2013 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference and Workshops

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A gathering of the finest editors, agents, instructors,
and writers in the US!

cnf.lee1Lee Gutkind

May 2-5, 2013
Oxford, MS
On the Campus of the University of Mississippi

cnf.Neil and Dinty at Off SquareNeil White, Dinty W. Moore

More Information! Register Now!

Call to reserve your room at The Inn at Ole Miss
1-888-4 UM ROOM


Co-directors: Susan Cushman, Neil White, Kathy Rhodes


Lee Gutkind * Dinty W. Moore * Neil White * Virginia Morell
Mike Rosenwald * Jessica Handler * Beth Ann Fennelly * Lee Martin
Leigh Feldman * Deborah Grosvenor * Bob Guccione, Jr. * Julia Reed
Stella Connell * Jamie Brickhouse * River Jordan * More!


Authors Circle

Tonight I will be talking about STORIES at the Middle Tennessee Authors Circle at Merridee’s in downtown Franklin, 6 o’clock. Bill Peach started this group over a year ago, and there are sixty plus members now, last I heard! I will be sharing from both sides of the desk — the BLACK PEN side and the RED PEN side — my story and your story.


My story is a memoir about loss, grief, and healing. I’ll talk about plot “nugget” and read mine. I’ll talk about what a story is. I’ll talk about what makes an agent or editor say “yes” to a manuscript. Then I’ll [try to] answer any questions.


Then I might buy a citrus pound cake or a chocolate pound cake.

Join us if you can! Eat dinner, or just drink coffee, and network with other area writers. Merridee’s is noisy, but cozy and friendly, and the people who come are serious about their writing.


Grief and Water

As I look back, grief for me involved a lot of water.

Tears, you’d think, of course, tears, there were lots of tears. I cried every day for a year and a half, maybe two years. I don’t remember how long. But eventually there came a day when I didn’t cry, and when I realized it, I cried because I hadn’t cried that day.

Three weeks after Charlie died, my friends and I drove out to Leiper’s Fork, an upscale artist community a few miles southwest of Franklin. We ate lunch at The Back Porch, and we all had homemade cake for dessert. Then we trolled through antique shops, went to an art gallery, and visited a bookstore with a collection of old books.


The owner of the bookstore told us about a party she was going to that evening—a Creek Party. Somebody was having a birthday party, the big 5-0, and they were having the party in the creek behind the house across from the bookstore.

“Come on,” the owner said. “I’ll show you.” She took us over there where they were setting up, and we stood on the deck at the back of the house and looked down through the trees at the creek. In the middle of the brown water was a long table covered with a white tablecloth hanging down in the water, candelabra sitting on top. There were chairs and small tables and other pieces of furniture in the middle of the creek. “Sometimes they’ll put a bed out in the water,” she said, “and people will lie on it.” All the guests would wade in the creek to get refreshments, sit in the water, recline on floats, sit on the bank. There were candles in the trees, and I could imagine the flickering lights reflecting in the rippling water under a full moon on a summer night.

It made me think that life goes on, like that flowing creek. We stand in it, drink of it, celebrate it, and even as we stand still, it moves on.

Not long after this, I had the urge to do something wild and crazy, something I’d never done before. Grief is like that. You get bogged down and covered up in the sadness and sorrow, and then life sparks in you this match-fire that quenches all that for a moment and makes you want to push out and take a risk.


I bought a kayak. A yellow boat and a yellow paddle to match. My son, his girlfriend, and I went on a five-mile paddle on the Narrows of the Harpeth in Kingston Springs, west of Nashville. It was a peaceful ride, the river was flowing at 79 cfs that day, and there were some riffles. Lots of shade, rope swings along the bank, beachy areas, turtles sunning, high rocky cliffs—and the sound of the paddle moving through the water soothed me. I hit some rocky areas and once, the current pushed me to the bank, but I got the hang of it and moved straight down that river looking for the V and following the current. I learned to turn in circles, and I made it through the rough waters.

My skills and negotiating helped me to get there. Water taught me a lot.

Bird by Bird, Word by Word

Once I went through a really hard time, when I couldn’t write. I’ve been through short spells of writers block, but nothing like this. I thought, well, that’s done. I’ll never write another word. I can’t. My mind is choked up. I can’t think clearly. I don’t know what to write about. I don’t have anything to say. Nothing. I’m empty.

Then a simple image impressed me. And I thought I’d sit down at the computer. And try to write something about it. I didn’t care what. It didn’t have to be good. It didn’t have to be planned out. It could just be one paragraph. And so I sat down in front of the computer, and I began typing. Whatever came to my mind. Freewriting. I was free to say what I wanted to say and to go where the words led me.

It took off in a direction I didn’t expect. I was onto something. The words came, the typing got faster. I was writing to discovery. I did have something to say. The page filled up, and it was much better writing than if I’d sat down and tried to plan it all out.

In freewriting you write nonstop for a set period of time, you do not make corrections, you write whatever comes to mind, you bypass your inner critic who tells you you can’t write, you release your raw feelings and inner tensions. You write to discovery.

And it’s … fun! And you’re back in.

Have a good 2013?

Here’s a little something to keep in mind…via Herman King on Facebook:

“We are here on earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I don’t know.” ~W.H. Auden