Category: Western

A New Place, a New Story

k lyn wurth great plains and western fiction

Announcing a New Place

Thanks for visiting my blog. This is a where I write at length about the research, references  and influences that inform my writing. This blog is a peek behind the curtain, but there’s a new place, a new story…

Find Your Place in a Story™

There’s a new trademark, too, giving greater emphasis to what I hope for my readers, that they will find their special place and a more meaningful life in the stories I tell.

To learn more about the purpose and heart of my writing, and my commitment to writing about the Great Plains and American West, I invite you to visit my new web site:

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Go West, my readers, go West, and Find your Place in a Story

find your place in a story trademark K. Lyn Wurth

Golden Women Writing the West

Go West, Woman Writer…

IMG_1498Women weren’t specifically encouraged to “Go West” as pioneers in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, but many did, nonetheless. They went as single women, wives, entrepreneurs, investors, farmers and ranchers, including and beyond the stereotypes of madams and soiled doves. (Hollywood’s John Wayne in his Western characters never met most of those women, but if he had, he may have been delighted and a bit intimidated by their strength and spirit.) Some of their genetic and spiritual great-granddaughters, Women Writing the West, gathered in mid-October in Golden, Colorado, at The Golden Hotel and The Table Mountain Inn. I was delighted to join them as a new member. We came not to pan gold or rope steers or run hotels, and not even to brew beer (a nod to Coors, at home in Golden), but to consider what it means to write the history and experience of the West.

WWW logoWomen Writing the West is a nonprofit association of publishers and writers who set down the Western North American experience via journalism, nonfiction articles and books, screenplays, mass media and children’s literature. They write contemporary, literary, historical and romance novels, short stories, and poems, but these categories only begin to describe their artistic ventures. This year was the twentieth anniversary of the organization, and many Founding Members were present for special honors.

This autumn, Golden beckoned farmers, scientists, ranchers, teachers, and even businesswomen, from Canada, Alaska, South Dakota, Virginia, California, Oregon, New York, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Mexico…well, you get the idea. The West lives everywhere.

Key conference speakers included Sandra Dallas, Susan Wittig Albert and Corinne Brown. Panelists led us through sessions as varied as Writing the West for Kids, Women’s Fiction, Place as Character, Self-Publishing, Trends in Publishing, Social Media and Collaboration Strategies. Mystery series author Margaret Coel led an inspiring session, My Journey with the Arapahos, that I’ll never forget. I learned so much, and came away so inspired, it’s hard to sleep at night…but I keep a notepad on the bedside table, to catch ideas.

IMG_1524The Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum hosted the readings by, and reception for, this year’s WILLA/LAURA awards finalists. There were beautiful quilts on display, including the one WWW members made for this 20th Anniversary celebration.

CherokeeOn Friday Night, we met at the American Mountaineering Center to screen a new film, The Cherokee Word for Water, about Wilma Mankiller, the late Native American activist and modern Cherokee Chief. Her husband, producer and director, Charlie Soap, film producer Kristina Kiehl, and the young star who played Wilma in the film, Kimberly Guererro, met with us for a Q & A after the screening. View the film trailer and watch for this amazing story of how a community saved itself with hard work and “gadugi,” soon showing online or in a theater near you.

IMG_1508While the West is a physical region and encompasses an historic era, it truly lives, as one conference writer said, as a state of mind. In the West of the imagination, anything can happen. Fortunes can be won and lost, lives are wagered on a bright future and the wealth of our nation daily expands beyond our founders’ dreams, out where the tumbleweeds roll, the buffalo snort and the silicon harbors data.

418px-Baby_Doe_TaborBeing a woman in the West was always something special, yet usually untold. Many have heard of the Unsinkable Molly Brown, or even Baby Doe Tabor, Colorado’s Silver Queen, who lived in glitter and died in squalor. But if you want to know Grace Robertson, a teenage bride alone on the South Dakota Prairie, read Dawn Wink’s novel, Meadowlark. Karen Casey Fitzjerrell’s Forgiving Effie Beck, which just won the 2014 Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award, leads you through a mystery of a woman gone missing in 1930s Texas. To see frontier justice through a woman named Emilee, read Retribution, by Tammy Hinton, which garnered the 2014 Will Rogers Silver Medallion Award. To learn the secret of the Little House on the Prairie writing process, read Susan Wittig Albert’s A Wilder Rose, about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. For heartwarming Women’s Fiction, try Journey to Sand Castle, by Leslee Breene. If you prefer nonfiction and want to consider health, ecology and the power of connection with the natural world for healing, begin with Susan Tweit’s Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey. I met each of these women, and I’m saving more to write about in future posts, as I experience their work.

IMG_1586The highlight of the conference was the women themselves, and I basked in their warm welcome. Their voices, their love of writing and their encouragement inspire me to both live and write more deeply. As Margaret Coel put it in plainspoken Western style, “People tell you all the time what you can’t do. Don’t listen to them.”

IMG_1564On Sunday morning, to send us off in high style, many of us gathered for a High Tea, featuring our best historical costumes. Corinne Brown presented an amazing array of Western women characters telling their stories, deepening my appreciation for our foremothers’ sacrifices and endurance.

The great beauty of the West is in its still-to-be-explored history, changeability and multicultural fabric, reflected in and by this happy gathering of writers and publishers. Among them, this writer has claimed a new homestead.

WWW 2015 CatalogFor a pdf catalog of more great books by and about the Great Plains and West, go to this link and click on the “View the 2015 Catalog” button at mid-page. Take a leisurely walk through wild country…no cowboy boots or turquoise jewelry is required… but then again, they might get you faster service.

Water, Anywhere But Here

Water, Anywhere jpgMy new short story, “Water, Anywhere But Here,” appears in the July/August edition of a very “green,” pdf-only literary journal, The Broadkill Review. This tale is set in New Mexico, one of my favorite places in the world. If you’re in the mood for great poetry and an intriguing interview with author and poet Marge Piercy, you’ll enjoy this issue.

I’ve been following this journal for a while, and I appreciate what the editor, Jamie Brown, assembles for our literary pleasure. I also appreciate that he published my story! This link will take you to a page with subscription information, if you’re in the mood to add another journal to your reading list…this one won’t even add to your straining bookshelf, and will go with you wherever your pdfs can travel; computer, smartphone, tablet…you get the drift.

Coffee, Red Wine and Poetry

photo by jonathan ruchti

Although I usually write and read longer, paragraphed forms of writing, a good poem remains for me better than that first coffee in the morning, surpassing even that rich red warm glass of wine in the evening. A good poem awakens and lulls me. I carry it away.

On a social network site, a friend posted a note about William Stafford. Stafford first appealed to me in grad school; his writing clenches like a root, tenacious in the Great Plains and western American landscape. His voice also carries the honest tone of a friend confiding in another, as in, “Ask Me.”

Ask Me*

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

–William Stafford

Carry this.

*”Ask Me” copyright 1977, 1998 by the Estate of William Stafford.

At Home in the Wild, Wild West

photo courtesy of Charles Staab

One of my all-time favorite novels is Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. I’ve watched this author with great interest since I trekked to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to attend the Western Literature Association Conference in 1989. Having grown up in Colorado, along the front range of the Rocky Mountains, I found the idea of a “western” point of view great with potential.

While blogging around last evening, I had the happy accident of finding the site for the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest. There I found this essay by Robinson, “My Western Roots.” This statement snagged my attention:

  • But I think it was in fact peculiarly western to feel no tie of particularity to any one past or history, to experience that much underrated thing called deracination, the meditative, free appreciation of whatever comes under one’s eye, without any need to make such tedious judgments as “mine” and “not mine.” 

Robinson examines how society, as it always will, “precludes and forecloses the inherent domesticity, ” the “loveliness and graciousness” to be found in a domestic culture, where only the barest of amenities draw people close together, into housekeeping.

  • At a certain level housekeeping is a regime of small kindnesses, which together, make the world salubrious, savory, and warm. I think of the acts of comfort offered and received within a household as precisely sacramental. It is the sad tendency of domesticity—as of piety—to contract, and of grace to decay into rigor, and peace into tedium. Still it should be clear why I find the Homestead Act all in all the most poetical piece of legislation since Deuteronomy, which it resembles.

We wonder with Robinson whether or not the West and its regional spirit has any place in modern consciousness and society as a whole.

  • I think it is fair to say that the West has lost its place in the national imagination, because by some sad evolution, the idea of human nature has become the opposite of what it was when the myth of the West began, and now people who are less shaped and constrained by society are assumed to be disabled and dangerous. This is bad news for the national psyche, a fearful and anti-democratic idea, which threatens to close down change. I think it would be a positively good thing for the West to assert itself in the most interesting terms, so that the whole country must hear, and be reanimated by dreams and passions it has too casually put aside and too readily forgotten.

Marilynne Robinson challenges her readers to consider the complexities of our individual, regional and national identities. In this essay, she also explains how her experience and education in Idaho is evident in her novel, Housekeeping, an elegant and deceptively simple story that echoes beyond regions to consider what it means to be human, at home.

The Gift of Belonging

Great Plains and Western literature (and I) lost a wonderful friend last March. Dr. Arthur Huseboe contributed to so much in the lives of so many that I can’t begin to detail his life. I came to know him while I was a student at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD, in the early 1980s, where he was my literature and creative writing professor. Dr. Huseboe was the first person to open my eyes to regional literature, specifically literature of the West and Great Plains of America, through his work as my teacher and through the Center for Western Studies at Augustana. He’s the one who taught me about the significance of place in a writer’s voice and work. Because of Dr. H, I think of myself as a regional writer.

Dr. Huseboe also took me seriously as a novelist, God bless him. He spent countless hours reading my first attempts at poetry, short stories and novels and encouraged me to keep trying. He introduced me to the Western Literature Association, whose members surely feel the great loss of their former President. He helped me to write my first scholarly paper on a South Dakota author, Herbert Krause, and encouraged me to present it at a WLA conference in Idaho. Dr. H also provided one of my favorite quotes about mentoring. “No one was ever corrected into perfection.”

Fortunately, after some years away, I reconnected with him a few months before he died. His last words to me were of affection and encouragement and I will always thank him for that. So there it is. When I sit down to write, I often think of him. When I reflect on the Great Plains and the West as my home, I realize that he is the one who gave this vagabond a sense of regional belonging.

Thanks to my dear mentor, Dr. Arthur Huseboe, whom I deeply miss, for teaching me that I’m in a good place, writing it down, right here.

Bioregional Literature III — The Desert

On what will certainly not be my last musings on bioregional literary criticism, I would like to offer up an interesting example. Tom Lynch, mentioned in my previous post, is an associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he teaches “ecocriticism and place-conscious literature.” Through the Texas Tech University Press, Tom Lynch has published a volume entitled, Xerophilia: Ecocritical Explorations in Southwestern Literature. As a repeated, devoted visitor to Northern New Mexico, I look forward to reading this book. An excerpt:
“[W]hether I notice or not, the landscape suffuses my body. Unidentifiable scents enter my lungs with each breath: the mingled smells of dust, rock, juniper, turpentine bush, mountain mahogany, the heady mix of volatile oils of the creosote bush, and the ever-so-subtle odor of blue sky. Though less often articulated, all of my senses, not just vision, are engaged; the phenomena of this world circulate through me, and I through them. The landscape caresses as I pass through. . . . On my feet again, I hobble from stiffness, throw my pack on, and, leaning on my sotol stalk for balance, begin to pick my way zigzag down the long rocky slope. I am in love with this landscape. I am, indeed, a devoted xerophile.”                                   —from the introduction
For those of you like myself, who are tempted to look up xerophile and see how a person could be one…I already did. A xerophile is an organism that is adapted to conditions with a low availability of water. My longest stretch in an isolated region of the New Mexico desert was ten days and I felt an interesting sense of falling in love, a willingness to adapt to the extreme aridity, even if that sense of adaptation was primarily a keen sense of my vulnerability. It was difficult to walk anywhere without considering how far I might be from the nearest river or water source. In a larger sense, I realized the primacy of nature in that place and came face-to-face with my irrelevance to the surroundings. I was not at the center of any scheme in the desert, and it was a satisfying realization, both intellectually and spiritually.
Many have considered the westward expansion and settlement of the American frontier to have been a sort of dominion or mastery, the exertion and supremacy of human structures and energies over nature. It takes a spiritual, and even literary, humility to consider how the physical world shapes the those of us who tread on and in it. Perhaps it takes an even more profound sense of our union with and need for the earth to consider that we should tread lightly, even invisibly as we pass by.
Do we define places, or do they define us? Discuss amongst yourselves…
      photo credit: El Santuario de Chimayo, by Fermin Hernandez

Bioregional Literature I

To classify a literary work as “regional” may at first glance seem to limit its scope and appeal. Some essays, novels or poetry are initially slow to generate interest beyond their “land of origin.” However, readers today increasingly seek out literature that provides an experience that they would never otherwise find. Fascinating and worthy writers who record native, immigrant, minority and exile experiences increasingly capture contemporary readers’ imagination.

Many readers and critics favor one or another specific “lenses” through which to interpret what they read (gender, politics and linguistics are just a few). One such lens, a personal favorite of mine, is to explore the particular nuances that resonate from a literary sense of place.

My first exposure to this particular literary lens came while I was an English student at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD. Dr. Arthur Huseboe, who established the Center for Western Studies there, dedicated much of his scholarship to the culture and literature of the Great Plains and the West, with special scholarly attention to authors Frederick Manfred and Herbert Krause.

I learned more about Great Plains and Western regionalism while attending a Western Literature Association conference in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in October of 1989. By that time, I had lived across a broad swath of the region mockingly dubbed “The Great American Desert”–from Texas to Minnesota, and Colorado to Iowa. The idea of the American Plains and West as fertile ground for literature led me to focus on it, as well as creative writing, in my Master’s degree studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. As a reader, the “meanings” of this particular region still fascinate me. The romance of literary participation in this regional tradition fires my own fiction writing.

Being somewhere specific

A childhood lived out in several different states gave me few roots but many branches. My family-in-motion nurtured me with colorful and diverse experiences of Great Plains and Western American life. As an observer, I gained a useful sense of disconnection that persists to this day–a desire to write myself into being, through the regional, eccentric characters and stories that form my imagination.

Does a sense of place really matter?


Where are you and where have you been? Tell me this, then tell me who you are and I will believe your story.