Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ten things I'd wish I'd known on the road to success as a writer

Kim Culbertson's website
Sierra Writers 2017: A discussion with Kim Culbertson about “The Road to Success”
What is success?  

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!” 
                  -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

  1. No one knows your book as well as you do and, thus, no one will truly care for your book more than you. Use this to your advantage.               
  2. Praise and criticism all come from the same source.
  3. It doesn’t matter how many people read your book. It doesn’t change the book.
  4. Publishing (the business) and Writing (the craft, the work) are not the same thing. Love the work like the difficult, creative, funny child it is. The business is something else entirely. You don’t have to love it.
  5. No matter your path in publishing, you will make compromises.
  6. Someone’s book will always be doing “better” and someone else’s book will always be doing “worse” than your book. Comparison kills the spirit. In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert says you shouldn’t let fear drive the car. I agree. You should also not let comparison drive the car. That jerk is a bad traveling companion. Leave him at a rest stop whenever possible.
  7. Your audience matters. People will tell you it’s all marketing, but it’s not true. You write for an audience. Respect them. Your readers are one of the best parts of this job.
  8. Find other writers. It can be formal or informal. Sometimes, it’s nice to know you’re not completely alone in that head of yours.
  9. Your voice is different from everyone else’s. This is the gift. This is also true for process. Find what works for you (even if you have to ignore everything on this handout).
  10. Try not to be in a hurry. I say try because of course you are. You have a fire in you and it’s lighting the way of your book. Of course you want to get to that next step; you imagine things about it that you think will be true (they almost never are, but you imagine they will be). I set so many arbitrary deadlines for myself and they almost never panned out – they created anxiety and they caused mistakes. Patience rules this game: in the craft and in the business. It is annoying and frustrating, but try not to hurry.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Speaker: Mary Volmer

Mary Volmer Website
Mary Volmer: Basketball player turned historical novelist and teacher at Saint Mary’s College (CA). Interesting journey.

Review Snippet: “Mary Volmer’s Reliance, Illinois grabbed me from the first page. Staggeringly beautiful prose, a poignant story, the whip smart heroine Maddy who I rooted for all the way."
—Cara Black, New York Times bestselling author of Murder on the Quai

Conference Workshop: The Artist and the Athlete,
Session 2, 1:10 - 2:10

Lunchtime Author Round table, 12:00 - 1:00

Closing Panel Discussion, 3:55 - 4:45

Workshop Description: Athletics and art, in their purest forms, are not essentially different endeavors. In this talk, we explore the ways in which artistic and athletic disciplines inform one another.

Among the topics we will consider are structure and time, the efficacy of rules, and the primacy of faith, practice, and play in the development of athletes and artists. While I use examples from my own career, the goal of the talk will be to give you, even if you despise physical exertion, a new perspective and tools you might apply to your own creative process.

Mary Volmer was born in Grass Valley, California, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College and a master’s degree from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, where she was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has been awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and Hedgebrook and now teaches at Saint Mary’s College. She is also the author of Crown of Dust. Reliance, Illinois is her second novel. description.

"Reliance, Illinois has it all—mystery, politics, war; love, death, and art. Every page is a pleasure."
—Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Reliance, Illinois
tells the story of a young woman faced with choices that will alter the course of her own future, and offers a brilliant window into American life during a period of tumultuous change. Illinois, 1874: With a birthmark covering half her face, thirteen-year-old Madelyn Branch is accustomed to cold and awkward greetings, and expects no less in the struggling town of Reliance. After all, her mother, Rebecca, was careful not to mention a daughter in the Matrimonial Times ad that brought them there. 

When Rebecca weds, Madelyn poses as her mother’s younger sister and earns a grudging berth in her new house. Deeply injured by her mother’s deceptions, Madelyn soon leaves to enter the service of Miss Rose Werner, prodigal daughter of the town’s founder. Miss Rose is a suffragette and purveyor of black market birth control who sees in Madelyn a project and potential acolyte. Madelyn, though, wants to feel beautiful and loved, and she pins her hopes on William Stark, a young photographer and haunted Civil War veteran.

Highlighted Review:

on May 24, 2016
Format: Hardcover|Verified Purchase

Normally I read a book cover to cover within a day or two, but I found when reading Reliance, Illinois that my pace slowed in quiet enjoyment. The characters and writing style were so well-thought out and developed that I found myself studying the characters in depth. Something I appreciate in a good book, but often do not find. Volmer strongly delivers in this area. The author's depiction of each character is vivid as she guides you through their strengths and weaknesses. I could go into details and my opinion on each individual, but then I would provide too many spoilers. Ultimately, that is for you to discover! ;)

Reliance, Illinois will take you through a gamut of emotions as the plot unfolds. I truly enjoyed sneaking a peek into this representation of a historical period, a mixture of fact and fiction, as Volmer opens a portal to an era gone by.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Speaker: Kim Culbertson

Kim Culbertson Website
Kim Culbertson: Award-winning author of five YA novels. Much of her inspiration for her novels comes from the work she’s done as a high school teacher for the last eighteen years.

Review Snippet: "Culbertson writes with sensitivity and sympathy, crafting an entertaining but perceptive character study." --Kirkus Reviews

Workshop Title: The Writing Life, Session 1, 10:50 - 11:50

Lunchtime Author Round table, 12:00 - 1:00

Panel Discussion Moderator: 3:55 - 4:45

Workshop Description: Kim will discuss some of her trials and triumphs in her own writing life and practice as a way of exploring what you seek in your own writing life. She'll leave plenty of time in the session for your questions so be sure to bring them!

Kim is the award-winning author of the YA novels Songs for a Teenage Nomad (Sourcebooks 2010), Instructions for a Broken Heart (Sourcebooks 2011), Catch a Falling Star (Scholastic 2014), The Possibility of Now (Scholastic 2016), and The Wonder of Us (Scholastic 2017).

Much of her inspiration for her novels comes from the work she’s done as a high school teacher since 1997. In 2012, Kim wrote her eBook novella The Liberation of Max McTrue for her students, who, over the years, have taught her far more than she has taught them. She currently lives in Nevada City, CA, with her husband and daughter. description:

Mara James has always been a perfectionist with a plan. But despite years of overachieving at her elite school, Mara didn't plan on having a total meltdown during her calculus exam. Like a rip-up-the-test-and-get-escorted-out kind of meltdown. And she definitely didn't plan on never wanting to show her face again.

Mara knows she should go back,only she can't bring herself to do it. Because suddenly she doesn't know why she's been overachieving all these years. So Mara tells her mom she wants to go live with her estranged dad in Tahoe. Maybe in a place like Tahoe, where people go to get away from everyday life, and with a dad like Trick McHale, a ski bum avoiding real life, Mara can figure things out.

Except Tahoe is nothing like she thought it would be. There are awesome new friends and a chance to finally get to know Trick, but there are also still massive amounts of schoolwork. Can Mara find a balance between the future and the now, or will she miss out on both?

Highlighted Review:
on March 7, 2016
Format: Hardcover

I am unfamiliar with Culbertson’s other books, but “The Possibility of Now” inspires me to check them out. This book presents us with strong life lessons that are unaffected by age, as complex as relevant, and are completely universal to all readers. We should 1) Be brave, 2) Never give up, 3) Learn to focus on what is best for ourselves, amongst other themes.

Our protagonist, Mara, from San Diego, moves to Squaw Valley to live with her father, Trick Hale, after a humiliating video of her having a total meltdown in Calculus goes viral on Youtube. She leaves her prestigious school and scheduled life for a less aggressive, free-reign lifestyle in Squaw. There, she gets to challenge herself athletically (skiing), mentally (by staying atop homework assignments via an online portal), and socially (becoming a part of a world unbeknownst to her and making new friends).

Each character we come across, as Mara grows to know them, challenges or enriches Mara’s philosophies. Trick reminds us that life is to be experienced, not just lived to “be good at it.” Isabel shows us that you can balance school and your personal goals, successfully, without one coming before the other. Beck is our story’s second debbie-downer, (Mara being the first); he informs Mara that school is just black and white, and to learn the gray area, you need to experience and self-educate (even if his choices aren't always the best). Oli is our grandfather of wisdom, reminding us to find peace in nature and appreciate the small things. Lastly, Logan is the boy every girls wants, and teaches Mara that there is more to life than to-do lists, like enjoying your friends, appreciating books, making your own decisions, and following your heart [By the way, the love triangle doesn’t do much for me. I agree with other reviews that it ends before it starts, barely giving us a chance to make our own decision on which boy is worth chasing.]

I definitely have to admit that a book that takes us on ski breaks is not one I would usually enjoy, but “The Possibility of Now” managed to make an exception for me. However, I will say that I was surprised of just how frequently Mara completely ignored her other “life requirements” to do so.

Regardless, I was drawn to this book, refusing to put it down until I finished. Mara is as convincing as she is troubled, and although she doesn’t necessarily get her way in the end, she managed to be brave and embark on her own journey. The experiences she faced are hauntingly present in our own lives and it’s nice to see these woven effectively in story. 4.5 stars from me!

Speaker: Sands Hall

Sands Hall website
Sands Hall: Author, Playwright, Singer/Songwriter, is the author of the National bestseller, Catching Heaven (Ballantine). Stories have appeared in the New England Review and Iowa Review, among others. Her play, Fair Use, explores the controversy surrounding Wallace Stegner’s use of the life and writing of nineteenth century writer and illustrator Mary Hallock Foote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Angle of Repose.

Review Snippet: “Sands Hall is a wonderful writer, full of soul and feeling.” -- Anne Lamott

Pre-conference Workshop: Critique Fest - Peer and Professional Critique. Friday, January 20, 2017, 2:30 - 5:00 pm. Additional fee.

In this session, a short piece of your writing is critiqued in a small group that includes peers and a published writer. You will learn what goes into creating an effective workshop, how to create and receive effective criticism, and how you can become your own best editor. In the process, you’ll no doubt come to know a number of literary companions with whom you’ll want to continue the discussion long after the conference is over.  (More about the Critique Fest here.)

An essential resource for every writer to have on a nearby shelf, for study and inspiration. Offering advice, concrete examples, and personal experience, Tools of the Writer’s Craft functions as a both an academic resource and a practical guide.

Highlighted Review:
on April 5, 2012
Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase

Reviewed by C. J. Singh (Berkeley, CA)

In the opening pages, "Making Workshops Work," Sands Hall offers tips on giving optimal feedback as well as responding to mixed feedback on your own manuscript. "A valuable resonance to keep in mind when your head is reeling at the end of a workshop" is that "the Sanskrit root of the verb to judge means to separate the wheat from the chaff (p 11). This section also appears in Writer's Workshop in a Book: The Squaw Valley Community of Writers on the Art of Fiction, edited by Alan Cheuse and Lisa Alvarez. Sands Hall is a longtime teacher at Squaw Valley Conference as well as the University of Iowa's Summer Writing Festival.

On page 15: "Some authors maintain that they are not interested in theme, or that if there is one, it is not `purposeful': this is disingenuous. I admire Hall's bold assertion on theme -- it contrasts with Janet Burroway's equivocation in her widely used textbook in college courses Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (8th Edition). (See my review on amazon.)

In the section on "Some Essentials," Hall explains the familiar telling-showing, simile-metaphor, and summary-scene distinctions. This section introduces some of the 25 exercises included at the end of the book, exercises that greatly enhance its self-teaching features.

The most detailed and sophisticated discussion is in the section "Point of View," constituting nearly a third of the 266-page text. Toward the end of this section, Hall briefly includes her own Colonial Theory of Point of View: "It has occurred to me that British writers, both canonical and contemporary, seem to have an especial ability with the omniscient perspective." She suggests that this arose from British world-wide hegemony that began in the sixteenth century. In contrast, American authors often chose a first-person or a close third-person point of view from their urge to "disconnect" from Europe. After World War I, as America began to achieve global hegemony, American authors are increasingly preferring omniscient point of view. Hall graciously adds: "There are no doubt myriad explanations besides this limited and mostly amusing notion" (p 173).

Throughout the book, Hall incorporates brief quotes from the works of writers like Margaret Atwood, Raymond Carver, Jennifer Egan, John Fowles, David Guterson, Oakley Hall, Joyce Carl Oates, Alice Seybold, Anne Tyler and sixty other contemporary as well as classic. The detailed index, 15-pages long, makes it easy to locate these quotations.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Something New at the Conference: Learning Journal

Sierra Writers’ Conference is delighted to offer you a FREE Learning journal as part of your registration.

Conferences are great sources of information, ideas and connections. However, when you get home again, there's all those emails ... and the family needs attention ... and work is overflowing ... and ... and ... and, soon lots of that great content and possibilities have leaked away.

There's a term for it ... the forgetting curve ... it's astonishing how fast we forget things we've just learned. The writers' conference learning journal is designed to help you set your learning intentions, capture the information and connections you need, and know exactly what you want to do after the conference and how to make sure you get them done.

To help prevent that, we’re offering you a journal that will help you know what to do before, during and after the conference.

The Link to the Journal will by email.

Just a few highlights:

- a section to organize all the questions you’d like to have answered at the conference
- 5 tips for building confidence in you as a writer
- how to ask for what you want
- what to bring to share with others
- Tips for giving and receiving better feedback
- how to determine your interaction style and how it can affect you at the conference
- how to write a great elevator connection speech (and why normal elevator speeches don’t work) 
For more great information about writing and conferences:

Friday, January 6, 2017

FRIDAY Critique Fest: the conference add on that could change your writing life


Have a piece of your writing read and critiqued by peers and a published writer in Friday’s CRITIQUE FEST!

Critique Fest will be led by Sands Hall, author of the national bestseller, Catching Heaven and a book of writing essays and exercises, Tools of the Writer’s Craft. A popular teacher, she leads workshops and lectures for such conferences as the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley and the Iowa Summer Writing Festival,  She is currently an adjunct assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster, PA, where she is also the editor of the F&M Alumni Arts Review.

Often conference critique sessions offer you feedback from one person, one perspective. It may be exactly what you need, or are ready to hear—or not.

In this session, your work will be critiqued in a small group setting of peers and a published writer and teacher of writing. You will hear many voices making suggestions for your work.

Additionally, you will hone your skill as an editor as you learn how to give and receive critique in a positive way that will stimulate your own writing development and make you a valued member of any writing group.

Joining Sands are five incredible authors. You can click on their names below to find out more about them.

 Catharine Bramkamp:  Author of 15 books, co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns, dynamic writing coach and Chief Storytelling Officer for Winesecrets.


Kim Culbertson: Award-winning author of five YA novels. Much of her inspiration for her novels comes from the work she’s done as a high school teacher for the last eighteen years.


Dimitri Keriotis:  Author of short fiction, writing instructor and co-founder of High Sierra Institute.


Chris Olander: Poet/Teacher with California Poets in the Schools (CPITS) since 1984.


Jordan Fisher Smith: Nonfiction author of Nature Noir and Engineering Eden,  freelancer for, New Yorker, and Discover, narrator of the Oscar-shortlisted film “Under Our Skin.”

This session will start exactly at 2:30, please arrive a few minutes early.

What to bring: Arrive with EIGHT COPIES of a piece of your writing—limit 250 words: copies for each peer, one for the instructor, and one for the notes you’ll want to take.
250 words may not sound like a lot, but much can be gained from feedback on that amount of writing. You might want to hear how the opening of your story or novel is working. Is the voice in your poem doing what you want it to do? Are you presenting yourself effectively in a piece of memoir.? You might be looking for help with imagery, with introducing a character, or in handling transitions. If you feel a need to include introductory material, it needs to be part of your 250 words, but bear in mind that readers usually manage to get things from context.

What to expect: As you arrive at the Fest, you’ll draw a number—lottery system—that determines the group and the instructor you will join. Once everyone’s in place, Sands will offer some thoughts on how to give and receive effective critiques, and then off you’ll head to your assigned space with your peers and instructor.
Groups are limited to six participants, facilitated by an instructor. After brief introductions, each participant reads their piece aloud and receives commentary. As time permits, participants also write notes on the piece under discussion. The instructor sums up and then moves to the next writer (time limits are adhered to so that everyone gets critiqued). At the end of the workshop, participants return the piece to the writer with any notes they may have made, You will learn much about your own writing in working this way on the writing of others!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bramkamp: Writing as a Beginner

Catharine Bramkamp

Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty. This guest post comes from Catharine Bramkamp, author of 15 books, co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns, dynamic writing coach and Chief Storytelling Officer for Winesecrets

“Each moment is a place you’ve never been.”
 – Mark Strand

Are you a beginner?  Good.  We all are.

You’ve no doubt read countless sincere articles about beginner’s mind, the whole zen profound thoughts on beginning and starting fresh.

It doesn’t need to be that hard.

It’s just about starting - and more important, not over analyzing the project before you even start.

Beginners are curious. Beginners ask, What if?

Beginners block out that pernicious quote:  If I knew what I was getting into, I would never had started.  Start.

Start the story of your aunt like Julia Park Tracey did.  Finish with a best selling series. Start your story of your mother, like Linda Joy Meyers did. Finish as the head of the  Memoir Writers Association.  Start by recording  the crazy character who keeps talking in your head.

Beginner’s mind is another way of saying, get started. 

You probably have read countless articles on starting - how to start an exercise program, how to start a successful diet, how to start a family.  Starting a novel is much like starting a family.  You do not give birth to a five year old. You give birth to a baby with, if you’re lucky, a small head.

 Writing is just like that.  You start small. You begin small.

Here is how: 
Don’t start by working on a big novel, all day.  Don’t even start writing for an hour.
Write on anything at all for 10 minutes.

Now  stop and walk away. (You know, I tried pushing out that last baby for ten minutes and then volunteered to quit and just walk away.  Obstetric nurses don’t have much of a sense of humor).

If  it’s not a baby, you can return to your project the next day feeling rather refreshed. Feed that beginning effort with more words.  Don’t rewrite, just add.  In a few months you’ll have a  respectful number of words that, once organized and edited, may reveal a theme and plot.

But small, start small.  Because trying to give birth to a fully formed novel in one go, is very painful indeed.

To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes  - Newbie Writers Podcast
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually.  All you need to do is wait . . . like us.
Subscribe to the blog on
Or just follow me on Newbie Writers Group on Facebook
Or Instagram -  #CatharineBramkampWriter
Or Pinterest -  Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp, thank god there is only one of me.

 We love your comments!

Keynote Speaker: Molly Fisk

Molly Fisk Website
Molly Fisk: Poet, radio commentator, life coach, writing teacher, painter of barns and mason jars full of water … in general, a most extraordinary stimulator of creativity.

Keynote Thought: Who else could write a book of essays titled: Blow-Drying a Chicken? Prepare to be tickled into a new way of thinking about your writing. 

Keynote Title: "Blow-Drying Chickens and Listening to Winter: Why Writing Matters," 9:30 am.

Lunchtime Author Round table, 12:00 - 1:00 

Molly Fisk says, "I write as openly and personally as I can about many subjects including love, death, grammar, small towns, lingerie, and the natural world. I’m also a mentor, speaker, feminist with a capital F, political activist, sister, aunt, cousin, godmother, honorary grandparent, not-very-old elder, swimmer, former banker, one-time sweater designer, nature lover, and color maven.

"Someone titled his painting of me 'My life is my message.' I loved that he thought so, and I think he’s right. I’m aiming to be the Molliest Molly I can discover, and that’s what I help other people do, too."

She's also Poet Laureate of KVMR 89.5 FM, Nevada City, CA and Hell’s Backbone Grill, Boulder, UT.

Click here to order. description:

Poets notice what other people miss. Nationally-known poet Molly Fisk’s singular perspective on love, death, grammar, lingerie, small towns, and the natural world will get you laughing, crying, and thinking.

Highlighted Review (Molly has a 100% 5-Star rating on Incredible!):

on May 14, 2015
Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase

My wife and I were given a copy of Fisk’s second book of essays, Using Your Turn Signal. My wife started reading it first and was raving about it immediately. Then it was my turn to read it…and rave about it. We then got the author’s first book of essays, Blow-Drying a Chicken, from the library, which was just as wonderful.

In both of the author’s books of essays, the stories are sprinkled with humor and are very delightful. They also are rooted in human experiences, most or all of which we readers can identify with: joy, sadness, illness, death, insecurity, overcoming challenges, love, etc. The author is very honest in sharing things that are personal, which is part of these books’ appeal. She is wise and perceptive and through her stories shares insights about the simple things of life as well as the profound experiences that help define the remarkable person she is.

I have bought copies of Blow Drying to give to friends. This is the greatest compliment I can give the writer. I highly recommend both of her books of essays. The stories in them aren’t just stories to entertain, they are stories that teach us how to live better. These two books are a joy to read.