Solstice Writing Retreat – Join Us!

Happy New Year from Solstice Writing Retreat! Have you made any New Year’s Writing Resolutions? If you have, let us help you reach your goals! We are gearing up for Solstice Writing Retreat, happening in just a few short months. It’s going to take place April 23-25 – that’s right – we’ve moved the retreat to take place in the spring. Midway is lovely in the spring – blossoms on the trees, mild weather…all that jazz.

We hope you’ll sign up and take advantage of all the great things we have to offer this year. Many of our staff are returning for another round of great writing instruction. We’ve got Dean Hughes, Chris Crowe, Ann Cannon, and Louise Plummer. In addition, we have Obert Skye and Hilary Weeks! Sign up for one of their classes and take your writing to the next level.

Beyond the superior writing instruction, you also get two lunches, a fabulous dinner, and all the snacks and treats you could want. We’ll also have our annual ice cream social at Dean’s house, where you can mix and mingle with all of our fabulous authors and attendees.

Sign up today and we’ll see you in April! http://www.highvalleyarts.org/solstice/solstice-classes/

Dean Hughes: Why I Love to Write Historical Fiction

Dean Hughes has written more than 100 books and has sold more than a million copies of his books. Solstice is thrilled to have him back this year, teaching a class on Historical Fiction. Below, Dean explains why he loves the genre so much.

I’ll tell you what I love about writing historical fiction: I have to read before I can write, and I love to read.

Actually, there’s more to it than that. It’s not enough to know the broad outlines of a historical period to start my fictional version. I have to steep them in a time and place, both to know the attitudes and “the feel” of another time, but also to know the details of daily life. It’s really important, in doing research, to lift myself out of my own assumptions and learn to think like the people of another age. And it’s just as important to know the price of bread, the dress styles, the methods of farming, harvesting, cooking, etc.

In other words, to write historical novels, you have to read a whole lot. And why do people start writing? It’s usually because they love to read.

The reading also supplies the conflicts of an age, and it suggests possible stories. When I start “thinking up” a contemporary story, I have to imagine a character and place that character in some circumstance that leads to a conflict. But when I write historical fiction, I find people in my reading who, with a little adjustment, become the characters in my story. The setting suggests all sorts of challenges for that character to face. Usually, once I’ve done a fair amount of reading, I start to see my story.

Now, having said that, remember that the reading becomes a lovely excuse for putting off the writing. The old blank screen is still waiting for you, no matter what. It’s wonderful to sit in an easy chair with a good lamp and an old book and tell all who will listen: “I’m working on a book.” But that only lasts so long. It’s important to read enough to plan the plot, but then you have to face that painful process of drafting the story.

The reading is great fun, but here’s the tricky part: to some degree, you don’t know what you need to know until you start to write. Google can help at that point, but only if you’ve read enough to understand how the details fit into the larger picture. Still, over and over, you find yourself realizing, you don’t know enough—and it’s back to the reading.

So what’s better in life than reading and writing? I seem to remember a few things, from younger days, but when all those other things are gone, there’s still the joy of learning new stuff. I’ll admit, writing is hard work, and nothing can change that, but historical fiction is the ultimate escape. You not only get to time-travel to learn what you need to know; you are also forced to look deeply inside to imagine yourself living at another time.

I’ve sold myself. I’m going to write another historical novel. Oh, wait. I am writing another historical novel.

I better get to work.

If you would like to sign up for the Historical Fiction Class with Dean Hughes this summer, go to http://www.highvalleyarts.org/solstice.

 

Why Solstice?

I’m sitting here at my desk this morning, with windows open on either side of me. The sky is blue, the sun is bright, and the air is warm. This is the weather I’ve been waiting for all winter. It’s truly one of those remarkable days up here in the mountain tops! I plan to spend a good part of the morning writing, but I will be heading outside later to enjoy this beautiful day!

But before I do all of that, I want to invite you all to come to Solstice in July. Escape to Midway for three glorious days and learn from some of the best writers in Utah among the peaceful surroundings of The Homestead Resort. The writing talent here in Utah is deep, and we’re fortunate that so many authors are willing to share their time and expertise. The conference last year was remarkable. We had a lot of fun while improving our writing skills. The faculty, without a doubt, was top-knotch; but it was the attendees who brought so much heart and soul to our event. We met passionate writers from all walks of life. They showed up and jumped in with both feet! We had people who wanted to write about their personal experiences; whether they were raising a special-needs child, gathering family histories, or sharing stories about training horses. I think we all walked away feeling enriched and better for having been there.

And that’s what it boils down to, isn’t it? Writing is about people. Everyone has a story to tell.

If you want to tell yours, then Solstice is the place for you.

http://www.highvalleyarts.org/solstice

Insights from Chris Crowe

Today Chris Crowe answers our questions. Chris will be teaching Writing Nonfiction for Teenagers at Solstice this year.

1. Why should writers consider writing nonfiction?
The bulk of what is published in print and online is nonfiction, so it provides many more opportunities for aspiring writers to find an audience. Nonfiction, of course, comes in a huge variety of flavors, so writers will never run out of subjects to explore—and to put into writing.

2. What’s your favorite nonfiction book?
I like too many to single out just one book, but for years I have really admired Jennifer Armstrong’s Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World.

3. What are your writing habits?
I have horrible writing habits, but when I’m disciplined and productive, writing is the first thing I do when I get to work. I have a secluded cubicle in the belly of the BYU library—no windows, no cell phone reception, no wifi connection—and I sit at a small and aging Dell desktop computer and write. A really good day provides me three hours or more; most days an hour or less.

4. What do you do when you aren’t writing?
I teach in the English department at BYU, and that takes up a large amount of my time—not just the teaching, but the meetings and the conferencing with students, and the other stuff that fills a professor’s day.

5. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Read, read, read. Establish a writing routine. Write with your internal editor muffled and stuffed in a sound-proof box. Enter contests. Attend workshops. Find smart and trusted readers who will give you honest feedback about your writing. Never give up.

6. What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were starting out as a writer?
I wish I had understood better the importance of knowing your audience. I also wish I had taken typing in high school.

7. And just for fun…salty or sweet?
Salty AND sweet!

Thanks, Chris!

To sign up for Chris’s class this summer, head on over http://www.highvalleyarts.org/solstice.

An Interview With John Bennion

We are excited to have John Bennion returning to Solstice this year! The class he will be teaching is entitled “Writing Family History with a Sense of Place.”

John answers some questions for us:

• Why should writers consider writing nonfiction?

Fiction writers and poets draw from their own lives, but essayists and memoirists get to write about their experiences without inventing material; their tools are honesty and clear vision. In a way, saying that is a distortion, because reimagining the past, reinterpreting experience, and gaining new vision are essential to the nonfiction writer. This kind of writing is essential for experts and for people who want to write for themselves and their families. I believe that as children (and adults) we create our identities as we tell and retell stories about personal history, family culture, community practice, and experiences with the earth. It is a glorious mode of recording lived truth.

• What’s your favorite nonfiction book?

I have several favorites. In the category of memoir, I like Growing Up by Russell Baker and Goodbye to Poplarhaven: Reflections of a Utah Boyhood by Edward Geary. In personal essay I like Pat Madden’s Quotidiana and Philip Lopate’s Against Joie de Vivre. In the category of natural history writing I love Wendel Berry’s The Gift of Good Land, Amy Leech’s Things That Are, and George Handley’s Home Waters: a Year of Recompenses on the Provo River.

• What are your writing habits?

When I’m happy, I get up and write in the morning for 3-4 hours. I actually mean, when I write for 3-4 hours I feel happy. That doesn’t happen much when I’m teaching. Sometimes I have to get a fix at night when everything else is done. When I’m rolling, I can grab an hour here and there and make it work. Dean Hughes is the model; he writes 8 hours every day, like going to work.

• What do you do when you aren’t writing?

Teach, take students outdoors to experience the natural world and then write about it. Play basketball. Read mystery and science fiction novels. Spend time with my children and grandchildren. Work in my garden.

• Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

After my masters thesis defense, my mentor Doug Thayer said to me, “If you write for 4 hours a day for 10 years, you’ll become a pretty good writer.

• What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were starting out as a writer?

I wish I had known how much work it takes to get something published. I might have not gotten discouraged so easily if I’d had in my head that my efforts had to be complete. I thought that talent would make the job easy. I also wish I’d known more about the process of publishing.

And just for fun…salty or sweet?

Both. I love yogurt-covered pretzels, popcorn with salt and gooey sugary stuff on it, and those roasted almonds that have both salt and sugar on them. So good.

Louise Plummer

Solstice teacher, Louise Plummer, answers a few questions about writing:

Why should writers consider writing nonfiction?

It requires the same skill set as writing fiction: choosing subject matter, characterization, setting, voice etc.

What’s your favorite nonfiction book?

An impossible question, but today I’ll say, David Shield’s Remote.

What are your writing habits?

I am not writing any fiction anymore and don’t plan to.  Occasionally, I do short personal essay pieces on request, but mostly I keep my blog going.  I write it in bed on my laptop.  Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s lame, but I have a sizeable reading audience either way.  It’s a way to know that I’m still alive.

What do you do when you aren’t writing?

Watching movies. Reading. Watercoloring.  Hanging with Tom.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Believe in yourself and your talent.  Do the work and send it off.  There is no magic dust to make this happen.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were starting out as a writer?

Each writing project feels like the first time.  The middle of a book is the most difficult to get through.  Beginnings are the easiest.  You’ve got to want it more than anything else.

And just for fun…salty or sweet?
Salty, definitely.  If there isn’t a tragic underpinning to comedy, then it’s just burlesque.  Life is a tragedy with a really bad ending.  That alone makes me laugh until snot comes out of my nose.

 

Thank you, Louise!

You can sign up for Louise Plummer’s Memoir class by going to http://www.highvalleyarts.org/solstice

Aaand We’re Back

Hello Writers!
Plans are starting to take shape here at Solstice! We hope you’re as excited as we are for this year’s retreat.

Returning to our faculty this year are Louise Plummer, Ann Cannon, Dean Hughes, and John Bennion. We’re also happy to have Chris Crowe joining us for this year’s Solstice. Also new this year, we’ve got a couple of editors lined up and you’ll be able to meet with them for some one-on-one time where you can pitch your ideas and get valuable feedback. And if you’re lucky, we just might do some more dancing!

Leading up to the retreat, we’ve got some things lined up for you to look forward to. Look for some giveaways, an early bird special, and guest posts from our faculty.

In the meantime, polish up those manuscripts, dust off those family histories, and get ready to join us in July!

Author Post: Nonfiction. Really?

Enjoy today’s post by Solstice instructor and author Chris Crowe. To register for Crowe’s Solstice class on writing nonfiction for teenagers, click here.

How’s the publishing business?

Sales are down 2% from last year, but the business is still pretty healthy. Publisher’s

Weekly reported that last week (ending March 23, 2013), readers purchased more than 10 million

books. In 2013, total sales exceeded 470 million copies.

That’s a lot of books.

And 55% of those books were nonfiction.

You read right: nonfiction. Even in the shadow of blockbuster novel-movie series like

The Hunger Games and Divergent, nonfiction still outsold its flashier genre sibling, fiction.

Who cares?

Well, if you’re an aspiring writer, you should care. While it’s incredibly rare for any

single work of nonfiction to match the sales and audience-reach of a best-selling novel, the

aggregate sales of nonfiction regularly outstrip the aggregate sales of novels. That means that

there are far more nonfiction books than novels published each year, and that means that the

nonfiction market offers far more opportunities for writers to break into the business.

It also means that writers, interesting and creative people like you and like me, can write

about almost anything that interest us. Try this: go to Wikipedia, and search for “categories:

fiction books” and count the categories listed. Then search for “categories: non-fiction books”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Non-fiction_books. There’s a whole lot more going on in

nonfiction than in fiction.

* * *

Years ago, I had the chance to interview Bruce Brooks, a successful author of fiction and

nonfiction for teenagers. His first novel, The Moves Make the Man, earned him a Newbery

Honor in 1985, and his next few novels continued to impress and please readers. But in the face

of a rising career as a novelist, he wrote a nonfiction book. And then another. When I asked

him why, he said, “Well that’s the best thing about my job. I get to be interested in lots of

different things and turn those interests into books. In some ways, a book is just an another

excuse for getting deeply intrigued with something else.”

That’s one of the things that attracts me to nonfiction: I can follow my eclectic interests,

and by doing so, I can learn about all kinds of things. In fact, nonfiction writing may run counter

to one of the old truisms of writing, ‘Write about what you know.’ It’s often the case that good

nonfiction arises from turning that dictum on its head: ‘Write about what you can learn’ or

perhaps ‘Write about what you’re interested in.’

Digging into a topic you’re curious about take a lot of work—sometimes very hard

work—but like many difficult tasks, it’s work that’s intellectually and creatively stimulating.

And that’s something people, even experienced writers and avid readers, tend to forget:

nonfiction can be as interesting and creative to write and to read as fiction is.

* * *

Where’s nonfiction come from?

Anywhere.

Everywhere.

But most of the time nonfiction comes from curiosity and inquiry.

Here’s an example of how a childhood curiosity later led to a successful nonfiction book:

For his 10th birthday, James L. Swanson was given a framed engraving of the

pistol that John Wilkes Booth used to kill Abraham Lincoln. . . . Accompanying

the engraving was a clipping from The Chicago Tribune of April 15, 1865, the

morning Lincoln died. ‘I remember reading it over and over again and seeing

that sentence and wondering what happened next.’

Eventually, Swanson grew up and got to find out what happened next, and he shared

what he learned by publishing Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer.

But it wasn’t curiosity alone that created an opportunity for that book. People wonder

about all kinds of things all the time, but few books result from casual wonderings. When

curiosity spurs a writer to action, the process of inquiry begins, and that’s what plants the seed

for a book.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘inquiry’ this way:

The action of seeking, esp. (now always) for truth, knowledge, or information

concerning something; search, research, investigation, examination.

It’s the “seeking” for “truth, knowledge, or information” that leads to nonfiction, and that

seeking may take many forms. For a personal essay, it might mean remembering and reflecting

on one’s life experiences. For a biography, it might require interviews and library research. A

history might need field research and library research, and who knows what else. The process of

seeking is a large part of what makes nonfiction satisfying to write. Well, that and the learning

that comes from the seeking. And the freedom to pursue your own interests. And the

opportunity to share what you’ve learned with others. And the opportunity to leave the crowded

fiction market for the open field of nonfiction. And the opportunity to read, to think, to learn,

and to write.

* * *

By bragging on the benefits of nonfiction, I don’t mean to disparage fiction. I love

reading and writing novels, but novels have snared more than their fair share of attention in our

society. Nonfiction books, in their infinite variety, occupy more shelf space than novels do, but

even with all of that space they’re taking up, there’s still room for your book on that shelf.

Opportunity awaits you. Watch. Wonder. Work. Write.

Author Post: Writers Write

Enjoy today’s post by Solstice instructor and prolific author Dean Hughes. To register for Dean’s Solstice class on writing historical fiction, click here.

I meet lots of people who “plan to write someday.”  They’re going to do it when they “have more time.”

I understand the problem.  We’re all busy.  But what would you think of someone who said, “I want to be a musician, so someday I’m going to buy an instrument, take some lessons, and start practicing.”  We all know that doesn’t work.  Musicians make music, and they start young.  They practice all their lives.

My point is, a writer has to write.  The published authors I know all made time to write, whether it was convenient for them or not.  They practiced.  They often found ways to take classes, to read good writing, perhaps to join writers’ groups.  But above all, they wrote.

A friend of mine raised a large family and she published all while her kids were growing up.  She found minutes to write, not hours, but she used those minutes well.

I have another friend who got up very early every morning and wrote for an hour or two—for many years.  He has published dozens of books.

Some stay up late.

Me, I could never do it those ways, but I found—no, I “created”—blocks of time.  I had an adjustable schedule, so I could carve out days, even weeks, when I could put in a big share of my day, each day, writing another book.  But I did that when I was busy making a living, raising a family, fulfilling church and community roles, and living life.  (The first three books were turned down; I published my fourth.)

You see my point.  Writing is a skill that has to be developed, and it doesn’t come by thinking about it, talking about it, or wishing for lovely days without distractions.  Writers figure out a way to write, and they do it now, not when they “get the time.”