Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Bill Elliott's poem is about the record-breaking heat and what we have done to our world.

After one of the hottest summers ever, I am concerned about what is to come. William Elliott wrote about this today.
"In the midst of all the shouted lies that fog our public life these days, there is an unassailable fact, an “inconvenient truth.” The planet is heating up at an unprecedented rate. This is the third straight year of record-breaking heat."   

Friday, September 16, 2016

MEMOIR - where do we start and what do we include?

As I teach my memoir class at the junior college in Murphy, NC each week, I am delighted to see how much my students improve in their writing and in seeing what is good and what needs work in the writing of their fellow students.

In this advanced class we are discussing finding the theme of our memoir. It is easy to write just the facts of our lives. "I was born June 5, 1970 at 2:30 a.m. in Austin, Texas. I attended Marlin Elementary School. My mother was a nurse. My father worked for a moving company."

We can tell where we were born, the date and time and we can tell where we lived when we were in elementary school. It is easy to tell how many siblings we have and where they went to school. 

But the reader will quickly become bored if all we give are the facts. We want the stories of our lives, the truth as we remember it, and why the stories are important to us. In memoir we have the opportunity to reflect on our memories, our lives and write about our thoughts then and today. We ask ourselves why did this happen or why do I still remember this?

We write our true stories with elements of fiction such as plot, setting, characterization, action and dialogue. Dialogue is the part of a story that no one skips. We can't make dialogue carry the entire scene in our personal narrative, but we can use it to move the story along. 

Writing about my family, it is easy to use dialogue because I know each of my characters so well, I hear their voices in my ear. 

My story is unique as my family and my life are unique. No one else can tell my story like I can. Your story is also unique and you can tell it best. Begin now to leave the story of your life for the next generation and the next and the next. 

This is a prompt to start you writing your story: Think about a house where you lived when you were a child and draw that house showing rooms, porches, and yard on your paper. Imagine walking through that house and stopping in each room. What do you see? What do you hear or smell in that room? What would you touch or taste? Try to remember something that happened in that room or something you remember when you think about being in that room. Write about it. Get all your thoughts on the paper or on the screen and don't stop to correct anything. Corrections can be made after the entire story has flowed from your memory to your finger tips. 

Book Fairs at Franklin and Waynesville in November

We have been told that the libraries in Franklin NC and in Waynesville, NC will be holding book fairs on November 5. Franklin in the morning and Waynesville in the afternoon. Authors can contact the libraries and sign up for a free table and the opportunity to sell your books at no charge!  How good is that?

So many times we find that we have to pay more for a venue table than we make selling our books. Some authors said that was one of the reasons they did not go to the great Bookfest in Hendersonville. 

I applaud these libraries for their generosity and support of local writers. I hope I can attend one of these events. Years ago when I went to Waynesville for a book fair at the old courthouse there, I must have spent over 100 dollars on books and I had a great time meeting and talking with so many writers. 

It was there I first met Fred Chappell who was so cute and fun. He let me make a photo with him. Thanks Wally Avett for letting me know about the book fairs. Maybe our local library could hold a book fair with our help, of course.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Network News is full of it - News that is.

I received my NC Writers' Network News today. This newsletter is excellent with information about writers and writing events all over the state. Charles Fiore, the Communications Director for the Network does a fabulous job of editing this 49 page booklet that goes out to all of the members of NCWN. I like getting the paper edition as I can keep it handy and read parts of it at my leisure.

Once again, I wish I could go to the Fall Conference held in Raleigh at the Raleigh Marriott Crabtree Valley on November 4 - 6. I would especially like to attend the Art of Memory: Creative Nonfiction Master Class with Haven Kimmel. I have long been a fan of her writing. I often recommend her memoirs to my students. A Girl Named Zippy, her best selling memoir, is one of my favorite books. 

I wish all of my students who dread the idea of promoting their writing could attend the session by Alice Osborn. She will teach How to be Rock Star at PR. Alice is a good example. I remember when she first came on the literary scene in North Carolina ten years ago. She says this workshop is useful for all writers across all genres and publication achievements. 

The Problem of Plot (Creative Nonfiction) with Brook Wilensky-Lanford is another session I would love for my memoir students to attend. We all want to start at the beginning of our story and often use pages of description to "set up our story" when it might be better to start at another point. Some of the best books start at the end. Knowing where to begin your book is important and this workshop seems to be one where structure of the story, emphasis and possibly changing the order it is written will be explored. 

Salem Dockery, Membership Coordinator for the Network wrote a column in this newsletter on dealing with rejection. She is young and she almost gave up on her poetry because of rejections, but some wise person who has been writing a long time told her that if you submit fifty times in a year, you might only get one or two acceptances. 
That is so true for all of us, poets and prose writers alike. Salem learned that a rejection is only one person's opinion of your poem. Continue to submit your work and read at Open Mic nights or Coffee with the Poets and Writers here in Hayesville each month. Join a writers group and make friends of other writers. Share your work with them.  

The NCWN Fall Conference is always a good place to meet other writers, editors and publishers. Maybe you will meet an agent who likes your book. Get your elevator speech ready and be able to pitch your book in a few sentences. I don't care what anyone says about good writing is all it takes to get published. It helps to meet the right people at conferences. NCWN even offers a registration fee for those who only go to visit with old friends, make new friends and to sit in on the open sessions with no instructors. For members that is only $200. 

The schedule allows those NCWN members who can only attend one day, Saturday, to have a discounted fee of  210 dollars with meals.  If I thought the environment of the hotel would not make me sick, I would go for the Saturday events and stay one night. But most large hotels use automatic "air fresheners" throughout the entire building and those chemicals are poison to me. They are also poison to anyone who breathes them, but most people don't have the drastic reaction I have. 

On May 6, 2017, NCWN-West will hold a one day conference in Sylva, NC in the library which was once the old courthouse, and, I am happy to say, we won't have the problem of air fresheners polluting our meetings.                                                                                                                                                           

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.