Book TV

Who’s familiar with C-SPAN? You know, the cable television channel that broadcasts proceedings of the federal government along with other public affairs programming. C-SPAN is an acronym for Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network.

I suppose, some people are C-SPAN junkies much like I am when it comes to the Food Network’s show Chopped or getting the latest from The Weather Channel.

I guess, I just don’t find legislators pontificating from podiums riveting. But hold the phone just a minute! It turns out C-SPAN defines public affairs TV as more than government driven. Who’s familiar with Book TV? This is the name given to weekend programming on the cable network’s C-SPAN2.

Primarily the programming begins at 8:00 a.m. eastern time on Saturdays and ends at 8:00 a.m. eastern time on Mondays, times when the U.S. Senate is not in session. The programming focuses on non-fiction books and authors. It includes interviews with authors along with live coverage of book events around the country.

The focus is mainly devoted to the subject areas of history, biography and public affairs. What’s amazing is that about 2,000 authors are featured every year; there have been as many as 60,000 titles covered in a year.

Do know that the production style of Book TV is “no frills.” It focuses on panel discussions, book signings, lectures, seminars, and visits to bookstores along with the author interviews. It is weighted toward the subjects of government, politics, and history. As with other C-SPAN programming, live viewer call-ins are featured which allow writers to hear directly from their readers.

You can find information on specific programming at the website booktv.org. In addition to C-SPAN2, Book TV can be viewed via live streaming on the C-SPAN website. An iPhone app streams the audio portion only.

Author’s Bio.: Ann Hermes holds a B.S. in Broadcast Journalism, a B.A. in Speech Rhetoric/Public Address, and an M.A. in Philanthropy and Development.  She has been a television reporter, TV anchorwoman, and a writer/producer of multi-media presentations.  She currently is the Artistic Director for Lakes Area Theatre producing weekly, half-hour radio theatre shows, which are broadcast on 15 radio stations across Minnesota. She also operates her freelance business, Choice Voice, providing writing services for multi-media productions, voice acting, and on-camera acting services.

Writer’s Schlock

Seldom, have I attended a writer’s conference, workshop or reading when someone didn’t ask one or both of the two big questions about writing:

1) – How do you deal with rejection?
2) – How do you deal with writer’s block?

I will take on both of these questions and preface my remarks by saying that what works for me may not work for you. However, as writers, we glean what we can from the fields of fellow writers and editors, proofreaders and publishers. So, take what you will, use what you can and forget the rest.

I once sat in the cab of a pickup truck with Norman Maclean. I had just returned from an overseas tour in the Marine Corps and had on my well-worn combat boots. We were overlooking a field where a combine was working at bringing in the wheat harvest.

Norman looked down and said, “You’ve walked some miles in those boots.”

I nodded and said nothing. We watched the combine as it spun on its front wheels, preparing to make another round, its massive grain-head churning hungrily in anticipation. I was thinking about how Norman had just accepted a large monetary offer from Robert Redford for his memoir A River Runs Through It after having rejected other offers for equivalent money because he did not like how the screen writers had depicted his brother. I wanted to ask him how he had dealt with all the rejection along the way toward his now renowned success and fame. For some reason I polar-ended the question.

“How do you deal with acceptance?” I asked.

He laughed heartedly, and said, “Carefully.”

We’ve all heard it before; “Rejection is just part of the game.” This is true. However, I believe it is better to focus on what you can learn from these inevitable rejections rather than bemoan them. My exposure to rejection started early in life. Having a father who was an English professor got me interested in books and writing at an early age. When I was about nine years old, I “self published” a book that ran roughly two dozen pages. Bound with corrugated cardboard and illustrated by the author himself. It was certainly due to rest alongside the great works that filled my father’s bookshelves. While sitting in my father’s office one day, I presented the autographed, first edition to him. He flipped through the title page and author’s acknowledgements, then began reading at chapter one. The first line went something like this: “They were wet and cold. . . “ Without turning another page, he handed the book back to me. “Never,” he said, “begin a sentence, let alone a paragraph, let alone an entire book, with a pronoun.” It was the harshest, but certainly not the last rejection I would receive in my career.

That’s tough love from an old-school English professor, and I can’t say that it didn’t hurt, but by God, by the end of the day – I damn sure knew what a pronoun was.

Now, as for writer’s block:

I can say that I have never suffered from writer’s block. But, saying so does not mean that I don’t deny its existence. I have successful, writer friends that have confided in me about their hang ups. The suggestions on how to proceed and helpful anodynes as well as placebos for the ailment are abundant.

Maybe it’s not that I haven’t suffered from writer’s block, but more on how I have avoided it or deal with it when I come upon it. I combat it with what I like to call, “writer’s schlock.” Sounds kind of funny, but here’s how it works. If for example, you have a character moving down a bank of a river and cannot find a motivation to move that character to the other side – you are stuck. Well, why not have a winged unicorn come down to fly your character across the river on a rainbow bridge? Reread it, and yes, it is utter “schlock.” Then ask yourself how you would write it better. Usually, there is a snippet of useful prose in amongst your schlock. Sure, unless you are writing children’s or fantasy, the winged unicorn and the rainbow bridge are a bit much, but in this situation, having your character coming upon something that will get them across the river is workable. Maybe not a winged unicorn, but maybe a conventional bridge, boat or shallow ford is more believable and fitting. I will sometimes spend countless hours and thousands of words on nonsensical verbiage. Sitting there and just hammering out schlock that I will go back to and work over and eliminate 97% of as I move toward a working draft.

The main thing is this; that when you may otherwise be stuck – with “writer’s schlock,” you are still putting words on the page. You are still scribbling or typing. This, of course, in my opinion and experience, is the single most important part of the process. Or as Norman Maclean once told me – “You keep putting one boot in front of the other. You just keep hammering away.”

Author’s Bio.: Paul Gremmels is a freelance writer and essayist, whose work has appeared in numerous publications and mediums. His most recent success was winning the 2013 Prairie Gate Literary Festival’s essay writing competition. Paul lives with his wife, Ann, on a farm in rural Pope County, Minnesota.

Prairie Gates Literary Festival

Readers and writers will be gathering at the University of Minnesota, Morris on March 28 and 29 to participate in the fourth annual Prairie Gate Literary Festival (PGLF). This festival brings noted writers from around the country to give public, free readings and to provide workshops to writers for a small fee.


This year PGLF will welcome six writers: Pulitzer Prize-finalist and novelist
Joanna Scott, author of nine novels, and the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lannan Award, Her novels explore wildly different territory, from the noted artist Egon Schiele, to a girl on the island of Elba during WWII, to a taxidermist at the turn of the century. Debra Monroe, from Texas, has written short stories, two novels, and her new book, a memoir, explores being the mother of a black daughter in a rural Texas town. Rachel Hanel, from Mankato, MN, has written non-fiction for children and a memoir for adult readers subtitled “Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter.” Poet Mart Hart, who has written four books of poetry and teaches in Cincinnati, and is the co-founder and the editor-in-chief of Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, & Light Industrial Safety. Filmmakers Jake Lloyd and Anthony Wayne come from California and Eau Claire Wisconsin before that.


The festival begins with a reading by Joanna Scott and Debra Monroe on Friday evening at 7:30 in the Briggs Library on the UMM campus. The reading is free and open to the public and the authors will be available to sign books afterward.


Hanel and Hart read Saturday afternoon in the library and Wayne and Lloyd screen a film Saturday evening in the Edson Auditorium, located in the Student Center.


Saturday morning all of the writers and filmmakers will lead writing workshops. The cost for the general public is $25 for one workshop or $35 for two. The cost for students is $15 for one workshop or $20 for two. Registration includes lunch with the writers.

Additional information and registration is available online at

morris.umn.edu/prairiegate.


This activity is funded in part by a grant from the Lake Region Arts Council through a Minnesota State Legislative appropriation. In addition, the PGLF is sponsored by Briggs Library Associates, the Alumni Association, the office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Friends of the Morris Public Library, the English discipline, the Commission on Women, Briggs Library, CAC Films, and private donations.

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

A well-meaning friend of my mother asked me the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” many years ago, and I had to think about it. In those days, if you were a boy, the common accepted answer would have been fireman or policeman. More often than not, little girls, being put on the spot, responded with social correctness by choosing nurse, teacher, mommy, or if they were dreaming big, ballerina. When I was a little older, I might have secretly confided that I would have added international film star or world famous explorer to my resume. But this was a time when I had only seen the movie, Dumbo, and I hadn’t yet read “I Married Adventure” by Osa Johnson (and wanted to be her).

I never coddled my dollies, drilled them on their numbers, or pretended to burp them. But I did regularly prop them around in a semi-circle, Melsina and Marcella, the large baby dolls in the choice rocker in the middle. Teddy and Jocko, the Australian koala bear, snuggled at their feet. Nurse Jane had to be propped on the side of the chair because her legs didn’t bend. Leilani, in her green grass skirt, and Elizabeth, the very proper English girl, sat together because they were unlikely but bosom chums. Beloved Belindy completed the grouping with the Raggedys, of course, sprawled in front. When they were quietly assembled, I sat on a small stool and opened a book. I hadn’t learned to read yet, so I turned the wondrous pages and told the stories of what I saw – tales of being bundled in bed with a stuffy nose, kept company by miniature creatures, who trounced among the covers and burrowed about the pillows; the adventures of a golden haired maiden, who rode in a chariot pulled by sweet tabby cats, up and over the rainbow; a winter world of icicles ruled over by a beautiful but scary queen. Eventually I learned to read and write and proudly shared my stories, written pain-stakingly in pencil on lined notepaper, and as the years passed I filled up many notebooks and read my tales to others beyond my little group.

All these years later, in retirement and after many different jobs and wearing a multitude of hats, I find myself in our upstairs office/all-purpose room, where whatever doesn’t fit in another part of the house is deposited. To my left sits Melsina and Marcella in a child’s rocking chair, Nurse Jane and Leilani and Elizabeth are propped about, Teddy and Jocko are on the bookshelf and the Raggedys are nearby. I sit in the middle, typing away on my computer keyboard, telling tales.

I know just what I want to be when I grow up.

Author’s Bio.: After retirement and a lifetime of living in California, Diane Johnson moved with her husband three years ago to her ancestral roots in Minnesota in order to be near family, to retreat from the hustle of the west coast, and to provide time and the environment to reflect and write. She is a member of the board of the Lake Region Writers Network, the Fergus Falls Writers Group, and she writes the blog: snowbirdredux.com.

Working My Way Through 642 Things to Write About

About a year ago, my friend Jaime gave me 642 Things to Write About, a collection of prompts prepared by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. This book came in handy when I decided in mid-December to start a daily writing practice to give my continual improvement efforts as a writer more structure and consistency. I am working my way through the book, with a goal of responding to one prompt each weekday. So far I have a track record of only three or four days a week, but it’s still much more consistency than I had before.

And it has been valuable. I’m writing about things I never would have chosen on my own, which seems like it must be good for me. For one thing, the prompts are roughly half-fiction, half-nonfiction, whereas my professional writing has up to now been exclusively nonfiction. Even if this fiction writing doesn’t improve my writing overall—and I think it will—it’s still an enjoyable creative outlet.

642 Things CoverHere are three notable prompts I’ve encountered:

  • Write a short story that is set in Argentina in 1932, in which a teacup plays a crucial role. A quick internet search (I knew nothing about Argentina in 1932) informed me that the country had a military coup in 1930. I wrote about a family returning to their ruined villa and discovering an intact teacup that had belonged to their grandmother.
  • Something you had that was stolen. Writing about an experience from junior high brought up some unhappy memories, but it also generated compassion for the people who stole from me—and for the extremely judgmental person I was then.
  • You have just swallowed your pride and done something you didn’t want to do. Your friend wants to know why. The two of you are driving around an almost-full parking garage looking for a space for the friend’s oversize pickup. Write the scene. Well, I couldn’t write the scene. I just had no idea what to respond to this prompt, for some reason. I sat on it for a day, then decided I wasn’t going to force myself this time. Maybe inspiration will strike at some future writing session. If not, at least I have 641 other things to write about.

Author Bio.: Gwen Hoberg is the owner of Content & Contour, an editing and writing business based in Moorhead, Minnesota. She writes for the Classical Minnesota Public Radio website, Fargo-Moorhead Stride magazine, and other regional publications. She is also the co-author of The Walk Across North Dakota, a travel memoir based on hikes in 2011 and 2013. In addition to her editing and writing, Gwen has played french horn in ensembles throughout Minnesota and North Dakota and currently performs with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra. She enjoys arranging classical and pop music for horn and brass ensembles (“Stairway to Heaven” for horn quartet is a favorite).

Take the Plunge: Some Thoughts on Poetry and the Body, or, That Is, the Brain, Which Is the Body

Adam reaches out his left hand so that he can meet the finger of the right hand of God. Adam, who leans back as if in a Dolce & Gabbana ad, though he’s absolutely naked, absolutely not advertising anything except his own physical perfection, seems a tad blasé about the whole thing. He could take it or not. He’s all body, abs and pects in perfect condition. He’s the alpha male, completely in charge and totally available.

And God reaches out from what appears to be a red cave, an enclosure, in which he’s surrounded by cherubim and seraphim. Unlike Adam, God is eager to make this happen. “Touch me,” he could be calling out. This is Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, of course. I’ve stood before it several times and I’ve seen photographs of it many, many times. You have, too, I’m sure.

Here’s the thing: the shape of that red enclosure? It’s the outline of the human brain.

When we’re born we have about 100 billion brain cells. A typical cell is capable of about 1000 connections. Right now, as you’re reading this, your brain could make a lot of connections: 1 to the 76th power of connections, that is a 1 with 76 zeros behind it!

Some of these cells bring in information from the outer world. The windshield is covered in frost, the cat peeks out from the pile of gold and brown leaves, my left big toe rubs against this shoe. And other cells send information into the outer world. Scrape with your right hand, call the cat, move your foot.

Poetry grows from the spark created when the finger of the brain touches the finger of the body.

Theodore Roethke, in his book On Poetry & Craft, tells about how the poet Carolyn Kizer noticed that the poet Louise Bogan starts many poems with a prepositional phrase. Kizer says about these prepositional openings:“You’re plunged into the middle of the poem.”

“At night the moon shakes the bright dice of the water,” begins Bogan’s poem “Elders.” “In fear of the rich mouth / I kissed the thin,” begins “The Frightened Man.”

Prepositional phrases position us in the world. “At night . . .” They clarify relationships. “Beside the pile of leaves . . .” And they answer questions. “In fear . . .”

With a few swift words, we’re plunged into the world of the poem.

To plunge   “to enter suddenly into something which surrounds one completely” that is, the poem.

I don’t want to argue here in favor of prepositions. Rather I’m in favor of plunging. Too often, young writers fail to plunge, fail to enter suddenly into the world that is their poem. Instead they warm up to the subject, saunter over to it, holding the reader by the hand, easing toward the matter.

To plunge once meant “to bring or pump up by plunging.” A transitive verb in this usage, plunging is to act upon something else. The OED, from which I’m quoting here, gives us George Turberville, from his Epitaphs: “Plunge vp a thousande sighes, for griefe your trickling teares distill.” Plunge up sighs! Sigh no more ladies, hey nonny no. Turberville was a 16th Century poet and falconer, by the way, more or less the contemporary of Shakespeare. To lift your arm so that a hawk might plunge up into the turbulance—what a distinct pleasure that would be.

Think of plunging when you begin a poem: plunging the mind into the world to bring something up.

To plunge is “to enter fully or wholeheartedly into,” as in this Edmund Burke line: “The character of their party is to be very ready to plunge into different business.”

Let the poem enter itself, don’t tarry or saunter. Go wholeheartedly, or I’d like to say here, wholebrainedly into the poem. Fire those brain cells. If you must stand up and wave your arms to bring your whole heart, your whole brain into the business of the poem, then stand up.

Or in some other way, get your body moving. Make those brain cells that send information out into the world sizzle. For me, Bach is perfect. At the piano, my hands move because my brain speaks to them, and my brain speaks because my eyes study the notes on the page, a page that stands upright on the piano, and with the first notes, everything is plunging suddenly, completely surrounded by the world Bach creates. And then I return to the page, ready to plunge into the poem.

To plunge is “to baptize by immersion” In plunging, both the poet and the reader are baptized into the world of the poem. You, writing, must go beneath the water, submerge yourself.

To plunge  is “to move or travel forth rapidly, abruptly, recklessly.” Emphasis on reckless. Do not be shy. Do not go gentle.

One last use of plunge comes from the gardening world. One way of planting is to put the entire pot with the plant inside it right down into the soil, that is to plunge the plant. Another perspective on immersion: once immersed, the poem can grow into something that flourishes where it can been seen by all. This pot might be a strict form, a sonnet, say; or it might be a tone or emotional stance; or it might be a motif of repetition or image. Put your poem into such a pot, but don’t let it sit on the surface, plunge it, so that it might take on a new life.

Touch body to brain and plunge yourself into the poem forthwith.

Author’s Bio.: Athena Kildegaard writes poetry mostly, but she has also written short stories, scripts for television, columns, and nonfiction. Her books of poetry are Rare Momentum (2006), Bodies of Light (2011), both from Red Dragonfly Press, and Cloves & Honey (2012) from Nodin Press. Her poems appear widely in literary journals and anthologies. She has received grants from the Lake Region Arts Council and the Minnesota State Arts Board and the LRAC/McKnight Fellowship. She is a lecturer at the University of Minnesota, Morris.  Athena is currently serving as a co-editor of the Lake Region Review and as treasurer of the LRWN. Check out her blog/website at http://athenakildegaard.com/

LRAC Launches Second Short Writing Contest

After a successful start in 2013, Lake Region Arts Council (LRAC) launches a second Short Writing Contest, starting Feb. 1, 2014. The online Short Writing Contests are part of a unique strategy to involve more people in the fun of writing and to raise awareness of the grants and services provided by Lake Region Arts Council. The first contest reached over 2,000 people, who tried their hand at writing a story in six words. Funds raised from entry fees go to support the grants and services provided by the Lake Region Arts Council.

LRAC was so impressed with the outcome of the first competition that they have decided to run the Short Writing Contest again. First place prize money will increase to $500. Contest rules and an online entry form can be found at www.shortwritingcontest.com.

The first Short Writing Contest winner was chosen from over 300 worldwide entries. Jon Kendrick won $100 for “Biographer wanted: short life, long story.”

Jon KendrickJon eagerly encourages others to enter, “Thank you one and all. I would like to thank SWC & LRAC for having the six-word story contest. When I received the email, I was more than shocked, flabbergasted would be more accurate. If you write, the biggest thrill is that someone sees your work and likes it. Whether they chuckle, cry or ponder. For someone to like your work, grand or small, is important to you. Thank you.”

The rise in popularity of writing very short stories is connected to the famous writer Ernest Hemingway. It seems that Hemingway was once challenged to write a complete story in six words. Here is what he wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Some people say it was written to settle a bar bet. Others say it was a personal challenge directed at other famous authors, but it proves that it is possible to create a short story with just six words.

Lake Region Arts Council expects an even bigger response to their second Short Writing Contest. “It warms my heart every time I hear from someone who tries writing a six-word story and finds that they enjoy writing,” states Executive Director, Maxine Adams. “Encouraging people to try their hand at writing is what the contest is all about.”

All the latest news about the next Short Writing Contest and items of interest to the Short Writing Community can be seen https://www.facebook.com/ShortWritingContest . For additional information about The Lake Region Arts Council, please visit http://www.LRAC4.org.

Enter for your chance to win $500 at www.shortwritingcontest.com.

About Lake Region Arts Council: The Lake Region Arts Council is a nonprofit organization dedicated to encourage and support the vitality of the arts. The LRAC accomplishes this through providing grants to community organizations and individual artists in the region; and providing an electronic newsletter, workshops and technical assistance. LRAC serves the counties of: Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and Wilkin in west central Minnesota.