Oh Rocky Top You’ll Always Be

Home sweet home to me.


Charlie Rhodes
died June 28, 2008
He’ll always be there, at Rocky Top, Neyland Stadium,
behind the goalpost under the scoreboard.

The words you sing all your life sometimes
take on a new meaning after your death.

Apprehending Someone Sensually

Can you do it?

Have you really tried? With a few strokes. To caress someone into being, bringing to fullness a sense of the essence of an individual.

In creative nonfiction, or in fiction for that matter, nothing demonstrates good characterization better than a writer who in just a few words can help the reader apprehend someone sensually. By that, I mean making that character real through sight and sound and smell and touch — using details that give a sense of the essence of a person.

In creative nonfiction, real people become characters when we put them on the page. A mother, a spouse, a grandfather. How awesome is that? Yet we the writer are so familiar with this person that we tend to launch into narrative without putting our reader in the presence of the individual. The reader needs to know the character. As the writer we are charged with making this individual into a character our reader can experience and appreciate.

We want to create characters that act in believable ways and characters that readers will find worth caring about. Because our characters are real people and there’s only so much we can pull from (like real characteristics!), it’s all in the slant and presentation; it’s in the dramatization of the character. It’s all about those sensory details that define a person, and it involves bringing together the idiosyncrasies, the stubborn tics, the memorable quirks, the antisocial mannerisms, the body language, the use and misuse of words — and those details that matter to the character.

Example: My father was a barber and throughout the last twenty years of his life, he told us repeatedly, “When the time comes that I’m in my casket for the viewing, you got to make sure my hair is right. You only have to fix the right side because that’s all that shows.”  That concern was a part of his character, and I daresay that not too many people worry about that.

Are you bringing your real people characters to life on the page?


We talked about character today in the last of a series of four classes at the Franklin Rec Center.  A new class starts in July — 6, 13, 20, and 27, on Wednesdays from 10-11. Everybody’s got a story! Join us to write yours better.

In August, I’ll be teaching a FREE CLASS, a one-hour session to talk about creative nonfiction to anyone who wants to write their real life stories and learn techniques to improve their storytelling and to make their writing come to life: August 31, 11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

And there’s a more advanced workshop at The Good Cup July 14 and 21. Read more.

Three Now

Once again, June comes and brings with it that sinking, gut-punching remembrance of that day. It was three years ago; it was the twenty-eighth; it was yesterday; it is today.


We go through the shock and grief of losing someone. We miss their physical presence, we miss talking to them, getting in the car and going somewhere with them, we miss laughing at them in their faded-down-to-pink shorts and we even bring ourselves to throw that worn piece of clothing away. We also finally throw away all the ties, except the UT one; nobody wants them. We clean out the bathroom cabinet and find pieces of their hair and so we hold on to the comb, the travel kit, the baby food jar of safety pins. We finally throw away more things from the garage: photo lamps that haven’t been used since the 1980s and transistor bulbs that date back to God-knows-when.

After three years we have built a whole new life. We work, we laugh, we take care of business, including putting the house built together up for sale. We are okay. The pain, though, in our chest that was once shock and adrenalin and stabs of loneliness and excruciating loss and what-am-I-going-to-do-now? is now a genuine sadness. For him. He doesn’t get to live anymore. Life keeps going on without him. He was pushed out of it. I imagine some giant hand ramming into his back and saying GO! He was singled out for early death. I don’t know why. It’s not fair.


And so, for now, I am here. I am letting go piece by piece of life as I knew it to be, and I am stepping into newness. I am finding out who I am now. I am living to discover.

Pushing the Boundaries

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS to Creative Nonfiction Writers!

Timothy Papciak, Assistant Editor of Creative Nonfiction, emailed me a few days ago and asked me to help spread the word about their current Call: Pushing the Boundaries, with a deadline of June 13.

So here’s the word!

Creative Nonfiction [the journal of the genre] is seeking experimental nonfiction for its “Pushing the Boundaries” section. CNF wants writing that blows their minds with its ingenuity, essays that not only push the boundaries of the genre, but tear down the borders. They want work like they’ve never seen before!

But remember…the stories must be true. Because TRUE STORIES WELL TOLD is what creative nonfiction is all about.

If Nashville area writers want to learn more about creative nonfiction, I teach 4 classes each month at the Franklin Rec Center. The next session begins Wednesday, June 8, at 10:00 AM. Also, I will be leading a 2-session workshop July 14 and 21 at The Good Cup in Franklin. Please let me know if you are interested!

Meanwhile, the deadline for your ambitious stories for CNF is June 13. To submit, send your stories to: Creative Nonfiction, Attn: Pushing the Boundaries, 5501 Walnut Street Suite 202, Pittsburgh, PA 15232. Include a word count on the first page of the essay, as well as your contact information and an SASE or email address for response.

Create, push the boundaries, tear down the walls, polish, and send!