Taos Summer Writers’ Conference

A week seems too short.  We, the members of the class, are getting to know each other on Monday.  Tuesday is a workshop session, one submission apiece.  By Wednesday, the week is half over and we’re all a little easier with each other and with Minrose Gwin, our instructor.

On Thursday, she piles us all into her rental Kia and drives us to downtown Taos.  She says, “Now, go stroll around the square and do some free writing.  Meet back at Lambert’s at 11:30 for lunch.  Go!”  So each of us goes in a different direction.  But the Square is small and we all see each other, heads down, eyes darting up occasionally to take in the activity, pens working steadily on paper.

We meet at Lambert’s and are seated outside.  “Ok,” says Minrose, “read me what you wrote.”  And we do.  And we feel closer to each other and to her.

Friday is the last day and we’re feeling sad that we won’t have Minrose’s gentle guidance and each other’s helpful comments.  We separate with hugs and shared email addresses.  We have gotten to know each other – and Minrose – and the week in Taos was too short.

Lunch in Taos

Lunch in Taos

 

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A Little Effort…

We stopped into the antique shop in Lyons, CO, on Friday afternoon.  I was in search of a nice looking serving spoon to go with a gift for a friend.  The case where the silverware is kept had only three items so I said to the woman sitting behind the case (not the owner), “I’m looking for some spoons.”  “Oh,” she replied, “we have some items in the back we haven’t priced yet.”  I just nodded.

I mention this because as many of you know, my novel was turned down a second time by the NY agent who expressed an interest in it eighteen months ago.  She was complimentary of my work but says the story is “too depressing.”

So I’m left with the feeling that I can leave my novel in the back and not “priced” in which case it, like the silver spoons, has absolutely no chance of being viewed and/or sold.  Or I can massage it into exposure, contact other agents, put the right “price” on the work and offer it to a possible “buyer.”

It’ll take some effort to find agents, meet their individual requirements for queries and get exposure for my novel.  Yeah, I think that’s what I’ll do – I’ll make the effort, put some energy and time into it – take it out of the “back” and put it forward.  It’ll be worth the effort.

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Fun With Words

You know how words fascinate and tickle me.  Well, here’s an actual reciept I got at the new Natural Grocers here in Golden.  I’m not sure if I bought a bra dress made of salad or …. oh, well, it doesn’t matter.  I got a good chuckle out of it!

Actual reciept for whatever it was I bought!

Actual reciept for whatever it was I bought!

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A Good Week

It was a good week for the novel last week.  On Monday, I contacted the agent at Inkwell in NYC to tell her that I used her comments as inspiration and have been working on my novel.  I’ve attended a class at Lighthouse (taught by the wonderful Bill Henderson), read a couple of recommended books strong on character development and have put in hours revising the story.  She immediately emailed back and said, yes, send the revised manuscript.  Since receiving that encouraging communication, I’ve put in lots of hours and focus improving the story.

Then on Thursday afternoon, I had a session with a local professional photographer.  She was super to work with and I told her I wanted to look like a writer who takes her work seriously but does not take herself seriously!  We spent about an hour – and three different outfits – working to get the best shots.

This week, I have a little less time to dedicate to the work but I know this week will be a good week for the novel.  Positive changes that enhance the story and deepen the main character and his effectiveness are in the works.  And while it is work, I am still after years of working on it, having a great time telling the story.  Yes, this will be a good week, too.

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Representing Lighthouse

If you make a purchase in Jefferson County, CO, a tiny percentage of each penny you spend goes to the Scientific and Cultural Funding District (SCFD).  Any not-for-profit organization in JeffCo can apply for funds from this pool.  This year, SCFD awarded over $1million to area groups.

Lighthouse Writers’ Workshop is located in downtown Denver but 15% of its members (including me) live in JeffCo.  Lighthouse asked if I would go and represent them and collect the – um, well, not exactly check but notification of check.  I said I’d be delighted.  I had no idea what to expect.  When I arrived at Hearing Room One, a trio of musicians was playing cheerful, upbeat music.  Coffee, lemonade and cookies were on a table just outside the room and people were milling about.  I ran in to about half a dozen people I know and met a couple of others.

When Lighthouse’s name was announced, I walked to the front, shook hands with each presenter and member of the committee and said, “Thank you” way too many times.  After the one hour ceremony, I got to chat with folks who were all in a good mood because of course they were there to collect $ for their group.  I had a great time – and would do it again even if there is no check in the envelope.

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Long Man’s Story Reaches Into Lives and Hearts

Amy Greene tells the story of a river “…the Cherokees who once lived on its shores had called it Long Man, with his head in the mountains and his feet in the lowlands.”  It’s long, this river and it not only runs through a part of the South but it runs through lives – generations of them.

And Greene’s novel Long Man builds on this image, this vision, this description of the river and the lives on its periphery. The river and the creation in the mid-1930’s of the Tennessee Valley Authority is central but the story in this book is one of humans who live on the land, who love the land, who are passionate about the lives they live and about the rugged, untamed Appalachia that surrounds them.  Homes are built by hand, of existing materials and fruits and vegetables grow both wild and cultivated.  Fish are regularly pulled from the river and life is comfortable if not easy.

Annie Clyde Dodson was born in the hills and she and her husband James live there with their three year old daughter called Gracie.  Silver is Annie’s aunt, the sister to Annie’s deceased mother – but more than that she is a sort of guardian angel of the primitive area – one who shuns the intrusion of modern updates and the changes the new dam will bring.  She says she can see by the light of the sun and the light of the moon and what else would anyone want.  Annie is as connected to the land as Silver is and is passionate to hand it down to her own daughter, the next generation to live on the mountaintop farm.  Life is not easy – crops grow or fail depending on the weather, Annie scrubs her clothes on a washboard and no one has electricity and the ease-giving appliances that come with it.

When the TVA authorities begin to move residents to other locations so the project can go through, love of the land and the way of life become as sharply defined as an antique stone arrowhead.  Annie does not want to leave, even though James has gone to Detroit to find another life for them.  Annie defies the authorities, claiming she wants her daughter to see her dragged off in handcuffs rather than submit. Amos grew up in the area but for years, he has drifted and made his way by riding the rails and scrounging or stealing.  He has few possessions and seems to shun commitment.  Yet, he returns to the area – at least for awhile – and to his mother Beulah – and to Silver who loves him.  Scruffy and one-eyed, Amos lives in the woods and when Gracie goes missing, he is the prime suspect.  The sheriff calls on the town’s remaining men to look for Gracie and tensions build.  And currently in the town of Yuneetah, tensions center around the dam.

Amos and his actions in the summer of 1936 will become a part of the history of the area.  Did he have anything to do with Gracie’s disappearance?  Will she be found before the dam is destroyed and thousands of gallons of water rush in?  What will Amos do to try to stop the dam and how will that affect him?  And Silver who wants to halt progress – what will happen to her and her mountain-woman way of life?

Amy Greene was born and raised in the foothills of East Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains which is most likely the reason she writes about the region and its people with such sensitivity and tenderness.  She is also the author of the national best seller Bloodroot. “When I was six, I would walk along the creek behind our house, telling stories.  I always knew I wanted to be a writer,” she told me.  “I was 18 when Adam and I got married and we decided we’d be happy being poor so I could write.  I’d never met another writer nor taken a writing course when I wrote Bloodroot.”  Amy and Adam have two children (their son 18 is in college this year) and she got an undergraduate degree from a college in Vermont.  “I never knew I had an accent till we went there!”

Amy Greene says her characters are based on individuals she has known, especially those from her East Tennessee hometown of Russellville.  She continues to live and write in the area she loves.

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The Long Man and Amy Greene

The Golden Book selection this year is The Long Man by Amy Greene.  It is the sweet, tender story of life in a mountainous area of Tennessee and the people whose way of life will change forever when the Tennessee Valley Authority releases the water that brings electricity to the area.  The Jefferson County Library  Golden branch is the sponsor of the event and they asked me to write the review for the Denver Post YourHub which I was happy to do.  They were also nice enough to invite me to dinner with Amy Greene prior to her speaking at the American Mountaineering Center in mid-September.

Amy and her husband Adam had flight issues (who doesn’t these days) and arrived at The Golden Hotel after we were all seated.  She sat directly across from me and as she picked at her salad (“I can never eat before I read”), she talked about herself and writing.

“When I was six, I’d walk beside the creek behind our house and tell stories out loud.  I always knew I wanted to be a writer.  I married Adam when I was 18 and we decided we could be poor and happy together.  I had my two children (son 18 went to college this year) and started writing.  I’d never met another writer and I’d never taken a writing course.  Over the years, I went to college in Vermont – didn’t know I had an accent until we went there! – and lots of book fairs and writers’ gatherings.  I’m from Russellville in East Tennessee and the people I write about are the people I’ve always known.”

When she mentioned an MFA, I asked if she might go to Warren Wilson for it.  “Where’s Warren Wilson?” asked a librarian.  “Swananoa,” I replied without thinking.  “Asheville,” said Amy Greene.  “Oh, right,” I said, “Ashville.”

It was a joy to chat with Amy Greene who is chatty, down-to-earth, talented and recognizes that not everyone is from the South!

Amy and Adam Greene

Amy and Adam Greene

 

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“Hi, I’m Cheryl.”

I was standing in the foyer at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, talking to Rick Devlin, when a blonde woman came in.  She stuck out her hand and said, “Hi, I’m Cheryl.”  Rick and I each introduced ourselves and shook hands with her.  Then she said, “Where’s the bathroom?”  Rick and I both pointed to a door directly behind her.  She went in.  Rick and I exchanged knowing looks and tiny nods.

When she emerged, we talked about wine and then I said, “Can I ask you a professional question?”  She said yes and I asked, “Are you happy with Reese Witherspoon playing you in the movie?”  That was all it took.  She talked about Reese (“lovely, normal woman hounded by the press”) and went on to say she had made up her mind the “Hollywood types” were all just as shallow and jackal-like as depicted in the press – until she met them.  She said what she thought was a 45min meet-and-greet turned into a 2hr talk with directors, producers, money men, etc.  From there she talked about fame and fortune – “could I just have the fortune?” – and said that she doesn’t envy Oprah – “she’s become a good friend” – having to deal with the slings and arrows of paparazzi, press scrutiny, misinterpretation of every moment in her life, etc.

We chatted for about 45mins and during that time she asked me if I had reviewed WILD for YourHub (Rick told her I do the book reviews).  I said, “Mmm, no, ah, not yet.”  I told her I’d just done Robin Black’s Life Drawing and Cheryl asked how sales are going.  I almost couldn’t wait to get home and email Robin, “Cheryl Strayed asked me about you tonight.”

She asked me which part of WILD touched me most and when I related it, she said, “Did you cry before that? After that? No?  Well, no one has ever told me that that scene touched them.  You’re the first.”

So I guess it’s good to be able to say something fresh and unheard to Cheryl Strayed.

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Go Pick Them Up

It’s no secret that I’d rather spend my fritter-away time at the computer looking at Craigslist than scrolling through Facebook, which is the King of Fritterin Away Time.  Anyway, in glancing at today’s Boulder Craigslist, I came across FREE “selves.”  I am not making this up.  Made me wonder how many of us – numbering probably in the bazillions – would love to give away our ‘selves’ and start anew.

So if you are looking for new ‘selves,’ you’ve given yours away or willingly let them depart for parts unknow, go pick up these ‘selves’ – in Boulder of course, where else?

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Sticking My Neck Out

Just for the record, I recommend it.  And if you know me – and of course you do otherwise why would you be reading this? – you know that I regularly follow this advice.  Case in point, I have now finished writing a complete novel.  It has gone out.  If that is not sticking my neck out, I don’t know what is.

No matter what path this takes, no matter what twists and turns the Universe offers, I have written a novel.

Two years ago, I was having lunch with a beautiful, young blonde woman who is an accomplished writer.  I said, “I have so much respect for those who find out early in life what they want to do and spend their life in developing themselves in that interest.”

She didn’t bat an eye and replied, “And I have so much respect for those who find out at any age what they want to do and get involved and develop that interest.”  It was exactly the right thing to say to me.

So to her, and to all the instructors, friends, writing group pals, Taos dears, and supporters in general – and especially to those who read my work – thank you.  The neck has been stuck appropriately out.

 

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