icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog

In This Town You’re Still Alive

The park in Spearfish, South Dakota

. . .
When Tam and I were in Spearfish for Gaydell Collier's memorial services, I showed her some of the places that were special to me and to George when we lived there. We drove by his "little green house"-- which has now been remodeled into a much larger and more modern home-- and along the creek and pond below it, now cleared to make a lovely park.

Here's a poem I've been working on for several years about an experience I had the last time I did a workshop in Spearfish.

In This Town You’re Still Alive

You liked to walk down
from our little green house
to this mountain creek,
followed in parade
by Loki the white poodle,
the black cats Janet and Jacob.
You’d lean against a tree
in sunlight, watching as the cats
pawed sparkling water.
Someone poisoned the dog;
the cats vanished.
We moved away.
You died.

Years passed. Today I walked
by that water at sunrise.
Two ducks slid into an eddy,
paddled in place. I found the tree’s
stump, its heart a dark hollow
filled with snow crystals.
Leaning there, I watched
the water sparkle

Just now as I waited
for a green light
you drove an old blue pickup
through the intersection
just ahead of me.
A red headband held back
your gray hair. The earring
you always wore flashed light.
Two black Labs leaned against
each other in the back.

Maybe the part of me
that died with you
is here as well: just enough
to keep you company in this town
where we were young and loving.
I wash your shirts, write poetry;
you carve wood, build a chair.
Each evening we drink beer
on the porch of a small house,
while the stream passes.
Just enough.

* * *

Poem copyright 2013, Linda M. Hasselstrom

# # #

back to top
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Gaydell Collier: 1935 -- 2013

Gaydell Collier, 2004.
This photo was taken at the publication party for Crazy Woman Creek held at the Mari Sandoz Center, Chadron, Nebraska. Gaydell and Maxie greeted contributors to the anthology as they arrived and checked in. Maxie is now living with a close friend of Gaydell's.

. . .
GAYDELL COLLIER was born on Long Island, New York and when she was co-editing the three Western women anthologies, lived in Sundance, Wyoming, with her husband Roy, who preceded her in death. She co-authored several books on horsemanship and horse care with Eleanor F. Prince, including Basic Horsemanship: English and Western. Her work has appeared in periodicals and anthologies, including The Christian Science Monitor and Flint-Edged Refrains. She was the consultant on "Horses and Horsemanship" for Encyclopedia Britannica in 2000. Her interests included ranching, reading, dogs, horses, grand opera and eating.

That’s the official biography we sent out for Crazy Woman Creek but it does not begin to describe the multi-faced woman Gaydell was.

Here is a bit more about her literary life: Gaydell was the Crook County Library Director for fourteen years, and a member of Bear Lodge Writers, Sundance, Wyoming. She was awarded the Wyoming Governor’s Arts Award for Literature in 2004.

Gaydell’s published books--

Just Beyond Harmony (2011) High Plains Press. ISBN: 978-0931271984.
A memoir of dreams and family adjustment, challenge, community, and the power of landscape.

Crazy Woman Creek: Women Rewrite the American West (2004) Houghton Mifflin. ISBN: 0618249338.
Co-editors Nancy Curtis and Linda M Hasselstrom.

Woven on the Wind: Women Write about Friendship in the Sagebrush West (2001) Houghton Mifflin. ISBN: 0395977088.
Co-editors Nancy Curtis and Linda M Hasselstrom.

Leaning into the Wind: Women Write from the Heart of the West (1997) Houghton Mifflin. ISBN: 0395837383.
Co-editors Nancy Curtis and Linda M Hasselstrom.

Basic Horsemanship: English and Western (1993) Doubleday. ISBN: 0385422644.
Co-author Eleanor F Prince.

Basic Horse Care (1986) Doubleday. ISBN: 038517229X.
Co-author Eleanor F Prince.

Basic Training for Horses: English and Western (1979) Doubleday. ISBN: 0385032447.
Co-author Eleanor F Prince.

Gaydell also had poems, essays, reviews, and articles published in magazines including Owen Wister Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Smithsonian, Farm & Ranch Living, and others; and in the anthologies Open Range: Poetry of the Reimagined West (Ghost Road Press, 2007); Wyoming Fence Lines: an Anthology of Prose and Poetry (Wyoming Humanities Council and Wyoming Arts Council, 2007); In the Shadow of the Bear Lodge (Many Kites Press, 2006); Western Horse Tales (Republic of Texas Press, 1994); and Wyoming Writers poetry chapbooks.

A few email comments about Gaydell’s death show how deeply she will be missed. Her good humor enhanced every situation and her intelligence and memory helped so many writers. For years she attended Bear Lodge Writers meetings in Sundance, WY, where many writers benefitted from her suggestions for their writing and found her an example for both the writing life and the rest of life.

Oh, how we will miss our sweet Gaydell. I remember she was one of the first people outside my family I ever shared my writing with. She never ceased to be encouraging and full of love (and laughter).

I was deeply saddened to hear the news about Gaydell. I will miss her steady presence, and cherish the memories I have of her.

Someone overheard her on the telephone the day before she died, speaking with her son, say, "I’m ready for my next big adventure." Gaydell began that next part of her journey on January 18, 2013.

Every day was a new chance for enjoyment for Gaydell and I hope that she’s enjoying this one. For now, in memory of her, I urge you to enjoy every single opportunity you have for adventure.

# # #

To sign the guest book and learn about funeral services, see Fidler-Isburg Funeral Chapel website

For more information about Gaydell:

Please see the Wind Anthology Page on this website.

Wyoming Authors wiki website

website for the Bear Lodge Writers

Watch Gaydell tell the story of “Custah” on YouTube
– from her book Just Beyond Harmony, published by High Plains Press, 2011.

back to top
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

RoseMary Goodson: 1917 -- 2012

Linda and RoseMary in 2008 at Homestead House.

. . .
RoseMary Goodson, born 1917, died December 11, 2012 at the home of her daughter, Emily Buckhannon.

Here’s a note about what RoseMary meant to me, taken from my story about her in the September/October 2001 issue of South Dakota Magazine.

I first met RoseMary sometime in the 1970s when she often set up her easel on a street in Deadwood. Dressed in paint-spattered clothes, with her dog, paints, canvas, and a bag containing a sweater, a lunch, water, she’d spend the day downtown. She said later she was “teaching herself how to paint.” Concentrating on her work, she was unaware of the picture she presented. She gleefully tells about reaching for her water one day and discovering that passersby, thinking she was a homeless bag lady, had left a dollar and fifty cents, an apple, and a banana.

I clearly remember my first sight of that small blonde woman sitting on the street corner with her dog and her paints. I was in my thirties, recently divorced or about to be and had no idea where my life was going. I was so hesitant I probably walked by her two or three times, peering at a painting I didn’t think was very good.

But she was an older woman enjoying herself and she didn’t look worried about her future, so I stopped to talk.

Where did she live? I asked. Right now she was staying with daughter and her husband, in the “mother-in-law tent” pitched behind their house.

I was awestruck at her charm, her obvious joy in living, her unconcern with the future. Rose Mary was happier sitting on a street corner dabbing at her canvas than I’d ever been, and she has been my idol ever since. Her letters, filled with drawings and hilarious stories of her escapades -- skinny-dipping and getting lost in the desert while traveling with her children -- have followed me everywhere, making me laugh during some of my blackest hours.

During the past few years, she often painted original watercolors on the corners of the envelopes containing her letters. I found tiny frames for these and grouped them at the retreat, Homestead House. Her paintings hang throughout the house, including a copy of a Van Gogh she painted especially for the retreat house: a woman reading. During the past few years, she took photographs of her paintings, sliced them up and laminated them, added ribbons and send me hundreds of bookmarks. When I sold my books after an event, I offered one of RoseMary’s bookmarks with each purchased book.

RoseMary visited me several times at the ranch. While I was living alone in the small apartment built onto the side of my parents’ house after my divorce, she once came in the middle of winter. Lots of folks visited me in winter. They enjoyed sitting in front of the fireplace toasting their toes and talking about the romance of ranching.

RoseMary was the only visitor who ever brought in wood.

She knew, from her own days with a wood-burning stove, that fire takes fuel and toasting your toes isn’t the way to keep the fire burning. I told her that day that if she ever needed anything from me at all, she had only to call.

While she visited, she painted a picture of my gray horse, Oliver, standing at the feed rack, visible out the south window of the apartment. A few years ago, RoseMary visited again with her daughter and son-in-law Emily and Dennis. Emily had been trying to document the more than 350 paintings RoseMary had done since those early days in Deadwood and she’d never seen that one. RoseMary later made notecards of the painting and sent me a batch.

Once, on a cold dark night after George and I had built our house on top of the hill, a neighbor called to tell us that our cattle were out on the highway. We tore out of the house in such a rush we left all the lights blazing. Hours later, having finally gotten all the wandering cattle into a pasture in the dark, we drove back up the hill.

The lights were out. A strange car stood beside the garage.

Wary George drew the pistol he was never without, and we reconnoitered. The car had Arizona license plates but I couldn’t think who I might know in Arizona who would visit me in the middle of winter. Quietly we crept up the stairs and turned on the dining room light.

In the middle of the table stood a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels and a note from RoseMary. She couldn’t figure out why all the lights were on when no one was home, but she’d had a long drive so she went to bed.

About the time we finished the note, she came blinking out of the spare room.

“Well,” she said sensibly, “I figured you were around somewhere, so I waited awhile and then I went to bed. But there was no sense in leaving all those lights on and wasting electricity.”

We finished the Jack Daniels while we visited.

While she was here that time, she painted a watercolor of the ranch buildings from the top of the hill. She didn’t have a large enough piece of paper so she used two pieces -- and I was finally able to find a frame long enough to put the whole painting together.

I’ve often thought of RoseMary as I saw her first: sitting on a street corner in Deadwood, doing what she wanted and ignoring the people swirling around her. Her friendship has been a constant in my life for forty years. Her laughter and good humor buoyed me up during some of the blackest periods of my life and her joy in living inspired me to try to enjoy every moment as much as she did.

And while I do so, I will miss her.

# # #

The entire South Dakota Magazine article about RoseMary Goodson written by Linda in 2001 was posted here in the summer of 2011 in two parts, followed up with a third blog updating readers about RoseMary ten years after the magazine article. To find these archived blogs, click on "Artist: RoseMary Goodson" in the index of blog topics in the left-hand column of this webpage.

RoseMary's family will host a celebration of her life in January. They suggest:

In lieu of flowers, please honor RoseMary by doing as she did every day of her life. Take a moment to write a letter(s) or note(s) or card(s) to someone you cherish. Then send your note(s) via the United States Postal Service. Make an annotation on your missive: "Sent in honor of RoseMary Goodson." Your mail will be the ultimate tribute to RoseMary's lifelong commitment to writing letters.

Here is the link to the Baue Funeral Home obituary for RoseMary, written by her daughter and granddaughter.

You may also visit RoseMary's website www.rosemarygoodson.com to see some of her paintings.

back to top
 Read More 
Post a comment

South Dakota Authors

The South Dakota Literary Map published by the SD Council of Teachers of English. See the website listed in this blog for information about what appears on each side of the map and how you can purchase a copy.

. . .
Want to know more about South Dakota?

Then look for work by the following authors who have something to say about our history and culture. And keep checking this list; I’ll add to it as I discover or remember more authors. In each case, check for a website and look for titles of the author’s works.

Limitations of the list:
-- contemporary and historical (i.e., dead) authors.
-- whose work I have read and liked
-- who write about South Dakota culture and beliefs rather than technical matters
-- including poets, nonfiction writers and some writers of fiction if it’s South Dakota-based

You can also find a list of authors on the South Dakota Literary Map published by the S.D. Council of Teachers of English in 1998 at Dakota Wesleyan University's website www.dwu.edu/sdlitmap.

Contemporary authors:

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn
David Allan Evans
Tim Giago
Paul Goble
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Paul Higbee
Bernie Hunhoff, (South Dakota Magazine)
Kent Meyers
Kathleen Norris
Dan O’Brien
Watson Parker
Lilah Pengra
Peggy Sanders
Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
Kathleen Taylor
Sally Roesch Wagner

Historical authors:

Claude A. Barr
Black Elk
Ike Blasingame
Kate Bingham Boyles
Mary Worthy Breneman
Dallas Chief Eagle
Charles Badger Clark
Ella Deloria
Vine Deloria
David Dwyer
Ellen Goodale Eastman
Charles Eastman
Richard Erdoes
John Fire (Lame Deer)
Archer Gilfillan
Hamlin Garland
Lois Phillips Hudson
Leonard Jennewein
Robert Karolevitz
Edith Eudora Kohl
Robert Lee
Frederick Manfred
John Milton
John Neihardt
Helen Rezatto
Ole Rolevaag
Mari Sandoz
Luther Standing Bear
Robert Utley
Laura Ingalls Wilder

# # #

back to top
 Read More 
Be the first to comment


The meal of scallops (and shrimp) described in the draft poem.

Again this year, we traveled to Manzanita, OR, for a vacation, renting a wonderful house a block from the ocean (www.susansbeachhouse.com). We invited Jerry’s relatives to visit and many of them did, able to stay for a night or two because we had extra bedrooms.

Vacationing a block from the beach in Oregon in October does not mean one works on a tan; during most of our days there, rain fell and the Oregonians apologized. But we enjoyed the sensation since we’d had virtually no rain here since May.

Vacations, of course, are for enjoying oneself, relaxing from daily work. For me, however, a trip such as this requires that I take work along-- but it’s usually work that’s not what I normally do at home. Last year, for example, I went through dozens of cooking magazines and my recipe books and organized my recipes into a handy file that helps me find the recipes I really use.

Having a work space with notebooks, pens and paper ready means that when I can’t sleep, I have a place to go where my mind can work. Surprising thoughts sometimes emerge-- ideas that might not have surfaced in the busy-ness of home. Long walks with the dogs helped me consider the book I’m working on and make notes. And I worked on a poem, writing one draft into the house journal before we left. Here’s the current draft.

Vacation House (draft)

Coffee steams from the smooth curve
of a yellow cup. Two dogs and a good man
sleep in a darkened room.
The joints of the house creak
as warm air flows around me.
This is not our house,
but we’ve settled into its worn couches,
laughed with family around its long table,
created good food in its kitchen.
We’ve splashed in rain in the streets
leading here and away.
We watched kites leap and twirl
above the sandy beach.
Stared at Neahkahnie’s bold brow,
the froth around her feet.
Laughed and dined, read and played
games and the piano in the living room.
Listened to the sea advance
whirling, coiling, seething, falling,
always falling toward the land.
Perhaps we heard the contented sighs
from ghosts glad for our company.

Tomorrow we’ll head home
to dry grass, dusty sky,
cattle grazing on rumpled hills.
Tonight we’ll saute scallops
from that muttering sea
in rich gold butter, seasoned
with rosemary from the bush
outside the door. Rosemary,
that’s for remembrance.

copyright Linda M. Hasselstrom, 2012

# # #

back to top
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Gleanings IV: Don't Waste the Pumpkin!

Pumpkins from Linda's garden, 2012
Soon to be pie or bread or . . .

Once Halloween is over, I’m pained to see the gargoyle faces of pumpkins carved for Halloween slumping and turning truly grisly on front porches throughout November. What a waste!

Don’t let that jack-o’-lantern rot! A very small pumpkin, say 8-10 inch diameter, will produce 8-10 cups flesh: fresh pumpkin that can become pie, bread, cookies or a dozen other delicacies for the season.

When you carve the pumpkin, save the seeds for tasty eating. Wash and remove as much of the fiber as possible, but it’s easy to crumble off after the seeds are cooked. Spread seeds to dry on a towel. Bring to boil several quarts of water with 2 tablespoons salt added. Add pumpkin seeds; boil 10 minutes. Cool. Spread on a baking sheet. Pour over a mixture of butter, flavored oil (we like chile oil), soy sauce. Taste and see what flavorings you prefer. Bake in 300-degree oven for a half hour or so, stirring often to be sure they don’t burn.

When you’re ready to turn that carved pumpkin into food, first cut away any parts singed by the candle and scoop out any wax.

Put a steamer rack or pan lid in the bottom of a large pot– something to hold the pumpkin out of the water. Add only ½ inch or so of water– the pumpkin should not be touching liquid or it will absorb it like a sponge.

Cut the pumpkin into several pieces and place them in the pot. Steam on low heat until you can prick the flesh with a fork and it’s soft enough to mash.

When the flesh is tender, let cool. Then peel inside and out; the stringy lining scrapes right off. Compost the peels if you don’t have grateful chickens.

Mash the flesh with a potato masher and measure. Store in two-cup batches in plastic containers and it’s ready to use for pumpkin pie, bread, or to freeze until Thanksgiving.

Look for varied recipes: I have a delicious pie recipe from New Mexico that includes cayenne powder and another for a cooked filling (www.cookscountry.com) smoother than most pies and lasts longer in the refrigerator– though that may not be an issue.

I’ve also successfully dried sliced pumpkin in my food dryer; (see www.dryit.com for plans or to buy a completed dryer). Slice the raw pumpkin in thin slices, steam and then dry; the pumpkin keeps for months, years. To reconstitute it, place the slices in a bowl of milk in the refrigerator; they make delicious pie.

# # #

back to top
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Triage: poetry by Jane Elkington Wohl

Triage by Jane Elkington Wohl
Published 2012 by Daniel and Daniel Publishers.

Jane Elkington Wohl is an English Instructor at Sheridan (Wyoming) College and Creative Writing Instructor for the Goddard College MFA in Writing Program. Goddard is a low-residency college in Plainfield, VT, specializing in allowing students to create their own bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I’ve always meant to ask Jane how she manages that looooong commute and forgot again.

Jane’s taut poems were included in Leaning into the Wind and Woven on the Wind and I was privileged to comment on her book from High Plains Press, Beasts in Snow.

At the Equality State Book Festival in Casper during September of 2012, I bought Jane’s latest poetry collection, Triage. As its title suggests, this is a dark book; she warned me.

But like the best of dark poetry-- and the darkness of winter, of death, of life-- these verses lead us through darkness and into light. The series of twelve sonnets, “Meditations: Iraq War 2003," provide the most coherent, insightful and ultimately hopeful thoughts I’ve seen on that mess. Moreover, she creates this political commentary in sonnet form, a challenge few poets (including me) are willing to take these days.

“How hard it is to find any god right now,” she remarks; “today it seems our small round world’s gone mad.” She leads the reader through cynicism (the promises of our leaders “sound as dull and cheap as tin”) and despair as she observes young soldiers holding babies orphaned by war. These poems brutally recite the real facts, show us the real pictures of the war our soldiers have been fighting for so long; “it’s hard to find real poetry in this.”

And yet she does find real poetry in the war and all it means to us, whose sons and daughters are fighting as we have ordered them to do. Autumn leads the poet to a “Winter Sestina,” through layers and layers of living.

The second series of sonnets, “News: May 2004,” struck me most forcefully because throughout the dreadful news, she returns again and again to the blooming of pink poppies. In a very small way-- no sonnets!-- I took the same trip in my poem “Reading the Newspaper,” published in Dirt Songs, 2011.

Jane’s second sonnet series concludes, “The news is bad today, but still the pink poppies bloom.”

Reading the Newspaper in the Back Yard
by Linda M. Hasselstrom

Two Marines die in mortar fire in Baghdad.
Four red tulips open in front of the house.
Searchers find the child dead-- a green
plaster cast still cradles her broken arm.
Iris spears rise sharp above last year’s
dry curls. An earthquake shakes L.A.
Clematis shoots from sawdust
to climb the arbor’s trellised wall.
A soldier dies in a non-hostile incident.
Daffodils open beside the old cottonwood.
In Veracruz a gas leak kills six people.
Buds swell the twisted branches of a lilac.
A rebel bomb explodes in a crowd.
A Texas county’s first female sheriff
is also Hispanic, a lesbian, and a Democrat.

Blue bells bloom
on the same day
as last year.

Read Jane Wohl’s poetry and be heartened, given strength and courage to face the reality of the sometimes-brutal and foolish world in which we live.

# # #

For More Information:

Wyoming Authors Wiki website for Jane Elkington Wohl

back to top
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Gleanings III: Dumpster Diving

Chickens at Tam's place eating Linda's unusable tomatoes, fall 2011. Yum yum.
These are the hens that supply eggs to each writer who comes to Windbreak House Writing Retreat.

. . .
Here’s an instance of gleaning from the ranch past.

When I moved back to the ranch with my second husband, I kept hens for meat and eggs, feeding them vegetable peelings and the neighbors’ grain. They roamed a large fenced yard in front of their tiny, insulated house near my garden, and ate trimmings from the vegetables I harvested, and table scraps from my kitchen.

One day, leaving the supermarket parking lot, I realized one dumpster was overflowing: wrapped heads of lettuce had lifted the lid, tumbled across the asphalt. I slammed on the brakes, and filled my pickup bed, then piled the excess outside the chicken yard, and fed the ladies a head of lettuce a day for weeks.

Every time I went to town after that, I passed the trash bins after shopping, and collected discarded lettuce, radishes, turnips, potatoes. My chickens gathered clucking at the gate when they saw my pickup, and their egg yolks turned a rich yellow.

Once, a store clerk dumping bottles of salad dressing questioned me, but when I explained that I feeding my chickens on waste he shrugged and went back inside.

After Mother’s Day, I filled the entire bed of my pickup with carnations, and collected a friend who rode in back of the truck flinging flowers as I drove down the street, tossing them into open car windows at stop lights. We detoured to the poorest part of town and handed a fistful of carnations to every woman we saw.

Then one day I pulled up to my dumpster and saw a clerk standing on a ladder beside it, stabbing the packaged heads of lettuce with a long knife and pouring bleach over them.

“Why are you doing that?” I asked, perhaps a little hysterically.

“Management says people have been taking this stuff out and eating it, and they’re afraid somebody will get sick and sue us,” he said.

I suggested that people hungry enough to eat out of dumpsters probably didn’t have the number of an attorney at their fingertips, but he wasn’t the manager, and he was, as he reminded me, “just doing his job.”

When I got home, I called my extension agent. Bleach wouldn’t hurt the chickens, he said; in fact, it ought to eliminate stomach parasites.

I kept collecting vegetables, but I also wrote letters to the chain store’s management, urging them to donate the food to the shelters and other good causes in town. Eventually, the trash containers were empty of vegetables when I made my rounds, so perhaps my gleaning chickens helped change wasteful policies. I tried to explain to them, but they couldn’t keep their minds on my speech. They kept eying the grass in the pen, snatching grasshoppers. Gleaning.

# # #

back to top
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Gleanings II: Learning from other writers -- Alyson Hagy's craft talk, “Fiction: Lean and Mean"

Alyson Hagy at the Equality State Book Fest, 2012.
Visit her website here.
Photo by Jane Young.

. . .
My policy, when I attend writing conferences as a speaker, is always to attend as many sessions by other writers as possible. I believe doing so compliments my hosts and the other writers and I always learn something unexpected.

Moreover, I’ve attended many such literary festivals where the featured writers appeared only for their own sessions and then disappeared, sometimes to drink with their buddies until it time to appear again. I understand the desire to keep up with friends but I believe when I’m paid to appear at a conference, my responsibility includes making myself available during the normal work day for questions from the other attendees. They are, after all, the folks who presumably buy and read our books.

So I dived right into Alyson Hagy’s craft talk, “Fiction: Lean and Mean,” at the Equality Book Festival, taking notes on that and her keynote luncheon presentation about her newest novel, exploring the intersections of art, Wyoming and the west.

Alyson Carol Hagy is author of the Wyoming-centered fiction Boleto, (2012) Ghosts of Wyoming (2010) and Snow, Ashes (2007), all from Graywolf Press as well as other works of fiction.

Some quotations and paraphrases from her talks:

“Don’t tell the reader what to think; tell the truth. Tell what happened.” The reader will figure out the meaning for himself or herself.

“If you think you can write something that will help you reconcile with your parents-- it ain’t gonna happen.”

“Failure isn’t really a hindrance. It’s part of the process.” Hagy likened revising to fly-fishing and tennis, both of which she loves: it’s necessary to just keep casting and hitting balls, over and over. “All three require a lot of repetition.”

“I cheat myself,” she says, by writing short scenes. Instead of thinking of the thousands of pages she has to write to create a novel, she thinks only of little nuggets, writes in short spurts, knowing that eventually they will add up to a novel.

“Writing (fiction or poetry) is about questions.”

I agree with Alyson’s assessment; I write to discover the answers.

# # #

For More Information:

Wyoming Authors Wiki website for Alyson Hagy

back to top
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Gleanings I: Blogging, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr and more with Rebecca K. O’Connor

Rebecca O'Connor talking about journaling at the Equality State Book Fest, 2012.
Visit her website here.
Photo by Jane Young.

. . .
Ripening tomatoes and the approach of the Autumn Equinox have turned my thoughts to gleaning, reminding me that during the weekend of September 14-15, 2012, I gleaned as much writing advice as I dispensed.

I was invited to Wyoming’s Equality State Book Festival, held at Casper College.

First, I presented a craft talk, “What We Do With Our Days,” centered on the use of a time monitor to analyze and change how we spend time, finding more for writing.

My second presentation was a reading primarily from Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet, my new book of poems with Twyla Hansen, published in 2011 by The Backwaters Press. I also read and talked about a couple of selections from No Place Like Home: Notes From a Western Life, published in 2009 by University of Nevada Press.

On the second day, I was moderator for a publishing panel starring Annette Chaudet, owner/publisher of Pronghorn Press, Greybull, WY, and Nancy Curtis, owner/publisher of High Plains Press, Glendo, WY.

Finally, I participated in a nature panel with Pat Frolander of Sundance, Wyoming’s poet laureate; writer and photographer Cat Urbigkit of Pinedale, WY (paradisesheep.com); her newest book is Shepherd of Coyote Rocks. California writer Rebecca O’Connor (rebeccakoconnor.com), whose newest book is Lift (Red Hen Press), about her experiences during a year of training a peregrine falcon, was the fourth member of our panel. Moderator Holly Wendt and questions from the audience kept the discussion moving along-- and that’s all I can say about it. Being inside a discussion leaves no room for note-taking. But our audience was so attentive one of the festival’s organizers had to remind us time was up and herd us out the door.

Still, I gleaned plenty from the festival and here are some examples.

I attended Rebecca’s session, “Narrative Through Modern Journaling.” Rebecca keeps journals online, making use of her website and of blogging. I blog, but the idea of keeping an online journal terrifies me with its lack of privacy so I wanted to see how she used the Internet in her journal-keeping.

“Why blog?” She asks-- and her answers are several: to keep a record; to gauge interest in a writing project; to work on your discipline; and “to discover the story in your story.” She adds, “The little details are the things you forget,” -- and those are precisely the elements that make a story come to life. And I agree that a writer may begin thinking the story will take a particular direction but discover as it expands that it has other ideas.

Writing observed details immediately places the material where you can return to it a year or more later and see it as fresh as the day you wrote. To add zing, she includes photographs with her posts. Many of her blogs later turn into essays, but she says, “If you’re going to blog instead of writing, don’t do it.”

Rebecca likes Twitter as a great place to make your writing stronger by honing it to the required 140 characters. Great writing exercise, I think, and resolve to try some twitter-like journal entries without the benefit (or peril) of the Internet.

Flickr, Rebecca says, is a “great tool for building a photo journal” and feeds her writing. “If you’re looking for a photo, you are honing your writer’s eye, focusing on beautiful things.” She adds, “You can unstick yourself, discovering the unexpected in the camera’s lens.”

Tumblr, she says, is not a full blog but more like a scrapbook with bits and snippets, easy to use. And if you’re not comfortable with the conversations that Twitter inspires, she adds, Tumblr may be for you; it allows short comments.

I’m not likely to begin doing my journaling online-- that just seems way too public to me-- but I can see the advantages to accompanying online journal entries with photographs. I take pictures too, but it’s a fairly laborious process to process the finished pictures and put them together with my journal entries from the same day. I can see Rebecca’s method being considerably more efficient.

Rebecca also recommends therumpus.net, a “warm and safe” online environment in which to be published. One benefit is that the site “culls out the nastiness;” only positive comments are allowed. “Be the comment you want to leave,” says a website heading.

Rebecca also recommends Spotify, a free music service, for building a playlist of music to write to; “you have to listen to commercials,” she adds. She’s working on a book set partly in 1958, so has compiled a playlist of songs from that era.

She also warns about addiction; it’s easy to waste a day online. To prevent time-wasting forays, you can pay for Freedom, a site that cuts you off the Internet for a specified length of time. (Or you can set a kitchen timer or the alarm on your phone.)

“Remember,” said Rebecca, “the story you think you are writing is not the story you are writing.” I was also pleased to hear her say that when writing comments on other websites, “Encourage each other. Be kind, bighearted, give virtual hugs.” There’s no reason to be unpleasant; what you sow comes back to you.

She furnishes links to her work on each of these sites plus her Facebook page on her web page; click on “community.”

Other sites she recommended are Morning Pages Julie Cameron, which recommends writing three pages a day by hand. Written Kitten provides you with a new picture of a kitten when you write a certain amount. Write or Die: if you don’t keep writing, your work is erased.

And the final and perhaps most important part of Rebecca’s advice: “Remember it’s out there forever.” Be careful what you write. She doesn’t write about relationships, personal or private things people said or did. I find this final advice to be excellent, of course: but also inhibiting.

In my private journal I can write anything. Of course, what I write is “out there” in that journal-- but I keep my journals tucked into pockets, purses and private shelves in my office where they are unlikely to be read by anyone but me as long as I live.

So consider the advantages of the online journal: all that spontaneity, the vivid color of photographs. Perhaps you’ll choose to use versions of both the paper and online journals.

# # #

For More Information:
Rebecca K. O'Connor's website

back to top
 Read More 
Be the first to comment