Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Painting Winter with Words

Northwest Indiana had well over a foot of snow this past weekend, turning the Calumet Region into a true winter wonderland. But that description has become cliché by now. Over the years, writers have found many other ways to describe the winter landscape. Here are a few examples.1

Henry David Thoreau

We start with one of the most famous naturalists, Henry David Thoreau. Both of the following passages come from Walden. The first is from a chapter titled “Former Inhabitants and Winter Visitors,” and the second comes from one called “The Pond in Winter.”

I weathered some merry snow-storms, and spent some cheerful winter evenings by my fireside, while the snow whirled wildly without, and even the hooting of the owl was hushed. For many weeks I met no one in my walks but those who came occasionally to cut wood and sled it to the village. The elements, however, abetted me in making a path through the deepest snow in the woods, for when I had once gone through the wind blew the oak leaves into my tracks, where they lodged, and by absorbing the rays of the sun melted the snow, and so not only made a bed for my feet, but in the night their dark line was my guide.


Then to my morning work. First I take an axe and pail and go in search of water, if that be not a dream. After a cold and snowy night it needed a divining-rod to find it. Every winter the liquid and trembling surface of the pond, which was so sensitive to every breath, and reflected every light and shadow, becomes solid to the depth of a foot or a foot and a half, so that it will support the heaviest teams, and perchance the snow covers it to an equal depth, and it is not to be distinguished from any level field. Like the marmots in the surrounding hills, it closes its eyelids and becomes dormant for three months or more. Standing on the snow-covered plain, as if in a pasture amid the hills, I cut my way first through a foot of snow, and then a foot of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneeling to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a window of ground glass, with its bright sanded floor the same as in summer; there a perennial waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight sky, corresponding to the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants. Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.

William Hamilton Gibson

Here is a very different description from another naturalist. Gibson was also an author and illustrator, as you will discover from the words he chooses.

Silently, like thoughts that come and go, the snow-flakes fall, each one a gem. The whitened air conceals all earthly trace, and leaves to memory the space to fill. I look upon a blank, whereon my fancy paints, as could no hand of mine, the pictures and the poems of a boyhood life; and even as the undertone of a painting, be it warm or cool, shall modify or change the color laid upon it, so this cold and frosty background through the window transfigures all my thoughts, and forms them into winter memories legion like the snow. Oh that I could translate for other eyes the winter idyl painted there! I see a living past whose counterpart I well could wish might be a common fortune. I see in all its joyous phases the gladsome winter in New England, the snow-clad hills with bare and shivering trees, the homestead dear, the old gray barn hemmed in with peaked drifts. I see the skating-pond, and hear the ringing, intermingled shouts of the noisy, shuffling game, the black ice written full with testimony of the winter’s brisk hilarity. (From the section titled “Winter” in Pastoral Days or Memories of a New England Year by William Hamilton Gibson)

Thomas Mann

Thoreau and Gibson were describing winter in the U.S., but what about other countries? Here is German author Thomas Mann’s description of the Swiss Alps. The book is The Magic Mountain, and this particular translation is by John E. Woods.

Yet there was a momentary hint of blue sky, and even this bit of light was enough to release a flash of diamonds across the wide landscape, so oddly disfigured by its snowy adventure. Usually the snow stopped at that hour of the day, as if for a quick survey of what had been achieved thus far; the rare days of sunshine seemed to serve much the same purpose—the flurries died down and the sun’s direct glare attempted to melt the luscious, pure surface of drifted new snow. It was a fairy-tale world, child-like and funny. Boughs of trees adorned with thick pillows, so fluffy someone must have plumped them up; the ground a series of humps and mounds, beneath which slinking underbrush or outcrops of rock lay hidden; a landscape of crouching, cowering gnomes in droll disguises—it was comic to behold, straight out of a book of fairy tales. But if there was something roguish and fantastic about the immediate vicinity through which you laboriously made your way, the towering statues of snow-clad Alps, gazing down from the distance, awakened in you feelings of the sublime and holy.

Lewis Carroll

Mann described the Alps as a fairy-tale world, but Lewis Carroll’s description appears in a real fairy tale. It also crosses the English Channel for its setting. This selection is found near the beginning of Through the Looking-Glass.

“Do you hear the snow against the window panes, Kitty? How nice and soft it sounds! Just as if someone was kissing the window all over outside. I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, as it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.’”

Now go out and create your own description.


1 This post is limited to prose. For poetry, read the IWC blog posts from December 13, 2017 (Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”) and December 20, 2017 (Emily Dickinson’s “It sifts from Leaden Sleeves”).


The photo at the head of this page is © 2011 by Kathryn Page Camp.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Echoes of a Poet's Voice--My Memory of Tom Spencer

When Tom Spencer died on June 30, 2015, IWC lost a dedicated member. More importantly, Northwest Indiana lost a great poet, mentor, and patron and a strong advocate for the written arts. But why do we bring it up now? It has come to our attention that there is a current campaign to extend his legacy, and readers of this blog might want to know about it.

Tom’s family have donated the proceeds from his last book to build a gazebo at Freedom Park in Lowell, Indiana, where he was a leading citizen. They are looking for donations to complete the funding and have established a GoGetFunding account at That avenue for donations will be open through February 15 or 18, depending on where you look for the information. That doesn’t mean you can’t donate after that date, but the donation path will change.

To be clear: This is not a solicitation. We are merely notifying you of the opportunity, and whether you donate has no effect on IWC. But this is a good time to remind all of our readers about Tom’s contribution to the writing community, and we do so by reprinting a blog post written by Helena Qi and originally posted on October 17, 2015. Here it is.


Echoes of a Poet’s Voice—My Memory of Tom Spencer

Helena Qi

he last time Tom and I met, we were surrounded by coffee grinder uproars, conversations, and laughter inside the Grindhouse CafĂ©. It was May 2, 2015 and members of Highland Writers’ Group gathered for our biweekly meeting. Tom Spencer sat to my immediate right. His oxygen tube indicated that all was not well with him, but his sharp mind and high spirits told me otherwise.  

After my turn to read, Tom made encouraging comments about my manuscript. Then he leaned toward me.

“Why haven’t you signed up for the poetry class?” Tom asked quietly against a cacophony of background noises.  

“I’d like to, but my schedule is too full right now,” I heard myself muttering feebly. I’d learned a few weeks earlier that Tom was offering free poetry lectures. Upon consideration, I had decided against adding more to my plate.

“But writing poems will help you build your vocabulary,” Tom said persuasively. 

  ~                      ~                      ~

For the next few days, Tom’s words kept ringing on my head. On May 11, the morning of the first class, I sent Tom an email saying that I had found my son a ride to and from his orchestra concert that evening and asking if it was too late to register. When no response came by midafternoon, I mustered my courage and dialed Tom’s phone number. Doris, Tom’s companion, answered and told me that Tom was ill. But yes, I was welcome to go to the class that evening.

I attended the class. Toward the end, each of us got to speak with Tom on a cell phone. To me, Tom’s mind was as astute as I’d ever known, his voice strong and enthusiastic. There wasn’t even a thread of doubt in my mind that he’d soon recover.

 ~                      ~                      ~

The next day I received Tom’s email (below).


On May 12, 2015, at 3:11 PM, tom spencer <> wrote:

Forgive my lack of response Helena, This is the first I could get to my e-mail since Sunday. I am pleased that you attended and hope that you were pleased also. Let me know if you have any questions on last evening's presentation. You have good writing skills and I would be happy to help you expand them. What instrument does your son play? Your family will always come first in my book of rules so there is never a need to apologize for your devotion to them.

Sincerely, Tom


Tom’s message filled my heart with warmth and energy. I wanted to thank him and tell him what I thought about the class. Yet I was too busy spinning around my hectic activities to write my reply until June 2, when I was 31,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean on my way to Shanghai. 

On my return flight from China on July 1, I let my thoughts roam in pleasant anticipation. One of the events I longed for was to attend the July poetry class. I was sure I’d see Tom and have a chance to express my gratitude.

Nothing prepared me for the shocking news that Tom Spencer had left the world just two days before I came back home.

~                      ~                      ~

The last time I saw Tom was at Sheets Funeral Home in Lowell on Sunday, July 5, 2015. Gazing at the tranquil face of the 71-year old poet, I felt a few poetry lines bubbling out of my blurred memory.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Arrow and the Song” resonated with my emotions.

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I know not where,
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

I could not remember exactly when and where our first meeting took place. But each time I saw Tom was at a writing-related event. And on nearly every occasion we had a private conversation. Tom would prompt me to do more, such as attending a workshop or a poetry reading, so that I could learn to write proficiently in English, which is not my mother tongue. 

Emily Dickinson’s lines then came rushing to me as my thoughts roved along memory lane.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

I was a mere acquaintance of Tom, or else I’d have known about his serious ailments, as all of his friends did. To me, Tom the man and poet made a difference for the better. In my eyes, therefore, his life was definitely not in vain but of great value.

When I looked at Tom for the last time, Henry David Thoreau’s words rang in my ears.

My life has been the poem I would have writ,
But I could not both live and utter it.

I thought that Tom Spencer, now lying peacefully in a coffin surrounded by visitors and flower baskets, ought to be proud of his life as a poetic masterpiece, for its echoes have reached far and deep.


Helena Qi lives in Munster, Indiana. She is a member of IWC, has attended Highland Writers’ Group meetings since 2011, and aspires to become a skilled writer.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Four New Years Promises

As January draws to an end, many of us may be asking if it is too late to make our writing resolutions for this year. The answer is simple: it’s never too late. To get you inspired, IWC is reprinting a post by Joyce B. Hicks that was originally published on January 21, 2015. You’ll be happy to know that she did finish her sequel, which came out earlier this year as One More Foxtrot. As you read this post and apply it to yourself, just substitute 2018 for 2015.

Four New Years Promises
Joyce B. Hicks

Since New Years I’ve spent time at coffee shops attending to my resolution of writing a sequel to my first novel. I counted on the industry of others clacking away and high-octane coffee to bring inspiration. However, about $25 has yielded a paltry dozen pages. How can one keep up enthusiasm for a commitment to writing in the face of such meager output? 

The blog Changing Aging provides four resolutions that can help immensely with staying committed. Let me thank Jeanette Leardi for providing her thoughtful essay at  She writes of her New Years resolutions: “I promised to try, as often as possible, to 1) create something, 2) maintain something, 3) repair something, and 4) let go of something.” I’d like to propose that these promises may be more effective than caffeine in making 2015 a good writing year. 

Create something—Sure, that’s what I was trying to do at my laptop! But for a writer maybe this doesn’t have to mean a poem, story, or chapter; in fact, Leardi includes writing a letter to a friend as an example of creating, among others non-literary. Perhaps one could include any activities that result in the same kind of satisfaction or exhilaration felt when words do flow. Like writing, the activity ought to require concentration and be a visible step to a completed project. 

Maintaining something definitely applies to the writing life if the goal is publication. A website, Facebook page, or author entries on Goodreads and Amazon require a lot of maintenance. And what about keeping up with blogs in one’s genre or interest area? Or scoping out deadlines, contests, and new publications—this is definitely writing-life maintenance. In fact, maintenance can take up all one’s writing time and energy. So don’t get too carried away about this resolution, although performing maintaining first could be so satisfying that it gets the juices going for create something. 

Repairing something could mean fixing a broken link on one’s website, but really the writer should use this resolution for editing and polishing. These activities are fun for me. Spotting a shifted point-of-view may bring a story in line and suggest a more developed plot, an area I struggle with. Even fixing a dangling modifier makes me feel sanctified! A feeling that may return me to step one. 

Letting go of something can be pretty tough or exhilarating. I’m sure that doesn’t mean, “Be realistic. You’ll never write something publishable.” It might mean letting go of a favorite character or plot line; or one might let go of discouragement over another Glimmer Train rejection. Or a writer might have to get over an attitude that is standing in the way of success. 

Publications about writing are not the only place to seek inspiration for commitment to the writing life. In fact, for me sometimes they have a repressive effect since I feel overwhelmed by good advice other writers are following. For 2015 I’m trying to include these four resolutions each day, rather than have “get busy writing” as my only mantra. Please consider reading the full essay on the blog Changing Aging since Leardi provides many thoughtful examples of the resolutions. 


Joyce B. Hicks is the author of Escape from Assisted Living, One More Foxtrot, and a number of short stories. You can learn more about Joyce at

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Thing About Agents

Kathryn Page Camp

Here’s the thing about agents. Although most small and mid-size publishers take unagented submissions, most of the larger ones do not. So if I’m aiming at Scholastic or Penguin, I can’t do it on my own.
My past experience looking for agents and the wisdom gleaned from other writers has taught me two things.
1.     It’s almost as hard to find a good agent as it is to find a traditional publisher, and those agents that are easy to find don’t usually have the right connections.
2.     Author and agent need to click together like puzzle pieces. An effective author-agent relationship is also a close one, and personality matters.
Maybe that’s why my past attempts haven’t been successful. But now I’m at it again. I’ve spent the last few days researching agents to find the ones who might be the best fit for my recently completed middle-grade historical novel. Then I selected seven and sent each one a query letter.
But it’s a lot of work to do it right.
First, I went to and sorted by agents who were interested in middle-grade fiction. I also used “historical” as a search term but soon discovered that the search doesn’t drill down that far—when “historical” came up, it was talking about fiction for adults. And I’d rather concentrate on agents who specialize in writing for children. But even those who specialize may not be the right fit. As mentioned above, personality matters, too. And how do I judge the personality of someone I’ve never met?
That’s one of the things I like about Some of the questions are designed to give you an insight into the agent’s personality. Not every agent takes advantage of the opportunity, but some do. One question asks for fun facts about that person, and a few answered it. More answered the question asking for their favorite books. Obviously, sharing the same taste in books doesn’t guarantee that we will click, and having different tastes doesn’t necessarily mean that person isn’t the right agent for me. But at least it gives me a place to start.
Unfortunately—or fortunately?—I didn’t recognize some of the books that were mentioned by several agents, so of course I had to go out and buy them and read them even though I don’t have the time. But I love to read middle grade fiction, so I can’t really complain.
After selecting potential agents, the next step was to go to their agency websites and made sure they are still working there. Wish lists don’t get updated as often as corporate websites do, so relying on the wish lists alone is a bad idea.
Once my agent list was set, it was time to submit. Each agent wants something different, and it is important to give them what they ask for. This meant looking at the submission guidelines on the agency website as well as those given in the wish list post. (For my thoughts on the importance of guidelines, read my December 7, 2016 post on this blog.) ]
Now it’s time to sit back and wait. No, now it’s time to write that next book.
While I wait.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer who writes adult non-fiction as Kathryn Page Camp and middle-grade fiction as Kaye Page. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014, and her first middle-grade historical novel, Desert Jewels, was released in August 2017. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Calling All Presenters

The Fifth Annual Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference will be held on October 27, 2018 at the conference center at Fair Oaks Farms, which is located just off I-65 near Rensselaer, Indiana.1 We already have an outstanding keynote speaker, but now the Conference Committee is looking for session presenters to further enhance the conference experience.2

This full-day conference provides educational opportunities for creative writers through a variety of workshops, panels, and lectures covering fiction, creative nonfiction, and the business of writing. If you are interested in presenting, we would love to read your proposal. Just complete the official proposal application and return it by March 31, 2018. If you have not already received the form, email and ask for a copy.

Please note that there is no honorarium and presenters are responsible for arranging and paying for their own travel and accommodations. Presenters must also pay a discounted registration fee of $35. However, this is an opportunity to mentor other writers, hone your teaching skills, network, and learn from other experienced writers while providing a valuable service to the writing community.

When preparing a proposal, please keep the following in mind:

·       Sessions will probably last about one hour. The actual schedule has not been set and session lengths may change slightly.

·       The conference is aimed at creative writers, and all proposals should provide value for them. For example, a proposal by a visual artist could cover the relationship between author and illustrator, and a proposal by a professional speaker could address the selling opportunities provided by speaking engagements at schools and libraries.

·       All presentations, including lectures, should provide opportunity for interaction.

Additional information about the conference will be posted at as it becomes available.

Please share this post with anyone who might be interested in submitting a proposal.


1 Steel Pen is Indiana Writers’ Consortium’s annual conference. IWC inspires and builds a community of creative writers. It was incorporated in 2008 as an Indiana nonprofit organization and is a public charity under section 501(c)(3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code.

2 This year’s keynote speaker is Michael Poore, who is the author of the humorous novels Reincarnation Blues (Del Rey, 2017) and Up Jumps the Devil (Ecco, 2012). His short work has appeared in Agni, Southern Review, Fiction, and Glimmer Train, and in anthologies, including The Year’s Best Science Fiction and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Write for Us

Indiana Writers’ Consortium has been in the blogging business since 2009, and this blog begain operating in October 2012. Since then we have been dedicated to delivering weekly postings with content that provides value to IWC members and other writers. Unfortunately, finding that content isn’t always easy. And when calls for volunteer bloggers fail, the blogmaster/mistress ends up filling the void, with varying success on the value of the resulting content. (I looked for a gender-neutral term for the position but couldn’t come up with one, so if you have a suggestion, please leave it as a comment.)

Based on past experience, calls for volunteers to fill in particular dates isn’t the answer. So I’m reaching out for submissions that I can stockpile and post whenever they work best. (If I get a number of posts on writer’s block, for example, that will give me the flexibility to spread them out or, if they work well together, to publish them as a monthly theme.) You get to choose the topic, and submissions are always open. There are some restrictions, however, so the submission guidelines follow.

Submission Guidelines for Blog Posts

The purposes of the IWC blog are to encourage writers, educate the public on writing-related subjects, provide information on upcoming writing events such as conferences and workshops, and promote IWC and its individual members. Posts should provide value to other writers rather than being purely self-promotional, however. For example, a post on your upcoming book could focus on lessons learned in writing it. And all posts may include a website or blog address and a short bio for promotional purposes.

Posts should be 1,000 words or less, and posts between 400-600 words are preferred. Short sentences and paragraphs and lots of white space make digital content easier to read.

There is no payment for IWC blog posts. Members are given priority, but non-members are welcome to submit as well.

IWC takes nonexclusive rights and accepts reprints. Nonexclusive rights means that you retain the right to sell or use the post in other blogs or publications, but it also means that IWC has the right to reprint it on any IWC blog or in any IWC anthology. You retain the copyright, and we will identify you as the author in any subsequent use. 

IWC’s membership includes writers from all genres and with varying opinions about writing. To foster this diversity, our editorial policy is (1) to accept all blog articles by members if the content fits with the blog’s purposes and (2) to publish the articles as written. We do, however, reserve the right to reject posts that are inconsistent with the purposes of this blog; that are rude, crude, or lewd; or that disparage any particular group of people. Honest criticism of a literary work and the author’s skill is acceptable. We also reserve the right to cut down or split up posts that exceed 1000 words and to make minor edits, such as correcting misspellings.

IWC has complete discretion over when a particular post is published.

Anyone who submits material to IWC for publication on the blog or otherwise warrants to IWC that he or she either owns the copyright and has the unrestricted right to use the material or has received permission to post it. This includes photographs as well as text.

Please send your submissions to with “Blog” in the subject line. I look forward to receiving them.


The photograph is © 2012 by Kathryn Page Camp.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Happy New Year from IWC

IWC would like to thank you for your continued support of the Steel Pen Conference and our other efforts to help writers in Northwest Indiana and Chicagoland. Here is a report from IWC President Anastasia Trekles on what to expect during 2018.

2018 Steel Pen Conference: October 27, 2018

The 2018 conference will again be held at the Fair Oaks Farms venue that was so well received by all who attended in 2017. Mark your calendars for October 27, and we hope to see you there with keynote speaker Michael Poore.

Editing Service: New for 2018

IWC is offering a new service to members: editing. That’s right, you can get a manuscript edited by one of our expert writing volunteers, who will give you the feedback you are seeking for any creative effort you might be working on.

The specifics:

·       You may submit files to as a Word document, double-spaced, with 12-point, Times New Roman font and 1-inch margins on all sides.

·       Current IWC members are charged a fee of $1 per page, and non-members are charged a fee of $1.50 per page. Payment is accepted via PayPal or check written to IWC.

·       Turnaround time depends on the length of your manuscript and can be discussed one-on-one with your editor.

We hope you will consider this a valuable service and one that will help you continue your road to success as a writer. Good luck in 2018!

Publish in the IWC Blog

This blog, located at, publishes new posts every Wednesday. We would like to compile a stock of posts that we can use when there is an opening. If you are interested in submitting one or more posts, please email them to and put "Blog" in the subject line. You can email the same address (with the same reference) to request a copy of the submission guidelines.

Reprints of material you wrote for your own blog or another source are acceptable as long as you tell us where and when they previously appeared. We take nonexclusive rights, which means that you retain the right to sell or use the post in other blogs or publications and that IWC has the right to reprint it on any IWC blog or in any IWC anthology.

There is no payment for IWC blog posts, but bloggers may include a website or blog address and a short bio for promotional purposes.

IWC is Looking for New Board and Conference Committee Members

Are you interested in getting more involved with IWC and helping us reach new heights?

Any member or non-member with a passion for writing and time to participate in regular meetings as well as the annual Steel Pen Conference in October is invited to submit a resume to

Board service is a two-year commitment with the ability to renew your term. Quarterly meetings may be held in person or electronically. We are particularly looking for dedicated individuals who seek to make a difference and are willing to collaborate virtually (email, Web conference) as well as face-to-face. Extensive technology skills are not required, however.

Conference Committee service involves working specifically on the Steel Pen Conference, which takes place in October. Business is conducted at monthly meetings and by email. If you have a specific talent you would like to lend to the cause, such as fundraising, marketing, event planning, or just working hard to make the event a success, we’d love to have you!

Please feel free to send us questions at any time. If you wish to submit a brief resume with your interest in either Board or Conference Committee work, please do so before January 31, 2018.