What’s in Your Writing Kit?

writingkit2My mother gave me a lovely box many years ago. It’s covered with inspirational writing in a lovely gold script, and it’s become my nesting box for those little snippets of inspiration — favorite new words, quotes, articles, even bits of random conversation I happen to overhear. It also includes old postcards and pictures,  like the daguerreotype of a young married couple, circa 1840….

When my creative well dries up, this is the first place I plunder. My “writing kit” is particularly helpful for flash fiction because those “flashes” of inspiration can lead to instant stories. It has recently led the way to many new pieces, including poems in The Gyroscope Review (Summer 2017), “Party Etiquette for Insects Recently Transformed into People” (Honorable Mention,  Women on Writing, Summer 2017), and most recently in The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory, to be released by Anchala Studios on March 2, to coincide with the Read Across America campaign.

Participants attending my daylong flash fiction workshop on Saturday, March 3 at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro will receive a starter kit for what I hope will inspire their own creative plundering. Right now, in preparation for the class, I’m compiling the most delicious prompts, tips, samples, and vocabulary words, all of which will help germinate our individual kits and lead to even more stories in the future.

Spots are filling quickly! Hope to see you there! To reserve your seat, visit the CCCC website.

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Seeking a Refuge from the Cold? Write!

Got cold weather blues? Anxious about the holidays? Or are you just in a rut? If you’re like Baby Dog, you might just needbaby to surround yourself with your own creature comforts. In her case, it’s a nest of cushy autumn leaves. Can you find her?

For you, have you considered taking advantage of the comforts offered by writing? According to writer Edna Ferber, who wrote in her 1963 autobiography: “Life can’t ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer’s lover until death – fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant.”

So why not embrace life by signing up for a creative writing course at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro? We’re offering a wide range of opportunities in Spring 2018 that are sure to lift your spirits!

In fact, I’ll be leading a one-day workshop on Saturday, March 3 on flash fiction. Flash fiction is irresistible; a joy for both reader and writer. Opportunities are better than ever, with a virtual explosion of contests and publications specializing in the form. Read some of the best, experiment a little, and leave the class with a complete “kit” of your own for future inspiration.

CCCC offers many other valuable classes and workshops this spring–including a workshop to help writers achieve publication led by recent novelist Michele Berger. I also recommend you consider the weekly course offered by the celebrated poet Mary Barnard titled “Write to Heal.”

For the complete list of offerings, and to sign up, visit the CCCC website.

Find the “Write” Tools to Heal!

Last week Johnpaul built a ramp for our beloved Buster, whose legs are too short to jump into the truck on his own. Guided by a treat at his nose—and the cheers of his brother Finn—Buster quickly mastered the “mountain” like a champ.

This little ramp is so much more than a slab of poplar. It symbolizes what it takes to recover from a traumatic experience that might be holding you back. With the buster“write” tools, and the support of loving friends, you too, can easily triumph over the obstacles of life.

Based on research by Dr. James Pennebaker, “Write to Heal” offers 21 different expressive writing tactics (or tools) in an upcoming 8-week class at the Pittsboro campus of Central Carolina Community College beginning Monday, March 5, 2018.  A pen and notebook is all you need for writing in timed sessions on assigned topics.  Most importantly, you do not share what you write, it’s for your eyes only.  Registration begins in December 2017.  Just search for CCCC Creative Writing Program and click on “View the Online Schedule.”

Accomplished writer and workshop leader Mary Barnard, certified in 2016, has led 3 sessions for cancer survivors at Waverly Hematology Oncology in Cary and one session at CCCC in Spring 2017.  You can make a positive difference in your health and well-being by giving “Write to Heal” a try!  One cancer survivor said she used to dread coming to the clinic, but now she smiles when she walks in the door.

As a reminder, on Saturday, March 3, 2018, I’ll be leading a separate, daylong workshop on Flash Fiction at the same location. We’ll also be providing the “write” tools to turn your experience and ideas into memorable short fiction pieces. Every participant will leave with finished writing and a “do-it-yourself” kit of inspiration for future works.

Hope to see you at one of these events, or both!

 

 

Mark Your Calendar: A Workshop on Flash Fiction!

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“A small fiction is a lone wolf of a lie, sometimes hounding the truth across a field but oftentimes simply sitting on a hilltop to raise its face to the moon and howl of love or loss….” Robert Olen Butler

On Friday, I was honored to learn that 3 stories of mine were accepted by Anchala Studios for an upcoming anthology called Flash Memory. It’s a collection of flash fiction intended for memory-impaired readers, but the book may appeal to anyone who has limited time and just needs a quick fix of fiction (might this be you?). Stay tuned for the details.

I’ve written about flash fiction and its growing popularity before, for both readers and especially writers. I’ll actually be leading a workshop for Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro on this very topic on Saturday, March 3, 2018 from 9 a.m.- 3 p.m.

Flash fiction stories (usually 750 words or less) are irresistible, savory nuggets of human experience at your fingertips. Opportunities for writing and publishing are better than ever. Participants will read some of the best, experiment a little, and leave the class with a “kit” for future inspiration. Bonus: The editors of Flash Memory have also kindly agreed to share with me some of the insights they gained while reviewing and selecting these stories, and I plan to share their wisdom during the workshop.

Interested? Registration deadlines will be available soon at the CCCC website.

Happy Holidays from Janet at Lifeline!

On Friday night, Johnpaul and I participated in the annual Fall Open Mic sponsored by the Creative Writing Program at Central Carolina Community College. The event was kindly hosted by the Joyful Jewel, a vibrant arts and craft gallery in the heart of downtown Pittsboro.

The optional theme this year, fittingly enough, was holiday angst, and we heard a variety of creative works featuring the joy and occasional madness that marks the holidays. We heard the travails of a real working Santa (featuring local Santa Al Capehart), fiction by Robin Whitten, Kim Overcash and Linda Johnson, and poetry by Judith Stanton, Bonnie Korta, Ruth Moose and our emcee Mary Barnard, among many other delightful voices. We also had the honor of hearing Michele Berger read a poignant essay on her mother that was published in “Letters to My Mother,” a book which featured the voices of other celebrity and national personalities. Yes, Michele is our own celebrity!

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Johnpaul and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to read a “re-mix” of “The Suicide You Prevent Might Be Your Own.” In this version of our darkly humorous 3-minute play, innocent sports fan Russell Huggins is unlucky enough to accidentally call Janet, a stressed-out suicide prevention counselor, while trying to order a pizza for the Peach Bowl party he’s hosting on New Year’s Eve.

As with all of the open mic events sponsored by the Creative Writing Program, the roster invariably features a wide variety of talent and the full spectrum of human emotion–from laughter to tears to joy.

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We hope to see you at one of our events soon, but in the meantime, stay tuned for the spring catalog of creative writing courses offered by the College. These classes will not only sharpen your writing skills, but they will also introduce you to terrific people who, like those I’ve been privileged to get to know, may become lifelong buddies.

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.

Queen Elizabeth

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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“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.

The Way the Rain Works

Ralph and Ashley

Photo credit: Mary Barnard

 

Here I am posing with award-winning poet Ralph Earle, who kindly autographed a copy of his book,  The Way the Rain Works. To the folks gathered at the Central Carolina Community College Creative Writing Program’s Open Mic Friday night, he treated us all to a few sample poems.

the way the rain works

If you haven’t yet read The Way the Rain Works, you should do yourself a favor and order it today from Sable Books. The individual poems weave a powerful and poignant story about the slow dissolution of a family. There is great sadness, yes, but there are also touches of humor (“The Insulating Properties of Trees” and “Sweater Weather”, for example).

The primary landscape, North Carolina, is familiar but at the same time, new again, through Ralph’s intellect and imagination. In “The Mill Dam at Bynum” he writes: “In the summer I wander the overgrown farm road / like Whitman, mad and undisguised, observing / how broad the river grows there, how poised.”  I am not the only one who will never think of the Bynum mill dam in the same way again!

There are many other gems, from “The Flight Back Home” to “The Sea and Sand Did This” to the title poem itself. For me, the best way to summarize my own personal experience with this book is in the concluding lines of “Snow Falling Silently”: “No matter how often / we start the story / differently, it ends / the same: water flows,/ Night grows old./ Snow falls in the silence.”

A number of other writers regaled us into the evening at the Open Mic, with diverse poems and tales of deviled eggs, dancing queens, fathers, birdsong, crisper drawers, and much, much more. A huge thanks to the members of the Board (in addition to Ralph) who organized the evening: Maggie Zwilling, Kim Overcash, Judith Stanton, Michele Berger, and Mary Barnard (who doubled as poet AND photographer for the event).

If you missed it, no worries. Stay tuned because we’ll do it again in the fall!

Join us on Friday for the CWP Open Mic!

FILE - In this file photo from Aug. 11, 2010, two donkeys, Napoleon, left, and Antosia, stand near each others at a zoo in Poznan, Poland. The two were separated recently because of an outcry over their lovemaking, but have been reunited. The couple, together for 10 years, got into trouble when mothers expressed outrage that children had to witness their mating. (AP Photo/Joanna Piechorowska, File)

Real-life lovers Napoleon (left) and Antosia at a zoo in Poznan, Poland.

Made plans for next Friday night? If not, plan on joining us at the Spring/Summer Open Mic for the Central Carolina Community College’s Creative Writing Program. It will be Friday, May 296-8 PM in the beautiful Chatham Community Library, Mary Hayes Holmes Room, in Pittsboro, N.C.

If you’re interested in reading your prose or poetry, please sign in upon arrival.  We’ll follow the order on the list, and you’ll have up to eight minutes. In addition to the reading, light refreshments will be served, another reason why you shouldn’t miss this event. If you don’t want to read, no worries, it’s still a lot of fun to hear the work of other local writers and mingle with the crowd.

I plan on reading 3 of my poems, one of which (“Napoleon and Antosia”) was inspired by two amorous real-life donkeys in Poland.

This piece was the result of another one of my most favorite poetry prompts  (source: The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell). You choose a story from the tabloids, write a poem in third person, and, as outrageous as it may be, take the story perfectly seriously. Oddly enough, this may lend your poem a bit of magical realism! I penned this poem during a class by Ralph Earle this fall and at his direction, wrote it with two different sets of line breaks.

While the National Enquirer and Star tend to focus more on celebrity news these days and unfortunately print less of those wacky stories such as “Alien Abducts My Wife” (remember those?), thanks to Reddit, you can find a wealth of these stories on this internet-based site, such as “Woman Lives with Mother’s Skeletal Remains for Years” or “Enchanted Creature Dances Beneath Icy Waters in Norway.”

Let your imagination run free and who knows how far you will go! Have fun writing, and we hope to see you at the Open Mic next Friday!

A Very Poetic Walk in the Woods

Sunday, May 3, was one of those days simply made for poetry. Blue skies, dazzling sunshine, and a walk through land virtually untouched by humans. A Carolina day free from humidity is truly a gift!

Our writing group was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit with Robin and her husband Wayne, a walking encyclopedia of history and natural science, especially forestry. They are the stewards of one of the dwindling parcels of land not yet affected by the growing development in Chatham County.

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Wood sprites, fairies, or poets? What do you think?

Their land includes a natural spring, Landrum’s Creek (home to river otters!), and New World trees rarely seen in subdivisions these days: beech, ash, red oak and hickory. Here we are posing in front of an estimated 250-year-old mockernut hickory tree (identified, of course, by Wayne).

Nature walks, a ritual prescribed by Susan Wooldridge in her book Poem Crazy, are like oxygen to poets. Susan recommends regularly immersing yourself in nature and learning the names of flora and fauna. While we didn’t get lucky enough to see an otter (be still my heart…can you imagine?), we did spot a skink, a hawk, butterflies, centipedes, woodpeckers, and the one thing that makes you dread warmer weather: ticks! But even these pesky little creatures have earned their place. Hummm….a poem about ticks, now there’s a subject rarely touched.

Robin was an especially thoughtful hostess, as she and Wayne had thought ahead and plunked down a brand new picnic table right in the middle of the clearing. This was a perfect spot for pita chips, hummus, ginger ale, and what else? Strawberry shortcake!

IMG_20150503_112334505_HDRHere is Wayne, our intrepid field guide, who is enjoying his own well-deserved plate of cake. We are so grateful to him for his willingness to lead us through the woods and answer our endless list of questions? Is this a maple? Why is this bark so rough? Can we drink from that spring? I’ll give his answer to the last question, mine, out of due diligence. Sure, he said, if you’re used to all those microbes in your system. That was enough for me!

Shortcake was certainly in order given our group’s recent accomplishments. We found out that Carolina Crimes: 19 Tales of Love, Lust, and Longing, which includes a story (“Happy Pills”) by our writing group member Linda Johnson was nominated for a 2015 Anthony Award. This anthology was edited by local writer and editor Karen Pullen and includes tales from other acclaimed writers such as Ruth Moose, one of our group’s favorite writing teachers at CCCC.

And….just in time for Mother’s Day, we also learned that another member, Michele Berger, had a piece of her writing selected for a national anthology: A Letter to My Mom: A Tribute to Our Very First Loves. In this beautiful book, Michele shares her own heartfelt message to her mother in a collection of personally-crafted letters written by people from all walks of life, including celebrities (Dr. Phil, Suze Orman, and Mariel Hemingway, just to name a few!). Read more about Michele’s experience on her own blog. What I love about this book is that it represents just a fraction of a community of people who want to express their love and admiration for their mothers. In fact, you can even share your own letter on their website.

Whether it’s walking in the woods or celebrating your own mother, I hope that you will find your own inspiration in your own space and that the writing flows as freely as it does in Landrum Creek!

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