A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Writing Workshop at Meredith

ImageA summer writing workshop is the dreamy creative home for every aspiring writer. Lord knows I’ve been to many of them. I’ll go to many more. But something has changed in my writing life. Now I teach them too. For the first time this year, I’ll be teaching at Meredith College’s summer writing workshops, June 23 – 27, 9-3,  a kind of day camp for women writers. I’ve just visited the campus for the first time, and it’s so lovely it’s like living in a Mid-summer Night’s Dream of a women’s college, with rolling lawns, riotous gardens, and big trees. The day I went was the day before graduation and the young seniors were floating around campus dressed in dreamy white dresses – a Meredith tradition. You don’t have to wear a white dress to come to my workshop, though I remember one summer writing workshop with a slim dashing poet teacher who wore a black eye-patch like a pirate. By the end of the workshop, all the women attending were wearing white flowy dresses like pirate’s wenches.

Other writers teaching at Meredith this summer: Carol Henderson, Zelda Lockhart, Ruth Moose

Creative Nonfiction with Marjorie Hudson

Personal essays wrap a writer’s life and voice around her enduring fascinations. In this workshop, we’ll dip into the delicious work of masters of creative nonfiction, we’ll write from prompts designed to reveal the deep music of women’s lives, we’ll explore CNF tech­niques such as narration, scene, and dialogue, and we’ll create a warm community of support. We’ll explore personal strategies for a successful writing life as well as how to generate useful critique–and how to use it once you’ve got it. Bring your burning questions and the first 5 pages of a personal essay or memoir for in-class comments and coaching.

 Meredith College, Raleigh, NC
June 23 – 27, 2014
9 am – 3 pm
Fee: $320
Includes a light breakfast and full lunch every day.

Writing, craft study, critique, group panels, readings, and individual coaching.

Registration Form

Please indicate your FIRST and SECOND choice of courses: _____ Poetry _____ Fiction _____ Nonfiction _____ Mining for Material

Cost: $320 for the week

Name Phone Day ( ) Evening ( )

Address

City State ZIP

Email Vehicle License Plate #

  • Return this form with your payment by Friday, June 6, 2014. (Checks made payable to Meredith College)
  • Send your registration along with payment to Ashley Hogan, Joyner Hall, Meredith College, 3800 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, NC 27607-5298
  • For more information contact Ashley Hogan at hogana@meredith.edu.

Michael Jarmer’s Monster Talk

Just read Michael Jarmer’s novel Monster Talk and tweeted about it. It’s extraordinary. Why isn’t it a best seller? Everyone read this book! about love, childhood, the monster within, and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. A young child, Victor, lives in Arizona, grows up with the family story that he is descended from ‘the monster’– the boy goes to school, gets bullied, falls in love with his teacher and when she dies, wants to bring her back to life. Adventures ensue. The writer has given us a meditation on loving, childhood, immortality, and Mary Shelly’s great masterpiece that is worthy of it. If anyone is a Mary Shelly fan, they should read this modern twist on the story. Quite delightful. Jarmer is a new favorite writer.  

Strategies for the Writing Life

I’m prepping for a workshop called Strategies for the Writing Life, set for Feb. 9, (see details under Workshops), and I came across an exercise we did–writing a eulogy for yourself, listing what you have accomplished as a writer by the time you die.

I chose to write mine in the voice of some unnamed friend, someone who knows me as well as I know myself. Here it is. You do it too!

My friend Marjorie is a writer with heart. She was smart when she was little–but she was so very shy. She was also the kid who brought home stray dogs, got bandaids for kids who were hurt, stood up against bullies, all the while quaking in her rain boots.

When she got older, she got fierce. She worked in mail rooms and construction sites with Navy guys and Italians. She worked in bars. She smoked cigarettes in self-defense, then quit and convinced her college to ban them from the classroom. She kept trying to be a writer, and over and over again people said it was not possible. She wouldn’t make any money. She stared at her jars of quarters from waitress tips and thought it had to be better than that. She kept trying. When her boss stole her words and put them under her own byline, she noticed that she was good at this, her work was valuable enough to be worthy of stealing. She noticed that NOBODY liked her boss. When she started writing sad little stories, they weren’t very good. But some people encouraged her. So she kept going. 

The first story she sent out won a prize. When, unable to keep herself from writing fiction, she turned and quit her day job, Sam was behind her all the way. She wanted to be like the writers who made her laugh and cry. She put her mind and heart to it. 

She published, in ever more obscure journals, until one day an editor read her work and tracked her down, gave her hope, and made her day.   

—————————————————————————

Well, the story does not end there, of course, my eulogizer left out my seven books and my Pulitzer prize yet to come. I noticed that the goals list I made two years ago has the three top items checked off now. Wow. I really did win a national honor for my second book. And I’m deep into revisions on a third.

Post your “writer eulogy” in the comments section! I’d love to see it.

Dream big. Keep working. Stay alive for a while and see what happens!

Circle City Books Mural in Downtown PBO

New Circle City Books Mural in PittsboroCircle City Books has arrived! And it is announcing its presence with a spectacular new mural in downtown Pittsboro.

A great place to wander and get in loads of trouble–the store has an incredible selection of high quality gently used books–and a few new ones! I was honored to be included in Georgann Eubanks’ recent presentation on her “Literary Trails of North Carolina” series, where we talked about the work of Chatham authors Nancy Peacock, Duncan Murrell, Doris Betts, Lawrence Naumoff, Virginia Boyd, Michael Parker, and others. I got to talk about “literary houses, hippies, and chicken trucks in Chatham” — with nods to “Shade Tree House,” which inspired the opening lines of my story collection ACCIDENTAL BIRDS OF THE CAROLINAS; the Alston Plantation, which inspired Nancy Peacock’s tales of black and white family connections in HOME ACROSS THE ROAD; Lawrence Naumoff’s old farmhouse in SILK HOPE; and Doris Betts’ chicken truck crash scene in SOULS RAISED FROM THE DEAD.

After the talk, Georgann got to see her book on the wall mural! Mine was included a few weeks later, and there are more to come. It’s a pleasure to be in such good company, but then you always are with North Carolina writers.

Circle City Books Mural

Circle City Books Mural

May I suggest a “mini retreat” for writers, especially the cash-strapped (probably all of us except Stephen King). Bring your writers group to Circle City Books, spend an hour or so stacking up some favorites at discount prices, then go outside and have your picture taken with the enormous book of a favorite NC author! Post it on your Facebook page!

Then–go have lunch with writer friends. when you’re done celebrating the rollicking side of the writer’s life, go find yourself some quiet place to read that stack. Reveiw your favorite writers on Good Reads and other blogs. Study, then write.

Who knows? The mural may have to go around the block by the time it’s done.

 

 

Kitchen Table Writers Read at McIntyre’s

We’ve been talking about it for more than two years. First we thought we might read at the General Store Cafe. Then we thought Davenport and Winkleperry. Then, we thought, why not McIntyre’s Books, where the writers read?

Peter Mock checked the schedule. There was a Sunday afternoon open. Most writers could come. So we did it! Our first Kitchen Table Writers Recital with Reception. Parents and friends, professional writers, teachers, and fans of all kinds came to listen. We had been writing and revising for months — some of us for years. We had some good stuff to read, and the audience was riveted.

Some days a teacher gets to just sit back and enjoy. Today was one of those days!

Hatching New writing in Siler City

Siler City, once known as a big-town destination for Andy Griffith and his TV sidekick  Barney Fife, is still known for its chicken trucks and trains and livestock auction house. It’s also got many fast food restaurants, a Wal-Mart, and Tiendas with fabulous fresh Mexican food. New to the mix, and growing and thriving now for nine years is the North Carolina Arts Incubator, a cluster of galleries, artist studios, a coffee shop and community college pottery program right in the old part of downtown in whistling distance to the train crossing.

People are starting to get it that something exciting is happening here. Some of the people who are getting it are writers.

In late summer of 2010, I started teaching writing workshops in the back studio of the Incubator in Siler City. Just today I met a couple who are moving to the area from Singapore. I’m not saying they moved for the Incubator–they hadn’t heard of it before today. But I am saying that one of them signed up for a writing workshop because it sounded good and she wanted to write about foreign travels, and well, this seemed like a cool place to write.

It is a cool place to write.

Since Monday, writers have been gathering here for free workshops sponsored by the Incubator and funded by a grant from ChathamArts.

And in a small back room, with a lamp, a bookshelf full of favorite books, and a laptop, I’ve been cooking up writing exercises, consulting on manuscripts, and having heady conversations about Jack Kerouac and the hitchhiking adventures of fictional and actual people (okay, including my youthful self).

What a great way to spend a week! More to come!

The Writing Insurrection

Every Tuesday morning I walk into the General Store Café and set up my books and timer on a round table in the back room. Joyce and Vance have kindly given permission for me to run a workshop for writers back there, during a time when the room is closed and mostly quiet. We are a motley crew—among us are retirees, engineers, moms and dads, several Ph.D.s, a rock and roll musician, a musical theater actor, a nurse, a patent attorney, and a practicing Santa. What do we have in common? A devout adherence to the practice of writing. Every week I give a prompt or two, and we write. And write.  Sometimes I have a hard time getting people to STOP writing. Sometimes I just let them go.

As one of my writers says, “It’s yoga for the mind.”

I like to call it a Writing Insurrection. Because there is something powerful released, something that was waiting to come out into the open and take charge—and because more and more people are doing it, in Chatham County workshops and elsewhere, in my workshops and others. How do we survive hard times, fractured lives  and communities? We write. Sometimes we write together.

The results are always surprising. To paraphrase The Shadow: “Who knows what lurks in the hearts of men?” Well, the page knows. Because one of our writing rules is confidentiality, writers feel  able to release the deepest parts of their hearts. Because we are careful to nurture tender writing, writers gain confidence to express more and more.

A couple of months ago I gave writers a prompt that had an interesting result. We had been mostly writing about our own lives. This time we were going to make something up. We were going to write fiction. Fiction! How do you do THAT?

The assignment follows. You can try it at home—or at the General Store Café!

Prompt: Wander at a café and find a person who catches your eye. Describe this person in detail. Then make up a problem for him or her. See what happens next. Write in third person, present tense. Write for 12 minutes.

Here is what one writer wrote–first draft, right out of the chute.

The Girl in the Yellow Hoodie

By Sandra Gabor

            She’s walking toward the ladies room just now.  She has on a great yellow hoodie – hood down, of course, because she has beautiful long, dark honey-blond hair, not totally straight, but without curls.  She is drawing a strand of it across her face and putting into her mouth.

In her job as a nanny, she cares for two-year-old twins, Ayden and Ellie.  They are rambunctious and can sometimes be a real trial. But the active, ever-challenging twins are not the thing that’s causing her to chew her hair while heading for the General Store Café’s ladies room this morning.  That kind of trouble can only be caused by a man, as any mature woman knows instantly when she sees tresses being gnawed.

This morning at breakfast, her boyfriend said, ‘What’d you do to these eggs?  They’re hard as rocks and the bacon is, too.”

——

All of a sudden our girl in the yellow hoodie is in trouble. Sandra went back to this story and kept going, exploring the troubles of the fictional nanny. Sandra’s voice—a wise, often witty, sometimes sardonic voice—came to her aid as usual. But this time her writer’s mind got “caught” in the web of invention. How cool is that?

Good writing  seeks to delve into what lurks in the minds of men and women—our own minds when we write memoir, the minds of characters when we write fiction. It opens the heart to the swirling, confused, troubled, joyful minds around us. At its very best, it teaches compassion.

Writing can be an insurrection of the hearts of men, and women. Who knew?

Hard to let go

It’s hard to let go of a book! Especially this one: Accidental Birds of the Carolinas. I have sweated over the words, the characters’ lives, their very souls, for almost 20 years.  I gave the okay to my publisher yesterday afternoon to send to the printer. And though there’s yet another “proof” to come, there’s no turning back, no rewriting, no words of wisdom remaining to say, as I let this piece of my life and mind and heart go into the world. Like sending 8 kids to college at once! I had empty nest syndrome for about six minutes. Then I immediately started cleaning up the piles in my office….worry not, there are many to keep me occupied!

A few phone calls to friends, a weak margarita, a dinner out with Sam, and finally a sweet sense of freedom, a glimmer of free days, before the weight of book promo comes crashing on my head. Okay, parts of that are fun too!

Celebrate with me! Read the title story, which Dawn Raffel kindly published at The Literarian at the Center for Fiction. Dawn is one of those New York editors who’s been shepherding fiction writers for years. I responded when she put out a call for manuscripts–and lucked out. Because it really is luck, in a magical combination with strong writing, that keeps this publishing machinery moving.

More on writing and book promotion to come, as I struggle through the maze.

Directions: Open one eye

Rise. Walk to the kitchen. Stumble to the table. Pick up a pen. Pre-dawn settles on the page and makes its own illumination.

This blog is a place to gather my thoughts about the writing discipline, provide a gathering place for writers in my workshops and a showcase for occasional short pieces, a place to talk about books and recommended reading, a record of the ordinary life of a writer who loves to teach. I’m about to  publish a new book, so my adventures and travels will find a place here.

An amazing thing happened to me last summer. A cutback at work and looming bills forced me to get creative. How to bring in income in a way that supports my writing life, and allows me to stay in my community? I decided to start teaching my Kitchen Table Workshops again, something I’d loved in the past. In 2003, I’d created my first Kitchen Table Workshops by inviting writers into my home to write and review manuscripts –  bribing them with the promise of big pots of soup for lunch. Making soup is one way I nurture myself, and I knew that writers need nurture. And truthfully, I wasn’t sure if anyone would keep coming unless I fed them! I needn’t have worried.

It was an amazing experience—I found that I loved how this created an “instant writing community” that nurtured  both my student writers and me.  I had to shut them down to focus on a book tour, but I’ve always wanted to get back to it. This time my house was under construction, and I needed other places to teach. I started scouting my neighborhood.

General Store Cafe

My local café offered the first workshop location: The General Store Café, the place where all the hipsters meet, and my “office in town” when I’m doing community organizing, fundraising, or event planning. I love this place!

I scouted the rooms, found a quiet corner with good light in the section that’s closed in the morning. This is important because we have a confidentiality rule. I wanted writers to feel safe to go deep and share personal stories or wildly imaginative fiction.

NC Arts Incubator Performance Stage

Other workshops started up in short order in Siler City at the NC Arts Incubator

We gather in a room used for life drawing classes, Wednesday mornings at 10 am.  In November, we had a “salon” gathering with visual artists and students from the class reading their work and talking about process.

McIntyre's Books Fireplace Room

And at McIntyre’s Fine Books in Fearrington Village, Keebe Fitch and Pete Mock graciously allow us to use the large table in the reading room.  Thursday afternoons, 1:30 pm. See a cool story about this place in Our State magazine.

Workshop writers came out of the blue – only one had been to my workshops before – they were friends who’d always wanted to write, retirees who’d been writing for years, college professors, closet novelists, former journalists and  teachers, a practicing Santa, and some brave souls who wanted to try writing for the first time. All had extraordinary stories to tell.

All summer I found myself rising early, piling up books and my teaching easel, reviewing my notes on student writing, and scouting books for new pieces of writing to invoke the muse. Then trundling it all to the car and heading out for the workshop space.

It’s one of the most exciting jobs I’ve ever had.

I use the timed writing method, usually providing a piece of writing by a poet, essayist, or novelist to prime the pump. Sometimes I provide the first sentence. Sometimes a structure. Sometimes just an idea. Then I set a timer and say Go. Amazingly, people write. And write. And when it’s over, they put down their pens and read to each other.

General Store Writers

I wish I could tell you what it’s like to hear a group of incredibly diverse writers open their brains and hearts to each other for an hour and a half. We’ve heard Depression-era stories, growing up stories, work stories, buddy stories, smoking and drinking stories, love stories, grandmother stories, stories of loss, stories that made us collapse in laughter, stories that brought us to tears. What gifts!

Over the weeks and months, the writing began to break open like eggs, spilling out to make extraordinary omelets, soufflés, layer cakes, confections, confessions, and fabrications. Some writers began to think about how they could write a book, or improve a manuscript already under way.

Some of us talked about  even want to write a book together: The Ten Dollar Wedding Dress: A Guide for Anti-Bridezilla, Bohemian, Broke, and Good-Hearted Lovers. Turns out a bunch of us had weddings like that!

This blog is partly in honor of you, my writers, and I hope you will honor this blog by allowing me to post your work from time to time.