Friday, December 28, 2007

Build the Room...and They Will Come

This also appears over on A Good Blog is Hard to Find.

My little town is growing up.

Last night, I attended a screening of a film at my local community theatre --not a movie at the multiplex!--but a a feature-length film produced and directed by Jeff Sumerel (a Greenville, SC native). To My Great Chagrin, a documentary about the comedian/performer Brother Theodore, has been selected by the Museum of Modern Art to have its World Premiere at their Opening Night of the 2008 Documentary Series in February, but we saw it here first.

Yep, she's got legs-- my town. Legs donned in hose and heels. Tonight starts the second annual French Film Festival featuring six award-winning French films. Also, Spam-a-lot is coming to our local performing arts center. And did I mention we are home to The Open Book, the largest independent bookstore in the state? Our museum has a permanent Wyeth collection. Our visual arts community and cool downtown galleries kick butt. There's a natural waterfall downtown--historical Cherokee trading center-- with a pedestrian bridge that's truly breathtaking; stroll across it most days and you'll hear people expressing their delight in several different languages. We've got a symphony and a ballet and the Handlebar, which regularly showcases the best indie bands around. And we have the Reading Room, a reading series, featuring regional authors.

And now, we have a writing program.

THE WRITING ROOM began two years ago with blind faith and gut instinct. I felt certain there was an untapped literary community in the Upstate of South Carolina, and, boy, was there. Without an area MFA program or university writing program, writers really had little in the way of workshops, or camaraderie. And we have some award-wining authors in town--such as Ashley Warlick and Scott Gould--who also happen to be fantastic teachers. So I approached the Emrys Foundation board, a local arts nonprofit, with a proposal to sponsor The Writing Room, and they--bless them--agreed.

In the fall of 2006, The Writing Room was officially launched and began offering writing workshops with a balance of craft discussions, writing exercises, and feedback. Our workshops are held at various locations, all donated spaces, in board rooms, conference rooms, university and high school class rooms, and businesses. Our goal? To build a community of writers who want to learn more about the craft of writing:
"If you’ve never written…we’ll get you started. You may even have an idea for a story, an essay, a novel, a poem, a children’s book…and want some guidance. If you’re an experienced writer… you’ll feel right at home. You’ll find attention, professional criticism, and inspiration.Everyone will find camaraderie. Our goal is to improve your writing and develop your style."
Our fiction workshops filled. There were waiting lists. We began to offer playwriting, creative nonfiction writing for children and young adults, poetry, and screenwriting. Our workshops are small-- no more than a dozen people. The workshop tuition allows us to pay our writing teachers a decent amount. (That's another goal: to pay writers what they're worth.) We offer one-day seminars on a variety of topics as well. Karin Gillespie's Saturday seminar for us last year on writing query letters was a huge success.

It's hard to believe The Writing Room is now offering a fourth round of workshops and seminars. Beginning in January, we’ll offer workshops for fiction and nonfiction writers. We’ll kick things off with a terrific one-day seminar on January 13, “Pitching and Placing Your Writing,” featuring award-winning North Carolina writer Quinn Dalton. For the second time, we’re offering a spring weekend screenwriting seminar.

We've got more planned for the spring, and perhaps on into the summer. Which reminds me--fellow authors--if you've got a book signing in the Palmetto State or you think you might be swinging in our direction, and you have an idea or two for a seminar you could lead, drop me a line. We'd love to have you join our community of writers. We're building a big room.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Picks and Pans

The Golden Compass is one of my favorite fantasy novels. Not since I read A Wrinkle in Time (in fifth grade) or 1984 (in high school) have I felt so transported into a "parallel" world. Too bad the movie felt rushed and jumpy, and if I hadn't read the book, I'd still be lost somewhere in the Arctic Circle. If you haven't yet read the novel-- or the His Dark Materials trilogy-- I'd skip the film.

Reading right now: The March by E.L. Doctorow, about Sherman's march through the South. I'm a great admirer of Doctorow's ability to weave skillful, moving portraits of historical figures-- who appear as fully-realized characters-- in his fiction. Or, as Publisher's Weekly puts it, his "gift for getting into the heads of a remarkable variety of characters, famous or ordinary."

I also recommend The War Of Art for any writer (or artist). Written by screenwriter and author Steven Pressfield (Legend of Bagger Vance), it's the testereone-charged, kick-ass version of The Artist's Way by Julie Cameron.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Soul Feed

My flowerbox has gone from high summer:

and hunkered down to cool-season annuals:

I leave you with an instant soul feed: reading Whitman's Leaves of Grass.
To think how much pleasure there is!
Have you pleasure from looking at the sky? Have you pleasure
from poems?
Do you enjoy yourself in the city? or engaged in business? or
planning a nomination and election? or with your wife and family?
Or with your mother and sisters? or in womanly housework? or
the beautiful maternal cares?

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