Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Guest Post: A Good Blog is Hard to Find

I've included a little more detail about the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction today on A Good Blog is Hard to Find...including how to nominate a southern author for next year's award.

See my previous post here, "My Arm is Purple," for details on how SECRET KEEPERS received this honor.

And speaking of purple arms--well, sort of-- my toes are blue. Blue from the cold, from a day that may not THAW, a day where temperatures don't so much HOVER around 30 degrees F, but cling to it with icy claws.

Photo credit: Red and the Peanut 

I'm filling the bird feeder twice a day now-- early morning and late afternoon--because the birds are stuffing their little gullets to keep warm...It takes a energy and puffed up down to survive this chill, and it amazes me every day as I look out and see my feathered, downy winged friends chawing and cracking away at the suet and peanuts and sunflower seeds and safflower seed--how they can survive in this frozen hard cold earth. 

But they do. Rather cheerfully. And they sing, too!

It's the small miracles that astound.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ha ha. Ouch.

HBO's documentary on Fran Lebowitz was so good, I lost track of time and missed Conan's monologue.
 The girl is witty.
A few vinegary shots from Ms. Lebowitz:

Very few people possess true artistic ability. It is therefore both unseemly and unproductive to irritate the situation by making an effort. If you have a burning, restless urge to write or paint, simply eat something sweet and the feeling will pass.
Fran Lebowitz

I prefer dead writers because you don't run into them at parties.  Fran Lebowitz

Monday, November 22, 2010

An Excerpt from my WIP

The autumn.

I love the autumn.

The maples. The maples!

This one is in my backyard...I can see it from my office window.

I've discovered the seasons influence whatever I'm working on...especially this season.

A raw paragraph, which may be edited, deleted, or stetted,  from a Work in Progress:

Miss Howard looked at her watch. She had forty minutes. She walked purposely past the community garden in the park, a brave little project begun by young, eager do-gooders. There, the season’s beauty lingered. The giant sunflowers, seeded heads cocked, looked down at her, the asters screamed purple, the Heavenly Blue morning glories having scaled the chain link, preened in the pink morning light.  A monarch fluttered past, bound for Mexico. The brash beauty of the golden maples and scarlet dogwoods demanded she stop, and admire.  While poets were besotted with spring, Miss Howard found the fall to be most poignant season of all. Every year she saw more clearly the effort the natural world put forth-- the last, stubborn throes of bloom--before winter killed and cut. Every year the wistful earth seemed to draw her closer. She might bother with Mall Walkers and a dozen pills everyday--calcium, the vitamins, the fish oil, the Lipitor, the aspirin, the Celebrex—but one autumn soon, the beautiful, fatal earth was going to welcome Miss Howard. She would be ready.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Attention Must Be Paid

Apparently, scientists needed evidence that Living in the Now is beneficial. Hence, this article from the NYT science section Wandering Mind is a Sign of Unhappiness:
Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing. 
...it’s in keeping with the religious and philosophical admonitions to “Be Here Now,” as the yogi Ram Dass titled his 1971 book. The phrase later became the title of a George Harrison song warning that “a mind that likes to wander ’round the corner is an unwise mind.”
Or, to put it in the positive, a focused mind is wise and happy.
“Flow” — immersing your mind fully in activity— is key.

Writing, for example.

Which leads me to a clumsy but apt transition...a favorite quote:
If you dedicate your attention to discipline in your life you become smarter while you are writing than while you are hanging out with your pals or in any other line of work. --Russell Banks

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tomorrow: Community Writing Workshop

I'm leading tomorrow's Writing Room Workshop: "Out of Your Head and Onto the Pages."

For the price of a Cappuccino,
you can write in class,
and share your in-class creations.

Sunday, Nov. 14, 2-4 pm. Bobby Pearse Community Center, N. Main Park.

These second Sunday $5 workshops, sponsored by the Emrys Foundation and Greenville Parks & Rec, are designed to stimulate creativity and generate ideas. We’ll use a some in-class writing exercises to inspire new work. 

The focus for tomorrow's workshop are beautiful sentences. Great first lines*.

Smart gripping scene starters. Openings-- those shiny cut jewels! 

The stuff's too good not to share. A virtual workshop, maybe? 

*As noted in my previous post on great first lines:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
-- One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
--Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together. - Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

The Grandmother didn't want to go to Florida.-- Flannery O'Connor, "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. - George Orwell, 1984

They shoot the white girl first. - Toni Morrison, Paradise

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. - Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. - Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Monday, November 8, 2010

Autumn Shift

Already it is Autumn and I noticed the birds very dilegently scarffing up the seed and the squirrels frantically stuffing themselves.

One squirrel, an adolescent one, judging from his slight, wiry body and his unbushy tale, came all the way up to the front porch and helped himself--as you see from the photo-- to the jack-o-lantern...turning a fairly friendly pumpkin to a zombie flesh eater.

I came across this description of the Fall from my local Yoga place:
The energy of the tree is beginning its retreat down into its core and roots to prepare for Winter's cold. All unnecessary energy is conserved and protected, and what is no longer useful is let go. It is a symbol of the beautiful process of transformation--of ongoing change.

Fall is a time for examination, for letting go of what is burning our energy up unnecessarily. Metal, the element associated with Fall, is a symbol of detachment and dividing what is essential from what is not, so that we are purer in the end.
I think that's a lovely description of Autumn.

Part of my energy, to prepare for the winter, is being directed to reading...a favorite winter pasttime...[a favorite summer pastime, too.]

I read and recommend Freedom by Jonathon Franzen, mentioned previously... I'm reading The Best American Short Stories of 2010, edited by Richard Russo, and recommend it also.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Why My Arm is Purple

The closest I will come to gripping an Oscar...
was being presented the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction last week at the New York Yacht Club.
I'd like to thank the Academy...

Thanks to Reba Williams, founder of the award, and Dave Williams, her husband, and the judges who decided on SECRET KEEPERS as the winner, I had a heavenly week.

I pinched myself a lot. Hence, the purple arm.

My friends, if you have a southern author in mind who has had a book published this year or next, a book set in the South, nominate them for this award--and send in a copy of their galley or book to Reba for consideration.

I tell you, last week's reception was one of the best moments of my writing life.

Among those attending the reception were David, Aurora and James, editors and publicists from Picador.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Voracious Reader

I am guest blogging today for A Good Blog is Hard the Find:

I was an Army brat. We moved from South Carolina to Bremerhaven, Germany when I was nine.  Then something happened that had an impact on my life -- a big old crater-sized impact.
Our television didn't work.         CONTINUE READING

That's me, at nine,  Girl Scout wanna be....

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Freedom Reading

Monarch stopping by.
Moonvine slowly opens at 6 pm
Cloudy and only 80 degrees? That's positively crisp.

I'm out there. All day. The monarchs are stopping by--one hanging out on the fall aster-- the hummingbirds are zipping, the moonvine parasols are opening at dusk every day-->

 And so, having overdone it, and pulled muscles, lugged bags of compost the wrong way [with back and not knees] I'm paying for it.

Sore. Tired. Ready to read.

 You've probably heard about the dust-up around Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom.
I'm reading it on my iPad...and generally...loving it.

By the second chapter, especially--found myself hooked. Patty is one of those characters with more layers than Baklava.

Don't know if it will live up to all the hooplah--cover of Time?! Great American Novelist? etc., etc.

Maybe. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Fall 2010 Writing Room Schedule

Hot off the press, as they say. Actually, before the press...think of this as a preview. A galley.

This year, we are partnering with the
City of Greenville's Parks & Recreation to offer Writing Room classes.

All Writing Room offerings this fall will be at the Bobby Pearse Community Center here, at North Main Park across from the Soda Shop,  904 Townes Street, Greenville, SC 29609-5500 (864) 467-4331. 
Hope to see you there!

Here's  the skinny on the fall Writing Room schedule...registration should be ready soon on the Emrys website:

Monthly Writing Workshops: Out of Your Head and Onto the Pages
These writing workshops, led by various members of the Writing Room faculty, 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.
All levels, beginner to experienced
Instructor(s): One or more of the Writing Room Faculty
Location: Bobby Pearse Community Center
When: The second Sunday of the month: Sept. 12, Oct. 10, Nov. 14, Dec. 12
Time: 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Cost: $5 cash only. Please pay at the door.


Memoir: Work & the  Story of Your Life
We've all held a variety of jobs, both paid and unpaid, and even if we didn't realize it at the time, we were collecting immersion research material for possible future essays. In this class, we'll use a focused reading of work essay excerpts as jumping-off points for our own work, and start drafting essays about our various work experiences.
All levels, beginner to experienced
Instructor: Joni Tevis
Location: Bobby Pearse Community Center
When: Sunday, October 24
Time: 2:00 – 4:00 pm
Cost: $25; $20 Emrys members
A former park ranger, factory worker, and cemetery-plot-seller, Joni Tevis currently teaches literature and creative writing at Furman University. Her book of lyric essays, The Wet Collection, was published by Milkweed Editions.
Creative Writing 101 Workshop
This six-week workshop provides an excellent overview for beginners or anyone who wants to brush up on the craft and practices of creative writing. We’ll talk about fundamental elements such as point of view, character development, plot, dialogue, voice, imagery and setting. You’ll get a mixture of brief lectures that hit the high-points and weekly writing exercises that let you try your hand at what you’ve just learned. Discussion of published works—short stories, novel and memoir excerpts, and creative nonfiction— will illustrate these concepts. You’ll also have the option to share and discuss each other’s work. At the conclusion of our workshop, you’ll be a more knowledgeable and skilled writer and will have gained a sense of where to move onward with your writing.
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Instructor: Mindy Friddle
Location: Bobby Pearse Community Center
6-week class
Wednesdays: Nov 3, 10, 17 and Dec. 1, 8, 15
Time: 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.
Fee: $180; $170 Emrys members
 Mindy Friddle is founder and director of the Writing Room. Her novel, The Garden Angel (St. Martin’s Press/Picador) was a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers.” Secret Keepers, her second novel, won the 2009 Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Butterfly Watch

The butterflies are migrating...I counted three tiger swallowtails, two black swallowtails, a monarch, and a painted lady.

They love the butterfly bushes of course, but they can't stay away from the joe-pye weed.

 When you think about it--or maybe when you don't think, you just feel-- the butterfly is the most amazing creature.  Those intricately designed thin-as-paper wings-- that carry the creature from flower to flower so it can lap up the sweet nectar with its tongue...and it travels over oceans...miles and miles. I mean, who could make that up?
They say the turtle makes progress only when she sticks her neck out. Figuratively speaking. 
I spotted this turtle on a walk the other day....moved her/him a few yards away to safety.

Not to be outdone by the ethereal aesthetics of butterflies-- turtles are their kind of wow.  Reptilian scaly feet are earthbound but that shell! With its own decor...like the butterfly wings' designs.

Monday, August 9, 2010


FILM, I mean.

Do you read a novel with a clear picture of the character in your head-- an actor?

You think....So-and-so would be perfect as  Jake.

Or, I always pictured someone like [Academy-award winning actor A] playing her.

On MyBooktheMovie today you'll find the sterling cast I suggest for SECRET KEEPERS the movie, starting with Emma:

Emma Hanley - Frances Conroy
I’ll never forget Frances Conroy's fascinating role as Ruth, the matriarch on HBO’s Six Feet Under. Both Frances and Emma, as it happens, are redheads and willowy and southern. Frances, born in Georgia, would capture Emma's soft lilt and steely kindness--and her unexpected chance for a late-in-life romance. She’d make Emma her own.
READ MORE including who will play Jake, Dora, Kyle, and Gordon. Oh, and also a suggestion for director.

Thanks, Marshal Zeringue for asking me to cast my movie!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Point of View Reading List

I just wound up my class at Hub City's "Writing in Place," where we focused on point of view. Here is my reading list for exploring point of view, one of the most fascinating and important elements of fiction writing:


First Person POV                                          Second Person POV "you,"
The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald                      Bright Lights, Big City, McInerney
Housekeeping, Robinson                           "How to Become a Writer," Moore
Huckleberry Finn, Twain                            Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, Robbins
Anywhere but Here, Simpson                     If on a winter's night a traveler, Italo Calvino
Lolita, Nabokov

First Person POV, serial
                          Third Person, Objective, [mostly dialogue]
One Foot in Eden, Rash                             “Hills like White Elephants,” Hemingway
The Poisonwood Bible, Kingsolver            “I-900,” Bausch
                                                                     “I-80 Nebraska,” Sayles
First Person POV, plural “we”     
"A Rose for Emily," Faulkner                    Third Person POV, Close
The Virgin Suicides, Eugenides                 Norwood, Portis
Then We Came to the End, Ferris               Rich in Love, Humphreys

                   Third Person, serial
As I lay Dying, Faulkner                        Little Children, Perrotta
The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood               Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Tyler   
                                                                  The Hours, Cunningham
Third Person, Omniscient       
Bleak House, Dickens                            Various Narrative Points of View, alternated
Empire Falls, Russo                               Two Girls, Fat and Thin, Gaitskill
Ragtime, Doctorow                                Machine Dreams, Phillips
Bel Canto, Patchett                                 I was Amelia Earhart, Mendelsohn
Anna Karenina, Tolstoy                         The White Hotel, Thomas
Pride and Prejudice, Austen                 The Plague of Doves, Erdrich
Amy and Isabelle, Strout                       The Bluest Eye, Morrison
Ironweed, Kennedy
“A Good Man is Hard to Find,” O’Connor     

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hub City This Weekend: It's About Perspective

I'm going to be at the Hub City Writing Conference this weekend in Spartanburg, SC. I'm leading a fiction workshop, and my focus is narrative point of view in fiction. [Info on the conference registration follows, but my class is full. I think all the fiction classes are full! ]

The essential question for point of view: Who is telling the story?

Narrative point of view is about perspective. Through whose perspective or “consciousness” is the story viewed?

Besides the first person, "I"--which everyone seems to start out with-- there's first person plural, "we," and second person, "you." And third person "close," where we have access to the thoughts of one character. Third person omniscient is what I'm most interested in exploring, especially because not enough writers use it. Or don't start using it early enough...it is a "mature writer's technique," as Richard Russo mentions in his fabulous essay, "in Defense of Omniscience."

In Praise of the Narrator as Storyteller...with authority. And wit. And inside knowledge.

I love that witty know-it-all narrator in omniscient POV, the storyteller who takes you by the hand with authority, and leads you into the story.[ Or perches with you in the front row to watch the drama, or settles in for court-side seats.] The narrator who judges, predicts, warns, praises, moves back and forth in time.

This kind of narrator:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." -- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Debra Spark's essay, "Stand Back," from Curious Attractions: Essays on Fiction Writing, University of Michigan Press is immensly helpful and a pleasure to read. I'll be quoting from Debra on this subject, too:

“. . .many contemporary narratives are written in first person or in a third person that's a virtual stand-in for the first person. [In that case,] the third-person narrator has access to a single consciousness and rarely uses his or her status as narrator to offer up much that a single consciousness wouldn't provide. Your narrator need not be your protagonist. Or you, for that matter. Distance can, in some cases-for some stories-be a good thing. And even when distance isn't advisable, it can't hurt to consider options for the narrator-character relationship.” –Debra Spark

Hub City Writers Conference and Bookshop Opening
There are still spaces available  in fiction and non-fiction at the 10th annual Hub City Writing Conference July 30-Aug. 1 at Wofford College. This year's event features a keynote address by novelist Elizabeth Berg and Sunday morning panel session with representatives of small presses and literary magazines on the topic of "how to get published."
Published novelists, poets, essayists, and literary critics lead a series of workshops over three days that include intense instruction, challenging exercises, and an opportunity for feedback. To register, please visit www.hubcity.org/conference.

Friday, July 23, 2010

She's my tomato...and a recipe

Just letting it all hang out.

It's 100 today. That's oppressive for everything but tomatoes. This one was begging-- pick me!

If you want tomatoes roasted, just pick them at about 4  or 5 o'clock. Their skins are warm and thin, their flesh is tender and juicy.

The world is experiencing the hottest summer on record. Ever. The world.

So, anyway. Friday's Funkytime on a day like this begins with a bourbon slush.

Here's how to make it:

Gather up this stuff: 
  • 1 (6 ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 1 (12 ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate
  • 1 cup  sugar
  • 2 cups strong brewed black tea
  • 2 cups bourbon whiskey
  • Some water-- 6  to 7 seven cups
  • mint sprigs from the garden

Mix it up and put it in the freezer. Overnight is best unless you're desperate. Serve it slushy. Gussy it up with sprigs of mint and lemon or orange wedges. Sit on the porch and sip your adult slushy and remember what December feels like.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shannon's Online Writing Workshops

I'm lucky to know Shannon Cain from grad school. We both earned--and I mean earned--a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing--"MFA"-- from Warren Wilson. That means we workshopped together, laughed, cried and drank and cried...and laughed.

Shannon has an incredible bio. She's an award-winning writer and an editor. And she's a creative entrepreneur-- her latest Big Important Idea is to start an online writing workshop for writers usually with an MFA or equivalent--writers serious about their craft.

The impressive Summer/Fall 2010 Online Post Graduate Workshops in Fiction schedule is HERE.
The next workshop starts August 23, with guest co-leader Robin Black. [Another brilliant woman and incredible writer.]
 How it works:
Workshops are six weeks in length and organized in a bulletin board format.  Each week, three participants post their stories for review and commentary by Shannon and the group. In the final half of the workshop, they will be joined by a guest co-leader. Each participant will have the opportunity to have one story or chapter workshopped by our guest.                           

Cost: $375. Register by emailing Shannon. Register early: groups are limited to 9 participants.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Today there's an interview with me on A Good Blog is Hard to Find

Among the questions, Did I face any challenges when writing SECRET KEEPERS? Besides the usual "What am I doing trying to write a novel? Am I crazy?" thoughts. . .


what is my favorite line from the book?
When I've read SECRET KEEPERS to a group, it's the line that gets the guffaws. Read MORE

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer Daze

It's deep hot summer. The first sunflower in my garden is cheerful and beautiful.  I mostly admire it behind an air-conditioned window.  It's that hot.

 You're beautiful, Sunflower!

Last summer, I read Anna Karenina and loved Anna Karenina not only because it is a page turner, and great literature, and Tolstoy is a genius, but because it's the perfect t summer read because it's set in Russia!  And being in St. Petersburg and Moscow--even vicariously-- is a welcome relief when you're in July, in South Carolina. 

This summer has been the hottest ever, but every summer I say that.

This summer, my refreshing cool addictive read isn't set in the Russian winter, but it's close.

It's Sweden.

So, unless you've been off the grid for a while, you've heard of Steig Larrson and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the other two Girl books. I'm almost through the second one.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

W.S. Merwin--perfect!

The Library of Cogress got it right.
They've named W.S. Merwin the new U.S. poet laureate.
Nice coverage here from the NYT.

A theme of Merwin's work--humanity's separation from nature. He has "an extraordinary interest and devotion to the natural world." He's won the Pulitzer twice.

He lives in Hawaii  where is said to have cultivated more than 700 endangered species of indigenous plants on a former pineapple plantation, "including the hyophorbe indica, a palm tree he helped save from extinction."

Although raised in the Western tradition, he said he feels more affinity with an Eastern one, “being part of the universe and everything living.” With that exhilarating connection comes responsibility, however. “You don’t just exploit it and use it and throw it away any more than you would a member of your family,” he said. “You’re not separate from the frog in the pond or the cockroach in the kitchen.”
 Merwin poem:
For a Coming Extinction,” from “The Lice”:

Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Being There

Earth laughs in flowers. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

My rain barrel is empty. We've had a dry spell.  This morning I found myself outside watering-- dousing a few of the tender things--moonflower vine, tomatoes, phlox. And this day lily.

It's like writing: You have to be patient with yourself through the dry spells. Spot water when you need to. Nurture the creativity.

It made me think of the movie Being There. [It came out in the late 70's, but I watched it again the other night. It is not to be missed.]

Chauncy Gardner, a simpleton at total ease with himsef, talks in garden metaphors, and the world thinks he's brilliant: "In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again."

And then the president, who seeks economic advice, says, "I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time."

The Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction

This is what I think about literary awards: they come about from selfless acts and are created and run by generous people. They are vital to writers and the literary world because they keep writing  important. Literary awards shine a big bright spotlight on novels and nonfiction and poetry and short fiction--they keep it all vital for authors and readers.

Can you tell I'm leading up to something?

I just received word SECRET KEEPERS received the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction. A huge honor, an annual prize "for the best novel set in the South." The award includes  $2,500, an expense-paid trip to New York City, and a luncheon at the Yacht Club.

It was the kind of email that would have set my heart galloping, except it already was-- I'd just come in from the garden and was already out of breath, with a racing heart. It was 100 degree out there, and I had been shoveling mulch, and was smarting from fire ant bites. This sounds like I'm complaining but I'm not-- I love those hard chores, the sweat, and the sore muscles. It clears my head. It strengthens my writing. It is, I realize, my meditation practice.  So-- I came inside finally, because I was out of my 100+ strength sunscreen. I have this Irish-English-Welsh skin--from my forebears generations ago-- skin that prefers foggy moist days.  Outside, I wear a big floppy hat and sunglasses and gloves and a long-sleeved shirt outside-- I look the Invisible Man (pictured here for your convenience)  if he were a woman. 

  I glanced at my email while I guzzled another glass of water and my knees went weak, and I sat down, trying to keep sweat drops off my laptop. After shock wore off, gratitude filled me, and that's one of the best feelings a human can have: gratitude.

So, looks like I'll be heading up to NYC in October, and meeting the judges of this fantastic award.

Writing is a solitary business. And then you send your novels out in the world-- like they are children who must make their own way.
How gratifying to know Secret Keepers might qualify for this award that is, as the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction explains,  "chosen for the quality of its prose, originality, and authenticity of setting and characters." Or in the words of the writer Willie Morris, the spirit of the novel might bring "hope for belonging, for belief in a people's better nature, for steadfastness against all that is hollow or crass or rootless or destructive."

Thank you doesn't even begin to cover it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wishing You a Happy Midsummer Night's Eve

Tonight is Midsummer Night's Eve, also known as Mead Moon, also known as St. John's Eve.

It's  called St. John's Eve because--who would've thunk it-- St. John is the patron saint of beekeepers!

And now, as I can pretty much vouch from the activity in my front yard, the bees--and butterflies--are busy and the hives are full of honey. [Honey used to be fermented to make mead.  Hence, the term "honeymoon,"--a time for lovers.]

So tonight is the best night to gather herbs. Magical herbs, which I assume are illegal, except for in California.

Drink the dew-- Midsummer Night Eve's dew has healing powers. 

Sleep with a flower underneath your pillow tonight: You'll dream about your future lover. [Okay, that's for you youngin's.] But remember:

"The course of true love never did run smooth."
-- Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Eve

Tonight is Midsummer Night's Eve, also called St. John's Eve. St. John is the patron saint of beekeepers. It's a time when the hives are full of honey. The full moon that occurs this month was called the Mead Moon, because honey was fermented to make mead. That's where the word "honeymoon" comes from, because it's also a time for lovers. An old Swedish proverb says, "Midsummer Night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking." Midsummer dew was said to have special healing powers.
In Mexico, people decorate wells and fountains with flowers, candles, and paper garlands. They go out at midnight and bathe in the lakes and streams. Midsummer Eve is also known as Herb Evening. Legend says that this is the best night for gathering magical herbs. Supposedly, a special plant flowers only on this night, and the person who picks it can understand the language of the trees. Flowers were placed under a pillow with the hope of important dreams about future lovers.
Shakespeare (books by this author) set his play "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on this night. It tells the story of two young couples who wander into a magical forest outside Athens. In the play, Shakespeare wrote, "The course of true love never did run smooth."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

If Only They Were Scratch & Sniff

Fragrance in the garden now is ...almost describable. Almost.

It seems the only way you can describe a smell, is by referencing another smell. 
New mown grass. Beer. Bread. Rotten eggs. Those seem to be a few of the "primary" smells you use to describe others smells.

I know. Sounds funhouse mirror weird.

But take this magnolia, for example.

If you've ever smelled one, or floated one in water with a candle, you might describe it as a lemony honeyed aroma. It smells like heaven.

 The gardenias-- wow. Thick seductive sweet vanilla-ey.

I remember reading Mary Karr's memoir-- the first one-- and the way she described the smell of the factory town, paper factory probably:
it " smelled like a wicked fart. "
I got that.

From Richard Price: "A greasy aroma drifted down from the third-floor food court — spare ribs and Cinnabons..."

Okay, from one of my own--SECRET KEEPERS. Emma and her grandson:

Emma stepped beside Kyle and breathed in the scent of his neck--soap, a little sweat, a whiff of smoke and something else, something boyish and budding, tickly as pollen. He smelled delicious.  

Sensory detials i

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bohemian Rhapsody: Tonight's Reading Room

If you're around and feelin' bohemian tonight, you don't want to miss the local reading series: The Emrys Reading Room, 7 pm, at the Bohemian Cafe in downtown Greenville, W. Stone Ave.

The Reading Room is a place to hear authors read from their work, eat and drink, be merry, and generally act bohemian. [Black berets and cigarette holders optional.]

Tonight's readers are:

poet, essayist, short story writer, novelist
author of four novels. The latest: the award-winning An Unfinished Score.

The Reading Room is brought to you by Emrys.

Unless you live hundreds of miles away and can't make the drive, it would be great to see you there tonight.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Masterful First Lines

There are first lines, and there are masterful first lines.

The best opening lines of  a novel or short story do many things at once: a first line may intrigue you, create tension or hint at a conflict, say something about a character. A first line is beautiful or lyrical or witty--always memorable.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
-- One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
 [It's famous for a reason. I'm always amazed how that barbed hint about the firing squad adds suspense, hooks me, until I find out what happens.]

Riding up the winding road of St. Agnes Cemetery in the back of the rattling old truck, Francis Phelan became aware that the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods.
--Ironweed, William Kennedy
[Francis is, as he refers to himself, a "bum"--a homeless alcoholic, once a star baseball player, who now digs graves to earn money for his next drink.The Catholic graveyard has large marble headstones for the wealthy families, and unmarked for the poor.]

Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
--Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
[I remember being shocked when I read that first line at 14-- Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful? Huh?]

In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together. - Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
[Love that line-- that confident narrator. Those characters.  Love that novel.]

The Grandmother didn't want to go to Florida.-- Flannery O'Connor, "A Good Man is Hard to Find."
[The best short story written in English. I'm not partial-- just because O'Connor was a southern writer. That simple line is sharp as a blade and will bring about the doom of the family, put them at the mercy of a serial killer, a nihilist, [the Misfit shows no mercy] who, as he coolly threatens  the grandmother, will espouse his theory-- ("Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead," The Misfit continued, "and He shouldn't have done it. He thrown everything off balance.")-- and bring about the grandmother's moment of grace....but you knew that, right?]

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. - George Orwell, 1984
[Love that matter of fact craziness-- the world is off it's rocker, and has been for some time. We get that right away.]

They shoot the white girl first. - Toni Morrison, Paradise
['nough said.]

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
[Panoramic wide-screen line, filled with big ideas and a narrator who takes you by the hand.]

Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. - William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
[Faulkner is such a visual writer, when I read him I feel I'm in a vivid dream--and this line plunges one in the story.]

We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall. - Louise Erdrich, Tracks
[Oh, that gentle play on words, that brutal meaning:  'to fall' like the snow, like death.]

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. - Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
[You have to read this, after that opening.]

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. - Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
[Both gorgeous and foreboding as only Plath can do.]

They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. - Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea  
[The suffering caused by colonialism is in that first line.]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Garden, My Asylum

I'm a guest blogger today over at Magical Musings:

Someone asked me if the garden is where I do my best thinking. I told her it’s where I do my best not thinking. Inspiration arrives unbidden. The seeds of ideas are sown. (Continue reading.)
 Pictured here from my garden: sunflower with smitten bee, sticky with pollen.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Refuge in the Garden, but Dwelling on the Gulf Coast

I changed out the  window box-- from kale, mustard and Johnny Jump Ups to Geraniums, petunias, Lantana, and heather.

The Larkspur is in bee-covered glory, as the Bard can attest.

Everything is clumped and ready to unfurl, petaled and perfumed.

It's a sanctuary. The garden is an asylum in the old--and precise-- use of the word. It's the place where I try to keep my sanity on this crazy, peopled planet.

It's a refuge from the news--and the coverage of the unconscionable oil spill disaster.
 It's selfish-- I can't stand to think about it: To look at the pictures of oil-drenched dolphins, sea turtles, birds and whales who pay the price of this horrible greedy monstrous tragedy.

Tragedy-- in the ancient Greek definition: heartbreak and ruin brought on by a tragic flaw.

The tragic flaw is our dependence on oil. 

What can you do? Well, besides not driving gas guzzlers--trying not to drive at all-- you can donate to wildlife organizations. I did-- [modestly, unfortunately] to the National Wildlife Federation, which has a targeted response to the oil spill, and to Upstate Forever, a local environmental group-- because I felt the Earth needed some good thoughts and some ka-ching coming her way.

Here's a better way. A powerful way. Are you an author?

A group of authors formed today: LEAGUE OF AUTHORS FOR ACTION IN THE GULF COAST.
The group, spearheaded by author Nicole Seitz, will discuss ways to capture the stories of the animals, wildlife, the people who are suffering-- and share it with the world. Never again. You can join or find out more information on the group's page on Facebook,  or Tweet or DM @NicoleSeitz, or email her at nicole@nicoleseitz.com.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hanging Out with the Chicks

This is the hen and her brood who live down the street from me. They live behind an antique store.There were four chicks last week, but the hawk grabbed one for her own brood. I get it. Hawks aren't vegetarians.

 The rooster--not pictured--crows. A lot. I like it, though. I hear him everyday now. The crowing is both reassuring and disconcerting. Another day, another day, another day.

I once owned a rooster named Foxbait [he was rescued from a fox trap]. He had more personality than most engineers I know.  He shredded dog food bags with his wee spurs--he was a bantam. Maybe because the bags were Purina red? Or maybe he hated that Purina checker pattern? There it was-- a twenty pound bag of dog food one minute, and a pile of kibble and a hula skirt the next.

One of my all-time favorite short stories--the kind of story that will linger in your thoughts, cling to you like smoke after you read it-- is I want to Live! by Thom Jones. A terminally ill woman on her deathbed thinks of Mr. Barnes, the rooster from her childhood, and admires his pluck, his cockiness, his grabbing life and living it. Somehow this theme gets intertwined with the German philosopher Schopenhauer-- but it works. It works.

Read it, you'll see. From the prize-winning collection The Pugilist at Rest.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Oh, The Paperback Arrives!

The paperback edition of SECRET KEEPERS arrived on my doorstep Friday, swaddled in cardboard, pink and healthy. 

 Isn't she gorgeous?  Thank you Picador!

Are you ready for the world, baby girl?

The inspiration: A vintage seed packet. Love the torn edge on top, with the spillin' seeds... [Oops...pardon the double entendre.] The flowers are vibrant and beautiful-- sirens to lure readers in. [Sirens like the women on the island in mythology NOT the ambulance Sy-REENs that scream at intersections.]

Already heard the jokes about the  10 cents.   Ha ha. Is this the price? Ha ha. NOPE. It may be vintage, but this baby has an ISBN ...you can scan!

The official PUB DAY is May 25, and you can have lunch with me on Wednesday, May 26 to celebrate this paperback edition!

Here are the details on the BOOK YOUR LUNCH event at the Lazy Goat on Wed. May 26 at noon--thank you FICTION ADDICTION!  Visit this link to  reserve your space and select your meal [no later than May 24...can't  just walk in...the chef needs the plan, man...sorry.]

Hope hope HOPE to see you there. Unless your hundreds of miles away or in another country or something.

Book Your Lunch with Mindy Friddle

Mindy Friddle
Mindy Friddle
Wed., May 26th, 2010 from 12-2pm
The Lazy Goat, $25 per person
Purchase Tickets & Books / View menu
Greenville novelist Mindy Friddle is also a gardener and her horitcultural passion seeps into her writing. Her second novel, Secret Keepers (Picador, paperback, $14.00) is set in a small Southern town — a land of neglected Confederate monuments, faith-based shopping centers, and overgrown, seedy estates — where a once-grand heirloom garden is covertly rescued, revealing a divided family’s secret lives of turmoil and yearning.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Where I've Been

Either inside*...
[You can tell when
it is going well.
The dustballs and dirty dishes pile up.]
Or outside

The Garden
this month is an
Iris Spring--->
Everything is awake now
bleery-eyed, newly green
shaking off the dark and cold
Me, too.
I have beds to make
[and amend
with compost.]

*“It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet.”--Franz Kafka

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bloody Butcher: Harbinger of Spring

I was walking in the woods the other day, which is where I go to escape people and my own busy mind. 

Otto leads me, alert and happy in the moment...dogs are the best Zen teachers, I swear!

I ran across several welcome harbinger of spring-- robins and this oddly beautiful woodland treat: Purple Trillium recurvatum, or Bloody Butcher, a "charming native woodland wildflower suitable for growing in shade gardens over most of the U.S." Trillium blooms in April, which is the perfect warm weather announcement: Put your sweaters in the attic! Plant seeds!  Shave your legs-- it's here!

Trillium, because of three leaves.  I get that.
But "Bloody Butcher"?? There's a story behind that-- I'm going to find out what it is. . .as soon as I find a plant folklorist.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Trees are Randy, Baby

Yeah, Baby-->
They say on a full-moon day in May, the Buddha sat under the shady Bodhi tree in deep meditation and attained enlightenment.

 "The groves were God's first temples."  ~William Cullen Bryant said.

When I want to clear my head, I go outside among the tall, stoic trees. And lately, I sneeze.

Everything is chartreuse. Everyone is sneezing and wheezing, suffering from all the trees'  floating "male gametes"-- tree sperm.

There must be some randy going-ons at night--which gives new meaning to "tree crotch."

April showers bring relief from pollen...and might finally uncover my [formerly blue] car and my [formerly black] porch.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Clock Guts

Keep a collection of your insights, eavesdropped conversations, weird fragments. I tell you, it's fascinating. Especially months or years later-- you think, where did I get that?

If you write, keeping a record of these jotted down quirky coils of words is invaluable. Even if you don't it's pretty entertaining.

I call them clock guts.

I have piles of “clock guts”—exquisite, fragmented scenes and sentences; odd phrases. Sometimes I try to transform them into a smoothly running, ticking machine. A narrative. A novel.
 F. Scott Fitzgerald kept notebooks of brief entries under headings: Descriptions, Atmosphere, Titles, Names, Ideas, Etc.

Example: "Age offered no release. She still enjoyed being kissed after too much sherry, though now the uninspired mouth of a chauffeur would suffice."[Read more from this NYer article}

 So, anybody have some interesting guts to share?

Here are a few random clock guts from my own collection: 
I bought Seahorses buy for a dime each a Myrtle Beach gift store, dried and hard, hundreds stacked in a bowl by the cash register like peanuts or chips. Now I was fluid and soft with feeling.

There were three of us and I was the smart one--like, if were were Charlie’s Angels-- I’d be Kate Jackson.

A story called “here’s your problem right here.” The repairman comes in and solves the leak quickly and the lady wishes it applied to other things in life.

Promise Keepers always hire me.
Now I found myself picking through all those facts she had casually tossed my way— a hodgepodge of confessions as cluttered as the jumble of cans in our kitchen pantry.
A week after Halloween, and the pumpkins are truly horrible. Moldy and soft, their sunken  grins toothless and lopsided, their eyes slanted and uneven, unshaven, old-folks sunken, the ravages of time, the entropy, the true story they tell.

"It's a pity that you have such awful grandmothers," my mother told me, "and I had such interesting ones."

I was out to score some X because my husband was dying.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I Love the Wild LIfe

 An essay for my local newspaper. Setting: Greenville, SC:

Downtown Greenville is urban wild.  It’s what I love best about this place. The wild life is not all in the bars.  
Take an afternoon walk downtown, veer off in one of the parks, and you’re likely to see some uncommon birds, resourceful mammals, and a few sly reptiles who manage to live and raise their young in a people-crowded territory.

The Great Blue Heron hangs out in McPherson Park on Park Avenue, wading in the stream, feeding on fish and insects. The heron is solitary and aloof, and well hidden, but if you’re lucky enough to see this creature, it’s a privilege you won’t soon forget. He (or she?} stands tall and slender, with a wingspan of six feet.

The leafy hardwoods in the North Main area are home to owls. Their hooting at night sounds like Vincent Price maniacal laughter and crazy lady screams. It makes me think of all the folklore about owls—as harbingers of death, predictors of storms, or as wise and powerful. They are magnificent.  Last year, in the summer dusk, I happened to look up and see a very big one gaze down at me from a telephone pole on Bennett Street. The owl was cool and collected. Unflappable. Of course, he saw me first.  I got the feeling he didn’t miss much.

In Cleveland Park, I’ve seen raccoons washing their paws in the stream. After heavy rains I’ve spotted Belted Kingfishers flying and diving. The Red-Tailed hawks circle, and call their kak kak predatory warnings. They’ve fed on squirrels in our yard—it’s scary and fascinating to watch. They shriek, they target, they fly in and strike, and they fly off with dinner waggling. Even when they occasionally stake out songbirds at our birdfeeder, I know they’ve got to eat.  Hawks have a hard life—their natural life span is 35 years, but I’ve heard most of the young don’t make it past five years.

In the spring, any day now, the snakes come out of hibernation, sunning themselves on rocks and in crevices of the Reedy River. I’ve seen people walk right by snakes, even picnic by them, without seeing them.  The snakes don’t bother me, and I’m certainly no going to bother them. In fact, there’s a black snake that hangs around our yard we’ve gotten used to. Black snakes aren’t poisonous, and they eat mice and rats. Also bird eggs, judging from the songbirds’ alarmed cries when he appears. He stretched across our bedroom windowsill one morning last summer, sunning himself. We named him Licorice, “Lick” for short.

The bats don’t bother me either. In fact, I’m pretty crazy about them. We can sit on our front porch stoop with a glass of wine, and watch them chatter and flop in the purple evening, gobbling up mosquitoes. When I started inviting the wild life to our yard, I added a bat house in the back yard. Bats need protected habitats.
The opossum visits, too, lumbering in her marsupial way, snorkeling up leftover bird seed. 

The Eastern Bluebirds, who prefer meadows, nest in our front yard, in the house we put up just for them: facing east. I feed them live mealworms I keep in the refrigerator. The bluebirds raised two broods last summer.  I watched the brilliant blue of the male bluebird—that sapphire wink—as he flew back and forth, feeding his mate—who was feeling peckish on the nest.  Both of them worked their tail feathers off feeding their young. I’ve never seen parents work so hard.  It was impressive.

The tenacity of the wildlife in Greenville is amazing. I love that nature is squeezing through the fist of concrete and condos. Creatures are doing their best to carry on with their lives in the green strips of trees, in small parks, and on all-too-rare undeveloped land. I highly recommend walking along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, through Cleveland Park, or any of the other small downtown parks when you’re feeling stressed. Leave behind your iPod and cellphone, and really pay attention: you’ll see some wild things.

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