Maggie?” but somebody would know and say so, “I think she went to bed.” And when I got up at 5:00 a.m., I had the quiet of the space to myself, got the coffee brewing, and went to work writing. It was glorious.
And everyone was good natured and unafraid to expose their work to critique. Each participant submitted 15 to 25 pages of writing for everyone else to read and critique before we met. Each day, about 11:00 a.m., we gathered with our notes and spent a good hour to hour and a half on one writer’s submission. The writer was not allowed to comment while we, one by one, responded to the work. Near the end, Nickolas Butler, our artist in residence at his own house down the road, made summary comments and then took the writer aside for a brief one-on-one. This process is referred to as workshopping.
I admit to being confused for a day about the use of the word workshop in this context. I understood a workshop as an opportunity to work on a topic – like a class. I understood critique as a separate and more line-by-line approach to providing feedback. The workshopping we were doing was neither. This was whole-hog, educated reader, skilled writer, perspective on:
- Favorite sentence
- What’s working
- What’s not working
- Title – yes, no, middle-of-the-road
- What’s it about?
I understand that this process will vary from artist to artist – everyone has their own way of doing things, right? I did find that limiting the comments to these points – especially the first three – and actively listening to what everyone had to say – gave me a deeper appreciation of every single story we were given to read.
Before the workshopping began, the writer chose a section of their own story to read aloud. I cannot stress enough, the value of reading aloud. Some stories I had no particular feel for, came alive for me when the writer read. The stories took on an entirely different dimension as I listened to others talk about the work. I realized, and I’m hanging my head in shame here, that I read too fast, with too critical and impatient an eye and mind. I need to change.
I could write about this experience for days, but I’ll stop now. Well, before I do, I have to give kudos to the chef, Brent. He went out of his way to accommodate my food allergies and served up some of the most delicious food ever to pass my lips. And BJ Hollars, the coordinator of the event, is a fabulous man.
I encourage you, one and all, to seek out a residency experience if you’re at all able. You’ll thank yourself after a day of recovery!
A note on Cirenaica
The Chippewa Valley Writers Guild is pleased to partner with Cirenaica for our second year of summer residencies! Nestled on 43 acres of hills, farmland, and forest near the quaint village of Fall Creek, Wisconsin, our residencies promise participants of all levels and genres an intensive yet rejuvenating experience amidst an inspiring backdrop.
See you back here next Sunday (or some day during the week). Would you like to keep up with the Greyhairs Rising community? Sign up for the latest updates.
I’ve heard a lot of frustration from writers and artists about time – how can a working, mom or dad, or anyone, find time for creative writing and art? Having just taken a course in time management from Springboard for the Arts, offered at my local library, I can say that a time audit will help you find that time.
Participants were asked to keep track of what they did for 24 hours in each of seven days. After each activity, we were asked to note if the time was Alpha, Beta, or Art time. Alpha is any time spent on art related activities and Art itself. Beta is time not spent on art or art related activities. There can be overlaps.
At the end of the week, it’s easy to see how much time is actually spent producing art. That may be only 20% of your time in a week. The time audit will document how your intentions to work are interrupted and will be useful in creating a space in each week that is devoted to your creative work. Following is a repeat of steps you can take to make creative time a priority:
Focus is the key to making time to do the work. You may need to focus first on all the reasons why you are dragged away from the work you start. Keep a sticky-note pad handy and make note of each time you’re interrupted.
- How many times were you interrupted by someone else?
- How many times were you interrupted by your phone?
- How many times were your thoughts interrupted by (fill in the blanks)
- What else?
By Wednesday, after taking notes on interruptions, it’s easy to see why we can never find a decent amount of time to grow as an artist or writer. Now it’s time to focus on solutions. Review your sticky-notes and write on each one a possible solution to the problem. Example: Phone interrupts. Turn off the phone during work time.
If you were on the job, you would not be allowed to entertain all the distractions you do allow when you are on your own time. Understanding how to set limits will be key to making the time you need to deeply focus on your creative work.
You have your notes in hand that illustrate how many distractions you allow. You’ve made notes on possible solutions. Now is the time to implement the solutions by setting limits.
Limit your workspace – keep distractions outside of your workspace, even if that means closing the door or wearing noise-cancelling headphones. Your workspace must become sacred space – yours – where important work is done and others are not allowed to intrude during work hours.
Limit your time – allow yourself enough time to get into deep focus and produce work, but don’t take so much time that everything else goes to the wayside and becomes an excuse for not getting back to work the next day. Make a schedule.
The most compelling distraction is the one that opens the gate for all others to flood in and overwhelm your best intentions. What is that one thing that overwhelms your artistic practice? Faith in yourself to do this work.
You’ve made the decision to explore your creative self. Don’t judge your successes and failures. Judge only these things:
- Adequate workspace
- Adequate work time without interruptions
- Whether or not you did anything with the workspace and time you created.
The lack of belief in the work and you as the creative spirit will undermine every effort you make or think you want to make.
This entire process is about YOU and no one else. Only you can make the time and make that time what you want.
Prompt for the week.
- Keep those sticky-notes handy so you can keep track of your interruptions and plan for solutions to distractions.
- Create a cheat-sheet using your distractions/solutions notes and post it above your work area where you can see it for quick reference.
- Make sure other members of your household who feel to interrupt, refer to the cheat-sheet before breaking your focus.
- Post your work day schedule for them to see.
Next week’s topic: Steps to publishing a story.
See you back here next Sunday night! Would you like to keep up with the Greyhairs Rising community? Sign up for the latest updates.
I’ve been complaining loudly for months about how hard it’s been to write my first novel. I’d worked on the story, off and on, for a few years. In June of 2015, I applied for a grant from my regional arts council – Five Wings – to help me finish the book. With those funds, I took a class on how to write a novel (I had no idea how to structure the story to fill 90,000 words) and hired an editor to help me polish the first draft.
On March 5, 2017, I finished the novel and sent it out to beta readers for comments. For the next few weeks, I can let this project go.
I hate the book now. I don’t even know what it says anymore. I don’t like its words. The beauty of the inspired words was destroyed for me in the endless edits.
I didn’t feel that way when I was creating. I felt that way when I was editing and re-writing. The passion for the work went out of me and it became drudgery. I understand now, why so many great writers were depressed drunks! To face the beast that’s coming after embracing the beauty of the inspiration – well, it’s too much. I had no desire left to write another book.
Maybe if I’d been an English language major in college and had a degree in literature, the work wouldn’t have been so tedious. I don’t know, but I suspect that even the most learned and capable author has moments of despair and grief as the inspired concept is reduced to the mechanics and fine points of the finished product.
But yesterday, I was reawakened to the beauty of words. I remembered why I wrote the book. I felt the story I meant to tell. The happiness of enthusiasm for telling a story stood up inside of me, then sat by my side, held my hand, and shared a listening ear, as a young man, a spoken word poet, performed.
The young man, Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre, is smart, sensitive, and clear in his message. He wears his heart for the work on his sleeve. He tells stories of being human while the audience nods in agreement. Yes! We can relate. We feel united. We’ve been so divided. I hear an unexpressed collective sigh of relief.
But it’s all just in me, in my own mind, I suppose. I didn’t know how hungry I was to hear a poet release me, like a butterfly captured in a jar, release me back into a lush garden, back into the beauty of words.
Guante performed at the Brainerd Public Library with support from the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library Brown Bag Book Events.
I like it and that’s enough.
With the advent of the World Wide Web as a marketplace for all, there is little need any longer for excellence in craft or practice. All you truly require is an internet marketing genius to bring you sales and a reputation as an accomplished artist. Does that mean that you could become wealthy selling scribbles on napkins over the internet? Very likely.
If you are one of the above, wishing to gain fame and fortune via marketing tricks, then I wish you all the luck in the world. You probably won’t need it. You’ll do fine.
For the rest of us creative types, however, who want to gain an audience because of our artistic efforts, we need to do a better job of presentation. It is a fact, still, that word of mouth is the most effective sales tool. If your work and presentation are sloppy, your audience reviews will reflect your lack of effort.
Last week we took a tour of some art galleries. Are any of you ready to present to a gallery for an exhibition? I hope so. Keep last week’s post bookmarked, so you’ll know how to begin your inquiries.
You’ve all seen the pencil drawings that are executed on crumpled paper, smudged, and drawn with a hard graphite pencil. Not only is the work difficult to see – the harder the lead, the lighter the line – but there’s no dimension. How does our work come to life? By using the right tools and media on the right base material.
There are proper materials/tools for every job and there are hundreds of videos on the internet to teach you which to use and when. I praise the skies for the internet for all the educational opportunities it offers. From blogs to video instructions, you can learn anything about any artistic practice.
There’s no excuse for not planning ahead to create a piece ready for public presentation.
- Drawing – http://thevirtualinstructor.com/blog/10-essential-drawing-materials-and-tools-for-beginners
- Watercolor – http://www.marydoodles.com/mary-doodles/watercolor-supplies-the-ultimate-guide
- Oils – http://emptyeasel.com/2007/08/17/a-complete-list-of-oil-painting-supplies-that-every-beginning-oil-painter-needs/
- Pastels – https://www.theartistsroad.net/articles/pastelmaterialslist
These are the first few articles I accessed with ease, that are free of charge to use. Know your tools and materials well, and know how to use them.
Protect your work.
- Tutorial by Quinn Creative: Using Fixatives on Your Artwork
- How To Cut An Art Mat Like A Pro: http://www.prettyhandygirl.com/cut-art-mat-like-pro/
Draw a tree on proper pastel paper, using charcoal or soft lead colored pencils. Be careful not to smudge your work unintentionally. Be sure not to crinkle up the paper edges as you work. Fix it. Mat it. Share it with the world!
Next week’s topic: How to approach a publisher. See you back here next Sunday night!
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