Specialty workshop with Deborah Turrell Atkinson and Lise McClendon the day before the Jackson Hole Writers Conference.

Debby’s and Lise’s workshop will focus on finding your unique voice, enriching your story, identifying structural problems, and developing believable characters. It also includes a guided meditation that enriches your story by plumbing your subconscious. Participants should be familiar with long-form fiction writing and have started or completed a substantial portion of a novel. This is a unique opportunity to tackle questions and problems and learn new techniques.

The workshop runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, June 26, and includes lunch. Conference Room at Center for the Arts. A great location and a great price, $150.

And you don’t have to come to the conference to sign up for this workshop.

BUT you still have time to register for a  full schedule of panels, workshops, and craft talks. $395 for three beautiful days in Jackson Hole.


Jackson Hole mountain imageEvery June, writers from across the nation come to Jackson Hole to learn from professionals in the field. From New York editors and agents to writers in almost every genre. This year will be no different. Going into its 21st year, the Conference has yet another great lineup plus the chance to have your manuscripts critiqued by some of the best people writing and working in the industry.

This year’s featured luminaries include: Jill Conner Browne, Karen Joy Fowler, Lisa Lutz, Pat Murphy and Jeff Greenwald plus over thirty other visiting teachers, writers and faculty.

Be our guest! June 27-29, 2013 are the dates to mark on your calendar for this year. Commune with other writers and thinkers, flit about the quaint Jackson Hole streets with pencil in hand and mountains inspiring from every direction, take workshops, push your writing to the next level. We think you deserve it!

See the full schedule and meet all of your faculty here.

Early bird special for those who register before May 12.

I have just read Love and Rage: Entries in a Prison Diary, by Carl Harp. At the conference we occasionally receive letters from people in one prison or another. Sometimes these are calls for publishing assistance, other times the hope to communicate or be heard through correspondence. Reading those letters I have felt compelled to respond at times, and at others the tone or my perception of manipulative intentions has turned me away.

Last year, I even happened to be driving in Indiana, saw a sign for the prison, and remembered that I had a letter from one of its inmates. Both curiosity and the knowledge of the tedium and isolation of such places made the detour seem worthwhile. I proceeded past the barbed wire and security kiosks and asked if I could meet the man. Protocol requires several weeks notice to process such a request. They denied my visitation. Visiting prisons in Peru and Ecuador, one can bring games and veggies to women there on charges of drug smuggling. Perhaps I have a high tolerance for people who deem the American system inadequate for fostering humanity.

I also recommend the book to anyone who can stomach reality and honesty. While not having specifically studied Mr. Harp’s case – known as the Bellevue Sniper and largely involved in the hostage taking at the Walla Walla prison – I have no doubt that his references to the brutalities and systemic institutionalized corruption are not fabricated in general. In fact, his terse prose and lack of elaboration make his account powerful. It’s short; each entry is brief. He spent most of his time writing other revolutionary documents and trying to stay calm and focused on prison reform. Its lack of overt technique and emotional decoration elevate the quotidian, forcing readers to fill in the details and recognize the depths of one’s own ability to identify.

So many times as readers we accept the well-argued viewpoint of the writer to feed our sense of possessing information or we disagree just as topically. This may be deemed critical thinking in some schools, but it is certainly not subsistence thinking. It is not drinking the blood from a piece of writing to be sure that you can hold yourself accountable for what you’ve just read. This book invited that.


-Nicole Burdick

On the tail of a great conference, I just wanted to illuminate this statistic from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance: 200,000 author events are held by independent book sellers each year as opposed to Amazon which holds zero. The info-graphic piece points at Amazon for piggy-backing on the work of independents. I decided to find out by how much.

A 2011 USA Today article reported that independent bookstores earn only 6% of the market’s total revenue while putting on these 200,000 events. Amazon gains 22.6%.

Albert Greco, a Fordham University marketing professor who studies book retailing, says chain and independent stores “have never been under more pressure, and it’s not all digital.”

Traditional bookstores (independents and the chains, including Books-A-Million) accounted for less than half of the book market last year, Greco says. The majority of books were sold by a variety of other retailers including Amazon, Price Clubs, supermarkets and convenience stores.

The long-term economic effect of a shift from print to digital on both publishers and booksellers isn’t clear. But whether the shift is dramatic or more gradual, the number of bookstores is declining.

More than 1,000 bookstores closed from 2000 through 2007, leaving about 10,600, according to the latest federal statistics…

Greco calculates that Amazon has 22.6% of the book market — ahead of Barnes & Noble (17.3%), Borders (8.1%), Books-A-Million (3%) and independents (6%)…

Another interesting number that would take several hours of research to calculate, is the percentage of marketing, from events and their promotions, that actually contributes to sales in the publishing industry.

Beyond the numbers – to get in touch with actual authors, there are youtube videos, and great sources like Authors@Google, but nothing replaces the texture of hearing a writer speak in person and communing with others in your region who have common interests and, hopefully, varied tastes. Assuming you like that sort of thing. And it’s entirely possible that book store owners like that sort of thing more than the average person. These are the differences that have made our behaviors, up until this point, immeasurably interesting.

Probably one of the most rewarding travel activities, for me, is finding a local book store. Not only am I certain of meeting a person who is in the know about the area (brew pubs also serve this criteria), I’m almost guaranteed to discover a new author who is being actively promoted locally. While the subjects these authors explore don’t always reference or reinforce the locality, it’s a chance to hear points of view and voices not likely found in the prominent and expensive marketing spaces along block store shelves. Plus, employees may also mark favorite books which lends an added and relevant geographical connection and understanding.

As so often happens, we’ve heard about other cultures and other countries, for the first time, from authors of more developed nations. Think Heart of Darkness. There is an obvious correlation between book publishing (read: spreading of ideas and literacy) and the GDP of a nation. In fact, the same 12 countries with the highest GDP are also the countries with the most titles published annually.

Can you imagine being from a place where you could read every single book published in your country each year? A literate person from Ghana or Libya or Mali can – each with less than 30 books published annually. Compare with the U.S. which published 328,259 titles in 2010 (Wikipedia). And that doesn’t account for the amount of information being released on the internet. This might illustrate that we have more information to talk about, but not necessarily that we have more to say.

The fact of the matter is that many people with unique traditions, behaviors, and patterns of thought are simply not speaking for themselves through the publishing industry. There are entire nations that may only establish scarce published representation in their native voices before the industry is completely digitalized. While they may never have tangible or material evidence that binds their thoughts, in written words, developed countries had the chance to first make reading, in itself, a cultural pastime and then encapsulate it into a mere tool for getting our feed.

While some cultures have retained their oral storytelling traditions, others are at the critical juncture for making cultural preservation a reality, while in others the stories, languages and customs have been lost forever. Who will do justice to these stories? In flies data to save the day. It’s the new super power narrative for who we are.

IBISWorld, The Publisher’s Association, and Nielsen all appear to have some in-depth data on global publishing statistics but require membership or large fees to access the reports. I don’t know what kind of information is revealed in a $1,000 report. Likely a lot of data on what genres are selling in what countries, growth stats, how to spin marketing for certain demographics, and graphs that drive the release of translations and support the academics who earn grants to do them, etc. It’s easy to find out how much corn we’re consuming – how much information we’re each processing seems to be another story. Were these figures more accessible, what difference would it make to the industry and the public? Would it change our buying habits?

If how we chose to buy our books is as indicative of our culture as what books we choose to buy, how much will the change to a digital infrastructure actually affect the kinds of books authors choose write? I imagine that answer is just becoming clear to the keepers of the data, and as statisticians become the storytellers of this literary period, they don’t seem inclined to share their best work around the campfire.

It’s not a coincidence that the most recently colonized countries and the children of our tomorrows can be certain someone is going to tell them exactly who they are before they have a chance to reflect on it themselves. And like a disease that wipes our memory just in time to alleviate the pain of being forgetful, we can be exactly who the stats say we are, or we can take the opportunity Amazon and other corporate cultures have right now to be bigger than the data.

Meanwhile, thanks to all the bookstores and conferences that keep us in touch and to those of you who turn out for events like the conference.

As an update, this piece in the Harvard Business Review touches on some of the analytical possibilities of the data that Amazon, and others,  have been able to gather that brick and mortar stores have not.

With the 2012 Conference fast approaching, I’m thinking of the great conversations among writers, the confabulation and communion that goes on in the lobbies, the classrooms, and at the podium during the panel discussions. Along those lines, I offer this recent article by Ben Marcus from the New Statesman. He ponders and proposes why the novel of late has so much focus on the apocalyptic. He also throws out possible explanations for why the American writer has moved toward a “focus on dramas closer at hand” as opposed to tackling the big political issues of our time.

Yet, in American fiction at least, the end times has graduated into de rigueur subject matter. Increasingly novelists cut their teeth on it and it’s starting to look like a rite of passage. Long a preoccupation of science fiction and horror writing, the apocalypse, as it looms closer, has become more intriguing to writers of literary fiction, more necessary to address. The last days no longer seem like a harmless fantasy. If this is a new development, it is worth considering why the end of the world is poised to join the suburbs and bad marriages as a distinctly American literary fascination.

In this great article which brings up many good points, Marcus also notes that the novel has been “left for dead several times over”. We can only hope that it is our propensity to read and discuss the plight of literature, and the human psyche held within, that allows us to witness and move through these curious cycles with the value of the novel still intact. What are your thoughts?

Link to full article.

Tomorrow is the final day to register for the Jackson Hole Writers Conference at the early bird rate. Beyond the focus you will place on your writing, beyond the interesting dialogue you will share with other writers and faulty, and beyond a trip to the mountainous bastion of Jackson Hole… you may find that the conference, at least temporarily, eradicates your kakorrhaphiophobia.

Perhaps you don’t suffer from ‘fear of failure’. All the better. Maybe you’ll be the one cornering the New York agent in a bathroom stall and reading her your entire manuscript during the lunch break. Either way, we’ve certainly had a few award winning authors at the podium who’ve spoken candidly about their real life doubts and triumphs. The panel discussions give you the inside scoop on the business of the publishing world from editors and agents in the field.

Lots of stories get tossed around. Our visiting faculty members come from all points of view and their protagonists too enlighten us through their many quirks, flaws, motivations, and perspectives. This year will be no different.

Heck, the resolution of Anita Diamant’s characters makes me feel like I could pull a cypress tree from the earth with my own hands. We even have a therapist cum mystery novelist on faculty this summer: Dennis Palumbo.  And Alyson Hagy, in addition to being an articulate and attentive teacher, knows exactly how to draw the strength of the landscape into her work. So, yes, the conference inspires confidence, you commune with people who do what you do, and it’s a place where you learn to make your work work.

Get to know some of our 2012 fiction faculty through the links we’ve provided, below. If you have any questions about the conference, drop us a line, or simply join us for a long weekend that focuses on all the rewards writing has to offer.

Anita Diamant is the author of eleven books. Her first novel, The Red Tent, published in 1997, won the 2001 Booksense Book of the Year Award. A word-of-mouth bestseller in the US, it has been published in more than 25 countries. Her other novels include Good Harbor, The Last Days of Dogtown, and most recently, Day after Night, which is set in 1945 in Palestine and tells the story of four women – young Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. She’s also written six non-fiction guides to contemporary Jewish life. As an award-winning journalist, her articles have appeared in many publications.

Diamant talks about her characters and the range of her career journey here and here.


Margaret Coel is the New York Times best-selling author of 17 novels including the acclaimed Wind River mystery series set among the Arapahos on Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation and featuring Jesuit priest Father John O’Malley and Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden. The latest is The Spider’s Web (Sept. 2010) The Spirit Woman received the Willa Cather Award for Best Novel of the West and was a finalist for the Western Writers of America’s Spur Award for Best Novel. Along with the Wind River mystery series, Margaret Coel is the author of five non-fiction books and her articles on the West have appeared in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, American Heritage of Invention & Technology, Creativity!, among others. Here’s a peek into what she has to say.


Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter, Dennis Palumbo is now a licensed psychotherapist and author of Writing From the Inside Out (John Wiley). His work helping writers has been profiled in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ and other publications, as well as on CNN, NPR and PBS. He also blogs regularly for the Huffington Post. His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand, Written By and elsewhere, and is collected in From Crime to Crime (Tallfellow Press). His crime novels, Mirror Image (Poisoned Pen Press), and it’s sequel, Fever Dream feature psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police.

Hear Dennis here live or check out this interview.


Alyson Hagy was raised on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She is the author of three previous collections of short fiction and two novels, Keeneland, Snow, Ashes, and Ghosts of Wyoming. She lives and teaches in Laramie, Wyoming. Her new novel, Boleto, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in May 2012.

Get to know Alyson as she speaks about her work and her inspirations here or here.

That is just the beginning of our list of fiction faculty, including: Mark Hummel, Tim Sandlin, Craig Johnson, Patti Sherlock, Tina Welling, Kyle Mills, John Byrne Cooke, Lise McClendon, Deborah Turrell Atkinson, Catherine McKenzie, and Shawn Klomparens. The Conference also offers tracks in poetry, creative nonfiction, young adult, and magazine writing.

Registration is open until June 28; the early bird pricing is good through May 8; and manuscript critique submissions are open until May 22. For all the details, visit our site.

We hope you’ll join us, June 28-30!

See, in poetry, it makes perfect sense to say – look, there is biology everywhere! Chemistry too. It may sound a little campy or grossly unscientific, and that’s the fun. The poem gets to discover however you want it to. Find the specific through exploration. Since it’s Poetry Month, and the season when we witness the emergence of the chlorophyll and the critters, I hypothesize this post will catalyze some metaphors. The proof is yours to make.

Before the writing exercises and poems at the bottom of this post, you might consider the similarities in the processes of writing and scientific study. First, fertilizing us with examples of where the two do meet, Ruth Padel, gives us literary examples throughout history in her full article for The Guardian. Here is a snippet:

But poetry and science have more in common than revealing secrets. Both depend on metaphor, which is as crucial to scientific discovery as it is to lyric. A new metaphor is a new mapping of the world. Even maths uses metaphor; and this is where more condensed forms of poetry join in. John Donne, living through exciting new scientific discoveries, relished the door-opening powers of science. “A mathematical point is the most indivisible and unique thing which art can present,” he said. His lyric uses science as image rather than exposition. But not as mere ornament. The legs of a compass as a metaphor for two lovers, the alembic as the distilling power of love, are not just surface glitter but organic to their poems: they take the thought and feeling forward.

In a more dense and chewy observation of the matter, this recent Harvard Magazine piece by Edward O. Wilson, discusses the evolution of the human mind and our often scarce sensory capabilities while offering a related view of the humanities and the creative and scientific processes. Here is one section to pique your interest:

Since the fading of the original Enlightenment during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, stubborn impasse has existed in the consilience of the humanities and natural sciences. One way to break it is to collate the creative process and writing styles of literature and scientific research. This might not prove so difficult as it first seems. Innovators in both of two domains are basically dreamers and storytellers. In the early stages of creation of both art and science, everything in the mind is a story. There is an imagined denouement, and perhaps a start, and a selection of bits and pieces that might fit in between. In works of literature and science alike, any part can be changed, causing a ripple among the other parts, some of which are discarded and new ones added. The surviving fragments are variously joined and separated, and moved about as the story forms. One scenario emerges, then another. The scenarios, whether literary or scientific in nature, compete. Words and sentences (or equations or experiments) are tried. Early on an end to all the imagining is conceived. It seems a wondrous denouement (or scientific breakthrough). But is it the best, is it true? To bring the end safely home is the goal of the creative mind. Whatever that might be, wherever located, however expressed, it begins as a phantom that might up until the last moment fade and be replaced. Inexpressible thoughts flit along the edges. As the best fragments solidify, they are put in place and moved about, and the story grows and reaches its inspired end. Flannery O’Connor asked, correctly, for all of us, literary authors and scientists, “How can I know what I mean until I see what I say?” The novelist says, “Does that work?,” and the scientist says, “Could that possibly be true?”

Writing exercise: Pick a proof, theory or scientific concept and go at it with a poem. You may choose a metaphor that you feel illustrates the concept or you may find a truth revealed to you in your surrounding environment. If you don’t have one you are smitten with try one of these as a starting point: infinity, electromagnetism, Murphy’s Law, or dominant genes. The possibilities are technically as vast as our universe. Go for it. Make a big bang. And you’ll find more writing exercises in our archives.

Goodies: Here is a poem, which I love, by Rae Armantrout, or the inertia in “The Will to Divest” by Kay Ryan who is a witty hack in this realm (scroll needed). Katherine Coles, a recent visiting faculty member of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference, also embarks on these explorations, and this poem touches on that sensory world. Or as Wilson so aptly comments on our sense of taste and smell: “We are idiots compared with rattlesnakes and bloodhounds. Our poor ability to smell and taste is reflected in the small size of our chemosensory vocabularies, forcing us for the most part to fall back on similes and other forms of metaphor.”

May you fall however you like into poetry. Just keep in mind your velocity, mass and kinetic energy.