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Not about the money

by Alecia Warren
| December 10, 2010 8:00 PM

One is out to convince everyone that health regimens are bunk. One is dishing out Christian historical romances.

Another mixes it up between politics and kayaking adventures.

It doesn't matter what story you have to tell. The Idaho Writers League has a place for you.

"There are varying degrees of why they do this. But to get rich? No," said Larry Telles, president of the Coeur d'Alene chapter of the IWL. "If you think you're going to get rich, you're not."

That seems to suit most IWL members.

Some indifferent if only friends and family flip through their work, others aiming to change the world one tome at a time, a hodgepodge of local writers converge at IWL meetings and conferences to hobnob and stoke their creativity.

Above all, they just want to be read.

"I have always been a story teller," explained IWL member Michael Marsden, setting up at a group book signing last week at the Coeur d'Alene Public Library. "My mother encouraged me. She said, 'Why don't you start writing things down? What else are you going to do after you retire?'"

A big undertaking for a man whose experience consisted of 30 plus years with the Forest Service, little to none of it including grammar lessons or tips on story arcs.

"It was very hard (breaking into writing)," Marsden said with wide eyes.

Yet on Thursday night, after 15 years as a member of the Writers League, he was stacking his four published books for sale.

"I would say all four of the books would just be in a computer, if not for the Writers League," the Coeur d'Alene man said, adding that the group divulged the secrets of editing and helped him both self publish and find a Spokane publisher.

All of his books, which include ghost stories and a tale about a dog, are set in places he traveled to during his Forest Service career.

Although they aren't exactly selling fast, Marsden wants to reach out to whoever he can.

"I have something to say. I often don't realize it until I'm well into writing," he said. "By the end, I realize it and want to get published and share it with other people."

That's the typical goal among local IWL members, Telles said.

Of the 30 active members, most are trying to churn out a book, whether to pass on to their children or to simply have their name in print.

Subjects run the gamut, spanning poetry, fantasy, mysteries and children's books.

"People truly want to put that story that's in them on paper," Telles said, adding that about 20 percent of the group has been published. "Everybody has a story. Some say, 'Well, one of these days I'll write a book.' That little spark goes off, and they start into it.'"

Most find it's not that easy.

That's where the IWL comes in.

The Coeur d'Alene chapter, founded 70 years ago, guides local writers through the whole process, from how to write a book, pitch it and find a publisher, to how to attract folks at a book signing.

"It is definitely a job, whether you do it four hours a day or whatever," Telles said.

The Coeur d'Alene chapter meets every second Wednesday at the Jewett house from 9 a.m. to noon, and every third Thursday from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Lutheran Church of the Master in Coeur d'Alene.

Every meeting includes guest speakers addressing various literary topics, and critique sessions, where members read their latest work aloud and soak up reactions.

"Writers need a critique coming from other writers, and not family who think everything you write is so wonderful," Telles said.

There's a chance to network, too, especially at the annual state conference where acquaintances can hook each other up with editors, publishers and agents, Telles said.

"At one of those (conferences), you go and schmooze," he said with a chuckle.

Some use IWL to maneuver around the snags of getting published.

Like Mike Cochran, who hooked up with several other IWL members like Telles to form their own publishing company, Bitterroot Mountain Publishing.

The company mainly publishes the founders' own pieces, Cochran admitted at the book signing event.

"We're kind of self published. We don't use that term," Cochran said with a laugh, then whispered behind his hand, "But we really are!"

The chiropractor has been traveling extensively to publicize his self-help book, "Oby's Wisdom." It espouses minimal body maintenance, and touts that Americans overcomplicate staying healthy with diet and exercise regimens.

"All we need we already have," Cochran said. "We are inherently healthy."

IWL helped polish his writing, he added. It was another member who encouraged him to pursue publication.

"She says, 'You really have something good here. You need to get that out there,'" he remembered. "It's a huge process. I've never worked so hard in my life."

Jim Payne, a former political science professor, has published several books on politics, some through think tanks, others through text book publishers.

The 71-year-old took a little break, he said, by cobbling a book about his kayaking trips across the U.S.

"The adventures are so interesting to me, I want to share it," said Payne, president of the Sandpoint IWL chapter who attended the book signing. "It's about being a kid, which I still feel I am."

What makes IWL worthwhile is the critique sessions with other members, he added.

"They have such stories to tell, and they want to tell them. It's like a support group," he said. "They're expressing things in their lives. You're getting to know people in-depth quite quickly, as opposed to people you work with for years and not know this stuff is going on in their lives."

Mary Smith of Hayden has only published her historical romances through Christian publishing companies, the IWL member said.

"Some publishing houses want love scenes between people who aren't married, and I don't want to do that. It's my own personal morals," the 80-year-old math teacher said.

Even with several books under her belt, Smith, who publishes under the name Maryn Langer, still relies on IWL members for guidance on her stories and characters.

"These people are very sharp. They can spot things, like 'That character wouldn't do that. Why would your character say that?'" she said with a laugh. "One of our cardinal rules is everyone must say something good before you criticize. We crucify anybody who crucifies anybody."

She never dreamt of writing until picking up a novel a student suggested, she added.

"I thought, 'My God, she's getting paid for this? I can write a lot better,'" she remembered.

IWL membership is $35 a year.

Anyone can write a book, Telles said.

All they need is a lot of drive, and a lot of guidance.

"If you want to do something, you should do it right," he said. "As they say, the first draft has never been published."

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