Wednesday, July 4, 2018

triggerfish critical review


I’m excited to have three poems published online in the July issue of Triggerfish Critical Review #20. As of today, Issue #19 is still posted, but Editor Dave Mehler will publish Issue #20 next week. I’m proud to be selected to join the quality of work Triggerfish publishes.

My three poems differ from one another in major ways, but there’s a spiritual element to all of them.

1- “Common Story Among Strangers” questions what and how we believe.
2- “I Pray” is a complaint to an impersonal you about one’s intrinsic needs.  
3- “On the Verge of Holy” Will seeking religion give me spiritual life? 
In a critique, Robert Stout wrote about my poems: “Powerful imagery emerging from everyday words and pacing that seems conversational, intimate.”

If you’re interested in poetry, it’s worthwhile to read Editor Dave Mehler’s "Letter To the Editor." Though I write poetry, I’ve had ambivalent feelings about the genre in general. Mehler tells us that we can hate poetry and still need it, using as reference Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry.

I think we all realize there is more to life than what we can say using language. The unseeable, what we know exists but can’t identify, is in many respects un-speakable. This inherent understanding eludes words. Poetry is our effort to express what transcends us.

I hope you’ll take a look at Triggerfish Critical Review. You’ll find interesting writers and poems.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Author's Night, Cola

Author Chuck Walsh talks about his novels.


In talking about his five novels last night, Chuck Walsh mentioned that his inspiration came from his family and friends. In fact, some of his characters are modeled after personal acquaintances, which can get a writer into trouble if not controversy, e.g., Thomas Wolfe, who caused a stir in Asheville by writing thinly disguised autobiography. Walsh gave us a writer’s perspective on what it takes to produce a novel. 
Me with sci-fi author, Dan Mooney aka Rex Hurst
In addition to Walsh, four writers were available to sell and sign their works: Reagan Teller (mysteries), Marv Ward (poetry), Pat McNeely (SC history), and George Long (children’s book).
Reagan Teller makes a sale
The venue at Jubilee Circle on Millwood Avenue is conducive to a cordial get-together. Last night, a combo (didn’t get the name of the musicians) performed. Nibbles added more fun.

Though Columbia doesn’t have an independent bookstore, it has an active writing community. There are few avenues here for local talent to promote their work. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to attend another Author’s Night.

Monday, April 30, 2018

art in Lake City


You never know who you'll meet at an art show.
Last week my sister Nila and I were dashing around shops and restaurants in Lake City, South Carolina looking at paintings and other art. It’s misleading to say ArtFields is just an art show. It’s an adventure. Downtown Main Street becomes a vibrant showplace for a week. You’ll find paintings hanging above racks of blouses or tee shirts or baby clothes. Mixed media in a mattress showroom. Installation art at the barber shop.
Nila with dress made of nitrile gloves, by artist Rebecca Whitson.
It rained for a couple of days, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the townspeople and shopkeepers. Their spirit was infectious and we hardly felt our feet get wet.

A number of the buildings recall the town’s rural past and have been restored, such as the Bean Market, the Jones-CarterGallery (which used to be a feed-and-seed store), and the McClam Livery Stables. About 400 works of art were professionally displayed at over 40 different locations. It took us more than a morning to see the art at the ROB (Ragsdale Old Building). This building was erected in the 1920s and was used as a charcoal briquette warehouse.
I gave this sculpture by Bryan Rapp of Myrtle Beach a score of 10.
Nila also liked Rapp's sculpture.
You can vote for your favorites, so Nila and I gave each work a score from 1-10 (10 the best). A comparison of our scores proved the adage that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” According to the program, winning artists will take home $12,500. 

As a general rule I give low scores to politically explicit art, in part because a judgment on the merit of the art apart from the politics isn't easy to make. However, I was stopped by this text from a mixed media piece: "there are as many kindergartners as there are prisoners in the United States" and "1 in 3 white males in America has a college degree. 1 in 3 black males expected to experience incarceration in their lifetime."

Saturday concluded ArtFields for 2018. The event is a winner, and I look forward to returning next year.
A teapot sculpture by Logan Woodle of Conway. I love the whimsical steam.
Nila at the orange sign that marked the location of art exhibits.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

greensboro, NC conference

NC Writers' Network Conference
JillMcCorkle was the keynote speaker at The North Carolina Writers Network Conference held at Greensboro on Saturday. She stood on a stage removed from the audience, and my seat was at some distance from the front, ergo, a rather fuzzy photo. 
Jill McCorkle
Obviously a well-prepared talk, and what she read to us was useful information despite the monotone presentation. She said that our subconscious is smarter than our consciousness. This is something I can believe. When I’m working on a story, I often come up with fresh ideas early in the morning, after a night of sleep and before I’m fully wake up. I suspect I was working in my sleep.

McCorkle said that writing a poem or story is like building a house, e.g., foundation, doors and windows for looking in or out. Location, location, location. A place where you know all you know. Potential and comfort. Haunted or run down. A fantasy of salvaging.

A useful McCorkle quote: Sometimes we revise too soon before we get to the emotional truth we’re after. Revision is the true art.
Susan Emshwiller
SusanEmshwiller’s enthusiasm for movies translated into helpful information on writing. On dialogue, she reminded us that our characters can call out/play with bad dialogue. Another gem: complex concepts (e.g., collateralized debt obligation, or cognitive neuroscience) need not be explained as long as a character in the story understands it. Using movie clips, she gave us ideas about exposition, setup for chaos, and theme. With “Tell them up front the essentials,” she ended with scenes from Delicatessen and Saving Private Ryan.

David Halperin
In the afternoon, David Halperin’s topic was “Writing the Character you Know Best.” Mostly anecdotal input from the audience. A good reminder that perfection itself is a flaw when it comes to creating characters.

The Greensboro that I saw is a college town with a revitalized downtown of about three blocks where lively pedestrians stroll the restaurants and shops. My sister Nila bought a handmade necklace in one of the shops while I was hanging out with writers.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

historical fantasy


If you encounter in a book or a movie characters and situations such as the following, does it matter to you?

1. Edgar Allen Poe sees a psychiatrist.
2. Emily Brontë buys a notebook for writing.
3. Christopher Marlowe is diagnosed with Aids.
4. Galileo loses a filling in his tooth.
5. Benazir Bhutto sells trinkets on a Karachi street.
6. Mark Twain enrolls his daughter in preschool.
7. Helen Keller is gifted with a seeing-eye dog.
8. Florence Nightingale takes a blood sample for analysis.
9. Harriet Tubman is invited to dinner by a plantation owner.
10. Charles Darwin is admitted to a hospital with abdominal pain.
11. Michelangelo sips champagne.

If you’re not sure of the historical inaccuracy in each sentence, I’ll come back to that in a later blog. For now, I’m working on an idea about the genre of historical fiction and how some writers are revising it into something other than historical fiction (defined as a story with fictional characters and events in an historical setting). This recent trend creates something more like magical history or historical fantasy.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

anthony marra


Since when are authors comedians? We were cackling out loud during Anthony Marra’s presentation at the Univ. of South Carolina yesterday evening. And his book is nothing to laugh about.

He was the guest of The Open Book series, there to talk about his novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. The title comes from a medical dictionary’s definition of the word life. His novel is about life in Chechnya, where a lot of human damage occurs.

When asked about where he writes, Marra said in a coffee shop, away from his house. On my way home, I convinced myself and my friend Carole that I’d be more productive by getting out of my house. However, I’d feel guilty taking up a table in a cafe for chunks of time. I’ve seen too many computers taking up good seats while I’ve had to squeeze into a corner.

Marra hit a home run with his first novel. Also with his USC audience. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Open Book Whitehead


at University of South Carolina 

What a treat! Thursday evening Colson Whitehead appeared at the University of South Carolina and talked about his novel The Underground Railroad, which has won numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize.

His sense of humor despite the grim subject of his book made for a lively presentation. Though his novel paints a dire picture of American slavery in the 19th Century, his talk was virtually apolitical. It was as if he said what he needed to say in his novel.
He is planning other writing projects and mentioned that he’d like to try his hand at different genres. I attended the presentation with my friend Carole Rothstein (below).
Carole and Whitehead, signing his book.
This is the first of a four-week series of author appearances at the University as part of The OpenBook. Discussions of the authors on Mondays precede the visits on Wednesdays (6-7:00 PM). Next Wednesday (April 4) Christina Garcia will discuss her novel King of Cuba 

I still haven't finished The Underground Railroad, so there's not much of a chance I'll read Garcia's novel before next Wednesday. It's a challenge to try to read four books in four weeks. Fortunately, The Open Book is forgiving—no spotlights, no questions, no tests, just a great way to spend an hour. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

SC State Library Interview


Earlier this month I was interviewed by SC State Library Communications Director Curtis Rogers for a podcast. We talked about my writing habits and the novel What Missing Means. We touched on my views about--
my Rawls family 
what I think of poetry
the title of my book
my future projects
It was an exciting 30 minutes for me and I hope you’ll take a listen. 

Click here for the link. 

My thanks to Curtis Rogers and the SC State Library for the interview.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Blog Post Columbia II

Writing for Columbia II Writers Workshop

My article “Autobiographical Influences” is featured on the Columbia II writers blog this week. Maybe one of the reasons we write is to record not only what we see about us but to discover the past and its influence on the present. The South has yet to overcome some of the mistakes of our history. This has provided inspiration for writers from William Faulkner to Alice Walker.

Writing an autobiography is not something that interests me. However, my latest novel, WhatMissing Means, is evidence that I have been writing about my background, even if the story isn’t about me.

To read my previously published blogs, click here. Columbia II is a chapter of the South Carolina Writers Association.

Friday, March 2, 2018

poem in gravel


I’m pleased with the photo Gravel Magazine published with my poem “Mutating Distance.” It appears in their current online issue. My thanks to them for a great presentation. Click on Gravel and take a look at the photo and the poem.

Monday, February 26, 2018

presentation, speaker @ the center


My presentation at the Speaker @ the Center Thursday was well received, if by a small audience. Nonetheless, the faces that looked at me were animated, interested, and at times amused by what I said. Thank you, to those of you who made me feel special by being there.
Me and Andersen Cook (rt.)
I benefited from this event no doubt more than my audience. Preparing for it, I had to look into my motives, inspirations, and writing habits. I discovered personal connections to the story of What Missing Means that I had been unaware of. And this public forum gave me the opportunity to touch on debates among historical fiction writers.

Thank-you to Andersen Cook and Speaker @ the Center for the invitation to speak, and to the SC State Library for hosting the event. 

Me, my sister Nila, and Judy

Monday, February 19, 2018

Author Appearance

Coming Thursday

Writing What Missing Means
SC State Library
Thursday, Feb. 22
12:00 noon – 1:00
1500 Senate St., Columbia, SC

I’ll talk about my novel
and life in 1945 on a farm in SC.
I hope to see you there!

Me at Sumter poetry reading.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

my day with a cold


As I write this, I pause occasionally to wipe my nose. I hack up phlegm (yuk!). My eyes feel like they’re squeezed into keyholes. Days of this, and you’d think I’d be used to it.

Am I happy about this? Well, maybe. It’s not the flu...which sent my brother to the hospital for several days. He was totally wiped out, took him hours to get to a phone to call for help. And when he got to the emergency room at Lexington Medical Center, he had to wait 24 hours to be admitted to a room. The hospital was packed with patients. Because of the flu, said the staff.

I haven’t been out of the house. First of all, because I don’t feel like it but secondly because I don’t want to spread my virus. However, I expect to be going full throttle in a couple of days, if the old adage that a virus takes 10 days is true.

Even with headache and sore throat, I’ve worked on a presentation for the SC State Library. I’ll be there Thursday, Feb. 22 at noon to talk about my novel What Missing Means. The Library is located at 1500 Senate Street in Columbia, SC. My appearance is hosted by Speaker @ the Center.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Presentation on My Writing


I’m gathering thoughts for a presentation in February on the subject of my novel What Missing Means. Several ideas I’m working on:

1) Background for writing it.
This novel began as part of its prequel, Dust On the Bible. As such, the characters were already there. To figure out where they came from, I’ll go back to the origin of Dust On the Bible, which began as short stories.

2) Is it autobiography? 
Not consciously, but some critics hold that most good literature is autobiography. I can’t buy-off on that entirely, but writers who share the emotional history of their characters can better bring them to life. But to the point, I’ve come to recognize influences from my childhood that bear on the story.

3) The lure of research.
I've been asked to discuss my writing of the novel. Personally, I prefer to talk about what I’ve learned from my research. The novel takes place in 1945. To get the time period realistically portrayed I dug into biographies, history books, and documents (thank-you Wikipedia) to discover things such as: 1) who was drafted and how; 2) electricity’s arrival in rural homes; 3) ration cards for gas & groceries; 4) when/how bodies of KIA soldiers were sent home; 5) time sequence of cotton crops, when chopped, when hoed.

One reason I like to write historical fiction is the pleasure of digging into history for answers to questions I’d never ask if I weren’t writing. Sometimes the most mundane information is the hardest to find. When I was writing the Westfall antebellum series, I spent days trying to find out if it was common for people to smoke cigarettes in 1857 (No, it wasn't.).
Sketch of Fairview School, where I attended grades 1-4.
It could have been the inspiration for Lily's school.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

speaker @ the center


I’m going to discuss my novel “What Missing Means” on Thursday, February 22 at the SC State Library, scheduled at 12:00 noon.

This novel tells of the young girl Lily, who lives with many relatives and wishes some of them would move out. The shadow over the story is the fate of her uncle who is in Europe in the midst of WWII.

My presentation is hosted by Speaker @ the Center, which asks that you register online to ensure a seat (

The SC State Library is located at 1500 Senate Street, Columbia, SC. For more information: 803.545-4432.

I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Triggerfish Acceptance


Last November, Triggerfish Critical Review accepted three of my poems for publication in their July issue. I am especially grateful to Editor Dave Mehler for his comments about my poems:
I have to tell you, I'm excited about your poems... The whimsicality, the delicacy and subtlety of humor, and the evidence of Christian faith, all of which is rare.  Your poems will be a joy to publish.
The poems are: 1) “Common Story Among Strangers;” 2) “I Pray;” and 3) “On the Verge of Holy.” Triggerfish is an online journal that explores the “why” of poetry—why we read poems and why we want to share them. 
  1. “Common Story Among Strangers” is a meditation on the influence of religion in our lives. Given the barrage of information and ideas today, there are constant challenges to any belief system. 
  2. “I Pray” is something of a complaint about a relationship. No friendship or affair can survive without emotional commitment from both partners.
  3. “On the Verge of Holy” speaks to our inclination to try too hard to be good. It’s a question of how good do we have to be before we become a hardship to ourselves and others. 
I have learned that I shouldn’t write when I’m in a bad mood. In responding to Editor Dave Mehler, I bemoaned what I consider the esoteric nature of much of contemporary poetry. The easy part of appreciating poetry is to read traditional favorites, such as T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost. It’s more demanding and time consuming to support contemporary poets and publishers who are searching for the poems that captivate the imagination of a new generation. I should write a poem about “sometimes I’m a whiner.”

My thanks to Editor Dave Mehler and the Triggerfish Advisory Board, Greg Grummer, Lynn Otto, and Steve Parker for making the publication of my poems possible.

Friday, January 5, 2018

New Year 2018

My New Year's Resolutions

1. Publish a second illustrated witch book for children.

2. Seclude myself one week a month until I finish a first draft of my 1672 story.

3. Learn to ice skate.

4. Go to church Sundays.

Two of my resolutions are about writing, which I’ve neglected for two months. I thought my witch story was practically ready to publish when I realized that it will in some respects be a sequel to my first children's book, in which the witch discovers she’s allergic to cats. What’s a witch without cats? The follow-up book has to deal with her allergy. So I’ll either add to what I’ve written already or I’ll write a different book to interface between book one and book three. 

I’m good at finding distractions to take me away from writing, and primary among them is shopping. I’m afraid I’m becoming a shopaholic; I spend too much time searching for exactly the right item (almost right isn’t for me), especially since Amazon makes so many choices available. I’m planning to disconnect from Wi-Fi for a week every month in the hope that I become more productive.

Ice Skating
In December I discovered an ice skating rink in Irmo, SC, not far from my house. I hope I can do this without breaking any bones.

Been listening to C.S. Lewis’ book “Mere Christianity.” It has inspired me to be more methodical about supporting my beliefs.

I don't have this scene outside my window, but if you do, stay warm! 


Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Pause in the Entertainment

For the last month, I’ve been doing a lot of not writing. Instead, traveling and visiting...
Me at the Manekin Pis in Brussels, Belgium.
With my husband Doug:
Doug at Waterloo battlefield, Belgium.
Me at Sherlock Holmes museum, London.
And celebrating and visiting with family. 

Visit with son Matt and grandson Ivan.
Had Thanksgiving with son Davis and his family. Here I'm with his wife Cindy and daughter Ava. 

But today I’m getting back to my historical fiction manuscript.

For intermittent periods I’ve been working on this manuscript for over a year. It’s about time I buckled down and completed a first draft. 

There are a number of characters in the story, about six, not counting the ones that come and go. ­It will take a week of re-reading for me to get back into the story, that is to say, to figure out which characters own a horse, which ones have blue eyes, and which ones drink too get the idea. 

Back to work. Oh, wait, I mean after New Year's Eve and New Year's Day...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Batesburg Garden Club

TRIP TO 1857

Members of the Camellia Garden Club of Batesburg were a great audience for my presentation on November 2. I led us on a trip back to 1857 and St. Helena Island, SC. Much of my presentation was based on research I did to write the Westfall series of historical fiction novels.
Barbara Shealy (L) and Susan Shealy (R) hosted the club meeting.
A visit with our ancestors, at least for myself, makes us aware of the many advances that have been made. In just 160 years we have moved from horses and carriages to commuter jets, from letters to Facetime, from wood fires to central heat; from plagues to heart transplants; from wagon trails to interstate expressways. 
Me at the podium. Photos thanks to Amanda Ballenger
Try thinking of a kitchen without electricity, without lights or refrigerator, freezer, range or running water. Our ancestors had no boxed cereals or protein bars in their cabinets; nor frozen dinners and ice cream in a freezer. What storage they had for food was the occasional pantry and more often, a smoke house. Preparing a meal required hours of work in a kitchen and months in a garden or field. Such was life in 1857.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m ever more thankful for the nameless Americans who worked without recognition to build our cities and farms and provide the comforts of our everyday life. The quality of our American lifestyle is a credit to the creativity and work ethic of our forefathers.

The comforts we are afforded count for little without the bonds of love and trust. I appreciate that I had parents who loved and encouraged me. My mother, in particular, made sacrifices so that I might have a better life than she did. Because my parents are the past, the past is dear to me. My parents felt the same way once their parents were gone. And though I didn't live in 1857, I had ancestors who held that time to be dear because of parents who had lived then. I'm alive because of them, and I'm loved because they were loved. Exploring their world has been a fascinating project for me.
Mildred Shumpert Rawls, my mother