August 31, 2012

'To Build a Fire,' by Jack London

Oh my gosh.  I read "To Build a Fire" the other night, and it has haunted me ever since.  I hadn't read it before.  Makes me want to throw everything aside and read Jack London morning, noon, and night.  There is something so haunting and vital about his writing.  So, here I am hooking you too.  Mwa ha!


Day had broken cold and gray, exceedingly cold and gray, when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail and climbed the high earth-bank, where a dim and little-travelled trail led eastward through the fat spruce timberland. It was a steep bank, and he paused for breath at the top, excusing the act to himself by looking at his watch. It was nine o'clock. There was no sun nor hint of sun, though there was not a cloud in the sky. It was a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that was due to the absence of sun. This fact did not worry the man. He was used to the lack of sun. It had been days since he had seen the sun, and he knew that a few more days must pass before that cheerful orb, due south, would just peep above the sky-line and dip immediately from view.
The man flung a look back along the way he had come. The Yukon lay a mile wide and hidden under three feet of ice. On top of this ice were as many feet of snow. It was all pure white, rolling in gentle undulations where the ice-jams of the freeze-up had formed. North and south, as far as his eye could see, it was unbroken white, save for a dark hair-line that curved and twisted from around the spruce-covered island to the south, and that curved and twisted away into the north, where it disappeared behind another spruce-covered island. This dark hair-line was the trail—the main trail—that led south five hundred miles to the Chilcoot Pass, Dyea, and salt water; and that led north seventy miles to Dawson, and still on to the north a thousand miles to Nulato, and finally to St. Michael on Bering Sea, a thousand miles and half a thousand more.
But all this—the mysterious, far-reaching hair-line trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness and weirdness of it all—made no impression on the man. It was not because he was long used to it. He was a newcomer in the land, a chechaquo, and this was his first winter. The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances. Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man's frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man's place in the universe. Fifty degrees below zero stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear-flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks. Fifty degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero. That there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that never entered his head.
As he turned to go on, he spat speculatively. There was a sharp, explosive crackle that startled him. He spat again. And again, in the air, before it could fall to the snow, the spittle crackled. He knew that at fifty below spittle crackled on the snow, but this spittle had crackled in the air. Undoubtedly it was colder than fifty below—how much colder he did not know. But the temperature did not matter. He was bound for the old claim on the left fork of Henderson Creek, where the boys were already. They had come over across the divide from the Indian Creek country, while he had come the roundabout way to take a look at the possibilities of getting out logs in the spring from the islands in the Yukon. He would be in to camp by six o'clock; a bit after dark, it was true, but the boys would be there, a fire would be going, and a hot supper would be ready. As for lunch, he pressed his hand against the protruding bundle under his jacket. It was also under his shirt, wrapped up in a handkerchief and lying against the naked skin. It was the only way to keep the biscuits from freezing. He smiled agreeably to himself as he thought of those biscuits, each cut open and sopped in bacon grease, and each enclosing a generous slice of fried bacon.
He plunged in among the big spruce trees. The trail was faint. A foot of snow had fallen since the last sled had passed over, and he was glad he was without a sled, travelling light. In fact, he carried nothing but the lunch wrapped in the handkerchief. He was surprised, however, at the cold. It certainly was cold, he concluded, as he rubbed his numb nose and cheek-bones with his mittened hand. He was a warm-whiskered man, but the hair on his face did not protect the high cheek-bones and the eager nose that thrust itself aggressively into the frosty air.
At the man's heels trotted a dog, a big native husky, the proper wolf-dog, gray-coated and without any visible or temperamental difference from its brother, the wild wolf. The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for travelling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man's judgment. In reality, it was not merely colder than fifty below zero; it was colder than sixty below, than seventy below. It was seventy-five below zero. Since the freezing-point is thirty-two above zero, it meant that one hundred and seven degrees of frost obtained. The dog did not know anything about thermometers. Possibly in its brain there was no sharp consciousness of a condition of very cold such as was in the man's brain. But the brute had its instinct. It experienced a vague but menacing apprehension that subdued it and made it slink along at the man's heels, and that made it question eagerly every unwonted movement of the man as if expecting him to go into camp or to seek shelter somewhere and build a fire. The dog had learned fire, and it wanted fire, or else to burrow under the snow and cuddle its warmth away from the air.
The frozen moisture of its breathing had settled on its fur in a fine powder of frost, and especially were its jowls, muzzle, and eyelashes whitened by its crystalled breath. The man's red beard and mustache were likewise frosted, but more solidly, the deposit taking the form of ice and increasing with every warm, moist breath he exhaled. Also, the man was chewing tobacco, and the muzzle of ice held his lips so rigidly that he was unable to clear his chin when he expelled the juice. The result was that a crystal beard of the color and solidity of amber was increasing its length on his chin. If he fell down it would shatter itself, like glass, into brittle fragments. But he did not mind the appendage. It was the penalty all tobacco-chewers paid in that country, and he had been out before in two cold snaps. They had not been so cold as this, he knew, but by the spirit thermometer at Sixty Mile he knew they had been registered at fifty below and at fifty-five.


August 30, 2012

The Drive to Create


Today’s post on Native Home of Hope, the other blog I’m involved with, is an interview with Gregory Spatz, author of Inukshuk.  He’s also an amazing musician, and that got me thinking about how different forms of art feed into each other.  (Check it out, as he's let us post some of his amazing music.)

For me now, it’s my writing and my photography.  My writing makes me intellectually aware throughout the day ~ everything I hear sparks ideas for stories or essays.  My photography makes me intensely aware of the beauty of the world ~ everywhere I look are little moments of grace.

They definitely feed into each other.  My writing has me see narrative in image, and my photography makes my writing much more rich with telling description.

I also do creative everything things like cook and grow a garden, and I used to paint and draw and sew a lot.  Oh, and of course the kids.

I would say I have a creative life, that I live for creativity.  That I am most alive when I’m being creative. And I would further argue that creativity is not just a hobby ~ it’s a basic human drive.  Whether it’s having children or being a good cook to provide for your family or engineering for your job to make the world a better place, it’s all interconnected and all part of the human spirit.

August 29, 2012

A Workingman's Vacation

Outside the Poudre River Public Library

I had the perfect little interlude yesterday.  My mom had eye surgery first thing in the morning ~ all went perfect and she's doing great ~ and we had to wait around Fort Collins for 4 hours before the post-op check.  Mom just wanted to sleep in the car.  I have a new laptop that I'd brought with me, so I thought, where can I get free wifi? 

Well, the public library of course! God bless public libraries.

I found a lovely one using the nav on my cell phone.  It's the Poudre River Public Library in Fort Collins.  With all the time in the world, I set up on a little shaded table in the lovely breezy next to a darling statue of two boys making faces.  I surfed and sent email while mommas and kids and lone single men and older people trailed in and out, the birds chirping madly in the trees. 

Altogether lovely.  A workingman's vacation, as my mom says.


August 28, 2012

'When I Consider How My Light Is Spent,' by John Milton

I'm taking my mom to get her second eye cataract surgery done, which was making me think about losing one's vision, and that would in my case also make me lose my art, so today, a little Milton.

John Milton (via)

When I Consider How My Light Is Spent
by John Milton
When I consider how my light is spent,
   Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
   And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
   My true account, lest He returning chide;
   "Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
   Either man's work or His own gifts. Who best
   Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
   And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
   They also serve who only stand and wait."

August 27, 2012

Douglas Adams

Quote of the day (so eloquently stated):

Douglas Adams, aka DNA (via)

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

August 24, 2012

Billie, Our Dog


We had to put our dog down yesterday. 

Billie was a 12-year-old Chessie (Cheasapeake Bay retriever).  She had severe arthritis in her hips, and the Rimadil wasn’t working any more ~ she couldn’t hardly get up by herself, regularly fell down, and sometimes needed help getting up a stair. But also she had swallowed some socks that had balled up in her stomach and blocked her eating ~ surgery wasn’t an option and we couldn’t get her to throw it up. She’d developed allergies or a fungal infection recently, as she’d begun to chew on herself, and she’d begun to do that thing old dogs do, wander around the house as if they were looking for something.

Billie came to us when she was two years old.  Well, the people we got her from said she was two years old ~ we think she was probably a skinny three or four.  (So she was probably older than 12.) We paid $200 for her, and they promised to send her papers but never did.  Interesting people.  There had been two or three families living in a tiny mobile home in Nebraska, along with a whole passel of dogs, and the wind had blown the roof off, at least that’s what they said.  So they’d moved to Laramie with the dogs to live with other family.

You could tell that Billie had had to compete for food.  Bullet ~ her name had been Bullet but we renamed her. (Billie is a name in my family.) She was a bit haunted and very thin, and when fed she was very protective.  She was also very obedient.  She stayed very close to your heel when out walking, and it was only around other dogs that she would get a bit more aggressive, but not too much. 

My husband would sometimes take her swimming in the river and then comb her out.  Big tufts of white blonde hair would mound like snowdrifts in the back yard.  She loved her treats, and so we would give her two biscuits and a pig’s ear every evening.

She was a quiet and introspective dog, and I think she worried about things.  I don’t know if she ever felt sure of her place in the world, even though we always loved her and treated her well.

I think we’re good dog owners.  We’re Cesar Millan-type people ~ dogs are happiest when they know their place in the pack. Our dogs aren’t spoiled but are treated consistently and kindly. We don’t feed them people food.  Our pets, though, are not at the center of our lives like they are with some people, and so if anything I regret that Billie did not get more attention.

Writing is the industry of memory, and I wanted to take one small moment to use my gift to fix in time one lovely little piece of the world. 

RIP, Billie the Chessie.

August 23, 2012

Slushpile Hell


So, when I want a knocking-on-the-back-door-of-Hades kind of laugh, I go to Slushpile Hell.  You know it?

It's a grumpy literary agent posting excerpts from some of his worst cover letters.  It's just for fun, and I totally get his frustration.

A typical entry:

I would like you to consider my 60,000 word typed autobiography.
Oooh, a typed autobiography. I guess you think you’re better than all of us, Mr. Fancy Boy who types his manuscript. Hey, you’re NO better than us! Hastily scrawled crayon on discarded Big Mac wrappers works just fine, thank you very much.
A little gallows humor for your day.

August 22, 2012



I saw the most beautiful man this morning.

I had just dropped the kids at daycare.  As I walked out and got in my van, my mind turned toward work and toward the day.  I backed out of the parking spot and pulled into the street.  As I did so, something caught in the corner of my eye.

Across the street from daycare is a lush park with a large pond with ducks and geese, pine and cottonwood trees and playground equipment circled with wood chips, and a runners’ path winding along the outside.  There’s a community garden that this time of the year has tomato trellises winding up and over the wooden supports and flowers adding spots of color.  The park takes up a couple of blocks worth of space and also has a baseball diamond and a skateboard park on the other end.

I glanced over and there was a man running fast.  He was a young man in maybe his twenties.  He wore dark navy long athlete’s shorts and running shoes with shortie socks but no shirt. His body was long and lean with sharply defined calves and broad muscled shoulders, a runner’s body.  But what I remember most was the way his shoulders were flushed with effort and how his chest was thrust forward at the center, how his whole body seemed to be pushing toward that point, so much painful effort.  He was running into the slant morning sun and so he body was surrounded by golden light, he was running into the light.

His beauty was not only because he was young with an athletic body but more so because of his yearning effort.  As writers, we know that the way we get readers on board is to have our protagonist want something and try to get it, and this young man was putting his all into it. 

And I was with him.

August 21, 2012



We love free things, don’t we?  We love the sale, we go for the half-off, we want the free gift included.

Cabela's, the World's Foremost Outfitter of hunting, fishing and outdoor gear, was born somewhat inadvertently in 1961 when Dick Cabela came up with a plan to sell fishing flies he purchased while at a furniture show in Chicago. Upon returning home to Chappell, Nebraska, Dick ran a classified ad in the Casper, Wyoming, newspaper reading: "12 hand-tied flies for $1." It generated one response.
Undaunted, Dick formulated a new plan, rewriting the ad to read "FREE Introductory offer! 5 hand tied Flies....25c Postage....Handling" and placing it in national outdoor magazines. It didn't take long for the orders to begin arriving from sportsmen and women around the country.
It stems from an arms race in bargains.  One company offered it, and so the consumer expects it from the other companies too.  And then other industries.

It's not only become part of the American Dream, it's now taken for granted.  We expect things to be free.  We expect to have free samples, free movies, free wifi, free music, free art. Low-priced oil, food, and other basics.

But wait.  Let me think out loud.

So we're not paying for that thing and we don't think we should have to.  Expectation is it's free.  Or at least at a low price, and we often expect the government to subsidize these low prices.  It's a service we now expect of our legislatures and Congress.

But ~ and this is a huge but ~ the person or company providing the thing is not getting paid.  Nada.  For a large company, it's a loss leader to get you in the store and hopefully have you buy other stuff.  But what about the artist or the small business person?  They don't do the volume, and when they don't get paid for something, they can't make it up somewhere else.  The farmer ~ we expect food prices to be low, but then we complain about at farm subsidies (not to mention making up for the unpredictability of farming).  Food has to come from somewhere (and apparently this year we're dangerously close to a corn crisis).

But, for the artist or writer, this means people expect you to provide what you create for free.  They don't believe that they should have to pay for the aesthetics in their lives.  This means, perhaps even more so, that you cannot make a living on your art.

Let me say that I do believe in creative commons, that sharing what you create leads to a creative ferment that is wonderful. But I think it's a matter of degree. 

American Exceptionalism once again ~ we should be the exception to the price and we shouldn't have to pay a fair price, which translates to a fair wage, which translates to everyone helping everyone.

I'm not so sure it's a free lunch.

August 20, 2012

Maria Popova and the Ethics of Attribution


I have a professional crush on Maria Popova, creator of Brain Pickings.  Being smart is her job, and she gives her audience credit for intelligence too.  She was on NPR’s Science Friday last week.  It’s the first time I’ve heard her speak, and it was a pleasure.

Two things I was thinking.

One, she has followed her passion and created something new, something that didn’t exist in this exact form before, which shows by the massive popularity she has.  She puts so much time into it ~ I don’t know how she does it!  Because she loves it, because she has a passion for it.  Just goes to show, if you have a passion for something and “if you build it” they will come. Though you may not want to expect to make money off the endeavor.

Two, she brought up some very good points about attribution.  In our culture of everything for free and also the ease of the internet, we borrow stuff all the time.  It’s good because it leads to creative ferment and to all kinds of connections, but it’s bad because we’re sloppy about attributions (and we also expect everything to be free ~ more on this tomorrow).

Don’t you think if you’ve created something, put your time and effort into something, you should be credited for it?  On the internet, too often people are not.

Maria brings up another good point ~ the finders of this great original material should be credited as well.  Often what happens is that one person goes to a tremendous amount of work unearthing something (though they don’t necessarily create it) and showing it to the world, and then it goes viral and no one credits the finder.

So Maria (and others) came up with the Curator’s Code.  You can read more about it at Brainpickings or go to the Curator’s Code website.  What they propose is exactly what I’ve mentioned above ~ that you credit whatever you use with either a via or a hat tip.  They’ve even created symbols for each of these.  A via is crediting a creator, and a hat tip is crediting a finder.

Ethics are still very important in our day and age, and this is a good example of that.

August 17, 2012

Bio BSing

Me, Age 4

I was already thinking about author bios when I came across this great piece in the Millions. Edan Lepucki is annoyed by all the extra jobs writers put in their bios and "favors academic and publication history over life and work experience" but then says "though one could argue–and do so convincingly–that that isn’t necessarily what matters most."

She says:
The truth is, every published writer has been faced with summing themselves up in just a few sentences. It’s not easy, and a bio isn’t a fixed thing–or at least not until you’re dead. Until then, it (hopefully) evolves with each new publication, each year lived. The decision of what to include and exclude persists throughout one’s career.

Bios are a sticky wicket.  I have a number of them for different occasions.

Here's my conservative formal bio, which most editors seem to prefer.
Tamara Linse was raised on a ranch in northern Wyoming. She received a bachelor’s and master’s in English from the University of Wyoming. Her work has been a runner-up for the Georgetown Review 2010 contest, a top-5 finalist for the 2009 Arts & Letters Prize, a top-3% finalist for Glimmer Train’s 2007 Fall Short Story Award for New Writers, and a semifinalist for Black Lawrence Press’s 2008 Hudson Prize for a book of short stories. Her stories have been or will be published in the Georgetown Review, South Dakota Review, Word Riot, and Talking River, among others. She regularly attends conferences such as Bread Loaf and Tin House and lives in Wyoming, where she is an editor for a foundation. 
Well, that's the one that goes on the website.  For submissions, I tailor this a little bit with insider info.
I was runner-up for the Georgetown Review 2010 contest, a top-5 finalist for the 2009 Arts & Letters Prize, a top-3% finalist for Glimmer Train’s 2007 Fall Short Story Award for New Writers, and a semifinalist for Black Lawrence Press’s 2008 Hudson Prize for a book of short stories.  I am published in literary magazines such as the Georgetown Review, South Dakota Review, Word Riot, and Talking River, among others.  I regularly attend conferences such as Bread Loaf and the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop (where I was awarded a mentorship with Little, Brown editor Judy Clain).  I have an M.A. in English from the University of Wyoming, where I’ve taught writing. My literary agent is Rachel Stout of Dystel & Goderich, and I work as an editor for the University of Wyoming Foundation and as a freelance writer and editor. 

 But I don't prefer either of these.  Maybe it's because sometimes I feel like an outsider and my qualifications will never be good enough.  I resist the prestige angle.  So I urge editors to use this one.
Tamara Linse lives in Wyoming, where she writes short stories and novels. To support her writing habit, she also edits, freelances, and occasionally teaches. You can find her at
Now, that's a little more interesting, but then I like to add an unusual and intriguing sentence right before the mention of the website.  I think that's what people are trying to do when they add the odd jobs they've worked.  Here are a few of mine. 
Tamara’s new book is about love, loss, recovery, and socks. Well, not socks exactly.
Having grown up on a ranch, Tamara appreciates indoor plumbing. 
Tamara lives in Wyoming with her husband Steve, who thought he was marrying a “normal person.” They enjoy puns and gardening. 
Tamara broke her collarbone when she was three, her leg when she was four, a horse when she was twelve, and her heart ever since.
In reality, I'm much more interested in the long version, what comes out in the writer's work and in essays ~ in long form.  The bio the length of a paragraph tells you almost nothing.
Now you know all my secrets. 

August 16, 2012

Of Course It's a Character

Martin Johnson Heade, Lynn Meadows, Mass., c. 1871-75 (via)

It's such a cliche ~ setting is a character in a novel. You hear people say about novels they love, "I just loved the background. It was it's own character."

But it's a cliche because it is true.  I've been thinking more and more about how we do not live our lives in a vacuum.  We may live largely inside our heads and ignore things around us, but our surroundings are very much there, very much interacting with us and influencing all aspects of our lives.

So of course setting is a character.  Characters are the actors in the story, and setting surely should be one of those actors.

That's why dismissing a writer as "a regionalist" is wrong.  All fiction is regional if you're doing it right.  It should take place in a very specific time and place because it makes a difference if you're in eighteenth century France near Bordeaux or nineteenth century Africa in what would become South Africa or twentieth century America near Lake Michigan.

So, is that character hostile? Inviting?  Sensual?  Spiteful?  Comfortable? Austere?  Is it your tipsy old aunt or you cruel second-grade teacher? Flesh her out.  Let us feel-hear-smell-taste-touch her.

August 15, 2012



I can tell: I'm a bit manic.  It's this sort of double consciousness.  I'm all go go go, launching new projects, throwing myself into things, riding the wave.  And then my super-ego stands there to the side and says, repeatedly, "Yep. That's cuz your manic.  You know your manic, right?"

But manic isn't all rainbows.  I get nervous when I'm manic.  It's like drinking too much coffee ~ you're on edge, you don't sleep well, you're flightly. 

And I'm more often the other way.  The depression sets in and I'm dragging myself along.

I think my thyroid is off.  I'm hypothyroid ~ a much under-diagnosed problem, especially among women ~ but now I'm apparently too much the other way.  Must get that checked.

The thyroid works like the accelerator.  Too much gas or too little. 

When there's not enough, when I'm hypo, I feel like I have a cold coming on all the time, tired, achy, rundown. I just feel icky ~ that's the technical term.  And there are other symptoms involving bodily functions that I won't go into.  But I can also feel bad when I'm hyper.

But the main problem with being manic is that I'm a hummingbird, doing this and doing that but having a hard time focusing.  The reason this is a problem is that I took a week off of work to get some writing done.  Boy, I'm getting a lot done, but unfortunately it's not the writing.

Today, I will turn away from you, oh internet overlord, and get some damn work done.

August 14, 2012

Litblogs, via the Millions


Don't you just love coming across great literary blogs?  There are so many that are my go-tos, not least of all the Millions.

Well, today, I just wanted to point out the Millions's two great posts on literary Tumblrs. The first one was in February, and the second was just last week.  So many great new places to join the conversation and get the skinny on what's going on. 

You know, when I'm not writing.  Ahem.

August 13, 2012

Writers' Training Wheels


The training wheels came off this weekend!  A major milestone in any family.  As I told them, "one of the harder things in life is learning how to ride a bike."

My son had already mastered the turns and had his taken off a month or two ago. It was my daughter that mastered it on Sunday.  That's because she's more cautious than he is ~ maybe because she's a girl, but also just because that's the way she is, more resistant, more in her head ruminating.  And to be fair, my husband and I are cautious people, and it's definitely rubbed off on them.  We have friends with kids who are always diving and running and getting scraped and bruised, but that's just not us.

Which made me think:  writers have training wheels too.  First it's reading, lots and lots of reading.  Oh how you revel in this!  Then it's imitating your favorite writers and you struggle to find your own voice.  When you do finally find that elusive "your voice" ~ that's when the training wheels come off.  That's when you're on your way, flying down the hill, brakes not necessary.

Here's to training wheels!

August 10, 2012

Announcing the Native Home of Hope

Am I crazy?

Lately, I’ve been looking for a place that showcases contemporary writers, a site where I can find book tour dates and release dates and reviews and lots of smart commentary.  I couldn’t find that exactly, so what did I do?  With the help of generous and whip-smart friends, we created one.

It’s called the Native Home of Hope, after a Wallace Stegner quote: “One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery.”

We want it to be a clearinghouse for contemporary literary writers of and about the American West. (We had to limit it somehow!)  There will be information on which books are coming out, book and blog tour events, book reviews, author interviews, conferences, MFAs, literary magazines, personal essays, why I write, and literary weather reports.  We’ll also talk about the West and all that that means. There won’t be any assholes who flame, anti-intellectualism, or criticism that glorifies the critic and demeans the writer, however.

We’re loosely defining the West as Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Texas, and Alaska. And so our content will be by and about writers who are from there or who write about the West. It can be westerns, but there are many great writers who write about the West who don’t write the genre of westerns. Above all, it should be literary. The term has a long and complicated history and we won’t go into a definition here, but by literary we mean in the genre of literary or that aspires to good writing. (It can be genre as long as it aspires to be literary.) We will accept previously published material.

We want to be the place where people come to find out what’s happening and listen in or contribute to the conversations around writing.

We won’t be taking fiction or poetry submissions, but we will take the following:
  • book tour and blog tour dates for Happenings
  • author interviews and profiles
  • book reviews
  • books coming out
  • reviews of conferences or MFAs or retreats
  • literary magazines
  • essays
  • personal essays about the West or writing
  • why I write
  • literary weather reports

Bottom Line: If you need to promote your book, let us know. If you want to add to the conversation, let us know.

We are actively seeking people to be contributors, and if you are particularly interested, we would love to have you on board as an editor and someone who gathers others’ material. And, unfortunately (and you knew this was coming), this isn’t a paying gig. We do it for the love.

Email us at And like us on Facebook to follow us every day!

August 9, 2012

Jack London Faked It

Jack London

Yesterday I came across this, Five Writers Tougher than Hemingway.  A great reminder of all the work that’s been done ~ and hardship ~ outside the most famous four (or whatever) writers.

But the last one, Jack London, jolted up a memory for me. 

Imagine a short round woman, with a large belly and a large shelf of breasts and a face that reminds you of the fifties housewife with catseye glasses. I’m not sure that she wore cateyes, but that’s the impression. She’s tough as nails but compassionate, with strong opinions.  This is my Aunt Ab.

My uncle aspired to be John Wayne, and they as a family admired adventure writers.  I remember reading Canadian classics reminiscent of "The Cremation of Sam McGee" at their recommendation. Their family loved the Jack London stories and held them up as ideals.

Her voice dripping with distain, Aunt Ab once said, though, something along the lines of, “You know, that Jack London.  All he did was go talk to some old trappers and wrote down their stories.  He didn’t do any of that himself.”

What a statement.  It says so much.

What they valued was action.  On the ranch where I grew up, your worth was directly related to what you accomplished.  (That, and being male.) It did not matter that Jack told a darn good yarn, that his characters and situations and settings were so believable, and they actually were very taken with them.  It was summarily dismissed as secondary.

On one hand, I totally understand this viewpoint.  If you don’t write, you don’t understand what goes into it, that the imagination is a much more powerful weapon than the fist. 

I remember being angry as a kid because my family wasn’t in the local history books with anything more than a footnote, if that.  Why were we being ignored?  And then it came as an epiphany that the reason we weren’t was because we shut everybody out and we did not join the community and we didn’t have the stuff of history available for everyone ~ diaries, images, all that.  History goes to those who keep good entertaining documentation. And are good and congenial self-promoters.

So what Ab discounted as mere transcription is what makes all the difference. A myth isn’t created by the doers.  The myth is created by the mythmakers, the writers, those who follow the doers around and then to the utmost of their abilities spin a tale. 

That’s how saints are made.  That’s how heros are made.  That’s how presidents are made.  By the stories that are told about them.

August 8, 2012

Getting the Work Done

I'm thinking again about the continuing struggle to get the work done. 

That's the problem.  You don't just decide and then it's fixed.  It's a thousand small decisions every day, what to put off, what to do, how in the hell not to freak yourself out.

Which is directly in opposition to the way you (I) need to be to get the writing done.  I need mental space.  That's why running helps ~ I create this quiet calm space around me that allows me to relax enough to get the creative work done.

But all this is stuff I've talked about before.  I wish I'd have an epiphany, you know?  There'd be an explicit solution that would present itself. 

But there isn't.

I guess I must continue the good fight and take comfort in the fact that everyone else is right there beside me, giving it their best.

May your writing flow like the Wyoming wind.

August 7, 2012

'The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,' by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin is such a great writer in so many ways.  I love how she is able to plumb the depths of our humanity and inhumanity.  Here's an excerpt from the story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas." To know where the picture fits in, you'll have to read the story, which you can do here.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Joyous! How is one to tell about joy? How describe the citizens of Omelas?
They were not simple folk, you see, though they were happy. But we do not say the words of cheer much any more. All smiles have become archaic. Given a description such as this one tends to make certain assumptions. Given a description such as this one tends to look next for the King, mounted on a splendid stallion and surrounded by his noble knights, or perhaps in a golden litter borne by great-muscled slaves. But there was no king. They did not use swords, or keep slaves. They were not barbarians. I do not know the rules and laws of their society, but I suspect that they were singularly few. As they did without monarchy and slavery, so they also got on without the stock exchange, the advertisement, the secret police, and the bomb. Yet I repeat that these were not simple folk, not dulcet shepherds, noble savages, bland utopians. They were not less complex than us. The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can't lick 'em, join 'em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy. How can I tell you about the people of Omelas? They were not naive and happy children--though their children were, in fact, happy. They were mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives were not wretched. O miracle! but I wish I could describe it better. I wish I could convince you. Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time. Perhaps it would be best if you imagined it as your own fancy bids, assuming it will rise to the occasion, for certainly I cannot suit you all. For instance, how about technology? I think that there would be no cars or helicopters in and above the streets; this follows from the fact that the people of Omelas are happy people. Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive. In the middle category, however--that of the unnecessary but undestructive, that of comfort, luxury, exuberance, etc.--they could perfectly well have central heating, subway trains, washing machines, and all kinds of marvelous devices not yet invented here, floating light-sources, fuelless power, a cure for the common cold. Or they could have none of that; it doesn't matter. As you like it. I incline to think that people from towns up and down the coast have been coming in to Omelas during the last days before the Festival on very fast little trains and double-decked trams, and that the train station of Omelas is actually the handsomest building in town, though plainer than the magnificent Farmers' Market. But even granted trains, I fear that Omelas so far strikes some of you as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. If so, please add an orgy. If an orgy would help, don't hesitate. Let us not, however, have temples from which issue beautiful nude priests and priestesses already half in ecstasy and ready to copulate with any man or woman, lover or stranger, who desires union with the deep godhead of the blood, although that was my first idea. But really it would be better not to have any temples in Omelas--at least, not manned temples. Religion yes, clergy no. Surely the beautiful nudes can just wander about, offering themselves like divine soufflés to the hunger of the needy and the rapture of the flesh. Let them join the processions. Let tambourines be struck above the copulations, and the glory of desire be proclaimed upon the gongs, and (a not unimportant point) let the offspring of these delightful rituals be beloved and looked after by all. One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt. But what else should there be? I thought at first there were not drugs, but that is puritanical. For those who like it, the faint insistent sweetness of drooz may perfume the ways of the city, drooz which first brings a great lightness and brilliance to the mind and limbs, and then after some hours a dreamy languor, and wonderful visions at last of the very arcana and inmost secrets of the Universe, as well as exciting the pleasure of sex beyond belief; and it is not habit-forming. For more modest tastes I think there ought to be beer. What else, what else belongs in the joyous city? The sense of victory, surely, the celebration of courage. But as we did without clergy, let us do without soldiers. The joy built upon successful slaughter is not the right kind of joy; it will not do; it is fearful and it is trivial. A boundless and generous contentment, a magnanimous triumph felt not against some outer enemy but in communion with the finest and fairest in the souls of all men everywhere and the splendor of the world's summer: this is what swells the hearts of the people of Omelas, and the victory they celebrate is that of life. I really don't think many of them need to take drooz.

August 6, 2012

The Onion

Are you familiar with the Onion? Of course you are.  America's Finest (Fake) News Source.  They are so consistently funny and so consistently right on.  Just fabulous.  And you can tell they're writers ~ their writer jokes get to the heart of all our foiables. 

For example, there's this news story.

Pile Of Crap Excites Publicist
NEW YORK—Thomas Hill, publicist for the Scarsdale & Loeb Group, expressed his excitement over a great big pile of crap Thursday. "I'm really excited about the marketing possibilities for this enormous heap of worthless crap," said Hill. "There's a lot of buzz in Hollywood about it. Confidentially, Paramount has expressed interest. I think crap is going to be big in '97, and this promises to be some of the best crap yet. It's really fresh and exciting stuff." Hill was paid $600 by the crap's agent for the minute-long remark.

And there's this.

I've said before ~ my sense of funny differs from some people, but I'd have to say the Onion is the most consistently funny of almost anything online!

August 3, 2012

Where I Live

The Laramie Valley

Just the last few days, it’s been chilly here in the mornings.  As I’ve mentioned before, we’re at 7,200 feet above sea level here in Laramie ~ the high plains.  It makes me sad to see summer going so quickly.

Summers in Laramie are a wonder.  Temperatures are always moderate ~ mid 70s to low 80s ~ except for a couple of days in August where we get in the 90s.  Every afternoon, it clouds up and rains just a bit, for fifteen minutes or a half hour, and cools things down, and then it’s sunny again.  Summer light is clear and bright, and in the mornings and evenings it’s yellow and gives everything a lovely cast. 

It’s more of a challenge to grow vegetables because we are so cool.  Our growing season is, at the most, 3 months.  You’re not supposed to plant your starts outside until June 1, and we can get the first frosts in September.  Literally, we have had snow every month of the year at some point.  But it makes for mild beautiful summers.

We almost always have a heavy late spring snowstorm that breaks branches.  Some winters seem longer than others.

And the students at the university are gone.  It is so peaceful.  The town during the school year can be hectic with traffic because the students double the size of the town.  And in the fall, when they first arrive back, there are a lot of crazy drivers that just aren’t paying attention or are too filled with racing hormones or something.

But fall is also one of my favorite times of year.  Something about the cool in the air, the excitement of the return of the students, the deep breath before winter.  I’ve always loved that. 

Of course, this year has been different.  We had that hot spell early in the year and all the wildfires.  But then our usual summer weather kicked in. 

Because of our weather and where we are, we don’t have many bugs ~ just a few mosquitos ~ and we don’t have tornados to speak of or hurricanes or anything like that.  Our worst of course are the blizzards.

We’re a good combination of big town and small.  It feels like a small town ~ heck, Wyoming feels like a small town ~ but you can still get breakfast at 2 in the morning and we have music and theater and all that.  And if you’re really missing the city, you can go to Denver 2.5 hours away.  Or if you’re an outdoors person, the mountains are 20 minutes away, literally.

It’s not beautiful in the way many places are. It’s not Jackson, and many people think it’s ugly. Heck, I think it’s ugly about February or March during mud season.  But you get used to its quiet beauty.

One of the many things not to take for granted.

August 2, 2012

David Abrams, Fobbit, and the Quivering Pen

I love people who have their fingers on the pulse, you know? 

One of those is David Abrams, author of the forthcoming novel Fobbit, based on his time in Iraq. (BTW, fobbit is a sometimes derogatory term for soldiers who never leave a forward operating base.)  He also writes a blog and a weekly newsletter called the Quivering Pen, which is where the finger-on-the-pulse comes in.  He has great guest writers and introducing all the latest and greatest people and books.  If you want to know what's going on, you'd best subscribe!

Here's David's bio from his website.

David Abrams’ short stories have appeared in Esquire, Narrative, The Literarian, Connecticut Review, The Greensboro Review, The Missouri Review, The North Dakota Review and other literary quarterlies. His novel about the Iraq War, Fobbit, will be published by Grove/Atlantic in 2012. He regularly blogs about the literary life at The Quivering Pen.
Abrams retired in 2008 after a 20-year career in the active-duty Army as a journalist. He was named the Department of Defense's Military Journalist of the Year in 1994 and received several other military commendations throughout his career. His tours of duty took him to Thailand, Japan, Africa, Alaska, Texas, Georgia and The Pentagon. In 2005, he joined the 3rd Infantry Division and deployed to Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The journal he kept during that year formed the blueprint for the novel which would later become known as Fobbit.
David Abrams was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in Jackson, Wyoming. He earned a BA in English from the University of Oregon and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. He now lives in Butte, Montana with his wife.
Not only that, but he's a really great guy.  You should get to know him and his work ~ and pre-order Fobbit!

August 1, 2012

Images of the Olympics

It takes a special sort of photographer to capture sports, and those who've been capturing the Olympics are the best of the best.  So much to contend with, and it's like trying to capture hummingbirds ~ everything happens so fast and then you've missed it.  So there's a fabulous photo essay of the Olympics at OregonLive.  Here are a few of the photos.  And by all means, you should click over and look at all the GREAT photos.

PS I think the Olympics have unconsciously inspired me to get back into my workout routine. Yay!