Thursday, November 13, 2008

Adventures in Pen Land

Adventures in Pen Land: One Writer's Journey from Inklings to Ink is North Carolina writer Marianne Gingher's fifth book and tells of her uphill slog toward writing success. Written in first person, this is a smooth, easy read with humorous anecdotes from Gingher's life, starting at age 6, and illustrations by Daniel Wallace. There's an interesting chapter called "The Southern Writer Thing" where she describes a trip to New York City to meet her literary agent and reflects on what it means to write, sound, and look "Southern."

Here's the blurb from the back of the book, which describes it much better than I can!

She invites us along on a raucous tour of soul-sucking jobs, marriage, and a teaching career, with accompanying disquisitions on blasphemous reading preferences, ’60s pop culture, writing workshops, and other amusing detours and distractions on the way to publication. She also shares her keen insights into the role of a Southern writer in American literary culture, the experience of writing as a mother, and the process of novel-writing as compared to a lengthy family car trip.

Monday, October 27, 2008

New Stories from the South

Have you checked out this year's collection yet? Each year, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, NC, publishes an anthology of contemporary Southern short stories, selected by a guest editor. This year's editor was ZZ Packer, author of the collection of short stories, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (2003).

Here's the table of contents to whet your appetite:

Table of Contents

Introduction by ZZ Packer
Holly Goddard Jones, Theory of Realty
Pinckney Benedict, Bridge of Sighs
Amina Gautier, The Ease of Living
Kevin Moffett, First Marriage
Robert Drummond, The Unnecessary Man
Stephanie Soileau, So This Is Permanence
Clyde Edgerton, The Great Speckled Bird
Ron Rash, Back of Beyond
Merritt Tierce, Suck It
R.T. Smith, Wretch Like Me
Karen E. Bender, Candidate
David James Poissant, Lizard Man
Daniel Wallace, The Girls
Jim Tomlinson, First Husband, First Wife
Bret Anthony Johnston, Republican
Mary Miller, Leak
Charlie Smith, Albemarle
Jennifer Moses, Child of God
Stephanie Dickinson, Lucky Seven & Dalloway
Kevin Brockmeier
, Andrea Is Changing Her Name

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Southern Festival of Books

Nashville, TN, hosts 250 authors at the 20th annual Southern Festival of Books this weekend. Visiting authors include Sherman Alexie, Richard Bausch, Madison Smartt Bell, Rick Bragg, Clyde Edgerton, Rheta Grimsley Johnson, Bobbie Ann Mason, and tons more nationally- and locally-known authors and presenters. Too many to mention here! Sounds like a great festival!

The Southern Festival of Books will be held at Nashville's War Memorial Plaza, and the hours are:
Friday, October 10 from Noon–6 pm;
Saturday, October 11 from 9 am–6 pm;
and Sunday, October 12 from Noon–5 pm.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Authors and Geography

I spotted this book, A Literary Guide to Flannery O'Connor's Georgia, and thought it looked interesting. From the UGA Press website:

"The guide describes such places as O'Connor's childhood home in Savannah; the Governor's Mansion, Cline House, and Central State Hospital in Milledgeville; and the family farm, Andalusia. Numerous facts about O'Connor and the people closest to her are woven into the site descriptions, as are critical observations about her Catholicism, her acute sense of character and place, and her fierce sense of humor."

I've recently noticed quite a few books that connect authors with geography. In NC, we had Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains by Georgann Eubanks, published last year. It's another interesting angle from which to study popular authors (and hopefully a boost to local tourism), and I expect we'll see more in the future. Feel free to share any related books you know of ...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Southeastern Writers...

I discovered this blog and website for the Southeastern Writers Association; they offer workshops, information on conferences and writing contests, and blurbs about regional authors. Although the focus seems to be more on Georgia, they also feature writers from NC, SC, and other Southeastern states. The membership fee is $35, and they offer services for members, like links to authors' sites and blogs and announcements about members' books being published. Worth checking out!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

2008 SIBA Trade Show

Around 500 Southeastern booksellers - not to mention around 1500 book editors, publishers, authors, and other industry professionals - are going to be at the 2008 Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Trade Show, September 26 - 28, in Mobile, Alabama.

Just a few of the authors who'll be there.... Ron Rash, Celia Rivenbark, William Conescu, Rick Bragg, Sarah Addison Allen, and many, many more.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Are video clips the way to go?

I know there's animosity out there towards big chains like Barnes & Noble, who are in direct competition with independent bookstores, in many cases helping to put them out of business. But can our own indies learn a few lessons from the big guys? Take a look at this video clip, part of a new series released by B&N -- I posted this because it deals with writer Dorothea Benton Frank and other women Southern writers.

Posting videos is a great idea, one I think independent bookstores could use for their own benefit. Podcasts are cheap; why not post videos of author readings, editors' picks, informal book reviews, etc... Then, make those videos available to local bloggers who can spread the word.

Are there indies out there already doing this? I'd be interested to know.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Writing the Region

Florida writers should take advantage of "Writing the Region" 12th Annual Writers Workshop in Gainesville, from July 23-27th. The workshop honors Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and features some great classes for those wanting to know more about publishing their work. Some of the offerings include "How to Write a Synposis that Won't Make an Editor Sneer" and "Six Steps to a Killer Query," as well as classes on writing fiction and poetry.

Deadline extended for weekend retreat

Ok, shameless promotion ahead!

For anyone interested in doing a weekend workshop in either "Magazine Writing and More" or "Knitting by the Sea," the deadline for the deposit has been extended to July 16.

The workshop is at the lovely Pine Knoll Shores, NC, from August 1-3 and costs $300 (for shared room) or $380 (single), including tuition, food, and room. For more details, please visit

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Gene Hackman spotted in NC

Co-authors Gene Hackman (yes, that Gene Hackman!) and Daniel Lenihan were at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh on Friday, promoting their new Civil War novel, Escape from Andersonville. Our own Lisa Morgan was there, soaking up the history!

Here's a synopsis from Quail Ridge Books:

An explosive novel of the Civil War about one man's escape from a notorious Confederate prison camp---and his dramatic return to save his men.

July 1864. Union officer Nathan Parker has been imprisoned at nightmarish Andersonville prison camp in Georgia along with his soldiers. As others die around them, Nathan and his men hatch a daring plan to allow him to escape through a tunnel and make his way to Vicksburg, where he intends to alert his superiors to the imprisonment and push for military action. His efforts are blocked by higher-ups in the military, so Parker takes matters into his own hands. Together with a shady, dangerous ex-soldier and smuggler named Marcel Lafarge and a fascinating collection of cutthroats, soldiers, and castoffs, a desperate Parker organizes a private rescue mission to free his men before it's too late.

Exciting, thoroughly researched, and dramatic, "Escape from Andersonville" is a Civil War novel filled with action, memorable characters, and vividly realized descriptions of the war's final year.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Interview: William Conescu's Debut

Up-and-coming North Carolina author William Conescu will celebrate the release of his first book, Being Written, on September 9. He was the first graduate of N.C. State University's new creative writing M.F.A. program and has been published in several literary journals, including The Gettysburg Review, New Letters, and Green Mountains Review.

We were in some of the same writing workshops at N.C. State, and I caught up with him the other day to ask him about his new novel.

What was the process for getting your novel published?

As you know from our grad school days together, I wrote Being Written as the largest part of my creative writing thesis. Because it was on the short side, I thought I’d market it as the anchor novella in a novella/short story collection. After graduating, I set it aside for about a year and wrote a few more stories, and then I showed the whole package to an agent who specializes in literary fiction. Bill Clegg is a terrific reader and a great agent. He urged me to think of Being Written as a novel and worked with me as I revised and expanded it a bit. By March 2007, we were ready to send the novel out to publishers, and it was sold to Harper Perennial within about two weeks. [...]

In Being Written, you tell the story of a man who knows that he is a minor character in a book (sort of like the movie, Stranger than Fiction, although you had written your idea way before the movie!). How did you get the idea for your novel?

I started out wanting to write a playful work of metafiction about a guy who knows he’s in a novel, but who’s the literary equivalent of a movie extra. His greatest purpose in the universe is to fill out crowd scenes. That idea tied in nicely with another story I’d been wanting to write, one about artistically-minded people in their twenties and thirties trying to figure out how best to live their lives. So these stories collide in Being Written. Daniel, the fellow who’s only been a minor character thus far in his life, works his way into the life of a singer and her “artsy” social circle and goes to some lengths to make himself a vital part of their story. I wrote Daniel’s sections in the second person, which was a lot of fun, so Being Written alternates between third person chapters of “the book” that’s being written and second person chapters that show Daniel’s perception of being written into it.

Growing up in New Orleans and later living in NC, do you consider yourself a "Southern" writer? How do you think living in the South has influenced your writing?

I don’t think someone reading my work would necessarily identify me as a Southern writer, but as you said, I’ve spent most of my life in New Orleans and North Carolina – two places with rich literary traditions. As a writer, I’ve certainly been shaped by these communities, and I’ve benefited from exceptional teachers, first in New Orleans, and then at UNC and NC State.

What are you reading right now?

Ian McEwan’s Atonement.

What is your "guilty pleasure" reading?

I love the comedienne Chelsea Handler, and I’m about to start reading Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea.

What advice would you give to writers who’re considering whether or not to attend an M.F.A. program in creative writing?

I’m someone who really values the creative writing workshop. I value the constructive feedback, I’m motivated by the deadlines, and I think we become better critics of our own writing when we critique and discuss other writers’ works-in-progress. If you value these things, then go for it. In the meantime, you might see if your local university or community college offers a creative writing workshop for continuing education students.

What are you working on now?

I’m hard at work on another novel. I’m not ready to talk about it yet (I haven’t made it to the end yet, so I only
think I know what happens!), but it’s going well. I’m excited about it.

Note: If you're interested in checking out William's book before September, you can pre-order it at various websites, such as,, etc...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Save the Date!!

If you're going to be in North Carolina on Saturday, June 7, you'll want to get a copy of Our State magazine. There's going to be a coupon in the June issue for one complimentary admission to tons of tourist attractions across the state--museums, gardens, aquariums, Linville Caverns, Chinqua Penn Plantation.... Some of these places cost up to $30 to get in, so $4.95 for one magazine is a pretty good deal!

Here's a link to the magazine for more info:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Storytelling is big in the South. It seems to me that oral storytellers and writers have a lot in common--having to think of interesting plots, exaggerate or fictionalize the truth, keep the audience's attention, and have a flair for the dramatic. Of course, being a good storyteller doesn't guarantee you'll be a good writer, and vice versa. But I'd like to go to a storytelling festival one day, just to see how it is, and I bet I would learn some tips for my writing.

Here's one in Roswell, Georgia, June 27-28:

Friday, April 25, 2008

Interview: Marianne Wheelaghan, online inventor

Marianne Wheelaghan is a fiction writer and teacher. She used to teach Creative Writing for the Open University in Great Britain and for Edinburgh University. She's now developing new courses for her online writing school, While not from the American South, Marianne offers great insights about online learning, especially important in today’s world of cyber-degrees and virtual classrooms.

You earned your Master’s through a distance-learning program. Can you tell us a little about how that worked, logistically?

When I began to inquire about enrolling on a Master’s program I was running my own business and caring for my two children, who were still quite young. These commitments meant attending face-to-face classes on fixed days at set times in inconvenient places was simply not an option for me. On the other hand, online distance learning was perfect, I could ‘log on’ and download my course notes as well as meet my colleagues at a time that most suited me, and better still, from the comfort of my own home. And although my colleagues weren’t necessarily online at the same time as I was - the conference program we used was not asynchronous – when I logged on communication felt instantaneous and a very real ‘virtual’ community rapidly developed, which was both stimulating and supportive and conducive to learning.

Did you find it harder to write, not being in a classroom environment? For example, do you think it would have been easier listening to critiques in person?

No. I found – and still find - the physical classroom environment rather intimidating and not conducive to creativity.

As for giving and receiving feedback – well, I find taking and giving critiques much easier in the virtual environment. In the virtual classroom students have to write down their comments in black and white, this process tends to make the students better consider what they are saying. At the same time, for those who are receiving feedback, there is time to reflect on what is said and as a consequence one tends to react intellectually rather than emotionally to comments. Furthermore, everyone has an opportunity to have his or her say in the virtual classroom – there are no loudmouths hogging the floor, intimidating the less confident student.

Why did you decide to start your own online creative writing school?

I passionately wanted to teach creative writing, not just because I enjoy writing so much myself, but previous to doing my master's degree I had been on so many bad creative writing courses that I was determined to create a ‘good’ course once I’d qualified. And what do I mean by ‘bad’? Well, so many of my ex-tutors seemed to have had an ‘airy-fairy’ idea of to how to teach creative writing – especially those tutors on short courses. They invariably talked about being ‘gifted’ and brought ‘interesting’ objects into class to inspire creativity - usually something like a hideously large orange-brown ash tray in the shape of a dromedary, found in the back of a shed at the bottom of the tutor’s garden (where it should have stayed!). I found it frustrating not to be ‘taught’ specific writing skills, and was not in the least bit inspired by objects that meant nothing to me.

So, now that I have experience and amassed a good deal of writing ‘know-how’ I have created courses, which teach specific writing skills and techniques. Through the honing of these skills I encourage both beginner and emerging writers to discover the things that matter most to them and show them how to write creatively about these things.

What “challenges” have you had working online? For example, how do you encourage group interaction and the exchange of ideas?

The main challenge working online is to keep students logging on. It is too easy not to switch on, and the longer the student stays ‘away,' the more isolated the student feels and the more disengaged from the learning process. Students need to understand that participating online is not like attending face-to-face classes. Online participation is more fluid – students need to check in frequently but they don’t necessarily need to check in for a long time on every virtual visit. So students have to be both flexible and disciplined.

Once students get used to the idea of logging on frequently, group interaction and the exchange of ideas is more likely to follow – especially if the students have been given stimulating course notes and/or assignments, which give the student the opportunity to have his or her say.

What are some advantages to working online?

It’s convenient and flexible – you can participate at any time from anywhere. It cuts down on paper. There’s no travel time. It’s less confrontational than the face-to-face environment. Everyone is equal online. It’s more conducive to learning.

Tell us a little bit about the writing projects you working on right now.

I am writing a fictional account of my mother’s life. The first part is in memoir form. It covers the period from 1932 to 1946 and specifically looks at the way of life of an ordinary Lower Silesian family and how the Nationalist Socialist Party coming to power affected them. It culminates in disaster, when they are forced to flee their home at the end of WWII, when Silesia was handed over to Poland as part of the Potsdam agreement. Millions of Germans [...] were made refugees by this agreement. It is now acknowledged that a wrong was committed against the indigenous German population of the former Eastern districts, but specifically in Lower Silesia, where almost all the population was indigenously German. I want to tell the story of these German victims – one of whom was my mother.

What is your “guilty pleasure” reading?

The Inspector Montalbano Mysteries – by Andrea Camilleri

Monday, April 21, 2008

Build your vocab...

Okay, so this has nothing to do with Southern literature, but it is a way to build your vocabulary and help donate rice to the United Nations World Food Program. Plus, it's fun!

Friday, April 11, 2008

John Ehle

Another Southern writer who's often classified as "regional" is John Ehle, author of more than 15 fiction and nonfiction books in his 50 years of writing. Press 53 out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, have republished three of his books: The Land Breakers, The Free Men, and Move Over, Mountain.

Worth checking out!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Southern" vs. "Mainstream"

In his article, "Carrying America's Shadow," David Payne makes an interesting point...why is it that successful Southern writers, such as Lee Smith, don't seem to have the same fame and readership north of Washington, D.C. ? It's something worth thinking about...does the "regionalism" that distinguishes Southern writers and helps set us apart as something special also hinder us? As Payne points out, you don't often hear about "Northern" writers--they're called, instead, "national" writers.

The second half of Payne's article gets a bit labored, in my opinion, veering into racial stereotypes of "rednecks," etc... and isn't as well argued as the first half.

I think he makes a good point, though, that writers who've distanced themselves from the South seem to have done better nationally than writers who've focused on and celebrated their "regionalism." But is it worth it?

"Cormac McCarthy, after setting several novels in his childhood home of Knoxville, left the South, literally and figuratively, and gained attention writing about the West. Anne Tyler, though a Southerner, writes of a Baltimore with little native inflection. Barbara Kingsolver, who grew up in Kentucky, wrote for years of the Southwest, and then of Africa, and only late into the game, and from the vantage of success, returned to her Appalachian roots."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Virginia Festival of the Book

Here's another book festival...this time in Charlottesville, VA. Walter Mosley (not a Southerner but a pretty big name in crime fiction) will be the headliner. Wish I could go to this. Maybe the next one...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Affrilachian arts and culture...

There is a great article in Blue Ridge Country magazine by poet Frank X. Walker, a writer in residence at Northern Kentucky University. Walker helped start the Affrilachian Poets group and talks about how people tend to forget that ethnicities other than "white" exist in the Appalachian region, groups of people who have influenced music, literature, and national and Appalachian culture for generations. Nina Simone came from Tryon, North Carolina, for example. Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and spent summers there with her grandparents.

Walker is also the editor of Pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, now on its second issue. Pluck! has a fresh, modern look and is full of interesting essays and dynamic poetry that is enjoyable to read--not a chore! It covers the Appalachian region from Mississippi to New York.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

SIBA Book Awards

Each year, hundreds of booksellers around the South vote on their favorite books. Whether you agree with them or not, looking at the list of nominations is a good way to find out about Southern authors. Here's a few from SIBA's fiction list for 2008:

Capote in Kansas by Kim Powers
Cataloochee by Wayne Caldwell
Down River by John Hart
Effigies by Mary Anna Evans
One Fell Swoop by Virginia Boyd
Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig
The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish by Elise Blackwell
Thistle & Twigg by Mary Saums
Women of Magdalene by Rosemary Poole-Carter
Work Shirts for Madmen by George Singleton

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Low-Residency MFAs...

Every so often, we'll be highlighting MFA creative writing programs across the South. I wanted to mention a couple of low residency MFA programs, since I know a lot of people would love to go back to school, if only they could keep working, or if the college was a bit closer...

Murry State University in Kentucky requires four 10-day residencies at the university. The rest of the hours can be obtained through distance learning -- submitting work to a mentor through email or snail mail -- and you can transfer (with approval) up to 9 literature hours from another grad. school, so it's not a bad plan... In-state prices ($3887 per semester) also apply to residents of many nearby counties in Tennessee, Illinois, and Indiana. And residents throughout the states of Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, and Indiana benefit from Regional Tuition, which is below the usual MSU out-of-state rates.

Being from NC, I'd always heard of Warren Wilson, but I didn't realize that Queens University of Charlotte also has a low-residency MFA in creative writing. This program requires five 7-day residencies, and in the periods between residencies students complete online workshops with three or four other students and a faculty mentor for that semester. It's pricier than a state college at $5400 a semester (with a $1200 charge for the fifth graduating residency) but comparable to out-of-state prices...and still cheaper than Warren Wilson!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Update: Retreat at the Beach

If you're interested in taking either a knitting or magazine writing workshop (see Feb. 11 post), please visit my website for more details. Classes are small, so each student will get lots of attention, but that means space is limited.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Free Book Festival

The South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia is FREE and open to the public, Feb. 22-24. Featured among the many events is a presentation entitled "Women Writing Southern Fiction," with NC writers Pamela Duncan, Virginia Boyd, and Lynn York. Sounds like you won't want to miss it!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Write (or Knit) at the beach

Like to write? Like to knit? Well, a retreat at the Trinity Center at the North Carolina Outer Banks will offer workshops in both. I will be teaching a class on beginning magazine writing, and Jacqui Mehring will be offering a knitting class. Here's the blurb for my class (more details will be posted soon):

"Magazine Writing and More" - An introduction to freelance magazine writing but also a source of inspiration for those who want to write but don't know how to get started. Beginners and seasoned writers who just need a jolt of creativity are welcome.

DATE: first weekend in August
COST: $300 (will also confirm, along with details about how to apply)
INCLUDES: meals, accommodation, workshop

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Review: Ron Rash

The World Made Straight
; by Ron Rash, published 2006

Seventeen-year-old Travis Shelton thinks he's struck it rich when he discovers a hoard of marijuana hidden deep in the woods of Madison County, North Carolina. But the plants belong to Carlton Toomey, alternate farmer and community drug dealer, who gets vicious when people mess with his stash... Rejected by his strict father, Travis moves in with an ex-history professor and drug dealer, who begins teaching Travis about the history of Madison County, the Civil War, and Travis's own ancestors who were killed in the Shelton Massacre of 1863.

Ron Rash intertwines suspense, history, and poetic writing in this powerful novel. He's a master of description, and every tobacco leaf and speckled trout is as vivid as a memory. Rash refuses to sugar-coat the South, creating realistic, believable characters who you root for until the very end.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New Orleans Writing Marathon

Started by the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project back in 1994, the New Orleans Writing Marathon draws on ideas from Natalie Goldberg's book Writing Down the Bones. Groups of writers split up and go off on their own, writing down observations and thoughts, and later the groups get back together and share their work, without comment or criticisms. It sounds like a great idea to do anywhere, on a smaller scale, just to get ideas flowing...

This article gives a good overview:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

"Southern" writer Kelly Cherry

I had never heard of Kelly Cherry until I read an article about her in Nantahala, a journal I just found browsing online. (This looks like a good journal, by the way, focusing on writers/readers in the Appalachian region. The "Fiction" page wasn't working on my computer, but the other links were.)

Apparently, I should read some of Cherry's work because she sounds pretty good--is a fiction writer, poet, and essayist and has won the Pushcart Prize, the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and the PEN/Syndicated Fiction Award. She was born in Louisiana and got her M.F.A. at UNC-Greensboro.

Here's an interview where she talks briefly about being a Southern writer:

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

January birthdays...Carl Sandburg

Born January 6, 1878, Galesburg, Illinois

Although not traditionally "Southern," Carl Sandburg spent the last 22 years of his life at his home in Flat Rock, North Carolina. It's worthwhile to visit his estate, Connemara, where you can see his collection of 10,000 books, notes, and papers and the goats, descended from his wife's prize-winning brood! I visited the house years ago, and I remember the homey feel of the home, the messiness of parts of it, papers strewn around, almost as if the writer would come back at any minute...