Fun at the Cary PlaySlam!

On Saturday night, April 2, Johnpaul and I had the pleasure of watching our two original 3-minute plays performed in front of a packed house at the Playslam sponsored by the Cary Playwrights’ Forum and the Cary Theater. With only 15 minutes of practice allowed per play, Johnpaul did a superb job directing the actors—in a dressing room not much bigger than my closet, no less!

While our first play, “Old Habits Die Hard” didn’t score the votes needed to advance to the second round, both actors did a great job with a rather complex script—the story of an accountant running into his former lover (a pickpocket turned mime) in a Philadelphia park. See the picture below featuring actors Sean Wellington and Emily Rose White.

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The good news is that all the plays of the runners-up were still performed, and interestingly, to our delight, our second round play, the dark comedy “The Suicide You Prevent May Be Your Own” appeared to garner a more positive reaction from the crowd. In this play, a probationary suicide prevention hotline operator receives a call from a man who thinks he’s calling a local pizza parlor. See the picture below of Sean and Michelle Corbitt, who portrayed the increasing hysteria of the hotline operator with panache.

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We met some terrific new people, particularly Thom Haynes, impresario and producer of the night’s event and Sean Wellington, the male lead featured in both of our plays and who magically performed in two more himself. A veteran of this increasingly popular format, Sean’s insights and instincts were invaluable. In addition, two very dear and long-term friends of mine (Sherri Creech Johnson and Peggy Levine) came to support us, and it was wonderful to see them there!

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The experience was golden in terms of lessons learned, which are too countless to list here. (See Johnpaul pictured above, second from the right). The bottom line is that with a dramatic format limited to just  3 minutes, you have to grab your audience quickly and comedy appears to be the shortest route. And in the end, the most memorable plays seem to have a mixture of both pathos and comedy.

Have we given up? Of course not. In fact, we’re more obsessed than ever. What better way to build community than live performances of the human experience? We’re already plotting ahead!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring is for Writers

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Writers can find inspiration in any season, but isn’t there something special about spring? Just like the little purple crocus we found yesterday at Whaletail, which was pushing its way out of a nest of dead leaves, I am feeling a new burst of energy in my writing.

I’m also inspired by the words of others. Dan Gerber, a poet I discovered on Rattle, recently said: “I write poems because it’s my way of paying attention to the life of the worlds in and around me.”

And what better time to pay attention to the world around you than in spring? Particularly the natural world, which provides an endless source of inspiration for poets. And on this note, I just learned that my poem, “A Widow on Chester Street,” earned first place in the Mary Ruffin Poole American Heritage Award Contest sponsored by the N.C. Poetry Society and that recognizes poems of any form, any style, on the theme of American heritage, brotherhood/sisterhood, or nature. The contest this year was judged by the poet Lola Haskins. My poem will be published in the May 2016 edition of Pinesong.

I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to my friend, muse, and fellow poet, Mary Barnard, who painstakingly advised me throughout the writing and pushed me gently every step of the way. I’m also grateful to my writing group, which continues to provide continuous support, be it encouragement to submit…submit…submit (thank you Michele!),  the occasional writerly field trip, and a sounding board for the good, the bad, and the ugly phases of my own work.

This little network would not have been possible without the foundation provided by the Central Carolina Community College’s Creative Writing Program. Through this unique program, I’ve taken many classes and made countless new friends.And our program is doing some exciting things these days. This spring I’m indulging myself with two treats—a six-week short story class titled “Where Stories Come From” taught by the celebrated writing teacher and author Ruth Moose, and this Saturday I’ll be taking a one-day workshop (with my beloved) on haiku and Japanese water color taught by master poet Tom Dow. Art and poetry—what could be better?

Join Us for the PlaySlam! on 4/2!

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It’s been an exciting writing year so far, with two poems accepted for publication and a first foray into play writing.

First, my longer narrative poem, “The Murder House at Sweetwater Ridge” was a finalist for the 7th Annual Narrative Poetry Contest sponsored by the Naugatuck River Review and just recently I learned that a second poem “Why I Love Used Books” earned Honorable Mention in the Ron Rash Poetry Competition sponsored by the Broad River Review. Both will be published this spring.

Is it a coincidence that love entered my life at about this same time? I think not. My boyfriend, Johnpaul Harris, who in addition to being an accomplished sculptor, is also a wonderful writer and avid theater aficionado, having acted in Hamlet and other plays while in college and high school. Just for fun, we collaborated on two, three-minute plays for the PlaySlam! sponsored by Cary Playwrights’ Forum.

Our plays were selected from 12 among 38 total entries, and to our delight and great honor, will be performed on April 2 at the Cary Theater. Johnpaul is listed as the primary author and will be directing them because he knows what he’s doing. Audience members will vote on which of the first plays will advance to the second round (and be considered for the grand prize) but all plays will be performed live by local actors.

 

If you love community theater and want to see Johnpaul give his directorial debut, join us on Saturday, April 2, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are just $12 per person and will go on sale soon. For more information, please see the Facebook page for PlaySlam!

Where Do You Write?

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Melville wrote from a bedroom in his Arrowhead home in Pittsfield, MA.

Where do you write? It’s a question that emerges frequently among writers. Next to the imagination, our own personal space is often the most sacred thing we have.

And the answer varies tremendously. Like Herman Melville, Flannery O’Connor wrote from a desk in her bedroom. And although the Mount included a sumptuous library, Edith Wharton wrote from bed, with her little dogs curled up at her feet!

The ultimate introvert, Nathaniel Hawthorne, wrote standing up from a podium in front of a blank wall, eschewing the distractions of the outside world. And although Carl Sandburg’s family ceded a front room with an expansive window to him at Connemara, he, too, preferred a smaller interior room at a desk turned away from the window.

As for me, I have tried numerous locations, including a little study in the front of the house, surrounded by the books of my favorite authors. As you can see from the picture below, however, Huckleberry Finn quickly appropriated this space for his own watch tower. And in spite of his literary name, he and I have very different job descriptions.

finnatwindowdog/dôɡ/: a domesticated carnivorous mammal that typically has a long snout, an acute sense of smell, and a barking, howling, or whining voice. It is widely kept as a pet or for work or field sports, unless that work includes writing.

writer/rahy-ter: 1. a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist. 2) Unlike you are Edith Wharton, a writer’s work space rarely includes a dog.

The same barking and whining that makes our dogs so charming does often, regrettably, interfere with the reflection needed to write. In spite of this fact, many a writer owned a dog (Dickinson, Lord Byron, and Wharton, to name just a few) and these canine friends enrich our lives tremendously. But that is the subject of another post, I am sure.

As for me, I prefer to write at our kitchen table overlooking a north window. Being a bit of a literary hoarder, I find it useful to have plenty of space to spread out notes, reference books, index cards, and the like. I write primarily from my laptop, and I appreciate the occasional glance at the natural world, and the little dark-eyed junco skittering across the fall leaves.

From where I’m sitting, I can hear the comforting hum of the dishwasher or clothes dryer, which reminds me that the “other” work of the day is nearly done. And of course, because writing requires much brain power and therefore frequent sustenance, being close to the pantry is always a good thing.

In addition to having a semi-permanent writing space, I also carry a little notebook wherever I go so that I can scribble notes as the spirit moves me. I’m currently consolidating all of these notebooks, cards, etc., into one bigger notebook so that I can more easily draw connections among assorted scribblings.

What about you? Where do you write?

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Despite our different job descriptions, we always manage to end up in the same space, however.

 

 

Creative Writing Creates Community!

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With nearly 45 attendees, we set a record!

In between all the costumes, readings, nibbles, and door prizes, a theme quickly emerged at the CCCC Creative Writing Program event open mic on Friday: COMMUNITY!  In addition to appearances by favorite local writers and fans, people came from as far away as Lee, Randolph, and Orange counties to read and savor the work of others.

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Robert Baggett, Kristy Baggett, Maggie Zwilling (CWP Program Coordinator) and Al Manning of the N.C. Writers’ Network.

We were delighted to see Kristy Baggett, Director of Personal Enrichment at CCCC, who joined us with her husband Robert. To name just a few, local writers such as Karen Pullen, Al Manning, Mary Barnard Ruth Moose, Ralph Earle, Judith Stanton, Linda Johnson, and Michele Berger also joined us.

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Check out our new podium sign! Many thanks to Maggie Zwilling!

Our emcee, founding CWP member, linguist and poet Chris Bouton (pictured above in a snazzy hat), opened the event by reading our newly minted mission statement, which was compiled by our wonderful and talented marketing intern, Sarah Beth Robbins:

“The Central Carolina Community College–Creative Writing Program teaches the craft of writing as an art form, fosters imagination and excellence in writing, and creates a community for writers, whether they are beginners or seasoned veterans. We believe in the beauty and power of good writing and its ability to transform both writers and the world.”

Chris was on the verge introducing the first reader when lo and behold in sashayed none other than Queen Elizabeth I, that legendary patron of Shakespeare and many other poets.

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Susie Whorley, a talented and favorite local actress, brought Good Queen Bess to life again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fittingly, the Queen transported us back to Elizabethan England, the home of the English sonnet.  She regaled us with a reading of “When I Was Fair and Young” (penned by the Queen herself) and other Elizabethan favorites!

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Ralph Earle, author of The Way the Rain Works, treated us to a new poem, “Blood Moon over Brooklyn.”

Our readers then took their turn at the mike, where we were transported again into the hearts and minds of friends, both new and old. Given the occasion, I shared a piece of my own twisted writing, “The All-Inclusive Vacation for Pessimists.”

The work shared (whether poems, essays, or fiction) was truly global, featuring settings as familiar as Pittsboro and as exotic as Africa. The universal emotions conveyed united us all: joy, laughter, grief, and fear. And this is how community is created.

Chris then closed the event by thanking everyone and drawing three door prizes, which included published samples of several of the local writers.

Scroll down to see more pictures of the event. And if you hadn’t been there, no worries, we’ll be holding another event in the spring. In the meantime, however, you can join our community by enrolling in any of the CWP Spring 2016 Courses, which will be available online soon.

Photographs courtesy of CWP Board Member Mary Barnard, who pulled double duty as photographer AND poet extraordinare! 

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Ty Stumpf, CCCC Director of Humanities and N.C. Poetry Society Board Member, shared three wonderful poems. He is a regular favorite!

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Kim Overcash, CCCC faculty member, CWP Committee Member, and local writer, shared a portion of a short story in progress. Think Jayne Mansfield, reinvented as a zomb-shell. (Get it? Bombshell!)

 

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Al Manning, who leads the Pittsboro Writers Morning Out, and who represents Chatham/Lee counties for the N.C. Writers’ Network, shared a curmudgeon-y version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

 

 

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Poetry at Lake Junaluska and More!

This weekend I had the pleasure of traveling with my friend and fellow writer Mary Barnard (whom I met through the CCCC Creative Writing Program) to the second annual Your Daily Poem workshop at the tranquil setting of Lake Junaluska.

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The hand-carved grave of Squire Boone, next to his wife Sarah and Israel Boone, brother of Daniel.

Poets are known to take little detours so please pardon me for digressing but Mary and I took the scenic route and ended up in Mocksville, which we learned was a boyhood home of Daniel Boone and actually the site of his parents’ graves! (Where is Daniel? The remains of this famous frontiersman are actually in Frankfurt, KY.) One detour led to another and somehow we ended up eating lunch at Maria’s Salvadorean restaurant where we had our first pupusas and taste of horchata. Delicious!

Because the workshop didn’t start until 6 p.m., we decided to go to poet Carl Sandburg’s house in Flat Rock first. This poet, historian, musician, essayist, and novelist spent the last 22 years of his life here. Although I’ve visited numerous literary sites in my time, ironically, it was only now that I ventured to this fabled site in my own home state. And what a treat! Those who know me best know how much I love plundering through the personal possessions of writers!

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The interior of Sandburg’s beloved Connemara is currently undergoing renovations until 2018; however, there remained enough of a footprint to imagine the daily life of a man once described as the “voice of America.” Yet in spite of his Pulitzers, he rejoiced in the simple things, as evidenced in his poem Happiness. His simplicity is also illustrated by what is not on the property. There still exists a concrete-lined hole in the front yard because once he bought the estate, Carl had the fountain removed because he thought it was too pretentious!

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The desk of the poet and his cherished typewriter. His library also contains a table constructed from wood used at the White House during the age of Abraham Lincoln, the subject of his famous biography.

We ended our visit by strolling down to the goat dairy established by Sandberg’s wife Paula. She was a tour de force in her own right, and among other things, a linguist, literature teacher, activist and champion breeder of Nubian and Swiss goats. Bottlefed since birth, the friendly descendants of the Sandburg herd are quite unafraid of humans. And they still win awards for their milk production.

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Whoa Nellie, literally, as the goat Nellie charges young Cinnamon to take her place at the feeding trough.

We were a little late for dinner at our workshop, but we were heartily welcomed nonetheless by the poet Jayne Jaudon Ferrer, the creator of this wonderful online poetry community that now boasts  thousands of subscribers.

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Aren’t the best skies a bit moody? The fog in the morning followed us from Sandburg’s home, like you guessed it… little cat feet.

On our first evening, we were treated to the toe-tapping rhythms of Twin Courage, fronted by Rachael Gallman and Jayne’s son Jaron Ferrer. Their music is influenced by the writing of Ray Bradbury and their own affinity for the natural world (“Black Bear” was a favorite of mine!). The two-day workshop (even amidst unexpected Saturday rain) brought fellowship and instruction. The participants, poets across the nation, learned from celebrated writers Richard Allen Taylor, Dana Wildsmith, Phebe Davidson and Joe Mills. We tackled topics such as line length, images, metaphors, and poetic devices, all important tools in the poet’s backpack.

On Saturday night, we enjoyed hearing from our workshop leaders and each other, as we took turns reading from our own work. A highlight was Mary’s poem “Orange,” which magically wove together Halloween and the flight of monarch butterflies.

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Writers came from as far away as Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and even New Hampshire!

Alas, it seemed that Sunday came all too soon and we had to say goodbye to many new friends, but we eagerly traded hugs and email addresses so I hope we’ll stay in touch.

On the way home, we stopped by the mountaintop home of Mary’s friends Lynn and Ben, where we savored a last glimpse of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here we were treated to Mexican Tabouli Salad, which I’m happy to say is my latest obsession!

Want more poetry? Don’t forget to join us for the October 23 Open Mic reading at CCCC! Here students and members of the public alike will have the opportunity to read from their work for up to 6 minutes.

Flash Fiction Isn’t Just a Flash in the Pan!

The short-short story has been around for decades but flash fiction (prose works between 500 and 1,000 words or less) is all the rage these days. And for good reason.

For the reader, the benefits are numerous. It’s immediate, accessible, and offers a variety of voices in one setting. For the writer, the benefits are also myriad. It offers the chance to experiment and the opportunity to do something with the fragments of other ideas that may not work for a poem, novel or traditional short story. This doesn’t make it any easier, however. The less words you use, the more carefully you must choose them for maximum impact. And while you don’t need to resolve all loose ends in a piece, you still need to produce a satisfying story for your reader.

For me, flash fiction is just plain fun! It’s been an effective and rewarding outlet for my quirky sense of humor. I’ve enjoyed experimenting with forms such as memos, emails, online chat dialogues, blogs, even shopping lists. The sky’s the limit!

Because the pieces take up less room, publishers are able to publish multiple authors. This means that there are so many more outlets for writers to get published. All major literary magazines are seeking flash fiction these days, and just as in poetry, you can submit multiple pieces for consideration.

I’ve had the joy of taking several workshops on flash fiction by celebrated author Ruth Moose through the Central Carolina Community College Creative Writing Program. She does a terrific job of choosing pieces for inspiration and then asking us to put pen to paper. So you end up with a solid start and an immediate audience—your fellow classmates!

These lessons have paid off for me and my friends, who have had several pieces accepted for publication. And just yesterday, I’m proud to say that my own piece, “All-Inclusive Vacation for Pessimists,” just appeared in Issue 7 of Brilliant Flash Fiction, a British online publication. (To read it, scroll down the page to about halfway through. Look for the picture of a beach at sunset!)

I hope to read this piece at the CCCC Open Mic at the library on the CCCC Pittsboro campus on October 23 at 6:30 p.m. This is yet another benefit. Flash fiction is perfect for open mics because more people have the chance to share their works. And this is why I think flash fiction is here to stay!

Hope to see you on October 23!

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are…..”

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Inspirational quotes, favorite writing books, and stimulating quotes decorated the scene.

Today marked the annual celebration of our little writing group—an event we relish every year. This is the time when we gather to share writing inspiration and celebrate our victories. And what a year! Between field trips to the forest, classes at Central Carolina’s Creative Writing Program, and multiple story and poem acceptances for publication, we had many reasons to celebrate. To paraphrase the words of poet e.e. cummings, our little group is investing the courage to become who we really are, as a group as well as individuals.

We were especially excited to learn about Michele’s recent acceptance to the Room of Her Own Foundation’s week-long writing residency/retreat next month in New Mexico. Not only will she be hobnobbing with fellow emerging writers, she’ll also get to to meet celebrated writers such as Janet Finch and Maxine Hong Kingston! In addition to soaking up the collective wisdom, Michele will also be presenting a one-hour workshop on “Tone Your Creative Core: 5 Secrets for Artists.” Way to go, busy lady!

As part of the meeting, we traded our writing for the month, gave feedback, and each of us committed to taking a CCCC writing course for the fall, as these experiences only reinforce our own commitment to the craft.

My beloved group members also indulged my love of charades and kindly participated in a special version, where we all acted out our favorite literary works. As in keeping with our support of each other, even with a little friendly competition, our two groups (me and Robin vs. Michele, Nancy, and Linda) tied with two wins each. But as it turned out, everyone won as nothing could have been more fun than watching Linda acting out a “bear” for “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (guessed by Michele!) or Nancy going for broke in gesturing for “Far from the Madding Crowd.” Perhaps it wasn’t fair to ask the competition to act out “Troilus and Criseyde” but smart women aren’t easily intimidated, and here Michele cheerfully gave it her all.

We also took the chance to nosh on hummus and carrots, guacamole, mango salsa, spinach dip, bruschetta, and Robin’s famous deviled eggs. We finished the event with a special dessert—s’mores ice cream with warm chocolate sauce, what I hope was a fitting tribute to a gathering of truly extraordinary women.

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Wanna make it? The recipe is in the July issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Ode to My Ironing Board

Ever wondered what to do with your ironing board when you’re too lazy to fold it up? Or even too lazy (or, as I like to say: “too busy”) to iron?

This month Carolina Woman published my poem Ode to My Ironing Board on their website. Unfortunately, through no fault of the page designer, the formatting looks a little wonky. It was intended to be a “shape poem,” and it didn’t translate well to html formatting. Just for reference, here is a link to Ode to My Ironing Board (in pdf), the way it was intended to appear.

This is one of those poems that, thanks to the modern ingenuity of word-processing and graphic design, takes its shape from the theme of the poem. A famous example, and certainly far superior to mine, is Swan and Shadow by John Hollander.

It’s a challenging form, as you must work very hard to make sure the shape of the poem doesn’t paint you into a corner. Start first with the text and then, only then, gently nudge it into a shape. It’s never a bad thing to whittle a poem down to its bare bones and an easy way to do this is to give yourself a restraint (like a shape) of some sort. If you can’t make the shape happen, no worries. Just turn it back into a traditional poem through regular stanzas. However it turns out, you have created something to be proud of.

Forms that might be easy to try and create through basic word-processing are things like circles, hearts, stars, trees, flowers, and for the more adventurous like Hollander, even cats and dogs. Whatever you do, as I always say, have fun!

The End of the Road – Day 8

“Keep your face toward the sunshine,” wrote Walt Whitman, “and the shadows will fall behind you.” These words are a fitting introduction to the last day of our literary tour, as we navigated the tricky traffic of the greater New York metropolitan area for our last scheduled stops.

We spent last night at the gracious home of Jen and Pat (otherwise known as Jenny-Pat) in Darien, CT. Thank you so much, Jenny-Pat, for your hospitality and kindness (wine, snacks, and breakfast!). Once on the road, we first made a pitstop in Tarrytown, New York at Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home. This was the place of his retirement after a lifetime of travel, letters, and writing best-selling stories such as Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Not surprisingly, as the authors on our tour moved in very small circles, Irving served as a mentor to Poe, Melville, and Hawthorne and even corresponded with Dickens. Due to the timing of the tours, and the extent of our travels, unfortunately, we weren’t able to go inside Sunnyside, but we did catch a glimpse of the beautiful landscape bordering the Hudson River. This is on the agenda for next time, for sure.

We next made our way to the birthplace of Walt Whitman, one of the primary poets who (along with Emily Dickinson) ushered in the era of contemporary poetry through works such as Leaves of Grass. The home is a very simple colonial farmhouse in Huntington on Long Island, New York (picture one, below). He lived here only three years and therefore there are only scant remnants of his life at this location, but the inside of the home includes period furniture meant to replicate his time in the house. His home in Camden, New Jersey, which includes more personal possessions, may be a better reflection of the poet but the visitor’s center here features a helpful timeline and a couple of things, such as a rare first edition (autographed!) of a work titled Two Rivulets (picture two) and the desk he used during his stint as a teacher in New York (picture three).

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We were lucky enough to end our travels at the same place we began–the home of the wonderful Kretchmars in State College, PA. Although we’re sad to end our literary extravaganza, we’re proud to say that we covered five states and a total of 19 actual sites! And Ann, Jen, and I will return to North Carolina tomorrow with a renewed appreciation of our favorite authors and more inspiration for our own creative endeavors.

Since some of you have kindly asked, next time I’ll post the full itinerary of our journey, along with a few details of our more serendipitous pitstops. For now, good night, and I hope you are curling up with a good book!

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