Friday, April 17, 2015

A Great Writing Workshop

WRITING THE ROCKIES: The Gunnison Creative Writers Workshop

The 2015 session of Writing the Rockies is coming up July 22-26. This is an outstanding workshop for those who have been published as well as for those who aspire to join the ranks of published writers.

Please check out the schedule, faculty and the surrounding area at

In the meantime, here's a capsule history I wrote not long ago.

Way back before the turn of the century, in late 1999, I was serving as Assistant to the President and Director of Public Relations for Western State Colorado University (then Western State College). Corrine Brown, a freelance writer from Denver, visited Gunnison as part of a group of travel writers and quickly fell in love with the area.

Corrine came to my office to say she thought the area and especially the University would be a perfect location for a writers conference. She wanted to know if I would be interested in helping get one established. I considered the idea for at least a full second before telling her I thought it was a wonderful idea. 

Both Corrine and I were members of Western Writers of America (WWA) and we approached the group’s leadership about endorsing such a workshop. When they enthusiastically agreed, we decided to call the workshop “Writing the West: The Gunnison Creative Writers Workshop.”

In the summer of 2000 the first workshop convened with about 15 participants and a faculty of noted writers of Western literature that included Elmer Kelton, named in 2009 the “All-Time Best Western Author” by the WWA; Don Coldsmith, author of dozens of books (notably “The Spanish Bit” series) with more than 6 million books in print; and others including Jon Chandler, W. J. Jameson and Mike Blakely.

Over the next two years we added a concert of Western music called “Singing the West” and even joined forces with a massive Chuckwagon Cookoff ramrodded by Cliff Goss that helped attract a crowd of 800 people to the concert after the evening meal.

Over the years the workshop became more and more associated with, and and was ultimately sponsored by, the University and the name was changed to “Writing the Rockies” to reflect the workshop’s inclusion of many different genres.

As interest in the workshop grew and attendance increased, respected authors in a number of genres from throughout the U.S. agreed to serve as faculty members. Published writers and those hoping to join their ranks came to Gunnison from across the country and even from abroad.

The University embraced the workshop and gave it its wholehearted support, helping it earn even more respect and leading to a move of venue from one campus building to a larger facility for general sessions and to additional buildings for small group meetings.

Beginning in 2010, with the advent of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Western and with the leadership of Dr. Mark Todd (founder of that program) the workshop has come under the umbrella of that academic program and has grown even more quickly. Dr. Todd brought in faculty members with world class credentials who also became faculty members for Writing the Rockies, giving the workshop even more prestige.

In 2014 Dr. David J. Rothman, a nationally recognized poet, assumed the role of Director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing and has used his national persona to attract additional faculty members with notable credentials and substantial publications and awards. As of 2015, Writing the Rockies has become a major literary event not only in the region but in the entire west. I am honored to have had the opportunity to set it in motion -- long may it thrive.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Fear of Writing

Don't forget to visit


If you want to write, you can.  Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is.  Who am I?  What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me, if I do?  You're a human being, with a unique story to tell, and you have every right.  If you speak with passion, many of us will listen.  We need stories to live, all of us.

We live by story.  Yours enlarges the circle.”


Pulitzer Prize Winner

For The Making of the Atom Bomb


            It seems that almost everyone “has a book in them.” However, relatively few actually sit down to write it. The reasons are many.

·         They discover that writing is hard work – surprisingly hard work that takes time, energy and actual thought.

·         They are too busy with kids, jobs, fun things.

·         They discover that they don’t have as much to say as they thought.

·         They are afraid to put their thoughts down on paper (their friends might actually read them and ridicule the writer).

·         When they do try they don’t seem inspired.

·         They fear failure.

·         All of the above.


Anyone who has ever written successfully has probably faced many, or all, of the same obstacles but may have overcome them by simple force of will.

Even Tennessee Williams talked about “the terror of the white page in the typewriter.”

And the prolific Jack London said “you can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”


Today there are more so-called writers than ever before. Publishers throughout the world put literally thousands of new books on the market each year – many of which are actually worthy of publication. The rise of self-publishing and ebooks means that anyone who can string together enough words to make a novel – or a memoir or a diatribe about one social ill or another – can make their work available to the unsuspecting world with ease.

And the Internet – God bless it despite all its faults – has spawned maybe billions of “writers,” many of whom (in my opinion) should not be allowed to opine in public (mainly those who spew hate and cast vile, usually unsupported accusations at those with whom they disagree).

The option of “anonymity” has probably given these individuals the means to overcome their fears (if, indeed, they ever had any) and allowed them the freedom to express any views (right or wrong, fair or not) with impunity.

Meanwhile, others of us toil alone in a room, struggling with our craft, striving to make it worthy of a reader’s time, attempting to create something of beauty, trying to make history understandable and important to today, re-creating the life of a significant individual, or telling a story that resonates with others and that has a message of hope for the future. Then we wait while the sales team of a publisher determines whether or not it might be a profitable venture for them.

For two years in the 1960s I shared an office with Richard Rhodes, the author of the quote that opens this piece. Dick and I were quite young and working for a major firm in Kansas City. We were writing but not doing the kind of writing to which we both aspired. However, writing advertising and sales promotion copy was honing our skills, perfecting our styles, teaching us proofreading lessons that would be valuable to us both.

Eventually Dick went to New York to write and I moved into higher education. We have both continued to write – he has been much more productive than I have in terms of published books although I may have published as many or more words in newspaper and magazine articles, advertising copy and video scripts (and in the published historical novel “This Cursed Valley.”

The point is that (although I can’t speak for him) I have had to overcome fears of my own and, somehow, have managed to do so.

It can be done. In some cases, fear of writing may be a good thing for it forces one to work hard at creating something worthwhile that contains complete sentences, is free of typos, refuses to resort to obscenities to make a point (frequent use of the f-word, for example, is to me an indication of lazy writing – the author can think of no other way to express themselves), and shows that the writer has worked diligently to find new ways of saying familiar things.

Addressing aspiring writers, Mark Twain once wrote: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

In a similar vein Anton Chekhov said “Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

“Easy reading is damn hard writing” said Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Hard writing is what it is all about. If it was easy to do, everyone would do it – often with disastrous results.

Finally, all writers should heed the words of Samual Beckett: “Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Grit your teeth. Take a deep breath. Write.






Saturday, March 21, 2015

Words Matter

Words Matter

 The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. 

 ~Mark Twain

            Words matter, whether written or spoken.

As a publisher I sometimes receive submitted manuscripts with poorly constructed sentences, typos, misspellings and obvious indications of ignorance of the meanings of words or, at the least, lousy proofreading.

            Maybe email is at fault. Tweeting and texting and their lackadaisical attention to spelling, grammar and capitalization play important roles. Or maybe it’s just plain old indifference on the part of people more concerned with telling their digital friends where they are or what (or how much) they drank or smoked last night than they are in using proper language, spelling and punctuation to convey something more meaningful and/or interesting.   

            Whatever the cause of this lack of interest in the proper use of language, it is an appalling circumstance that only exaggerates the increasingly poor communication traits among many elements of society.

            Like, I mean, you know. You hear what I’m sayin’?

            Let’s not go their.

            See what I mean? If you don’t, you just made my point.

            Sadly, the improper use of our language is encouraged by song (and rap) lyrics, movies, television and many role models (sports stars, movie stars and others who, for no evident reason, are simply, stars).

            Even more discouraging is the way our language is being hijacked and bastardized by government “leaders” who have mastered the art of what George Orwell termed “doublethink,” a term he coined in the literary classic 1984 to describe the results of the government’s use of language.  Even before the publication of 1984 which came out in 1949, he wrote: “Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” (From Politics and the English Language, 1946.)

            To illustrate the point about how political speech can (and does) convince many listeners that less is more or vice versa, he included the following in 1984.”
War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.

            Others have been equally disdainful of the way politicians use language.

            For example, George Will believes “a politician's words reveal less about what he thinks about his subject than what he thinks about his audience.”

The H-word: Hate

            The heinous word “hate” has become increasingly commonplace. “I hate that man” (or woman), “I hate all (fill in the blanks with your least favorite political party),” “Don’t you just hate that song?” “I hate school,” and therefore “I hate to write themes.”

            Does one actually hate? Or does one simply “dislike” certain men or women, specific politicians and their policies, some music and various aspects of school?

The ubiquitous and anonymous rants on the Internet clearly illustrate the widespread use of the word by what appears to be a large percentage of society.  

            When one uses a word often enough to describe feelings, emotions or even people, one begins to believe it. This is often true, even if “hate,” for example, is the descriptive word used initially even though the feelings might not have been as strong as indicated by the word itself.

Back to Language in General

            Not too long ago I enjoyed televised “discussions,” “conversations” and “debates.” Lately, however, many of them have become little more than shouting matches where the loudest voice (including that of the so-called “moderator”) wins.

            I suspect noted author Philip Roth would agree. In his 1969 novel Portnoy’s Complaint, he wrote: “My God! The English language is a form of communication! Conversation isn't just crossfire where you shoot and get shot at! Where you've got to duck for your life and aim to kill! Words aren't only bombs and bullets — no, they're little gifts, containing meanings!”

            Too many “guests” on TV programs seek to impress by coming up with rambling sentences designed to show they have some four-syllable words in their vocabulary and little else. In fact, David Ogilvy, author of Confessions of an Advertising Man, confided that “our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.”

            Television, and its reliance on advertising revenue for survival, contributes mightily to the demolition of proper language use. Thank God for the remote, however, for without it we would be even more completely inundated with sound in which the only decipherable word is  the name of the product.

            As advertising blather becomes the nation's normal idiom, language becomes printed noise,” says George Will.

            Frankly, I’m worried.

            If the members of the general public, or a good portion of it, are not at least minimally educated in the proper use of language and in how it can be (and often is) perverted for causes that range from political to social and from fund raising to salesmanship, powerful articulate leaders will have their ways with us and the results will benefit only them and not the rest of us.  

            Even that great philosopher Robin Williams is quoted as having said “no matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”

            Unfortunately, I tend to agree with Aesop who, in Aesop’s Fables, wrote: “After all is said and done, more is said than done.”

I also agree with Abraham Lincoln who said: “It is better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and resolve all doubt.”

            So I’ll shut up.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

George Sibley's "Dragons in Paradise (Plus)" Explores Life "On the Edge in the Mountain West"





            In a departure from fiction and biography, Raspberry Creek Books has published a book of essays by long-time Coloradan George Sibley.

Those who think they want to escape the busyness of their contemporary lives to find peace and tranquility in a mountain valley might want to read Dragons in Paradise (Plus) before making that final decision.

Sibley moved to the Colorado mountains from Pittsburgh, PA, in the 1960s and discusses many aspects of mountain living, good and not so good, in 20 essays.

He asks, is “living a simple life” even possible (or responsible) these days? He explores the difference between “place” and “property” and wonders if it is heresy for a Historical District to recycle the past to create the future.  Sibley considers his own evolution from “ski bum” to a member of a community’s “economic development” committee and recounts how he came to admire a man he termed “a hardbitten, self-proclaimed hippie-hating anti-environmentalist.” 

Dragons in Paradise was initially published in 2004 by Mountain Gazette Publishing. This new edition – Dragons in Paradise (Plus) – has now been published by Raspberry Creek Books of Gunnison. It includes a few of the (updated) original essays and features many new ones.

The book is available at local and area bookstores and other retail outlets or it may be ordered from the publisher at It is also available on and other online sites.

John Nichols, author of The Milagro Beanfield War and The Magic Journey calls Sibley’s essays fun, important and insightful. “They are a wonderful history of this part of the West,” he says. “Ed Abbey, it’s time to pop another top: let’s welcome this new sheriff to town.”    

Ed Marston, publisher emeritus of The High Country News, agrees. “George is driven by the desire to understand the world,” he says, “to explain that world to people who may be interested, and to improve the world in light of that understanding. In that sense, he’s an idealist.”

Sibley’s most recent major work was Water Wranglers, a commissioned history of the Colorado River District and the development of Colorado’s share of the Colorado River, published in 2012. He is also the author of Part of a Winter (1977, Crown Publishing), a collection of essays about life in the Colorado Rockies.  He has also written numerous essays and articles that appeared in nationally distributed publications (Harper’s Magazine, Technology Illustrated, High Country News, New Age Journal and Old West), and in regional publications like Colorado Central and  Mountain Gazette. A list of his essays and other writings is available at

            “For the past four decades,” Sibley writes, “I've lived in a real estate development called ‘Colorado.’ Colorado has been a real estate development from the start back in the 1850s: four straight lines laid down on a map … unnatural laser lines attached not to geography but to the abstract concept of property, subdivisible with liberty and licenses for all.”

            With humor and insightfulness, Sibley explores life in the mountain West from the perspective of one who decades ago made it his home and committed himself to a fuller understanding of this part of the country. At the same time he became a full participant in efforts to improve life in the communities of which he was a part. The essays in Dragons in Paradise (Plus) recount his journey.

            The book is dedicated “To the mountains and valleys and those who love them” and it is subtitled “Life on the Edge in the Mountain West.”      

            He writes: “I came to the mountains to ski, but somewhere along the line, the mountains came to me.”