Kentucky Author Spotlight: Melissa Goetz McCaughan

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Melissa Goetz McCaughan is a freelance writer and teacher. She has Master’s degrees from Xavier University and Northern Kentucky University in English and Teaching.  Last fall, she taught Journalism at Transylvania University. She writes for Chevy Chaser magazine and updates social media accounts for local businesses. You can often find her giggling in a coffee shop, reading in the park or writing in a cemetery. She lives in Georgetown, Kentucky with her husband, son and pugador. You can check out her blog here!

Tell us some about your novel, Legacy.
Where do ideas begin? For me, it began with a childhood fascination with ghosts and things that go bump in the night. I devoured the works of V.C. Andrews, R.L. Stine and Anne Rice like candy. As I entered adolescence, I was drawn to artistic boys dressed all in black.

And where do those boys take girls on dates? They take them to the cemetery.

Spring Grove Cemetery is a very large, beautiful cemetery in Cincinnati that was built in the 1800s following a cholera epidemic. It covers 733 acres and an artist was once quoted as saying about it, “Only a place with a heart and soul could make for its dead a more magnificent park than any which exists for the living.” It was to this cemetery my boyfriend took me on date when I was 18 years old.

He wanted to show me a specific grave that he liked. It was off the main road and hidden by trees. When we walked back to it, I saw a large monument of a steeple with a female statue inside. Behind the monument were stairs leading down the hillside to a platform guarded by two lion statues. You can sit on the stairs and stare out over the grounds, a breathtaking view. It is so peaceful.

Long after breaking up with that particular boy, I would visit this grave site and write. I went there to think. I went there to cry. I went there after milestone events and on ordinary days. In snow, rain, summer, fall I kept going back to sit on those steps. And I noticed every time I went, I left feeling a little better.

I began to wonder who this man whose grave had become my refuge was in real life. I figured he was very rich to afford such a spot, but I knew nothing about him. One day, as I was walking around Northside (a neighborhood in Cincinnati) I noticed a sign that said “Hoffner Park.” Hmmm….Hoffner Park – Jacob Hoffner. Coincidence?

I tried an internet search for him, but it was the mid 1990s and there wasn’t a lot out there. So, I made my way to the Cincinnati Historical Society and requested every document they had. I read his letters. I saw pictures of his home. He was described as an eccentric. He had these elaborate grounds with ornate landscaping and statues from his travels around the world. He was a great philanthropist. He was a Mason. Hoffner Park sits on the land that was once his home. He founded Northside. The lion statues in front of the University of Cincinnati were gifts from him.

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I found him fascinating and liked the fact that this grave site was my secret spot even more. I began to imagine him as a character in a book. Then I imagined a girl visiting him and talking with him and the story started to enfold. So, 10 years after first visiting the site, I wrote the first 20 pages of the story.

I took 10 more years to finish it. People ask me if they are characters in the book or if any of it is true. There are some true details – real places, real people. But, it is not my story. It is my creation, something from me and yet with its own evolution. Like my son, who has his own distinct personality and own mind, you can sometimes catch glimpses of me in the way he smiles or tilts his head. It’s a little like that.

My favorite part of researching this novel was learning about Jacob Hoffner and imagining him as a fictional character. I also enjoyed learning about Masonic rituals.  The most difficult part to pin down was getting historical details right and making what the character did in the 1850s seem plausible.

What are some writing techniques or approaches to craft that work for you?
Like the main character in Legacy, I often write in cemeteries in a notebook. That’s where I get ideas for characters and start brainstorming. I write down a loose structure for the plot. Then, I go home and start typing. I write for about 3 hours per day when drafting. I don’t let anyone see my first work until the first draft is finished. Then, I give it to my team of beta readers before beginning revisions.

My favorite part of the publishing process is getting the proof of the book in the mail. After hours of writing and revising, months of hard work, it’s very rewarding to see it all come together. My least favorite part of the publishing process is worrying about sales.

What is your favorite writing utensil?
My favorite writing utensil is a blue pen.

What are your thoughts on maintaining a career as a writer?
I think it’s difficult financially to start a career as a writer unless you have an additional job or some other financial support. However, writing is the most emotionally rewarding job I’ve ever had.

What are you currently working on?
I’m currently formulating ideas for a new novel set in central Kentucky.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
If I wasn’t a writer, I would be teaching. I’ve been a teacher for over ten years. I like expressing myself through writing and encouraging others to do the same.

Do you read reviews? Why or why not?
So far, I’ve read my reviews. However, if the reviews started to bother me, I would probably take a break from doing that for a while.

Any guilty pleasures?
My guilty pleasures are apple crisp and Game of Thrones. ​

You can watch Melissa reading from Legacy here and read an excerpt below! If you’d like to meet her in person, her next book signing is from 12-2 PM on June 4 at Down to Earth Cynthiana, 129 E Pike St, Cynthiana, KY

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Excerpt from Legacy:

Anna watched as the light beams danced from one leaf to the next as she drove under the ornate archway inside the cemetery gates. She knew the way intuitively. Yes, she had been to graveyards before, but this was her sanctuary. A right, then another right, then another right–this was the path to her past, and she hoped to a future that would illuminate the shadows in her mind.

Anna parked. She walked along the gravel road back to the private gravesite, her family’s ancestral plot. Blocked by a sawhorse, it was one of the few spots in the graveyard where cars weren’t allowed to drive up by the graves. The sky was fading to gray and Anna wondered if she should turn back. She pulled her travel umbrella out of her pocket, hoping her notebook wouldn’t get wet, as she planned to stay until it got dark. She brought her rain jacket in case it started to pour, and a snack of raisins and chocolate – can’t leave home without chocolate. This cemetery, Pine Grove, was where Anna liked to do her writing – quiet, peaceful, no sounds except the distant hum of traffic along the interstate. Somehow her thoughts flowed more freely here – the dead quieted her inner critic. Images flashed across her mind, thoughts flowed like a solemn cavalcade of hearses at a funeral, mindful and not in a rush – if she ever was to write a novel, this was the place it would come to her.

 

Kentucky Author Spotlight: Erin Fitzgerald

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Erin Fitzgerald is a community arts enthusiast and writer of stories, songs, and snapshots. Her creative work has been included in various journals, compilations, and anthologies. Her first book for young readers, Smart Butt: Scenes from a Bold-Faced Life (starring Earlene), was published in 2014 by MotesBooks. Erin is passionate about the power that can be found by exploring one’s own voice. She facilitates workshops and small group sessions in various community settings, encouraging others to explore their own strengths through creative expression. She lives in Louisville, KY with her brilliant children, who inspire her every day. You can listen to Erin’s Accents Radio interview with Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, here!

Tell us some about Smart Butt: Scenes from a Bold-Faced Life (Starring Earlene).

This book could be described as a short novel – because of the intended audience (kids in grades 4-6) – but is more the length of a novella. I say its intended audience is “middle grade” readers, but of course the hope is that it appeals to a wider audience as well. I have gotten positive feedback from adult readers, so I take that as a good sign. Earlene is the main character, and she is just turning 12 years old. She lives with her Mom, her Aunt Nettie, and her younger brother Arlo. She also bonds with a homeless (by choice) neighborhood dog named Tripod, who steals her heart. Earlene is dealing with some tough stuff within her family, as do many kids out there. Her mother is in recovery, her dad is in jail, and she has had a lot of responsibility for a child her age. The book is written in Earlene’s voice, and the focus of the book is hard to nail down. It fluctuates between her complex relationships with family members, to situations with Tripod, to navigating the social dynamics of her neighborhood and school. It is written in very short chapters – a series of snapshots, really – but there is also a thread or story arc that connects the pieces. That story arc focuses largely on the dynamic with her mom, and her relationship with Tripod.

When was the moment you knew you needed to write this book?

I knew I wanted to write from this voice in 2011, not long after taking a Writing for Children class with George Ella Lyon at Hindman Writers’ Workshop. Some variation of Earlene’s voice emerged during that week, and in the following months she showed up more and more in my life and in my writing. Eventually, she demanded a book. What choice did I have, at that point?

What was the most difficult scene to write?

There is a chapter called “Resting Place” which is followed by a chapter called “Close to Home,” and I think those were the two most difficult parts to write. The first is more of a single scene, and the second involves a quick progression of scenes, but both are near the end and include a lot of stuff in a short amount of space. A lot of ponderings there, and the culmination of various themes and storylines, so it was pretty intense to tackle.

Which character was the most challenging to pin down?

That’s hard to say. Earlene’s arch-nemesis at school, Penny Wellington, was pretty challenging to pin down. Not so much writing her scenes, but getting inside her head and examining the reasons why she may have done certain things the way she did. And it was a tricky balance to explore that without wrapping things up too neatly, or revealing more than ought to be revealed about her motives. As I was in the revision process, I realized I needed to further explore her character after the initial draft, and include some (but not all) of that exploration in the final draft, so that was a challenge.

Where can we buy your book?

Smart Butt is available at Carmichael’s Bookstore (Louisville, KY), The Morris Book Shop (Lexington, KY), and on Amazon.

Schools, libraries, and regular wholesale customers may order from Ingram, or directly from MotesBooks at: order@MotesBooks.com

Anything else you’d like the readers to know?

The book was published by MotesBooks in the summer of 2014. No readings scheduled right now, but I am currently working with a couple of local actors to develop a short play adaptation of Smart Butt, to be performed for school and community groups. I am both intimidated by and excited about that project.

Do you have a favorite conference to attend? What is it?

I really enjoy the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival at Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) in the summer. I especially enjoy the Cumberland Gap Writers Studio, which takes place the week after the festival. The festival is a jam-packed weekend of classes, short sessions, readings, lectures, and presentations of all kinds. There are also great music gatherings in the evenings, which I love. The weekend is inspiring, but honestly a bit overwhelming by the third day, if you’re an introvert. Once the festival ends and most people leave, a smaller group stays back for a mostly unstructured week of writing in the same setting, with some sharing of work in the evenings. It is the ideal scenario, really. Get inspired by a flurry of literary sessions, and then afterward just take time to breathe and write. I am excited to revisit that element this year.

Do you work with a writing group? How’d you guys meet?

I am connected with a group in Louisville called Women Who Write, and I joined a few years ago to meet other writers in the area. I also have had the good fortune of getting to spend some time retreating with some writers from Women Writing for a Change. Truthfully, though, I find myself connecting with people all over the regional writing community in different ways, and that has been a wonderful experience. I have been coordinating a weekly flash fiction email group for about 5 years now, and that has been fun. There are so many ways to connect with other people through writing. You just have to find them, or if you don’t find them, create them.

Favorite writing utensil?

Ball-point pen. Plain old ball-point pen. I love a pencil too, but tend to write with pen most of the time.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a second book about Earlene, which takes place during the summer between the end of 5th grade and the start of 6th grade (middle school). I hope to have a draft of that completed by the end of this year. I am also working on another project – a YA storyline – though mostly still getting to know the characters at this point.

What book do you wish you had written?

Hard to say. Maybe Blubber by Judy Blume. Or In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. But really neither, of course, because then I would not have grown up with them, and that would be unfortunate.

What authors are inspirational to you?

Lynda Barry, Maira Kalman, Toni Morrison, Anne Shelby, George Ella Lyon, Sandra Cisneros, Jacqueline Woodson, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, Al Perkins, Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak. To name a few. All for different reasons, obviously. I like strong voices, and people who are not afraid to be quirky or unconventional in their writing style. I like reading books that deliver the unexpected.

Do you have any scars?

No visible scars, really. I have never scarred worth a darn. My skin tends to heal over like nothing ever happened. It’s strangely maddening. I would like to see the scars stick around, and feel them, and remember. Sometimes I look at an area where a scar used to be, and wonder if there was ever one there at all – if anything ever really happened, or if it was just a dream.

What’s in your pockets right now?

Keys, wallet, phone, guitar pick, pen. Ask me tomorrow, I’ll tell you the same thing. Unless I am in my pajamas. Then it’s just a pen.

If someone made a movie about your life who would play you?

Stockard Channing. I hope.

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Read an excerpt from Smart Butt below!

Tripod and I were never what you would call “fast friends.” It took us a while. We both had our reasons, I guess.

I can tell you my reason—or one of them, anyway. When I was real little, a big dog jumped up on me and it scratched up my face. I kind of freaked. From then on, all dogs looked different to me. They went from looking brownish-gray to looking bright red. (Not their actual fur, but the feeling of them. Kind of like how some days feel yellow and other days feel blue. That kind of different.)

I don’t know what Tripod’s reason was, but I’ll bet it has something to do with that leg that doesn’t work. There’s no way to know for sure, because he has had that limp since I first saw him. He has also always had that look—the one that says, “I don’t know you. Why should I trust you?”

I have never been afraid of Tripod. He is the first dog I can say that about. He has never moved fast in my direction, or growled, or acted mean. He just runs away if you look at him. I never understood that, but it never scared me, either. And the weirdest thing of all is that he never
seemed red to me, or even brownish-gray. From the first time I saw him, the only feeling I had was cool green.

Before we even moved into this house, it was Tripod’s territory. In fact, Mom stepped right into that territory (if you know what I mean) the first time we came to meet the landlord.

She was so mad we almost didn’t stay to see the place. Once we were living here, he was always either in our yard or across the street watching the house. I tried to coax him in. I left a trail of dog treats up to the door, but he wouldn’t go past the driveway. He just wasn’t going to be my
dog, and that was that. Mr. Carson said he wasn’t anybody’s dog and never had been. Said that’s how he’d been since the first day he showed up on Woodrow Street, years before we moved in. That should have made me feel better, but it didn’t. I trusted Tripod right away, and I needed for him to trust me back.

Aunt Nettie said not to do anything that scared him, and he would come around. Trouble was, everything scared him. I started leaving food and water out back for him, near the spot where he hung out most often. I didn’t make a fuss about it—didn’t even look him in the eye. I just left it, and walked away. At first he would run, if he happened to be back there when I brought it out for him. I started shaking the food in the bowl as I came back there, to let him know I was coming. That seemed to help. He still moved away from me, but not as fast. After a while he stopped going so far. Now he just steps back a few feet and waits. He even looks at me when I set the stuff down. I look at him too, but only for a few seconds. I don’t want to ruin it. It’s been 6 months now and he still won’t come too close, but he trusts me a little. I can just tell. Those few seconds each day when we both look—I can see it in his eyes.

Kentucky Author Spotlight: Brenda Bartella Peterson

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Brenda Bartella Peterson’s writing and speaking mantra is “keep it real.” Her topics, her life stories and her humor all point toward the goal of teaching others to live authentically. Brenda’s career path reflects multiple skills and interests. She was the senior advisor for Religious Outreach for the Democratic National Committee and executive director of Clergy Leadership Network, the first religious-left political action committee. Brenda has been a corporate trainer, non-profit executive and minister as well as successful speaker and writer. Her writing can be viewed on her website and blog. Brenda and her husband, John, live in Lexington, Kentucky to be near the brightest, prettiest, most charming grandchildren the world has ever known, objectively speaking, of course. Her most recent work, No Rehearsal: A Memoir, is now available Morris Book Store, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Barnes and Noble, as well as, Amazon.com and www.itascabooks.com.

Tell us some about No Rehearsal: A Memoir.

I had been told since college days that I needed to write a memoir. My answer was always, “I lived through it once, don’t need to live through it again.” About seven years after my son’s death, something in my brain clicked and I was ready to write. Even then, I resisted writing a narrative memoir. My writing colleagues like to joke that I had to be hit in the head nine times with a mallet to finally understand that my story needed to be in narrative form. I didn’t want my story to be the next “misery memoir.” I knew the real message of my life was that one could live through the most difficult of life’s challenges and still experience hope, joy and all that makes life worth living.

When was the moment you knew you needed to write this book/work?

About seven years after the death of my son.

What was your favorite part of research for this title?

Viewing old photographs in order to remind myself of past events.

What was the most difficult element to pin down with this book/work?

The self-examination that is required to write a memoir can be daunting. I wanted the portrait that I drew of myself to be honest and revealing.

What does your writing process look like? Any rituals that ensure literary gold? Rewards system?

The secret to my writing is Carnegie Center classes, especially those led by Leatha Kendrick. The classes kept me focused on the difficult task of revising, revising and revising some more. Find a good editor who will be brutally honest with you about your writing. An editor who merely tells you the writing is wonderful constitutes no editor at all. I wish I could say I had some secret formula that always rendered literary gold but I am too peripatetic for such routines.

What is your favorite part of the publishing process? Least favorite?

It was a delight to get that final copy in my hands from the printer—like giving birth. All the years of hard work became worth it in the holding of that book in my hands. I found the publishing process to be easier than the writing process. Less personal, less painful. However, I hated copy editing. I’m not good at finding typos. Hire a good copy editor for that specific task.

Do you work with a writing group? How’d you guys meet?

There are a few writers that have formed as a result of Carnegie Center classes. We meet on our own when classes are not in session. Theses writers are post-graduate level writers and brutally honest with each other.

Favorite writing utensil?

Definitely a laptop. I have too much arthritis in my hands to comfortable write with pen or pencil.

What are you currently working on?

I have two books that I’m currently working on: When You’re Pissed at the Church, a book for those who have left the church, particularly Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials. The second book is a follow-up to my memoir—a book of essays on my life experiences, not yet titled.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you do for a living?

I am also a speaker and ordained minister. Writing is such an introverted activity and I am an extrovert. So speaking and preaching give me an outlet for my extroversion.

Do you read reviews? Why or why not?

I love reviews. They are one person’s opinions and I enjoy hearing all opinions.

What authors are inspirational to you?

For memoir—Mary Karr and Jeannette Walls come closest to writing as I dream of writing. For essay-type memoir, Anne Lamott.

Guilty pleasures?

O Magazine and Real Simple magazine, junk food for the mind.

If someone made a movie about your life who would play you?

This has been a great parlor game at the book clubs I have spoken to. Of all the suggestions, I’m leaning toward Ashley Judd or Katherine McFee.

What’s your middle name and where did it come from?

I was a week old and still not named. My aunt and ultimate role model, Bertha Jane Marshall, sixteen at the time, came to the hospital and asked my mom if she could name me. She named me Brenda after her pen pal in England. My middle name is Jane after her and a series of aunt-to-niece for four generations in our family.

Worst job you ever had?

Working in a book bindery one summer, endlessly pulling books off the sewing machines as the seamstress threaded the pages together.

You can read an excerpt of No Rehearsal below!

Memorializing My Raggedy Ass Father

The call from my half-brother Dennis at 8:30 on a Monday morning could only mean one thing — Dad had died. The last few weeks, he had wandered in and out of consciousness, and we all knew he was ready to go. I have shed no tears since that day, but on the other hand, I have received a gift of healing I never thought possible as related to my Raggedy-Ass father.

Weeks before Dad’s death, I had offered to do the funeral service. I knew officiating was a gift I could extend for my half-brothers that was unique to me. Then, leading the service was an abstract thought: One day I will preside over Dad’s service. Now, reality hit me: In two days, in Evansville, Indiana, I will stand in front of others and say something about Dad. The downward spiral began with a conversation between my rational self and my irrational feelings.

What the hell was I thinking? I can’t say something about him to even a small group of people.

I have to go through with it if for no one except Dennis and Greg. He was far more father to them than the rest of his scattered lot, but that’s still a low bar to set for parenting.

I will not stand up there and say lies. I will not preside over a religious service for someone who, as far as I know, never entertained a spiritual thought in his life.

That narrowed down the repertoire for a funeral service drastically.

I sat in my comfortable chair all day Monday and read through three books of poetry hoping the light would dawn. No light dawned. I sent an email to Dennis, Greg and Margaret asking for memories of Dad. Surely, I will find material there. I asked my son Sims what came to mind when he thought of Pap-paw-on-the-river (my children’s name for him). Their exposure to Dad was limited but Sims came up with the one word: fun.

As they had on so many occasions, my friends Don and Vonda Lichtenfelt brought wisdom and words. They arrived at our home on Tuesday morning with a file folder and books that might spark a flame and ease my anxiety. Those words from great thinkers sparked the magic, and by bedtime that night, I rested easy that I could speak to who he was and retain my sense of integrity.

Incongruous but true, Dad’s favorite watering hole, Leroy’s, owns a Facebook page. Their tribute stated he “sat at the corner bar stool, ordered a cheeseburger with onion and a 7 and 7. RIP Shoestring.”

So I began the service at Alexander’s Funeral Home West on Franklin Street in Evansville where Dad’s father was eulogized in 1952 and his mother in 1992. I moved out from the lectern and pulled up a bar stool. I invited everyone to join me in spirit at Leroy’s, order their imaginary cheeseburger and maybe even a “smart alec” as we prepared to remember “Shoestring.” I made clear that we would honor Dad by keeping it real.

Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Life and death are one even as the river and sea are one.” This rang true for the River Rat who spent many of his 87 years on the Ohio River and loved it as well as he loved any human.

No pretense or exaggeration was necessary to say we were remembering a unique and special character — truly one-of-kind. A River Rat, a brilliant contractor, builder, carpenter, bricklayer, a son, brother, husband (more than a few times), a father and friend.

Along with recounting the memories gleaned from my sibs, I also retold the story of his journey to the Super Inn in his wheelchair and how he got caught on the railroad track on the way home. My aunt, Aggie, Dad’s only sibling present, shouted out from the audience, “It was probably a lie!”

Dad somehow missed out on winning a Pulitzer or a Nobel Peace Prize, an Oscar, Emmy or Tony award, but he did know the pleasure of small things:

A full moon

A four-pound bass

A full hog on the spit

A cold beer

A fast boat

A good day of skiing

A good belly laugh

And lots of women.

Dad built impressive structures all over the tri-state area with his hands and his intellect. He grew beautiful flowers in his back yard. He roasted whole pigs in his BBQ pit and entertained the entire neighborhood. Although incapable of expressing it, Dad held the transcendent in his heart, and that includes each of us.

There may have been a few among us that day who were old enough to remember the play Our Town or maybe even played a part in that classic while in high school. The character called the Stage Manager in the play had this to say,

Wow, there are some things we all know, but we don’t take ‘em out and look at ‘em very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars. Everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years, and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.

That statement held true for Dad. His eternal something is us. Through Dad’s numerous branches on the family tree and our kids and grandkids, Dad lives on. And I have seen in my own branch of this family tree that Dad’s inheritance is a mighty strong one.

As I began to close the service, Aunt Aggie shouted out again. “You know his name wasn’t Clarence William Sims Sr. It was just Clarence William Sims, no Senior.”

It didn’t seem apropos to argue with her that Dad became a senior the minute they named my brother, Clarence William Sims Jr., so with the mood of the last story destroyed I turned to what I know best and closed with a prayer.

Gerald Coleman On Affrilachian Identity, Influences, and Activist Writing

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Gerald Coleman, founding member of the Affrilachian Poets

 

This interview was conducted in November of 2013 in Atlanta, GA, between Gerald Coleman and Forrest Gray Yerman. Coleman is a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets. He has undergraduate and graduate degrees in philosophy and theology. He currently lives in Atlanta where he is working on his second book in his series, The Three Gifts. Forrest Yerman is a masters student in Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University where he focuses his research on the Affrilachian Poets and race and ethnicity in the Appalachian region.

F: How would you define your Affrilachian identity?

G: For me, Frank [X Walker] thinking of the name [Affrilachia]. Not that, here’s this thing outside of us that we’re going to place onto us, but that this is what we are already. We are African Americans in Appalachia—Affrilachia. This is what we are. For me that formalized who we were, what we thought of ourselves, formalized our identity, and gave us a name for it. As human beings that’s one of the ways that we make sense of the universe around us, by naming things. That’s how we—a fortiori—that’s how we, after the experience, quantify the universe around us. We name it. In our earliest kind of venturing beyond just sleep and eat as we evolved as a species, one of the ways that we made sense of the world was to name things. And so for me the important part of that was we knew kind of intimately and in a nebulous kind of way who and what we were, but by putting a name to it that kind of solidified it, that formalized it. This is who we are.

F: When did you first identify as Affrilachian?

G: I guess ’90. Maybe more formally ’91. I think we were calling ourselves that at least a year prior leading up to it; allowing it to sit in our mouths for awhile. I was one of the persons who read in front of Amiri Baraka with my Affrilachian Poets t-shirt on at the UK. You have all of these folk in the alumni hall come to hear Amiri Baraka, and I was one of the ones who got to read in front of him. So that was a point where it became formal—this is who we are. But that’s who we were at least a little before that. So if you want an official, what do you put on the bio, it’s probably ’91; but ‘89, ‘90.

F: How does activism play a role in your life and your identity as an Affrilachian?

G: Well, I think the whole process of the creation and the participation in the Affrilachian Poets is activist. Which goes back to that whole, we don’t need your permission to be who we are. We took that space. So much of that is activist in and of itself.

If you listen to some of our writing, obviously some of our writing is activist writing. I just recently wrote a piece called “Missing Malcolm,” which at one point talks about I don’t want a t-shirt, I don’t want a poster, I want him here instantiated in a think-tank in Harlem, gray-headed, wise, still making a contribution to public intellectual of—how did I put it? I’d have to go look, but something like, the father of black intellectuals and black presidents.

It’s about, this is what we believe in, this is who we are, this is what we ask of the world around us. I think much of that is activist. That’s the artistic part of it. But then when you look at the lives we are leading. For example, I am finishing up my first—I’m the fantasy sci-fi writer in the Affrilachian Poets—and I’m finishing up my first novel [When Night Falls], first in the series [The Three Gifts], and it has a black protagonist. You know, you don’t do that in sci-fi fantasy. The hero is always a white guy. I don’t know if you’ve ever read The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan: Rand al’Thor, you know, tall, red-headed white boy. So as you look through the spectrum in that genre, and when an Affrilachian writer takes up that genre to sit down and write, what do you do? Well, my protagonist is black. Activist in that respect, that’s activist to me.

F: Is place important to your identity, and can you talk about any special places?

G: In terms of personal particular places, obviously for me the University of Kentucky where [the Affrilachian Poets] were born as a group is very important. Like I said, I arrived in 1986 and I think that was the very beginning of Frank and I interacting, and then pulling in other poets. So from ‘86 on, the UK, the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center, that elevator in the student center has a very special place for us. I was in a poetry/creative writing class with George Ella Lyon. I don’t know if you know that name. In Kentucky you know, love, George Ella. She did a lot to help me find my voice.

The Original Alfalfas. We did poetry readings there, which is right next to the Lexington Theological Center (is where it used to be; it’s moved to downtown Lexington now). And now I’m talking about places around Lexington. The Carnegie Center was very important to me, particularly when Dr. Laurie Bottoms was the director, the first director. She was the one who basically built the Carnegie Center. She was the one who got the old public library from the city. Who did the fundraising to have it renovated and create that first space. That was a very special space for me. She was really a mentor of mine. We lost her to cancer.

F: Can you talk about some of your African American influences?

G: My grandmother and her cooking. Food is a big part of Affrilachian culture and writing. You’re going to find that across the board in people’s writing. Talking about everything from brown sugar pie to cornbread and greens, you’re going to see that throughout people’s writing. Family, the size of our family. I only had one other brother, but he and I and all our cousins, twenty-five of us, we were all kind of raised together. So that kind of extended familial village was important.

The fact that hip hop was born and came of age as I was coming of age, that was a big influence. Because it was when I was a junior and senior in high school that Run DMC and Rock Box first hit MTV, followed by LL Cool J and that whole hip hop culture of break dancing and big boom boxes. I mean, I had one of those. You know, carrying around 12 inches under your arm. That whole Public Enemy—I was in college when Public Enemy dropped—black boots and, you know, that whole thing.

Traditional black fraternities—I’m a [Phi Beta] Sigma, just like Frank and Ricardo [Nazario-Colon] and Mitchell Douglas. So, you know, several of us are Sigmas. And that whole tradition of historically black fraternities. So, yeah, those are some of the other influences.

F: How does the history of this country affect your writing?

G: It’s probably always present in both macro and micro ways. It’s present, for example, in my choice to make the protagonist of my series of novels a black character. It’s present in subject matter, probably when I’m writing poems, in terms of my selection. Some of the last few poems I’ve written, one of them is entitled, “The Unbearable Blackness of Being,” kind of a take on The Unbearable Lightness of Being. But it was a response to the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. As I said another recent piece was, “Missing Malcolm.”

So, it affects probably subject matter sometimes, obviously it affects perspective, character choice, those kinds of things. There’s definitely an effect. I think all of us try to acknowledge it, allow it to be what it’s supposed to be, but at the same time to not allow it to overshadow our writing.

F: Did you have a lot of freedom in your childhood and adolescence to explore life on your own terms?

G: Oh, yeah. I guess it plays itself out in two ways. I think the first is, my mother was always very supportive of me in terms of whatever it was I wanted to try she would let me try. And summers were always a fun time because, like I said, we were raised by a single mom, so basically during the day we were left to ourselves in the summer. And we had all of the uncultivated farmland, which was basically wild fields, to go back in and explore and play around; or just around the neighborhood. And as I said, it wasn’t a bad part of town, so we had the opportunity to, we spent a lot of time on our own as kids, teenagers, I guess from the time I was 12 or 13 on. We had a lot of freedom. You know, we had the chores that we had to do but once we did that, particularly in the summer when school was out, we were free to explore and do basically much of what we wanted to do.

 

 

 

Kentucky Author Spotlight: Bill Reamer

At 31 years of age, Bill Reamer, born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, made a quality of life decision to relocate his family to rural Western Kentucky. His career path took a major detour from a semiconductor sales engineer calling on major corporations to a construction laborer and concrete finisher. The physical rigors of construction eventually compelled him back into a national sales and marketing role, landing him in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1999. His extensive travel, along with small town and big city life experiences, provide fertile ground for developing fictional stories with compelling story lines peppered with life lessons and inspirational insights. His most recent novel, Scott Mountain (2014) is a sequel to his novel, The Dates. The story continues into the lives of the next generation with natural and supernatural ties to the past. It is available at the traditional on-line and brick and mortar book outlets. Signed copies are available here.

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When was the moment you knew you needed to write Scott Mountain?

I was doing a book discussion and a signing of The Dates at a book club attended by about 20 women. As things were wrapping up, one of the ladies came over to get her book signed and made a comment that took me a little by surprise. She said she was disappointed. Thankfully, she went on to say that she was disappointed that the story was over and that she really wished that I would continue the story in a sequel. Writing the novel was a “bucket list” item and my full intention was that it would be a one and done. Due to my conversation with her, I ended up writing Scott Mountain and I am currently working on a third book in the series. So, my “one and done” has morphed into a trilogy!

Do you have a favorite character?

This is probably a cliché, but all of the characters are like my children. I like each of them for who they are, and it is hard to pick a favorite. I must say Logan is fun to write about. He is very clear on what is right and wrong. He is quick to act forcibly to ensure that “right” prevails. Ian is more of a guy that rolls with the punches, although he does know what he stands for and subsequently what he won’t sit still for.

What was your favorite part of research for this title?

Not a lot of research. The “Scott” in the title is the family name of people we know from Western Kentucky.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

Most readers of my first novel, The Dates, see me as the character Willy. In Scott Mountain, Willy dies. It was definitely weird writing about it. It did cause me to stop and ponder my mortality and the days leading up to it.

Which character was the most challenging to pin down?

Pat Langston, who is in a villain role. The challenge was to build his villainy into a crescendo.

What does your writing process look like? Any rituals that ensure literary gold? Rewards system?

On my first book (454 pages) that I wrote while I was still employed full-time, I made a vow to write every day. I fulfilled this vow over a 21-month period. On the second book (538 pages), I wasn’t as disciplined but had more time since I was retired. I was able to go from start to finish in about 11 months. I like to write something and then let it “marinate” for a bit and go back and review/enhance it.

How do you get past the dreaded “middle section” of a novel?

I don’t have this issue. I know my ending before I begin. I am a fan of Alfred Hitchock and an old TV program hosted by Rod Serling called The Twilight Zone. These individuals were masters at plot twists and surprise endings. With a good idea of my ending in mind, and the basic story premise, I start. The middle to me is like life. There needs to be some meandering to be authentic and captivating. I let the story develop on its own but in context with a clear understanding of where it is all going to end.

How do you choose names for your characters?

I have a variety of strategies on names. Sometimes certain names convey certain images. Other times, I just search for a name that fits and will be memorable. In Scott Mountain, I named one of the main characters after a person I worked with who was going through some struggles. I told her I was going to name a character in my new book after her. I was with her when she first cracked open the book and saw her name. She got a big kick out of it.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?

I am definitely a pantster and that is how I am in real life. Laws of Physics state that a “body at rest, stays at rest.” I like to get moving and have full confidence that I will be able to adapt if adaptation is necessary.

What is your favorite part of the publishing process? Least favorite?

If only there was a way of getting published without going through the publishing process. I self-published. I wanted to get my book out and I wanted it to be my book, my DNA. I didn’t want to give up any of my rights, however, if one of the “Big Five” were to have offered a seven figure advance…hmmm. I am already committed on my third book to the same self-publisher. In the future, I think I will get my own ISBN, hire a graphic designer, get my own copyright (which I currently do), and then try to find a print on demand printer or place a volume order with a printer. The volume order would not be as scary as it would be if it were my first book. I do have a base of readers, small but growing.

Do you have a favorite conference to attend? What is it?

No, kind of a lone ranger.

Do you work with a writing group? How’d you guys meet?

No. Like I said, a lone ranger without even a Tonto. I did recently meet the wife of a writer who is in a totally different genre. He is also retired and we were both in sales and marketing. Plans are to get together to share work war stories and I am sure we will also discuss the travails of making it as a writer.

Favorite writing utensil?

I am not a good typist, but I type. When I retired I was given an Apple MacBook Pro, which I am growing very fond of. The speed of my typing matches the speed of the creative part of my mind and everything is in synch. I tried dictation but that was too quick. I needed more time to deliberate. I tried handwritten but that was too slow, and at times I couldn’t read my scratchings. The Apple is a good match for me.

How hard is it these days to start and maintain a career as a fiction writer?

To make a career out of it would be very difficult. Some hit it lucky like E L James, 50 Shades of Grey but, for everyone of those, there are hundreds of other shades in the big box of Crayola’s that don’t make it. The creative part, developing new stories, for me is not hard. I have lots of ideas. The promoting and advancing as an author, to the point where all you have to do is write and fly to whatever promotional event your publisher sends you to, is the tough nut to crack. When I am soliciting invitations to events, I am not writing. In order to maintain a career as a writer, a person needs to be involved in writing most of the time. Irvin S Cobb, a fellow author, humorist, and columnist born in Paducah, KY once said: “If writers were good businessmen, they’d have too much sense to be writers.”

What are you currently working on?

I am working on the third book in the trilogy and am about 40% complete. I don’t have a title for it yet. I just call it Book Three. If I was James Patterson, I could probably get by with a book titled Book Three but, since I am not, I am working on coming up with something appropriate and appealing.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you do for a living?

I would be involved in the creative arts—cinema, TV, theatre. My sales and marketing career enabled me to be very creative, but the stage was definitely smaller and the creativity observable only by a few.

Do you read reviews? Why or why not?

I read reviews. I want to know how people respond to what I write, but I prefer live interaction such as group discussions, where there is give and take. The anonymity of the Internet limits the usefulness of the information posted. I want to know more about what is behind the comment, what precipitated the choice of words, especially when the review is negative. I haven’t had many negative reviews, but they do pierce my normally thick skin.

Guilty pleasures?

50’s Rock and Roll, Jitterbugging with my wife, and learning to play the guitar which I started entirely too late in life

What’s in your pockets right now?

Nothing, I am in my sweats, which is my preferred apparel. I don’t have casual Friday’s anymore—with retirement every day is casual!

Do you have any scars? Where are they from?

I was always active in sports; football, baseball, soccer, basketball, so I have the wear and tear associated with those sports. Some of the scars are from my playing days, and others are from my “paying” for my “playing” days.

Which kid were you in school growing up?

Average sized kid, maybe a little over achiever, definitely an out-of-the-box thinker with a very creative mind.

If someone made a movie about your life who would play you?

Gary Senise would be a good choice. He is originally from Illinois, about my size and build, a little younger than me but not much, and plays guitar—mainly base where I am six string.

What’s your middle name?

Edward

Number one place to visit or activity to try on your bucket list?

I would like to write a song. I have written the lyrics but need to work on the music, which I know absolutely nothing about. It would be a novelty song, pretty funny. I got the idea at last year’s Fourth of July festivities in downtown Lexington.

Worst job you ever had?

I think “worst job” is an oxymoron. I think the “worst” thing is not having a job. I think all jobs are important and I have always enjoyed being employed. I have always learned something while working even when under employed. My dad always worked hard and that stuck in my mind. I once painted garbage cans as a kid. In Chicago, years ago, the garbage cans were 55-gallon drums that stayed in the alleys. I would scrape them to knock off the rust and then paint them with a brush. I felt blessed because I was making more than some kids with paper routes. The cans did stink though!

Excerpt from Scott Mountain.

I am sitting here alone with mixed feelings. I want him to come home so that we can attempt to reconcile our differences. I know, that more than likely, there will be no reconciliation, and the wedge that is growing between us will continue to widen. Regardless of what might happen, I need to bring this to a head. I feel that it is up to me. It is my job to try and resolve this conflict. For us to survive, the tension must be removed from the air, and I must instigate it. I believe I can hear the faint rumble from the thumping bass of his car audio system off in the distance. Since he “invested” (and I use that word sarcastically) almost all the wealth he had accumulated on this car stereo system, sound has been the precursor to his actual arrival in the driveway. It doesn’t take long for my assumptions to be confirmed, as the sound grows more pronounced. I realize that I am now just minutes, really seconds, away from continuing a conversation that drove him to leave the house just a few hours earlier. The audio bass grows silent. I hear the tapping sound from his engine that serves as a reminder that we are going to have to have someone look at it, and then silence.

My gut tightens, and I can sense a case of the jitters taking over my whole body. I move slowly and deliberately from the living room couch to the foyer to ensure that there is a seemingly by chance, but definitely planned, crossing of our paths. I definitely don’t want him to think that this issue between us has completely taken over my whole being, my whole existence, which it has. I want it to appear that this is just a continuation of our previous conversation that is spawned out of our chance encounter in the foyer.

 

 

You can check out readings by Bill here and here!

 

 

 

Kentucky Author Spotlight: Doug Brunk

Doug Brunk, author of, Wildcat Memories: Inside Stories from Kentucky Basketball Greats, spent his formative years as a resident of Wilmore, Kentucky, in the early 1970s, where he became hooked on following the University of Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball program. He’s currently a reporter for Frontline Medical News, reporting on health and medicine for physicians in more than a dozen specialties. He lives in San Diego with his wife, Vickie, and their yellow Lab, Sonny.Brunk front cover final

You can listen to Doug talk about his work here!

Foreword writer and book contributor Dan Issel was interviewed on 1250 AM SportsTalk on Jan. 22, 2015, in which he talks a bit about Doug’s book and a lot about UK hoops in general, here.

You can read an excerpt of a chapter on John Wall from Wildcat Memories here.

And listen to an audio book review by Roberta Schultz of WVXU in Cincinnati here.

Tell us some about Wildcat Memories.

I’ve been a devoted follower of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball program since my formative years as a resident of Wilmore, Kentucky, where I lived from 1973-1978. In December of 2011 my dad and I traveled from San Diego (where I now live) to Lexington to watch the Wildcats play St. Johns as a way to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday. It was only the second time in Rupp Arena for me, and the third for my dad. Part of that trip involved a brief visit to the UK basketball office, where I was given a copy of that year’s media guide. The bottom of the cover contained the words “Kentucky Effect,” one of Coach John Calipari’s catchphrases. On the plane ride home I began to think about that phrase, and about the effect the Kentucky program has had on me as an everyday fan. I started to realize that as far back as 1973, UK basketball has provided something I could latch onto and have a sense of belonging to, like how a church member might view his or her home congregation. It provided a sense of connection, camaraderie regardless of age, income level, or political party affiliation.

I then began to think about the former players and coaches in Kentucky’s storied history. I began to wonder not only what effect representing UK had on them, but I also wondered if there were individual Kentuckians who served as mentors or role models to these former players and coaches on and off the court—a different kind of “Kentucky Effect.” With that in mind, I formed a wish list of interviewees and started to invite former players and coaches to tell me about the people who impacted them the most during their time representing UK.

When was the moment you knew you needed to write this book/work?

Early on in this project I drove to Los Angeles to interview Dan Issel, who is the all-time leading scorer in men’s basketball at UK. When I asked Dan about the impact of Coach Rupp on his life, he paused the interview, reached into his back pocket, and pulled out his wallet. From that wallet he pulled out a folded up, tattered piece of white paper and began reading from it. It was a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt that Coach Rupp was fond of. It was from a famous speech that Roosevelt delivered in Paris, France in 1910 known as “The Man in the Arena,” about the importance of learning by doing, the idea that it’s better to stumble in competition or in other areas of life by giving your all than to do nothing, or to sit by on the sidelines and criticize. And here was Dan Issel, more than 40 years removed from the program, carrying those words in his wallet. Talk about impact! Right then I knew I had to proceed with this book.

What was your favorite part of research for this title?

Having the opportunity to interview (and in some cases meet) so many former coaches and players I’ve admired and cheered for over the years. Some of them were childhood heroes of mine, including Coach Joe B. Hall, Jack Givens, Kyle Macy, and Rick Robey. To learn about their “heroes” in life, their mentors and their support network from years ago, was special.

What was the most difficult element to pin down with this book/work?

Overcoming my preconceived notion that because I wasn’t a sportswriter, the sources I invited to be interviewed would be leery about participating in the project.

Where can we buy this and more of your work?

At UK Press, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, or wherever you prefer to purchase books.

What does your writing process look like?

My level of concentration is best I the morning hours. That’s when I’m generally most productive, but I know other writers who do their best work late at night. Regardless of when you write, it’s hard work and ultimately you have to enjoy what you do or it’ll show in your final product. I love the quote from Samir Hunsi, Ph.D., a professor of magazine journalism at the University of Mississippi: “If you’re not enjoying yourself, neither are your readers.” So true!

What is your favorite part of the publishing process?

Signing off on final proofs before the book goes to press! Least favorite? Assembling the index; there’s no App for that! Index creation is an under-appreciated art that I enlisted help from an expert with.

Do you read reviews? Why or why not?

Yes. It’s interesting to see if the reviewers catch on to themes or messages you as a writer hope to impart in your work.

What book do you wish you had written?

Some of the books in the “For Dummies” series. The business model is brilliant.

What authors are inspirational to you?

I like reading works from writers who inspire us to think in different ways, people like Thomas Merton and Anne Lamott. I also admire writers who create works in a variety of genres, such as the comedian (and author/musician) Steve Martin.

Guilty pleasures?

Being in the first ten rows for a Who show. It’s always an invigorating experience and always worth it.

What’s in your pockets right now?

Some lint and 38 cents.

Do you have any scars? Where are they from?

I have a scar near the top of my forehead, from a gash I suffered as a two-year-old boy running into a corner where two walls meet. My big brother was in chase; what else was I supposed to do? About two weeks later I reopened that same wound in the same place for the same reason. More stitches were needed. Some things never change.

If someone made a movie about your life who would play you?

A young Steve Martin.

What’s your middle name and where did it come from?

William. That’s my father’s first name, and it’s an honor to share it. He’s the best.

Worst job you ever had?

I worked on a golf course one summer during college. I didn’t mind selling buckets of balls to people and talking to them about their game, but when we started to get low on golf balls I was the guy who’d venture onto the course in a beat-up jeep with no insulation to retrieve them. Customers took far too much pleasure in aiming balls at me when I was out there, with only chicken wire separating me from a certain concussive episode. It made me feel small but I got over it. Eventually.

 

Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame: Wendell Berry’s Remarks

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Wendell Berry delivers his remarks on Jan. 28, 2015 at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. Photo by Bianca Spriggs

On the evening of January 28, 2015, renowned Kentucky writer, Wendell Berry, was inducted as the first living writer into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame alongside deceased writers, Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005), Guy Davenport (1927-2005), Effie Waller Smith (1879-1960), Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007), and Jim Wayne Miller (1936-1996). The Carnegie Center is pleased to release Berry’s remarks below with permission of the author. These remarks may not be published in print form unless written permission is granted by the Carnegie Center. It may be republished on the web only if the publisher includes credit and a live link to www.carnegiecenterlex.org.

KENTUCKY WRITERS IN KENTUCKY
by Wendell Berry

In the spring of 1964,Tanya and I and our children had been living in New York for two years. When my work in the city ended that spring, we loaded ourselves and our belongings into a Volkswagon beetle with a luggage rack on top and took the New Jersey Turnpike south. We were returning to Kentucky — to settle, as it turned out, permanently in my home country in Henry County. On my part, this homecoming cost a good deal of worry. Just about every one of my literary friends had told me that I was ruining myself, and I was unable entirely to disbelieve them. Why would a young writer leave a good job in New York, where all the best artistic life and talent had gathered, to go to Kentucky?

There are no uncontrolled plots” in a person’s life. I have no proof that I would not have done better to stay in New York. But I see that in retrospect my story has gained the brightening of a certain comedy. When I turned my back supposedly on the best of artistic life and talent in New York and came to Kentucky, half believing in my predicted ruin, who was here? Well, among many dear and indispensable others: James Still, Harlan Hubbard, Harry Caudill, Guy Davenport, and Gene Meatyard. All of them I came to know and, I hope, to be influenced by. In 1964 also Thomas Merton was living in Kentucky. I can’t say that I knew him as I knew the others, but I had read The Sign of Jonas when it was published in 1953. Tanya and I, by courtesy of Gene Meatyard, visited Merton twice at Gethsemani and to live here was to feel his presence and his influence. I met Harriet Arnow. in, I think, 1955 when I first encountered Mr. Still, at the only writer’s conference I ever attended. Many years later I met her again, spoke to her and shook her hand, remembering from then on her eyes and the testing look she gave me. No book more confirms my native agrarianism than The Dollmaker.

My point is that in 1964, for a young writer in Kentucky and in need of sustenance, sustenance was here. In the fifty years that have followed, the gathering in Kentucky of Kentucky writers has grown much larger. It would take me a while just to call their names: old friends, allies, influences, members, permitting me to be a member, of an unending, enlightening, entertaining, comforting, indispensable conversation. Hy further point is that in 2015, for an old writer in Kentucky and in need of sustenance, sustenance is here.

Of literary or writerly life in Kentucky I have no worries. It seems lively, various, and dispersed enough to continue, which is all I can presume to ask.

My worries begin when I think of the literary life of Kentucky in the context of the state of Kentucky: a commonwealth enriched by a diversity of regions, but gravely and lastingly fragmented by divisions that are economic, social, cultural, and institutional. These divisions have given us a burdening history of abuse — of land abuse but also and inevitably of the abuse of people, for people and land cannot be destroyed or conserved except together. We all know our history of social and cultural division, from the Indian wars of the 18th Century to legal discrimination against homosexuals in the 21st. And we know how our many divisions, beginning in the lives of persons, become fixed in public and institutional life.

Some public entities that ought to be divided are tightly meshed together. I mean, above all, the intimacy between state government and wealthy industries. Otherwise, the state’s institutions and organizations appear to be islands divided, and often in themselves further divided, by specialties, departments, interests, and sides. Where and when might one find a political-industrial-academic­conservationist dialogue on any issue of land use? When aggrieved citizens gather on the pavement in front of the Capitol to express their grievances, who knows it? Who listens? Who replies?

So far as I can tell, those are rhetorical questions, useless except to suggest the extent and seriousness of the fragmentation of our commonwealth. This fragmentation is made possible, and continually made worse, by a cloud of silence that hovers over us. We have in this state no instituted public dialogue, no forum in which a public dialogue could take place.

This public silence ought to be a worry especially to writers. What is is the effect or fate, Kentucky writers may ask, of Kentucky books devoted to urgent public issues — Night Comes to the Cumberlands or Lost Mountain or Missing Mountains or The Embattled Wilderness? That is not quite a rhetorical question, but the answer is not obvious or easy.

Kentucky writers write books of several kinds, and they publish them, sometimes in Kentucky, but none of their books contributes to a public conversation in Kentucky about books or anything else — in spite of our need for it, and in spite of the schools and other institutions that would benefit from it and could also contribute to it.

We have, besides several private presses, the University Press of Kentucky which publishes sixty books every year, many of them of interest or concern specifically to Kentuckians. According to Steve Wrinn, editor of the Press, “many” of these books are bought, read, and appreciated by the people of Kentucky. And yet of those books, very few will be reviewed here. The Courier-Journal, to name one case in point, is suffering near-fatal typophobia, and publishes no book reviews not piped in from U.S.A. Today.

And so we can say that we have in Kentucky a sufficiency at least of writers of books, publishers of books, and readers of books. And yet when a Kentucky book is published it enters into a public silence, similar of course to such silences in other states, but in origin and character peculiarly our own. This is a problem that relates immediately to the hope for a sustainable and sustaining human culture in Kentucky. Such a culture, which we must hope for and work for, will depend and thrive upon our diversity of regions, and upon conversation among them. In my long conversation with Gurney Norman, he and I have often spoken as from opposite ends of the Kentucky River watershed. My long conversation with Ed McClanahan has gone back and forth across the hump of northern Kentucky, from two different countries. For me, these dialogues of friendship transcending regional differences have been indispensable sources of instruction and delight. I can’t imagine myself without them. Kentucky writers who see their placement here as a shared opportunity and a shared burden may still shape among themselves sustaining friendships and alliances. l hope they do.

These are thoughts that have come to me as a writer in Kentucky, in the United States, in the middle of the second decade of the twenty-first century, perhaps at the end of the age of literacy. What might be the use of the role of writers in such a place in such a time? I will say that writers now, as never before, must keep aware that literacy is their trade, until now a trade of supreme importance. Much that we now have that is of greatest value has come to us from books. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights — just to hint at an immeasurable abundance — have come to us from books and from readers of books. To keep our heritage viable and transmissible will require capable writers of books, capable readers of books, and a capable culture of literacy, however small it may have to be.

The survival of literacy in an age of illiteracy may require us to remember how physical, how much of the senses, the life of literacy is. By putting down letters in substantial ink onto a substantial surface for many centuries, we have been making words and then sentences. Putting down the letters, we have felt in our fingers and hands and forearms their shapes and the shapes of the words they make and their flowing together into sentences. We have watched as our hands have done this. We have read by seeing what we have written. As we have written, we have been hearing, at least in our minds, the sounds of our words and sentences. We have been making what Ivan Illich called “sounding pages.” If we read aloud what we have written, our breath carries our words into the air. We feel and almost taste the sounds as we shape them with our tongues, teeth, and lips. Writing may be the most completely sensuous of all the arts. How far it can be removed from bodily presence and from the bodily presence of people together, speakers and hearers in a settled community, and still function as language is a lively question.

Insofar as it involves language, literacy is communal. Insofar as it depends upon reading, Ivan Illich was right in seeing that it depends also upon “private space,” which is to say solitude, and “periods of silence.” I have been depending on and quoting from Illich’s book, In the Vineyard of the Text, in which he made a beautiful analogy: For a reader “to face a book,” preparing to read, is like sitting in a Gothic church in the dark, looking at a window that seems only a part of a wall. And then the dawn comes. The light passes through the window, brightening the colors and the forms of a story.

Kentucky Author Spotlight: Jason Sizemore

Jason Sizemore is a writer and editor who lives in Lexington, KY. He owns Apex Publications, an SF, fantasy, and horror small press, and has been nominated three times for the Hugo Award for his editing work on Apex Magazine. Stay current with his latest news and ramblings via his Twitter feed handle @apexjason or website.

Check out my interview with Jason and an excerpt from his collection of short stories, “Irredeemable,” below:

 

Sizemore Jason 2014 Irredeemable

Yellow Warblers (an excerpt)
by Jason Sizemore

Golden rays of morning sunlight filtered through the single glass windowpane, illuminating an elderly man sitting quietly on a cushioned pew, head bent in prayer. His trembling hands held an ancient pair of reading glasses with lenses so marred and scratched it was a wonder he could see anything through them. Outside, a yellow Kentucky warbler sang joyfully, welcoming the warm spring breeze blowing in from the south and the pale green leaves covering the Appalachian countryside.

“Amen,” the old man said aloud, finishing his prayer. He stretched out his arthritic, tired legs. Both knees popped like the BB gun he had used in his younger days to shoo away the hungry crows from his garden. He grimaced at the sound–a constant reminder of his age–and at the pain that was his daily companion. Something told him, perhaps it was the Lord whispering to him, to enjoy the warm season. Come this time next year, his old legs wouldn’t be much use to him anymore.

A silence enveloped the church valley. The yellow warblers hushed. The blowing wind stopped and the air grew still. A chill spread across the old man’s body. He’d lived long enough to know the way of the spirits, to listen when they shouted across the heavens to warn the other side of danger.

Outside, a small alien paused at the foot of the steps. It glanced upward at the white-painted spire that held the brass bell used for calling the congregation on Sunday mornings. The broad leaves of a tall sycamore shadowed the church from the midday sun, giving protection and comfort. The alien climbed the nine wooden steps up to the doorway and slipped through the ornate entrance. Angels and demons welcomed it inside.

The alien moved with a grace befitting its slender build and smooth, alabaster skin. The old man had seen one of these before. A Shadow, they’d called it. It had been…what…twenty-three years since last he’d seen one? But there it was, no mistaking. Those large almond eyes in an oval, slightly humanoid face. No mouth. Skin that resembled the plastic of his sister’s childhood dolls. Shadows wore no clothes, nor did they demonstrate modesty, avarice, or lust. The man wondered if the Shadows had succeeded in the Garden where man had failed.

Many other thoughts crossed his mind as the alien walked forward. He watched as it touched the back of each pew with padded white fingers. It made little noise, no perceptible sounds of breathing, and even the sound of its bare feet slapping against the hardwood floor was muted, like feathers falling from the sky.

The old man stood up. After all, this was the Lord’s House and he had a duty to perform. “Hello,” he said. “I’m Preacher Jeremiah Jones.”

The Shadow paused. Those big, strange eyes stared back at Jeremiah and then at the old wooden cross hanging from the stucco wall behind the pulpit. A moment of worry passed through the preacher’s bones. Worry fueled by the deadly sin of pride. The cross had been in the church for 300 years; a true artifact, handmade to perfection and passed down through the protective custody of thirty-one preachers at Harlan Baptist Church. He often considered it divine, almost in the same sense the Roman Church had once believed in the miraculous power of objects such as grails and ancient shrouds. It didn’t take the awestruck presence of a Shadow to convince him of the power of the cross that hung at his back each and every Sunday morning during his sermon.

“I am…John.”

 

Kentucky Author Spotlight: Jason Howard

Jason Howard Author Photo 1

Jason Howard is the author of A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music, co-author of Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal, and editor of the forthcoming anthology The Women We Love. He is the editor of Appalachian Heritage Magazine and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, The Louisville Review, Sojourners, Paste and on NPR.

Facebook: jasonkylehoward
Twitter: @jasonkylehoward

Facebook: appalachianheritagemagazine
Twitter: @AppHeritage

When did you become the new editor for Appalachian Heritage magazine? 

I became editor in November 2013.

Why did you consider this position something you’d be interested in?

I’d been a reader of Appalachian Heritage for a long time. When I was growing up, my grandmother always had issues lying around, and when she died ten years ago, I came across those old editions, and still have them. So I knew and respected the magazine’s great history, but I also had a vision of where it could go—where I wanted to take it in terms of content, format and design.

I have a lot of experience in editing—I’ve worked for a national magazine, an online literary magazine, an indie publisher, a nonprofit and a small business. And of course I’ve edited and given feedback to writers in workshops and master classes and at conferences, and to friends in more informal settings. I love the editing process, especially working with writers and having a dialogue to improve the piece at hand. I also saw that this job would dovetail nicely with my own writing career—that it would feed, rather than subsume, my own creative writing.

What’s living in Berea like? 

I’ve lived here for almost six years, and it’s a great place to be based. I usually tend towards a larger town or city, but Berea has won a big chunk of my heart. We have a thriving, active arts community—writers, musicians, visual artists, crafters, dancers—and there’s always something going on. I love how the college contributes to the intellectual and spiritual life of the town, and that there’s diversity on many different levels, including a good-sized LGBT population. My partner and I are pretty settled here at the moment. We bought our first home together four years ago, an old Craftsman-style house built in 1920, so we’ve had fun—and a bit of heartache, of course—working on it, painting, having ceilings redone and the like. It never ends. Anyone who owns an older home knows what I’m talking about.

Can you tell us a little bit about AH in terms of background?

Appalachian Heritage has a long history. Poet Albert Stewart founded the magazine in 1973, and it was published for years at Alice Lloyd College and then Hindman Settlement School. It’s been at Berea College since 1985, and from its earliest years the magazine published the luminaries of Appalachian and Southern literature like Harriette Arnow, James Still, Jim Wayne Miller, Nikki Giovanni. Appalachian Heritage has also a place where many writers have gotten their start. Silas House, for instance, was first published in Appalachian Heritage in 1995.

What/who does AH publish? 

We look for high-quality, imaginative work from both established and emerging voices. Although we publish primarily fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry, we also include the occasional piece of drama and writing for young adults. Each issue also includes a craft essay, book reviews and visual art. Our submission guidelines say we look for good writing “from Appalachia and beyond,” because I see Appalachian literature as a living thing, one that is not constrained by geographic borders. It’s more about spirit than anything else, and so the writing we publish is either rooted in or captures the spirit of the region. With this approach I’m aiming to expand the notion of Appalachia—and what it means to be Appalachian—and to showcase the region in a more complex way.

Writers we have recently published include Maurice Manning, Sonja Livingston, Fenton Johnson, Karen Salyer McElmurray, Neela Vaswani, Michael Henson and Ron Houchin.

What can readers expect moving forward? Are you going to stay in print or expand?

When I came on as editor, my first decision was to revamp much of the magazine. I felt that it was in need of an update, especially in terms of format and design. For years the magazine had relied on a “featured author” format, in which the majority of each issue centered on a particular established author, and I decided to move away from that. I wanted to put new creative work front and center, to make the magazine a destination for readers—and writers—who craved the finest contemporary literature. As a creative nonfiction writer, it was important to see an emphasis on that genre, in addition to fiction and poetry. I also added an interview with a notable writer or artist to each issue, as well as a craft essay, in which an author writes on something specific about the writing process or the writing life. The craft essays in particular have become very popular with subscribers and readers. The look and feel of the magazine is also different. I spent a lot of time working with a designer to come up with a fresh cover design, a logo and word mark, as well as an entirely new interior layout.

As for the future, we will remain a print-based publication, but we’re working on an online component that I hope to unveil later this year. I’ve been collaborating with a web designer on a new website that will include material to entice casual browsers and new readers, as well as special features for subscribers. So stay tuned for that.

How do we submit our work?

We accept online submissions only via Submittable, and our submissions guidelines are listed on our website: www.appalachianheritage.net. Our submissions period runs from 1st August to the end of February, and our response time is generally three to five months.

How do we subscribe? 

We offer one and two-year subscriptions for both individuals and institutions, starting at $30 a year. Readers can subscribe online via our website.

Tell us some about A Few Honest Words.

I love music, and I’ve always been fascinated by how a particular place or culture influences the music that people create. A Few Honest Words was really born out of that obsession. I wanted to explore how and why Kentucky has produced so many great musicians—and how they have taken the sounds and stories of Kentucky out into the wider world. It’s a collection of profiles of contemporary roots musicians, and I was lucky enough to get some great people on board— Dwight Yoakam, Naomi Judd, Nappy Roots, Jim James, Joan Osborne, Matraca Berg, Ben Sollee, Daniel Martin Moore, and others.

My watchword throughout the writing process was diversity—I wanted diversity in musical genre, race, gender and geographic location, as well as the kind of career the musician had. I wanted some famous musicians, of course, but I also wanted to include emerging talents, as well as a couple of unknowns, artists who had carried the tradition forward by making music in their local pubs, churches and on front porches.

When was the moment you knew this was a book you had to write?

I think I was preparing to write this book my whole life. I’m an only child, and I grew up spending a lot of time reading and also listening to records from my father’s collection. I discovered The Beatles, Ray Charles, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and loads of other roots artists—and Kentucky artists in particular. I was born in 1981, and so many artists I heard on country radio were from Kentucky—The Judds, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, Keith Whitley—and everyone around me felt a special connection to them because of that. When I moved to Washington, D.C. to go to university and work after graduating, I took those sounds with me—that was one of the ways I stayed in touch with Kentucky. After my first book came out—Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal, which I co-wrote with Silas House—all of those musical voices just seemed to want to be heard. And it was also the perfect antidote after Something’s Rising and the heaviness of writing about mountaintop removal mining. Thinking about all this great music was very hopeful.

What was your favorite research-related discovery while writing? 

I’ve interviewed a lot of people since I started writing seriously about eleven years ago—musicians, writers, politicians, activists, even Yoko Ono. I’m pretty experienced at the art of the interview. But I was amazed at something that happened in every single interview I conducted for this book. It didn’t matter where we were—and I interviewed people in Nashville, Brooklyn, Boston, LA, Louisville and at a greasy spoon truck stop off of I-75—or how long the people had been gone from Kentucky, but we immediately fell into a shorthand, like we had known each other for a long time. There was no small talk about the weather or traveling, but an instant, engaged conversation—and that all had to do with where we were from, with the fact that Kentuckians apparently have a common language and bond that allows the guard to come down. I wrote one of these scenes into the book—the opening of the chapter on Dwight Yoakam. We’re in his office, high above Sunset Boulevard, with a stunning panorama of LA and the Hollywood Hills and Griffith Observatory, and within minutes of meeting we were talking about Loretta Lynn and quoting lines from the film Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Which essay was the most difficult to pin down?

I really wanted Naomi Judd in the book, because in many ways I think she—along with Loretta, of course—is one of the matriarchs of Kentucky music. But there has been so much written about her over the years, and the challenge was to find and say something that was fresh. I tried to do that by anchoring it in what might be familiar to some readers—her backstory—while offering some new observations about her as a songwriter, creating her public image, and life offstage.

Where can we buy your book?

I always try to steer people to indie bookshops, especially The Morris Book Shop, The Wild Fig Bookstore and Carmichael’s Bookstore.

What does your writing process look like? Any rituals that ensure literary gold? Rewards system?

It’s slow—I’m typically a slow writer. A lot of times I will begin writing from a specific detail—rather than a moment or event—to enter the story and get my juices flowing. Sometimes what I start with ends up being the beginning of the piece, but just as often it’s doesn’t and might end up instead falling somewhere in the middle. If the piece at hand requires research, I allow myself a lot of time to immerse myself in the subject. A lot of what I write is based on memory and personal experience, so I spend some time pondering that and reentering those moments.

I do my best writing in the mornings—ironic, as I’m not a morning person by nature. I need quiet—no music or anything, because I’m a musician and am easily distracted by chord progressions and arrangements—and a good cup of tea. I’m also a ritual-oriented person, and one of my customs is to observe teatime each afternoon. I make myself a cuppa, eat a couple of biscuits, and allow myself time to be still. It’s very restoring. I also like having one of our two dachshunds at my feet or in my lap.

Do you have a system for arranging essays?

It all depends on the manuscript, but in general I would say that my system is based more on intuition and feeling than anything else. I pay close attention to subject matter and theme, as well as form and voice, asking myself if there is a flow, if the manuscript has movement. I tend to compare it to making a mixtape—one wouldn’t really want four fast songs and then four slow songs—so I try to aim for a bit of variety.

How do you choose who you want to write about?

I just pay attention to both my obsessions and my inner life. I often find that if I’m fixated on something at the moment that it can make for interesting writing material—not always, but usually. Our obsessions also provide a good window into the self, which is perfect for creative nonfiction writers. But more generally, I also think it’s important to move through the world with intention and awareness—to always pay attention to what’s around us.

Do you work towards a collection or does a collection manifest after you’ve written for a few years?

I’ve done both. A Few Honest Words started with a concept, and so everything I wrote was automatically geared toward serving that main theme of contemporary Kentucky roots music. But with the collection that I’m currently working on, it was the opposite—I began writing individual essays, and after a finishing a few I realized that there was a theme of exile running through them, and that I had been subconsciously working on a collection.

What is your favorite part of the publishing process? Least favorite?

I love revision for some reason. It’s often the most difficult part of the writing process, but it’s also the most rewarding. I enjoy the challenge of dissecting the essay, of evaluating what works and doesn’t, of throwing out shopworn language or metaphors and trying for something more fresh, more lyrical. I’m a perfectionist by nature, which can be a big issue for writers and has been for me. For years I’ve struggled with perfectionism on the first go—I’ve had to do a lot of work to embrace Anne Lamott’s concept of giving yourself permission to write “shitty first drafts.” But I’m getting better at turning off my inner editor as I’m writing the first draft. My least favorite part is opening Word and seeing that blank page. I’ve learned to start writing immediately or I run the risk of becoming intimidated. I have a quote from James Thurber on an index card over my writing desk that reads, “Don’t get it right, get it written,” and I’ve found a lot of freedom in that statement.

How do you get feedback on essays?

I have a few trusted readers that I can rely on to give me good, constructive feedback. Sometimes I need an overall opinion—a general what did you think?—but often times I have more specific questions in mind when I approach readers. Are the metaphors working? Does this section do everything it needs to? Is the opening compelling? It’s so important to have good readers in your life.

Favorite writing utensil? 

Nothing really original—a trusty Moleskine notebook to take notes and jot down ideas and observations, a good pen—lately I’ve been fond of Stabilo art pens—and then my laptop. If I’m traveling, then it’s my iPad, which I’ve gotten comfortable writing on.

How hard is it these days to start and maintain a career as an essayist?

It’s a great time to be a creative nonfiction writer. The genre is booming—there are lots of good literary magazines out there that are completely focused on or emphasize quality CNF, and book publishers are looking for good CNF. But like any other artistic genre, it requires study and practice and diligence. I often teach master classes and workshops, and I’m always telling my students that in order to be a writer one must also be a voracious reader. I’m always surprised by how many so-called writers don’t read. Reading is as good a place to start as any.

What are you currently working on? 

I just finished editing an anthology that will be out in spring 2015. It’s titled The Women We Love, and it explores the relationship between gay men and significant women in their lives. It includes new and collected work from the world’s finest gay authors—including Michael Cunningham, Mark Doty, Edmund White, and Hilton Als—on notable women like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Virginia Woolf, and Nina Simone, as well as mothers, grandmothers, sisters, friends, and even a childhood librarian. Talk about fun to put together—I got to spend a couple of years approaching and working with many of these authors on their new pieces, as well as researching and reading a lot of essays, poems, interviews and letters from these authors on their favorite women.

I’m also working on an essay collection centered on the theme of exile. I’m fascinated by what it means to be an exile—and how one becomes an exile—and so far the essays examine being separated from and haunted by place, family, religion and sexuality. For example, one of the essays is titled “Bastards and Ghosts”—after a passage in Vladimir Nabokov’s great memoir Speak, Memory—and focuses on the love-hate relationship we all have with where we’re from, how place can form and damage us. The essays are also inspired by my love of history, of England, of music, of female icons. I’m having a lot of fun playing with voice and form—in this collection I have memoir and personal essays, but also meditative and lyric essays, which rely on imagery and poetic language rather than necessarily action, all from varying points of view.

 

Kentucky Author Spotlight: Eric Scott Sutherland

Sixth Main

I’ll be the first to admit that without Eric Scott Sutherland, there might not be a Bianca Spriggs, as we all know her today. Eric gave me my first ever feature performance when he hosted a reading series at the Bluegrass Baking Company. I like to say that Eric, who is a trained arborist, has the “growing hand” when it comes to the Kentucky literary community. Dozens of newly published and veteran authors alike have graced the Al’s Bar stage during his six year tenure as host and organizer of “Holler Poets Series,” a free monthly literary event which features one of the best open mics in the state, two feature readers, and a musical act.

Check out what Eric had to say about his new title, pendulum (Accents Publishing) and the writing life below, as well as a poem excerpt!

Eric Scott Sutherland is the author of two chapbooks and two full length collections: incommunicado and his latest, pendulum. He is the creator and host of Holler Poets Series, a monthly celebration of literature and music since 2008. The Poet Laureate of Al’s Bar, Eric makes his home in the heart of Lexington, Kentucky.

Tell us some about pendulum.

Pendulum is a gritty tale set in Central, a mythologized city library, where an array of characters are caught in a daily struggle to hold onto the light in a world overrun by darkness. It is based on my experience running a café in Lexington’s Central Library. In the story, I am the gatekeeper.

When was the moment you knew this was a collection?

I knew long before most of it was written. It occurred in a workshop being run by Rebecca Gayle Howell.   I brought in three of the first polished poems that would be included in pendulum for feedback. She heard a new voice from me in them and expressed a desire to see more. There was such a genuine enthusiasm in her voice it gave me the feeling these poems were going to be special.

Did any particular research go into the collection or aspects of the poems? What was your favorite research-related discovery while writing?

All of the material comes from my personal experience in a certain place over many years. The research, if you can call it that, was hands on, day-to-day, and very informal. However, I did discover the real story behind the character in the poem, “vitriolage.” The information I found about her helped me finish writing the poem beyond the interpersonal details I already had.

Which poem is the oldest?

These writings span a period of eight years so it’s hard to say which is the oldest. However, “the gatekeeper” is the oldest in the sense of being the one I first introduced into a workshop setting. It became the cornerstone of the book.

Where can we buy your book?

My book is available from all fine local bookstores in Lexington. It is available online at the publisher’s website and from yours truly, if you are looking for a personalized copy.

What does your writing process look like? Any rituals that ensure literary gold?

I write when inspiration strikes, always carrying a pen and journal. From there, I expand upon what initial ideas I got down. Sometimes I get a few lines, while other times I may get a nearly complete poem. Every month or so, I take the raw material from my journal and transcribe it to word. Every year has a file. There I can edit efficiently and in a somewhat orderly fashion. I do not have a specified writing time. I try not to force the process in that way.

Do you work towards a collection or does a collection manifest after you’ve written for a few years?

They tend to manifest themselves. My projects tend to coalesce from the material I’m working on at the time. I usually have a manuscript in queue by the time I get around to publishing one.

What is your favorite part of the publishing process? Least favorite?

Beyond getting accepted for publication, my favorite part of the process is the sharing of the finished product. I love the oral part of poetry, so to be able to tour and share a collection I’ve labored over for years is an invaluable reward. And no matter how beneficial it is (I learned quite a bit during this phase), my least favorite part of the process is editing. The peaks and valleys in writing confidence are very energy demanding. It takes fierce belief in your vision and writing to stay focused on fighting through the moments when you lose a little faith.

Favorite writing utensil?

Pen with black ink

How hard is it these days to start and maintain a career as a poet?

You have to have stamina and determination. But most importantly inspiration. I always think about what James Baker Hall used to say. In summary, the gist was you call yourself a writer? Come see me in ten years. I tend to agree. I think to have any “success” (which can be defined many ways) you have to love what you are doing and continue exploring the depths of that love for a lifetime.

What are you currently working on?

I have been mostly working on promoting the book, touring as much as possible throughout the region. As far as new writing, I am cleaning up a manuscript I’ve been working on for a few years with hopes of finding it a home in the near future. It was my main focus when pendulum was picked up for publication.

pendulum_frontcover_mdsm

plague

is always a dirty
paw away.

a hand not washed
in who knows how long.

a hand stained by soil
and cigarette resin, the filth
permanent under fingernails.

a hand sprouting long claws
the color of skin, camouflaged,
each one a hook, a tool to dig.

a hand counting out
eighty pennies for a soda.