Novelist Jamie Ford Talks About Writing

Featured Jackson Hole Writers Conference speaker Jamie Ford is the author of The New York Times best selling novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. The forthcoming Love and Other Consolation Prizes returns to Seattle, but the setting is the 1909 World’s Fair, not WWII. (Unfortunately for the conference-goers, publication for Love is set for September 2017.)

The conference has snagged Jamie for a keynote talk and a workshop. During the conference he is also offering seven short manuscript critiques; most of those slots have already been spoken for. Last month I caught up with him by phone – between busy speaking dates. After signing up to come to the conference, he was invited to talk before the American Library Association in Chicago Saturday night of the conference. That means he will have to fly out of Jackson that morning to make the prestigious event. What a schedule!

Novelist Jamie Ford didn’t take the most direct path to a successful writing career. He isn’t one of those authors who wrote since he was a child in the Beacon Hill area of Seattle. He didn’t fill notebook pages with musings and observations of the adolescent sort, or even worse of the astoundingly literary sort that annoy those of us who struggled with our alphabets and penmanship.

“I was always adjacent to writing,” he said in an interview from his home in Billings, Montana. Art was the first love for this self-described “weird, creative child.” He admits to scribbling some poetry in sketchbooks, but it wasn’t until his 20s and 30s that he began “clumsy attempts at writing a novel.”

“But I didn’t have the emotional toolbox to write a novel,” he admits. “I say this often, but I feel like my writing career began when I wrote my parent’s obituaries.” With their deaths he developed a deeper understanding of the emotions that motivate people and characters, what drives a good story.

At that point, Jamie began to attend writing conferences. “That’s when I started to subject myself to … tough love.” Some of that more critical approach also came through advice he received from another writer, who suggested Jamie buy three out of print books at a garage sale, novels presumably by an unknown writer, for a quarter a piece.

“Force yourself to read them with a writer’s perspective. Try to pick up on what’s working and what is not working,” Jamie says, recalling his mentor’s words. “When you sit down to apply all those things, you’ll catch (out when you are writing badly). It helped me immensely.”

By reading poorly written fiction, as opposed to getting caught up trying to write like Michael Chabon or giving up because you don’t write like Michael Chabon (“It’s really unfair”), Jamie suggests concentrating on your own writing. “Look at your own work objectively. Notice when you are being lazy with your language.” i.e., don’t resort to cliches or predictable descriptions that add nothing to the character or the story.

“For every person who asks (me) if I should do an MFA, I say try this first. It’ll only cost you a quarter.”

None of which is to say that Jamie dismisses having an MFA. “I’m kind of a self-taught writer. I come at the craft of storytelling (from a different perspective). … I focus more on story, more than on the writing itself. Story is uber important (to me).” He added that he didn’t want to be classified as a writer only writing for other writers.

Most of all Jamie advises novice writers or those trying a genre for the first time to give themselves some slack. “We try to write our magnum opus right out of the gate,” he noted, “with 25 characters.” We all remember Tolstoy and Dickens, don’t we? Perhaps beginning with one narrator in first person might be something the antsy race horse should try first, before running a quarter-miler.

Perhaps taking a lesson from Jamie Ford’s own history with writing a novel is good to remember as well. His first novel was some “weird literary thing” that he worked on for four or five years. The queries he sent didn’t get a response from any agent. When he realized nobody was interested in the novel he had suffered over, he let it go and grieved, but moved on.

“A year later I started on Hotel (on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet),” he says. A Hollywood ending of sorts followed. Although he describes what he sent out as a rough draft, the agents he queried responded quickly. From the time he sent letters out to agents, signed with one of the agents, responded to that agent’s feedback, and saw the book auctioned off, it was two months. “Just ridiculous,” he concedes. “Sometimes it’s the right book at the right time for the right reason. It just happens.”

But to get there, “you have to be patient,” he reminds me. “Start off with training wheels.” Sometimes that means unlearning what you think you have learned writing a novel. Sometimes you may have to “empty your teacup,” Jamie Ford says. And begin again.

This interview was conducted April 13, 2017, by Connie Wieneke. I look forward to talking with Jamie Ford in person at the conference.

Susan Marsh Garners Stegner Prize

We are pleased and excited that resident faculty Susan Marsh and her co-author Florence Shepard have been selected as the winners of this year’s Wallace Stegner Prize in Environmental Humanities from the University of Utah Press for Saving Wyoming’s Hoback: The Grassroots Movement that Stopped Natural Gas Development. A great honor and well-deserved by Susan and Florence, both of whom have worked tirelessly and literally in support of the environment–in so many ways.

The $5000 Biennial Book Publication Prize is certainly another feather in Susan’s hat. (Check out her bio at the link to the website or visit her own website.) Saving Wyoming’s Hoback has taken about four years for the co-authors to write. It is set for publication later this spring and will be available at the JHWC book sale and signing.

“This is a shocker to both of us,” Susan wrote in a Facebook posting on March 15.

According to the Press: “The Wallace Stegner Prize will be awarded to the best monograph submitted to the Press in the broad field of environmental humanities. To compete for this award, manuscripts must emphasize interdisciplinary investigations of the natural and human environments and their fundamental interconnectedness, research in primary and secondary sources, and high quality writing in the tradition of Wallace Stegner. Preference will be given to projects that discuss issues related to the American West. We welcome book-length manuscripts that emphasize narrative form and draw on the humanities, as well as the particular methods and perspectives of history, geography, natural history, environmental science, creative nonfiction, or related disciplines to consider environmental subjects, broadly defined. These criteria reflect the legacy of Wallace Stegner as a student of the American West, as a spokesman for the environment, and as a teacher of creative writing. The winner of the Wallace Stegner Prize will receive a $5,000 award and a publication contract with the University of Utah Press”

Any writer in the West would be proud to win any award associated with Wallace Stegner. Again, congratulations to Susan and Florence. Well-done.

–Connie Wieneke

Past Resident Faculty Jayme Feary Wins Award

The Wyoming Arts Council on Wednesday announced the winners of the 2017 Blanchan/Doubleday Awards. Jayme Feary of Jackson received the nod for best writing inspired by nature. Past participants must remember Jayme’s cowboy poetry walks up Cache Creek in the evening with nature writer Susan Marsh. Wine and cheese was served up as well as poetry and bits about nature on those evening outings. Of course there were also mosquitoes and the chuckwagon entertainment to grab folks’ attention. He also served as our volunteer coordinator for a couple of years and offered up critiques and workshops. Congratulations to Jayme for this recognition. We look forward to publication of a full-length book.

Tim Sandlin Honored By Governor For Contributions To The Arts


Wyoming Governor Matt Mead announced December 7 that Tim Sandlin, director of Jackson Hole Writers and the creative force behind the conference for 23 years,  would receive a Governor’s Arts Award for work as an artist and as an arts advocate in the state.

“I wish my parents were still alive,” Tim says. “They would have gotten a kick out of this. “I am honored and amazed.”

Former Wyoming Arts Council director Bruce Richardson was the force behind the nomination. He describes himself as a reader and admirer of Tim’s work, and compared his stories to those of Chaucer.

“He’s a Wyoming writer through and through,” Bruce wrote in his nominating letter. “Most of his eleven novels are set in Wyoming and feature real folks of Wyoming small towns in all their gloriously eccentric individuality.”

Craig Johnson, author of the best-selling Longmire series of novels, threw his hat in the ring for Tim’s nomination. “Sandlin’s devotion to the Wyoming community is proven on a daily basis,” he wrote. “He writes with intelligent nuance and howling humor.”

Others from around the state weighed in. Martha Bancroft, Director for the Center for the Arts, notes that in the thirty years she has known Tim that “his passion for the written word has never wandered or waned.”

According to Jackson writer and New York Times best selling author Kyle Mills, Tim steered him in the right direction through classes. “With his help, Rising Phoenix went on to be a national bestseller,” Kyle wrote in praise. “… I still have a copy of a chapter with the word ‘boring’ written in red across the top. And he was right.”

Tina Welling, whose first book Crybaby Ranch, was published by Penguin, lauds Tim for mentoring student writers. She noted that “his talent and generosity of spirit is considered a national treasure in the literary world.”

Wyoming Legislature Representative Andy Schwartz, who worked with Tim in the 1970s, praised him. “From the beginning he has shown an incredible ability to vividly portray life in Wyoming within his wonderful fictional constructs.”

To read more about Tim’s literary career, visit his website. There are too many credits to list here.

“I am happy Wyoming is so supportive of the arts,” Tim says. “Not all states are.”

To see what the hoopla is all about come to the Jackson Hole Writers Conference in June. A great conference run by a generous guy, who happens to write. And he writes everyday!

Tim will be going to Cheyenne, the Wyoming state capitol, in February, braving the I-80 corridor to accept his award. At his table of eight will be his friends and his wife Carol. I’d love to be a speck with a tape-recorder  on the wall to hear his speech and a video camera to see how well his tux fits him. If you see him before then on the street or at the Center or more likely at Pearl Street Bagels, shake his hand, and ask him about the tux.

–Connie Wieneke

P.S.: I am nervous about posting this. Back in the mid-1980s Tim was the copy editor at the Jackson Hole News where I was a reporter and novice editor. I am confident that he will find something to tweak in this posting. He was a good teacher and the only one of a two folks in the world who got away with calling me Con, though his came out with a long Oklahoma drawl. No one else is allowed to do that. Just saying. Don’t.




Cultural Council of Jackson Hole Scholarships

Jackson Hole Writers is happy to announce the recipients of the Cultural Council of Jackson Hole scholarships for 2016. These scholarships allow three students and two teachers to attend the conference and even receive critiques of their work. It is a great opportunity for them and for us. We are grateful for the Cultural Council for this grant.

The words of scholarship recipient Emma Harrison-Springett inspire us at the conference and highlight why it is important to offer these writing opportunities to the community and our young people. We are always glad to offer this to students who are excited about writing.

“It mattered that we were brought together with a common passion,” Emma wrote in her application, “and that we were all there for the exact same reason – to get better at the thing we loved.”

Last year Emma attended the conference, a gift from her parents. And this year she is coming as a scholarship recipient. She looks forward to spending time with people, like her, who would love to read and write. She is a student at the Journeys School.

Sawyer Skye Lucas-Griffin (pictured below) is a lover of writing and reading. A freshman at Jackson Hole High School, she edits and produces Spark, the school’s evolving news/literary magazine. Her favorite book by far is that all-American classic, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Outside of engaging in literary activities, she plays viola, ski races, marvels at science, and people-watches in grocery store. Like all writers, she probably eaves-drops on conversations at local cafes.


This is Elizabeth Chambers’ third year to receive a scholarship.  She will have finished her junior year at Jackson Hole High School by conference time. A voracious reader, from novels to a dictionary of idioms, she loves to write everything from poetry to speculative short fiction. We are pleased that she wanted to come again this year. She fully participates in the workshops, which is a delight.

JHHS teacher Michelle Roundy wanted to attend the conference for a variety of reasons.

“I have always had a passion for writing but since I have been involved in mainstream public education,” she said in her application,  “I have not been writing like I did in the past. As a mother of an 18-year-old daughter, who is a senior this year and a four-year-old daughter who is in preschool and who has Down syndrome, I feel the need to create my art.”


Michelle is a fifth year instructional coach. She has taught AP Language and Composition at the high school level, as well as English. A teacher who has been involved in literacy education for more than 12 years, she is a perfect candidate for a scholarship.

The last scholarship goes to Lori Clark-Erickson. As the high school Teacher Librarian, she advocates for student writers, poets, History Day competitors, Young Authors, and all humanities endeavors. She is the go-to person if we at the conference are looking for young writers.

“The JH Writers Conference is a wonderful “real life” experience for our creative students,” she wrote in her letter. “The opportunities I’ve had at the last few conferences have inspired me to encourage students to get involved with their writing.”

Lori has come as our guest in the past, helping to shepherd the high school students through the conference and preparing them for full participation. We appreciate that immensely and felt she deserved a scholarship.

Any students or teachers interested in applying for a scholarship, can send an email to us at the contact tab on the conference website. Or if you are at the high school, talk to Lori.


Scholarships Awarded UW MFA Students

The 25th Jackson Hole Writers Conference is pleased to announce this year’s University of Wyoming scholarships. Each year we raise money through our silent auction to fund these scholarships. They include registration fees and the chance to have a manuscript critiqued by writers and an agent or editor. We only wish we could provide housing as well. contributor_747

Maria Anderson attended the conference last year, but not on scholarship. According to her application, “because of the excellent time I had last year,” she applied for a scholarship.

“The manuscript consultation (in 2015) with Liese Mayer and Stefan Merrill Block was so valuable for putting the final touches on my story, Cougar,” she says. As well she cites workshops with Block and Nina McConigley as highlights.

Maria, from Montana—aren’t so many of us at least in our hearts?—is working on stories for a first collection. Her fiction has recently been published or is forthcoming in the Missouri Review, the Atlas Review, and the Fiddleback.


Carly Rita Fraysier received a scholarship last year and we are happy to offer her another one. In 2015 she was an active part of the conference, talking to everybody she could. And that is what we hope will happen with these up-and-coming, devoted young writers. We are always happy to give scholarships to the same students because of this aptitude and attitude to committed writing. So nobody should be afraid of applying again.

“I had such a wonderful time last year,” she says in her application.

A recent graduate of the University of Wyoming’s MFA Creative Writing Program, she holds a combined degree in Environment and Natural Resources. According to her bio, she is at work on an essay collection exploring family closeness through a lens of place. That resonates with this writer for one.


Manasseh Leah Franklin is a new recipient. She, too, recently earned a combined MFA with a degree in Environment and Natural Resources. She has worked as a ranch hand, climbing guide, magazine intern and freelance writer. Her words have appeared in Rock and Ice, Afar, Trail Runner and most recently, Western Confluence magazines.

Her most recent endeavor seeks to unpack the loaded question of what it really means to lose glaciers. “I’m entrenched in a book project that focuses on glaciers around North America, including some of those remaining in the Tetons,” Franklin explains. “I think the Jackson Hole Writers Conference would be a valuable and relevant experience, particularly within the context of this project.” She will certainly have lots of people to talk to while in Jackson. Gretel Ehrlich’s featured talk is the The End of Ice, so Manasseh will find kindred writing spirits at the conference.

An aside: There have been numerous studies over the years about the recession of the Teton Glacier, one of which my husband and I were involved with. Jackson Hole native Kelly Elder had received funding from the Grand Teton Natural History Association for a couple of trips onto the glacier. I was lucky enough to accompany the group one summer, where I witnessed the most amazing thunder and lighting show at the base of Disappointment Peak, the Grand and Owen. A night to remember.

of our scholarship winners an inspiring conference.


Perseverance Pays Off In The Writing World

andrew Munz

Andrew Munz, lately of Iceland

Walking into the 2013 Jackson Hole Writers Conference, I more or less was convinced that my novel-in-progress was utterly groundbreaking. It was everything I wanted to write, and represented the type of author I wanted to be. And to know that I would get the opportunity to meet with editors and agents further fueled my dreams of fictional world domination. I was ready to dominate the conference. But when the reality hit me, I realized how out on a limb I was.

Being one of the youngest attendees at the conference was nerve-wracking. There were people here who had already published their third, fourth, fifth novels. How on Earth could I measure up to these experienced writers? But those nerves subsided when I finally gathered up enough gumption to befriend to my fellow attendees.

The other writers I met were so fascinating and supportive, because we shared the same dream: a publishing career. It’s every writer’s dream to be able to make a living off his or her creativity, and the conference was a first step for many of us. Sharing novel ideas with other writers instilled me with tons of confidence, because everyone was hugely passionate about their projects.

And then the time came when my confidence was put to the test.

Manuscript critiques.

I had polished and re-polished those first fifteen pages like they were my Willy Wonka golden ticket to fame. All I needed to do was to convince one literary agent that my writing was worth a damn, and I’d be rich, right? (Oh sweet, innocent, delusional Andrew Munz…) I also couldn’t shake the thought that a poor critique would likely cripple me, and make me never want to write again. I put so much thought into the possible outcomes that walking into my agent critique was petrifying.

I sat down across from Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency and introduced myself. She asked me to tell her about myself, about my writing journey and how I came up with the ideas for my book. She took a breath, and placed her hand on the pages.

My stomach lurched as she cleared her throat.


Oh god, oh god, oh god.

“…am obsessed with this,” she said.

And in a moment all of my fears dissolved like soggy Cheerios in the sink. Our allotted time flew by as we chatted about my story. She asked me if the book was done yet, and I was so bummed to admit that, no, it wasn’t. But she gave me her e-mail and encouraged me to query her with the book when I was finished with it.

Cue three long years of obsessive revisions that included three full rewrites from beginning to end, and plenty of self-doubt and mini-projects along the way. But I never gave up.

Tallying up all my rejections, I’ve had sixty-six literary agents and independent publishers tell me “no.” And I refused to toss my book away until I got that “yes.”

Sarah LaPolla responded to my query letter with excitement. I was so happy to know she was still enthusiastic about the story. She said she was very much interested in reading the finished book, and I sent her the full manuscript as quickly as I could.

Once she had completed it, Sarah was still interested. She and I had a conversation to discuss some major edits she thought would tighten up the book. She said that she would love to work with me on my novel, but only if I was willing to do some more revising.

I think in order for this novel to work for me, I need some deep character work being done, and a lot of sacrificing of darlings,” she wrote to me.

The decision was a heavy one. I think every author worries that a literary agent will make them do massive overhauls and completely compromise the original idea just to make the book salable to publishing houses. And I won’t lie and say that I didn’t have that fear as well. But when Sarah and I spoke at length about her suggested changes, I realized that the edits weren’t hindering at all. Instead, she was opening new doors and making me think about characters and plot points in ways I never had before.

Eventually, Sarah offered representation and I wholeheartedly accepted. We still have a long journey of revisions ahead of us before that special submission day takes place, but if attending a writers conference taught me anything, it’s that patience and persistence are paramount achieving a publishing career.

There’s no fast track to JK Rowling-esque fame and fortune, folks.

My biggest piece of advice to any aspiring writer who fears walking into a manuscript critique is that any ounce of criticism can be a learning experience. If I received one bad critique after another (and don’t think I haven’t sat through those), I would want to work that much harder to prove everyone wrong.

Had I given up after then first, the fifteenth, the fiftieth rejection, I wouldn’t have someone like Sarah in my corner. And I have the JH Writers Conference to thank for that.

When Andrew Munz mentioned that the Jackson Hole Writers Conference

helped him get an agent, we thought let’s hear about

from the source. Thanks, Andrew. We look forward

to seeing your book in print.

You can check out his blog.

Reaching Out To Wyoming Writers



Calling on writers across Wyoming, from Gillette to Evanston: If you attend Writing Wyoming Inc. early June conference, you can get a $150 discount on your registration fee to attend JHWC the end of June. A great deal! An amazing way to nurture your writing life.

Joseph Marshall III, John Cadarrozo, poet Lori Howe who has attended JHWC several times and connected with her publisher last year, and Pamela Fagan Hutchins are the featured speakers and workshop facilitators at the Riverton conference, June 3-5, at the Wind River Hotel and Casino.

Check out the schedule.

Contact us to receive the discount, and pay $215. Deadline for early bird registration of $365 is May 10, $395 after that. If you want three short manuscript critiques, $125 additional fees apply, and closing for receipt of mss is May 18.

For The Love Writing


Writing It Right anthology ready to order


Shaggy Dog Press is pleased to announce publication of our 25th anniversary anthology, Writing It Right: Reflections From the Jackson Hole Writers Conference.  Tim Sandlin’s introduction is followed by prose and poetry from past conference attendees: participants, faculty, staff and volunteers.

The well-published and critically acclaimed are joined in the 100-plus pages by long-time attendees and first-timers. Writing It Right features poetry faculty, like Naomi Shihab Nye, Laurie Kutchins, and Eric Paul Shaffer, next to novelists, like Malcolm Brooks and David Abrams, who found their first publication by showing up for the conference.

This is a democratic collection of words inspired by the conference, by the writers and by the beauty of this place. Again and again throughout the anthology, the writers aver the importance that the conference has had and continues to have to their writing life. Again and again, they say they will be back. We love the fact that people come back year after year.

There are also photos and illustrations that the editors and designers of the book hope have captured the atmosphere of the conference and of Jackson Hole.

Too many poignant moments are recreated in Writing It Right that to pick out just one to encapsulate the collection is difficult. So I choose two, and only because both of them mention Tim Sandlin, and there would be no conference without Tim Sandlin.

This is from Kim Strellis who attended in 2010 and after a hiatus in 2015. In her own words:

I attended another of Tim’s unions of wit and talent. I realized I had missed out on other growth conferences by waiting. I didn’t need to write anything–just attend, soak up knowledge and advice, and enjoy.

And this from Naomi Shihab Nye, who has only come as faculty in 2012, but who says she will come back anytime:

Tim Sandlin gives the simplest, most no-nonsense introductions for writers getting ready to speak. What a relief. Those of us who have sat through one million literary introductions, often more puffed than a pillow, felt grateful for this. Tim always starts on time. These were just two things to admire about the organizer of one of the nicest writing conferences I will ever attend on the Planet Earth.

The anthology is available for purchase ($14.95) online now at Shaggy Dog Press (shaggydogpress.org) And will be for sale during the conference. Since $10 of each sale goes directly to the Jackson Hole Writers (which organizes the conference), the book will not be available on Amazon. You can even press the orange Buy Now button on the conference’s home page and get there as well.

Thanks especially to Susan Marsh, Lisa Newcomb and Libby Treadwell for making this book possible by their caring edits and their lovely design work.  And to Greg Brazelton for his cover photo of Mount Moran.

But a special thanks goes out to all who contributed to this anthology. We hope this will only be the first collection celebrating writings from the conference. Next time, more of you who have attended the conference, in whatever role, will want to submit.


                                                                                                          –Connie Wieneke, JHW


Lori Howe Offers Poetry Workshop


Join the Jackson Hole Writers for a free poetry workshop

Lori Howe, editor in chief of the ezine Clerestory Poetry Journal, will be doing a writing workshop on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in the conference room at the Center for the Arts from 9 a.m. to noon. Email connie@blackhen.com to sign up. Preregistration is suggested as the space is limited.

All levels of writers are welcome and the workshop will have a holiday/holy day theme.

Lori’s latest book is Cloudshade: Poems of the High Plains, due out on November 18, 2015 (Sastrugi Press). Forthcoming is: Voices at Twilight: A Poet’s Guide to Wyoming Ghost Towns, due out in May, 2016 (Elm Books).

Lori has a varied history, both on the ground and in the academic world. We are impressed. She is doctoral candidate in Literacy Studies at the University of Wyoming, from which she also holds an MFA in creative writing. Her scholarly work on creative approaches to improved writing and critical thinking skills for struggling, early-college writers has been accepted by journals such as Qualitative Inquiry and the Journal of Lifelong Learning. She teaches creative writing workshops with the Latina Project and is a member of the leadership team of the Wyoming Writing Project.  Poems from Cloudshade have been nominated for a Pushcart award, and the collection itself nominated for several first-book awards. It is available for pre-order via the Sastrugi Press web page, and readers who desire a personally inscribed copy can place a special order through the website.

The Writers will host a formal or informal reading for Lori and Clerestory poets on Friday, Dec. 4. The place has yet to be determined. We around the region and writers who attended the conference appreciated her publication of work by 2015 conference attendees, as well as the Open Window Review print edition of participants’ work in 2013. Kudos to Lori for her promotion of writing about the West.

Lori will be on tour around Wyoming through the winter months, doing readings and signings in bookstores and libraries.  This begins with a reading, fireside chat, and signing at Legends Bookstore in Cody, from 1:30-3pm on November 15. Additional dates and locations tba on the Sastrugi Press website Sastrugipress.com and at lorihoweauthor.com. Her current writing projects include a third collection of poetry, Benedictine Road, as well as a guide to teaching meaningful writing practice, Stories from Earth: Millennials, Literature, and Teaching Writing that Matters, with co-author Dr. Leslie Rush, and the novel Heaven of Olives, set in NYC, Andalusia, and Ethiopia. She lives in Laramie, Wyoming.