Sunday, August 30, 2009

Limerick break

Blocked? Need a writing prompt? Consider writing a limerick. Bawdy, satirical-- no matter where you stand on the issues. And we have so many "issues" ripe for rhyme.

The form: 5 line poem, with a "AABBA" rhyme scheme...which just means the first two lines and the last line rhyme, and then there's middle couplet.

Here's an example I just a South Carolina native-- a state with governor troubles right now. 'Nough said, right?

The governor headed for the Appalachian Trail
But detoured for some Argentinian tail
Said the people, "We're strugglin'
No thanks to your snugglin' "
and ran him out on a rail

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Master Class with Lauren Groff

Wikipedia defines a Master Class as "a class given to students of a particular discipline by an expert of that discipline—usually music, but also painting, drama, or any of the arts." In other words, a kick-ass successful bestselling literary writer--teaching and inspiring.

This fall, the Writing Room is offering our first Master Class with an admirable expert-- Lauren Groff , who will lead "After the First Draft,"a hybrid craft seminar and business talk. More about Lauren here and below.

If you're in the area on October 25--and if you're not, think about coming on down or up for a weekend in our fair city AND attend this class--consider being a part of what will be a riveting and inpsiring afternoon. Registration and more info at the Writing Room page on the Emrys foundation website.

Master Class with Lauren Groff: After the First Draft

The Writing Room is thrilled to have New York Times best selling novelist and prize-winning short story writer Lauren Groff lead this three-hour seminar on writing and publishing. Registration for this Oct. 25 seminar closes on October 19. Lauren will be reading from her work at the Emrys Reading Room on Monday, Oct. 26.

Most people breathe a great sigh of relief when they've finished a manuscript--as well they should. In a few days or weeks, however, they may feel at a bit of a loss, and wonder what to do now. This class will be a hybrid craft seminar and business talk, and will cover revision, query letters, agents, and a brief overview of the publishing process. Please bring pens, paper, and your questions.

Date: Sunday, Oct. 25

Time: 2:00 -5:00 pm

Instructor: Lauren Groff

Location: Innovate Building Conference Room,148 River St. Greenville

Cost: $50; $45 Emrys members

Levels: All levels, beginning to advanced

Note: Registration for this seminar closes on Oct. 19.

Lauren Groff 's first novel, The Monsters of Templeton, published in February 2008, was a New York Times and Booksense bestseller, and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers. Her second book, Delicate Edible Birds, is a collection of stories. Both books are published by Hyperion/Voice. Lauren’s short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in a number of journals, including The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, One Story, Five Points and Five Chapters, and in the anthologies Best American Short Stories 2007, Pushcart Prize XXXII, and Best New American Voices 2008. She was awarded the Axton Fellowship in Fiction at the University of Louisville, and has had residencies and fellowships at Yaddo and the Vermont Studio Center. Lauren graduated from Amherst College and has an MFA in fiction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Butterfly favorite "weed" of the day. A little on the garish side color-wise, but otherwise unassuming...and rich in nectar.

I have a guest post today, Book Signings that Rock, over at A Good Blog is Hard to Find. Drop on by!

And tonight-- a Writing Room workshop kicks off at Earth Fare: $5 bucks, two hours of writing. Details here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reading Series: What Makes a Good One?

Author readings: They're happening in bookstores, bars, libraries, and now, private homes [see Poets & Writers article: "thanks to a growing trend in grassroots marketing and publicity, writers in the San Francisco Bay area are reading to packed houses—literally.]

I've been inspired through the years by attending some fascinating readings from authors, and bored by a few readings, as well-- mostly because authors read too long. [I aspire to inspire, but I'm sure I've launched a few yawns in my own readings.]

Now that I'm heading up the Emrys "Reading Room" committee--organizing a local reading series-- I've been pondering how we can punch up the event. We've decided to add a Q&A session after every reading, to encourage conversation about the process of writing. The audience is often eager to learn more about how poets and writers move from idea to printed page. We'll also encourage authors to limit their readings to about 20 minutes, since there are two readers at each event.

Elementary, you say? Well, we've got some other tricks up our sleeves [sorry, but no free wine or beer-- THAT would be a punchy reading series.] We'd like to tape a few minutes of each reading to post online, for example. And encourage the audience to mingle and linger after buy books, of course, but also to bond.

Anybody have any dreamy or nightmarish tales of author readings--anywhere, anytime? Do tell-- comment or email me. I'd love to know!
Meanwhile, if you're in Upstate SC, don't miss the Emrys Reading Room series, as it kicks off tonight with Brian Ray and Joni Tevis, Monday, Aug. 24, 7 pm at the Handlebar, 304 East Stone Avenue, Greenville, SC 29601. Here's more about the featured authors:

Brian Ray grew up in Georgia and then moved to South Carolina, where he spent summers at a steel plant and went to college at the University of South Carolina. He finished an MFA there in 2007, after three years of plugging away at a novel based on life at the mill and some of the wildest things about Columbia and the Palmetto State. Through the Pale Door (Hub City 2009) won the SC First Novel Prize and was a finalist for the Next Generation Indie Book Awards for the debut novel. His work has appeared in Green Mountains Review, Big Muddy, New South, Timbercreek Review, and other journals.

Joni Tevis is from Easley, South Carolina, and earned her PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Houston Creative Writing Program. Her work has been published in Isotope, Shenandoah, Conjunctions, Pleiades, The Bellingham Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Plenty, and elsewhere. The Wet Collection, her book of lyric essays, was published in August 2007 by Milkweed Editions. In this collection, the narrator navigates the peril and excitement of an outward journey complicated by an inward longing for home. Tevis especially likes to explore relationships – how one element in an environment interacts with other elements. At present, she teaches in the English department at Furman University.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Helping Women, Changing the Planet

The Sunday New York Times Magazine today stopped me in my tracks. Actually, I started getting an inkling of the enormous impact of today's series earlier in the week from the Tweets and Facebook entries and blog entries I came across-- a good kind of excited chatter. The theme of the issue is "Saving the World's Women," and the feature article by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, "Why Women's Rights are the Cause of Our Time," is stunning.

You may well know the tragic statistics that make you flinch-- about rape rooms, sex slaves, repression, genital mutilation--as the article points out, " In the 19TH century, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape." But what distinguishes this series is the crack of light-- the hope we're seeing to change the world for the better through women, as the article points out:
There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren't the problem; they’re the solution.
The stories and photos of women overcoming brutality and violence to raise their children, to urge their daughters to be educated in the most hostile environments, are amazing. And then there are the ways to help-- The Power of the Purse by Lisa Belkin is an empowering article about how much impact women in the U.S. and beyond are having since "women give differently than men. They are less likely to want their names on things and more likely to give as part of drives (large ones, like Women Moving Millions, and smaller ones, like living-room 'giving circles') that include other women." While men tend to describe their giving as "practical," women "tend to describe theirs as emotional, an obligation to help those with less." Clearly, it comes down to the what this series of articles points to: how changing the lives of women and girls in the developing world can change everything:
Behind all this giving lies the theory that helping women and children is the way to change the planet. “Seventy percent of people living in poverty around the world are women and children,” says Christine Grumm, president and C.E.O. of the Women’s Funding Network. “If women have a roof over their heads and a home free of violence, and good and affordable health care, then so do children. In the larger picture, it’s not just about women, but entire communities. Women are the conduits through which change is made.
In case you have your own story of reaching out--in a field hospital, orphanage, or right here in your living room, through a giving circle like Dining for Women, The NYT is looking for your story, and requesting you submit your "personal stories that show the work being done in this field around the world, and the possibilities of change." Here's the link.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Keep the Weeds, Write Your Life

Some of the most beautiful plants around are weeds. I've got some wonderful weeds in my garden right now.
[That's plural. WeedS. NOT going there...]

Native plants--they usually don't even get a fancy name--they're some kind of weed. I've mentioned my admiration for Ironweed in a previous post, but I happen to be smitten right now with Joe-pye Weed, butterfly weed, and milkweed...all rich in nectar for butterflies, bees & hummingbirds. In fact, the Mexico-bound monarchs have started fluttering by this week, all over Joe-pye...which is towering high & mighty in my front yard, as you can see here.

So what does this have to do with writing? It's about cherishing the weeds maybe--the events or people in your life you'd rather pull up, ignore or throw out. The painful can be comic, you know. That old saw--right what you know or love? I had a writing teacher who said--forget that, write about something you hate, something that frustrates you, drives you nuts. For most of us in grad school, that meant writing about our jobs. I was waiting tables, and I never dreamed all that aggravation, stiffed tables, and frantic, exhausting work could provide such fodder for humor, but did. In the weeds-- that's restraunt talk for waaaay behind on your tables-- was where Cutter, a character from THE GARDEN ANGEL, often found herself.

Which leads me to...a class we're offering at the Writing Room on Sept. 29. It's called "Write Your Life: Memoir and Personal Essay," and it's all about capturing events from your life to use in your writing. Details here for regional folks who are interested:
  • Write Your Life: Memoir and Personal Essay

This two-hour workshop will help you plunge into the personal themes that make your real life stories uniquely yours. We’ll discover how to determine which events from your life can combine to create a memoir that resonates. We’ll discuss how to use some of these events to begin the process of getting your life on the page. We’ll cover craft elements, including voice and structure, and look at some of the ways in which elements of fiction and poetry can enliven your writing.

Date: Tuesday, Sept. 29

Time: 6:30 – 8:30 pm

Instructor: Heather Magruder

Cost: $25; Emrys members $20

Location: Metropolitan Arts Council, 16 Augusta Street, Greenville

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Time for the Writing Room

Autumn Clematis on our front-stair railing is honeyed, in full bloom-- just ask any bee. They have converged. Major bee convention here, all stripes. Bumble and honey. This is a resiliant vine, a [social] climber, and doesn't always mind its manners. It can be aggressive...or let's just say this is one heckuva ambitious vine. It would just love to scale great heights...and cover the roof. But it sure is comely in the fall...and makes up for its pushiness with mounds of sweetness.

Autumn Clematis blooms mid-August, about the time I send out a full schedule new classes from The Writing Room. The Writing Room is a community-based writing program, sponsored by the Emrys Foundation. We're in our third year and sixth season of offering classes to writers of all levels, at various Greenville, SC locations. And if you're not in the area-- well, I hope to offer an online virtual class or two next we can form a virtual community of global writers!

I thought I'd take a little chunk of the schedule and elaborate on it for the next several blogs. [Amid all the flora and fauna pictures, of course.] I'll talk about why people might be interested in taking a class...what kind of things we'll cover. So here's a basic rundown of the Fall 2009 schedule, which you can read--and register for-- on the Writing Room page of the Emrys website:
  • Monthly $5 workshops at Earth Fare
  • A Master Class on Writing & Publishing from best selling novelist Lauren Groff.
  • Write Your Novel in 12 Weeks: A new novel writing course to help you complete your first draft.
  • Write Your Life: A workshop on capturing your life story.
  • The Craft of Writing: A dozen new two-hour writing classes addressing everything from dialogue, to first drafts, to plot.
Regarding the monthly workshops: This is the first time we've begun offering monthly $5 writing workshops. We have tried to offer at least one free workshop each season, and they are well attended...way, way well attended, and lots of fun, besides. So, I thought we'd offer a workshop every month to keep up the momentum ...we're calling them "Out of Your Head and Onto the Pages." The nominal fee--you can't even get a venti Cappucino for 5 bucks anymore-- covers handouts and the small fee charged by Earth Fare for the use of their Community Room. These workshops are designed not so much for feedback on writing outside of class, but to stimulate creativity and prompt new writing. Here's more info:

Monthly Workshops: Out of Your Head and Onto the Pages
The Writing Room will kick off our monthly workshop series on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at Earth Fare in Greenville. Open to writers of all levels, the fee for each two-hour workshop is $5, payable at the door. These writing workshops are designed to stimulate creativity and generate ideas for fiction and nonfiction. We'll use a series of short in-class writing exercises to inspire new work and deepen your writing. Come prepared to write in class, to share your exercises without fear or self-judgment, and above all, have some fun. Open to writers of all levels, the workshops are led by Mindy Friddle, Heather Magruder and other Writing Room faculty.

Location: Earth Fare Community Room, 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville
Cost: $5. Please pay at the door, cash or check. Space is limited, so please register by emailing or sign up at Earth Fare.
When: Tuesdays: August 25, September 22, October 27, November 10, December 8.
Time: 6:30- 8:30 PM
Levels: all levels, beginner to experienced.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Stop & Smell the Buddleia

Butterflies, after they pupate, only live for about 24 hours. They flutter around in stunning beauty for a day, sucking up nectar.

The tiger swallowtail that posed for me in my front yard on the buddleia here reminds me how important it is to bring myself back into the present moment-- away from the noise and worries of the future, and the weight of the past. That kind of focus and flow happens on good writing days, when I lose all sense of time--clock time.

Sage advice from two blogs today, too good not to share:

From fellow writer Dani Shapiro, who blogs today on entering the internal world of writing: on good writing habits that foster creativity-- and avoiding the bad habits [like the maddening mind chatter from self-Googling.]

I loved Dani's novel Family History by the way...and I'm happy I stumbled upon her blog, and her quote from Virginia Woolf:
"Every day includes much more non-being than being. This is always so. One walks, eats, sees things, deals with what has to be done; the broken vacuum cleaner; ordering dinner; washing; cooking dinner. When it is a bad day the proportion of non-being is much larger."
-- Virginia Woolf

And from Zen Thoughts, some concrete suggestions on how to live without "clock time," and with a quote I loved...this one from Faulkner:
“Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” - William Faulkner

Friday, August 7, 2009

Leo, Leo, Leo!

August dawns muggy and buggy. Temperature in the triple digits...I hear that so often these days, I think it would be the name of a great drink. Bartender, I'll have a triple digit. Make that a double. Even my elephant ears, pictured here, in the shade garden sulk. Cheer up, guys!

Fortunately, I'm keeping cool in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The horses snort, their breath warm clouds, the Russian steppes are frigid, [Anna decidedly not!]the tundra glistening with frost, the ball rooms filled with dancers, the vodka flowing. I'm reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, and if I had another kid, a son--which I'm definitely not, but I'm just saying-- I'd name him Leo. Leo as in Tolstoy, as in a genius, who captures the inner turmoil of relationships and troubled marriage and the heat of romantic love and longing like no one I've ever read before, dead or alive.

It's amazing to think Count Leo...he was a Count, too, that's so cool-- could, in the 1860's, when he wrote this classic, capture so sympathetically the intricacies of women's lives in the face of their limited, suffocating roles in society. Truly, he treats male and female characters equally. Also, there are the seeds of class warfare--the serfs grow restless. But then there are no true villains or heroes in Anna Karenina...everyone is so complex, conflicted, good and, you know, human.

What a tapestry of humanity. What a sprawling beautiful canvas. I'm on page 600 or so...200 more pages. I'm enthralled, absorbed, in awe, and plenty cool, thank you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Right to Bare Arms

They say a woman over 40 goes sleeveless at her own peril.

"They" are probably the same twee folk who warn us wearing white shoes after Labor Day is gauche. And that legs should be panty-hosed in offices, sheathed like sausages, year-round. "They" aren't living around here, that's for sure...where it's 100 degrees, muggy and buggy.

My grandmother, who at 80-something still goes to Silver Sneakers aerobics at the local Y three times a week, says a woman knows she'd old when she waves to someone and her upper arms keep waving and waving....

What can you do? Laugh. Laugh and just accept everything is temporary, even your toned upper arms. Unless you're a vampire.

I admire Michelle Obama's bare arms--

But Madonna's arms are...well, pure gristle. A little scary. After 50, it wouldn't hurt to get a little padding. Do not go gentle in that good night, as Dylan said, but she doesn't look too happy about the fight.

After a while, it's just easier to observe and watch life--passing you by or not, flabbing up your arms maybe, but bringing you wisdom. Hopefully.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Good News

Good news may be hard to find...but it's there if you look for it.

Putting the Bug Outside

Serendipity, good souls, new recordings from the late George Harrison's songs, and an animal sanctuary. Here's an article from today's NYT about a tribute to the late George Harrison, which will help support a home for abused farm animals in upstate New York. One of my favorite quotes:

“He was the kind of guy who always put the bug outside,” Ms. Harrison said in a telephone interview from England. “He never stomped on an ant or a spider.”
Zen in Action

And here's a personal essay from the Modern Love column in Sunday's NYT that describes Zen, with a capital Z, in action.

“I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did.” What would you do if your spouse/significant other calmly announced those words? Throw the nearest crystal vase? [You never liked it old wedding present.] Plunder the cutlery drawer? Max out his credit card? Make an appointment with a bad ass lawyer? How about...nothing.

Fascinating and encouraging to see how the author Laura Munson describes nonresistance, not reacting to ego, acceptance of events out of her control, and taking responsibility for her own happiness strengthened--perhaps saved-- her marriage. An excerpt from "Those Aren't Fighting Words, Dear":
You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “The End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness.
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