This is a monthly column on the writing process. Topics will range from books and authors to writing conferences and workshops to the writing process itself.
In June 2012, I was happy to receive notice that my short story, The Elk, had been accepted by the Boston-based online literary magazine, www.thewriteplaceatthewritetime.org
While I'd had a certain amount of success in publishing my nonfiction up to that point (Writer's Journal, Overdrive, San Diego Union-Tribune, Western Business and Snowmobile magazine among other publications), publishing fiction was an uphill battle, limited to regional literary magazine such as Black Hills Monthly Magazine and The Longneck (which I helped found).
The notice that my work was going to be published also came shortly before my first book, Doomsday: A tale of cyber terror, was out on Kindle, four months before it came out in print.
I was a little awed that my work was being published by an online magazine that reached 59 countries and which has regularly featured work by people from the New York Times, Newsweek, Business Week and The Washington Post. I figured it was just a fluke, a lucky break, that they had published one of my pieces, so just to see how lucky I would be again, I sent them a sequel to my short story, The Funeral.
Well, they published that one too.
After that, they published two more stories. I missed getting into the fall 2013 issue, probably because my story was way over the 3,500-word maximum, but was informed recently that another story, The Music Box, was scheduled to come out Jan. 30.
I've been at this writing thing since 1974 when I first took a creative writing class from Dr. Joe Basile at the University of South Dakota. In that class, I came up with a character, Phil Davis, whose inspiration was a friend of mine who had been murdered outside a tavern on North Cliff Avenue in Sioux Falls, S.D. about a year before. My character Phil had the heart of my murdered friend, whose name was also Phil, but he was more of an amalgamation of a number of people.
I'm still writing about Phil. That makes 40 years now that I've known him. He was the main character in Doomsday and he's also the main character in several stories in my most recent Kindle book, The Elk and other stories, which came out in late December. And I'll probably continue to write about Phil as long as I'm able to write.
Something strange happens when you've come to know someone for 40 years, even if that person isn't real. You get to know that person as much as you know yourself - maybe even better. When Phil meets another person, I know exactly how he's going to act, when there's going to be conflict and what he's going to do in any given situation. I got a few snickers when I said at a recent Rotary meeting that sometimes the fictional world seems to take precedence over the "walking around" world. But it's true, especially when the character you're writing about is someone you've known for most of your life.
Anyway, I think it's safe to say that Phil's going to be around a while - as long as I'll be around - and I'll keep telling his stories through this Boston-based magazine that seems to offer a plethora of treats with every issue.
I'm even asking the students in one of my classes to submit my work to the magazine. A caveat is that the magazine has a 3,500-word cap on fiction and they don't like explicit sex.
For writer's guidelines, and to submit your work, see: www.thewriteplaceatthewritetime.org
The Iowa Summer Writing Festival
Very shortly, the new catalogue should be out for the Iowa Summer Writing Festival which is held every June and July at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
An adjunct of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, which is just about impossible to get admitted to, the Summer Writing Festival will admit anyone. I'm not sure what this year's prices are, but the weekend workshop I attended last June was $310 while the weeklong workshops were a little over $500.
The price might seem a little steep until you consider what you're getting - one-one-one attention from world-class instructors in sessions of no more than a dozen students.
The atmosphere I found in Jim Heynen's dialogue class was very supportive and there was an enormous amount of creativity in the room. The atmosphere was electric. While occupations of students attending varied, I think it's safe to say that every student had the potential to be professional writers in some way, shape or form.
Like the regular Writer's Workshop, the students attending the Summer Writing Festival are of an eclectic background. People attending my session included students from Chile, Ecuador, Australia, Greenwich Village in New York and from around the country. I did a short story collection for my master's thesis, but it would be safe to say that I learned more about writing from that one weekend last June than I did in my entire master's program. Honest.
There are three legs, really, in creating a writer - and most writers will agree with this. They include studying other writers, writing every day and having a supportive but critical opinion of your work. While anyone can easily experience the first two, finding an educated opinion is probably the most difficult.
That's why I heartily endorse the Summer Writing Festival for people who are serious about their writing and want to improve their work.
The last I checked, the page for the 2014 was still under construction, but here's the website if you want more information:
Over the past few months, I took a couple online creative writing courses available through .
Even though I've been writing for 40 years, I found Beginning Writer's Workshop helpful. The reading list alone was worth the $100. The other class I just finished was on writing descriptive settings.
They have a number of other courses as well - even one on mystery writing. I think a six-week course for $100 in which you can get personal feedback from other students and the instructor is just about the best deal you can find, anywhere.
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam. ISBN 978-1585421466.
With a definite zen influence, this classic book by Julia Cameron is a way for artists of all art forms and genres to find a path to creativity.
Much - if not most - of the book is focused on removing artist's block - an expanded form of writer's block. The book is actually broken down into a 12-week program. Me, being the impatient sort that I am, zipped through it in a few days. Admittedly, though, I would probably have benefitted more had I followed Cameron's recommended regimen.
"What you are doing is creating pathways in your consciousness through which the creative forces can operate. Once you agree to clearing these pathways, your creativity emerges."
That sounds simple enough - removing blockages. It's how Cameron tells us to go about it, though, that's most revealing.
Cameron finds a lot of analogies between artist's block and people who are trying to overcome addiction. Just as alcoholics and drug addicts need to find a new group of friends to overcome their addictions, the blocked artist needs to avoid others who are blocked:
"Blocked friends may find your recovery disturbing. Your getting unblocked raises the unsettling possibility that they, too, could become unblocked and move into authentic creative risks rather than bench-sitting cynicism."
One is reminded of a classic 1970s book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, when Cameron recalls a quote by Stephen Nachmanovitch:
"The noun of self becomes a verb. This flashpoint of creation in the present moment is where work and play emerge."
And then Cameron quotes Jackson Pollock who said:
"The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through."
In other words, get out of the way of the artist inside you.
Cameron makes a profound comment about one's attitude toward art. If we think we know everything there is to know, then what's there to learn? But if we regard ourselves as novices, regardless of our ability, then we're open to learning the secrets of the masters:
"The grace to be a beginner is always the best prayer for an artist. The beginner's humility and openness lead to exploration. Exploration leads to accomplishment. All of it begins at the beginning, with the first small and scary step."
Cameron is also a big believer in incubating our ideas until they're ready to "hatch":
"Hatching an idea is a lot like baking bread. An idea needs to rise. If you poke at it too much at the beginning if you keep checking on it, it will never rise. A loaf of bread or a cake, baking, must stay for a good long time in the darkness and safety of the oven."
Cameron offers some intriguing and provocative approaches to the artistic process - and not just for writers. Whether or not you're zen philosophy, this book has a lot going for it.
Plus, it's a good read.
See you there?
Even though my fiction writing has lately been limited to rewrites, I've had a little more activity than normal.
My second work of fiction, The Elk and other stories, came out on Kindle Dec. 28, another story came out online Jan. 30 and Feb. 1-2 I'll be doing a signing with three other writers at the Benson Flea Market at the W.H. Lyon Fairgrounds in Sioux Falls.
The other writers include Kelly Van Hill (Tent City, Red River - post-apocalyptic); Mary Yungeberg (Consummate Betrayal - suspense in the Tom Clancy oeuv're); and Ron Parsons, a Sioux Falls attorney (The Sense of Touch - short fiction collection).
If you're there, stop on by.
Michael Tidemann's author page is available at: www.amazon.com/Michael-Tidemann/e/B008THMTIW