ON WRITING & BOOKS & THE FRANKLIN BOOK FESTIVAL. I started writing creative nonfiction before I knew what it was. Actually, most of my early essays were inspirational, descriptive, poignant, and lacking in story arc. I published a couple dozen.
Robbie Bryan, CRM at Barnes and Noble 2701, showed me the book Due South by R. Scott Brunner and told me my writing reminded him of Brunner’s, and I should check it out. Brunner wrote essays and read from his collection on Public Radio in Mississippi. Thus, my Pink Butterbeans was born. Essays, but lacking in story.
I started researching the genre, newly coined and rising out of the field of journalism, and came across Lee Gutkind of the University of Pittsburgh. Lee is the so-called godfather of the genre; he set up the first MFA course in creative nonfiction, and even named the genre. And he is editor of the journal of the genre: Creative Nonfiction. My husband, an MBA grad of Pitt, showed me his alumni mag with Lee on the cover. “You should get to know him,” Charlie said. And I did.
It just so happens that in 2007, Lee was bringing the genre to the South. The South is rich in story and storytellers, but there wasn’t much in the field of creative nonfiction being published in the South at that time. In fact, creative nonfiction was the most widely published genre in the world—everywhere but the South! So Lee was leading a one-day workshop in Oxford, Mississippi, on the Ole Miss campus. Susie Dunham and I were the only two from the Nashville area to attend.
Out of that workshop came this blog, First Draft. Blogging is a form of creative nonfiction. Susan Cushman of Memphis was at the workshop and had just started her blog, and is still working it today.
I brought Lee Gutkind to Franklin, Tennessee, for the Williamson County Council for the Written Word’s 15th Annual Fall Workshop in 2008. (I lost Charlie three months before that. How in the world did I have the presence of mind to….)
There were two national conferences—Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference, in Oxford, Mississippi, in 2010 and 2013, and Susan Cushman and I were co-directors under Neil White. Then I directed Creative Nonfiction at the Crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 2012.
I taught the genre in local workshops and classes for ten years, presented at state conferences and literary festivals, including the Southern Festival of Books, and published creative nonfiction in Muscadine Lines, the online journal I maintained for eight years. I still try to study and learn and experiment.
The one big thing I have loved has been studying under the masters: Lee Gutkind, Dinty W. Moore, Lee Martin, and others. And the other big thing is the tribe generated at the gatherings: writers from around the country, who have grown and published. We had a fire in our gut to write our stories and publish them.
And the one thing I never expected was writing a memoir on loss, grief, and healing. It happened. Both. Loss. Writing a memoir. I swore I wouldn’t. And then by all the forces of nature, tribe, God, and the genre, I did. I will be sharing my book Remember the Dragonflies at the FBF. I will talk about the evolution of one blog post and how it reached the pinnacle and then became a book. Come, with questions.
It takes one. Only one. You’ve heard the old saying: One rotten apple spoils the barrel. It’s so true. Look around in your own life.
In your work setting, in your social circle. One “mean girl” or bully, spewing hurtful gossip, just plain making up stories, lies, putting on a show overtly with the intent to hurt, then sitting back folding her hands with a satisfied smirk on her face. And then running to church every time the doors are open and claiming to be a rule-keeper and a Christian, taking in communion—blood of Christ—with all that rotten gossip, trying to mix the ultimate love and ultimate hate.
Okay, you can deal with that. You see through it. You pity the one who has had so much hurt in her own life to make her this way—to have to put down and stomp on others so she can be higher and better. She puts on a show of some good acts to build followship. But then.
What do others in the circle do? Yes. They follow and support the bad apple. They are afraid not to, knowing they will be the next target. So they listen to the gossip; they believe; they look at and treat the target as though it is all true. And then they run to their own churches every Sunday and pretend they believe the Bible, when all they like is the black leather outside and their life actions mock the black words printed inside.
This is our world, macrocosm and microcosm, and I’m talking here about the microcosm, and it is hurtful. And there’s nothing you can do, except come out of it soiled and beaten down and limp in a mean world of mean people who don’t give a damn.
I can see why some just want that pill to end it all.
In my weak moments, I’m there.