Saturday, August 27, 2016

An Interview by Glenda C. Beall with Steven Harvey, essayist and author of The Book of Knowledge and Wonder, a memoir

Steve Harvey, author 
Steven Harvey is the author of three books of personal essays. A Geometry of Lilies, Lost in Translation, and Bound for Shady Grove. He has also edited an anthology of essays written by men on middle age called In a Dark Wood. His memoir The Book of Knowledge and Wonder, was recently published by Ovenbird Books. I appreciate him giving his time to answer a few questions for this interview. 

GCB: Steve, I’ve known you for more than twenty years and always admired your writing and your teaching. You were a poet and you are an essayist. How was writing a memoir different from writing your other books?

STEVE: All of my writing has a personal component, but the memoir required a different kind of digging. Armed with only a few vivid memories of my childhood, I was asking myself to reconstruct a past. I did have more than four hundred letters that covered all but the last year of the book, but they served primarily as a mnemonic evoking images, thoughts, memories, and events that I had not thought about in years.

It was intense, all this remembering. As usual, I wrote in the mornings and taught in the afternoons, but this was the only book of the many I’ve written that I could not leave back at the writer’s desk when I drove in to teach my students.

GCB: The story in this book is that of a little boy and his mother, and then it is the story of a man who discovers his mother many years after her suicide.

STEVE: Yes, and I think that is why the Peter Pan Story—of the lost boys in Never Never Land—was so important. The only time I became overtly emotional in the actual writing of the book is when I recreated the scene of Mary Martin as Peter Pan singing “Distant Melody” as a lullaby to the Lost Boys. There, the Lost Boy Peter, played by a woman, sings a lullaby that his mother sang to him. When I watched the clip on the screen of my computer the intertwined stories of boy and mother united in one actress seemed to recapitulate my attempt to collaborate with my mother in our story. When it was over my hand was on the screen.

Steven Harvey and his mother in 1952
GCB: Adults tend to keep children in the dark when a family tragedy happens. Do you think your father and grandparents did not talk about your mother’s death in an effort to protect you, to keep you from feeling the pain they suffered?

STEVE: I think that they were protecting me, but maybe trying to get some distance themselves from what had happened. It is awfully hard to carry that kind of thing around with you. I also think they were waiting for me to ask about it, but I was too busy putting the events behind me to do that. Part of the discovery of the last section of the book is how much of my time I spent shoving the memory away through withdrawal into solitary artistic activities such as playing guitar until my past was all but forgotten.

GCB: I felt your pain as a child who had to figure out how to suddenly handle the fact that your mother was gone and would not ever return even though you write about it with no self-pity. Do you think that all the years that have passed helped you deal with the pain you felt then? Was this pain buried so deeply inside you that it was difficult to open it up and feel it all again?

Steven with the Book of Knowledge, ten volumes beautifully bound, given to him by his parents.
STEVE: The experience of writing the book was intense, but not painful. My problem was that I had repressed almost everything. So writing the book was more about making discoveries—knowing and wondering as the title says—than about agonizing over the discoveries. When the emotions did come they were actually feelings of affection and love. I was grateful to feel anything for my mother and the boy I was. The emotions were the victory of the book.

GCB: I find it interesting that your grandmother talked openly with your wife, Barbara, about your mother’s death and gave her the letters on which you based much of your research for the book, but she did not talk to you even when you were an adult. Why do you think she did that?

STEVE: I don’t know. I suspect my grandmother was baffled that I did not ask. Barbara is easy to talk to. She’s curious and asks questions and is a great listener with a prodigious memory. She also writes wonderful, newsy letters and like my mother wrote regularly to my grandmother. In the end she was my grandmother’s closest confidante, I think.

GCB: Our audience is made up primarily of writers. I will try to ask the questions they would ask. How did you handle parts of your story that involved family members still living – your brother, for instance? Did you feel you had to leave out or change anything?

STEVE: There is no easy answer to this one. I wrote the book as honestly as I could, but when I was done I showed the manuscript to my brother. It was hard for him, he told me, but in the end he said he was glad that I wrote it all down and did not ask for any part to be changed. My stepmother is in her 80’s and I planned to show her the book, but she is having a rough time with her health now so I decided not to. These are just hard decisions that each writer has to make. There is no formula.

GCB: We know that my memory of an incident could be very different from the way another person would remember it. In memoir, we can only write what we remember or what we find to be true in our research. You had the letters your mother wrote to her mother and they paint a detailed picture of what she thought at the time. Did you enjoy reading the letters and did they bring back the past that you had forgotten?

STEVE: The letters were one half of a conversation I needed to have. I am extremely grateful that I had them. I found myself moved, delighted, sad, furious, and joyous by turns as I read them, but they were so direct and frank and detailed that they simply invited me in. My mother and I talked every day for nearly two years as she and I wrote the book together. Collaborators. They were an amazing gift.

Steve's most honest critic 

GCB: How much influence did Barbara have on your writing this book?

STEVE: Barbara is my source of information and the protector of my morning writing time. (She sleeps late in the morning which helps!) She is one of the most well-read people I know. I once heard her go book by book against Phillip Lopate when my writing friends and I had dropped out of the conversation. She held her own against one of America’s greatest readers. She is also my first reader and my most honest critic.

GCB: You have been a teacher and a writer for as long as I have known you. You have written a number of books, A Geometry of Lilies, Lost in Translation, and Bound for Shady Grove, edited a book of essays and published in other ways. How did you manage to be a participating father, husband and professor of English and find time to write?

STEVE: I don’t know! I write every morning because I can’t help myself.

GCB: Did you wait until you had retired from Young Harris College to write this memoir because you knew it would be taxing psychologically and physically with traveling back to the places you lived as a child and going to the place where she actually shot herself?

STEVE: No, I wrote the book during my last two years at the college--which was a pretty intense time since I also taught in an MFA program. The traveling happened to coincide with the AWP writer’s conference which was in Chicago that year, a lucky break.

GCB: We are told that we have to be honest and not be afraid to bleed on the page if we want to successfully reach our readers. We want them to feel something. What do you want your readers to feel when they read this book?

STEVE: I want them to register the sadness of the loss, yes, but also to feel the victory of the collaboration in a story that was almost miraculously reclaimed.

GCB: Your other books are different from this one even though the subjects are still personal. In what way was writing this book different for you? Did you have to reach deeper inside yourself or did you worry about protecting yourself from exposing too much emotion?

STEVE: My essays are more thematic than the memoir—they are personal, yes, but they use my life to explore an idea I care about. Since the memoir, I have happily returned to the essay, the most congenial of forms for me.

GCB: Finally, I know the late Judith Kitchens of Ovenbird Books was your publisher, a wonderful essayist herself. Did she have any input as to what was included and if so, how did she help you?

STEVE: I did get help on the book from writers who are friends of mine: Joe Mackall, Bob Root, and Tom Larson. Judith and I have been friends for a long time, but I had not worked with her in many years. We reunited at the Ashland MFA, where I teach, after I finished the book. She read and accepted my manuscript soon after that, and completed the forward, days before she died. She is a great spirit. We all miss her.

GCB: I read memoirs more than I read fiction these days and I think The Book of Knowledge and Wonder is one of the best I’ve read in many years. Thank you for this interview and I look forward to your teaching a class at Writers Circle in September.

STEVE: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about the book. I look forward to the class as well.

Steven Harvey, his mother, and his little brother watching Peter Pan
See more photos from the book here

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Seven Deadly Myths Writers Need to Know

I have  worked with authors this summer who want to publish their books, but  are wondering what they need to do first. 

This article published by Huffington Post is one of the best I've read on what  to do before you self-publish or even submit your manuscript to an agent or editor. 

He points out the importance of having your book edited by a professional. Did you know there are several kinds of editors and they sometimes do several kinds of  editing, but some do only one kind of editing. Do you want copy editing or content editing or both and more?

David Kudler, author of the article on Huff Post, is an editor and he knows what editors see in the manuscripts sent to them. I have had authors call me on the  night they finished writing their last word in their book and say, "Now I'm ready to publish."

Sadly, their work has just begun. Even professional writers need editors. Even editors who have worked on one manuscript for a long time need new eyes to read it again. I see many books   today that have so many errors in them I can't  finish reading the book. I hear this from other  readers who are amazed at the poorly edited books sold in today's market. 

Don' t let your book be one of them. Don't publish a book that you will be ashamed of in a year or two when you learn the craft of writing. 

Just like I can't decide today that I want  to be a brain surgeon because I have watched videos and I am sure I know what to do, a  person can't sit down and write a good book if  he or she has  not had any education in the craft of writing. People who do that often turn out poorly written books and only their family or friends will buy it. Take writing classes. If none are being taught in your area, take online classes. Be sure you  research and know your instructor is qualified. 

Be aware that you will likely do many revisions before you book is ready to publish. Don't give up. Let experienced editors help you make your book the best it can be.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Become a Better Poet with these 6 Tips

Become a Better Poet

6 Tips for Starting and Running a Poetry Critique Group

by Karen Paul Holmes

(I  am happy to have poet, Karen Paul Holmes, as our guest today.)
Writers often write in a vacuum. I used to. I broke free from my isolation six years ago when I joined a writing group in the mountains. I realized I also needed that kind of connection in Atlanta (where I spend most of my time), so I started the Side Door Poets. And here’s the thing I discovered: Since I’ve been part of this trusted group of peers who critique my work and encourage me, I’m a better poet.
Here are some well-tested tips on starting your own critique group, based on my experience with the Side Door Poets.
1. Find a venue: We meet at a community room in my condo complex, centrally located in Midtown Atlanta. The room is free, and I can reserve it. Before this, we met at a library—many have free meeting rooms that can be reserved (look on their websites). When we began with three people, we met at Panera Bread Company, but it was noisy, there was no guarantee we could get a table, and once our group grew it became impractical. Other ideas: rooms at colleges or churches or meeting at someone’s house. (When I first started with a group of strangers, I wasn’t comfortable having it at home).
2. Advertise: I list the group with the Atlanta Writers Club and the Georgia Poetry Society. I have invited poets I met and liked while attending writing workshops. You could also contact English teachers—several of the Side Doors are high school English teachers or college instructors. I recommend publicizing a regular meeting day and time. (Now that we’re more informal and are friends, we’re flexible with our schedule but still meet monthly). And make your group easy to find!
3. Select members: When someone wants to join the Side Door Poets, I ask for a few poems, wanting to be sure that the poet is serious about craft. I aim for a mix of experience and backgrounds because I know that diversity will help everyone become better poets. I have had only one problem. When we were small and less selective, one woman ruined our group dynamic. She talked too much and did not know much about craft. Because she was a needy person, I thought it would be mean to kick her out. But members convinced me it was unfair to everyone else to keep her. That did it—I politely asked her to find another group or take a class, and I gave her resources. She sent an angry email, but that was that. As the leader of a critique group, sometimes you will have to make tough choices.
4. Determine format: The Side Door Poets only critique poetry and can effectively review a maximum of ten poems in a two-hour period. (I ask members to RSVP for the meeting, so we know how many plan to come). We don’t send poems ahead of time; instead, we bring copies for everyone. I randomly shuffle to determine the order. One poet reads while the rest follow along. We take a minute to digest and jot notes, and then we discuss. Though it’s often recommended that the poet should not speak, we don’t enforce this rule. The poet is quiet for a while but then can ask and answer questions. We all feel the dialog is useful. Afterward, we put our name on the poem and return it to the poet. Rather than discussing typos or grammar, we mark them on the paper. I don’t set a timer—there’s usually a natural pause in the discussion, and we move on.
5. Set the mood: In the beginning, I emphasized that critiques needed to be kind but useful. No tearing a poem apart viciously but also no mamby-pamby “what a lovely poem.” Our purpose is to help each other be better poets. We say what we like, and we say (kindly but firmly) what could be improved. We don’t re-write the poet’s poem but may make wording suggestions. I discourage defensiveness on the poet’s part. We’re an amiable group. Sure sometimes one of us gets on another’s nerves or says something someone doesn’t like; but generally, we trust each other and get along. When we meet at night, someone might bring wine and munchies. On a Saturday morning, I bring coffee and tea. We don’t have a formal sign up for refreshments.
6. Support each other: The Side Door Poets became friends quickly because we shared our intimate stories and vulnerabilities via poetry. We’ve had Christmas parties and hosted readings for each other. We buy each other’s books, write recommendations and blurbs for each other, and share our publishing acceptances—and rejections.
I can honestly say each Side Door Poet values the group professionally and personally. We have grown and no longer even keep a waiting list—we have little turnover in membership.  Members often thank me for keeping it going, but I thank them for making it a mutually beneficial community. We’ve all had better-than-average publishing successes, which we attribute to the challenges and encouragement we get from each other. I’ve had a book published and am working on another manuscript—something I couldn’t have done without my group’s support.
I encourage you to join a group or start one if there aren’t any in your area. You may have to start small; but as the energy of the group develops, it will draw the right people to it. Writing shouldn’t be lonely—sharing your work takes it to a new level. Your poetry will improve, as will your confidence.

Karen Paul Homes

Karen Paul Holmes is the author of the poetry collection, Untying the Knot (Aldrich Press, 2014). She was chosen for Best Emerging Poets (Stay Thirsty Media, 2016), and publishing credits include Poetry East, Atlanta Review, Slipstream, Cortland Review, Lascaux Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology Vol 5: Georgia (Texas Review Press), and many more. She’s a freelance writer and president of Simply Communicated, Inc. To encourage fellow poets and their audiences, Karen hosts a monthly open mic in the Blue Ridge Mountains and a poetry critique group in Atlanta. Follow her at

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

September Writing Series at Tri-County Community College -Register now

September 2016
Tuesdays, September 6 – October 11 

6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.     $35

Writing Your Life Stories for Your Family or for Publication

Our life stories are a precious legacy. Putting them in writing is a gift to all who know and love us—they can be treasured and enjoyed for generations to come. Facts bring us knowledge, but stories bring us wisdom.

If you are interested in writing family/personal life stories – those significant tales of adventure, transition, love, loss, and triumph, as well as the lovely everyday moments shared with loved ones from the past or the present, come learn specific tools and techniques to retrieve and record them.

Students will write a short piece each week. This class is structured for intermediate or advanced students who have completed at least one writing class. 12 hrs.

Instructor: Glenda C. Beall, published author and poet, experienced teacher and blogger. Owner/Director of Writers Circle Studio, Clay County Representative for NCWN West.

Contact Lisa Long at Tri-County Community College to register
(828) 835-4241

Reading by Glenda Beall - John C. Campbell Folk School - Thursday, September 22, 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Two Poets will Read at John C. Campbell Folk School on August 17

This is an open invitation to our local readers in the far southwest area of North Carolina  and north Georgia
This reading at the John C. Campbell Folk School is not on Thursday evening as usual, but will be Wednesday, August 17

Two fine writers will share their writing with an audience of Folk School students from all over the country and our community. All writers should pay close attention to those who read their work in public. When you want to publish or promote your writing, you  will likely participate in readings. Attend free readings and see how it is done. What style do you prefer? Enjoy and use the time as a  learning  experience as well.

I have seen Marcia's children's book and  it is beautiful. I also have her  cookbook added to  my  collection. If you love cookbooks as I do, you would love this one.

I have heard Linda read her  poetry and I think she is very honest with her emotions and experiences. I listen to  every word in her poems. 

Below is the announcement of the Reading.

The Literary Hour at John Campbell Folk School
              On Wednesday evening, August 17, 2016 at 7:00 PM, John Campbell Folk School and N.C. Writers Network West are sponsoring The Literary Hour, an hour of poetry and prose reading. The reading is free of charge and open to the public.  Normally scheduled for the third Thursday of the month, this month the event will be on Wednesday.  Poets Dr. Linda Jones and Marcia Hawley Barnes will be the featured readers, both of whom are accomplished poets.  This event is hosted by Lucy Cole Gratton, Cherokee County Representative for NC Writers' Network-West. 

Dr Linda Jones

Dr. Jones teaches courses in human anatomy and physiology, animal physiology, developmental biology, comparative anatomy, parasitology and neuropharmacology.  Most of her career was spent in biomedical research, primarily in the area of cell signaling of the cardiovascular system and more recently in neuroscience.  She joined the faculty of Young Harris College in 2009 and is currently an Associate Professor of Biology and Dean of the Division of Mathematics and Science. 

Jones' interests outside of the science classroom include reading and writing poetry.  She is a member of the North Carolina Writers' Network –West and is a participant in the monthly poetry critique group led by Janice Moore. She has read her poetry at Writers' Night Out in Blairsville, GA. 

Marcia Hawley Barnes

Marcia Hawley Barnes is a Georgia writer and poet.  She is a member of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, NCWN-West, and Ridgeline Literary Alliance.  She celebrated the American family and cuisine in 2008, when she researched, illustrated, and published The Little Book of Secret Family Recipes.  A heritage cookbook, the collection contains favorite recipes found in the archives of her family. 

In 2016, her first children’s book, Tobijah, illustrated by Doreyl Ammons Cain, was published by Catch the Spirit of Appalachia.  Her poetry has been published in Stone, River, Sky, An Anthology of Georgia Poems.  The author also writes a monthly book review for a local newspaper, Clay County Progress.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Another Hot Sunday in WNC Mountains

Summer in the mountains of WNC is not what it used to be. I am a complete believer that our climate is warming, and more quickly than I had thought it would. We have had the hottest summer ever and next year is expected to be worse. Even my dog, Lexie, who enjoys sleeping in the sunshine, can only take it so long. 

We had hot summers in the deep south where I grew up and we did not have air conditioning at that time. The  heat was hard for me even then, but as I grew older and developed fibromyalgia and other autoimmune illnesses, I could hardly keep from passing out when getting too hot.

My precious brothers and my father worked out in the blazing hot sun day after day on the farm. How grateful they would have been for the automated farm machinery used today. I don't know how they didn't drop   or become dehydrated from sweating so much,

Today, my father would have been accused of child abuse for working his kids out in the hot sun, but back in the forties and fifties children had to work many times to help support the family. 

The weather did not cool off even after the sun went down
A 300 year-old oak tree grew beside our house and shaded my bedroom during the day. Often after supper the kids went outside under that tree searching for coolness. My little sister and I, with my teen aged brother, often settled into a rope hammock and Max told stories from books he had read. 
Once we had to  go in, being a night owl, I could not fall asleep. I sat on the foot of my bed and leaned on my crossed arms in the window. I loved the quiet of the night, the smells of cows and flowers and sometimes I heard the far off croaking of frogs in the swamp. The moon gave the landscape, that was familiar during the day, a yellowish glow. I could have walked around outside and not bumped into anything because the moon shined so brightly. I could see shapes, big and small. but some things loomed much larger in the dark than in the daylight. Those things set my imagination into high gear. What fearful creature was there in the night where a piece of farm equipment was supposed to be?

Children are resilient, aren't they? I don't remember ever complaining about the  heat. Mother didn't complain as she wiped drops of  perspiration off her face. The kitchen was even hotter than the outdoors where at least a breeze might stir the air. 

I  think I will  find  out who made my life so much better, probably saved my life, by creating air conditioning for homes. I want to  write an ode to the man who invented AC.

How are you handling this hot summer? Do you enjoy the heat or do you avoid it as much as I do?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Great classes coming to Writers Circle this summer

We are excited that our class on publishing your writing at Tri-County Community College is filled and ready to go on Saturday morning.
Lisa Long, head of the community enrichment program at TCCC is the greatest person to work with and I enjoy our conversations. Hope she makes it to this class.

We are NOW taking reservations for the Marketing class I will teach at the college on August 13. This will be an afternoon class, 1 - 4 p.m.

As we all know the hardest part of being a writer is marketing your work whether it is a poetry chapbook, a family history book, a memoir, a novel or a collection of short stories. Writers do not like trying to sell their work. Most artists have difficulty in that department. The most difficult place to market your books is in your own hometown.

If we want to reach our audience, we must learn how to do it and how to do it without spending thousands of dollars or being duped by online companies. We don't have to hire a P.R. person. Writers and poets are the best people to represent themselves and tell others about their books. Readers like to know more about the author than what they see on a book flap. In today's world, readers like to feel they know their favorite authors personally, even if it is just online from a blog or an author chat at a book signing.

In our marketing class at Tri-County College, we will discuss what is best for you to do to sell those books in your basement or in your car. We will hear from writers like you who are working on their own marketing plans.

A tip: Don't think of what the reader can do for you, think about what you can do for your reader.

For those who need help in using social media to promote yourself and your writing, Tara Lynne Groth, successful writer and marketer, SEO creator and speaker, will be at Writers Circle around the Table on August 6, 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.

The future for writers is on the Internet. Successful marketing online is not as hard as it might seem. And it won't take you hours out of each day.
Tara Lynne is extremely knowledgeable about this subject. She is personable and never makes me feel dumb when I ask her questions pertaining to my blog or other ways to build a readership.

Building a readership is the goal of writers who want to sell books. Tara Lynne will help us meet this goal.
Print out the registration form at the top of this page and mail it to Writers Circle, 581 Chatuge Lane, Hayesville, NC 28904.  You can pay with PayPal, $45.00 or send a check along with your registration form. Hurry, time is running out and we must have class minimum so we don't cancel this class.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Great class with Carol Crawford at Writers Circle around the Table

Roger Carlton, Carol Lynn Jones, Glenda Beall, Kathy Knapp
Lorie McCabe and Bob Lew @ Writers Circle

It is always a joy to study writing with Carol Crawford, and I always learn something new. You would think that after twenty years of writing I would know all I  need to know, but anyone can learn something if they take workshops, listen and not let their ego get in the way.

Three of the students in the picture above have been students of mine at Tri-County Community College. I look forward to seeing them back in class with me later this year. 

Learning from an editor of writing gives one new insight about revision. With her advice, I think I will be a much better writer myself because I know what to look for in my work before I send it to anyone else to read.