A difficult decision

Dear Ad Astra Writers Conference registrants, fans, and followers:

I have some sad news to share. Because of low registration, we’ve had to make the difficult decision to cancel the Ad Astra conference. This is disappointing, I know, but as director of the Center for Great Plains studies, I saw no other alternative. Refunds are being processed for those who have registered. Starting a new writing conference is never easy, and we tried our best, but the stars simply would not align for us. For those of you who showed your support by registering for the conference, liking our pages, or sharing our posts and tweets: Thank you.

We would like to keep the spirit of Ad Astra alive, however, by continuing to maintain our Facebook Page, our Twitter feed, and our blog as places where writers can continue to congregate. Plans remain for the Tallgrass Science and Nature Writing Conference for April 2018 on the Emporia State campus.

Again, thank you for your support. And keep writing.

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Early registration deadline alert

Early registration for Ad Astra ends Sunday, so if you’re thinking of signing up for our conference and want to save a few bucks, now’s the time to do it. Register online here.

Rather pay by check? Contact us at cgps@emporia.edu by midnight Sunday and we’ll reserve a seat for you at the early registration rate of $97 — a savings of $20. You’ll receive an email confirmation early next week.


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Mr. D’Auria will take your pitches now.

IFlame Tree Publishing Logo‘m pleased to relay the news that Don D’Auria, who is one of the best-respected horror editors in the field, has taken a position with Flame Tree Publishing. In addition to his other duties at the Ad Astra conference, Don has graciously agreed to take honest-to-god pitches. He’s launching a new line for Flame Tree that will include horror, thrillers, sci-fi, and fantasy. So, if you write in one of those genres, you may want to consider coming to Ad Astra and pitching Don in person. Register soon, because the hotel block and the early registration rate closes Oct. 1.

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The other side of the page

Today in The New York Times is an excellent piece by Bret Stephens offering advice to aspiring op-ed writers. Stephens is a columnist, and much of his counsel is aimed at those who’d like a job like his. “The purpose of an op-ed is to offer an opinion,” for example. “It is not a news analysis or a weighing up of alternative views. It requires a clear thesis, backed by rigorously marshaled evidence, in the service of a persuasive argument.”

But, much of his advice applies to writing in general. All writing. Your writing.

Here’s tip No. 7, from a list of 15: “Avoid the passive voice. Write declarative sentences. Delete useless or weasel words such as ‘apparently,’ ‘understandable’ or ‘indeed.’ Project a tone of confidence, which is the middle course between diffidence and bombast.”


Stephens also offers up some good and long-standing cautions such as avoiding cliches, sticking to the active voice, and if you find writing easy, you’re doing it wrong. Right, right, and damned right.

But what really grabbed me was his advice to be “proleptic.” It’s a word, he says, that comes from the Greek for anticipation. “Get the better of the major objection to your argument by raising and answering it in advance,” Stephen tells his opinion aspirants. “Always offer the other side’s strongest case, not the straw man. Doing so will sharpen your own case and earn the respect of your reader.”

The art of being proleptic, however, isn’t just for pundits. Your writing will improve if you anticipate what your readers want, or in the case of a novel or narrative nonfiction, what they expect to happen. You shouldn’t always give it to them–some of the best literature confounds expectations–but you should always have a feel for what it’s like on the other side of the page.

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A Twain pilgrimage

 A little more than a week ago, I stood on a spot that might be regarded as sacred in American letters. The little clearing in front of me is the spot at Quarry Farm outside Elmira, in upstate New York, where Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn. In 1874, Susan Crane–Twain’s sister-in-law, who managed the dairy farm–had a small octagonal study built at this spot so the author could write without the distractions of family and visitors.

The hillside was less wooded then, and the study had a clear view of the valley below and the town beyond. All that remains of the study today is the octagonal foundation, near my feet. My wife, Kim, and I were allowed to visit Quarry Farm for a picnic celebration following the international Twain conference at Elmira College, where I had delivered a paper earlier in the day. The farm is not open to the public, so it was the fulfillment of a boyhood dream to visit the place where Twain wrote so many of his major works.

The study was moved to the Elmira College campus in 1952. It’s open from late spring to early fall, and other times by appointment. The photo below the study is of Twain’s bust and a few of his books on the mantel of the study fireplace. Twain died April 21, 1910, at his home at Redding, Connecticut, and was buried with his wife, Livy, and other family members at Woodlawn Cemetery at Elmira. No literary trip to Elmira would be complete without paying respects at the gravesite. For more on Quarry Farm, visit this link to a page at the Center for Mark Twain Studies website.



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A Writer at Work, No. 1

I2016-06-02 15.41.58‘m often asked how I work. While the answer varies with what I’m writing, and at what stage of the process, a few things hold true throughout. This photo represents one of them: chaos. I had wanted to use this as an illustration for nonfiction book–a piece of possibly literary journalism about the Arkansas River–that will be out in the spring, but there just wasn’t a place for it. So. allow me to describe it here. My notes have been torn from the reporter’s notebook and are spread out desk to dry, because the notebook was soaked when I flipped my kayak in Browns Canyon. There’s some change on the motel room desk, and the room key, a bottle of water, an empty cup of coffee and an apple for a snack. There are pills and a bottle of Tylenol. There’s the ice bucket, which I had used the day before to stretch the neck gasket of a new dry suit. Next to the ice bucket is a red Nalgene flask about half full of bourbon. From the photo, you can pretty much imagine how my day on the river went.


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How to get the most from a conference

KlemsBlogHeaderHere’s a link to a Writers’ Digest blog about how to get the most from a writing conference. It offers some good, general advice. I especially like be courteous, make connections and be realistic. A conference is one of the few places you can expect professionals to make time to hear your pitch or discuss your plot problems. Nearly every week, I get a request to read somebody’s manuscript. But unless I know the person, the answer (for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is time) has to be no. But at a writing conference, that’s what I’m there for.

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