Fall Back To Another Hour of Writing…

Need another reason to be excited about fall? This weekend why not “fall back” into an extra hour of writing? That’s what I plan to do. I certainly won’t miss the time. What else would I be doing anyway? Laundry? Windows? Raking leaves? I can easily talk myself out of any of those chores—clothes and windows are going to get dirty again anyway and there’s certainly no point in raking leaves right now.

I’ll probably spend a little time on both prose and poetry—they are not mutually exclusive and as we’ve discussed at my writing group, a good idea can be expressed equally well in both. I’m toying with a project right now that had begun as a poem and is now nudging its way into flash fiction.

Fall is also a good time to be thinking ahead about your personal submission calendar. Many literary journals are only open for submissions during the academic year and there are plenty of annual writing competitions in progress and even more to come. My favorite source for these is the N.C. Writers’ Network (NCWN), so if you haven’t yet joined, use part of that extra hour to become a member!

I just learned that three of my own poems were accepted for publication in a special poetry anthology collection published by Silly Tree Anthologies, a publication I wouldn’t have learned about if not for NCWN.

Best of luck with your “extra writing hour!”

How to See a Ghost

Having just returned from an amazing trip to Ireland with my father, I can report that this beautiful gem of an island is indeed haunted. Haunted with ghosts you don’t need to see to know that they are there. As the victim of countless sieges, plunders, and atrocities—from the Vikings to the Anglo-Normans to the forces of Cromwell—in Ireland the ruins of fortifications abound. It is home to more than 3,500 castles in varying stages of decline. There are also thousands of abbeys and churches, many of them now in shambles, but even some of these ended up being fortified, with castellated presbyteries, towers, and stone wall enclosures.

As a writer, I prefer the ruins to the structures that have been shorn up and refurbished because these gently worn skeletons leave plenty of room for the imagination. Especially under a moody sky that will drop a gentle mist of rain to be shortly followed by sunshine, which reflects back on the dewy grass, hence the nickname, The Emerald Isle.

We spent 3 nights in Dublin but I have to say that my favorite part of the trip was the four days we spent in the counties of Kilkenny and Tipperary.

jerpoint

We spent 3 nights in a bed and breakfast in Thomastown in County Kilkenny directly across from the ruins of Jerpoint Abbey.

The B & B itself was situated by a stream and the ruins of a 13th century mill and the view to the Abbey (from the front yard, left) was spectacular.

Originally founded as a 12th-century Cistercian abbey, what you see today came from the 15th and 16th centuries, although there are many examples of beautiful stone carvings from the earlier period, especially the cloister garden.

In Ireland I had many wonderful adventures, from the people we met to yes, the history, that inspired the writer in me. I look forward to sharing these with you in the coming weeks.

I came back from Ireland to learn that my poem, ironically enough, “How to See a Ghost” won second place in the 2014 INDY Week’s annual poetry contest. The ghost in this poem was not inspired by Ireland, but fair warning, I expect many more poems to follow. Since falling in love with poetry late last year, I can’t help wondering just what have I missed out on all these years…

I’ll read “How to See a Ghost” with Jeffrey Beam, the judge, and the other winners on May 6 at 7 p.m. at a special reading at Letters Bookstore in Durham. Hope to see you there!

 

An Evening with George Saunders!

ImageTonight my friend Nancy and I had the pleasure of meeting George Saunders, National Book Award Finalist, Guggenheim winner, and a regular contributor to The New Yorker. He spoke at Duke University. My head is still swimming with the experience, but I had to share a quick picture and my overall impression of the man who was named by Time magazine as one of the “World’s Most Influential People.”

It’s a rare experience to meet someone so brilliant yet so self-effacing and humble. His wisdom to his fellow writers was simple and pithy. Push yourself over the rapids and don’t shy away from writing about things that trouble you. And there’s nothing wrong with humor in literature! If you’re funny in life, your writing should reflect your personality.

He also spoke of his writing influences, which were esoteric to say the least: Esther Forbes, Monty Python, Chekhov, even the rock group Styx! He and I chatted for a few moments while he signed my copy of Tenth of December about the importance of memory to the writer, and his ability to bring his own characters to life by recalling his own experiences in similar situations. I’ll close by saying that I’ll remember this night for the rest of my life! Thank you Nancy!

P.S. If you haven’t read Tenth of December, his short story collection, I highly recommend it. Try “Victory Lap”, a story he read tonight that is at turns both humorous and gripping.

A Poem for a Dog

Puppy 

I had intended to write a poem about the pleasures of
a lazy Sunday morning
when sweet little Puppy
who, moments ago, was peacefully dozing -
turned into a snarling, twisting mass of claws and teeth
intent on destroying his striped dog bed – 
the peculiar object of his rage.
He is Nero, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun 
rolled into one!
At all costs, the bed must be destroyed
no, eradicated!
obliterated! 

My pride depends upon it!
he would say,
if he could say
but the bed wins this time.
Its stripes are crumpled and deflated but…
it is not quite obliterated…
So Puppy stalks off, bored and sated,
and like any good conquistador
he is soon curled up on the floor
asleep again, his head bobbing with dreams
of a new conquest, a new dominion ruled supremely
by King Puppy.

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Voices From The Porch is Available for Pre-Order Now!

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What better way to enjoy the gentle end of summer than to spend the afternoon daydreaming on the porch? Well, I can think of something even better. Sitting on the porch while reading stories, essays, and poems inspired by the porch.

Not too long ago, I learned that my short story, “His Name Is Roscoe,” had been accepted for publication by Main Street Rag for a special anthology featuring porch-themed tales. While it won’t be available until Spring 2014, you can be prepared for next year’s porch season by ordering an advance copy now.

Hint: And it’s also on sale for just $9.50! This book will feature the work of many other N.C. writers, so I hope that you’ll help us all by ordering your copy today.

Order Voices from the Porch now.

Naked and Hungry Goes to Siler City!

raleighstreetWant to escape the summer heat? Fighting boredom? Why not join us at the Local Author Showcase  next Saturday, July 27, in Siler City from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. You might meet a new friend and pick up a new summer read!

Hosted by Paperbacks Plus, this event will bring together 16 local authors for a meet and greet and light refreshments. I’ll be there, promoting Naked and Hungry, and hanging out with many mutual friends. We’d love to see you!

Address:
Raleigh Street Gallery
120 W. Raleigh Street, Siler City NC 27344

Report from Andalusia Farm!

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Main farmhouse – Flannery’s bedroom and writing haven is the front room to the left. This beautiful porch with its wide white rockers was where she met with her many friends and admirers.

“You’re going where?” asked my mom. “Milledgeville,” I told her. More specifically to Andalusia Farm, the home of Flannery O’Connor in Georgia. I also told her it would be a day trip…6 hours there and 6 hours back because I had to be at work the next day. When she still didn’t understand, I said: “It’s a little like Graceland. Remember how you felt when you took the bus to Elvis’s home?”

That did the trick. And while Andalusia is about as far from Graceland as you can ever get, for Flannery fans, it’s a “must-see.” I’m happy to report that we did not encounter the “Misfit” but we did indeed experience a little of the culture that Flannery wrote about when we stopped at a gas station for directions and were told by a charming and bemused  septuagenarian that we simply had to wait for the “bump” in the road (“You’ll feel it, you can’t miss that!”) and to turn right after the speed limit sign.

U.S. 441, the highway leading to Andalusia, with its fast food restaurants and hotels, would have been unrecognizable to Flannery these days, but as soon as we swung onto the dirt road, we were immediately transported back to her world. It seemed as if time had stopped. The sun was bright, the air was balmy, and of course, there was the eerie cry of a peacock who announced our arrival. The house and the interior had changed very little, thanks to the fact that the property had remained in the family since Flannery died in 1964. Her room was intact, even with her single bed and the curtains sewn by her mother, along with the Hotpoint refrigerator she had bought with her earnings from the sale of “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.”

andalusia-manley

Meet Mr. Manley Pointer, the peacock named after the shyster Bible salesman in “Good Country People.” Talk about the grotesque…too beautiful to be real.

Save a busload of retired tourists who were delighted to see us “young people,” we had the place nearly to ourselves. This gave us plenty of time to walk the grounds and imagine the world through Flannery’s eyes. Later, we were lucky enough to sit down with the executive director, Craig Amason, who graciously gave us his personal attention and answered all of our questions. Flannery didn’t suffer fools gladly, Craig told us, which is proven out by her proclivity to satire. But she didn’t spare even herself from the razor of her wit, as she tended to save her worst for the “intellectuals” and the writers in her stories. However, if you look deeply enough, you can’t help but see a little of yourself in her characters. I admit to sometimes sounding a little like Mrs. Hopewell in “Good Country People,” as I have a tendency to see the glass half full.  And who hasn’t believed in other people a little too much, as did the mother in “The Comforts of Home?”

Of course I had to ask Craig if they ever felt the spirit of Flannery at the farm. While we know that Flannery would have decried the idea of the supernatural, he did acknowledge that from time to time, they felt a special energy about the place.  And as we sat there rocking on the porch talking about her life, her religious fervor and her taste in literature, it did feel as if she might indeed turn the corner and join us. And in that sense, perhaps Flannery never really died, as her legacy endures, in her books and the joy her words continue to give us. I know I’m loving what I’m learning in the book I picked up: At Home with Flannery: An Oral History. 

We ate lunch downtown at The Brick (making sure to stress that Andalusia had sent us there!) and our pixie of a waitress vaguely remembered her own high school journey to the farm but admitted she hadn’t read much of her work. However, when she found out that we had driven all the way from N.C. just to be there, she was inspired enough to say that she might just have to give Flannery another look, we are proud to say.

The journey passed fairly quickly thanks to the recordings of her stories that we listened to along the way. Of course we laughed and were shocked yet again by old favorites such as “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and the sometimes overlooked “Greenleaf.” I loved Jen’s reaction to the end of that one: “Why did the bull have to die?”

So what’s next on our literary jaunts? There’s talk of a drive to Connemara (vacation home to Carl Sandburg in Flat Rock) and perhaps to Edenton for a glimpse into the life of Harriet Jacobs, author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. But as Mrs. Hopewell might say, if you can drive to Georgia in a day, anything is possible!

Getting Ready for Andalusia Farm…and Flannery!

ImageAs my readers and friends know, one of my literary heroines has long been Flannery O’Connor, the great Southern writer and master of the short story. One of my goals this year was to go on a pilgrimage to Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, and I’m so happy to say that it will finally come to pass this upcoming week, weather and God willing!   

Andalusia was Flannery’s family home and the place where she moved shortly after earning her MFA from the University of Iowa. The region (and its characters) was the inspiration behind her most famous works, and I hope to gain more insight into the all-too-short life of a woman who crafted such unforgettable characters as the Misfit, Manley Pointer and Ruby Turpin. 

My friend and fellow Flannery fan Jen kindly agreed to drive if I would read aloud Flannery’s short works to pass the time. It’s a six-hour drive so we’ll have plenty of time. We both are half-hoping to run into some of these characters; well, maybe not the Misfit, but perhaps “The Grandmother!” At the very least, we expect to see some peacocks, who are reputedly in their full plumage this time of year.

To prepare, we’ve both read Brad Gooch’s biography, the latest biography, which is chockfull of delicious details from her life and is one of my most favorite literary biographies of all time.

I promise to share an update and pictures soon!

Happy National Poetry Month!

As if we needed a reason to celebrate Emily Dickinson or William Blake, did you know that April is National Poetry Month? The occasion has inspired me to re-read some of my favorites. This includes classics such as “She Walks in Beauty” (Byron), “Ode to A Nightingale” (Keats), “Song” by Christina Rossetti, and lesser-known but equally poignant pieces such as To be A Slave to Intensity” (Kabir) and “Nothing” by James Fenton.

As a favor to my dear friend and writing colleague Michele Berger, I even agreed to draft a poem myself for consideration for her excellent blog, The Practice of Creativity. I am definitely no poet but she is a true friend, and in that spirit, she kindly published it. Rather brilliantly, she is celebrating this month by posting a series of poems by guest poets (who are much more talented than me, I will add!). Although I adore poetry, I find this sparest of literary forms to be more than a little intimidating. But there’s a definite connection between poetry and prose, and as we’ve discussed in my writing group, any prose writer (especially me) would benefit from entering and fully exploring this medium.

Lately, I’ve been concentrating my limited literary energies on writing short stories, which will always be my first love. And last week I was honored to learn that a recent story, “Once in a Blue Moon,” was named first honorable mention in the 2013 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Contest sponsored by the N.C. Writers’ Network. This is a victory I share with all of you who have encouraged me as well as the five wonderful women or “belles-des-lettres” in my writing group. Michele herself just scooped up third place in Carolina Woman’s Annual Writing Contest for her speculative short story titled “Urban Wendy” which is published in the April issue! Go Pittsboro writers!

Introducing the New and Improved E-Reader with … Scent!

bookshotFrom the newswire: “Today the new e-reader with scent and tactile pages debuted to great acclaim in New York City. It is hoped that this new device will satisfy those sensory-fixated hold-out buyers of Kindle and Nook.”

The answer to my prayers! An e-reader that transmits the delicious smell of mildewed pages and the comforting feel of paper beneath your fingers! Could it be?

It’s a little late for an April Fool’s joke but nonetheless I hope you won’t fault me for trying. The scent and feel of a book (a new or old one, preferably the old one) are what I’m holding out for and why I won’t buy an e-reader. There are other reasons, too, such as my insistence on limiting screen time.

I also relish the act holding an actual book in my hands; it sends a message to those around me that I am not just playing a game, engaging in online banking, or checking my email. It’s a “Do Not Disturb” sign.

 

 

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