Archive for the ‘author interview’ Category
Everyone interested in leadership at my university told me that I needed to meet Rob Kramer. Rob is a well-known coach and facilitator. He co-facilitates a semester long academic leadership program that I attended in 2009. I also heard that he was a yoga practitioner and brought mindfulness practice into conversations about leadership. My interest was piqued. Last November I had the good fortune to sit in on a workshop, for academic leaders, that Rob facilitated. That was the first time I heard Rob’s term ‘stealth coaching’. Stealth coaching is about teaching people a process to have effective informal, everyday conversations that can be utilized in almost any context when a potential ‘coachee’ has a situation in which more than one solution is possible.
It was a great workshop and I was excited that Rob was making the elements of coaching more accessible. Recently, I got to meet Rob for lunch. By twenty minutes in, it was clear that we have mutual interests including mindfulness practice, yoga and a deep commitment to making the academy a more humane and effective place. With an MFA in theatre and an MA in psychology, he brings a multi-layered and creative approach to coaching and leadership work, as I do.
Rob has a long history in the field of coaching through his company Kramer Leadership, LLC. Since 1998, Kramer Leadership, LLC has provided executive coaching, consulting and business training for a variety of organizations including private corporations, Fortune 500 companies, non-profit and health care environments, government agencies and educational institutions. His company has consulted with organizations in the U.S., Europe, Central and South America, and Africa. Clients include CEOs, executives in public and private sectors, higher education senior leadership and faculty, political appointees in the federal government, entrepreneurs and front line managers.
I’m happy to welcome Rob to ‘The Practice of Creativity’ to discuss his new book, Stealth Coaching: Everyday Conversations for Extraordinary Results.
Stealth Coaching was written as an easily accessible tool for leaders to begin incorporating coaching skills into their everyday conversations. Coaching can be tremendously helpful for developing others’ potential. Time is a common complaint leaders have, and Stealth Coaching provides easily digestible strategies to incorporate into their everyday routines. I was inspired to write the book after teaching coaching skills to executives and managers for 10 years. In looking for books to recommend on the topic, most had good pieces imbedded in lots of theory. So I wrote a book that cut to the chase.
-What called you into the field of coaching?
Having been a manager myself for fifteen years, a receiver of coaching (still work with a coach to this day), and a utilizer of coaching, I found no other tool that creates more sustained change for people than coaching. It is a remarkable process to unleash one’s potential, broaden and strengthen problem solving acumen, and develop as humans and as leaders.
-How can someone practice ‘stealth coaching’ with a peer in a work environment?
With peers it can be an easier place to start, as there tends to be no power or positional differential that may inhibit the field of practice. My suggestion is to approach a trusted colleague, explain the nature of the request, and create a set of clarified expectations about how the coaching relationship will work. Oh, and maybe read my book before you start!
-Let’s imagine that you were hosting a magnificent dinner party and got to invite three of the world’s top coaches. Who would you choose and why?
Marshall Goldsmith. He is a highly sought after practitioner in the field of executive coaching, as well as a successful author. What many people don’t know is that he is a Buddhist, which brings a fascinating lens to this work.
Julio Olalla, Founder of Newfield Network, an international coach training organization. Their mission sums it up for me: “to generate and nurture reflection and learning spaces that facilitate the emergence of a new conception of knowledge and experience of knowledge allowing us a good life in a planet that is socially just, environmentally sustainable and spiritually fulfilling.”
Dean Smith, former men’s basketball coach at the University of North Carolina. Dean represents, to me, superior excellence in coaching through a different metaphor – sports. His former players love and respect him; his philosophy is tough but supportive, soft spoken yet grounded; and he has exceedingly high integrity and trust. He is a model for true authentic leadership.
-Besides promoting your current book, what’s next for you?
I am writing a recurring column for ADVANCE healthcare magazine, and formulating the topics for my next book. I am traveling a lot these days for work, but look forward to a tropical getaway with my partner soon.
-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Write about topics for which you feel passionate. Otherwise you risk faking it or writing with a false voice.
Rob Kramer has worked for more than ten years in academia. As the director of Training & Development at the University of North Carolina (UNC), he provided executive coaching and organizational development consulting, overseeing management, supervisory and leadership development curriculum for the University’s 12,000 faculty and staff. Additionally, he served as the founding director of the Center for Leadership & Organizational Excellence at NC A&T State University. He continues working in faculty leadership development at UNC’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities.
In his teaching and consulting, Rob brings a well-rounded, holistic approach to systems and leadership work, having studied with experts such as Meg Wheatley, Barry Oshry, Fred Kaufman, Peter Senge and Juanita Brown. Rob’s background is also steeped in his experience working at the Omega Institute, where he learned from the likes of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ram Dass, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, Babatunde Olatunji, Glenn Black, Bhante Wimala and others. He is a seasoned practitioner in meditation, yoga, cycling, performing art, healthy cooking and work/life balance.
Rob received his B.A. in Psychology from the University of Delaware, his Masters degree from the University of North Carolina, and completed his studies in Organizational Development through UNC-Charlotte. Concentrating on Social Psychology, Rob’s primary focus was examining group behavior, dynamics and interaction. He is a certified coach through the International Coach Federation (ICF).
Rob is an adjunct faculty member for the Federal Executive Institute, the premiere executive leadership training facility for the Federal government, where he teaches in both the residential and customized programs. He has lectured at Yale University, the University of Virginia, Duke University, NC State University, and the University of Colorado, among other academic institutions. He has served as a board member for “Chief Learning Officer” magazine’s Business Intelligence Board, and is a member of the International Coach Federation, the Organization Development Network, and the International Leadership Association.
Find out more about Rob and purchase his book here.
I could tell a long story about getting to know Renee Swindle. It would begin with the fact that I knew of Renee years before I had the pleasure of reading her latest book, Shake Down the Stars. Kelly, a close writing friend of mine has been her student for many years and during that time I’ve heard about what a wonderful and caring teacher Renee is. Until I met my own writing teacher and found a nurturing writing community in North Carolina, I have to confess that I was a bit envious of Kelly’s connection to Renee in Oakland. But that’s another story. When Kelly shared with me that Renee’s new book was about to launch, I immediately offered to interview her. I typically don’t also do reviews for the writers I’m interviewing. But as it turned out, in the middle of setting this interview up, I won Renee’s novel through a Goodreads contest. I felt the delicious play of synchronicity at work. This book was meant to be in my hands! What follows is a brief review of Shake Down the Stars and author interview. I’m honored to feature Renee Swindle on The Practice of Creativity.
It’s been a long time since I have stayed up two nights in a row completely absorbed in a novel. I started Shake Down The Stars and couldn’t put it down. Piper Nelson, the main character has a host of problems. She drinks too much, has a narcissistic sister who is married to a pro- football player (and rap star), a self-righteous religious mother and a depressed husband. Piper gets angry, goes on drinking binges, blacks out, and makes many bad choices. Death haunts her and she also stalks it by walking around her neighborhood, at night, and paying homage to the makeshift altars dedicated to the recently departed, mostly young victims, and often victims of violence. And, at the beginning of the novel she’s isolated and doesn’t have any quality friendships.
But, we stay with Piper and ultimately root for her because we come to understand the wound that is eating away at her. It’s a wound so big it makes us wonder how she is still able to live. During the novel, we realize given Piper’s challenges, most of us wouldn’t cope any better. Take away something we love and we’d go to the shadow side.
As Piper stuffs down the pain things quickly go from bad to worse. You want Piper to edge closer to the pain, so that she can transform it. We also stay with her because she is kind, has a sharp wit, is a gifted high school teacher in a underfunded school and she loves the stars. Piper is an amateur astronomer and the stars are her refuge.
There is no typical stock character in this novel set in Oakland. Swindle calls our attention to the vibrant racial and ethnic diversity, in the city, and the range of class backgrounds (and breakdowns). The questions this novel explores are: How does one deal with grief? How can we forgive ourselves in the face of tragedy? What are we willing to do to become authentic? How do we heal? Through deft writing and fantastic characterization Swindle has created a memorable novel that inspires and delivers through the very last page.
Tell us about your second novel, Shake Down the Stars. Why did you want to write this book?
Piper, the protagonist of Shake Down The Stars, is trying to overcome a tragic loss, but doing so by spending an unhealthy amount of time with her ex-husband. She also drinks too much and sleeps around. Basically, she’s trying to anesthetize herself in any way she can against the blow she suffered years before when a car accident took the life of her daughter. Her family is of no help at all. Her mother is married to a celebrity evangelist and only advises her to pray; and her sister has no time for her, or anyone, because she’s planning a wedding to a famous football player. While certain events in Piper’s life are heartbreaking, the novel is also uplifting (at least I think so!), and sometimes even comedic, thanks to the friendships Piper makes along the way.
As for your second question, I start with voice when I write so I guess you can say I let the narrator dictate the story. When I started Shake Down The Stars I saw a woman standing alone in a room while her family celebrated an event in another part of the house. Over time it came to me that Piper had lost her child five years before and was extremely lonely and somewhat ostracized from her family. I didn’t necessarily want to write anything depressing or heavy, but I stayed with Piper because I wanted to see if she’d find happiness again. I honestly didn’t know how the novel would end. I also loved her crazy family and friends and her smart voice, and the men in her life. Luckily, people who’ve read it have really connected with the story. Several readers and reviewers have said they both laughed and cried, which is the absolute best thing to hear.
How did the process of writing Shake Down the Stars differ from writing your first novel?
My first novel, Please Please Please, was based on a short story I wrote while in graduate school. The narrator was catty and unreliable, but I also thought she could be pretty funny—and sexy. I’m still interested in characters I don’t see much and characters that surprise me. I actually wrote two novels after Please Please Please (which explains the delay between books), but they never sold. I think the problem was that I needed to find my own voice. After Please Please Please I thought I should write like someone else; but after those two books didn’t sell, I realized I needed to be ME. Once I started writing Shake Down The Stars I stopped trying to impress. Writing the two books that went nowhere helped me to see that my ability lies in humor and telling a fast-paced narrative–at least I hope so–even if the story is sometimes dark or sad.
What have you learned about being a writer in public (i.e. dealing with reviews, managing the promotional aspect of publishing, finding time to write, etc.)?
I had to stop looking at my Amazon ranking. I also stopped looking at reviews on Good Reads and wherever else. Looking at other people’s comments—good or bad–just isn’t helpful!
As for promotion, I try to set aside time every week. It’s not the most fun part of the job, at least not for me, but I’ve found a little a week is doable.
I learned years ago that if I’m going to write, I have to do so first thing in the morning. I stay on schedule because I put myself first. I write before I grade papers or start answering emails. I wake up super early and try to write, even if it’s for twenty minutes.
You have a reputation as a fabulous writing teacher, working especially well with novice writers. What’s the most common mistake that beginning writers make?
Wow! Thank you! Well…I think writers, beginning or not, can be too hard on themselves. Somehow, some way, writing has to become something you do more days than not; as with any skill it has to be developed, and that takes practice. Find a way to make the process of sitting and facing your fears every day enjoyable. I’ve said this before, and I know it sounds nuts, but it’s such a long haul, the sooner you learn to become your own cheerleader and best friend, the better. If you only have twenty minutes—Yay! If you wrote the worst paragraph ever known to mankind? Good for you! The point is, you showed up and you figured out a way to smile at yourself. The only way I could write Shake Down The Stars after two failed novels was that at a certain point the process of writing became as exciting and interesting as the end product.
Who is one writer that you’d love to know was reading your work?
That’s a great question. You know, I have some pretty fabulous writers in my writer’s group so I won’t be greedy and ask for more. I will say I’d love for Viola Davis to read one of my novels. I’d love for one of my books to be turned into a movie and for Viola to play a lead character.
What’s the best writing tip you’d like to share?
Be yourself. Write the story you want to tell and not the story you think you should tell. Do your best to discover what you’re good at and run with it. In the meantime, continue to hone the weaker aspects of your writing. Read a ton. As you read, watch how writers set up scenes and use dialogue and all the rest. Remind yourself that your craft will get better over time, so be patient, show up, and remember that you’re a rock star.
Renee Swindle is the author of Shake Down The Stars (NAL/Penguin) available now. Her first novel, Please Please Please, was published by the Dial Press/Dell. Please Please Please was also published in Germany as Mehr Mehr Mehr and published in Japan. Please Please Please was an Essence Magazine bestseller. Renee earned her BA from UC Irvine and MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University. She lives in Oakland, California
Connect with Renee!
Last year I met Dale Neal at The North Carolina Writers Conference. This conference is one of the best kept secrets in the state. It should not be confused with the well-known North Carolina Writer’s Network Conference that is held every spring and fall. The NCWC is an invite and membership only, volunteer based organization that’s been around for over six decades started by writer Paul Green. Every year it honors a significant NC writer; last year it was Janet Lembke. And, the theme was ‘Skinny Dipping’ based on Lembke’s book of the same name—a meditation on nature.
My writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson invited myself and Karen Pullen to go as her guests—she was that year’s organizer. I had no expectations and felt no pressure as I understood that the purpose of the gathering is to honor a well-known NC author, listen to some academically oriented panels and to connect with writers. This not a conference about pitching your work to agents. The conference was absolutely lovely and relaxing. One of the writers Marjorie told me to look for was Dale Neal; she said she was a big fan of his work and that they both had graduated from the same MFA program. I was lucky enough to get seated next to him and his wife at the lunch banquet. He was kind, encouraging and I enjoyed talking with him so much that I made it a point to pick up his first novel, Cow Across America. I’m glad I did. It’s a rollicking tale that chronicles a young man’s coming of age journey and the wisdom that he learns from his grandfather’s tall tales. Cow Across America possesses a strong sense of place and biting humor that reminds one of Mark Twain. I enjoyed it very much. I’m happy to welcome Dale Neal here to talk about his second novel, The Half-Life of Home that is winning rave reviews.
1) What inspired your new novel, The Half-Life of Home?
My grandfather’s farm. How strange and alien those 20-odd acres on the side of the Frozenhead Mountain near the N.C.-Tennessee border seemed to me. Taking U.S. 441, the old Thunder Road, from the Piedmont to the mountains was like traveling in a time machine, out of the suburban 1960s into almost forgotten America. I wandered the woods and dangled my feet off the Raven’s Rock, overlooking the whole cove, a place preserved to my young eye in amber. But only children believe that nothing changes, that paradise is what stays put. The world as we know it is always ending. Without change, without choice, there is no drama, no novel. But writing out of those memories, creating people who live and breathe on the page is a way to hold clearly to that past.
2) Your novels take up questions of place and region in multiple ways. How did this interest find its way into your work?
Losing the land is an ongoing concern. In my part of Appalachia, Mountaineers have been forced off their land since the Cherokees were herded along the Trail of Tears. Homesteaders were forced out by the federal government in the 1930s to make way for hydroelectric dams. After the war, they left their farms to find jobs in Piedmont cotton mills or car factories up north. As a cub reporter in the ’80s, I covered hearings where federal bureaucrats earnestly debated turning remote mountain coves into a national nuclear repository. That image haunted me: what if radioactivity leaking out of these ancient mountains forced people off their land?
3) Can you name the moment that you felt you were really a fiction writer and did it come before or after publication?
Sorry. In some ways, I’m still waiting for that feeling, that moment of “I’ve arrived, I’ve made it into the published author’s club, someone’s going to give me the secret handshake now.”
Ain’t going to happen. If you keep writing, you keep failing. As Beckett said, fail better.
You have to remember the advice Rilke gave his young poet friend who kept pestering him about publications, which are the right magazines, what’s the right agent, etc. Quit asking those questions. Those aren’t the most important ones. Learn to interrogate your dreams rather than your ambitions.
4) What’s the less glamorous side of a published writer’s life that aspiring writers often don’t see?
Glamor is a word better associated with films. Writers, I don’t think, are performers in that sense. The life of a writer is not glamorous. Don’t get me wrong. It’s extraordinary to meet and talk with readers who love good fiction, but the real payoff is on the page: repeatedly sitting down and putting one word after another into sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books until you simulate the real world. You get to meet both your best and worst selves on that page if you persist.
5) How has your career as a journalist supported your work as a creative writer?
Well, it’s certainly paid for the groceries and light bill along the way, and for that I’m most grateful to be among that dwindling tribe of American journalists. It’s also taught me to be continually curious, which of course helps when you’re researching facts that often seem surreal or imagining fictions that seem real. Journalists work hard to grasp and say things very quickly. Novelists have to work equally hard to say what can only be said slowly, now the passage of time shapes character.
6) What’s your best writing tip?
Play hard in the dark. Remember the primal exhilaration of running free through woods and fields on a moonlit night, feeling a howl coming up your throat? Good. Write like that. We are the boy who cried Wolf.
Remember that writing fiction is not a rational activity at this stage of Late Capitalism and celebrity culture. Very few people will listen, but I can’t think of a more serious game.
Dale Neal is the author of the novels, The Half-Life of Home, and Cow Across America, winner of the 2009 Novello Literary Prize. His short fiction and essays have appeared in Arts & Letters, Carolina Quarterly, Marlboro Review, Crescent Review and many other literary journals. A graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, he has been awarded fellowships to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Hambidge Center and the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland. One of the last surviving American journalists, he is a prize-winning writer for the Asheville Citizen-Times, having covered entrepreneurs, police, local government, religion, arts, books and technology. He is a lifelong native of North Carolina and lives in Thomas Wolfe’s old hometown of Asheville with his wife and dogs. When his nose is not buried in some book, he’s bound to be out on the trails of the surrounding Blue Ridge mountains.
Find out more about Dale at his website!
I know many smart and even brilliant people, but few that I would bet on winning a MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius’ award one day. I believe that Dr. Alexis Gumbs could have that in her future. A true renaissance person and visionary, she is almost single-handedly exposing the general public to black feminist concepts in multiple media and innovative ways. She is the creator of the ‘Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind’, a multi-media all ages community school based in the wisdom of black feminist literary practice. Alexis is a literary scholar with a PhD in English, Africana Studies and Women’s Studies from Duke University and a widely published poet and essayist. She is also a community activist and co-founder of the Mobile Homecoming Project, an experiential archive project documenting generations of “black LGBTQ brilliance”. Alexis was named one of UTNE Reader’s 50 Visionaries Transforming the World in 2009, was awarded a ‘Too Sexy for 501-C3′ trophy in 2011 and is one of the Advocate’s Top 40 under 40 features in 2012.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Alexis on my community based participatory research project with African American mothers and their adolescent daughters regarding their communication about health and sexuality. On this project I got to experience her creativity, knowledge of arts based approaches to community engagement and interdisciplinary training and learn from her. Those lessons have stayed with me.
I recently caught up with Alexis to talk about her new poetry book and current projects. I’m so happy to welcome her to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.
101 Things That Are Not True About the Most Famous Black Women Alive came out of an exercise that I designed for myself after listening to Diane Di Prima reading her poem “10 Things That Are Not True About the She Wolf.” I thought to myself…what an interesting exercise. What would it mean to write 10 things that are not true about Oprah, or Condoleeza Rice? Those were the first two poems that I wrote for the collection and I found that there was something liberating about writing out things that were not true about women who are so famous that they seem to be universally known.
Usually I spend my time writing things that I believe to be true about women who are not famous by any stretch of the imagination, so this exercise flipped my practice inside out, but ultimately I found it to be a way to offer some love, breathing room and space in my relationship to women who I often critique (especially Rice). At first I found myself wanting to push back against the media’s pretense of explaining and knowing these women through surveillance and stereotypes, but ultimately I had to admit that I was pushing back even more on some of my prejudgements of these highly visible black women.
As a black feminist I do feel that it is my responsibility to find a way to love and respect all black women, even those who make decisions that to do not align with my politics and those who I feel are different from me in very significant ways. I found the exercise of writing 10 things that were not true about each of these women to be a way to access love for these women based on the very fact that I do not know them, and I do not know what might be behind some of their decisions and self-presentations. That piece of every person that cannot be known is the possibility in them and is the reason they must be honored and cherished for what they might do, who they might become, who they might already be that no one could have ever predicted.
-Much of your work stems from the legacy of African American feminists who were writing during the 1970s and 1980s. Why are their words important to your creative life?
I was born in 1982 and I feel everyday the consequences and liberations of what it means to have been born into a world which black feminists were transforming and rearticulating in urgent ways. When I first started reading their words as a teenager they gave me so much permission to believe in a world that could change in significant ways and to believe in the people around me as the energy of those changes. I have been using Audre Lorde’s words as epigraphs to my own writing since high school and I continue to find a starting place, a jumping off point and a challenge in her words and the words of other black feminist writers that helps me to clarify and awaken myself as an artist.
-You are a scholar, essayist, teacher, blogger and activist. You manage to pack a lot into 24 hours! How do these different activities feed into each other and you?
I wake up really early, but I take a lot of naps. For me research, writing for long-term and immediate audiences, designing educational rituals, and building community are all components of an ongoing act of love. I see my whole life as an opportunity to honor my ancestors and love my communities in the best ways I can. And my challenge to myself is to find deeper and clearer ways to do that daily.
-You advocate a DIY approach to publishing and encourage other writers to explore self-publishing. What have been some of the benefits and challenges of this approach?
I strongly believe that multiple layers of publishing are important for creating the world of words that we deserve. Self-publishing is a lot of work and it has the intimacy of hand to hand exchange. A self-published work can stay very close to the author and bring the author very close to audience. Sometimes we literally touch hands. Sometimes I write your name on an envelope and lick a stamp. Sometimes I do layout myself and have to look at my own words sideways and upside down. I think self-publishing and book-making are forms of intimacy that I will never give up. In addition sometimes the urgency of particular words towards a particular audience in a particular moment requires skipping over the long process of traditional publishing. At the same time, I am reaching a point in my work where I need to enable my words to travel much further than my long arms can stretch. For that purpose other publishing methods that require more time and more people become helpful too.
-What’s the next project that you’re working on?
Oh there are so many projects. One project that I am very excited about is a retreat in an eco-village in Jamaica called “Soon Come” for writers like me who are of Caribbean ancestry in diaspora and who find it a creative challenge and imperative to connect back “home” to the Caribbean. I am also in the process of getting feedback on a book of essays, a book of Toni Morrison inspired poems, a workbook inspired by the Combahee River Collective Statement and more!
-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Write first. Wake up and write first.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a queer black troublemaker, a black feminist love evangelist, a prayer poet priestess and has a PhD in English, African and African-American Studies and Women and Gender Studies from Duke University. Alexis was the first scholar to research in the Audre Lorde Papers at Spelman College, the June Jordan Papers at Harvard University and the Lucille Clifton Papers at Emory University and is currently on tour with her interactive oracle project “The Lorde Concordance,” a series of ritual mobilizing the life and work of Audre Lorde as a dynamic sacred text.
Alexis has also published widely on Caribbean Women’s Literature with a special interest in Dionne Brand. Her scholarly work is published in Obsidian, Symbiosis, Macomere, The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Literature, SIGNS, Feminist Collections, The Black Imagination, Mothering and Hip Hop Culture, The Business of Black Power and more. Alexis is the author of an acclaimed collection of poems 101 Things That Are Not True About the Most Famous Black Women Alive and poetic work published in Kweli, Vinyl, Backbone, Everyday Genius, Turning Wheel, UNFold, Makeshift and more. She has several books in progress including a book of poems Good Hair Gone Forever, a scholarly monograph on diaspora and the maternal and an educational resource called the School of Our Lorde. She is also the co-editor of a forthcoming edited collection on legacies of radical mothering called This Bridge Called My Baby.
Alexis has been living in Durham, NC for almost a decade and has been transformed and enriched by holistic organizing to end gendered violence and to replace it with sustaining transformative love. Locally she is a founding member of UBUNTU a women of color and survivor-led coalition to end sexual violence, of the Earthseed Collective a black and brown land and spirit reclamation project and the Warrior Healers Organizing Trust, a community accountable foundation practicing organic reparations and transforming blood money into blood relations.
Find out more about Alexis through her multiple blogs and online communities:
I met author Clifford Garstang a few weeks ago at Marjorie Hudson’s literary salon. His craft talk on the ‘story cycle’ captivated the audience. In listening to his journey from young writer to lawyer back to writer, I knew that I wanted to ask for an interview and share his wisdom here.
Garstang identified creative writing as one of his primary goals in college. He nurtured writing for many years while having a distinguished law career. He worked in international law in Singapore, Chicago, and Los Angeles with Sidley Austin, one of the largest law firms in the United States. Subsequently, he earned an MPA in International Development from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and worked for Harvard Law School as a legal reform consultant in Almaty, Kazakhstan. From 1996 to 2001, he was Senior Counsel for East Asia at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., where his work concentrated on China, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Garstang received an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. His award-winning collection of linked short stories, In an Uncharted Country, was published by Press 53 in 2009. Press 53 recently published his second book, What the Zhang Boys Know. Garstang’s work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Blackbird, Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Cream City Review, Tampa Review, Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere and has received Distinguished Mention in the Best American Series. He won the 2006 Confluence Fiction Prize and the 2007 GSU Review Fiction Prize, and has had a Walter E. Dakin Felloswhip to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and scholarships to both Sewanee and the Indiana University Writers’ Conference, as well as residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts.
He is the editor of Prime Number Magazine and currently lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
I’m so happy to welcome Clifford Garstang to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.
1) Where did the idea for your current collection, What The Zhang Boys Know: A Novel in Stories come from?
In previous interviews I think I’ve given various answers to that question. The truth is that the book arises from several sources of inspiration, all of them important to one aspect or another. The setting—a condominium building in Washington, DC—comes from the building where I used to live. Even though I wrote the book after I moved away, the building’s design and location stuck with me. The main characters—a Chinese immigrant family—come from the extensive travel to China I was doing at the time that I conceived the book. The theme of loss comes from a number of directions all at once, which is probably why it manifests itself in so many different ways in the stories. A secondary theme, that of witness or observation, probably comes from my previous profession as a lawyer.
2) What’s compelling to you about the ‘novel in stories’ form?
For me, the form is more organic than the typical story collection, in that it grows and builds momentum as it does so. Each story usually stands on its own, but then also adds information that may impact the reader’s interpretation of other stories. So the whole is really greater than the sum of its parts. Put another way, short stories—which I love—are limited, usually, in time and space. By using other stories to fill in the blanks, the author can let some air into the book and enhance the reader’s experience. And yet, unlike a novel, the book can be consumed in pieces that should provide their own satisfaction. Best of both worlds, for me.
3) David Long in an interview said that endings should unlock “the energy” in a story. What does a good ending, in short fiction, accomplish, and how do you arrive at your endings?
I like Long’s way of putting it. For me, a good ending resonates with the reader. That is, the reader will recognize that there is more to the story than is revealed on the page. Life goes on, and I think it’s a good thing if the reader is curious about what’s next for the characters. That said, endings are very hard. Ideally, there is a central conflict to the story and that conflict should be more or less resolved. But once that is accomplished, the story can be something of a launching pad, suggesting, but not exploring, new worlds. I’m not sure I can really articulate my own process of ending a story, but in theory I’ll have the narrator or point of view consciousness look forward in some way that suggests both an ending and a beginning, often, but not always, by having the narrative focus on a concrete detail.
4) What does your writing practice look like?
It’s a mess! But, honestly, because writing is the focal point for my day, that’s what I begin with. That may be composing or editing, but I get to my desk first thing and keep going as long as I can. I generally do first drafts on the computer but for editing I often shift to a hard copy so I can see the thing on the page. That also allows me to escape the internet during the editing phase, in theory. I generally use afternoons to do all the other things that writers also have to do—submissions, arranging readings, blogging, book reviewing.
5) You manage to pack a lot into your day! You are an editor for Prime Number Magazine, and you blog at Perpetual Folly, and are working on two novels. How do these different activities feed into each other and you?
You forgot the play I’m writing! And the teaching I do! Really, though, I’m generally only working on one writing project at a time, so I have folders on my desk that represent each one and it’s not that hard to shift gears. All the other activities—the blogging, the magazine editing, the teaching—mean that I’m always thinking about literature, seeing other writers’ styles, having to articulate what works and does not work in a given technique. And of course all of these things give me additional exposure to readers, which I like to think may encourage people to take a look at my own work.
6) What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Something that I have to remind myself of from time to time is that the writing comes first, because that’s the only thing in your control. You can’t do anything about how readers will react, or what an agent or editor will say. All you can do is write the best story or poem or book that you can. So I’ve got a little sign on my desk to help me keep this in mind: Only Write!
Find out more about Clifford at http://cliffordgarstang.com/
Karen Pullen knows much about harnessing the power of both right and left brain thinking. In college she majored in math, but also took many courses in creative writing. After teaching math for a few years (calling it one of the “hardest jobs ever”), and raising a family, Karen decided to pursue a PhD in operations research (at a time when few women did). She spent many years working for a systems engineering consulting firm before coming to a crossroads in life. Over a decade ago, she left her job, moved from the Boston area to North Carolina and began a bed and breakfast. This move helped her connect back to the love of writing.
Karen still owns the B&B, and is an accomplished writer, and teacher. I know her as a kind and generous nurturer of talent and one of the visionaries who helped to create the Creative Writing Program at Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) in Pittsboro, NC. This program offers a creative writing certificate, a unique feature for a community college and continues to attract outstanding faculty. She’s recently harnessed her extraordinary gifts to write her debut novel, Cold Feet, one that is already garnering high praise.
I recently caught up with Karen to find out more about her novel.
1) Tell us about your first novel, Cold Feet. What’s in store for readers?
Stella Lavender is a young woman meeting unique challenges of life, love, and work. In Cold Feet she tries to manage her incorrigible grandmother, finds a dead bride, meets some wedding guests with surprising histories, intervenes between feuding innkeepers, risks her life buying drugs undercover from paranoid dealers, is nearly shot by a stalker, and unearths a money laundering scam. There’s a dog, a kidnapping, and even a car chase. Good times for Stella. She gets through them with a sense of humor and a strong survival instinct.
2) What was the most interesting tidbit that you came across while researching what a State Bureau of Investigation agent does?
About six years ago, to prove that serendipity is truly a force in the universe, I saw a short article in the Raleigh newspaper about a woman who’d just retired after 30 years in the SBI as an undercover drug agent. She’d been Miss Winston-Salem when she joined the agency, and that made her retirement news-worthy. I looked up her phone number and called her. She told me how the SBI works with local agencies and how people are assigned to different divisions. She told me some stories from her own experiences. She’s been available to answer questions, to save Stella from behaving idiotically.
But I don’t want to imply that Stella goes by the book. I had to bend the reality of the SBI to fit the story. I expect to hear from SBI agents who will want to set me straight.
3) In the novel there’s an implicit critique of romanticized notions of marriage and the traditional nuclear family. Did you intentionally want to explore these topics or did they emerge as you went along?
Michele, you’re right, but they emerged from my subconscious! Perhaps the fiction writer in me sees marriage as fertile territory for conflict.
Fern (Stella’s grandmother) rejects the institution, Stella’s just been dumped by her cheating fiancé, the murder takes place at a wedding. The groom’s mother is unhappily married, for the second time.
But other characters manage to stay together despite some real challenges. And the book ends happily. . . I won’t reveal more!
4) An important character in Cold Feet is transsexual. What prompted you to create her?
Michele, as a women’s studies professor you know that gender is a continuum. But from the instant of birth we put a baby into one of two gender boxes, male or female. Sometimes it’s the wrong box. Some children are aware from a very young age – around three – that they have been assigned the wrong gender. Can you imagine the confusion and loneliness of that boy or girl? The pressure to be different? Cold Feet’s transsexual character is flawed, but I tried to convey the desperation that motivated her to alter her sex. And I hope that she is appreciated as a whole person, not defined solely by her gender change.
5) Will we see more of your main characters, Stella and her grandmother Fern? What’s your next writing project?
Yes, I’m planning at least two more Stella Lavender books. Fern is such a favorite character that she’ll play a major role in both. I also have a short story collection that I’m polishing.
6) What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed? What are you reading right now?
I just finished Unbroken by Laura Hillebrand, and I’m half-way through a biography of Isak Dinesen. I like to read biographies of writers. My favorite is Norman Sherry’s The Life of Graham Greene, in three fat volumes. Does that sound pretentious? I confess that I love Ruth Rendell’s mysteries. I own at least 20!
7) What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
I’m working on short stories now, and one lesson I’m learning is how vastly a story can be improved when I do not hesitate to delete. Cut the word count, kill the darlings, minimize explanation, and you’ll increase intensity. An intelligent reader will connect the dots.
Karen Pullen left a perfectly good job at an engineering consulting firm to make her fortune (uh, maybe not) as
an innkeeper and a fiction writer. Her B&B has been open for 12 years, and her first novel, a mystery called
/Cold Feet/, was released by Five Star Cengage in January 2013.
I have met many inspiring writers through the online community She Writes and Kelly Hashway is one of them. Over the past two years, I’ve come to enjoy Kelly’s frequent blog posts (especially her weekly ‘Monday Mishmash’) and the knowledge she shares about the publishing industry. Kelly makes being a writer look easy and fun though I know she works very hard at the craft.
Hashway is a former language arts teacher who now works as a full-time writer, freelance editor, and mother to an adorable little girl. In addition to writing YA novels, Kelly writes middle grade books, picture books, and short stories. Her genres of choice are paranormal, fantasy, and horror. (She prefers creepy horror to gory horror.)
When she’s not writing or digging her way out from under her enormous To Be Read pile, she’s running and playing with her daughter. She resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, daughter, and two pets.
She is represented by Lauren Hammond of ADA Management.
Touch of Death, her first YA novel, has just been released and I thought this would be a great time to interview Kelly.
-Tell us about your debut YA novel, Touch of Death. Why did you want to write this book?
I came across two lesser-known myths about Medusa and the 13th sign of the zodiac while researching for another book, and I immediately fell in love with the stories. Everyone knows Medusa as this evil monster, but according to this myth, she was beautiful and wrongfully cursed by Athena. In another myth, Athena gave two vials of the Gorgon Medusa’s blood to Ophiuchus, who used the blood from the right side of Medusa’s body to become a healer. When I learned that one vial of blood (from the left side of Medusa’s body) had the power to kill, I wondered what would have happened if Ophiuchus had used it. My cast of necromancers was born from there.
-How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become a published author?
I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I’ve been writing since elementary school, but I got serious about it after my daughter was born. I went back to school to learn about the industry, and then I found my agent, who thankfully sold my books.
-What’s your process like when you’re working on a novel?
I spend some time planning the story first. Sometimes I have over 20 pages of notes (like with Touch of Death) before I draft. I draft quickly at that point. Touch of Death took 14 days to write. Then it’s revise, revise, and revise some more.
-You manage to pack a lot into your day! You are a consistent blogger, freelance editor and have numerous writing projects underway. How do these activities feed into each other and you?
They all involve reading and writing, which I love. I think I have the best jobs in the world. I work seven days a week and couldn’t be happier about it.
-If you could invite three living writers to a dinner party that you’re hosting, who would you invite and why?
Rick Riordan, Becca Fitzpatrick, and JK Rowling. Riordan is my idol. I love the Percy Jackson series. My copies have post it notes all over them, marking passages of brilliance. Fitzpatrick is the author of my favorite YA series, Hush Hush. I could talk to her about Patch all day long. And Rowling is a legend. I’d just let her talk and stare in awe.
-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Read as much as you can. Reading great authors is the best form of research in my mind, and it’s fun too!
To learn more about Kelly and participate in her promotional giveaway (includes a copy of Touch of Death and great paranormal themed swag) visit her blog.
I am fortunate to live in a community known for its writers. But, Chatham County, NC isn’t just home to any type of writer. You’re more likely to find writers who are also small farmers and/or have a strong connection to the land they live on. Judy Hogan is one such writer. She’s a small farmer, editor, teacher and founder of the well-regarded Carolina Wren Press.
Judy attended a workshop I facilitated, in September, about identifying one’s relationship style to the creative self. I enjoyed meeting her and I so enjoyed hearing about her life- long love affair with creativity and creative writing. She’s one of those people that have always had a strong connection to their creative self and she has actively nurtured that relationship. I felt lucky to have a seasoned and esteemed writer participate so heartily in the workshop. Judy went on to write a blog about one of the exercises from that day.
She’s also very vocal about creating more space for what she calls ‘postmenopausal zest women’ in both literature and life. She is doing this with the debut of her main character, Penny Weaver, in her first novel, Killer Frost. We have so few complex archetypal models that explore women in their 50s-90s. I love how Judy is creating this new paradigm for our culture. May we all be as zesty, at any age, as Judy Hogan is now.
I taught at a historically black college a few years ago. I enjoyed the students very much, and I saw many grow and change, improve their reading and composition skills (my classes were to prepare them for the regular freshman composition), but I had too many with such poor skills, reading and writing at third grade level or too convinced that they couldn’t learn and wouldn’t try, that I wanted to call attention to this problem. I had already been taking up community issues in the previous novels I’d written, like unsafe storage of nuclear waste, air pollution, and unethical behavior in local political races. This problem of young African Americans who were admitted to college when they had no real hope of success troubled me. They believed they could graduate from college because they had been admitted. They couldn’t even succeed in high school level work, although they had graduated from high school. They were like an endangered species with the high likelihood that they would continue, or turn to, a life of crime in order to survive.
What’s your process like when you’re working on a novel?
Once I get an idea, I work out the characters, using Elizabeth George’s prompt sheet from her book on writing fiction: Write Away. I want to know the background, what they look like, any speech peculiarities, what they do under stress, what their goals are in life and in the novel, incidents that may have shaped them, even if I don’t use all this information. I deliberately set up characters that will tend to have conflicts with each other. I do know my killer and my victim. Then I draft as many scenes as I can, usually to the end of the novel. This is the hardest work. When I begin writing, I like to have a couple of months relatively free of teaching and other commitments, and then I try to do two hours in the afternoon and two hours in the evening, or about a chapter a day. Sometimes the plot changes slightly, but generally I follow that outline, adjusting as needed. Normally, it flows well, but I use “bum glue,” as George recommends. I stick in my chair for my hours and do the best I can. I can go back later and add or subtract. I do then type it up, revising some, and I send it to the two readers I now have for their reactions, not as editors, but as readers.
You manage to pack a lot into your day! You run a farm, blog, and teach classes. How do these different activities feed into each other and you?
My farm is very small, all, with the house, on half an acre: gardens (flower and vegetable), orchard, and chicken coop and run. I spend an average of two hours outside working in it, more in the growing season, less in winter. It’s a good healthy balance to my writing and reading life. I also preserve a lot of food for the winter, and I normally provide half my food for the year, which saves grocery bills and gives me variety and the best possible organic food, freshly picked.
The blogging (postmenopausalzest.blogspot.com), which I began in January 2011, has been fun. I can write about whatever I want to: health, recipes, poetry, aging, my own book Killer Frost, and other people’s books. My whole life is connected to my zest in these years, so it’s all apt. Since I do a lot of writing every day (journal, emails, and once a week, a poem normally), it’s not hard to find something I’ve already written to post on Sunday morning. I also like to read other mysteries and novels, so I do post reviews of them. It doesn’t take me long to write a review, because I write so easily now, having been writing since age seven, nearly seventy years now.
The classes I teach these years, usually only one creative writing class, in which we read good literature, and several backyard chicken workshops, do take some time. I need more income than my social security and some farm sales (eggs, figs, leeks) provide. Teaching is my second vocation, and I enjoy it. Literary classes take more preparation time than chicken workshops, but I teach books I love and enjoy rereading, most recently Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and the novels of Virginia Woolf. They also nourish my writing, feed my mind. For me this all balances.
Who are some of the writers that you continually mine for technique, style, or phrasing?
I don’t exactly mine them. What happens to me, and it also happens to my students, is that, as we read and study fine writers, we absorb and learn their vocabulary, sentence structures, content, and this enriches the creative mind, which I liken to a field to which has been added the nutrients it needs, the compost, etc. I’ve been reading classics, in Latin, Greek, Russian, French, and both English and American literature since high school. I have favorite writers I go back to over and over, Homer, Proust, Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf, and Henry James. I’ve decided to reread all of the James novels this winter. I rest more these years and give two or three hours a day to reading.
Will we see more of your main characters? What’s your next writing project?
Yes. Killer Frost is the sixth mystery in a series involving Penny Weaver, a postmenopausal zest woman, and her lover/husband Kenneth Morgan, a Welsh police detective. Two novels are set in Wales, where they met; the other eight, soon to be nine, take place in Riverdell, a central North Carolina village in the fictional county of Shagbark. They are part of an interracial community of activists who take up community issues. I love all my characters, and I hope to get all the books in print over the next five years.
Right now I’m working on the eleventh in the series, Fatality at Angelika’s Eatery. I hope to finish the draft by Christmas and to start the typing. The typing works better when I’m also teaching than the composition stage, when I need more time alone to focus in on my imaginary world.
What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Write what you wish to write. A writer is one who writes. I like and often remind myself of Virginia Woolf’s words in A Room of One’s Own (p. 110): “So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bit in comparison.”
Judy Hogan founded Carolina Wren Press (1976-91), and was co-editor of Hyperion Poetry Journal, 1970-81). She has published five volumes of poetry and two prose works with small presses. She has taught all forms of creative writing since 1974. She joined Sisters in Crime in 2007 and has focused on writing and publishing traditional mystery novels. In 2011 she was a finalist in the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic Mystery contest. The twists and turns of her life’s path over the years have given her plenty to write about. She is also a small farmer and lives in Moncure, N.C.
email: judyhogan@ mindspring.com
I had heard about Ashley Memory several months before I met her. People in my monthly writing group raved about her new novel, Naked and Hungry and asked me, “Did you know she works at UNC-Chapel Hill?” I didn’t and set out to correct that oversight as I’m always interested in meeting faculty and staff members at the university who are also creative writers.
In September, I had the pleasure of meeting Ashley at a ‘Sisters in Crime’ writers’ group when I gave a workshop about creativity. I learned quickly that Ashley is a woman of many talents and passions. She’s been a professional communicator for over twenty years and has experience in writing, editing, media relations, and strategic communications. For the last six years, she has served as Communications Director for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Her biography is long and distinguished, though you wouldn’t know that by talking with her because she’s so good at listening to her companion’s interests. Ashley has published essays and stories in Cairn, Portland Literary Review, Georgia State University Review, and North Carolina Wildlife. She has won the Doris Betts Fiction Prize sponsored by the N.C. Writer’s Network twice (!) and Eureka Literary Magazine nominated her short story Tamarisk for a Pushcart Prize. She is also an essayist; samples include Missing the Dixie Superette and For Barking Out Loud.
Her first novel, Naked and Hungry, was named a finalist in the 2009 James Jones First Novel Fellowship competition sponsored by Wilkes University and was published in 2011 by Ingalls Publishing Group.
And, to top it all off she is a crepes aficionado and also writes about crepes!
She’ll be a featured panelist at the upcoming N.C. Writer’s Network Fall Conference.
We’re both in a course on short fiction taught by Ruth Moose. I appreciate the depth of literary knowledge and writing craft that Ashley brings to the class. I find myself paying close attention when Ashley comments on a story (esp. the elements that aren’t working in it). I’m so glad she made time to chat with me about writing and the writing life.
Naked and Hungry is a darkly humorous suspense novel featuring a former loan officer named H.T. McMullen who rejects materialism and moves to a one-room cabin in the Uwharries. There he finds his pristine wilderness tainted by dangerous pollutants. And when he dares to complain, he becomes the target of a deadly game of intimidation by the high-powered villains.
Justin Catanoso, author of My Cousin the Saint, executive editor of The Triad Business Journal, and an early reviewer of my book kindly offered the words: “In Naked and Hungry, Ashley Memory has written an entertaining and twisting first novel with a storyline pulled from today’s headlines. Bank loans gone bad, pollution for profit, unchecked law enforcement, reluctant heroes. With shades of Richard Russo, Memory’s characters are quirky and funny and often a little dangerous. And her sense of place — small town North Carolina — is vividly rendered.”
Besides writing novels and short fiction, you also have written a book about crepes, a food you love. Is there a story about your passion for crepes and interest in teaching people how to make them?
I’ve loved eating crepes since I was a girl. When I was eight years old, my parents took me to a restaurant in Greensboro named, appropriately enough, Frenchy’s. There I had my first crepe, which was wrapped around beef burgundy and baked again in the oven until it was crispy. It was simply divine.
Many years later, when my father and I were thinking of starting an online business together, we quickly landed upon the concept of crepes. At that time, there seemed to be a dearth of good crepe recipes on the internet. This inspired us to create our own collection and launch World of Crepes at www.world-of-crepes.com. This effort sparked a true culinary adventure that led from experimenting in the kitchen to winning first place in the 2009 Citrus Dessert Challenge for our recipe for tangerine crepes.
The timing was right for the creation of the website because crepes are enjoying a renaissance of sorts due to an appetite for healthier eating. Crepes are low in gluten and calories and relatively inexpensive to prepare. In fact, Michele, I bet I could raid your pantry right now and make you a delicious dessert based on crepes. I would insist on bringing my own crepe pan, however, because I’m a bit finicky about the tools of my trade.
Do you conceive of a story in the voice of a narrator, or in key images or characters, or in events?
Great question. Occasionally an image, event or an overheard snippet of conversation will inspire me, but the most satisfying stories arise out of characters. A character is the shortest distance to a true story because they tend to drive the car, so to speak. When you plunk a believable character into a story, things such as motivation, action, and even physical description seem to write themselves. In these cases, it truly doesn’t feel like work! It’s more like a joy ride for the writer.
Can you give me an example?
Yes! The interactions and the mini-story arc in Naked and Hungry between my main character, H.T. McMullen and his office manager, Margaret Freeman, arose almost magically from my keyboard. With her MBA-wired brain, she was such a delightful antithesis to H.T.’s laissez-faire way of operating a business, it was as if I were operating a Ouija board rather than a keyboard.
What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your writing career?
Never feel bad about losing yourself in a book, no matter what your parents say! Today, my parents would probably admit that there are much worse places a twelve-year-old girl could be than behind the couch secretly reading a copy of Endless Love. She could be doing the things in that book! The act of reading is so essential to writing that it should never be suppressed in any young person.
What’s the less glamorous side of a published writer’s life that aspiring writers often don’t see? And, how do you manage this side?
The book signings are fun, and these are the things that perhaps aspiring writers most envy, but for me, it’s the non-glamorous things that I most enjoy. It’s slipping away from a dinner party to write (headache, sorry!) or scribbling a random story idea on the back of a conference brochure. Fortunately for me, these things tend to manage themselves. The day job, the family life, and the obsession with cooking are also enjoyable, so I never feel as if I’m really sacrificing anything.
There is a little pressure nowadays to be promoting oneself on all available social media platforms, and I will admit to feeling overwhelmed from time to time. But while I have often regretted the time I’ve spent to set up and maintain a “presence” on the latest platform, I’ve never regretted a Sunday afternoon penning a new story.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished a follow-up novel to Naked and Hungry titled Born Again, Dead Again. After having taken a sabbatical from short stories for a while, I’m delighted to once again be exploring this short form. My career began with short stories and I’d be more than happy to go out this way.
What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
It comes from an interview with Pat Conroy that I once read. I apologize, but I don’t remember his exact words. But the idea has never left me, and it’s worth a feeble attempt at paraphrasing.
When I have trouble with a story, Conroy said, it’s not because I haven’t done enough research on the details. It’s because I haven’t reached deeply enough inside myself. He implied that the answers to our struggles, be it writer’s block or whether a story is believable or not, lie within us.
So, when I find myself quibbling too much over a surface detail, I realize that the main problem with a story isn’t whether my character would have had depression glass in her cupboard but what would have motivated her to hurl this thing across the dining room at her husband. And it’s this – the emotional reality of a story – that’s the currency of a true writer.
See Ashley discuss Naked and Hungry here!
You can read more about Ashley here.
Photo Credits: http://ashley-memory.com/
How do we best preserve and study the record of lives lived outside and beyond the limits of the conventional? How do we document third wave feminist and queer activists’ work that is taking place in multiple mediums and often without a paper trail or through a specific organization? As someone who researches and teaches about second and third wave feminist movements, I believe these are important questions. Thankfully, Kelly Wooten has been thinking about the thorny challenges and advantages of researching, documenting and archiving contemporary activists in feminist and queer movements.
Kelly Wooten is the Research Services and Collection Development Librarian for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture in the Special Collections Library, as well as being Librarian for Sexuality Studies for Perkins Library at Duke University. She’s also a graduate of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill where I work. Her new book explores various perspectives on archiving traditional paper-based sources as well as blogs and social media, zines, and other kinds of material artifacts (e.g. tapes, CDs, protest posters, etc.,). I wanted to find out how Kelly approached writing this unique book that creatively brings together activists, archivists, librarians and scholars.
-Tell us about your new co-edited book, Make Your Own History: Documenting Feminist and Queer Activism in the 21st Century. What brought you to writing this book? What do you hope it will accomplish?
I started thinking about this book three years ago in 2009 when Emily Drabinski, the editor for the Litwin Books Series on Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies, emailed me out of the blue and asked if I would be interested in writing a book about zines after being referred to me by Jenna Freedman, the zine librarian at Barnard. My initial reaction was no, thanks, but then I realized this was a great opportunity to further explore some questions I had been asking about how to document the modern feminist movement beyond zines. Once we started exploring this topic, we realized it was hard to address without including pieces about queer activism and second wave feminism due to the intersectionality and fluid nature of feminism. I hope this book will highlight the Bingham Center’s leadership in documenting the modern feminist movement, but also share the other work being done at other institutions and encourage other archivists and activists to participate in this process since these movements are far too big for just a handful of archives to document.
-How did you find your contributors?
I started by recruiting my co-editor, Lyz Bly, a former Mary Lily Travel Grant recipient who had used the Bingham Center’s zine collections in her research for her dissertation, because I wanted a scholarly perspective to balance my librarian viewpoint. We decided to have a selective call for proposals, and ultimately five of the other contributors had direct connections to the Bingham Center including a former intern Angela DiVeglia, two other Mary Lily Travel Grant recipients: Alison Piepmeier and Kate Eicchorn, zine donor Sarah Dyer, and Alexis Gumbs, a Duke alum and frequent Bingham Center collaborator. The other contributors are part of a network of library colleagues, academics and activists that I’ve been privileged to connect with over the past few years and others who got drawn in through these connections.
-How did you get interested in girls’ studies, and zines made by women and girls?
I’ve always identified as feminist and have been interested in empowerment of women and girls, especially through self-expression, at least since college if not earlier. I wrote a zine in high school (I think we made 10 copies total and maybe 3 people read it), so when I found out about the Bingham Center and their acquisition of the Sarah Dyer Zine Collection while I was in library school, I knew I wanted to get involved. I made the zine collection the topic of a term paper, and later my master’s paper, and I was able to conduct a field experience with the Bingham Center (unpaid internship for course credit) that included curating an exhibit and bibliography about their girls’ literature collection, called “Beyond Nancy Drew.” So those topics were my first point of entry and exploration into the collections here, and when I became a staff member in 2006, I was able to capitalize on my experience and interest in those areas. Girls’ Studies has an inherent component of activism beyond just academic research—this requirement of involvement with a community really appeals to me, and I’ve been able to put this into practice through volunteering to teach zine workshops for Girls’ Rock NC summer camps over the past 6 years.
-What did you learn about the writing process that you didn’t know before you started working on your book?
The biggest thing I learned is that it’s probably not any easier to edit a book than to just write one yourself, but working with this diverse community of writers was rewarding and inspiring and I’m really glad to see it finally in print.
-You graduated with a dual major in English Literature and women’s studies from UNC-Chapel Hill. You know one of my favorite topics is hearing how people take their training in women’s studies and use it after graduation. How have you used your training?
My background in English and women’s studies really is the perfect combination for my work here at the Bingham Center. Women’s studies (the faculty, fellow students, and coursework combined) provided me with critical thinking skills, confidence in my ability to lead and make change (which came from a supportive community, not just individual faith in myself), and the tools I needed to be an activist and communicate and engage with the world. Due to my academic background, I am versed in the basics of feminist history and theory, which not only prepared me to engage with our collections of materials created by feminists like Robin Morgan and Kate Millett, but also provided the underpinnings for understanding the whole endeavor of documenting women’s history in general. Thankfully we no longer (or less frequently!) have to answer “Why do women’s stories and documents from women’s everyday lives matter?” but that question is at the heart of the work we do.
-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
I have to steal this from something I recently read that Zadie Smith recommended in a talk at the National Book Festival: write at a computer that is not connected to the internet. Of course this is almost impossible, so what really helped me was to set aside a reasonable block of time to focus on this project—just an hour or two at a time. I would take a pen and paper to a coffee shop to write or read essays and edit, or plan a phone date with my co-editor when we could talk uninterrupted by work or kids. It’s not much of a tip, but I had to schedule time for myself to avoid the guilt of avoiding this book! Also- if you are working with a writing partner or editor, or even by yourself if you are working on different computers or devices—Dropbox is a miracle.
Find out more about the book here
Kelly Wooten is the Research Services and Collection Development Librarian for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture in the Special Collections Library, as well as being Librarian for Sexuality Studies for Perkins Library at Duke University. She provides reference and instruction for women’s studies, sexuality studies, and many other interdisciplinary areas using our rich collections of primary sources and online resources. She also plans a wide variety of public programming to highlight the women’s history collections at the Bingham Center.
Her special interests include book arts, girls’ literature and girls’ studies, contemporary feminist movements, and zines.