A blog for those who desire a more creative relationship with the natural world.


"Your recent blog about the tender return of your loved ones to the earth was moving, graceful in words and inspiration. Your words always come from the heart and intellect. A rare and insightful combination." Rolland Smith, former news anchor for WCBS-TV in New York, recipient of 11 Emmy Awards

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Sunday, March 21, 2010


The Spring Equinox is a time of earthly balance, when day and night are everywhere the same—a good time to envision the rest of the year with clarity and focus. My creative life is out of balance right now—I know this. Whenever I’m not spending enough time engaged in the creative process of writing my brain gets cob-webby and I get cranky. Half-formed thoughts congeal and cloud my vision.

Writing requires introspection. Yet the business of writing requires extroversion, reaching out to the world at large. When I expend too much energy with the business of writing, and not enough time with the creative act of writing stories, I find myself longing to be back at Jentel, where nothing mattered but the writing.

In 2003, I was awarded a month-long residency at Jentel. The award included a $400 stipend, a private writing studio, a private bedroom, and a fabulous community kitchen and living area that I shared with the other five residents: another writer, and four visual artists.

On our first evening together, I wrote in my journal, “Every room of this luxurious house—every alcove, every tiled floor, every bit of eclectic artwork—glows with color. Reds. Blues. Greens. Yellows. Purples.” The vibrancy was intoxicating. I had come to Jentel during a mid-life juncture, “to color my life with possibility.” It turned out to be the perfect place.

Jentel sits at the base of Wyoming’s majestic Big Horn Mountains on the historic ranchland of Lower Piney Creek Valley. Renovated from old ranch buildings, seven separate buildings form the residency village. Sage and native grasses blanket the landscape. There are four private artist’s studios. The two separate writer’s studios, housed in a log cabin about 100 feet from the main house, come equipped with antique desks, bookshelves, recliners, ergonomic chairs, and reading lamps. Mine had a red enameled fireplace and a red stained glass window.
Wib Walling was painting landscapes, like this one he later named "Wyoming Ridge." Leslie was creating a hanging yellow wallpaper installation. Terry worked in charcoal and had us each pose for a portrait. Dehlia, the glass artist from Philadelphia who painted everything backwards, admitted that she feared the dark expanse of grassland that stretched beyond the borders of the village yard. They all assumed that because I was from Wyoming, the wide open spaces didn't frighten me. 
Millicent Borges Accardi, a poet from California who had done residencies at Yaddo, Vermont Studio, FundaciĆ³n Valparaiso in Mojacar, Spain, and Milkweed in Cesky Krumlov, would occasionally stand at our adjoining doors and read a few lines of her poetry. I would share a scene or two from the novel I was working on. Sometimes, we wandered over to the artists’ studios and peeked in on their work.  The month we spent at Jentel was a centering time, a time to re-balance the priorities in our lives. For four weeks, we imersing ourselves in our own internal creative landscapes. The creative endeavors of those weeks are still coming to fruition.  Millicent's first chapbook, Woman on a Shaky Bridge, was just published by Finishing Line Press

Neltje, the founder and benefactor of Jentel, is the granddaughter of publisher Frank Nelson Doubleday. She is Jentel’s driving, visionary force.  "An author has the ability to communicate a reflection of our present day society," writes Neltje, "and perhaps forecast a possible future if we could only listen...Old societies know the worth of art.  We of the United States are young and foolish and not yet steeped in wisdom."

Apply for a residency at Jentel.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

GUIDEBOOKS: Navigating Our Way Around the Pitfalls of Publishing and through Nature's Landscape

Have you ever been hiking in the woods and come across canine scat and wondered coyote or dog? Or found deep imprints in the snow and wondered just how fresh are these mountain lion tracks?

No? Well then, have you ever been browsing the books at your favorite bookstore and wondered What made this publisher buy this book? What kind of query letter did this author write? Would this agent be interested in my manuscript

Guidebooks are indispensible whether we’re navigating our way through the jungles of publishing, or wondering about the creature that might be lurking in the bushes just a few feet ahead of us. If we want to get published, we have to study the business. If we want to write about the natural world, we have to pay homage to the experts by bowing to their years of field experience and reading their field guides.

A year ago, wildlife biologists spent days studying possible signs of gray wolves on the High Lonesome Ranch in northwestern Colorado (read “Prodigal Dogs” by Michelle Nijhuis, High Country News). Wildlife biologists are in the “business” of studying scat and tracks. They’re experts at it.  It's their job.  When I wrote In Search of Kinship, I rarely wrote a chapter without referring to the Audubon Society's book Grasslands.  And while working on Sweetwater: A Mountain Cabin, a Life Unfolding, I referred again and again to Plants of the Black Hills and Bear Lodge Mountains.

When I spent a month alone in a remote cabin on the edge of the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area in Wyoming, the first books I packed to take along were my field guides. In addition to Grasslands, here are a few of them: 

Animal Tracks (Peterson Field Guides) by Olaus J. Murie; Rocky Mountain Wild Flowers (National Museum of Natural Science) by A.E. Porsild; Field Guide to North American Rocks and Minerals (National Audubon Society);
How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine and Crafts by Frances Densmore.

Agent Chip MacGregor’s January 17 newsletter praises Jeff Herman's GUIDE TO BOOK PUBLISHERS, EDITORS, AND LITERARY AGENTS 2010 (Sourcebooks). “This book can help you understand the industry,” he writes. “If you're interested in a career in writing, pick yourself up a copy.”
He also highly recommends Chuck Sambuchino's GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS (Writers Digest Books).

I just bought a copy of THE WRITERS GUIDE TO GETTING PUBLISHED by Kalmbach Publishing for $8.95, and the shipping was free.  All three of these books have information on publishers, agents, editors, query letters, book proposals, and current market trends.  And no doubt, they're just beginning to provide information for authors on how to negotiate our way through the tangled new landscape of e-books and iPads and Kindles.  More on that in the next blog.