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.

A Fresh Voice

Last summer, while participating in a writers’ retreat, I was introduced to the writing of Junot Diaz, a native of the Dominican Republic, who is as well known in today’s American literary circles as another Dominican, Sammy Sousa, is to American League baseball fans. Diaz’s fresh, insightful, often startling, use of the English language has earned him a 2008 Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critic Circle Award, the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, and other prestigious awards.

His most recent book, This Is How You Lose Her, introduced me to the ribald street language of his American/Dominican subculture. It is a bastardized English that emerges from the raw human emotions of resisting, as well as adapting to a dominant culture, of trying to figure out what is real with intimacy, sex and love, and of searching for personal balance in a flurry of social change.

With a master fiction writer’s touch he introduced me to his marginalized life, between Santo Domingo and New Jersey, allowing me to experience the stunning brilliance, the raw brutality and the loving tenderness of the characters he creates. His emotional honesty and artful use of idiomatic language are a clinic in creative writing.

Diaz writes about experiences relevant to all of us as we interact and develop with and within various sub-cultures and ethnic backgrounds. These experiences become our history and shape and reshape our personal and collective identities.  Diaz shows us as writers how to tell our stories from the inside out, anchoring them in our sometimes desperate need for security in love and physical well-being. His stories come alive through characters he knows, who have demanding primal appetites that are frustrated by others, both close and distant.

Our Upper Midwest Region has many sub-cultures needing literary voices to bring them to our attention and understanding much like Junot Diaz has done with his Dominican heritage. He happens to be an “insider” with considerable literary talent. We are a region which is becoming increasingly diverse as the changing economics of agriculture and high-tech industries emerge. We need poets and memoir, fiction, and script writers to depict what it is like: to grow old in a small town, to be an immigrant, a prisoner, a returning soldier, a displaced migrant worker, to live on a reservation, to lose the farm, be a long-haul trucker, to be unemployed, an oil field worker. . . the list goes on and on. Most of us are “insiders” of one tribe or another who can chronicle and express the personal, familial, and cultural changes we  experience. This is best done by “insiders” who practice the craft of creative writing.

I have found by participating in writer’s workshops, classes, and reading how-to-books I develop and sharpen my craft as a writer. By studying the work of accomplished Upper Midwest authors, I expand and deepen my understanding of my environment and, in the process, uncover ways I can contribute as an “insider.” Finally, by reading new, contemporary voices like Junot Diaz I am challenged to experiment, try new ways, and to think and write in a fresh voice.

Lake Region Writers Network’s mission is: “to cultivate and celebrate creative writers by building a supportive community.” We invite you to share your “insider” experience by submitting your written work to be considered for inclusion in Lake Region Review 4. Watch for our “Call for Submissions” on this website in early 2014.

Author’s Bio.: Luke Anderson started writing poetry and memoir after retiring from a career managing nonprofit organizations. He calls himself a “late onset writer.” His work has been published in The Talking Stick, The Otter Tail Review, The Northwoods Press newspapers, the Lake Region Review and has received several literary awards. He is retired and lives in Battle Lake. He is a member of the Fergus Falls Writers and a founding board member of the Lake Region Writers Network.

Poets and Polaroids

We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are. ~ Anias Nin

On the afternoon of Friday, October 4, I dispatched my poetry class to various locations in Fergus Falls. These were not places you would find in the local tourist brochures or chamber of commerce listings. Rather, these were places – a laundromat, a trailer court, a tattoo shop, and a tobacco store and others – that demanded a keener level of awareness and attention, a sharper perceptual lens of intrigue and curiosity.

Up until that October afternoon, we had been studying and discussing the importance of mindfulness as the essential tool for excavating the poetic moments in one’s life. Poet Jane Hirshfield, in her Fooling with Words (1999) interview, reminded us of the importance of being present and awake in the moment. She implored us “To be translucently awake – which should be simple but somehow is quite hard – instead of living in a haze of distraction, hope and fear, as we usually do.” She reminded us that, “In a state of open mindfulness, a broad subliminal attention is going out in many directions at once. Now, when you write a poem you are doing this all the time, sending out the tendrils of your attention.”

After arriving at their assigned destinations, the students engaged in a mindfulness exercise by feeling their own presence in places both familiar and unfamiliar, places recognized but oft ignored. The students charted the sentient signals emitted from the places. Then, using the raw, scattered material they had gathered from their observations, the students shaped their perceptions into poems.

A week later, while walking through the hallway at M|State, I encountered John Cox, the college’s art instructor. At the time, John was teaching a photography class. His students had been learning how to capture photographic images with Polaroid cameras. That’s right – our parents’ Polaroid camera, the one that spits out a square of slimy film paper while the photographer waits for an image to emePoets and Polaroids Posterrge. While describing to John the purpose and parameters of the mindfulness excursion in my poetry class, I noticed a spark of possibility in his eyes. John suggested we embark on a collaborative project. His photography students would read my students’ poems and then visit and photograph the places that inspired the poems. Thus was born the Poets and Polaroids Exhibit on the Fergus Falls campus of M|State.

King Koin Laundromat PolaroidYou’ll notice that the photo of the King Koin Laundromat is a bit grainy and sepia-toned. Though taken in October 2013, it evokes a vintage vibe. This is not a botched photo. Rather, the photo illustrates that uncontrollable yet essential separation between the artist’s intention and the artistic process. Like the poet who is surprised by the unexpected tug of a poem, the Polaroid photographer never can be certain of the clarity, colors and contrasts of the photographic image.

Written by M|State student Daphne Van Veen, here is the poem that accompanies the Laundromat photo taken by M|State student Kayleigh Mavis.

King Koin

Relieved to be here
on a brisk day,
revived from the cold.
This is a place appearing
to be so quiet, but never
completely silent.

Washing machines
Echo throughout the Laundromat.
Putting babies to sleep.
As new mothers
read outdated Oprah Magazines,
counting the minutes
for their clothes to be clean.

Dryer sheets scatter
and crumple among
unkempt tiles. A coke
machine stands in
the corner, buzzing
for attention.

Pungent odor of stale
detergent imbues
from ceiling to floor.
Some days
it is dreary to be here,
waiting for the cycles,
to begin and end.

Perhaps the most rewarding outcome from this project was the students’ appreciation of how art forms can intersect and cross-pollinate. In this case, a poet arrives at a place acutely attuned to seemingly random perceptions, images, and recollections. Later, unbeknownst to the poet, a photographer visits the same space and captures on film the confluence of movement, dimension, light, shadow, color, and surface.  In the end, each departs from the place slightly altered, and the subsequent artistic endeavor reflects that psychic alteration.

Author’s Bio.: Paul Carney joined the English Dept. at M|State Fergus Falls in 1988. During his tenure at M|State he has taught courses in composition, literature, humanities, men’s studies, criminology, and creative writing. Carney has served two terms as President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of English. He is a former fellow and board member of The Minnesota Writing Project, the state affiliate of The National Writing Project. He is the developer and coordinator of Ready or Not Writing (https://www.centerforcollegereadiness.org/), an online program that invites high school students to submit their writing electronically to college faculty for feedback and support. In 2008, he created the Roadside Poetry Project, a project that celebrates the personal pulse of poetry in the public landscape (Http://www.roadsidepoetry.org). A writer of poetry and prose, his work has appeared in The Lake Region Review, River of Time, The Sun, and The Minnesota English Journal. When he’s not writing, he enjoys collecting old radios, planting trees, listening to jazz, and watching The Andy Griffith Show. He lives on an 8-acre hobby farm in Underwood, MN, where his lifelong quest for Mayberry has ended.

Writing a Memoir – Someday

One day when my fifties-age daughter Betsy mentioned something about my having been born in Fargo, I was baffled. “Where did you get the idea I was born in Fargo?” I asked. “I was born right here in Fergus Falls!”

“So when did you live in Fargo?” she asked. Suddenly I realized I had never shared with my children any significant details about my life or the lives of my parents and other relatives, or what it had been like growing up during the Great Depression and World War II.

Several times Betsy had asked me to write about my childhood. I had said I would like to… Someday. There was so much I could tell my two daughters. However, too many other things always took priority, until suddenly I realized how fast time was slipping away. I needed to start writing immediately, or I probably never would. “Someday” had arrived. Almost immediately I dropped everything and began writing about my life, from the earliest time I could remember.

During my pre-television childhood, I was responsible for my own entertainment, as were many kids (perhaps most) in those days. I stayed busy outside, playing with my siblings and other children in the neighborhood. In winter we romped in the snow, skated on Lake Alice, went sliding in Roosevelt Park and on the big hill between Mt. Faith and Summit Avenues, where a cow grazed in summer.

In town, my friends and I played dress-up, parading around the block in ladies dresses and high-heeled shoes. During summers at Jewett Lake, there were endless opportunities for swimming and fishing, climbing trees, hiking, building forts, picking wild berries and visiting the nearby farm. On rainy days my siblings and I worked on art and craft projects, played cards and board games like Monopoly, read, and listened to radio programs: The Lone Ranger, Superman, Jack Armstrong, and my favorite, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and his Mighty Dog King. (On, you Huskies!) And comedies: Fibber McGee and Mollie, Jack Benny, Charlie McCarthy. Years later, people would call it the Golden Age of Radio.

I wanted to tell my children and grandchildren what life had been like in those golden, olden days of the forties and fifties. Besides, I liked to write. It would be fun. I began writing down some of my earliest memories of small-town life in Fergus Falls and at the lake, then moving to Washington, D.C., Fargo, and Minneapolis. They were mostly happy times that included my parents, my older sister Katherine and younger brother Butch. But before long, I realized I needed to hone my writing skills, ask questions, and look up facts.

My writing odyssey began three years ago at the Fergus Falls Writing Group with the beginnings of a memoir about my childhood. The first time I brought a few pages to be critiqued, I discovered how much I had to learn. I had written some family stories I thought were fairly good, but those first musings, though they had potential, needed a lot more work.

Undeterred, I forged ahead. As I wandered through the uncharted territory of my memory bank, I remembered more, reliving many early life experiences by sharing them with others. Incidents I thought I had forgotten years ago came to the surface, spawning more memories along the way. With more practice and helpful comments from my fellow writers, my writing skills improved.

At each bi-weekly session, two or three members, who had volunteered ahead of time, read aloud a few pages of their work. The others jotted down corrections or suggestions for improvement on copies of the manuscript. The sense of comradery at the meetings was, and still is, encouraging and helpful as each person takes a turn expressing his or her ideas, resulting in a lively, good-natured discussion with a variety of comments and opinions.

The more I think about those early times of my life, the more I remember. The more I write, read aloud, and make corrections or changes, the more my work improves. Not all my childhood memories are happy, but I have found that re-examining embarrassing or painful incidents in my life with an open mind and a desire to move on, is an opportunity to grow, as a writer and a person. That’s part of the value of writing a memoir. Not someday, but right now.

Author’s Bio.: Liz Sweder is a member of the Fergus Falls Writing Group, and she has had a few of her memoir stories published in Lake Region Review.

Why Am I Not Writing?

The count is now 41 days. Months and months since I have written anything of value, but 41 days is the significant number. A friend asked me a while ago why I haven’t been writing. I gave her all the usual excuses, but then being a good friend, she pushed it further and I had to come up with the real reason I have been so unproductive. I had become addicted to winning.

I have read that it takes 14 days to make a habit, and 14 days to break a habit, that is where the 41 days comes in. I had gotten so wrapped up in winning at computer games like Spider Solitaire  (Is it appropriate here to brag about my Mine-Sweeper score?) that much like Pavlov’s dogs, each time I sat down at my computer my mind would crave a win, and I would be playing a game before I even realized it. I recently heard that the Candy Crush game is as addictive as heroin because playing it affects the same pleasure centers of the brain. Winning gave me a high and satisfied my competitive spirit, but it also dulled my ability to think, and certainly stole creative time.

So when I returned home from a yoga training weekend (one of my excuses–teaching yoga), I took advantage of the computer-free head start I had and vowed that I was done wasting my time playing games.  I knew I only needed two weeks to overcome my habit, and I managed it by changing the way I spoke to myself. Each time temptation struck as I checked my email or paid bills, I would tell myself “No, I do not play computer games.” Positive self-talk is powerful and effective because your body hears and responds to what your mind says. FYI: Negative self-talk is just as powerful, but that’s another blog.

The 14 days worked and not only am I free from the desire to play those games, but my mind feels clearer and finding that elusive word I am looking for has become easier. Did someone add time to the day? Another wonderful outcome! I am not one who believes in “writer’s block,” and I don’t like the many articles perpetuating that idea. To me it sets up a false excuse for why a writer is not creating, and it prevents her from searching for the real reason. A few honest answers and I now feel free to write again.

If you are struggling to write your reason may be different, but the solution is the same: honest answers, powerful self-talk, and 14 days. Now if I can just manage Facebook….

About the Author: Lois Reff has published a monthly motivational newsletter since 2002.  She enjoys learning about and writing in the genre of fiction.  She has participated in several Barnes and Noble writing workshops, and the Weekend With Your Novel workshop at the University of Wisconsin.  She is an active member of the Fergus Falls Writers’ Group.  She is currently working on a mystery novel. She and her husband, along with six pets, live north of Fergus Falls by Jewett Lake. Lois is serving as the LRWN Conference Director.

The Accidental Writer

Hi!  I’m Ruth Solie and I am the out-going President of the Lake Region Writers Network – even though I have never called myself, or considered myself, a writer.

I am a reader and an evangelist for the written word. Literary arts have been a passion all my life.  As a sponsor of a Little Free Library and a librarian for more than 30 years, I have promoted reading and literacy for everyone and sought to make books available to people of all ages and in all settings. The written word has been my life line and my recreation. Sharing the written word of others has been my joy.

Though I don’t think of myself as a writer, the fact is, I write all the time. But only for myself. I recently counted 23 personal journals sitting on my shelf. These have been created in just the past few years. Elsewhere are journals from my youth and travel journals.  I have bundles of letters I have written over the years and boxes of family letters spanning generations. I am surrounded by my own writing – and none of it published and little of it written for anyone other than myself.

The personal journals are written by me, for me, as an extension of my thought process. These journals are part of a meditative, reflective practice. They are casual and often random, containing poetry and quotations, sketches, thoughts, and lists. There are rants as I work through deeply personal issues. There are long passages of gratitude and love.  There may be a household budget scenario followed by a passage from another writer. There are reflections on what I have read.

These journals are totally eclectic in nature, and I use them as a way to sort out my life, to dream, to understand, to reflect, and to appreciate. The fact they are messy only indicates how my mind has a lot going on and writing is a way to clarify things and to find – sometimes – a path to understanding, gratitude, and peace.

What does the Lake Region Writers Network have to offer me? Quite a lot. Though I do not write with an eye to publication,

  • I want to be a better writer, and I want the tools to express myself more eloquently.
  • I want, as well, to better understand and appreciate the writing that others share with the world.
  •  I want to build an audience for the writers in our region.
  • I want to mingle and converse with writers – via the printed page and in face-to- face encounters.
  • I want to explore resources that are available to me and to share resources I have found that might be useful to others.
  • And, I want to be a part of a community that values and appreciates the written word.

The Lake Region Writers Network provides an opportunity for me to do all of this.

LRWN is a big umbrella that includes people like me (a writer without aspiration to publication), early-stage writers developing their skills, writers well on the path, and the famous, award-winning writers who not only share their finished work but generously share the tools of their craft with others. There is something for everyone under this umbrella. There is much to learn, to share, and to marvel at. I enjoy being a part of this community that celebrates the written word, and I’m glad you are a part of this community, too. The umbrella is large and the people here are the most interesting you’ll find anywhere!

Whether you write for yourself, for an audience, for publication, or just for the pleasure of it, you are part of the rich literary fabric of Minnesota. As LRWN begins its sixth year as an organization in the nine counties of west central Minnesota, we invite you to use our resources, attend our events, make contributions to the blog, contribute to the Lake Region Review and attend our writers conference.  We’re sure you’ll find good people, good writing, and good experiences. And, like me, you may discover you are more of a writer than you ever thought you were.

Author’s Bio.: Ruth Solie has been a librarian for over 30 years, working with all kinds of libraries and in a variety of communities. She grew up in Montana, attended Carleton College as an undergraduate, and received graduate degrees from Michigan State University and the University of Chicago.  Her personal commitment is to literature, literacy, libraries, and young children. She has been an active promoter and supporter of the literary arts in Minnesota through involvement with the Minnesota Book Award program, as co-chair of the Spotlight on Books Conference, and extensive library programming over the years. She is honored to work with the writers of the Lakes Region Writers Network. Ruth is serving as president of the LRWN Board.

Creating Spaces for Artists of All Kinds

I have a secret life.

Every morning between five or six am. I curl up with a cup of coffee and watch C-Span,
something no one else in my family enjoys. Recently I came across a series of of Book TV writer interviews, and one of them changed the way I view myself not only as an author, but also as a member of our writing community.

This particular interview was with Farah Jasmine Griffin, author of Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II. One of the women featured in her book is Ann Petry, a Harlem renaissance novelist who has almost slipped into obscurity. Griffin pointed out that this was a writer who was well reviewed at the time, recognized and highly regarded.

Why is it, someone asked her, that some writers do not endure the tests of time? Griffin explained that there were many reasons: other writers are better, some themes do not
endure, or writing styles lose popularity. But that didn’t mean, she pointed out, that these minor artists weren’t important. These folks mentored the up-and-coming writers, dancers, and visual artists who became greater than themselves. Minor artists were steps in a ladder that were essential to the process of growth for others. They helped create the spaces where people felt safe to perform, nurtured those who needed it, critiqued and encouraged. These people noticed the street dancing of the youth, for example, long before anyone else did. They encouraged the older generation to sit still and listen to the
voices of the young, to validate what youth had to say. These “minor artists” were crucial in what we now see as hip-hop, break dancing, rap and other forms of art that moved from “the bad part of town” to integrate with more mainstream artists across the nation.

What a validation for my life, me, the minor artist. You see, I’m the one that misses deadlines to submit works to journals. I blog more than I probably should, and haven’t got around to publishing the books I’ve written. I agonize over my lack of accomplishment. However, after hearing the importance of the minor artist, I feel better about myself. Perhaps I have more of a destiny than selling millions of books. Perhaps my words of praise will inspire a young writer, singer or painter.

When I explained to a friend that I had been riveted by a conversation between two black
authors who had written about the Harlem Renaissance, I could tell what she was thinking: what would a middle age white woman living in a “fly-over” state like Minnesota have in common with people in Harlem at the turn of last century?

For one thing, it would be spaces. If you go to Harlem, you can see the theaters where Sidney Portier starred onstage, where Langston Hughes sat and read his poetry, where Pearl Primus danced. You can touch the buildings where history was made. When I thought about how cool that was, I realized that I, too, was living in a place where space is being made for artists. The Lake Region Arts Council, for example, showcases visual artists, allows the writer’s group to meet and helps distribute funds for artistic endeavors of all kinds. The Center of the Arts brings in performers and lecturers of every kind. The Lake Region Writer’s Network holds a yearly Writing Conference where authors can hone new skills and network.

Many times in the past several years, I could have attended various literature readings where future famous writers could have performed. But, I haven’t been there because I don’t always appreciate the here and now, nor the up-and-coming artists like I should. I forget that one block away from my home in Henning, Minnesota is a new Landmark Center, which has created space, too. I neglected to buy a membership there, to ‘put my money where my mouth is” when it comes to valuing space for artists. I need to. Not only do they host their own writer’s group, but each year they feature the local high school art work, an event that encourages the possible future great artists, plus have an established Artist-in-Residence program.

Yes, space for artists is often fluid, coming and going as bars or cafes close, as programs lose funding. It doesn’t matter though. While it’s terrific to embrace the history of where the masters lived, performed or created, it’s equally important to make a place for the current masterpieces to be made. That early morning cup of coffee, the time listening to authors sharing their ideas left me a changed person. No matter what I give now to my craft, I might be destined to give more to the art world as a whole. It is a comforting thought indeed to know that while my written work may someday slip into obscurity, my words of encouragement may remain on the larger picture of the art world
forever.

Author’s Bio.:  Beth Rose is a former high school literature and composition teacher, who lives and writes in Henning, MN.