The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘nonfiction

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.

 

 

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Georgann Eubanks is a true Renaissance person. She is the author of the Literary Trails series commissioned by the North Carolina Arts Council and published by UNC Press. She is a writer, teacher, and consultant with more than 30 years of experience in the nonprofit sector.

I met Georgann many moons ago through my writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson. Georgann is welcoming and super supportive of new and emerging writers. Indeed, she has been nurturing writers all over the state. Eubanks has taught creative writing as a guest artist in public schools and prisons, at UNC-Chapel Hill, and served as the writing coach for the William C. Friday Fellows for 17 years. Eubanks also served for 20 years as Director of the Duke University Writers’ Workshop, a summer writing program for adults.

Today she directs the Table Rock Writers Workshop, held annually in Little Switzerland, NC. Eubanks has published short stories, poems, reviews, and profiles in many magazines and journals including Oxford American, Bellingham Review, Southern Review, Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, and North American Review.

I’ve been interested in the creative life Georgann has cultivated and have wanted to feature her here for some time. As soon as I found out about the topic of Geogann’s new book, The Month of Their Ripening: North Carolina Heritage Foods through the Year, I asked for an interview. Food is serious business in the South. Food as a theme knits together culture, community, economics, and tradition. And, as someone who has lived here for more than fifteen years, I have become a student of the wonderful food traditions that mark this state. There’s so much to learn! Gardeners, foodies, historians and everyone in between will enjoy this book. The Month of Their Ripening is a real contribution to the history and culture of North Carolina.

I am delighted to welcome Georgann Eubanks to The Practice of Creativity.

Why did you write The Month of Their Ripening? What’s in store for readers?

Photographer Donna Campbell and I had so much fun working on the Literary Trails Series for the NC Arts Council and UNC Press (three books that took 10 years to complete), we realized we had developed an essential habit of travel and sleuthing out stories across the state. We wanted more! Around the same time, the fig tree that I had planted in 2006 in the side yard of my Carrboro condo had begun to produce prodigious fruit. Season after season I kept thinking I wanted to write about the mysteries of fresh figs—an edible memory for me from my youth. I started trying to list other foods as fragile and delicious as fresh figs, and soon Donna and I had a plan to eat our way across North Carolina, collecting stories from growers and fishmongers, chefs and scientists who knew about the twelve foods I ended up picking for the new book.

What’s in store for readers are twelve chapters that you can read totally out of order. Some themes do arise as the book moves through the year from January to December, but you can pick up the story in whatever month it might be when you start reading or begin with a food you are curious about. The chapters unfold just as the stories did for me in my research, including both the history of a particular food and the people who bring it to market. It is a culinary journey which I hope is a fun read.

The foods selected are a bit uncommon in that they are so perishable and not always in the grocery store—foods such as soft-shell crab, persimmons, wild ramps that grow only in the mountains, shad which only swim up our rivers from the ocean in early spring, and scuppernongs which are North Carolina’s official state fruit. The first chapter is about snow, which you definitely can’t buy in a grocery, and which, when it falls, usually makes us all a little crazy in North Carolina. Making snow cream is a highly variable practice among Tar Heels, and the farther east you go in the state, the more excited the consumers get about their recipes because of the rarity of the prime ingredient.

What’s your process like when you work on a book?

I take copious notes as I do my research, and one thing usually leads to another. This book involves a good bit of library research ahead of our travels to meet the experts. Understand: I am a happy eater, but I not trained in agriculture or food science or the culinary arts, or even as a historian, so I mostly brought my ignorance and curiosity to this book and set out to learn as much as I could from the long history and literature on these foods. Then I began my original research by meeting a range of contemporary growers, nursery owners, dairy goat farmers, fishermen and fishmongers, and foragers. In the case of oysters—the last chapter—I studied a bit about aquaculture, since North Carolina is developing a nascent industry in oyster cultivation. I learned so much! I tried to think of my readers all the way along, anticipating questions and trying to convey the sights, textures, tastes, and fabulous array of North Carolina accents I heard in our travels. I hope people will be curious enough to visit some of the locations we visited across the state.  And the next time they bite into a slice of cantaloupe or an heirloom apple, they might do so with a bit more appreciation for what they are eating and how it figures in our collective history as North Carolinians.

What was the most interesting tidbit that you came across while researching North Carolina’s heritage foods?

Several themes emerged from the avalanche of interesting tidbits.  One is that according to the food sellers I interviewed, contemporary food shoppers and restaurant goers always tend think that bigger is better. They want the biggest soft-shell crab, the heaviest cantaloupe, the fattest scuppernongs.  But the truth is, bigger is not always better. As the octogenarian Miss Clara Brickhouse told me as she lifted up a plastic container of her best bronze scuppernongs from Columbia, NC, “A quart is a quart, honey.  And the smaller ones is sweeter.”

You manage to pack a lot into your day! You produce documentaries, consult, blog and teach workshops. How do these different activities fuel your creativity?

Some activities pay the bills and thus help free up time for the creative projects that don’t pay for themselves. But in the end, all my work involves the same activities. I am always listening, paying attention to what’s going on around me, recording other people’s words, and trying to recreate an experience–either on the page or in video–for others to read or watch and thus share in the story. My fundamental goal, no matter what the activity, is to show rather than tell—not to over-analyze or judge but to move toward a greater understanding and compassion for who we are as humans and how we can be motivated to improve what needs improving and preserve and protect what is most precious around us.

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

I am always working on new ideas and making research trips for my blog, foodpilgrim.tumblr.com, which is great fun and a way to extend the research and food sampling we did on The Month of Their Ripening. Donna Campbell is the lead on a commissioned documentary about the late Kenneth Paul Block, who was arguably the most important fashion illustrator of the 20th century—a fascinating story we are gathering together. I am involved in planning a range of activities in 2019 in eastern NC, associated with the 25th anniversary of Pocosin Arts School of Fine Craft, where I serve on the board of directors. I am helping to launch a new leadership program for innovative young North Carolinians through the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. As for the next book, I have several ideas, but I’m not quite ready to say what might rise to the top. I am mostly seeking more opportunities to speak about The Month of Their Ripening because I really enjoy discussing this work in different contexts, and this book is a natural for gardening groups, food lovers, environmental organizations, in addition to the usual book groups, book stores, and libraries.

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

Like many writers, I was drawn to the practice and the craft of writing out of a need to tell my own story and try to make sense of it—at first in fiction, later in poetry, and then I discovered non-fiction and the power of real stories that are not my own. In the last 20 years, I have learned more about myself by listening to others. So if you are a writer reading this blog and you are feeling very stuck in your own material, or very afraid of your own material, consider using your curiosity to write what you don’t know. Pick a topic that you are curious about and see what you can learn from someone else and try to make that person and their circumstances come alive on the page. It’s good practice. And practice is what we all must do, all the time. No writer ever arrives.

Georgann Eubanks is a writer, teacher, and consultant with more than 30 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. Since 2000 she has been a principal with Donna Campbell in Minnow Media, LLC, an Emmy-winning multimedia production company that primarily creates independent documentaries for public television.

A graduate of Duke University, Eubanks is also a former president of Arts North Carolina, a former chair of the NC Humanities Council, and is one of the founders of the North Carolina Writers Network. She is the current president of the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association and serves on the board of Pocosin Arts in Columbia, NC. Her current book, The Month of Their Ripening: North Carolina Heritage Foods through the Year, was just released by UNC Press.

Go visit her:

WEBSITE: georganneubanks.net

BLOG: foodpilgrim.tumblr.com

WORKSHOPS: minnowschool.com

 

Affirmations-366Days#10: I rededicate myself to remembering that as a writer, I am here to seduce and delight the reader.

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

People often act intimidated with regard to publishing. People relentlessly believe that publishers don’t need or want them. Publishers exist because of the creative input and outpouring that comes their way…and they appreciate books and writers. Repeating the old story=reinforcing the story=doing nothing new towards being published.
SARK, Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper: Gifting the World with Your Words and Stories and Creating the Time and Energy to Actually Do It

Affirmations-366Days#7-Editors love my content and pay me to publish my work.

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

This affirmation feels bold. But, why not affirm a truth? Publishers and editors would not exist unless there were writers! I also want to affirm that that editors and publishers love discovering new writers, that’s partly why they are in this business. The possibility of discovering people, whose words they love, is what gets editors to their desks each day.

One of the things I deeply enjoy about my blog is conducting author interviews. I love finding out how writers create magic on the page and what sustains them when working on long projects. My blog allows me to reach out to new and established writers after I hear them give a reading, or learn about them online, and ask for an interview. Every time an author agrees to an interview, I feel excited and inspired. My goal is to ask thought-provoking questions that get at the heart of their ideas about craft. I look forward to checking my email and seeing how they play with and sculpt answers to my questions. Interviewing and helping to promote writers is a passion and gratitude generating activity for me.

At the end of each interview, I always ask an author: What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Below, I have collected the most intriguing answers from writers I interviewed in 2015.

Keep this list close at hand. The advice is inspiring and offers a great way to jump-start your new year of fresh writing. And, look forward to even more author interviews in 2016!

*To see the full interview, click on the author’s name.

 

Camille Armantrout, co-author, Two Brauds Abroad: A Departure from Life As We Know It

Camille (right)

Camille (right)

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

Pay attention to your writing patterns. If you discover, as I did, that your words flow in the morning, clear your am calendar to take advantage of that creative burst. Keep pen and paper handy at all times, in your pocket or purse, on your bedside table, and in the car.

 

Karoline Barrett, Bun for Your Lifefb home picture----

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

Just one? That’s hard! I’d have to say, don’t get bogged down with self-doubt, just write!

 

 

Samantha Bryant, Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel

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

The one thing that truly made a difference for me was committing to a daily writing habit. For me, I did that with Magic Spreadsheet, a gamification tool for writers created by Tony Pisculli, which awards points for meeting a daily minimum word count.

For many years, I struggled to write while meeting all the rest of my responsibilities as a teacher, wife, mother, dog-mom, sister, daughter, etc., etc., etc. I would get a few hours once a month or so, and spend half of them just trying to get back in the flow.

But, once I committed to writing at least 250 words every day, come hell or high-water, that problem disappeared. It’s not hard to find my way back into the story if I’ve only been away twenty-four hours. It made the time I had more productive. Over time, with practice, I became able to write more words in one hour than I used to write in a four or five hour session. I began to finish things. So there it is: write every day.

 

Laurie Cannady, Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul

cannady03-210

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

Write a page every day, no matter what, and don’t be afraid to allow your narrative to reveal things to you. When I first began writing memoir, I thought I had to write everything, as accurately as I could remember, to some self-imposed end. It took years to realize that my narrative had its own end and its own way in which it wanted to be relayed. So, writing a page a day was a relief. I allowed the scenes to unfold as they pleased and once that writing was done, I was able to shape all that I had written into Crave.

 

Amy Ferris, Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide and Feeling Blue

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

amy_ferris

write as if no one – not one single soul – will ever read what you’ve written.

yeah, write that kinda balls-out scary heart-wrenching beautiful truthful.

 

Mur Lafferty, The Shambling Guide to New York City

Mur_lafferty-300x198

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

Never give up. That’s the fastest way to failure.

 

James Maxey, Bitterwood: The Complete Collection

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

600_JamesMaxey

Momentum matters. Going back to my last answer, the biggest trap beginning authors can fall into is to write only when you feel inspired. If you practiced piano only when you felt inspired, would you ever master the piano? If you only went out and ran when you felt inspired, would you ever build the endurance and mental stamina needed to run a marathon? A key thing to understand is that any time you sit down to write, you aren’t working only on the story or chapter in front of you. You’re working on your entire career. If you want to “make it” as a writer, odds are you will write millions of words over the course of decades, maybe tens of millions. To get there, you’ve got to put your butt in the chair and slog out the words on days when you’re tired, or a little sick, or worried about your family or your job. You’ve got to keep tapping the keyboard when you are certain you are writing the worst sentences ever recorded onto a hard drive, when you hate every last character in your novel and can think of not one original idea for where you’re taking the plot. Because, you know what? Writing is where the magic happens. You can sit around daydreaming all you want, but until you start typing, you don’t actually know what’s going to emerge. Again and again I’ve discovered that, as I’m slogging through something I don’t want to write, something will spark and the next thing I know I’m on fire. I start out telling myself I can quit for the night if I make to 500 words, and the next thing I know it’s 3 a.m. and I’ve got 5000 words that just sparkle.

 

Jennifer Steil, The Ambassador’s Wife

Jennifer Steil-1

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

Go away. Go far, far away. The best thing any writer could do for herself is to go out into the world and have adventures that will give her something to write about. Take risks. Go to difficult places and do impossible things. If you want a guaranteed fantastic story, give up a comfortable life and move to the most difficult country in the world. Stories will find you. In abundance. Of course, if you already have an uncomfortable and crazy life where you are, you’re all set!

 

Ever look at the words ‘flailing’ and ‘failing’?

One definition of flail is ‘to wave or swing vigorously; thrash’. The word flail always reminds me of Grover from Sesame Street with his blue arms up in the air running around, being dramatic.

Writing often feels easy, until it’s not. We get stuck, hit a bump, and don’t know how to fix it.

I’ve always like the word flail because that is what I feel like I do on the page sometimes when I get stumped.

We can try writing prompts, freewriting, word sprints, delete sections, move the end to the beginning, write six fresh ways to open the essay or story, etc. If we’re being kind to ourselves, we know flailing about in our writing is no big deal. We just keep trying new things.

If our inner critic is awake and cranky, it will tell us that we are ‘failing’. It will tell us that if we were really good writers, we would have figured it out perfectly the first time (or something to this effect). When I was younger, I believed my inner critic(s) and often stopped writing when I got stuck and consequently didn’t finish pieces that I loved.

Now, I know that while flailing on the page looks and feels dramatic, it’s what’s needed to get to the Land of Completion.

Flailing is not failing.

Toni Morrison in her recent interview for the NEA Arts Magazine discusses creative failure and revision. It’s worth a read. Knowing that a great writer like Toni Morrison sometimes has to start over with a piece of writing and go in a different direction is quite comforting. She reminds us that we each have the power to “write and erase and do it over.” And, that there’s no shame in not getting it right the first or fourth time.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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