What do I really want to do? After I finished the memoir of loss, grief, and rebuilding, I was spent. I had pulled up my soul again and again and again in the writing and editing process. I walked through the darkness and dwelt there as I lay words across the page.
I haven’t been writing. Well, maybe a blog piece here and there and once, what I perceived as a first chapter of a book. And professionally, I am writing a book on writing, so that should count for something. But it doesn’t satisfy that innate need to see the world in a unique way, to see a story, to see something that strikes me as being significant and memorable. I need to figure this out because it is bugging me.
Maybe I want to return to what I started out doing—personal essays, little stories about things I encounter. Stories about family, place, the past, nature around me. Stories that are nostalgic, thought provoking, soothing; stories that bring a smile and a nod.
Years ago, when I first started sharing my work at Barnes and Noble monthly writers open mic nights, Robbie Bryan, Community Relations Manager, led me to the stacks and pulled out a book titled Due South by R. Scott Brunner—Memoir/Essay. “This is what you’re doing,” he said. “Buy it, read it. You could publish a collection like this.” Hence, Pink Butterbeans, my collection of fifty stories. (Yep. Wacky title. I wanted something feminine and Southern. My husband helped me brainstorm title possibilities on a trip all the way to Boone, North Carolina. He didn’t like this one, but I picked it—pun intended—and I’m still glad I did.)
Brunner has titles like “Mother’s Greasy Bible,” “The ‘Bless Your Heart’ Rules,” and “Turnip Greens at 33,000 Feet.” Brunner says the South is “not a region, not lines on a map, not stereotypes of belles and bubbas and poverty and racism, but a sense of place. It’s an understanding of who we are; it’s a recollection of the past and a genuine hope for the future; and it’s a set of more widely held attitudes of kindness and civility and appreciation.”
I have titles like “Grandpa’s Watermelon Patch,” “Opa Boof’s Chocolate Chess Pie,” and “Grandma’s Porch.” I say, “Time spent on Grandma’s front porch after vigorous play was a serendipitous part of becoming whole. Time spent in a slowed-down world. Time to think and observe, to fit into the scheme of extended family, to mesh activity with reflection. Becoming happens in the quiet reflective phase . . .
“I yearn for the peace I knew back then. I yearn for time—simple, still, suspended. I yearn to be cocooned at Grandpa’s knee, mesmerized by his slow rocking and tales told in a slow, Southern drawl. To return once again to the summers of yesteryear on Grandma’s front porch.”
Maybe I need to go home again.
Today was the long-awaited book signing for Gathering: Writers of Williamson County. I have to admit I was very excited — more excited than I have been in a long time about anything. It just felt good and right to be in Barnes and Noble with writers and friends and readers and guests. Sixteen of our 31 authors participated. We didn’t break the store record, but it was a fantastic showing.
Gathering contains 42 stories — fiction and creative nonfiction — by new, noted, and famous authors. Gathering is a celebration of CWW‘s 10th anniversary. Gathering showcases the talent and voice of Williamson County.
Gathering on the Display Table
Co-editors Kathy Rhodes and Currie Alexander Powers
Kathy Rhodes, Robbie Bryan of B&N, Currie Alexander Powers
Authors and Guests
Kathy Rhodes and Chance Chambers
Sally Lee, Tom Robinson, Suzanne Brunson
Chance and Currie chatting with Robbie
Wednesday at Barnes & Noble Writers’ Night, Todd Bottorff of Turner Publishing in Nashville spoke on writing and getting published. His company is one of the top 101 independent publishers in the U. S. and puts out 70 titles a year. Todd encouraged aspiring writers to define their personal objectives at the beginning of a writing project. He said that the actual writing of a book is easier than the outlining and structuring that goes on beforehand. When you outline, you are working from your head. When you write, you are working from your heart.
Turner Publishing has three imprints and publishes southern novels, calendars and local history, and nonfiction. When asked if he published creative nonfiction, Todd said quickly and emphatically, “No.”
Lee Gutkind’s words rang in my ears — the first remarks out of his mouth on September 29, 2007 in Oxford, Mississippi, in a one-day workshop. “Creative nonfiction is the fastest growing genre in the publishing industry. It’s the fastest growing genre in creative writing academic settings. Creative nonfiction is exploding all over the world — EXCEPT IN THE SOUTH.”
I wonder if the name of the genre throws people off. I mean, after all, who could refuse Pilgrim at Tinker Creek? The name “creative nonfiction” seems to contradict itself. It sounds like the writer is creating fiction in nonfiction, mixing fable and fact … so why not just call it fiction?
Definition: Creative nonfiction is a TRUE narrative that employs the tools of good fiction writing — well-developed characters, vivid setting, plot line, dialogue, strong storytelling voice, etc. — to relate an honest and artful and TRUE story.
Gutkind says, “The word ‘creative’ refers simply to the use of literary craft in presenting nonfiction—that is, factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid manner. To put it another way, creative nonfiction writers do not make things up; they make ideas and information that already exist more interesting and, often, more accessible.”
The Williamson County Council for the Written Word is pleased to bring Lee Gutkind to Tennessee to teach “The 5 R’s of Creative Nonfiction” to scads of Southern writers. We’ve already seen a lot of interest and excitement and even have a few signed up. (If you’re interested, get your name in the pot now! Seating will be limited, and we’re expecting a sell-out crowd months in advance.)
Robbie Bryan, CRM at Barnes & Noble Cool Springs, was excited to report he’s seen the cover and early proofs of Kristin Tubb‘s new middle-grade novel, Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different. Kristin was in my critique group before her two children were born and her life got crazy with babies and book deadlines, and we worked on the first several chapters of the book in progress — a work of historical fiction set in Cades Cove in eastern Tennessee. I can’t wait to read the ending! I’m not above reading a middle-grade novel.
What is it with this rain? For goodness sakes, is it ever going to stop? Three solid months of exceptional drought and two weeks of temps over 100, and now, ongoing rain, four days and counting, and I’m already complaining. Monday, it started with gentle drops, and I took my early morning walk in it, looking upward, letting it tickle my face like snowflakes and wash over me. Then the low gray sky released and poured cold needles. Tuesday, I wore sandals when I went to vote for mayor and aldermen, and my feet got soaked. So did my clothes, for that matter. Wednesday came with a swift wind and a hard mist, and it was cold. I slipped on my father’s Mississippi State sweatshirt, which I inherited after his death, along with 10 others from SEC teams, most of which were Christmas gifts from me. In August, I would’ve sworn I’d never need a sweater again, but last night I wore one.
It was cozy under the lights in the Writers’ Nook at the Cool Springs Barnes and Noble, though, for last night’s Writers’ Night. Robbie Bryan, Community Relations Manager, spoke on “How to Market Your Book” and “How to Get Your Book into a Barnes and Noble.”
If it has to do with books and book selling, Robbie knows it! He was prepared with details, examples, handouts, and humor. The thing that amazed me the most was his description of how quickly books move in and out of the store. Books arrive every day; there is only a finite amount of space on the shelves for books, so books are constantly moving. New releases on the step ladders in the front display windows change every week. A front list book–or new release–may have a shelf life of only 2 to 4 weeks. Think about it. In 2 weeks, a brand new book can go to old stock. Think about it as your book. All the time–one year, five years, whatever–energy, focus, grit, and brain drain poured into a manuscript, the excitement of having it accepted for publishing and the thrill of seeing it for the first time on a bookstore shelf. Then it’s over in 2 weeks. [Sputter, sputter, cough]