More About our Successes

Bear River Writers’ Conference has been in existence since 2001. In that time, some of our participants have scored some writing and publishing successes and have given Bear River at least some of the credit for their breakthroughs. We would like to highlight those here.

If you are a past participant of Bear River and you have a success story, please email your story to and we will include it.

Steve Gilzow — Double Hitter  Turns out Steve has batted two for two on his Bear River workshops. A piece he wrote in Jerry Dennis's workshop in 2005 will be in Traverse Magazine this June. The article will include the well-known drifting canoe photo taken by Steve that made up the poster for Bear River 2006. In addition, a piece Steve began in Bill Roorbach's workshop in 2007 about U-M Survival Flight was published in the April Ann Arbor Observer. Kudos, Steve. And thanks for lending your beautiful photos to us.  

Ellen Baker — Novel Published  Ellen Baker lives in Superior, Wisconsin, and attended the Bear River Writers' Conference in 2004 and 2005. She is the author of Keeping the House, the story of a young Wisconsin housewife in 1950 who becomes obsessed with an abandoned mansion and the family that lived there. Keeping the House went on to become a Midwest Connections pick by the Midwest Booksellers Association, a 2007 Booksense Notable book, and one of the Chicago Tribune's picks for the best books of 2007. Baker, who is now writing her second novel, says the Bear River experience was a pivotal one in her writing career. “Bear River’s environment was both relaxed and productive," says Baker. "You could hone your craft and at the same time really get to know other writers. It was a supportive learning environment that challenged me to put my work out there, which ultimately made it better.

Lara Zielin — Young Adult Novel to be Published  Lara Zielin lives in Whitmore Lake, Michigan, and met Baker at the Bear River Writers' conference in 2004. The two began sharing their work and, outside of Bear River, organized mini writing retreats together twice each year. Zielin's young adult novel, Donut Days, was recently purchased by Putnam and will be published in spring 2009. "One of the great benefits of Bear River is connecting with other writers, sharing your work, and continuing to do so after the conference ends," says Zielin. "It's no coincidence that Ellen and I received book contracts within a year of one another. We walk that fine line between challenging and supporting each other, and we made writing a priority, even outside of Bear River."

Joan Donaldson — Full Scholarship and Writing Prize  In 2007, I studied the writing of essays in Thomas Lynch's workshop. Lynch pointed out that essayists must "connect the dots or build bridges between thoughts and metaphors". When I arrived home, I kept his comment in my mind as I revised an essay I had begun during the fall term of Spalding University's MFA program. I submitted that essay to the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writer's Conference sponsored by the University of North Texas and it won the Hearst Corporation's 2007 Nonfiction Prize for Literary Excellence and a handsome check. Thank you Bear River and especially Thomas Lynch! (Joan has had two children's books published since she first came to Bear River.) UPDATE 2010:  Joan has gone on to win several awards for her young adult novel, Viney's Mountain. Joan cannot be stopped!

Mardi Link — Two Books in the Works  I attended from 2004-2006, and had the opportunity to work with John Robert Lennon, Thomas Lynch and Richard McCann. The most precious blessing of Bear River is simply uninterrupted time spent in the company of other writers at all points on this quest to tell our stories and tell them well. The world tries to fool us all into believing that its 360 days are the real thing and that the 5 days we spend at Bear River is a tangent. Truly for me it has been the opposite; the time I spend writing, reading, and talking about the promise of language is more real than any other.

Since attending Bear River, agentless and just one more drip in the slush pile, I have sold my first book to The University of Michigan Press and I am currently in contract negotiations with the Press for a second book. When Evil Came to Good Hart, an historic true crime book about an unsolved 1968 murder in Good Hart, Michigan (Bear River's neighborhood) will be released this July.  NOTE:  Mardi's second book, Isadore's Secret, was named a Michigan Notable Book in 2010. UPDATE 2011:  Mardi has received a 6 figure advance from Knopf for her autobiography - due out soon.  

Pia Taavila — A New Book of Poetry  Being at Bear River has been a key element in generating new work, in revising former work, in making connections with other writers, and in receiving critically-needed feedback from those whose love of craft equals my own. In those gorgeous surroundings, how can the spirit not fly? It was there that many of the poems in my current collection, Moon on the Meadow, were spawned or netted... there on the shores of Walloon Lake, where I had sailed and canoed as a child among the birch trees. I am grateful for the days spent there, and I look forward to many more moments in such company.


Poems written at Bear River have appeared this year in 32 Poems, Ibbetson Street, Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry, among other journals (12 in all). Most notably, Finishing Line Press will publish a chapbook of poems entitled Two Winters, to be released in October. All of the poems in Two Winters were written and workshopped at Bear River. This chapbook is being blurbed by Jim Daniels, Claudia Emerson (winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, 2006), XJ Kennedy and Jake Adam York.

Mary Ellen Geist — Courage Pays Off  “'Tisn't life that matters! 'Tis the courage you bring to it.”I love this quote by the British novelist Hugh Walpole Sr. I am convinced that writing is about courage. I admire those who write quietly in the night for their own pleasure, and never let their work see the light of day. But most of us write because we feel we have something important to say, and in my view, it can’t be said well without someone else reading it or hearing it read. And yet, it is so hard to take that first step: to put your work “out there”, so to speak.

In Thomas Lynch’s workshop, he not only taught us to have the courage to read our work to each other and to hear each other’s words and hone our craft, he taught us that it’s OK to have a passionate desire to have our work published; that being published is an important and necessary element of what we do as writers. A book I had begun writing was already germinating when I attended Bear River in the summer of 2006, but I wrote what resulted in the first chapter of that book sitting in my sweet–smelling pine cabin overlooking the shores of Walloon Lake. Those days at Bear River were some of the most productive of the almost two years I spent writing the book.

I’ll tell you the truth: I didn’t sleep the majority of the time I was at Bear River. I was too excited! I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and listened to other people reading their work and talked about writing and I attended workshops and readings and then I talked and talked and talked and swam and talked some more by the bonfire and then I wrote some more until the sun came up. And then I wrote some more. I became close with other writers at the workshop, in particular with Mardi Link. We both got book contracts within the year of attending Bear River. We still call each other and see each other and share our successes, frustrations and fears.

Measure of the Heart will be published by Springboard Press (an imprint of Hachette/Grand Central) in August. I have two other book proposals in the works. I encourage anyone who wants to lead the life of the writer to attend the Bear River Writer’s Conference.  

NOTE:  Mary Ellen has been everywhere speaking on the Alzheimer's care.  Her book has gained national recognition. 

Joy Gaines-Friedler — Much inspiration and community yield a book in 2008  In 2008 my first full-length book of poetry was published. I'm now teaching creative writing workshops and have won a number of awards. The incredible writers and teachers at Bear River are my agents of success: Tom Lynch, Laura Kasischke, Keith Taylor, Richard Tillinghast, Jerry Dennis, Marie Howe, Bob Hicok, (early-on) Donald Hall among others. Time spent at Bear River has taught me the value of being part of a community of writers; of creative like-minded people. We feed-off the energy of one another and open up to possibilities of thought and creativity in a way we might not otherwise have the chance to do. I've met wonderful people at the conference, a number of whom have become dear friends.

Cindy Glovinsky — Non-fiction Book to be Published  My third non-fiction book, Making Peace with Your Office Life, will be released by St. Martin’s Press in March, 2010. A practical guide for workers struggling with office blues and office battleshock, the book is a mixture of social criticism, anecdotes, poetry, literary references, and practical suggestions for coping with the serious psychological challenges of present-day office life. Although I can’t say this project was born at Bear River, I can say I received lots of wonderful support and suggestions from Bear River students and faculty during the years I was working on it. Meanwhile, workshops in non-fiction writing with Thomas Lynch, Anne-Marie Oomen, and Richard McCann helped me to develop skills that contributed to the quality of this book and anything else I may write in the future. For this, I am extremely grateful. 

Margaret Singer (Peggy) — Another Book Published  I am happy to report that my book Legacy of a False Promise: A Daughter's Reckoning, a "McCarthy Era memoir," was published this past November by the University of Alabama Press. The book was many years in the writing and I credit my wonderful workshop with Laura Kasischke, at Bear River, for helping me see this project through to its completion. I recommend Bear River to other writers with great enthusiasm.

Dave Seter — Dave Seter attended Bear River in 2006, where he wrote two of the poems that appear in his collection Night Duty (to be published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company in 2010): Rental Car; and Billboard.  For the reason of setting alone, Bear River was instrumental in the development of these poems and their authentic voice.  In addition, the author, who is also an engineer by trade, came to Bear River to study with Bob Hicok, whose work has served as an inspiration.  As an entire experience, Dave credits Bear River as being one of the big stepping stones in the development of his alternative career as a poet.

Elaine Stienon — I have a success story for the Bear River Writers Conference.  I have just won a literary competition, the 'Flash Fiction Contest' sponsored by the Potomac Review!  I get an award of $1000 and publication in the Spring 2012 issue of the Potomac Review.  This news came in on April Fool's Day, and at first I thought it was a joke, but an e-mail confirmed the phone call.

The winning entry, "Suzanne: A Memory," was written as part of an exercise for Richard MeCann's class in June of 2009.  It is a short short story or prose-poem, written right on the shores of Walloon Lake during the conference.  Needless to say, I am jazzed!  I am also humbled.  I know how difficult it is to win these things, and how many people are submitting.  So many talented writers never get the recognition they deserve.

Angela Williams — Angela Williams first attended Bear River in 2008. In October 2008 her first book of poems, “Live From the Tiki Lounge” was released from Mayapple Press.  Work from time with Jim Daniels and Tom Lynch has been well received in small presses and a chapbook of poems is forthcoming in 2010.

Sarah Baughman — Chapbook and Essay Published Sarah first attended Bear River in 2008 and began actively writing creative non-fiction in Jerry Dennis' nature writing workshop. An essay she wrote in that workshop, titled "First Mushrooms," was published in Traverse in May 2010 and inspired further essays linking nature to the human experience. The resulting collection, titled Growing in Seasons, was a winner in the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press 2010 Chapbook Contest and was published in April 2010.Sarah treasures her Bear River experiences and is thankful to the conference for giving her confidence and direction as a writer.  Sarah is also the winner of the Petoskey Community Scholarship.