The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘creative nonfiction

Mariah Wheeler has had the grand privilege of living, working, and playing, with artists for the last twenty-four years. She represents a life of “art at last,” having invented her own muse-inspired career later in life.

At age 58, Mariah opened the Joyful Jewel, a 300-square foot art gallery in the small, but vibrant town of Pittsboro, North Carolina where I reside. By the age of 61, Mariah had moved the Joyful Jewel to a 2,000-square-foot space, which currently sells the work of 170 local artists. The Joyful Jewel has become a destination to explore, marvel over and buy works of art.

Her deep passion for art and supporting artists has enriched the community. She believes that everyone has at least one creative gene, and that it is never too late to start developing it!

Over the past several years, Mariah has nurtured her own creative spark to write. Her new book Art at Last: It’s Never Too Late to Create has recently been published by Lystra Books. Reading Art at Last will convince you that “It’s never too late to create!” These inspiring memoirs are of thirteen artists who began their careers late in life and became successful.

I’m delighted to welcome Mariah Wheeler to The Practice of Creativity.

 

-Why did you write Art at Last? What’s in store for readers?

I started in my own art so late in life.  I found so much joy and pleasure in something that I never expected or thought about doing before it happened to me. I wondered who else had found this amazing quest at retirement age, too. As I began to ask people, I heard inspiring stories from people with diverse backgrounds and in a variety of media. To a person, when asked, what they are doing now that they never thought they would do, they said “Be an artist.”  I wanted to share the stories in hopes that members of the general population would be willing to take this challenge themselves.  I don’t expect many to strive for the level of perfection or dedication as those in the book Art at Last but know, without a doubt, that focusing on creative pursuits can greatly enrich anyone’s life.

-How did this project stretch you? What did you learn about yourself as an editor while working on this collection?

I learned that writing and publishing a book is not a short-term project. I found that I was perfectly capable of working on this anyway, until it was done!  It was a labor of love, yet one that surprised me in many ways. The biggest surprise was how many mistakes I could make, as even through ten or fifteen revisions, I still found things that needed to be changed! I really thought I was more careful than that – a bit of a letdown. Just getting the book in a format for publication had many challenges, from obvious things like making sure that the flow of the pages made sense, to unexpected troubles in getting the page numbers on the right edge of the page. I found that the time needed after writing the book was no longer than the time afterward in getting it ready for publication.

-Where does someone who wants to pursue an artistic path, but keeps hearing their inner critic tell them that they are “too old”, begin?

The only thing I really can say to the common problem of getting beyond the inner critic is just to do it anyway. Don’t let yourself think about what the product looks like at first, just keep doing something. Like they often say to writers, do your morning pages – these are not for publication, and the art is not for showing others or for sale – but they get you in the habit of creating. You WILL meet your Muse. When you set that critic aside, you may want to try several different media until one just grabs you and makes you pay attention to it.  That’s the one to keep doing.

-In Art at Last you declare that art can change the world. What can you share with us about the transformative power of art?

One of the biggest things that art can do is bring new ways of looking at problems.  This may change the world for the person creating the art, and when shared can affect the larger community. This happens even when we aren’t doing art, such as later in time, to answer problems or change the world. I have a hard time knowing how to explain it, but I think you get in touch with the Muse, the Divine, the Collective Unconscious, whatever word you use.  It’s a place that is outside of everyday consciousness, and once you have gone there, it’s easier the next time to get there. Maybe it’s like a dream that tells you about something you hadn’t yet seen in your life. I think of it as insight that comes at us sideways, as Rumi says, it enters from the window rather than the door.

-What’s your next creative project? What are you working on right now?

I have been doing research on another book.  I’m not sure the format, maybe historical fiction.  I want to write about the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox (who I have always thought I was related to) who lived 1850 – 1919, and had a very interesting life.  She wrote “Poems of Passion” which created a bit of a stir in her time, was a New Thought pioneer, and was very very prolific.  Her best known poem begins “Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone . . . “

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Similar to my suggestion for other types of creative expression, just do it! There is no time like the present. You have nothing to lose and much to gain. This is true whether you do it just for yourself or in hopes of a larger audience. You may not know what you want to do with your writing, but you can still begin.

Mariah Wheeler has had the grand privilege of living, working, and playing, with artists for the last twenty-four years.  She represents a life of “art at last,” having invented her own muse-inspired career later in life.

She is the owner of the Joyful Jewel Gallery in Pittsboro, North Carolina. The Joyful Jewel is dedicated to bringing the spirit of creativity to all, artists and patrons alike.  They offer “local art, fresh from the heart” in a wide variety of media, styles, and prices, each creation made with care, skill and inspiration.

Mariah, along with poet Sheridan Bushnell, conceived of the idea of inviting writers to come to the gallery and write about art. Their idea developed into the much anticipated annual ‘Vision and Voice’ event where writers are asked to read what they wrote after their visit and the corresponding artists are asked to display their objects and say a few words about the art-making process.

Find out more about Mariah by visiting her at The Joyful Jewel. Pick up her book at the Joyful Jewel.

*She would prefer folks not get her book from Amazon because it isn’t the same quality, and it is also more expensive. She is more than happy to mail a book to anyone who asks for one and can call with credit card info. or would mail a check. The book is $28.50, with tax for NC $30.42 and mailing is $2.  She can be contacted via email or phone through The Joyful Jewel.

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I love it when my own assumptions about how to get a book published are upended! I met Charles Oldham this spring in my Charting Your Path to Publication workshop. In that workshop, I stress that there is no one path to publication, but we can follow and replicate the strategies of accomplished writers. The most important thing is to finish and submit our work. I like to think of getting published as knocking on a series of doors as opposed to hitting a bullseye.

Understanding the nuances in publishing is akin to being very curious and being willing to knock on a wide array of doors.

As we went around the room and introduced ourselves, Charles said he had a book coming out. Of course, we were very excited. What was even more intriguing was that his story was atypical for getting a nonfiction book published and even more heartening, the path was pretty straight forward.

We were also enthralled with the subject matter of Charles’s first book, The Senator’s Son: The Shocking Disappearance, The Celebrated Trial, and The Mystery That Remains a Century Later. He’s written a true crime nonfiction book exploring a 100+ year old North Carolina unsolved mystery that resulted in of one the biggest trials in the state’s history.

For Charles, The Senator’s Son is his first published book, but it is the product of several lifelong passions.

Early on, Charles had a special interest in history and politics, most especially that of North Carolina, where his family roots go back more than two centuries. He also has a keen eye for mysteries, for searching out the details of a story that needs to be explored. It is a talent that led him to become an attorney.

Charles graduated from Davidson College, and from law school at the University of Georgia. He practiced law for many years in Sanford, North Carolina.

He now lives in Charlotte, where for ten years he had a solo legal practice focused on criminal defense and civil litigation.

I knew that as a first time author Charles would be an inspiration to many. I’m delighted that Charles Oldham joins us here on The Practice of Creativity.

Why did you write The Senator’s Son? What is in store for readers?

I first became interested in Kenneth Beasley’s story about thirty years ago. I was about thirteen years old, and I read a brief account of the case in a book that was published in the 1950s. It was only a twenty-page synopsis, and it was just enough to scratch the surface. Even as a middle-schooler, I could see there had to be more to the story, and I thought someone really needed to dig deeper, to research the history completely, and write the definitive account of what happened to Kenneth and why. That is what I have attempted to do with this book. I have definitely done the research, and while I cannot say that I have solved the mystery beyond ALL doubt, I have presented a solid theory that anyone has come up with so far.

Did you always want to write, or did it manifest later in life?

My impression is that I am like a lot of attorneys. We really want to be writers, but have a hard time making it happen. We love interesting people and stories, and think it would be wonderful to create literature based on our experiences. But then we get caught up in the workaday world of billable hours and court calendars. For a long while, I didn’t think I would ever have the time to write a book. But I really wanted to do it, and eventually I just had to make a commitment: that I would take as many weekends and holidays as was necessary to research this story and write it.

What was the most interesting tidbit that you came across while researching?

I found some fascinating details in very unexpected places. It is surprising what can be revealed in some of the most mundane government documents, many of which are now easily accessible with tools like Ancestry.com. For example, in old court records, I found lists of jurors who served on trials back in the 1870s. I compared their names with Census records, and discovered that the jurors had family connections with the defendant on trial. Even something as simple as a military draft registration card can reveal secrets you might not find otherwise: where people live, their jobs, and whom they live with.

 

How did you find your publisher? What did you know about publishing before submitting to Beach Glass Books?

At first, I was not familiar at all with the nuts-and-bolts of finding prospective publishers and making submissions. I knew that, since I was a completely new author, I needed to make a good impression by being prepared. That is why I completed a draft manuscript before making any submissions, which I’m sure is not essential, but may have lent me some credibility. Then I sent query letters to a list of publishers whom I knew were interested in local history, especially that of Eastern North Carolina. Fortunately, one of them was Ray McAllister of Beach Glass Books, who immediately recognized the potential in this story, and was willing to shepherd me through the process.

What are you reading now? What is on your nightstand?

Most recently, I’ve been focused on works that have broadened my knowledge of my own subject matter, which is to say North Carolina history and politics. I’ve always been a fan of Bland Simpson, with his expertise about the Tidewater region. Also, historians like Timothy Tyson and David Cecelski have added so much to our understanding of politics in the 1890s and early 1900s. At the moment, I’m enjoying Dromgoole, Twice Murdered, by E.T. Malone. It is a book which, like my own, delves into one of North Carolina’s historical mysteries to separate fact from legend.

What is the best writing tip you would like to share?

For anyone thinking of starting on the road to writing a book, I would urge them to choose a topic for which they have a sincere passion. That might sound very basic, but I don’t think it is. I suspect a lot of people underestimate the difficulty of completing a book. If you are not working on a story that you sincerely want to tell, and care about getting right, then the stumbling blocks that you inevitably encounter can turn into excuses to quit.

Blurb for The Senator’s Son: On Monday, February 13, 1905, eight-year-old Kenneth Beasley walked to the back of his school’s playground and into the melting snow of the woods beyond. The son of a North Carolina state senator was never seen again. A year and a half later, a political rival was charged in what became one of North Carolina’s biggest trials ever, receiving coverage up and down the East Coast. The eventual verdict and stunning aftermath would rip apart two families and shock a state … yet leave a mystery unsolved. Now Charles Oldham, attorney and author, has reopened the case, along the way investigating not only it but the state’s political, racial, lynching and liquor cultures. The result is an absorbing must read story.

The Senator’s Son is Charles Oldham’s first book. Charles was born and raised in Sanford, North Carolina, the son of a community college professor and a math teacher. His parents instilled in him a natural curiosity and a love for reading. Early on, Charles had a special interest in history and politics, most especially that of North Carolina, where his family roots go back more than two centuries. He also has a keen eye for mysteries, for searching out the details of a story that needs to be explored. It is a talent that led him to become an attorney.

Charles graduated from Davidson College, and from law school at the University of Georgia. Afterward he practiced law in Sanford for a time, including a term as president of the Lee County Bar Association. He now lives in Charlotte, where for ten years he had a solo legal practice focused on criminal defense and civil litigation.

In his spare time, he can be found doing just about anything outdoors, especially hiking and camping. Charles also loves spending time with his family in the summer at their favorite vacation spots, including Ocean Isle Beach and Lake Junaluska in the mountains.

You can pre-order his book beginning Sept 18. Find out more details at his publisher’s website.

 

 

I’m so excited to share this cover reveal of Feminine Rising! It’s a new collection coming out next spring that will feature essays on what being gendered female in this culture has meant to some writers. The editors are Andrea Fekete and Lara Lillibridge. My essay, “The Poison Our Grandmothers and Mothers Drank” is being republished in it which first appeared in the literary journal Trivia: Voices of Feminism. I’m thrilled to be a part of this collection and you’ll be hearing more about it over the next few months!

A bit of backstory: During Fall 2010, local writers were invited to visit the Joyful Jewel, a gallery in Pittsboro, North Carolina and see which piece of art inspired them to write.  My piece was inspired by Sharon Blessum’s photograph “Medicine Women.” In the photograph, there are four small iridescent torsos of mannequins with names like Copper Shaman, Shaman of the Heart Chakra, Shaman of the 7th Chakra, and Water Shaman. Some of the torsos have feathers sprouting from the backs of their necks and others showcase big chunky necklaces.

In December, the Joyful Jewel hosted “Visions and Voices” where writers were asked to read what they wrote after their visit and the corresponding artists were asked to display their objects and say a few words about the art-making process.

I first read my piece at the “Visions and Voices” event and then three years later it was published in Trivia. I really love this piece so I continued looking for reprint opportunities. I submitted it to Andrea and Lara in 2016 and it was accepted right away. The editors found a publisher and now this essay will have a new home in spring 2019!

 

Around this time last year, I was published in the beautiful book A Letter to My Mom! It is a tribute to the women who shape us into the people we become.

My love letter to my courageous mother is next to letters from Suze Orman, Dr. Phil McGraw, Melissa Rivers, Lisa Ling, Dr. Jennifer Arnold and many other amazing sons and daughters. In this third installment of the A Letter to My series…(following A Letter to My Dog and A Letter to My Cat), over sixty contributors share letters that chronicle the love, gratitude, silliness, fun and even conflict that define mother and child relationships. I am so honored to be part of this collection.

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My writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson (author of Accidental Birds of the Carolinas) encourages students to ‘find their territory’, to explore the kinds of unique themes and challenges that only they can write about.

The relationship with my mother is definitely my territory. In 2013, I started exploring a snippet of my mother’s life which involved a great act of courage that changed the course of our lives. Since that time, I have continued thinking about the intersection of my life and hers. I am constantly surveying that rich and fertile ground. My mother is no longer living, so writing about her is one way that I can keep her memory alive.

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When I saw the call for ‘A Letter to My Mom’, I decided to submit my very personal story. The editor and creator of the A Letter to My series, Lisa Erspamer and her team were amazing. They treated my narrative (and I assume all the others), with great care, respect and unabashed enthusiasm.

A Letter to My Mom is so inspiring and the layout of the book is beautiful. Each entry is accompanied by photos. If you’re looking for a great gift for Mother’s Day, this is it. You and your mom will laugh and cry while reading it.

Find out more about the book here.

Affirmations-366 Days#5: My creative self knows the rants of my inner comparer, critic, and evaluator and helps me to show up anyway.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations during the next 366 days.

Affirmations-366Days#3-I celebrate every writing accomplishment, no matter how small.

 

This affirmation is inspired by a workshop that I attended, where I discovered the power of a making a ‘writing accomplishments’ list.

I remember anxiety creeping over me in Marjorie Hudson’s ‘Strategies for the Writing Life’ workshop when she cheerfully asked the group to name and claim our writing ‘accomplishments’ so far. People immediately raised their hands and asked questions like: Do you mean publication credits? How far back can we start our list? Does a personalized rejection letter count? What if I can’t think of anything?

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She calmly explained that we could count anything and everything that has happened in our writing lives that we believe strengthened or encouraged us. This could include the time our teacher in the third grade chose to read our essay in front of the class to submitting an op-ed to getting a poem published in a literary journal. Our list could include helpful feedback we received from an editor or agent (even if they passed on the book), or reassuring words from a published writer. Most of us undertook the task with a kind of grim determination. And, I felt that I was bound to have a short and uninteresting list.

After about ten minutes, she asked us to read from our lists. The mood in the room softened as people shared. As it turns out until we were asked to reflect on the shape of our writing lives, most of us had either forgotten or discounted many of the positive things that had shown up. Several people did mention publication as an aspect of their accomplishments, but much of it included specific moments of encouragement expressed by peers, teachers and other published writers. Often words of encouragement allowed us to keep going in the face of high self-doubt and flat out fear. We also celebrated the fact that many of us had completed various types of writing projects and with some additional strategic effort, some might eventually find their way into publication. My list included the over 50 journals I have amassed, over my life, that are stuffed with ideas, dream fragments, stories, and chapters of novels. Hearing the lists of the other writers uplifted and inspired me.

Since that workshop in the spring of 2011, I have often gone back to the list in my notebook as well as the longer ‘accomplishments’ list that I keep on my computer. Some of the writers in that workshop posted their list in their writing space for daily inspiration.

It is easy to forget or minimize the ways in which the writing life is sustained. A list is evidence of one’s deep intentions that we can turn toward during moments of skepticism about our progress.

The beginning of the year is a great time to start a writing accomplishments list, if you don’t have one. Or, you can review and wrap up your list from 2015. Remember to be generous in thinking about what counts!

 

 

Affirmations-366Days#2: I claim my creative gifts even in the face of envy, doubt and fatigue.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations during the next 366 days.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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