The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘North Carolina Writers’ Network Conference

Hi folks,

You’ve written your best work and honed it to perfection. Now what? Do you know what venue to submit to? How do you find great venues? How do you write a query letter? How do you beat the odds of rejection?

If you struggle with these questions—consider taking my upcoming workshop: Charting Your Path to Publication: Tips, Techniques, and Lessons for Writers!

I am teaching ‘Charting Your Path’ as a Saturday morning workshop at the upcoming North Carolina Writers’ Network fall conference, Nov 3-5, in Wrightsville Beach!


I created this workshop because I know firsthand how challenging it is to take consistent steps to submit one’s work for publication. I also know the joys and frustrations in establishing a publication record that makes one proud. In my coaching work, I often hear from clients about their frustration, lack of preparation and deep confusion about how to create an authentic, sustainable path to publication.

In my workshop, you’ll learn how to select appropriate target publications, track submissions, compose cover letters and find great resources.

In January, I taught a longer version of this workshop through Central Carolina Community College’s Creative Writing Program (through Continuing Education). It was deeply fulfilling to share resources and insights I’ve gleaned from my personal experience and my coaching work. And, I keep getting updates from many of the participants, both about their publishing successes and their new enthusiasm in consistently submitting their work in an organized way.

If you haven’t attended the NCWN Fall conference, consider going. It’s a friendly, supportive and well-run conference that attracts topnotch teachers and a diverse group of writers. And, although quite popular, it is a manageable size conference.

Here’s the description for my workshop:

Charting Your Path” is designed for writers at all levels. Attendees will focus most of their time on how and where to submit short fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. They’ll examine a variety of venues including literary journals, magazines, newspapers, anthologies as well as how to submit to agents and publishing houses. They will also discuss the role of author mindset as vital to publishing success. There is no one path to publication, but one can follow and replicate the strategies of accomplished writers. Each participant will leave with an action plan with concrete steps toward publication (or, if already published with a plan about how to become more widely so).

Pre-registration is open until Oct 27th. I would love to see you there!

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.

Tell us about your first novel, Naked and Hungry. What’s in store for readers?

 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 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 Hungrhere!

You can read more about Ashley here.

Photo Credits:

Over the past two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to practice being ‘a writer in public’. Often aspiring writers write behind closed doors and without many opportunities to get publicly affirmed about their writing efforts. It’s hard to claim a writing identity if one isn’t widely published. If you’re working 9-5 and writing at night (or on the weekends), there’s little time to go to readings, writers’ conferences or open mics where you can be a writer in public. However, a bit of practicing being a writer in public provides a wonderful psychological boost, lessens isolation, helps you understand the business of writing and can form part of your writing education. You can also claim a writing identity without embarrassment and thwart imposter syndrome feelings with a bit of practice. Here are some observations and tips:

Ways to Practice Being a Writer in Public: Attend Writers’ Conferences

I attended the spring North Carolina Writers’ Network Conference. It’s a one day affair that includes craft workshops, lunch with an author, faculty readings, a panel with editors and an open mic reading. I’ve attended this conference before, but this time I was with several members of my core writing community; people who I knew well.  We encouraged each other to embody being a writer in public.

Practice your pitch before you go. Whether you’re working on a memoir or a collection of short stories, you need a 2-3 sentence description that engages the listener and that rolls off your tongue. You need this pitch not only for when you are lucky enough to bump into agents and editors at a bar or in the elevator, but  in order to talk with fellow writers that you’ll meet(who may be able to support you in a variety of surprising ways). This is your way of making a good impression on people, so don’t leave it to chance. More likely than not, you’ll feel tongue-tied, anxious and inadequate if you don’t role play ahead of time. My writing friends and I practiced our pitches on the ride to the conference. For great ideas about learning how to pitch and deal with any fears or anxiety that might arise, see Eric Maisel’s Living the Writer’s Life.

Bring a short polished piece to read for open mic. Many writing conferences feature an open mic program that you can sign up for when you arrive. A writer is always working on something and should always have something to read.  The piece that you read should be short and polished, somewhere between 5-8 minutes.  My friend and writing buddy, Santa Al is working on a memoir about his twenty year career as a professional Santa and he signed up and got to read during the NCWN conference. He received wonderful feedback from audience members and successfully peaked people’s interest in his work. This year, I didn’t read and I was annoyed with myself that I didn’t take time to prepare anything. Reading in public makes it that much easier for fellow writers to walk up to you, introduce themselves and ideally tell you how much they enjoyed what you read.

Visit the book exhibit and chat up folks, and bring mints and use them, especially at the end of the day. At a good writers’ conference everyone is tired at the end of the day. If you’ve had a successful time you’ve met other writers, learned new craft techniques, and heard heated exchanges about the future of publishing. By the end of the day you’ll probably head over to the book exhibit which is where you’ll find editors of small presses (and sometimes big presses), literary journals and magazines hanging out. You want to walk up, fresh-faced, with some energy left and have a friendly chat. The last thing you want to worry about is bad breath.

My writing friend Whitney and I made our way to the book exhibit an hour before the end of the conference. We happened upon the Press 53 booth, a unique small press devoted to publishing short story and poetry collections. Press 53 is also the publisher of the works of our beloved writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson. Kevin Morgan Watson, the publisher greeted us and immediately made us feel welcome. Full of energy, he engaged us quickly. While I was trying to talk about the finer points of speculative fiction and whether he publishes it or not, I couldn’t help but wondering, Wow, is my breath kicking it? Don’t let this happen to you! Bring mints and use them.

Ways to Practice Being a Writer in Public: Writer: Support a Published Writer

I was invited by my writing teacher, Marjorie, to drive and accompany her to a speaking event. We drove to Winston-Salem, visited the offices of Press 53 and hung out with Kevin Watson (I made sure to have fresh breath this time!), and were hosted by Vijya, a local aspiring writer and gracious host.

(Kevin Watson and Marjorie Hudson)

We had dinner, got settled and were off to the event at the public library (part of the ‘Road Scholar’ program of the North Carolina Humanities Council that helps bring writers to local communities). Marjorie’s talk focused on mosaic writing in nonfiction that incorporates historical detail, memoir, and fictional interludes as her Searching for Virginia Dare does brilliantly. We came back to Vidya’s house and got to listen to Marjorie and Steve Mitchell (a new Press 53 author) talk about the writing life and the challenges of book promotion. The next day, we were up and on the road to Barnhill’s Books, a thriving small bookstore that also sells local wine and art, where Marjorie did a lunch with author event. During this trip, I felt privileged to glimpse a working writer living the writer’s life: speaking, promoting, coaching, and book signing.

Volunteer to support a writer that you know—Writers always need more support. If you have a friend or an acquaintance who has recently published a book, offer to help them promote it in some way. Be a personal assistant or driver for a day. If they are scheduled to give readings, see if you can help carry books, set up a display, sell books, and assist with small tasks that would make their life easier. You can learn a lot from watching how other writers handle being in the public eye.

When you sell books, bring a nice tablecloth—Marjorie brought along a white tablecloth to cover the ordinary table set up for me to sell her books. That simple item elevated the feel of the room.

Chat up bookstore managers and owners. They are a wealth of knowledge! They sometimes are also writers. Ask them about their work and tell them about yours.

(Marjorie doing a book signing, and above-hanging out with the manager at Barnhill’s)

Ways to Practice Being a Writer in Public: Read Your Work to an Audience

And finally, Marjorie held a reading for her students at the wonderful McIntyre’s Fine Books. Since June 2010 writers have been meeting with her in a variety of venues to generate new writing from prompts, work on revision and make their writing dreams come true. She printed up a program, brought food, and invited the writing community. It was an elegant, professional and supportive event. Few writing teachers would make the time to support students like this and her students are incredibly lucky. I read two poems. They were both poems I read before but not to a big formal audience. I enjoyed reading and hearing the compelling work of other aspiring writers.

(me, reading my work)

If you get to read your work in public, be gracious if someone compliments you on your writing. Don’t say that you’re not really a writer because you’re not published yet (or published widely), or let any negative comments about your work leak out. Shine in the moment.

So, how have you been practicing being a writer in public?

(Photo credit Jesse Akin)

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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