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Nurturing Creativity by Doug Lewandowski

In many respects, waiting for creativity to arrive is like hanging out in the yard waiting for things to grow.

One of the more trying courses I took in graduate school was the Psychology of Individual Differences. I am NOT, and doubt that I will ever be, good with statistics. Instead of looking for specificity, which numbers provide, I look for themes, but I do have a healthy respect for what numbers can offer. We all develop with our own style; just have to get out of the way to see the blossoming of the innate potential. Experience, linked with education and genetic inheritance moves us to new places.

On many occasions as an educator and counselor/psychologist, I’ve seen a convergence between know-how, learning and inherited traits. Awhile back I came across a student who was in their first year of medical school who was presented with a problem in a case study as part of a seminar. Students in the class were given specifics: lab tests, symptoms and the course of the illness. As the instructor went around the room asking each seminar participant to take a crack at finding a root cause for the condition, divergent opinions were offered, ranging from asthma to rickets. After some thoughtful consideration, my friend answered when the instructor came to them, “AIDS. I think they have AIDS.” They nailed it. This is an example of how an education, experience and the right kind of brain cells leads to sound judgements. Outside of medicine or training for a therapist/counselor/psychologist, there are similar processes for many other skills from brain surgery to first class welders.

The writer has their own pocket full of aptitudes. Somewhere in the author’s mind are the seeds of creation. They can be coaxed into growing by the right nutrients, especially if  given the chance. I suspect some day we will be able to enter through the doorways of inspiration and learn how it happens. Until then we are left standing on the doorstep, marveling at what appears when a revelation welcomes us in .

In many respects, waiting for creativity to arrive is like hanging out in the yard waiting for things to grow. The peonies will come, like they always do, and the lilacs will begin budding soon. They don’t seem to need our help except for the occasional pruning so they’ll come back stronger. The annuals need a welcoming environment and the right fertilizers, watering and gentle attention, to thrive and blossom during warm summer days.

Without stretching metaphors too far, this is not a whole lot different from what goes on between our ears when we write. If we have the “right stuff”  in the beginning, it will happen. Discouragement is the soil that needs tender, loving care to produce. Other times we need to prune, to shape, to get the results we want. Then we wait and hope that what we’ve have worked at will be valued. There are no guarantees, as you know. Keep at it.

Doug Lewandowski has walked a varied path. He was a Christian Brother, an English teacher/counselor and is a retired Licensed Psychologist. He writes a column in the Duluth News Tribune and has had a story published in the Nemadji Review and placed third in 2020 in the Jade Ring’s short story contest of the Wisconsin Writer’s Association. Another short story was recently accepted for fall publication in the Jack Pine’s Writer’s Bloc “Talking Stick.” He was a commentator for KCRB, Minnesota Public Radio in the 90s. Doug transplanted to Duluth in 2018 to be closer to grandchildren. You may follow him on his blog douglewandowski.com.

Reasons to Attend an Author’s Book Chat (Even If You Don’t Write Books) by Victoria Lynn Smith

You’ll learn what worked and didn’t work for authors, and some of that wisdom will be useful to you.

If you’re writing a book, and even if you’re not, you should listen to authors talk about their books. I’m not writing a book, at least not yet, and maybe never. But when the COVID lockdowns started, I discovered I liked attending virtual author chats and book launches. Over the last two years, I’ve listened to over twenty authors discuss their books, and I’ve noticed some reoccurring themes and ideas.

Writing is Tough

All writers have moments of doubt. One author almost gave up but decided the only way she could fail was to not finish her novel. Others talked about a manuscript they considered a learning experience then buried it in a drawer. Some took a break from a book they were writing before finishing it. All of them said, “Just keep writing.”

When the pandemic lockdowns started, many writers talked about feeling too anxious to write. When I heard a published author admit this, I realized my anxiousness and inability to sit at my desk and write was normal. I stopped thinking something was wrong with me. Another author found it difficult to write because she wasn’t out in the world, watching and listening to people, gathering material to take back to her desk. I could relate. I never appreciated how much inspiration I brought home, until I didn’t leave home.

When a member of the audience thought things must have gotten easier after a writer published a book, the author said, each book was like starting over and her second book was tougher to write. Hot dog! I write short stories and essays, and I find the same to be true. If published writers flounder occasionally, why wouldn’t I struggle at times?

Writing Takes Work

Read, read, and reread. Most authors talked about the importance of reading books from the genre they write in. And rereading those books helped them analyze how they were put together.

Research is important, even when writing novels or memoirs. One historical nonfiction writer spent almost a month living on a sixty-foot sailboat in the Arctic in order to research the setting for her book. It gave her confidence to write her book because she had knowledge and experience.

Take a chance. Experiment. Play. Listen to your characters. If something doesn’t work, revise.

Once the manuscript is done, the revising and editing starts. Get feedback from writers and beta readers. Be open to suggestions, but know when to trust your work. Many authors said revising was as much or more work than writing the book.

Getting Published

Work on building a writing resume by submitting short pieces of writing. Polish them until they’re shiny, beautiful baubles. And submit! One author submitted a story to a university journal, and they loved it so much they asked her if she had more stories like it. She did, and they published a book of her short stories. (This makes me think about Lana Turner being discovered while drinking a soda at a malt shop.)

Hire a good line editor before you submit to agents or publishers. Make sure the manuscript is as good and as error free as it can be. Learn how to write a query letter. Some authors shared helpful resources.

Potential agents and publishers want authors to have a social media presence and a website, even if it’s simple. One author attended an online pitch event on Twitter with agents. A publisher liked her pitch, asked to see her manuscript, then published her book.

Fight for your work. Sometimes an editor is right. One author talked about cutting a chapter from her memoir. Even though she wanted to keep it, she understood the editor’s point. Other times the author is right. Another author fought to keep the opening dream scene in her book, and the editor eventually agreed.

Understand a contract before signing it. Think about hiring an attorney who specializes in publishing contracts. One author warned, “Don’t let excitement about a contract cloud your judgement.”

So, Sign Up for an Author’s Book Chat

You’ll learn what worked and didn’t work for authors, and some of that wisdom will be useful to you. When writers talk about their struggles, it’ll give you perspective about your struggles. As they celebrate their newly published books, you’ll believe that someday you’ll celebrate yours. Finally, almost every author chat and book launch that I’ve attended had a Q & A, and the author answered questions about his or her journey to publication. But best of all, for an hour or two, you’ll be part of a community of people who love to write.


Looking for a Book Chat? Lake Superior Writers hosts a series called Book Club for Writers, which is free and open to members and nonmembers. Our next author will be Brian Malloy who will talk about his book The Year of Ice on March 29, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. For more information: Book Club for Writers.


Victoria Lynn Smith writes short stories, essays, and articles. Her work has been published by Brevity Blog, Wisconsin Public Radio, Moving Lives Minnesota, Better Than Starbucks, 8142 Review, Red Cedar Review, Spring Thaw, Talking Stick, Hive Avenue Literary Journal, Our Wisconsin, and Persimmon Tree. Read more at writingnearthelake.org.

A Review of It’s Murder Dontcha Know by Christine Marcotte

There are plenty of twists and turns that keep the murderer a mystery until the very end

Minnesota author Jeanne Cooney’s It’s Murder Dontcha Know is the first in her new series of cozy mysteries, published by North Star Press (release date March 29, 2022). Light-hearted and humorous, it is the perfect book to read when you have a fully stocked pantry. As with Cooney’s Hot Dish Heaven mystery series, this one is sprinkled with recipes for hot dishes and bars.  And with a full pantry you will be able to make a few. The Chicken Tetrazzini Baked Hot Dish and Blueberry Streusel Bars with Lemon-Cream Filling were both hits at a gathering I attended last week.

Doris Connor, the main character, moves her house, yes, the entire house, from her farm to the edge of Hallock, following the death of her husband. She likes the house but has had enough of farming. Doris prefers solitude. But in short order, Grace, her sister, and Rose, a ninety-year-old family friend, move in with Doris even before the wiring is hooked up.

The More Hot Dish, Please Café, the local restaurant owned by Grace, is where folks gather to hear the neighborhood news and gossip. Readers of Cooney’s books will recall that the Hot Dish Heaven Café was a prominent setting in the previous series. When it burned down, owner Margie Johnson decided not to rebuild. Instead, she sold her recipe collection to Grace who continued to provide popular menu items such as creamy Tater-Tot Hot Dish, Baked Cornbread Hot Dish, and Chicken-and-Stuffing Hot Dish.

Rumors fly following the robbery at the pharmacy and names are tossed around when the robber, Buck Daniels, turns up murdered. When Doris’s two adult children, Erin and Will, are implicated, Doris is beside herself. Her high school boyfriend, sheriff Karl Ingebretsen, might still be sweet on Doris, but he has no sympathy for the suspects Erin and Will.

Meddling comes naturally to Doris, so she sets out to find the murderer before Erin or Will are arrested. Doris, with the help (whether it is asked for or not) of Grace and Rose, is determined to exonerate her children. The book has plenty of suspects and it takes Doris and her cohorts several weeks to whittle down their list, but will it ever match the sheriff’s list?

Doris almost lands herself in jail, but when Sheriff Ingebretsen asks if he can use her kitchen to interview the person who just might be the murderer, Doris believes she’s safe. “‘Well, sure. Go ahead.’ I acted like it was no big deal. Like I hosted police interrogations all of the time. But on the inside, I was as excited as a dog with two tails.” In full Minnesota nice mode Doris makes coffee, Grace defrosts homemade Chocolate Chip Bars, and Rose finds the napkins.

Cooney captures the northern Minnesota vernacular: “Hey, that, there,” and wit: “He looked bad enough to scare the blind.” Cooney has a knack for snappy metaphors that add humor to unusual situations through Doris’s internal dialogue. In response to a physician who believes they should be on a first name basis, Doris thinks, “I felt as awkward around him as a cow on ice,” or “I had been as shocked as a bird on a live wire,” when she learned that her incorrigible daughter had decided to pursue a career in law enforcement.

There are plenty of twists and turns that keep the murderer a mystery until the very end, and enough references to hot dishes and bars to encourage you to head to your kitchen every couple chapters.

Jeanne Cooney will present a Mystery Writing Workshop presented by Lake Superior Writers Saturday, March 12, 9:00-11:00am on Zoom. Click here for further information and to register for the event.

Christine Lynn Marcotte writes historical fiction and nonfiction. She began writing after hearing family stories from her ninety-eight-year-old grandmother. Chris’s love of local history inspired the Reminisce column (2014-current) for local newspapers. She is a contributing writer to the Lake Country Journal Magazine and is revising her first mystery novel, based on the actual ax murder of her third great-grandfather. Chris has published short stories and essays in regional and international journals. She is also working on a historical trilogy and a linked short story collection.  For more information visit ChrisMarcotteWrites.com.

Vital Connections on the Path to Publication by Carol Dunbar

My work got better because I was lifted and supported by an organization comprised of individuals who deeply care.

During this time of COVID, connection and community have never been more important. But those two things have never come easy to me. I don’t even know that I understood the meaning of the word community when I was younger. Before moving here, I’d left all nineteen of the addresses I’d once called home. When my husband and I arrived in the Twin Ports area, it was after leaving behind all our friends.

We came with our fifteen-month-old daughter and our aging dog. Our son wasn’t yet born, he was only an idea then, and as a new mother still adjusting to the role, I was trying to figure out how to get writing back into my life. Lake Superior Writers advertised a writing contest they were sponsoring—the flyer tacked on a library bulletin board. I joined the organization without knowing anything about it or anyone in it and worked on my first entry for weeks.

To work on that piece, knowing that when I finished, it would be received with care and attention by another human being, meant everything to me. Writing was the only way I had of making those deeper connections with others that in my day-to-day life eluded me. That spring, I was invited to read my entry at the annual LSW meeting and feeling the energy in the room marked a turning point for me. I kept writing and submitting and renewed my membership with the LSW organization every year.

At first, my only participation was through the newsletter. Because we lived an hour away from Duluth and I was in the throes of motherhood, reading about writing was the only way I could be part of the club. My favorite section was the Kudos where I got to hear about the writers in our area who were getting published. I learned their name names and cheered them on, visited their websites in stolen moments, and attended their readings whenever I could. They completely and utterly inspired me.

As my kids got older and I got a more rugged car suited to back county roads, I ventured out to weekly classes. The drive home was long and dark and sometimes treacherous with snow and icy roads, but I’d return to my sleeping family with a mind buzzing happily with what I’d learned. I never joined a writing group because my time was so limited—I needed every precious moment to write. But then a colleague in a short story class convinced me that joining a group was the best way to improve as a writer, and so I did.

And he was right.

This year my first novel will see its publication. I workshopped its pages with members of two different writing groups and beta readers who were all connected to LSW. I participated in the LSW manuscript swap and took advantage of reading opportunities I heard about through the Northwords newsletter. I took more classes, went to conferences, Zoomed and read and learned and made friends. All those connections are the reason I’m here.

My work got better because I was lifted and supported by an organization comprised of individuals who deeply care. I am still learning how to function as someone in a community, how to both give and receive support. But to anyone out there who is writing alone and in the dark, I invite you to reach out a hand in fellowship because, in my experience, someone wonderful will be there.

Carol Dunbar is a former actor, playwright, and coloratura soprano who left her life in the city to move off the grid. Her writing has appeared in The South Carolina Review, Midwestern Gothic, Midwest Review, and on Wisconsin Public Radio. She writes from a solar-powered office on the second floor of a water tower in northern Wisconsin, where she lives in a house in the woods with her husband, two kids, and a giant Alaskan malamute. The Net Beneath Us is her first novel.

Ignorance of Copyright Law Isn’t a Legal Defense by Victoria Lynn Smith

How can we protect ourselves from the landmine of copyright issues?

We all know that using another writer’s words without giving her credit breaks copyright law. In school we were warned against plagiarism. Remember? If you use more than three words in a row of another writer’s words without citing—plagiarism. If you use another person’s theories, original ideas, or reasoned conclusions without citing—plagiarism. If you quoted someone’s words or even paraphrased them without citation—plagiarism.

For me writing academic papers in high school and college was like typing through a landmine. I cited almost everything to avoid plagiarism, better to be overcautious.

As writers we know our work is protected by copyright law, but we might not know exactly what that means. If we read submission guidelines or have a piece of writing accepted and receive a contract, we encounter different terminology: first-serial rights, reprint rights, digital/electronic rights, all rights, one-time rights (and there are more).

But what about the work of other writers and artists?

As writers we might want to quote another writer’s work or lyrics. Can we? What are the rules? And what’s this fair use thing? Maybe we want to use some succinct, thought-grabbing quotes at the beginning of our chapters. Or we want one of our characters to sing a few bars of a song. Maybe we found the perfect picture or graphic to use as artwork on our blog page. Can we? Is it enough to give credit to the writer or artist? Do we need permission? (Depends. Isn’t that a fun answer?)

Sometimes we run our lives under the it’s-easier-to-just-do-it-and-apologize-later premise. This might work if we cut into the chocolate cake our partner just baked without asking, but it’s a dicey strategy for copyright law and infringement issues. (Actually, cutting that cake without checking if it’s for something special might be just as dicey.) Even though heartfelt apologies and claims we didn’t know the cake wasn’t to be cut might not get us out of the doghouse, we won’t be sued. But infringing someone’s copyrighted material isn’t usurping cake. Apologies, no matter how heartfelt, and claims of ignorance about copyright law, no matter how true, won’t protect us from possibly being sued for damages.

How can we protect ourselves from the landmine of copyright issues? Lake Superior Writers is providing an educational workshop with copyright attorney Mike Kroll, who will explain the basics of copyright law and answer basic questions about it. Of course, copyright law is complex, so if you have a specific issue that you need legal help with, it’s best to have a copyright attorney advise you in person.

You’re on your own about chocolate-cake rights.

Click here to register for the LSW Zoom workshop – Copyright Tips for Writers

Victoria Lynn Smith lives in Wisconsin by Lake Superior. She writes fiction, creative nonfiction, and articles. She placed second in the 2020 Hal Prize Fiction Contest. In 2019 and 2020, she won first place in the Lake Superior Writers’ Short-Short Fiction Contest. Her work has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Twin Cities Public Television’s Website, Brevity Blog, Better Than Starbucks, and in several regional publications. Her dream is to one day visit the Shetland Islands. For more visit https://writingnearthelake.org/.

Diving Deep: How to Write about Difficult Topics by Zomi Bloom

I suggest that writing difficult, or emotionally charged topics, requires these: self-compassion, uncomfortable witnessing followed by the allowance of space; and time itself.

I have tried a thousand times over to write about the existential dread, the horror of it. The terrible twins of despair and uncertainty make their way unannounced into poems which were supposed to be about other things — the flavor of them living on and on in this way, disconnected but ever-present — but writing about the dark things face to face, headlong, doesn’t work for me. I don’t know where to start.

Today I’m here to explore how to take on the topics that you just can’t seem to write about — the topics that you must write or they will destroy you — but which fight jagged battles when approached. Every one of us carries traumas with us — some more shattering, some more shame-ridden than others. But everyone carries these.

Sometimes the shame itself is the greatest barrier. Maybe it’s shame from the trauma itself, or around exposing something you believed must be kept secret; maybe the shame stems from perfectionism — or being beaten down too many times in your creative life. You start to write, you shake a little bit, your mind goes numb — or it races — then maybe nausea washes over you… If you sit with this discomfort, then words may come. Sometimes sitting with it is unbearable and you’re suddenly drinking a scotch, or allowing your mind to race back to workaday stresses and chores, other distractions. And the writing is halted before it even begins.

Sitting with pain or shame can be excruciating, and our bodies and consciousness will go to great lengths to “save” us from facing them, even if it means the stories stay buried.

Writing itself is a brave act. It exposes us (and maybe those closest to us), makes us truly witness to ourselves and others. Writing or journaling is sometimes seen as a way to “process” emotion — as if emotions were simply fruits to be dropped in the blender, then turned into a delicious smoothie. The language of “processing,” in my view, is off-base. I think writing takes us far beyond and deep within — and we’d be lying to ourselves if we thought that processing always ended in sweetness and delight (although sometimes it does).

In writing, experiences take on new life, new power, even spring hope. But it’s not instant. The cry of the soul may cycle through rage and despair — blending pain, elation, relief, unbearable loneliness — but that cry must be heard. This is what makes us human.

I suggest that writing difficult, or emotionally charged topics, requires these: self-compassion, uncomfortable witnessing followed by the allowance of space; and time itself.

In practicing self-compassion, think about this: “Can you treat yourself as a cherished friend?” I have spent a lifetime criticizing myself so harshly that others couldn’t possibly offer up a more painful critique, all in the mistaken belief that it would spur me to be stronger and produce better work, and make me less likely to fail.

When I set out to write about my grandma Florrie for the Duluth All Souls Night poetry reading in 2019, I found myself paralyzed by the quest for perfection. In life, my “difficult” and beloved grandmother seemed to value only the best — a trait she surely inherited from her forbears and translated down through the generations. In practicing self-compassion, we give ourselves space to escape the mythos of perfectionism, and allow ourselves to create something real and true to our lives.

And it takes many tries.

I wrote about Florrie in the fall, after her death in the spring of that same year, but it was the first time I had allowed myself to read her obituary. I was shocked by the force of my own response, realizing for the first time how powerful the event of her death really was. As a friend to myself, I gave myself some room to accept, write some bad lines, let the poem take its own shape over time.

In witnessing, we sit with the topic or event and allow ourselves to be washed away one moment and the next be assaulted by startling details. I wrote about the veins in Florrie’s hands — how they looked and felt as I sat close to her, while she lay listless in the hospital bed brought to her apartment for the final scenes of her life. I did not, however, write about my terror over the thirst I thought she must be feeling. She couldn’t swallow and so could not take anything by mouth. We were allowing her to starve and dehydrate until she faded away, and that haunted me. I did write about her weak hand gestures which recalled memories of forceful professorial gestures in her prime. I left out the parts about how my aunts argued about administering morphine. My aunt, the eldest sister, cried out in tears that “It will kill her!” after her younger sister dropped some opioid relief beneath Florrie’s tongue. The rest of us were stunned, and someone called out, “But she IS dying!” I didn’t write about those parts and I don’t think I could have done; now two years later, these words emerge in an essay.

While writing the Florrie poem, I took breaks of hours and days. The experiences followed me around. Other poems might take years or even decades. Poems about charged events have to form in their own time and space.

About giving space… I’ve found that hiking the trails or walking along the lake can take me away enough to let my heart and body do the work (you’ll frequently hear me talk about the heart and body working together to make art). Movement through space can allow the cognitive controller to take a rest. We cannot create great poetry as long as we are trying to control it.

I’m still trying to learn this.

And finally, the reality is that time itself may be needed. I am decidedly impatient, and this impatience effectively blocks creative work in every instance. I don’t know that I could have written about Florrie in the May following her April death — but I was more able in October that year — and maybe even more able today, several years later.

When we dig deep, we find the stories have a life of their own. Our job as writers is to let them emerge as they will, apart from our own manufactured timelines, and in defiance of our inner critics.

The world is waiting for those words that only you can tell.

Zomi Bloom is a poet and mother of three in Duluth, MN. Originally from the East Coast, she has called Duluth home since 2012 and has been inspired by the stunning landscapes and expanses of water of northeastern Minnesota. She loves coffee and sleeping and is the author of the collection “Coming to Duluth.”

Writing Illness: On the Horror, the Beauty, and the Release by Zomi Bloom

I have been alone since birth.
The world with all its bigness has afforded no space
for a creature like me. My body has fought
me with every sensation and breakdown—except
when I can run, and that’s not an option anymore.

The question is how to write when the experience overwhelms you.

Sitting back and shutting off the frontal lobe, letting the other parts of your brain, neurons, body, guts and heart take over — this is the excruciating and eventually liberating process that creates art and poetry. This is not unlike the healing process. It is not easy to sit back and let our bodies do the work, to let go, and then eventually to recognize the point at which the work is to be born.

When a piece of art spills out it feels like catharsis. The frontal lobe comes back into play to birth the poem or the painting but it can only be a facilitating partner in the process.

The nature of the creative experience (which sometimes means riding a wave) exists in contrast to one of the most criticized aspects of western medicine which is the idea of fighting our illnesses. Sometimes it’s an apt metaphor—and has helped many a cancer patient keep their spirits—but it may also damage us. If you have chronic pain, or an autoimmune disease, or trauma, or any number of chronic illnesses—the trick to survival may just be to sit back and let the body manage. Fighting makes for an intolerable life. You marry the pharmaceuticals, the physical and cognitive therapies, your own heart, all together and find some measure of peace with a body that behaves in contrary ways.

I believe that learning this letting go, while allowing yourself to experience the enormous fear and pain and even shame associated with illness, is the pathway to relief; to block these excruciating feelings renders them all the more powerful. You end up locked in a fight with yourself.

But can practicing the arts, can writing, teach us a way to be free?  This is a question I ask myself daily, journal about, and often write around.

Sometimes the sense of loss and grief over not being able to turn the pain into beautiful poetry or prose is its own specific kind of hell; and that’s when you get to practice that patience and acceptance—the same radical acceptance it takes to live with a chronic illness.

I have a collection of poems I call “The Sick Poem Series” which tells the story of me, trying to learn to live with undiagnosed gastrointestinal pain, followed by the story of the diagnosis, and culminating in… further pain when my body still rejected food for years after the removal of a diseased gallbladder. During the times I really thought I couldn’t take the burning wound in my gut anymore, words would take over (not always words that made sense to anyone else) but words nonetheless that brought me a measure of peace and relief—no matter how fleeting. One of those poems is published alongside explanatory prose in a medical humanities journal called Survive and Thrive (St. Cloud State).[1]

Then there is the matter of living with anxiety and depression. The words sound so pat. I hear commonly in health campaigns that mental health disorders are common and easily treated. They may be common but they are not always easily “treated,” not for people like me at least, who need to find ways to deal with a hypersensitive nervous system, long-lasting effects of a difficult childhood complicated by the biology of predisposition, and unyielding intellect coupled with a darkness with power all its own.

You can’t fight this kind of darkness. You can’t wish it away, you can’t pray it away, you can’t medicate it away, and while I found that running long distances gave me relief for several years, even running can’t fix this permanently—injury or not (injury in my case).

But writing is always there, even if it results in expletives sown together for pages on end. Sometimes the sense of loss and grief over not being able to turn the pain into beautiful poetry or prose is its own specific kind of hell; and that’s when you get to practice that patience and acceptance—the same radical acceptance it takes to live with a chronic illness.

Sometimes after months of punching “I can’t take this anymore!” onto the page, clarity emerges. And it might look like an essay, just like this one.

[1] “After the Endoscopy, in Which You Looked into My Guts and Found Nothing,” available at https://repository.stcloudstate.edu/survive_thrive/vol4/iss1/21/

Zomi Bloom is a poet and mother of three in Duluth, MN. Originally from the East Coast, she has called Duluth home since 2012 and has been inspired by the stunning landscapes and expanses of water of northeastern Minnesota. She loves coffee and sleeping and is the author of the collection “Coming to Duluth.”

A Review of After Francesco by Jennifer Jubenville

It’s a novel that deserves to be read and shared and studied.

After Francesco is the story of Kevin Doyle, a 28-year old man who is dealing with the loss of his partner Francesco to AIDS. Kevin spends his days working a mind-numbing job (the blue copy of the form goes in the donor file and the pink copy goes in the campaign file) in New York City and his nights attempting to drink away his pain in Francesco’s apartment. He remembers the years when he and his friends were living the best days of their lives – New York City in the 80’s – where they could be authentically themselves…. before AIDS spread through the city like a wildfire. 

After Kevin hits rock bottom he moves back to Minnesota – both hoping to move on and terrified of moving on. 

If you’re a Gen Xer you’ll be instantly transported back to these days – remembering when people were desperate to hear President Reagan acknowledge AIDS and people were staging die-in protests outside of the National Institutes of Health. If you’re not a Gen Xer the book will read like historical fiction. 

Brian Malloy has created a masterpiece of a novel that will gut you. The setting, the character development, the complexities of inner turmoil… it’s a novel that deserves to be read and shared and studied. 

Jennifer Jubenville is the Store Manager at The Bookstore at Fitger’s.

Brian Malloy will give an Author Talk and Workshop on October 5, 6:00 – 8:30pm at the Fitger’s Brewer Complex, presented by Lake Superior Writers. Click here for further information and to register for the event.

After Francesco may be purchased at The Bookstore at Fitger’s.

Hiccups on the Lido Deck: 3 Steps to Recover from Creative Rejection by Sarah Bamford Seidelmann

The one thing that kept me waddling back to the keyboard day after day was my desire…to write something that might encourage others…. to create something whimsical and fun that was loaded with transformative power.  

If you’ve risked sharing your creativity and been rejected, you already know.   It’s like having your undercarriage waxed with superglue.  Rrrrrrrrippppppp.

Maybe you revealed your “Saintly Toaster Robots” screenplay to your mother and she told you, “It’s derivative”.  Perhaps, during your first paid comedic gig, you got heckled by a drunken audience member and fled the stage.  Or, your Etsy listing of necrophilia inspired decoupage broke records for highest number of *thumbs downs* and Etsy security called to request you remove it.  

Whatever happened to you, I am sorry.  It’s awful.  

Rejection can leave us doubting whether we should ever construct another plot, take the stage or dip into the Mod Podge again (I prefer Elmer’s).   We convince ourselves that we’re not capable of creating.  We experience such deep despair that we vow to never risk again.   We quit.

Take heart.  While it feels like a knife to your heart, creative rejection is actually evidence that you’ll succeed.   I’ll outline the surefire route to recovering from a crash n burn so you can get back flapping in the skies and flying towards your dreams.

Allow me to illustrate:

At 44, I yearned to write a book.  I couldn’t believe how rapidly words flowed from my brain into a Word document.  I sent my 62,000 word first draft to a well-known editor for the stars.  

I mailed the manuscript.  By the time the appointed hour of our call finally arrived, I’d already poured us both a glass of champagne.  In my mind, I was on the lido deck and could hear her saying “How fabulous is this book you’ve written?” and “Too bad you hadn’t started earlier!”, she’d say, “you could have already made us both rich!”.   Hiccup.  

I should have seen the iceberg coming.  She told me I wasn’t ready to write a book…I wasn’t a master yet.  I needed three more years. She told about Mrs. Fabulosity and how she was ready.   I immediately resented Mrs. F with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns even though I only knew her from the pages of a magazine.  I sort of blacked out as I scrawled a few awful notes.   It was all I could do to get off the phone.

Step One:  Allow yourself to cry, shake, and listen to Stairway to Heaven…then, share your story with another person whom your trust.  You’ll need to find a way to feel less alone with your pain.

I felt like a duck shot down out of the clear blue sky. This advice of hers was violence.  I quacked, waddled and moaned.   After sobbing for an hour, I propped myself up on a pillow and slept.  

I replayed the call for my husband.   In a moment of rare Northern European emotional expression, he burst into tears, too, remembering his own past rejections.

I later told a trusted friend who apologized for the editor’s critique.  This gave me sweet relief.

Step Two:  Ask yourself if any part of the criticism you received resonated as true.  If this is a kind Universe…how could this rejection be here to help you?

A few days after the call, an incredibly detailed and kind letter arrived from the editor.  The tone seemed oddly cheerful?  No, I couldn’t write the book I wanted to…but maybe eventually a different book could work.    There were all kinds of insightful feedback on where I had gone wrong (and some where I had gone right).   I hated it. Especially the nice parts.   She was so irritatingly articulate while she dashed my dreams.

A different book? As annoying as it was to hear, that began to resonate in my brain.   I began to ponder if it wasn’t this book…what book might it be?  

How might this be here to help?

If you were booed off the stage then the criticism may be in no way helpful except, now you know that jokes about your poodle’s skin condition don’t go down well with the American Cat Fanciers Association.  Maybe you don’t even fancy Cat Fanciers?

The necrophilia inspired decoupage nearly created a violent riot on Etsy.  Looking back…something felt a little off? What would make it right?  Or perhaps a totally new idea pops into your head?

My wise friend Anna says helpful criticism will always leave you with a sense of freedom and renewed purpose.  Did any of the feedback do that?

Step Three:  Find a safe way to stretch out your wings. Begin flapping again.

A few months later, I sent a query to different editor.    We spoke.  I had a new idea.   This time it was a bit more focused, and involved an area of freakish mastery:  animal totems.  

I began to tell her my ideas.  She was kind and supportive. She didn’t tell me that I wasn’t ready.   With her support and my new clarity, I began to write a new book.  It was one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever taken on.  

The one thing that kept me waddling back to the keyboard day after day was my desire…to write something that might encourage others…. to create something whimsical and fun that was loaded with transformative power.  

With help, I refined and rewrote and added slowly to the sweet project.  Eight months later, with the help of a small team of dear friends, I self-published.   It’s been selling like banana pancakes ever since.   I’m not yet paying our mortgage but I’m heading towards buoyancy.   

Find a safe space to begin again.

Maybe there’s a Facebook group for science fiction screenplay writers where you can connect with other writers to determine if Saintly Toaster Robots really is derivative (P.S. Since it’s all from God/the Universe anyway, you could say we’re all derivative.)  

Perhaps the Divine Dead candles you made last year sold like gangbusters at the Megadeath concert tailgate party.  Maybe it’s time to bring the necrophilia inspired decoupage to a more *lethal* venue?

Where (or from whom) could you get support and helpful feedback?

             ____________________

After my first book was published, I went on to write another.  I wish I could say the process felt like frolicking with unicorns but it didn’t.  Writing the second book was even harder.  But, there’s just something so damn satisfying about writing that I keep on.  It’s a double rainbow bonus when others resonate with the words I’ve written.

I’m writing a third book and seeking out an agent.   I’m up on the lido deck pouring the champagne again and letting the sea breezes caress my skin.   I’m ready to face critique and rejection because it’s the only way I ever succeeded.  

What is it that YOU are longing to create? 

Sarah Seidelmann M.D. was a fourth-generation physician living a nature-starved, hectic lifestyle until a walrus entered her life and changed everything. She’s a practicing Shamanic Mentor and Woman of Medicine and leads transformational travel retreats around the world. She’s also the irrepressible author of several popular books including Swimming with Elephants, How Good Are You Willing to Let It Get? Born to FREAK, and The Book of Beasties!. Sarah is publishing her first novel in 2021: Where the Deer Dream is a coming of age visionary fiction. Find her at followyourfeelgood.com

Whose Story Is It Anyway? by Victoria Lynn Smith

Before I started writing, I heard authors talk about their characters as if they had a say in the storyline.

At the end of the 1946 romantic comedy, Cluny Brown, Adam Belinski, animated by a flash of insight, tells Cluny, “I’m going to write a bestseller, a murder mystery.” Belinski and Cluny agree the victim must be a rich man because it’s pointless to murder a poor man, and Cluny asks, “Who killed him? Who did it?”

“For 365 pages, I will not know myself,” replies Belinski, “but when, on page 366, it finally comes out, will I be surprised and so will millions of others!”

The first time I heard Belinski tell Cluny he’d write a mystery without knowing who committed the murder until the last page, I laughed. Ridiculous, I thought. Of course, he’ll have to know who the murderer is when he starts writing his book.

But I wasn’t a writer then.

Before I started writing, I heard authors talk about their characters as if they had a say in the storyline. Interviews often went something like this:

Interviewer: Why does your character go to Oslo, connect with Norwegian relatives, and paint fjords instead of going to Paris to create haute couture and stroll along the Seine with a Parisian lover?

Author: Well, at first the character was going to Paris, taking the fashion world by storm, and meeting a soulmate, but when I tried to write it that way, the character steadfastly refused to get on a plane to Charles de Gaulle Airport.

I’d listen to authors talk about characters and wonder, Do authors actually talk to their characters? Do characters visit authors in a dream? Is this some type of mystical, mysterious, transcendental, existential enigma? Then I’d conclude, Characters might talk to real authors, but I’ll bet mine will never talk to me.

And then one did.

I was writing a story, and my character needed to do the right thing after doing the wrong thing. Our conversation went like this:

Me: Time to do the right thing.

My Refusing to Be Reformed Character (MRBRC): Nope, don’t want to.

Me: But your doing the right thing is the whole point of the story.

MRBRC: Tough cowhides. I see no point in it.

Me: Readers won’t like you if you don’t.

MRBRC: I don’t care. I’d much rather be memorable and get my way.

Me: Can’t you be memorable and do the right thing?

MRBRC: Seriously? How droll.

Me: But what about my story?

MRBRC: Excuse me? It’s my story. It’s about me, not you.

I gave up. My character did the wrong thing, and she wasn’t sorry. And to solidify her position, she mocked the other characters.

I finished the story and sent it to a local contest in northern Wisconsin. The story earned an honorable mention. The first judge wrote, “This story is professional. It can give the reader a look into the mind of an underprivileged child and how envy and poverty come together to affect behavior.”

The second judge wrote, “A vivid portrait of a girl who would rather steal than earn. Sadly, there are real people like that. I didn’t like her.” This judge said I developed the story well, but added that she hoped the girl didn’t grow up “nurturing her self-pity.”

Well, me too. I’ve hope for my character’s future, and even with her faults, I still like her. Would my story have placed first or second if the character had done the right thing? I don’t know, but I’ll never rewrite her storyline. In the end, I empathized with my character’s choice.

And I realized something. The first judge read my story as a commentary on poverty. The second judge talked about my character as if she were a real girl, who’d grow up to be an adult. My character, unlikeable but memorable, got under the second judge’s skin. My character’s defiance makes the story resonate more than her compliance would’ve. I can hear her gloat.

Since the debate with my I’m-going-to-do-the-wrong-thing-no-matter-what-you-say character, I’ve had other characters argue with me. I understand now what writers mean when they say characters speak to them, so if a character wants to discuss something with me, I listen.

I still laugh at the end of Cluny Brown but for a new reason—I get the inside joke. The script writers were poking fun at the writing process.

Victoria Lynn Smith lives in Wisconsin by Lake Superior. She writes fiction, creative nonfiction, and articles. She placed second in the 2020 Hal Prize Fiction Contest. In 2019 and 2020, she won first place in the Lake Superior Writers’ Short-Short Fiction Contest. Her work has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Twin Cities Public Television’s Website, Brevity Blog, Better Than Starbucks, and in several regional publications. Her dream is to one day visit the Shetland Islands. For more visit https://writingnearthelake.org/.