Wednesday, December 30, 2015

IWC's 2015 in Review

Sarah White
President, Indiana Writers' Consortium
Friends, it’s that time again.  Time to take a look back at another great year.  The Indiana Writers’ Consortium had a fantastic 2015!  Many thanks to all of the people who worked so hard to make our year a success.  We are an organization that is growing by the day, by the week, and by the event.  We have grown from 23 members in 2013 to our current 66 members and counting.  As many of us know, this community of writers is an invaluable resource to our region.  We share our work, our passion for writing, and come together to help expand our artistic (and necessary) presence in Northwest Indiana and beyond.  We provide excellent professional development opportunities and amazing experiences for those writers who choose to be involved in our many activities. This year, we hosted two Paper Fields Creative Writing Workshop events—conducted by award-winning writers— and eight Stream Line Readings in our special collaborative series with Purdue Calumet and Paul Henry’s Art Gallery.  Each one has been rewarding. I participated in one on Flash Fiction/Nonfiction, and it was a warm and edifying experience.  We conducted our regular Eat & Exchange Series (6 total discussions), and 3 Saturday Workshops.  Also, we hosted our always popular Literary Pub Crawl, introducing new voices to our organization. 
Once again, our Steel Pen Literary Conference brought many well-known writers to Northwest Indiana.  It was a full day of presentations and networking—a true celebration of writing!  Much appreciation to those who made sure our conference was the crowning achievement of our year, especially the efforts of the tireless Janine Harrison. 
In addition, each year, we sponsor the P.O.P.P. (Our Power of Poetry Project) for young children.  This year was particularly special because we offered the Tom Spencer Award.  Tom Spencer was a talented poet and great friend to the IWC who passed away this year.  He was a combat Engineer with the US Army, served during Vietnam, and a past Commander of the Lowell American Legion.  He was a member of Tri Creek Historical Association, Friends of the Library, Gleaners, IWC, Write On Hoosiers, NWI Poetry Society, IN and National Federation of Poetry Clubs.  What an amazing man and great supporter of writing.  Tom is truly missed.
Friends, thank you for your continued support of the Indiana Writers’ Consortium.  Thank you for making our organization such a wonderful community of artists.  As we continue to grow, our hope is to continue to build and strengthen our literary community here in Northwest Indiana, providing a showcase for the incredible wealth of talent our region possesses.
Here’s to a great 2016!  May all our writing dreams come true! 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Mari L Barnes
I have been delighted by the IWC blog posts this month. Sarah and Julie illumined our memories and traditions, reminding us of the joy of this season of magic. Judy wrote of another kind of magic—that of communication and our ability to touch hearts and minds with our words.
I'd like to move in a slightly different direction. I am advocating—in the midst of this glorious time of love for all and peace on earth—love for self and peace of mind. That’s right, take a while to do something just for YOU.
As writers, we live in a whirlwind of should: I should be researching, writing, editing, querying. As humans, especially in this holiday season, our “shoulds” multiply like snowflakes in a storm: I should be shopping, decorating, baking, wrapping, mailing, volunteering.
Take a while, maybe a whole hour or two, and enjoy that thing that made you want to be a writer in the first place. Pick up a book or open your favorite e-reader. Make it a sacred time with your favorite reading ritual. Settle down in the coziest spot, whether it’s bed, the bath or the Lazy Boy, and pour that perfect beverage. Mute the phone and close the laptop. Transport yourself to another world.
This is not the time for an audio book. We tend to enjoy them when we’re engaged in other pursuits like driving or folding laundry. To truly take advantage of your shelter in a blizzard of “shoulds,” you’ll want to devote this time to nothing but the pure pleasure that reading a good book provides.
Revisit an old favorite or finally dive into that new book you’ve been planning to read. My two Christmas favorites are Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling. But, this year, I got new books from some IWC authors at the Steel Pen Conference, so I may indulge in one of those.
Merriam-Webster defines indulge as “to allow (yourself) to have or do something as a special pleasure” or “to take unrestrained pleasure in.” For a moment, indulge. Give yourself a gift. Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays to you.
The picture at the top of this post was drawn by Frank T. Merrill for the original edition of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. First published in 1868, the illustration is in the public domain because of its age.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Celebrate the Beauty of Communication

Judith Lachance-Whitcomb
Recently, there were two occasions when I was reminded of the beauty of communication.  Thanksgiving this year took place at my grandson’s home.  It was exceptionally special because it was his son Aiden’s first.  At almost 3 months old, Aiden was at the stage where a baby recognizes that somehow those who comprise his world communicate with sounds.  He was beginning to test this out as all babies his age do.  His hands waved, his legs kicked, his head bobbed, and his mouth contorted.  Finally, he was rewarded with a very quiet and brief, “Ohh.”  His smile assured me he was well pleased with his success.
The second occasion, took place at my son-in-law’s parents’ home.  His niece was visiting from Texas.  Both she and her husband are deaf and have been since birth.  Their two adorable children are not hearing impaired.  When it was time for them to leave, his niece told her four year old to get ready.  Callia, typical for a four year old, did not want to leave.  A five-minute negotiation with her mother with verbal pleading accompanied with signing thoroughly entertained me.  Her hands moved in rhythm with the nuances of her voice.   Her engaging efforts did not win her argument although I’m sure in the future she will be gaining points in a courtroom. 
Both of these observations of connecting people through words brought to my mind the beauty of communicating.  Aiden has just begun his excursion into language. In the next two years he will develop a vocabulary larger than at any other time during his life.  Then he’ll go to school where he’ll find a whole new world of linking thoughts through the written word.  Callia already has the ability to share ideas not only to the hearing world with her voice but to the non-hearing world with her hands.  When she begins to write, she will have an exciting new way to persuade others to her point of view.
Thinking about this highlighted an awareness, once again, of how lucky we are to be able to communicate in so many ways.  As writers, we have been given the additional joy of sharing our thoughts and feelings with others through the written word. When asked on the Indiana Writers’ Consortium member survey what were my goals in writing, it was easy to answer because of where my thoughts have been.  I want my written words to touch the hearts and souls of those who read them. Emily Neville in It’s like this, cat showed young teens that it’s okay as a 14 year-old to cry over a stray cat. Barbara Park in Mick Harte Was Here let her young readers share Phoebe’s tears when her anger over her brother’s death finally allowed her to cry.  I want my writing to be able to unite people by evoking universal emotions.
I’m not there yet.  Maybe I don’t have that novel or even a short story that does that yet.  Where can I start?
It’s the Christmas/ Hanukkah season.  This is a time when we decide to contact friends and families with joyous greetings.  Now, I’m not too good with this.  Longtime friends know I function on a 5-year Christmas card cycle.  I buy them every year but usually get them out once in a half-decade.  I find the nicest cards that have a lovely sentiment, but somehow they never seem right for everyone.  Maybe there is a problem because at some point we decided to let Hallmark express our feelings about and to people. When did we decide to delegate our opportunity to write a deeply felt sentiment to a corporation? 
Okay, they have lovely pictures and do a nice job of it.  But recently, I’ve gone one step lower in missing an opportunity to use the written word to express how much someone means to me by sending a mass or singular Christmas or birthday message on Facebook.  Maybe Christmas is the perfect time to write a personal note that will evoke memories or emotions in the reader.
Don’t be mistaken. I’m not talking about those Christmas letters.  As a young single mother, I hated those.  After reading them, I’d feel like a failure because my children were not in every sport invented, played all instruments in an orchestra, or were ready to win a Rhodes Scholarship.  The only feeling those evoked in me was nausea.
I could take a minute to script a brief sentence or two that would warm the heart of the receiver.  Maybe on Sandy’s card I could say, “I miss you most this time of year when I remember how we shoveled out a croquet field in four feet of snow.”  Or say to my cousin, Mary, “I’m reminded in this season of love how much you mean to me.  You held me up when I left my sister’s funeral, standing and talking to me until I could stand on my own.”
Maybe these notes aren’t the novels I want to write that will touch a soul.  But it’s a start.  It will be enough for me to celebrate the season with the beauty of communication.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Give Me Some of that Good Ole Christmas Tradition

Julie Demoff-Larson
I love Christmas. Although I am not a believer in the religion, I am a believer in the magic and tradition that encompasses the holiday season. I love the lights. I love the music. I love to bake cookies and nut rolls just like my grandma taught me—and I even share them. And I especially love the traditions that have been passed down along with the new ones we have started.  

As we move through this technology driven world it is so easy to lose parts of our family history. Some of my favorite holiday moments are when my father and uncle have shared stories about growing up in an immigrant rich neighborhood.  Or my grandmother’s telling of her Christmas mornings in the hills of Kentucky. When they were excited just to receive one large apple and one large orange in a stocking. We tried that a few years back with all of the great-grand kids and they were confused and disappointed. Thank god for gift cards.
In my house, we host an all adult party the week before as a respite from the hustle and bustle and exchange ornaments on Christmas Eve—all new traditions that we have implemented. My favorite new tradition happens to be about books—children’s books. About ten years ago I started giving my mother a children’s Christmas book as a gift. Each year I search for something new with beautiful rich illustrations. I look for stories that offer a twist on the holiday season. Most of these books offer new traditions as well as a take on old ones, but they are hard to find. Why aren’t there more available? So, here is a grand idea, we should all write a children’s book that incorporates family traditions. Even if you don’t plan on sending it off for publication, it would make a great gift for family and friends.  
Let’s keep our stories and traditions alive by writing them down and passing them along. There is an audience for such writing. I know I want to read them, all of them.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Season of Stories

Sarah White
Thanksgiving ushers in the most wonderful time of the year: the season of stories. Everywhere we turn, we are surrounded by the music of language. Families sit around dinner tables and talk about relatives alive or long since passed. Traditions are handed down in kitchens dusted with sugar and flour.  Children gather with beaming faces to listen to a man dressed in red speak about his reindeer and the mythical wonders of the North Pole. Churches, with pews bathed in the flickering light of candles, hush when The Gospel of Luke is read.  Menorahs glow brighter each night in celebration of light triumphing over darkness. The world hums with the murmur of a thousand celebrations.
The holiday season, perhaps more than at any other time of the year, celebrates the stories that define us, the narratives we cherish, the words we hold most dear.  We sing more songs.  We share our memories.  We revel in the magic of storytelling.
When I was a child, the Christmas season pulsed with the bustle of anticipation and the feverish energy of a little girl’s imagination.
For me, the joy of Christmas comes from one particularly special memory--it was the Christmas of 1980. That Christmas, when I crept downstairs and tore the paper off the boxes, I found things that I had ached to own. The world was abuzz with Star Wars. All of my friends had Star Wars figures, spaceships, t-shirts. And, there, in my hands, was the Millennium Falcon, one of the largest ships. Next, I found Princess Leia, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, C-3PO and R2D2, Obi-wan Kenobi--they were mine! I held the power of those films in my own small hands. I could create my own narratives, these figures the characters in my own vivid imaginings.
My Grandpa White made Christmas other-worldly. To me, part of the holiday was just listening to his "radio announcer" voice tell tales of Santa and the North Pole--his eyes twinkling. I never really "believed" in Santa Claus per se. I had a grate in my bedroom floor where I could peek down into the living room. I had seen my father in his briefs setting out presents once. Mostly, I humored Grandpa White because he seemed to believe in Santa and reindeer with such a childlike wonder you couldn't help but be swept up, too. Grandma and Grandpa White's house gonged with the chimes of dozens of clocks. Burl Ives, Andy Williams, Ed Ames, and all of the classic Christmas songs spun on their large record-player that was the size of a hope chest. The house smelled like ham, potatoes, apple pie. Grandma would fill up a huge crystal bowl with Hawaiian Punch and Sprite. We used ladles and fancy glass cups. We munched on peanuts, crackers and cheese. They would have their fireplace blazing. Much of the magic of my childhood Christmases comes from these memories.
These are some of my favorite holiday memories and stories. 
What are yours?