Awesome Foundation Grant Award Winner: The Moorhead Friends Writing Group

Written by: Brandi Malarkey

While summer temperatures and outdoor barbeques are on the minds of most of us this August, the Moorhead Friends Writing Group is prepping for winter with their newest project – The Great White North: A Winter Anthology.

Hosted by the Moorhead Public Library, the Moorhead Friends Writing Group is comprised of 30-40 individuals who have built a supportive community through the simple desire of wanting to improve their writing skills.

“I think there is a misconception that you have to want to be published to be a writer. Some people do want to, and we work very hard to make sure people understand what they need to do for that process. Now that some of us are getting published, we have a better understanding of the business and can share it,” says Chris Stenson, the founder of the group and Moorhead horror genre writer. “But everyone’s goals are different. Some people just want to write better for themselves, or for their jobs. We strive to help people, whatever their writing goal. Anyone who wants to write in whatever way is welcome.”

The diverse writing styles within the group certainly supports the idea that all writers are welcome. From horror to children’s stories, essays of current events to memoirs, blogs to books meant for law students, the Moorhead Friends Writing Group incorporates as many different styles of writing as the members involved. It is that diversity that members credit with being one of the factors that have helped them improve.

“Everyone has such a unique view of how they edit. Some people go line by line, checking grammar and verbiage. Some look at the overall work. They comment on what is and isn’t working in the story as a whole. The combination of perspectives has completely changed my writing. Obviously, for the better,” laughs Fargo writer Alexander Bayle, whose first book, Among the Stray, was published in June.

“I absolutely love that we are able to get feedback not only from a grammar perspective, but about what makes sense, what is believable, what imagery evokes emotion. By the time a reader sees the finished product, we know our work is fully edited and vetted and the best work it can be,” says member Sadie Mendenhall Cariveau, a Moorhead writer of poetry and short stories.

Editing and providing feedback on each other’s work is only one of the methods used by the group to help each other improve. They also assist each other in setting up reasonable goals, provide accountability, and meet every two weeks on Tuesdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. for discussions or to learn from one of the monthly guest writers they invite to present to the group. Until recently, meetings were held in person at the Moorhead Public Library. With the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the group has moved online. While the shift was initially difficult, some members feel that the pandemic has strengthened the group’s sense of community.

”We ended up becoming a support group for each other,” says Eileen Tronnes Nelson, a Grand Forks writer of Genealogy based non-fiction. “You look forward to meeting every other week and just sharing and talking about everything.”

“Our membership has increased,” Chris Stenson agrees. “And moving to online has allowed people to participate from New York, Arizona, and California. People find us on Facebook, and anyone is welcome to join. As things open back up, we are fortunate that the Moorhead Public Library has equipment for us to learn how to make a hybrid meeting work.”

As learning together and supporting each other are the strongest characteristics of the Moorhead Friends Writing Group, it should be no surprise that their latest endeavor, a published anthology featuring their work, is both a learning experience in self publishing and a community project.

The self-published anthology will feature work by the Moorhead Friends Writing Group, as well as a few other local writers, whose wide variety of work will center around the theme of winter.

“Who knows snow and cold better than Fargo-Moorhead people?” asks T. J. Fier, a Fargo writer whose first novel, The Bright One, was recently published in December of 2020. “The anthology will be a great way to cozy up with a book for winter and get exposed to a little bit of everything.”

“It will also help raise awareness of our individual, local writers,” says Sadie Mendenhall-Cariveau. “If you go into a bookstore, you don’t always know that a writer is local; that it is someone you may have contact with, or who works at a local college. It also brings more awareness to the libraries. A lot of people don’t realize how many amazing things happen at their local library.”

“With the anthology, members who want to participate can learn about self-publishing together. It isn’t just writing. It’s editing, cover design, and formatting. We’ve been fortunate to receive funding to help with the costs, and that helps,” says Chris Stenson, referring to $1000 gifted to the group by the Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation, who named the Moorhead Friends Writing Group their 2021 June grantee. “It also gives us a way to give back to our supporter. A portion of the profitsfrom the sales of the anthology will be donated to the Moorhead Public Library.”

The Great White North: A Winter Anthology will be available for purchase this winter with a mixture of poems, short stories, fiction and non-fiction from local writers in hardcover, paperback and e-book.

Don’t wait until the holidays to check out work from these members of the Moorhead Friends Writing Group:

T. J. Fier’s (Fargo) first young adult novel, The Bright One, is available through Three Little Sisters publishing, Amazon, Moorhead and Fargo libraries, or to order through a local bookstore.
Chris Stenson’s (Moorhead) short story “Two Bobbies” is included in The Gates Of Chaos: Stories Written During The Pandemic which is available now through Amazon. His first horror novel, Sins of the Mother, will be published by Sage’s Tower Publishing in 2022.
Alexander Vayle’s (Fargo) first supernatural suspense book consisting of three novellas and several short stories, Among the Stray, is available through Amazon and All Things That Matter Press.
Tina Holland is a North Dakota writer of multiple romance novels available through Amazon.
Frank. M. Oliva’s (New York) first horror novel, Walking Among the Trees, is available via Amazon.
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