The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘writers

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

 

The beginning of September marks change. For many of us, it signals the end of summer and a realization that we’re well into the third quarter of the year. It’s often a time of transition and reflection.

At this point in the season, we usually need a boost for our writing as we make a transition in our schedules. Our schedules shift now for a variety of reasons. For some that means getting kids (or one’s self) off to school, starting a big home project, or squeezing in the last vacation until the winter holidays. Any change in our schedule can interfere with our desire to get creative work done. Also, ongoing summer weather can make us feel lethargic which can translate to how we meet the page.

Here are 3 FUN ways to stay inspired during the last weeks of summer:

  1. Check Out New Writing Podcasts. There are TONS of great podcasts about writing. I listen to several while driving back and forth to work. They help me think about craft, catch up on publishing news and brainstorm good ideas. These are a few of my favorites:

-The Writer’s Well: Ever wonder what it’s like to quit your day job and write full-time? Rachel Herron and J.Thorn team up for 20 minutes each week to talk about the real life joys and struggles of making a living from their writing. One host asks the other an unscripted question and they both answer it. Lots of impromptu wisdom shared. They also focus on issues of wellness and health for writers.

I Should Be Writing: A Podcast for Wanna be Fiction Writers. Author Mur Lafferty has been hosting this podcast for ten years. Mur’s honesty about the ups and downs of the writing process really speaks to me. She’s very encouraging and a master at sharing tips on how to keep one’s self writing (and why it is important to do so). She periodically conducts interviews with leading authors and also does an occasional feedback show where she answers listeners’ questions. ‘I Should Be Writing’ has won the Podcast Peer Award and three Parsec Awards.

Shipping and Handling-Ever dream of being represented by an agent? Most writers do. Ever wonder what an agent’s life is like? Check out two successful agents, Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary Inc. and Jennifer Udden of Barry Goldblatt Literary that get together every month, over a glass of wine, and chat about how they decide to sign a client, how they pitch to editors and much more. A peek into a world the fascinating and fast changing world of publishing.

2. Host a Submission Party
How is submitting your work going? Has it slowed down some? Need a bit of support? Have you ever tried hosting a submission party with other writers? It’s fun and can provide the momentum needed to get more of your work out into the world. I wrote about the why and how of submission parties here.

3. Try Some Writing Prompts
Feeling stuck in your writing? Bored with your writing? Take a break and try these fun writing prompts, all focused on ice and coolness.

 

 

I got an idea and it wouldn’t let me go this weekend. If you know anything about some of my writing projects, you know that I’m pretty interested in hair, and its role and meaning in our beauty and adornment practices.

I loved the creativity of Cyndi Lauper’s hair of the 1980s.

 

I’ve always loved the way Grace Jones has cut and styled her hair.

My sci-fi novella, Reenu-You is about what happens to a community when a virus is seemingly transmitted through a “natural” hair care product. In this Inspirations and Influences essay I wrote for Book Smugglers Publishing, I explore why hair and cultural ideas about hair fascinate me.

I have worn braided styles like this one.

 

Diane Ross was known for very thick and gorgeous mane.

During my search for submission opportunities, I stumbled upon this call for poems about hair for an upcoming anthology. Hair poems? How cool! I have many other projects in my queue to finish and write, but this call stuck with me.

Intrigued, I pondered, puttered, and made some notes. I thought about Bea, a beautician, and one of my favorite characters in a novel that is part of the Reenu-You “universe”, though not yet published. I’ve always loved her voice and her inner life.

In the back of my mind, I was also still mulling over the panel “Writing To Play” from last month’s North Carolina Writers Conference. (see more here about this super cool volunteer organization that hosts a great low-key conference and my becoming an invited member. They are different from the North Carolina Writers Network.) The panel was about cross-fertilization—what fiction writers and poets can learn from playwrights and vice versa. It was an impressive panel moderated by Howard Craft; panelists included Barbara Presnell, Nathan Ross Freeman, June Guralnick and Pat Riviere-Seel. Several panelists discussed having their poetry and/or fiction adapted into theatre productions. Both poets and fiction writers remarked how sound, dialogue and character operated differently across various genres.

Yesterday, I pulled out Bea’s first person narrative and began stripping it down and rearranging it. I thought about how a beautician views herself and her trade might work well as a persona poem. I adore persona poems and like to occasionally try my hand at them.

Here’s snippet from the poem, tentatively titled, ‘When the Beautician Thinks of Herself as a Healer’.

  I am a healer,
a modern day shaman
whose tools
are metal flat irons,
big pink rollers,
slippery, translucent gels,
and hair oils
that smell like
exotic fruits
from faraway lands.

I loved that first line in its fictional form and I love it as a first stanza! I’m having great fun playing which is the most important thing when one experiments. Also, the lesson for me is that if I follow my passion and subject matter, I can adapt the form a project takes. The deadline for the anthology is 8/31. That’s soon! My goal is to submit this poem and also to write another poem titled, ‘The Math of Hair’ or ‘Hair Math’. I will be sure to update you on my progress!

Have you ever taken a piece of your writing and changed the form (moving from poetry to short fiction, poetry to a play, etc.)? I’d love to hear about your experience.

Photo Credits: #1, #2, #3, #4

Hi Creative Peeps,

I’m so happy to share this wonderful news and hope that you will help me spread the word. I am a Trustee on the Board of the North Carolina Writers Network and I was thrilled to have played a role in getting our newest literary prize, the Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize, off the ground. We are launching a new annual contest to honor the best in short prose by African-American writers in North Carolina!

Historical marker for Harriet Jacobs, one of the amazing writers this award is named after.

This new literary prize will be administered by the Creative Writing Program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Many people helped make this a reality including writing faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill Daniel Wallace and Randall Kenan. North Carolina Poet Laureate, Jacki Shelton Green also played a pivotal role.

North Carolina native, writer and UNC-Chapel Hill alum, Cedric Brown developed this amazing idea, so all credit begins there.

The winner receives $1,000 and possible publication in The Carolina Quarterly. Submissions open November 1.

This link takes you to the announcement and all the important details, including eligibility criteria, information about the name of the prize and the judge. If you fit the criteria, please consider submitting. If not, please help spread the word in your writing communities.

 

Confession time. I have a bad writing habit. Actually, it’s really more of a bad organizing habit that impacts my writing. I tend to write things down in multiple places. Every few months, I start off with a journal of some size and vow to write everything of importance in one place—that journal. After a few weeks of trying, I am back to scribbling ideas on sticky pads, legal pads, index cards, slips of paper, the back of my checks, receipts, etc. I forget to carry my journal, or I discover it’s uncomfortable to carry in my purse. You get the idea. I’m quickly demoralized by the array of unorganized paper that gathers. At times I’ll have so many unrelated sticky pad notes wadded together it will seem as if they wandered off, had some fun, and produced sticky pad offspring. Overall, this lack of having my notes organized creates a lot of wasted time, energy and clutter.

I often listen to author Mur Lafferty’s podcast, I Should Be Writing. Recently, she talked about the value of tackling one bad writing habit at a time. She said it is too hard to fix multiple issues in one’s writing all at the same. Makes sense. And, this insight is applicable to anything that impedes one’s writing.

I’m a fan of digital organizers like Evernote and I do take notes on my phone. But, I am a paper gal through and through. I wanted to find a solution to my inability to keep all my ideas/thoughts/musings in one place.

One of my dear friends has been using and raving about the Bullet Journal, a popular tracking and organizing system, for years. She uses it for everything and continually encourages me to try it. I have resisted. I felt like I would start with the best of intentions and then stop using it in a month b/c I have multiple projects that I like to keep kind of separate (academic and creative). She disagreed with me, but let it go.

In late June, I came across this article from blogger and author, Chrys Fey. She uses the bullet journal to support her writing career. Instead of using it as a main to-do list, Chrys shared:

“For my bullet journal on the other hand, I like to keep track of all the things I do (from my to-do list) for my writing career, from writing and editing to publishing and marketing. I love this because it’s a log I can come back to if I need to know when I completed a specific task. It’s also great proof that writing is my full-time career, if that should ever be questioned, lol. And, it’s nice to see all that I accomplish.”

Her post gave me the idea to use the bullet journal in a similar way—just to support my writing. As writers, we dream about success, but rarely in those dreams do we visualize ourselves working in different ways. It’s a lot less glamorous to envision new organizing systems as part of our success. The reality though is that my writing career is expanding and I need different structures to keep connected to its various components (e.g. submission opportunities, speaking gigs, scheduling readings, upcoming workshops, writing blog posts, author newsletters, fictional works, etc.).

Using the bullet journal just for my writing felt interesting and doable.

As many people do, I decided to adapt the bullet journal system to meet my needs. I took an existing journal (one I can carry around everywhere) and watched this video on the basics on how to set up a bullet journal.

This journal had little writing in it, so it became a perfect candidate for its transformation into a bullet journal.

The result has been fabulous. I feel more organized and my space is less cluttered.

I occasionally write an idea down on sticky pad, but usually in a day or two, the idea is transferred to the journal. I am really enjoying using this system.

The August log

I highly recommend Chrys’s post for more information on how to use a bullet journal for your writing.

What’s a bad writing habit that you’re wanting to change? I’d love to know.

Photo credit (top picture)

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!

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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