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.