Saddle Up Saloon; Howdy Neighbor!

Written by D. Avery @shiftnshake

       Read my writing and see my books at

November 1, 2020

“Welcome back, Pal. I’d love ta hear ‘bout yer vacation but we gotta saddle up fer the Saddle Up Saloon agin. Though it seems like ya don’t really want me aroun’ fer this guest. Porque?”

“Porky? Yer one ta talk, Kid. But yeah, I got us a special guest, jist happens ta be a neighbor ta our writer. Knowin’ how D. Avery makes ya bristle like a porky-pine, I got some concerns ‘bout ya bein’ prickly. Jist let me take the lead with this innerview.”

“Hmmph. I kin be perfessional, Pal. Who’s comin’ by?”

“Here he is now. Howdy! Welcome ta the Saddle Up Saloon, Sean Prentiss!”

 “Hello, Pal. Kid. Thank you for having me.”

“Thanks fer comin’ by. Jist ta be clear, we are fictional characters, spun off a the Carrot Ranch weekly flash fiction challenges. But yer real. Do ya write fiction?”

“Pal, like a good ranch hand, I try to be versatile. While I can’t saddle a horse, I do try to write creative nonfiction, poetry, and fiction. The first two, those are where I really feel most comfortable. Maybe how you feel on a horse (or are you bigger into mutton busting?). As for fiction, it might be like riding a bull, for you. I hop on, hold on, and normally get tossed off. Sometimes, by the time I land in the dirt, I have a fictional story to publish.”

“D. Avery suggested thet yer book Finding Abbeyis perhaps about ‘more than the mystery of Edward Abbey’s burial site’; said thet it’s ‘an engaging examination of an unfolding life, with twists and turns that eventually circle back to a beginning, that lead a man home’.”

“Hmmph. Betcha wouldn’ta ended up where ya did had ya known D. Avery was also circlin’ back home.”

“Kid, D. Avery is a good reader. She’s right, Finding Abby is about the search for Edward Abby’s hidden desert grave, but it’s really about understanding what home is and how we can find it. That search for home led my wife and me to this beautiful spot we live. It’s called Turtle Cove. Your writer knows it well. We actually see her kayaking in the cove often. And, Kid, actually we just had D. Avery over this morning to show her what we think is a new beaver lodge. She’s one of the very best in our neighborhood.”

“Hmmph. Best what? That’s what I wanna know.”

 “Shush Kid. Sean, seems like ya been a lotta places. How important is place ta writin’ in any genre?”

“Pal, I’ve been lucky enough to live and work in 16 states and two countries, so I’ve seen a bunch of this big world of ours. What I’m learning is that knowing a lot of places, to me, is not as important as knowing one or two places really well. This is for writing and for life. So, for me, I want to know this spot right here. That means knowing my human and non-human neighbors, knowing the landscape, knowing that geology, knowing the history… I’m still studying, but it’s a lot of fun. Especially because studying normally means getting out on skis or a canoe and exploring. Often with D. Avery.”

“Now yer jist tryin’ ta git my goat.”


“Shorty— think ya mighta met her— she prompts writers ta a flash fiction challenge ever week, but ever’one knows they kin write other then jist made up stories. We git poems, what they call at the Ranch BOTs, fiction based on true story, fairy tales, myths, an’ even historical essays. Long’s it’s ‘zactly 99 words folks go where the prompt leads. But yer kinda a expert in creative non-fiction— the ‘Fourth Genre’.  Kin ya tell us more ‘bout thet?”

“First off, I’m a big fan of writing prompts. And Shorty has some great ones. I like the short form so much, that I had some friends write a textbook on it. It’s called Short-Form Creative Writing. You can check it out here. You might dig it. But, the fourth genre, aka creative nonfiction, is my literary home. It is simply telling true and beautiful stories. Rather than inventing, we probe our memories or do research into others’ lives. So you could write about all the fun, crazy things that occur here at the Saddle Up Saloon. I bet you don’t have to make up too much here. There’s probably plenty of stories to go around.”

“Well, some strange shift ‘as happened. Reckon with writin’ they’s all kinds a overlap no matter the genre. Like yer ‘Science of Scene’ stuff would be a innerest ta any writer.”

“Probably. I recently gave a webinar on the topic, which you can view HERE. But the craft of creative writing, in any genre, might be like all the beers you have behind that bar of yours. Each one’s got its own flavor, but they’re all pretty much made the same way. For all creative writing, how I normally start is with the central question, which is the idea that I’m exploring. This works in a poem or story or an essay. Then we play around with character and dialogue and setting and scene. We use all of those to try and understand the human condition. That’s what storytelling is about. And maybe that’s what this saloon is all about, what being a barkeep is all about. It doesn’t matter what genre. Just like it doesn’t matter which one of those beers I grab. They’ll all have their own taste, but, in the end they are all beautiful beer.”

“Huh. Yer purty smart, ain’tcha? Like a perfessor.”

“He is a perfessor Kid.”

“Really? Like one a them addjunk perfessors?”

“Kid! Sean’s real deal. Teaches creative writing at a military college.”

“Cool. Shorty’s been gittin’ vets ta writin’. Sean gits ‘em writin’ a’forehand, when they’re in trainin’. Innerestin’.”

“Yep. Sean, is thet a requiremint fer the cadets? D’ya reckon thet writin’ is an important part a their preparation?”

“I love that Shorty is teaching vets to share their stories. Sharing our stories and exploring our stories can be so helpful for our veterans or for anyone who has experienced trauma. And that’s all of us. That’s life. As for teaching future soldiers, I remember one of my very first students at Norwich University, a nuclear engineer named Michael. He was in my first creative writing class. At his graduation, my wife asked him if he was going to keep writing. His response was, Of course. I’m going to be living on a submarine. How else will I make it? I’m excited about creative writing at Norwich. Almost every time we offer a creative writing class, it immediately fills up. The students seem to love those classes. But it’s not just the students who see a value. Our administration has been seeing more and more value to creative writing. This summer we worked hard to greatly increase our creative writing offerings on campus. And while they didn’t all work out, Norwich is definitely growing its creative writing. On campus, we have a writing minor, a literary journal for our students, a writing series, and a slew of other cool things.”

“Thet is pretty cool. Ya ever hear from thet young fella?”

“I haven’t heard from my submariner in the past year or so. But he normally pops up every year or so to tell me where he is or what he and his wife are up to. But I do hear from a slew of former creative writing students. They are starting photography companies, working in admissions at our college, working for a literary arts organization, creative writing editing, and technical writing.  Some are still publishing. And some are headed to grad school.”

“Heard tell writers are generally readers. What d’ya read, Sean?”

“Kid, I’m a big fan of reading regional work. so, when possible, I like to read a lot of Vermont-based work. One of my favorites from Vermont is David Budbill. He’s spectacular. Before moving here, I was becoming an expert on the Desert Southwest. Ed Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams, Doug Peacock, David Petersen, Everett Ruess, and the rest. But now, I’m reading a lot less than I used to. Much like you two, Kid and Pal, I’m wrangling. My wrangling is with my three-year-old. She’s as wild as a bucking bronco.”

“Good! Don’t never tame her too much. Ya been out west. Ever passed through Carrot Ranch?”

“I spent about 18 years out west. And I visited many, many saloons. I was younger then, less tied down. And I’m pretty sure I made it to the Carrot Ranch.  And the Saddle Up Saloon sure rings a bell. I think I was here back in 1997. I might have even been asked to leave. You two might remember better…”

“Cain’t say fer sure, not knowin’. Mebbe that’s where ya met Shorty, when you were out west. She’s a High Sierra buckaroo from way back.”

“Shorty… I did meet Charli Mills right here last summer when she and some other ranchers were at D. Avery’s place for the Vermont Writing Refuge. I sure hope to see her here again leading her workshops.”

“Yeah. We hope so too. Me an’ Kid, we’ve done okay, bein’ made up an’ all, but you real folks is gittin’ kinda itchy with all this remote virtual carryin’ on. Jist stay the course y’all.”


“Yep. Hey, thanks, Sean Prentiss. I know yer busy teachin’ an’ writin’ an’ wranglin’ thet kid a yers, so we ‘preciate ya comin’ by the saloon an’ talkin’ writin’ with all our ranchers.”

“My pleasure! Thanks for the beer.”

sean-picSean Prentiss is the award-winning author of Finding Abbey: the Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave, which won the National Outdoor Book Award, Utah Book Award, and the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. He is also the author of Crosscut: Poems. He is the series editor for the Bloomsbury Writers Guide and Anthologies Series. Two books, Environmental and Nature Writing and Advanced Creative Nonfiction are written by Prentiss. Prentiss is co-editor of The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre: Explorations in Creative Nonfiction and co-editor of The Science of Story: The Brain Behind Creative Nonfiction. He and his family live on a small lake in northern Vermont. His next door neighbor is D. Avery, who feeds Sean’s daughter sour pickles and Sean beers. Sean serves as an associate professor at Norwich University and is a faculty member in the M.F.A. Writing and Publishing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. 


If asked, Pal & Kid will deny that they spill from the pen of D. Avery. They claim to be free ranging characters who live and work at Carrot Ranch and now serve up something more or less fresh every Monday at the Saddle Up Saloon. If you or your characters are interested in saddling up for a wild ride as a saloon guest, contact them via

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  1. Charli Mills

    Welcome back, Kid and Pal! You re-opened the Saloon with a hitch and roped in a Prentiss! I appreciate Sean stopping by for a beer, sharing his philosophy and craft resources. Do we have to sign in for his webinar? I was checking out that Short Story Form book, too! Good stuff!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      That is a recording of the webinar. Folks looking for a prompt or writing exercise might enjoy it.
      There was some cleaning up had to be done at the Saloon but all good, glad the space was well used. I hear you recovered from the goats nibbling on your manuscript. Phew! At least the goats had good taste.
      I sure appreciate that Sean was willing to be interviewed. We always need volunteers to get in the lineup and take the stage.
      Thanks for stopping by on your way out, Shorty. And good luck to all who got in the ring for the rodeo contests.

      • Charli Mills

        If there was any cleaning up, the goats did it. And I was able to download missing MS pages to upload in time. Heard the goats might have eaten the back seat of a rental car. Did I leave my marshmallows. I was enjoying the campfire out back. Bring ’em on by and we can catch up. Thanks for the space!

  2. Norah

    What a fabulous interview with a fascinating writer and neighbour to D. He sounds like a busy man and has achieved a lot, including wisdom, in his time, which I’m assuming to be relatively short with a 3-year-old, though I could be mistaken. He’s going to learn a lot more from his young daughter than he ever imagined possible. He just needs to observe and listen. I’m guessing he’s pretty good at both of those, considering what he’s written. Thanks so much Pal and Kid, and Sean, of course.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Hello Norah, thanks for stopping by. (D. here, those two are unpacking etc after their hiatus) That young Prentiss daughter has a lot to teach for sure. Having her nearby to learn from has been a blessing for me.
      I was just marveling too at all Sean has done, gets done. That’s a pile of books! I have enjoyed all that I’ve read and now want to take a look for myself at the one Charli mentioned, Short-Form Creative Writing. When I read the Fourth Genre I was constantly reminded of conversations that had been had here at Carrot Ranch so am delighted that Sean has come by to add to the dialogue about writing craft.

      • Norah

        I agree, D. It was an inspiring post, on many levels. Well done to Pal and Kid for seeking him out and convincing him to be interviewed.

    • Sean Prentiss

      Thanks, Norah! And, yes, it’s lots of listening and learning from my daughter. She’s inspired me to write 80 pages of poems just about hanging out with her. And I find I’m writing less but playing more. That’s a trade I’ll happily take. And my daughter sure loves visiting D. Avery’s for pickles and all sorts of trouble.

      • Norah

        Delighted to hear it, Sean. These years with our young ones are precious and they pass all too soon. We need to capture their lessons in life while we can. They have much wisdom to share with us. Enjoy!

  3. Jules

    Thanks Pal and Kid, for having Mr. Sean over. I was lucky enough to meet the man, his wife and the little buckaroo.

    There’s so much to explore in this post one could get lost for days on end!
    Here’s to hoping that getting a little lost helps us find a few creative words!

    poet lit

    finding home can be
    a challenge – we’re told home is
    where the heart resides

    where we can pace our dances
    and live out our romances

    where the heart resides
    that’s our forever true home
    found in life’s pages


    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Wow! Thank you Jules. That’s a right fine poetic truism.

      The cove where they live I knew before
      Previous owner yelling, ‘You kids can’t fish here!’
      Now I walk or kayak our shared shore
      Prentiss family calling, ‘D., come have a beer!’
      The place they discovered, the place I’ve returned to-
      After wandering, working, far ranges did roam
      Comes a time to recognize true family and home.

      • Jules

        Oh, we had a neighbor like that…. found out they’d only been renting and finally moved. Now we have a good neighborhood too. We look out for each other.

        We may not know everyone, but even the new kiddies on the block smile at us when we wave. And we’ve also met some new folks too!

    • seanprentiss

      Dang, those both are wonderful. Home is this cove. Home is my family. Home is my community, including the wonderful D. Jules, great hearing from you. And I hope you make it back here once this is all over!

      • Jules

        Sean, you’ve got a wonderful place there. I truly believe we can create our own magic and be a part of our communities too. Continued success… for the magic you create! ~ Jules

  4. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Ha! Apparently I have to “approve” Sean’s comments! The power!

    • seanprentiss

      Now I’m really in trouble!

  5. Ann Edall-Robson

    Welcome back Pal and Kid (and D too).

    I too have had the pleasure of meeting Sean and hearing him speak with passion about writing and the land where he now calls home.

    I have read Finding Abby a couple of times. It seems I missed so much of the guts the first time because I was in a hurry. I was more interested in wanting to know if he found Abbey’s grave than the journey to get there. When I read it the second time, I became emersed in that journey and the book was a better read even though I already knew the ending. If you haven’t read this book and plan to, I suggest you read it chapter by chapter with days in between. Allow yourself to think about the process rather than pulling an all-nighter to get the answer.

    My copy of Sean’s book Environmental and Nature Writing has many sticky note markers adorning the pages. My favourite exercise is the Free Write that happens on the first page of the book. The Trailhead chapter. I give it my own twist to help record and enhance my travels along the backroads of Alberta. Before I go, I will often write a short blurb about what I think I will see or find. It never ceases to amaze me how a road I have travelled before, will tell me a different story each time. Or that my expectations are way off the mark just because I think it will similar to a road a few miles to the north. The pictures I take are a wild and diverse comparison of what my brain was thinking when I put preliminary words to paper.

    Thank you Sean for stopping by the Saddle Up Saloon to talk with Kid and Pal. It was good to see you again.

    • seanprentiss

      Ann, you are the best. Thanks so much for all the kind words. And I am glad that the textbook is useful to you and you enjoyed Finding Abbey. I sure hope Charli can put on another retreat at D.’s and you can make it back!

      • Ann Edall-Robson

        Attending a retreat in that part of the woods would be something to look forward to.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Hey Ann! It’s old home day! I agree with your advice on reading Finding Abbey. It’s a journey book and one shouldn’t run willy nilly down the trail. I also enjoyed the Environmental and Nature Writing book; the collection of example writings at the back are a treasure.
      Thought of you while kayaking recently. Could of used your eye and lens to capture the amazing frost dusted colors around the lake.

      • Ann Edall-Robson

        Old home day for sure D.

        What is that old saying? “I saw it on the radio.” It’s what happens when I get to read other pieces from people I have been gifted to meet. Anecdotes lets my mind take a visual wander back to hear the loons and the quiet dip of the paddle in the water.

      • Charli Mills

        One of my favorite memories of turtle cove, Ann, was kayaking in tandem with you, enjoying your joy as you found stories in images. D. and Sean certainly shared sacred space with us.

  6. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    Welcome back, Kid and Pal, and thanks for interviewing Sean, whom some of us had the pleasure of meeting at a 5 at the Mic Zoom this summer. And he’s right:
    D. Avery is a good reader!!!
    Great to get a peek into an amazing neighbourhood and amazing mind.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Anne, it’s worth noting that Sean has a great dog. Something to ponder, no?


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