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.

smartbutt

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 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’s Big Literary Madness: The 2015 Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

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Author James B. Goode, Carnegie Center Archivist & Guest Blogger for the Red Door Writers Blog

A few years ago I was headed to the Gaines Center to greet a group of Russians who were in the U.S. to study our capitalist ways and to take back entrepreneurial ideas to the good old U.S.S.R. to help acclimate to their newly acquired freedom prompted by Perestroika. This occasion happened to correspond with the night of U.K.’s annual “Big Blue Madness,” an event that simply cannot be described. All I’ll say is that the sidewalks were evenly divided by those wearing blue and white swish-swish suits and those with gaudily decorated, figure enhancing, high-water sweat pants.

As I exited the car near Memorial Coliseum, I thought it would be funny to ask one of the denizens where the poetry reading was actually taking place and if they had an extra ticket they would sell at the going scalper rate.

 “Boy, this ain’t no damn poetry reading. This is round ball night at the ‘seum,” a rabid fan with blue froth around his mouth said.

Wednesday night, January 28, 2015, the tables were turned. Kentucky’s “Big Literary Madness” was happening just a few blocks from Rupp Arena at the house Carnegie built. The Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame was inducting its third class and first living writer. No blue and white swish-swish suits here—just tweeds with elbow patches, long flowing, earth-colored, gauzy dresses, and lots of brown, grey, blue, and black fabrics—the stuff of angst and contemplation of nature and people.

The Carnegie was filled to capacity with an estimated crowd of 500 watching from the three larger rooms on the first floor and several more listening from the upstairs lobby. KET was filming the event to be edited into an hour-long show that thousands will see. Radio and television interviews had been aired, and numerous newspaper articles had appeared. Someone remarked that if a disaster happened during the ceremony, a significant number of Kentucky’s literary elite would be decimated– Kim Edwards, Morris Grubbs, Mary Ann Taylor Hall, Loyal Jones, George Ella Lyon, Ed McClanahan, Bobbie Ann Mason, Gurney Norman, Leatha Kendrick, Lynn Pruett, Erik Reece, Richard Taylor, Frank X. Walker, and Wendell Berry to mention a few.

A lady who was visiting my rare book exhibit of works by the nominees asked, “With as many writers that you are inducting, aren’t you afraid you’ll run out?” “No,” I said. You wouldn’t believe how many writers we have lined up on the runway!” I pointed to the exhibit and works by Helen Thomas, John Fox, Jr., James Lane Allen, Walter Tevis, Harlan Hubbard, and Irvin S. Cobb who were among those nominated this year but not inducted.

There is no literary legacy in the United States like the one in Kentucky. The considerable roster of names includes many among the most elite in American letters. This year’s lineup published a phenomenal 175 books and won an astounding number of national and international literary prizes. Leading the pack was Wendell Berry who, to date, has 88 books and dozens of prestigious literary awards to his credit.

The presenters were stellar—Jan Isenhour reading Elizabeth Hardwick, Erik Reece reading Guy Davenport, Ron Whitehead reading Hunter S. Thompson, Mary Ellen Miller reading the work of her late husband Jim Wayne Miller, and Frank X Walker reading Effie Waller Smith. The highlight of the evening came when the venerable Wendell Berry settled behind the podium to speak on “Kentucky Writers in Kentucky” and to remind us that we are “. . . gravely and lastingly fragmented by divisions that are economic, social, cultural, and institutional… that has led to a burdening history of abuse—of land and abuse but also and inevitably of the abuse of people, for people and land cannot be destroyed or conserved except together…,” intimating that it is the responsibility of writers to initiate and perpetuate the conversation about urgent public issues.

There were nods all over the house and a standing ovation for the “grandfather” of Kentucky writers as his cogent comments on the power of writing echoed in the room: “I have been depending on and quoting from [Ivan] 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.’”

His words soaked my soul and I knew I had heard something profound–something lasting and worthy. I felt I had a responsibility to step to the front of the line to lead as Jarrat did in Berry’s short story “That Distant Land,” when he is told that his father has died and realizes he is the oldest man in the tobacco field.

“And then the silence shifted and became our own. Nobody spoke. Nobody yet knew what to say. We did not know what we were going to do. We were, I finally realized, waiting on Jarrat … he stood, and stood still, looking at us and then turned away from us toward the wagons. ‘Let’s load ‘em up.’”

James B. Goode is Professor Emeritus with Bluegrass Community & Technical College. Goode has an MA from the University of Kentucky and a MFA in Creative Writing: Fiction from Murray State University. He has authored six books and published numerous poems, short stories, and essays in major national and regional magazines.

Short Films in the Rye

Did you  miss the Carnegie Classics Catcher in the Rye event on November 7? Did you attend our shindig and love the films you saw? Check some of them out below!

“Professional Development” by the Norton Brothers

“Looking for H.C.” by Bianca Spriggs & Brian Campbell

Looking for H.C. from Bianca Spriggs on Vimeo.

Stop Motion by John Lackey

“The Big Apple” by Whitney Baker

“Catcher in the Rye” by Brian Frye

“Catcher” by Jeremy Midkiff

 

Cocktail in the Rye

Are you excited for the annual Carnegie Classics ft. Catcher in the Rye shindig this Friday? We sure are and so are some of our favorite local watering holes! We present to you cocktails inspired by Catcher in the Rye, one of which will be voted by staff to serve as our signature cocktail the evening of November 7!

Al’s Bar Presents: “The Cliff”

2 oz Town Branch Rye
1/2 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters

Shake with ice, strain into coup or Martini glass, garnish with orange wrapped maraschino cherry.  We debated calling this one the “Phony Manhattan,” as it has its roots in that cocktail, however we ultimately decided on “The Cliff” to reference the innocence lost after a couple of these go down.

The Cliff

Stella’s Deli Presents: The Salinger Sour

1.5 oz Town Branch Bourbon
1/2 oz Domaine du Canton Ginger Liqueur
1/2 oz Fruitlab Jasmine Liqueur
1/2 oz Rose’s sweetened lime juice
Splash of water

Build on the rocks in a snifter or stemless white wine glass to concentrate bouquet.  Stir well, garnish with lemon peel.  This cocktail was inspired by the contrast between Salinger’s explosive work with his reclusive persona.  The bourbon and lime are shockingly forward while the brilliance of the ginger and jasmine hide in the shadows of your palate.

salinger sour

Belle’s Cocktail House Presents: “The New Yorker”

1.5 oz Town Branch Bourbon or Town Branch Rye
.75oz fresh lemon juice
1 sugar cube
Dash of Wilks and Wilson’s grenadine
3 dashes Peychauds bitters
Orange twist
Lemon twist

The inspiration came from the original New Yorker cocktail itself (this is a very similar variation). The book although seemed to call for more of a scotch and soda vibe. This, we felt, was more suitable!

Vocalist in the Rye: Jessie Laine Powell

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Jazz royalty, Jessie Laine Powell will be performing with her trio at the Carnegie Classic Series on November 7. With her husky, soul-tinged delivery, and her R&B and Gospel roots, Jessie Laine Powell is captivating her audiences and making them fall in love jazz all over again.

To jazz lovers across the globe, Jessie Laine Powell has been deemed a timeless classic jazz voice. Born in Lexington Kentucky, Jessie grew up in a home filled with the gospel music of the church and that of her talented siblings. But it was the jazz influence of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Nancy Wilson, Shirley Horn and the Lawrence Welk Show that stirred her soul and begun to dominate her musical taste. As a result, Jessie followed her love for the stage, the orchestra setting and jazz standards to Hollywood, California where she was afforded the opportunity to open up for the sultry jazz great Nancy Wilson. Jessie has since went on to add countless Television, Theatrical and Radio appearances to her growing performance.

After a few successful performance years on the West Coast, Jessie decided to take her sound and craft back to its rightful home in Lexington, Kentucky. A fixture in the Central Kentucky music scene for years, it was a fateful meeting from a church friend that set up a musical partnership that would last for years. A lunch meeting with then local producer, and jazz artist, Eric Copeland, began a project that would eventually become her first album, “On the Edge.” Filled with gospel and jazz, this project gave Jessie her first product to share with her growing fan base.

Jessie’s ability to captivate audiences worldwide also landed her a performance role in the new movie “Heart of a Champion”; directed and produced by Richard Fitzpatrick who meticulously sought out music and soloists that could convey the message of hope and perseverance that would be make a lasting impression both on screen and through the music. Being the case, Jessie was given the green light to make the needed impact for the movie soundtrack.

With her highly anticipated sophomore project entitled “Filled the Void,”  Jessie aims to leave her fans feeling refreshed, renewed inspired and motivated as she takes them on an intimate journey of the art form. Through the melodic blend of her gospel inspired jazz vocals and the seamless marriage of the contemporary and traditional jazz sound, Jessie is on target once again to have her listeners and performance attendees screaming from the rooftops…. I LOVE JAZZ!

A Novel in a Month? Where Do I Sign up?

Jennifer Hester Mattox is an award-winning writer with 18 years of professional experience in journalism, marketing, and grantwriting.  At the Carnegie Center, she coordinates the Kentucky Great Writers series and emcees the related open mic sessions. She leads writing workshops at the Carnegie Center, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, and central Kentucky libraries. While this class has already passed, for all things NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), Jennifer is your go-to gal!

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What was the inspiration for a NaNoWriMo class?

Prior to participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNo WriMo), I’d watch people who participated start out with a bang, then drop out after a week or more. Writing 50,000 words in a month is quite a challenge, and I was afraid I’d fail to meet the goal. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t have the dedication; I just didn’t have the time.  I’m a full-time working mom who’s also a charity volunteer and the extended family’s Thanksgiving Day hostess, so I knew my November was already pretty full. But, I’d always dreamed of writing a novel that would one day become published, so I decided I was going to give NaNo WriMo a try and see how close I could get to the 50K word goal.

After participating the first time in 2010 and winning (meeting my goal count), I realized that writing 50K words in a month was not only possible, but my writing was better for it. I learned how to push aside self-doubt (I didn’t have time for it!), to make the most of my writing time, and to find more time to write. I also realized that writing everyday toward my novel made it easier to keep track of characters and plot.

I figured there were others out there like me who didn’t think they could be successful at writing 50,000 words in a month, so I decided to lead this seminar and share the strategies that worked for me.

To help you plan your month of writing, we are offering three How To Write a Novel in 30 Days seminars at various locations (see pages 6 and 7 of our brochure). Then, if you’re a night owl, join the Carnegie Center and Joseph-Beth for an overnight write-in (see page 6). We are a 2014 “Come Write-In” location, so bring your laptop or notebook to the Carnegie Center to write your novel! For more NaNoWriMo events happening in Lexington, visit nanowrimo.org and check out the Local Events tab.

 

On “Frankensteining” Frankenstein with Playwright Bo List

With a fantastic eye for detail and a reputation for an inventive aesthetic, Bo List is one of the most experimental and progressive directors in theater in Kentucky. If I told you how far Bo and I go back, you’d probably want to invent a time machine just for the sake of procuring proof.  But Bo has especially been making waves over the past few years as a playwright, particularly with his adaptation of Mary Shelley’s seminal novel, Frankenstein. Just in time for Halloween, the show runs at the Woodford Theatre in Versailles Oct 10-12, 17-19, 24-26 and with extra performances Oct 30 & 31. You can buy tickets here.

Bo List is a Lexington-born (and returned) playwright, whose work has been produced in the Bluegrass, Florida, Tennessee, NYC and Chicago, IL as well as Edinburgh, Scotland.  His adaptation of FRANKENSTEIN is soon to be published by Dramatic Publishing, and hopefully produced by a gaggle of theatres once they take a gander at it! (Images below taken from FRANKENSTEIN rehearsals.) 

Tell us a little bit about your relationship to theater.

It is a very intimate relationship.  I work all the time.  I direct, write, teach, breathe it.  I wish I had normal human hobbies like skiiing or American Horror Story.  I am always working on a project instead, and I kind of love that.

How did you come to start writing plays?

I saw a story on TV that inspired me, about a young woman in a rural town who decided to live as a young man and was killed.  I wondered what his life must have been like, how he must have viewed the world, and what led to his demise.  The play, Pink Angels, was produced at the University of Kentucky in 1995, and a few years later the same story would be told (very faithfully, while my version took vast liberties) as the film Boys Don’t Cry.  It was, for me, also a lesson in timing.  Strike while the iron is hot.  If I had invested myself more in my play earlier, it might have gotten farther along before that great film came along and told a similar story (better).

Why Frankenstein?

We are surrounded by Frankenstein!  Everywhere you look, our technology is moving faster than our ability to wield it responsibly, from biological warfare to cloning to genetically engineered food, animals and people, to our inability to create or destroy or transport without abusing our enviornment with pollution.  The majority of our population has, in their pockets, tiny telephone-computers that can access almost every library, gallery, and archive of wisdom, beauty, and information – and yet most of us only use them to send text messages and order pizzas.  Victor Frankenstein was not the first to create something he could not control, and he is not the last – – we are all Frankensteins in one way or another.

Also – what a great story, written by such a forward-thinking, brilliant young woman.

Tell us some about how you tackled Mary Shelley’s novel and brought it to life as a play?

I read the book a number of times, as well as various theatrical and fiction adaptations.  I watched a ton of film versions, and then set to work trying to do justice to both the book and to the vast collective impression we have of the story, as inspired by everything from Boris Karloff in the 1930s Universal film classic to Peter Boyle and Gene Wilder “Putting on the Ritz.”  It took a year to write, prior to its premiere at Summerfest in 2011, and I have been rewriting it ever since.  Now that it’s being published by Dramatic Publishing, I need to decide on the definitive version and let it rest.

What was the most challenging part of writing the play?

The language.  Finding a way to honor Mary Shelley’s tremendous eloquence while allowing a modern audience to access it.  In the end I concluded:  Screw the audience.  Let these characters sing, and the audience will catch up to them.

The most rewarding?

Writing can be very lonely.  It’s a solitary endeavor, with only the voices of the characters to keep me company.  And then, suddenly, I’m not alone anymore.  I’m in rehearsal – seeing those characters brought to life by marvelous actors and by some wizard or wizardess directing.  And then I’m not alone anymore!  And all the work is worth it.

Were any characters or scenes particularly difficult to nail down?

Mrs. Shelley didn’t write much dialogue.  I had to find/create some voices out of thin descriptions.  The Creature was the easiest – – he talks the most in the book (ironic, since he doesn’t speak at all in the almost-definitive Boris Karloff performance).  Elizabeth, Victor’s cousin/love interest, was hardest.  I felt the need to expand her role so that a stronger female presence was felt in the story, so I did less transcribing and more creating in finding the right Elizabeth for this telling.  The result is a bit more feminist than what Shelley had in mind, but I think she would be happy with the result.

Do you prefer to direct your own work or let someone else take the helm?

Oh, I definitely like collaborating and letting someone else call the shots.  It’s hard to tell if it’s any good or not if I’m solving all of the scripts problems directorially.  With someone else directing, there’s nowhere to hide!

Where else has this played?

This is the sixth production!  The original was with Kentucky Conservatory Theatre/Summerfest, followed by productions at Atherton High School in Louisville, City Lit Theater in Chicago, Venice Theatre in Venice, Florida, New Moon Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee, and now the Woodford Theatre back here in Kentucky!

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

I write in coffee shops.  A different coffee shop per different mood.  I can’t write at home…it’s too quiet.  I need some social noise around me.  Libraries don’t work.  It needs to be coffee.  As far as rewards – – I like to work out before/after I write.  Gets the juices going.  But I tend to write too long into the night to get to the gym, and am too tired in the morning.  So my writing lifestyle promotes an unfortunate amount of lethargy.

What do you do when you hit a roadblock?

Oh, I’m a coward.  When I hit a roadblock I quit.  Isn’t that terrible?  I need to do better.  I need to get good at driving over/around the roadblocks. 

Favorite writing utensil?

My trusty laptop.  I can’t write in a notebook anymore.  I need to be able cut and paste and see it in printed form.

Advice for burgeoning playwrights?

Yes – write!  Write good stuff, write bad stuff.  Write whatever.  Then hear it read out loud by someone else, then RE-write it.  Get off your lazy butt and write.  Now!  Quit staring at the screen or page and write.  Do it!  (I have to tell myself this all the time. We ALL have stories inside us….the only difference is that published authors and produced playwrights and screenwriters take the time to train, discipline themselves, and jot it all down.

What other projects are you working on? 

I’m working with a new group, AthensWest Theatre Company, on a production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt as director.  We’re trying to get some paying work for our stable of talented professional actors and starting small but with a show with a big name and big passions in it.  Doubt will play at the Downtown Arts Center February 5-15, with Leslie Beatty and Jeff Day in the cast.  Good stuff!

If you weren’t a director/playwright, what would you do for a living?

Well, I teach for a living – at Sayre School as their Drama Teacher.  I love it!  But if I gave up theatre (which I think about all the time) I like the idea of returning to visual art or journalism.  I used to write movie reviews, for the Memphis Flyer down south and that was swell.  I’m also a legally recognized minister – – I would love to travel the country and marry folks.  Is there money in that?

Worst job you ever had while trying to make it as a director/playwright?

I was the bodyguard for the Serta Mattress Sleep Sheep at selected Mid-South Sam’s Clubs.  No lie.

Do you read reviews of your work? Why or why not?

Yes – they can be very helpful.  And disspiriting.  And encouraging.  A review of Frankenstein helped me figure something out for a rewrite, and while the review was negative I still got something out of it. 

Favorite experience so far in seeing one of your works brought to life?

I’m sure my favorite experience is always my next experience!

Most memorable backstage experience?

I was in Hair at UK 20 years ago.  After the nude scene (which I did!) the backstage crew ran out of robes to hand to the actors leaving the stage.  This always happened – – they were always one robe short, so someone (often me) had to walk naked down the stairs behind the stage, through a long hallway, and into a far away dressing room.  During one performance one of the technicians brought his wife and small children backstage to see what a show looks like behind the scenes.  And there was Big Naked Bo…

What’s in your pockets right now?

Two flashdrives, two Pilot Precise V5 Rolling Ball pens (the only kind I can write with…oh yeah, that’s another favorite writing utensil), Trident White gum, chapstick and…that’s it, not that I’m not also happy to see you.

You’re necessarily stuck on a cross-country road-trip with someone you just met yesterday. What do you say to break the ice at that awkward moment when you run out of niceties?

“So…boxers or briefs?   No – I’m offering.  Boxers or briefs?”  And then depending on what they said, I would produce a pair.

Volcanoes or Earthquakes?

Oh, volcanoes.  The rumbling, the lava, the gems.  You know, I once had a job interview delayed because of a volcano – – and because of that delay I got to see the Mall of America, the movie Watchmen, and Debbie Reynolds sing with the Seattle Gay Men’s Chorus.  All thanks to Mount Redoubt and the thousands of tons of ash it spewed into the air in and around Anchorage, Alaska.  Definitely volcanoes.

Foxy Forties Fashion with Fox House Vintage

The Carnegie Classics Series event revolving around Catcher in the Rye is less than a month away and I don’t know about you, but judging by how much fun we all had the last couple of years, I cannot WAIT for this event! Not only are we at the Carnegie Center hosting filmmakers, dancers, an evening of jazz, and some of the best fare and cocktails our city has to offer, but we are inviting folks who attend to dress the part! You can feel free to attend in classic 1940’s period clothing OR you might choose to mix up some vintage pieces with contemporary choices.

Fox House Vintage, a vintage/thrift store that specializes in antiques, apparel, and accessories, recently moved to 123 W Sixth Street, and their new boutique is so adorable! When I visited a couple of weeks ago to talk about the possibility of putting together some looks for us, I had to walk in with the blinders on or I could easily blow a whole paycheck on earrings and sunglasses alone!

When I spoke with Erin Reynolds-Turner about how she came up with some of the looks she put together to help people get ideas on how to channel the 1940’s, she said, “We’re big fans of mixing and matching old and new looks. Some of the dresses and accessories are a bit modern, but we paired them up so they’re inspired by the 1940’s.”

Erin feels that the period was a special moment in fashion because it was becoming more accessible and freeing, “There weren’t so many corsets and layers. This was a much more casual period, especially for women.”

Erin also chose looks that she felt were more appropriate for the weather, fall moving into winter, so your look will not only channel nice fall/winter hues, but keep you warm the night of our event!

If you decide to get styled by or consult the ladies at Fox House, mention that you’re attending the Carnegie Classics event and get 10% off of your purchase! Check out their FB page here!