First-ever Franklin Book Festival 2019

Thanks to Bill Peach and his longtime love of the written word and his determined efforts to pull off a book festival in his beloved town of Franklin, Tennessee, it happened.

And I can’t help but smile and remember, and I know Nancy Fletcher-Blume is doing the same in heaven, because back during the Williamson County Council for the Written Word days, Nancy, Louise, Susie, Laurie, Sally, and I…and others…would be toiling; sweating; putting in hunks of time; meeting at Chop House for coffee, pie, and planning; and pulling our hair out to get an event off the ground and afterward, Bill would say, “These things just somehow happen.” Well, HE made this one happen!

L to R Kathy Rhodes, Susie Dunham, Dr. Par Donahue, Dr. Sally Burbank, Bill Peach

Day One, Saturday, June 1 was a success in drawing a crowd, talking about books and writing, and networking. It was inspirational to hear what others are doing in their writing lives. The panels were a good addition to the event–talking about writing and promoting our books.

I served on a nonfiction panel with Susie Dunham, Bill Peach, Sally Burbank, and Par Donahue. Here’s my talk:

I write creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is 3 R’s.

  1. Real Life. I write about my own experiences.
  1. Research. The reason for being creative is to communicate information to the reader.
  1. Reflection. There should be thought behind the story. What is there for the reader? Not just “this happened to me” but “this happened and it gave me occasion to ponder.”

I’ve been writing personal essays for more than 20 years and published a few dozen. Most of my early essays were descriptive, reminiscent, and inspirational—and somewhat lacking in story arc. So I:

  • Studied the genre; studied under the masters.
  • Went to a workshop in Oxford, Mississippi, in 2007, led by Lee Gutkind, founder of the literary magazine Creative Nonfiction, and also founder of the first MFA degree in the genre.
  • Started a blog in 2007 about writing, because blogging is a form of creative nonfiction.
  • Co-directed two national creative nonfiction conferences in Oxford, Mississippi and directed a workshop in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
  • Published creative nonfiction in an online journal I edited for 8 years.
  • Taught the genre locally for 10 years.
  • Presented at state conferences and literary festivals, including the Southern Festival of Books.
  • Published a collection of essays and a memoir, and was editor of two anthologies to which I also contributed.

In other words, I did what I loved for ten years … and then life … stopped me in my tracks. My husband died suddenly. Those sweet pieces of the writing “life and likes” behind me lined up to determine my future writing—and though I swore I’d never write about the loss of my husband, I did.

Even my blog went to loss and grief instead of the writing tips and clips I was sharing. It began here…

The house is quiet now. The kids have gone home … I couldn’t have made it without them the past week.

Besides silence, the house is filled with the sweet, sweet scent of lilies. I must do something about that before it overwhelms me.

I thought my husband had a stomach virus and went out for saltines and ginger ale. But that wasn’t it, and after teams of doctors and surgeons in two hospitals worked to save his life over a 39-hour period, he died one week ago of an aortic dissection, a catastrophic event.

And so…

 

I’d like to tell you about one blog post that evolved into more. It is titled “An Open Letter,” written to my deceased husband. It starts like this:

My Dear Husband,
I need to clear the air. I have regrets, guilt, and I need to talk to you about it. I went to a grief counselor and it was recommended that I write you a letter and say what I want to say and then perhaps burn the letter and take the ashes with yours to the Tennessee River beside Neyland Stadium and send them off with you. But I’m keeping you here with me until I resolve my guilt and I’m ready to release you. And I’m saying this openly because I suspect there is a community of us who are caught up in living and don’t grasp that we are walking a tightrope between life and death, and then when death comes suddenly, it catches us wishing we’d done it all differently, and it heaps loads of guilt on our backs. What we do with our guilt affects how we grieve and heal.

 

  • I published the [entire] essay in my blog First Draft a month after Charlie died.
  • It was picked up by the journal of the genre, Creative Nonfiction and published in The Best Creative Nonfiction Volume 3, and singled out for a review in The New Yorker.
  • It was also published as a chapter in my book Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Loss and Healing—a five-year journey from “our” to “my”—starting over and building a whole new life. This is real life, the raw reality of what it’s like to lose a spouse; and research on grief and healing; and of course, reflection on what it’s like to have someone living in your house with you every day, and then not.

As a result of the previous publishings and my new “platform” as a writer of loss, grief, and healing, I was invited to publish an essay in an anthology of 21 women authors who had been tattered by life and circumstances and rose up to experience a second blooming, a new self, appropriately titled A Second Blooming.

I’m pleased to share these books with you–my journey of loss, grief, healing…and BLOOMING AGAIN.

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