Text and photos by John Keeble
Cuenca is a great place for writers who want to create anything from poetry and memoirs to a bestselling novel. This is what they think of our city and the writing community.
Cuenca is going through a fertile, burgeoning wave of creativity that reminds me of San Francisco in the 1990s – writing and poetry are at the forefront but art and theater are strongly represented too.
The city is drawing talented, educated and experienced poets and writers who find inspiration here. Most of us have not come focused on artistic expression. We’ve come because our money goes farther, we don’t have to shovel snow, and we’ve fallen in love with blue domes and red tiled roofs.
With more time and less worry, we can write the stories we’ve harbored in the back of our minds for years. There are those here who are acknowledged professionals or gifted amateurs gaining artistic ground. The result is a concentration of talent, expertise and resources that anyone can tap into who wants to participate.
Writers – typically solitary creatures – can be social with peers at WOW (Writing Our World) meetings for techniques and market tips as well as talking of creative processes; at CWC (Cuenca Writers Collective) they can find supportive critique and local publishing resources; and they can read their work at The Spoken Word evenings which attract other writers as well as a general audience.
“Our first Cuenca International Writers Conference last March was one of those luminous moments when you know something profound is happening. People were scurrying around with their goody bags of notes and books from people who inspired them, smiling and making connections that have blossomed into writing partnerships, groups and volumes of new works. Last year’s new relationships are solid support for this year’s newbies who will be beneficiaries of the generosity inherent in Cuenca’s writing community
For me, this is an exciting time and extraordinary place. Cuenca is a magical environment that invites us to dive into the flow of our own creativity.
Barbara Snow’s poetry: Inside Out and The Phoenix Spring. Freelance writer and columnist: Reflections, the Beachwood Voice. Author: The Sudden Caregiver: Surrendering to Enlightenment (memoir). Currently at work on a fantasy fiction series entitled Unveiled Energy: The Wise Women Chronicles.
Barbara is speaking about poetry at the Cuenca International Writers Conference in March.
I am writing a historical novel set in France. It is my first novel. I think of it as a way to express myself in a very safe atmosphere. I enjoy the research, learning as I write. It brings out what was in me but never enjoyed in the past. It has had a very positive impact on my life.
I always wanted to write but I was always working. Then I retired and moved to Cuenca. I found out about last year’s writers conference here and went – I am very glad I did. It was very friendly, helpful, and I got a lot of insights into writing skills and how to promote a book. I met a lot of other writers.
Cuenca was right for me and I found my niche here. I joined an excellent critique group and learned more about dialogue and keeping the story moving.
It was amazing, also, to be able to read my writing to an audience at The Spoken Word. It helps gaining confidence. I am also doing a writing course with a published author.
René is writing his first novel, a historical tale about a young French woman who is thrown out by her father and seeks a life as a dancer. Its working title is For Pride And Passion.
J. Michael Herron
When I wrote my first book, I had a free promotion and about 10,000 people downloaded it. But, because I had not written more books, they had nothing to buy. Now I am writing a series before publishing more. Then the free promotion can lead to my other books being purchased.
I wanted to write but needed to retire to have the time. I thought I wanted to write spy novels, which I enjoyed reading, but I ended up writing a love story. Since being here, I have enjoyed writing.
I am now collaborating with my daughter on a fictional story based on her battle against cancer. I am writing it and she is commenting on it. It is deeply personal.
Expats come here and finally give themselves permission to explore their own creativity. When working 50-hour weeks, you can’t do that.
Some writers find a niche market for selling their work but for many it is the need to get their stories out. In 2013, we [Mike and his wife Susan] made about $6,000, mostly by going out and selling at wineries.
Mike’s The Colors of Alaska trilogy, available on Amazon: Black Diamonds, Blue Ice and Green Skies. A standalone novel Appalachian Gold, also available on Amazon. Wrote one of the stories in Friends in Foreign Places anthology available for Kindle. Regular contributor to Cuenca Expats Magazine and International Living Magazine. He is working on a 4-book series entitled The Lassiters. The first book, Guarding Genny, is completed; the second, Healing Hayley, is close to completion. Both should be available on Amazon in Spring 2017.
Cuenca is a good place to write. My own writing here is deeper and more honest. I have more time to reflect and think. I have more time to read and write for fun and that makes my professional writing better.
Our writing community is rich and diverse. The people I have met are very strong on skills and desire to write. Some write to change the world; others are happy to write as a form of self-expression and this is more important to them than selling books.
I am very busy with ghostwriting. My own writing is for ebooks and business purposes.
I have published 235 books for other authors and it is very possible for writers to succeed in publishing their work. But it can be hard to market books from Cuenca because it is away from the U.S. opportunities for book signings and interviews.
Lynne is the best-selling author of Overcomers, Inc and Align, Inspire, Succeed, as well as Secrets to Surviving His Job Loss and Web Wonder Women, along with 12 books produced as a ghostwriter and more than 25 author training programs. Publisher of 235 authors’ print books. Currently publishing additional books and ghostwriting, as well as creating a workbook for authors.
Lynne is speaking at the Cuenca International Writers Conference on publishing and marketing.
Keith & Tina Paul
Keith: We like to write and we have always written. We love to travel. When we were going to move here, we decided to have a travel blog: Retire Early and Travel.
Tina: We retired here and we were looking to cover some of the cost of travelling with sponsored ads on our blog. The blog has gone better than we hoped. In 18 months, we reached one million visitors on the site.
Keith: There is great support here for writing. I got involved with Cuenca Expats magazine as features editor and with the writers conference. The opportunities have gone beyond our blog.
Cuenca is good for writers. You can go into every coffee shop and spent time writing without anyone pushing you out.
Tina: Cuenca is a good base for travel. Costs here are less than in the US. We find that people are really interested because we are not retirement age – we had good jobs and had enough money to retire early and travel.
We work the social media to drive traffic to our blog. We have 37,000 Twitter followers, 17,000 on Instagram, and 6,000 on Facebook. About 60% of our traffic is from the US and the other 40% comes from all over the world.
Keith is speaking at the Cuenca International Writers Conference on driving traffic to your website using social media.
Frances A. Hogg
Writers in Cuenca are better connected now than when I arrived here five years ago. I write creepy stories and articles but I do not write as much now because my time is spent on setting up opportunities for other writers.
I reinstated The Spoken Word, which had lapsed, and started the Cuenca Writers Collective with its critique group meetings. Both are held at Sunrise Cafe, which has been very supportive.
I have an eye for the flow of words. We all have gifts and we should use them. I recognise good writers and good stories.
In our collective we have book designers, cover designers, publicity specialists – a lot of support people that writers need. One difficulty is that Cuenca does not have a print-on-demand service and I am working on that.
Cuenca is famous for its tranquillity. Some people find it easier to write here for that reason. Writers can live here inexpensively and not have to work.
Frances is an author, editor and writing instructor. Her books, including Miss Webster’s Little Arm and Other Creepy Stories, her mystery series featuring Detroit detective, Callie Sadler, and What’s Cookin’, Cuenca?, will be republished by Zero Latitude Books in 2017.
Franny, as Frances A Hogg, is presenting sessions at the Cuenca International Writers Conference on writing techniques.
I mostly write poetry, usually for myself, and Cuenca is a very safe place for my work. My writing feels like a fledgling that needs to be protected. I can be quite easily intimidated and here I am not.
I am writing more in Cuenca than I have anywhere else for a long time. This is partly because I have more time but it’s mainly due to the writing group I belong to which offers supportive critique. I feel safe in Cuenca with my fledgling work.
Another aspect I recognize is that here the writing level is not so high that I feel so intimidated that I engage in the dubious exercise of comparison. However, I often wonder, if the writing community in Cuenca were edgier, more risk-taking and experimental, would it push me to do the same? I have no answer for this. This for me is the double-edged sword of the arts in Cuenca.
The writing environment was the main reason that I chose to live here. I was travelling round Ecuador and I went to a writing group in Cuenca. It was mainly retired people, the standard was so high, and it was so welcoming and supportive. I knew then that Cuenca was the place for me.
My life in Cuenca offers me time to write. It has a slower pace than Europe and I can sit by the river to ponder. My writing has more time to cook here. I can put together a body of work because I feel safe with my writing.
I have been encouraged to put my poems together in a book but I can’t do the technology. My solution has been to create an art book by hand and give it to friends. Technology takes away the pleasure for me.
Finn has published in several U.S. journals, she read her work at last year’s Cuenca International Writers Conference, and she reads regularly at The Spoken Word.
What pleases me most is that I have the time to follow a family tradition of storytelling. My father was a great storyteller and now I am writing and experimenting with a theatre group in Cuenca.
I go to a writing critique group and I find that inspirational. The key thing is learning how to fit into the group; making my feedback meaningful for other writers and reading my own work. I feel I must contribute by reading my work and that encourages me to keep writing.
I got into writing indirectly. I was working on something that involved my nephew. But then I found the writing group and I have been widening what I write.
I went to Ireland to research my family history there and wrote the story for my family. It was a very rewarding writing experience and my family was very pleased with my 35-page book which I called The Yank.
In Cuenca, my experience has been hanging with the theatre people and writing. I wrote a one-act play that was put on at Cafe Nucallacta. It was called Sweet Home Cuenca and focused on a cultural clash over Che Guevara. Then I wrote another one-act play about the dance therapy groups in Cuenca parks, called One, Two, Three!
I have also been writing articles, including one on last year’s earthquake, and I have a blog about travel and expat life. Currently I am writing an article about donating blood in Cuenca: it is not always easy to donate blood and I am writing in detail to inform people how they can go about it.
Jeremiah’s plays include: Sweet Home Cuenca and One, Two, Three! Writing: The Yank, Auto Mishaps, The President Sings for His Almuerzo, Cuenca Freedom (4 Chairs and a Table), Guayaquil Cargo Pickup, and Having a Camera is a Hoot.
I am amazed at the quality of people’s writing here. Expats are coming from other parts of the world and bringing different perspectives.
I have been writing here since I arrived with my husband from Washington, D.C. in 2011. I got acquainted with writing groups and met a lot of people who are still writing here. I am an ex-teacher and I finished my working life as a reading specialist.
I am doing it for fun – for my family. I wanted to write stories; memories of my life. I go to the (Cuenca Writers Collective) critique group and I get good feedback. I love the group. I love hearing all the stories being read for other writers’ and editors’ comments. A lot of people get published from that group. No matter what level the writer has reached, the group encourages them. Really experienced writers help newer writers.
I love the diversity: young and old, liberal and conservative, male and female, all the different genres. It is like being at a smorgasbord.
Kris has been published professionally as an educator and she is now working on articles as well as two books: a story started by her mother about Maine, USA; and Travels With Keith, the story of backpacking with her husband from Australia to the US.
I fell in love with Cuenca and decided to make it my base. I have friends here from all over the world. I like the fact that there are a lot of artists and it’s inspiring for me and my work as we all pursue our goals. I am feeling fulfilled here.
My interests are in writing and in music – I play the clarinet and the saxophone. I perform weekly at the Jazz Society. I have made tremendous progress with my writing. I can’t believe the high level of writers here.
Cuenca is conducive to writing. It is a creative place and this is growing. People are enthusiastic. Carolina book store asked me if I would put my books on its shelves. People ask me to perform and I have the pick of the venues. This feels really good.
Sue’s books include Inside the Mind of a Musician, I Was a Jazz Musician for the FBI, For the Curious, and Death in the Tetons: Eddie “Cola” Fitzgerald’s Last 24 Hours (under the pen name Susan Tatarsky).
Lead columnist for The Note; regular contributor to Allegro
Current fiction project is titled Deck, Duke and the Time Machine
Su is presenting a session at the Cuenca International Writers Conference on humor as a narrative element.
I started designing Mike’s [J. Michael Herron] covers and I have learned more so that I can now develop covers for other authors too.
I have written about 15 articles for Cuenca Expats magazine. I wrote the Date Night section and then the Meet Your Neighbour interviews.
Last year, I was conscripted to present a book cover session at the writers conference.
I also take photographs and I have a blog about life as an expat.
Susan has designed covers for four published books and one unpublished book for Michael Herron. Six more covers, four published, for other authors. Articles for Cuenca Expats Magazine.
I firmly believe, and my mother did too, that I would never have started writing if I was still in the U.S. The wonderful community and support in Cuenca helped launch me into this craft, and the lifestyle here is conducive to creativity.
Writing in Cuenca has changed my life. As Dale, my former identity, I was a hermit who never dreamed I had a voice. I now have to work hard to have quiet days at home and I have someone asking me for an interview. How cool is that?
I think creativity has always been in me, but I just didn’t know it. I nurture it through talking to other writers, spending time outside, reading, watching people, movies and television. My favorite thing to do is walk around Cuenca, along the rivers, whenever I get stuck: that seems to get the words flowing again.
There is a very big difference between Dale and Scarlett. As Dale, I was in a very dark place. I was sick, suffered from anxiety and depression, and really, pretty terrified before I started writing. Writing is cathartic for me, but it also opened up a new community of amazing people that are generous, kind, encouraging and generally happy people. Who I surround myself with has made a miraculous change in my life.
I’m not sure I consider myself to be an experienced writer yet. I can say it amazes me to realize how many books I’ve written in a short time, and how many I want to write.
Books by Scarlett Braden: The Providence in Ecuador series, available on Amazon: Harvesting the Hummingbird, Peril in the Bayou and Terror on the Bluff. Currently researching book four. Friends in Foreign Places anthology (45 stories, 37 authors – many from Cuenca) available on Kindle. All royalties go to Proyecto Saman to rebuild after the 2016 earthquake. Currently working on a crime series, a fantasy series and a non-fiction collaboration with six other women writers in Cuenca.
Scarlett is presenting a sessions at the Cuenca International Writers Conference on self-publishing, and book-marketing websites.
Cuenca is an amazing place for writers. It feels like a blast of adrenaline. I arrived 10 months ago with the intention of a quiet, year-long sabbatical to write a political sci-fi novel but I have found endless irresistible opportunities across a spectrum of writing and photography. Add to that the pleasure of meeting such enthusiastic fellow-writers … it has been a great time.
Our city – I now regard it as home – has a structure for writing: writing groups for different purposes and to serve the different needs of a writing community that ranges from absolute beginners to absolute experts. But, beyond the structure, it has a writing-community that helps, stimulates and encourages.
It is engagingly friendly. I flew to Cuenca from Southeast Asia with a lunch meeting already arranged – within an hour of landing, I was dining with Mike and Susan Herron and talking about the writers community.
I have been to many places around the world but none has been as electric as Cuenca for enthusiasm and opportunities for writers.
John has written articles and taken photographs for many publication; social documentary videos (YouTube channel: Volunteer Media Asia); TV film Shadow Trade (Netflix); Automatically Better (photography how-to); Brothers, Lovers, Killers (novel); Dying to Write (whodunit satire on life in a writers support group). Currently writing articles and nearing completion of a political sci-fi novel.
John is presenting a session at the Cuenca International Writers Conference on writing magazine and internet articles. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxunm_sXDYs