Gatherings and Gathering

In 2006 I had a vision of publishing an anthology. An old English teacher, I couldn’t seem to get away from encouraging others and empowering them to step to the next level in their work — in this case, writing. I enjoy working with writers, watching them catch the excitement of the written word, standing beside their glowing faces as they see their stories on the pages of a book. I feel blessed to have published the works of 28 writers, myself one of them, some of us already solidly published, some published for the first time. It was a dream come true — for me, for them. I was proud to hear reports of the writers sharing the anthology with their friends, their co-workers, their college bookstores, in their home locations, in the universities they served, in different regions of the country, having their own book signings in their hometown bookstores. What a joy for all! It may sound as though I am tooting my own horn, and maybe I am, but as someone once said, if you don’t, nobody will. It fell to me as editor to set up the local launch party for the book — a mass signing on a Saturday afternoon at the Cool Springs Barnes & Noble with all authors invited. Nineteen were close enough to come. We made store history — the most authors ever in the bookstore, signing at the same time. A story about us was sent out in the B&N corporate newsletter. We still hold the record! (And while I’m tooting, I also hold another store record for my book of essays — most books sold ever at a local author signing. I sold all the books the store ordered, all I had brought in my car, and ended up having to give out vouchers and deliver books to buyers the following week.)

That book was Muscadine Lines: A Southern Anthology. The writers were veterans of the first year of Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal. Up front, the writers were told how many books they needed to sell in order to recoup their costs of this print-on-demand process. We all had the knowledge needed to be successful. It was up to each individual writer to promote and sell books he/she ordered to claim that success. I think we all made it happen.

While I’m just a lowly English major, I worked as Business Manager of the small company my husband owned. He was an engineer, a UT graduate, with a twenty-year career in management at the Alcoa headquarters in Pittsburgh and an MBA from Pitt.  I had someone to run my own business dealings through if I needed to, I learned a lot from him, and a lot is just plain common sense. There are costs of doing business.  There are editorial costs; there’s money laid out for artwork and book layout. There’s inventory — the stock of books on hand. It’s a constant seesaw — books ordered, books sold, costs repaid, profits made. It was as much fun to plan the business and marketing aspect of the project as it was to do the gathering and editing of stories.

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In 2008 others and I had a vision of publishing an anthology. This anthology, published in 2009, was sponsored by a literary org, CWW, of which I was a member and president at that time. It was all accomplished through committees and members in celebration of CWW’s tenth birthday.  It’s a benchmark — a literary work of the literary org of Williamson County. Thirty-one writers are included in the book, some famously published, some published for the first time.  The writers are somehow connected to CWW, whether through membership or literary Hall of Fame recipients. The book is a marketing tool for the organization; it contains valuable history of CWW, available to local citizens for the first time. It explains and defines what the organization does; it gives meaning and life to the work of a very small group of people who have labored diligently and sacrificed much over the course of the org’s short life to leave a legacy. It also fulfills the org’s mission: to encourage, educate, and empower writers. A writer’s organization now has its own beautiful book!

This book is Gathering: Writers of Williamson County.

A plan for success was explained to the membership; every detail was spelled out — sell every book of the original order at full price!; status reports were given monthly. CWW ordered books; members ordered books. Excitement ruled as our launch party and purchases the following week generated enough sales to pay for our order. Sales at other events, including the Southern Festival of Books, began to chip away at amounts the leadership considered “costs of doing business.” Individual writers were encouraged to make their own sales calls, to have their own signings in their own corners of the county, to make press contacts and gain publicity for their works — and many did! We were on our way to success!

I am proud to be one of 31 writers in Gathering. I am thankful for the opportunity of serving as co-editor, a thankless job that nobody else wanted, a job that required me to give days and weeks and months to editing stories, making sure the writers shined and voices came through, to ordering the stories, to composing the other components of the book, to writing the Introduction, to putting all the individual stories into one document, ready for a final proof and layout. Yes, it was hard work, and this was precious time I could have applied to my own writing, my own business of editing and publishing, my own work on a state and regional level. I am proud to have had a part in producing this literary legacy for my county and proud to be one small part in this fabulous book that belongs to us all.

Now, I have passed on from leadership and moved onward with my work, I have passed the baton to others, and I had high hopes that they could also catch the vision and view this legacy with favorable eyes for the positive tool it was designed to be and is on track to be, and take it to the Promised Land.

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Tomorrow, I am happy to be included in an author gathering at Davis-Kidd in Nashville. I look forward to promoting this anthology of 31 writers and the org that empowered them and gave them voice.

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GATHERING is Launched!

Gathering Writers of Williamson County

Gathering Writers of Williamson County

On an August Saturday between two and four, more than two hundred guests showed up at Otey Hall of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Franklin, Tennessee, to celebrate the release of a new Williamson County anthology.

"Book Cover" Cake

"Book Cover" Cake

“In celebration of our tenth birthday, CWW presents Gathering: Writers of Williamson County as our literary legacy, offering a showcase for the creative works of our members and Hall of Fame honorees — a blend of emerging and established authors.  This volume is a gathering of writers, all 31 of them distilled into this one Place in time — those who are homefolks and those who came here with experiences of elsewhere, those who are published and those previously unpublished. ‘Above the slumbers’ of this once-tranquil, now teeming town, their voices rise and mount the hills and ‘ride astride the swells of dwindling pastureland.’ ”

Kathy Rhodes, Madison Smartt Bell

Kathy Rhodes, Madison Smartt Bell

“This volume is a gathering of words and lines that form fiction and creative nonfiction — 42 titles rich in qualities readers treasure in Southern literature: a sense of place and character; a love of the land; an appreciation of language, humor, and tradition.”

Dave Stewart, Bill Peach, Alana White, Susie Dunham

Dave Stewart, Bill Peach, Alana White, Susie Dunham

Ginger Manley, Laurie Michaud-Kay, Carroll Moth

Ginger Manley, Laurie Michaud-Kay, Carroll Moth

Susie Dunham, Olive Mayger, Suzanne Brunson

Susie Dunham, Olive Mayger, Suzanne Brunson

This book reflects the richness and depth of talent in Williamson County. It is my hope and desire for Gathering to become an ambassador for this Place we love and live in, and that the book will travel well outside the borders of our county and show and tell who we are.

“May Williamson County be proud to proclaim of our gathering: ‘These too are yet mine.’ ”

I will long remember how Otey Hall buzzed with excitement on a hot Saturday afternoon, as folks flowed in and through and lingered at author tables for signatures. I will remember the energy generated, the smiles and laughter, the support of loved ones and townsfolk, and the shiny cover of a new book that will long be with us!

Kathy Hardy Rhodes, Currie Alexander Powers

Kathy Hardy Rhodes, Currie Alexander Powers

Gathering. Buy it, give it, treasure it. It is mine, it is yours, it is ours.


An Official Invitation

To all my friends, here and afar…

Invitation


The Birth of a Book

I told my co-editors yesterday that I feel as though I am eleven months pregnant, and I am so ready to deliver this baby!

Publisher's Approval Form

Publisher's Approval Form

To the right is the fetus, uh, manuscript, Gathering: Writers of Williamson County — the final pdf for approval.  I requested 4 final tweaks today, and they were applied. To the left is the release form I signed this morning with my late husband’s orange UT pen. I wrote my name in fancy script on the line above CWW President. Then I faxed it to the publisher and walked back to my desk coolly, but what I really wanted to do was rip my clothes off and yell “Hallelujah!”

Now the manuscript is off to Lightning Source to be printed and bound. In 3 weeks, we will have a book in hand…or 500 books or maybe 1,000. Haven’t had time to question that yet. We quickly move to the next phase of book publishing — marketing and publicity. And sales!

But now, for me, to quote a famous American: “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I am free at last.”

The book is finished.

I have my life back.


Peacocks in a Pickup

I saw a peacock on my way to work yesterday.

This pheasant — the national bird of India — was wearing a royal blue blazer just like I was. The Indian Blue Peacock has iridescent, brilliantly hued tail feathers with bright spots called “eyes.” He was standing there in a pasture with five horses surrounding him, his tail train lying flat behind him against the dried brown grass, his vibrant blue head perked high, watching my car pass.

Indian Blue Peacock

Indian Blue Peacock

Actually, there’s more than one peacock, and I slow each morning, hoping to see them. I take the backroads to work, a route my son clued me to, swearing he used to be able to get to Brentwood High School in thirteen minutes. The narrow country lane is lined with thick trees as it twists in sharp curves through a rural area of pastures and horses and muddy ponds and mansions.

And peacocks. Once I saw two standing in the bed of a pickup parked in the driveway of their home. Always I lift my foot from the accelerator and crane my neck to see through coils of vines and gnarls of branches that hide the pasture from the road. I get a thrill if I see them.

So why are these Indian peafowl in Williamson County, Tennessee? They live here — have probably been here as long as I have. It’s what I love most about living here. It’s a growing, progressive place, the third wealthiest county in the state and one of the Top Twenty in the country, but anywhere I go, I see old barns, cows, horses, rock fences…once a deer walked down my street, and once I saw a fox crossing four-laned Carothers Parkway smack dab in the middle of the sprawl and traffic of Cool Springs. It is “country.” Nature abounds.

I am in the middle of a major project: serving as co-editor of an anthology put out by the Williamson County Council for the Written Word. In writing the introduction for Gathering: Writers of Williamson County, I make note of this unique place and how it got next to my heart:

“In 1988 on the cusp of growth, I came to this Place. I was a child of Delta flatlands and cotton and stale bayous and nothing else. This Place quickly captured me — its narrow backroads that slide through tunnels of saplings and ancient trees, blooming honeysuckle vines, and wildflowers like buttercups and clover and Queen Anne’s Lace; centuries-old low stone fences that follow the roadways and lines of sweet yellow daffodils that mark off homesites long gone … In this Place, even now, no matter where I venture, I see pastureland on rolling hills and big rolls of hay and old barns and black-and-white cows chewing grass and horses looking over black fences and new subdivisions with lines of old pasture trees and deer grazing in front yards and the brown, rocky Harpeth River coiling through it all.”

And I even see peacocks. What more could a girl want?


Fiction Workshop — Susan Gregg Gilmore

The 7th Council for the Written Word Spring Fiction Workshop is now one for the history books. Lingering, however, are a few memories and tidbits that I hope to hold onto. First of all, the image in my mind of the venue — the Westview Clubhouse — it was beautiful … something out of a Southern movie … tall, expansive, white, with columns and gardens and oak floors that look ancient, but they’re not. Our workshop was held in Townsend Hall, upstairs. Secondly, it did my heart good to see Bill Peach carrying out the trash afterward and Jim Taulman vacuuming the burgundy carpet in that huge room. Once again, Susie Dunham made magic with two 8-foot tables; she filled them with Krispy Kreme doughnuts, trail mix, and a silver platter of red and green grapes … and also a mix of Gerbera daisies.  Currie Powers, Susan Lentz, and I waved our wands to put the other details in place, and Laurie Kay made name tags that matched the cover of our speaker’s book — Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore.

susan-gregg-gilmore

Some words of wisdom for writers from Susan:

You must spend TIME IN THE CHAIR. When you spend time there, the story takes you over and fills your head. Maybe you’ll write, maybe you’ll just think. Doesn’t matter. Spend time in the chair.

Susan’s journalism experience helped her to tell a story in a tight space, to know the importance of word choice, to use words that pull the reader in quickly, to know the importance of editing.

Write … edit, edit, edit … then it begins to sing.

First impressions matter, matter, matter. The first sentence should captivate the reader.

Think about how you can paint your story for the reader.

Four dozen writers. A speaker with a heart for her art. A good workshop.


Bedraggled

I have a renewed appreciation for the life of a writer/editor. Of recent, it’s been life editing someone else’s stuff. My own writing has been put on the back burner for a brief season while I get this Book of the voices of Williamson County shaped into form: an anthology of the Council for the Written Word.

I was up this morning at 4:30 and buried my nose in the computer and didn’t look away until almost noon. I drank the obligatory pot of coffee like all writers and editors are supposed to do, and I even ate an unhealthy Apple Danish bakery roll…okay, fine, I ate two. I’m wearing the Franklin Jazz Festival T-shirt I slept in under a green Delta State sweatshirt, and I have white socks on that have brown bottoms because my floors are dirty. I have mascara flakes from the night pasted to my cheeks, and my hair is turning out on the ends and sticking up on top.

My furniture is dusty, the dog has tracked leaves in from the backyard, and the breakfast table is covered with yellow file folders: To Edit, Rejections, Problem Stories, Final Revisions. There is a publishing contract, an author’s contract, a Chicago Manual of Style, a calculator (not sure why), 20 colored pencils, Susie Sims Irvin’s book of poetry, cookie crumbs on the placemats, Robert Hicks’ story about a booksigning, and my mother’s discharge papers from the Army (not sure why).

All my energy and efforts have been pushed toward editing 45 stories of 33 writers, including our Williamson County Hall of Famers: Madison Smartt Bell, Robert Hicks, Paula Wall, Rick Warwick, Madison Jones, Susie Sims Irvin, Bill Peach, James Crutchfield, and Tom T. Hall.

I have worked cheek to cheek with my friend Currie Alexander Powers for the past two months, as the two of us have poured all our days into pulling all the details and straggling ends together in the creation of a BOOK. Now she has gone on a Blues Cruise and left it all with me.

Do I sound like I am complaining?

Hell, no.

I am in my element. I am having a ball. I’m hungry, I need a shower, I need to brush and bathe the dog, I need to wash clothes and vacuum, but there’s nothing else in the world I’d rather be doing than what I’m doing. Making a book.