Staying in the Flow: Advice for Memoir Writers and Others

Gilda Morina Syverson will lead a workshop on memoir, “Traveling Home, Again:  Memoir’s Enlightening Path” at Charlotte Lit on Thursday, February 21st, from 6 to 9 p.m. Register


Only two years. That’s what I told myself when I first began to teach memoir writing at Queens University. I would do it for two years. My plan was to spend more time on my writing. But something happened. I not only fell in love with the process of writing my stories, but I fell in love with everyone else’s stories, too.

That was over 19 years ago. I am still in awe of what people discover when writing about themselves, their families, relatives, in some cases distant ancestors. We can write compelling stories by capturing flashes of memories, obsessions, dreams—night or day, an inspiring line from a poem or article and more. Then we take the thought or line, let it lead us as we write and write and write.

What I’ve told my students over the years is to capture the memory that comes to mind after giving them a prompt or reading them a poem. Do not think about editing, grammar, punctuation marks, and so on. Just write what flows! We’ll deal with crafting later.

I learned this process over thirty years ago when Natalie Goldberg wrote in her books about keeping that hand moving. NO THINKING ALLOWED. Not out loud! Although there is something valuable to learn about “Why not out loud?”

When a person says to me that he or she wants to write and starts telling me their story, I carefully, sometimes not so carefully, stop him or her and say, “Don’t tell me. Write it down.”

I’ve seen frustration on faces. Yes, they have a story to tell. But my intention is to get these people to their office, bedroom, back porch, or wherever they feel comfortable and put down that tale in written words. I imagine them saying to themselves, “I’ll show her. I’m telling that story anyway,” and then pen it in a journal, on a piece of paper, or type it into a Word document.

Ah-ha! A start! It’s where all writers—beginner or advanced—return to again and again.

Even though memoir (and poetry) are my loves, keeping that hand moving is a starter for all genres. When I sit down to write something new, brand new, I let it spill out—a morning dream, a cousin who has revealed a family secret, relatives from Italy who appeared on my grandmother’s doorstep. I let the story lead me where it wants to go. While writing, if Uncle Joe or Aunt Jane appear on your shoulder (metaphorically, of course) and have something to say, do not swat those voices away.

When it is time for crafting, editing is a creative process all its own. Since I am drawn to the editing process as much as the initial discovery, when I go back into the story, that’s when I play with the language, add specific and descriptive details, dialogue if need be, cut, paste, develop scenes.

The structure and spine of the story will slowly evolve. I let it lead me remembering what Anne Lamott said years ago when visiting Charlotte, that she edits each chapter seven, eight, nine times. It is in this process, where I get honest with myself or bring my writing to one of my critique groups; I can count on them to be open with me.

After all these years, I am still in awe of the stories that have grown out of people’s lives, their families, the places they have come from. I hope to hear a bit of your story one day—written down, of course!


Gilda Morina Syverson is an award-winning author for the memoir, My Father’s Daughter: From Rome to Sicily, and two poetry collections, Facing the Dragon and In This Dream Everything Remains Inside. She is at work on her second memoir. Gilda has been teaching and coaching memoir writing for over 19 years and is also on the faculty for Charlotte Lit’s Authors Lab. She has recently been featured on Charlotte Readers Podcast.

Research First, Then Write?

Editor’s note: We occasionally take a look at the standard bits of advice given to writers. This week, guest blogger Andy Thomason takes on the notion of research first, then write.


When I told one of the editors at my office that I was writing a book, he offered what I thought was a strange piece of advice to give right off the bat: Mix up the reporting and writing. Don’t try to cordon off each task by, for instance, spending the first six months reporting and latter six months writing.

This goes a little against my experience. When I edit long stories, the reporter has usually done the vast majority of the reporting before they sit and write. The processes are somewhat distinct. It’s only when they’re armed with pages of notes and transcripts that the reporter enters Writing Quarantine (only to come out days later with a draft, shell-shocked, regretting they ever entered this line of work).

I didn’t ask my editor to elaborate on his advice, but I didn’t need to. After a few months of reporting, the paralysis I felt made his point for him. I had contacted a wide swath of people for interviews, talked to the fraction who were willing, followed some of their leads, and dutifully pestered the people who still weren’t answering my calls or emails.

As I’ve detailed previously in my real-time newsletter in the course of writing this book, my reporting yielded promising material. But the more information I had, the more directions this book could go. It could be about the process of admitting athletes into colleges like UNC. It could be about academic support offices. It could be about the NCAA. It could be about the athletes themselves. Each focus would require a different structure, different reporting, a different process. The number of potential paths I could carve up the mountain seemed exponential.

It was around this time that I remembered another piece of advice that some of the editors in my office often dispense. When writing an article (or anything, I guess, including a book), ask yourself, what is this about? Not what happens, or who’s in it, but what’s the concept at the heart of it? Doing this exercise well can often get you down to one word. Power. Corruption. Money.

This exercise has a focusing power. For instance, if you were writing a book about college sports that you decided was mostly about money, then you would naturally want to dig into conferences’ revenue sharing agreements and media deals. But if you were writing another book about that same topic, but this time decided it was about exploitation, you might want to focus more on the stories of the athletes themselves.

Answering this question can help you set your sights on what you really need. There are no longer a thousand routes up the mountain, but just a few.

So one day between Christmas and New Year’s I took my laptop to the Caledonia conference room and opened a blank Google doc, with the goal of free writing my way to the heart of the book. One word seemed ambitious, so I decided to aim for one page, double-spaced. And if it was good, a version of what I came up with here would likely appear in the book itself, probably in the introduction.

Real book writing. This was going to be a big step forward.

I wrote a bad sentence.

I wrote another bad sentence.

Enough with sentences. Let’s try a scene. I wrote a bad scene.

Back to sentences. Here was an OK sentence, but not really on topic.

I wrote a paragraph. It was a fine paragraph, but it didn’t answer the question.

This was not going well. I got in the elevator and headed to the sandwich place around the corner. On the way I took more stabs at the question, chattering topic sentences entering the Untitled Document of my brain. Bad. Bad. Maybe. Meh. Somewhere between the CVS and the Zapp’s chips I began to make inroads on an answer. I walked quickly back to the office, storing sentences in my head as I went. I sat down at my computer, gobbled up my sandwich, and started typing. Forty-five minutes later, I had a page-long answer. This was not great writing. But the argument made sense, and that’s what mattered.

This was the mini book, and I could use it as a roadmap for the big one. I went sentence by sentence and asked a question of each of them: What information would I need to prove each claim? Who would I need to talk to? What would I need to ask them about? I made a bulleted list, and deposited the results into the “tasks” pop-out in my Gmail.

Only by writing could I figure out what I needed to do next. My editor was right.

Rather than hail this as a breakthrough, I kicked myself instead. This is the kind of thing I should’ve been doing with one year left, not nine months. What was I even doing for those three months? As the days until my October 1 deadline tick away I’ve become more anxious about time I spend not writing and not on the phone. I’ve even started to lose a little sleep out of fear that I’m too far behind. And with no book writing experience, my only logical response is low-grade anxiety and fear.

When I mentioned this to a friend this weekend he said, “Well that’s the point of the first book, isn’t it?” I’m learning a lot. Hopefully I’ll come away with a book, too.


Andy Thomason is a Charlotte native and senior editor at “The Chronicle of Higher Education.” He’s a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, where he was editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel. Andy is writing a book about the relationship between colleges and the big-time sports programs they house, using the recent UNC academic-fraud scandal as a narrative lens. This is his first book, and he’s chronicling his reporting and writing process in a real-time newsletter. You can sign up here: tinyletter.com/arthomason 

The Power of an Author’s Note

I have a confession to make: If a novel contains an author’s note, I read it before I launch into the first chapter—even if it falls at the end of the book.

I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember—both before I ever tried to write a book, and now that I have a bunch of published novels under my belt. It’s the perpetual writing student in me who is always looking for a glimpse into the writer’s mind and process. Sometimes, I’ve found, the author’s note can be as fascinating as the book.

Second confession: I’ve been known to recommend an author’s note to other writers and to students, the way someone else (someone less nerdy, maybe) might endorse the novel itself.

Now, because you seem to still be reading this, I’m going to offer an author’s note suggestion to you. This one relates to a class I’m offering at Charlotte Lit on Feb. 5: “Beyond Stereotypes: Writing Diverse Characters with Dimensions.” The note is in Jodi Picoult’s Small, Great Things, a novel well worth your reading time. But even if you aren’t a Picoult fan, it would be a shame if you missed her author’s note, which is highly instructive.

Small Great Things is told in shifting third limited POV, with a protagonist who is an African-American nurse accused of jeopardizing a white baby’s life. The other POVs belong to a white supremacist and the nurse’s white lawyer.

Let’s skip to the author’s note. What we learn there is that Picoult, a white woman, tried early in her career to write a novel “about racism,” as she puts it. She failed miserably.

“I started the novel, foundered, and quit,” she writes. “I couldn’t do justice to the topic. I didn’t know what it was like to grow up Black in this country, and I was having trouble creating a fictional character that rang true” (p. 459).

She then discusses moving on to write all those successful novels with characters unlike her—men, suicidal people, teenagers, rape survivors. Why couldn’t she create a person of color facing racism? Because racism is hard to discuss, she says, so white authors often don’t.

What changed that made Picoult feel like she could tackle the topic of Small, Great Things? Obviously, it wasn’t that racism suddenly got easier to write about. When she set out to write the novel, based loosely on an incident she’d read about, it was Picoult’s intention that changed.

“I wasn’t writing to tell people of color what their own lives were like,” she notes. “I was writing to…white people—who can very easily point to a neo-Nazi skinhead and say he’s a racist…but can’t recognize racism in themselves” (p. 460).

Powerful stuff. You’ll have to read the author’s note for details on how she actually went about crafting her protagonist (and a skinhead we actually feel something for)—and for more about this topic, you can take my Charlotte Lit class.

I’m going to leave you with this thought: The uncomfortable things we think we can’t possibly write about just might make powerful fiction.

And here’s one last confession, too: I read the acknowledgments right after the author’s note.


Paula Martinac is the author of four novels, including most recently, The Ada Decades. She teaches creative writing at UNC Charlotte and is a writing coach in Charlotte Lit’s Authors Lab program.


Join Paula for “Beyond Stereotypes: How to Create Diverse Characters with Dimension” on Tuesday, February 5, 6-9 pm. Members $55, non-members $65. Register here.

Little Jewels of Wisdom: Writing Advice Distilled

I love to go to writing workshops and have attended at least one each year for nearly two decades. Below is the advice I have found most helpful. Most of the instructors were excellent, some less so, but each provided a little jewel of wisdom.

1. A novel needs conflict, both external and internal. The external conflict drives the plot, the internal conflict provides the heart. It’s preferable if there is also a universal conflict. (Source: Ann Hood among others)

2. Always move toward greater complication. I like patterns, but when the writing is too matchy-matchy, too neat, too easily resolved, it becomes predictable and lacks tension. For example, if you have two points of view, you don’t always have to alternate between them. (Dana Spiotta)

3. Flip it/don’t land in the same place. This is related to #2. You’ll create tension if your fragment, scene, or chapter changes in emotional value. For example, if in one scene your protagonist breaks up with an old lover, in the next scene she should gain something, even if it’s finding a seat on the crowded train. (Ann Hood from Robert McKee)

4. Find an image and let it do more. My teacher in college, James Alan McPherson, used to talk about writing as jazz, and then he would riff himself in lecture, plucking images from disparate sources, somehow creating something coherent. Also see: objective correlative.

5. Be judicious with first-person point of view. It’s tricky, and some readers will despise you if you make mistakes in its use. When in doubt, default to third person unless the character has a unique voice. (Tony Early, Antonya Nelson)

6. Show kindness to your writing. Even that piece of crap you just wrote has something amazing in it (Lidia Yuknavitch). Of course Anne Lamott says much the same thing in Bird by Bird, about the kid by the fence, but Lidia reads everyone’s writing with such compassion, such delight in the possibility, that it makes you want to do the same thing with your own work.

7. Don’t make dialogue too neat. It’s not a tennis match where each speaker hits the conversational ball back and forth. People, especially in fiction, talk over each other, don’t listen, don’t speak in complete sentences. When I write dialogue, I write it the way we might actually speak, and then I cut out about half of it. (Bill Roorbach is especially good at this.)

8. Find a role model and map their work. In workshops early in my career, both Ann Hood and Rebecca McClanahan taught me to find an example of a writer succeeding at something I wanted to do in my writing, and to analyze it. I used to go through essays and mark sections in different colors to show scene, summary and musing.

9. Enjoy the process. In the end, that may be all I get out of writing. I may never publish these novels or even find an agent. I will certainly not get rich. But I have learned to love the writing itself and look forward to revision, to becoming better.


A few spaces remain for “Showing and Telling: Successfully Use Both Scene and Summary.” Join Kristin for this excellent class on Tuesday January 22 from 6 to 9 pm.


Kristin Donnalley Sherman lives in Charlotte, where she works as a writer, editor, and writing coach. She’s published both fiction and nonfiction, and is currently at work on two novels. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Barrelhouse, Silk Road, Main Street Rag, and Flashquake, and she has won or been a finalist in numerous contests, including Elizabeth Simpson Smith Short Fiction, the Writers Workshop Memoirs, the Reynolds Price Fiction, River Styx Micro-fiction, and the Press 53 Open Awards for Short Short Fiction.

How do you know when it’s done? (Or how I stopped hating and learned to love my imperfections)

It’s the perennial question all writers face: You’ve written a piece, and good as it is, is it done? Have you done all you can to make it perfect? Before we get there, check the entry criteria. I call them table stakes. Consider these five points first. 

  • Central point: If it takes more than one sentence (25 words) to describe what the story or poem is about, you’re not done.
  • Emotional depth: Any place you can go deeper? Balance inner thoughts, action and dialogue.
  • All five senses: Crisp descriptions and new imagery.
  • Point of view and tense: If you changed the point of view, for example, from first person to third, how does the story change? If you changed from past tense to present, what happens?
  • Strong characters and vivid setting: Are they visible? Can you make them clearer?

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” — Confucius

The simple answer is: it’s never done done. You’ve heard that James Joyce was still making edits to Ulysses decades after it had been published. How Ernest Hemingway wrote 47 different endings for A Farewell to Arms to ensure he’d picked the correct one? Don’t get me started on Emily Dickinson…. You can drive yourself crazy. Here are a few hints to help you figure out if you’re done. Or not.

1. Put everything in

Be constantly on the lookout for subconscious gifts — those persistent whispers — it’s why I write. To get outside myself, to find that something extra I didn’t know I had. I call it touching divinity. 

More often than not, those persistent whispers lead me where I need to go.

Given free reign, I tend to get off track. I go tangential. No problem. At least I didn’t ignore the whisper; I took heed. Maybe it was a wrong number.

If you don’t write it you’ll never know and not knowing can haunt you. Put everything in.

2. Take everything out

It sounds counterintuitive. Hang with me. I can explain.

“Write a sentence as clean as a bone.” — James Baldwin

Let’s take it further: write a paragraph as clean as a bone. Write a scene as clean as a bone. Write a story, a chapter, a whole book as clean as a bone. Challenge yourself. When in doubt, take it out.

I create outtake files. Keep them. They may become useful for something else.

Here is the “kill your darlings” thing. Ask yourself: am I keeping it because I like it, or am I keeping it because it’s necessary? Necessary means it advances the story, deepens a character, or ties back to the central theme. If it does none of these, open up your outtakes file, and take it out. 

3. Tighten

Maybe it’s just me, but I suspect it isn’t. My first drafts are full of filler words, common phrases, and what I call fluff. Crutch words. If only there was a quick way to clean it up. There is! That’s where my repeat offenders list comes in. I have 40 or so fillers, fluff stuff, and crutches for which I check. 

But, you counter, what if filler words are there for a purpose; what if they help to build the voice? Voice doesn’t need filler words, voice don’t need fluff. Tighten. 

4. Put it in a drawer

Distance. Sometimes we need distance. You’ve heard a peer say, “It seemed so good when I wrote it; then I read it the next day and it was complete hogwash. Balderdash. Drivel. How can that be?”

You’re too close. It’s natural. What’s needed here is perspective.

Put it in a drawer. Literally, figuratively, whatever works for you (see hint 1). Pull it out in a week. Mileage may vary but somewhere between a week and a month is about the right amount of psychic distance to be able to get perspective.

5. Read it out loud

This one is new for me. I have friends who swear by this step for all writing, from fiction to essay, to blog post. Read it outloud and where you hear yourself stumble, your voice cracks, or a word just gets stuck in your throat, see if you can fix it.

Some would even say record yourself reading it and listen to it. I have to admit I have not gone this far yet, but I would love to. Your smartphone can record your voice. Your computer probably can. Try it.

6. Feedback

Bottom line: Good feedback makes you want to write more. If feedback makes you feel like not writing, it gots to go. Out out. No explanation needed. (Unless it is your editor, you’re under contract and you just want don’t want to — that’s a different problem.)

Constructive, deep, heart-felt, thoughtful feedback is gold to writers. Instead of saying, “this is not right,” it says, “have you thought about…?” 

Great feedback can sting. You’ll know great feedback when you see it; deep down you know it’s true. 

Great beta readers are earned, not found. When a reader agrees to read for you, you enter into a sacred contract. They took the time to read it; you owe them the courtesy of acknowledging each point. 

Show respect for their time and effort. Express gratitude. You will have a stronger beta reader next time. 

7. Tighten again

In the process of incorporating feedback, in rewriting, you have gone back to some of your habits. Run through the tighten sequence again. Doesn’t have to be time consuming — after all you already did it once. The heavy lifting got done the first time.

There they are. Seven hints to think about when you’re not sure that you’re done. Do all of them every time? No. Use discretion. If I had the time I would do each of these steps. Would I then be done? Um. Maybe? But I would rest assured — all the tools and methods I know of have been exhausted.

After all this, will I read a piece months later and see something I would have liked to change? Happens all the time. 

View your writing as a progression. Your imperfections reflect the way you were when you finished that piece. You will do better next time. 


Rick Pryll is the author of The Chimera of Prague (Foolishness Press, 2017), which won the Romance category at the 2018 New York Book Festival, a collection of short stories, Wallow (Foolishness Press, 1999), a poetry chapbook, Displaced (Foolishness Press, 1998) and a hyperfiction short story, “Lies,” that has been translated into Chinese and Spanish. A graduate of MIT, he wrote a novella to satisfy the thesis requirement for his degree in Mechanical Engineering. Rick and his wife, ArtPop Charlotte 2018 artist Holly Spruck, live in Charlotte. They have two children and two cats and a dog.


Join Rick for on Tuesday, January 29, from 6 to 8 pm to hear his astute advice for writers considering the self-publishing route, “Do Not Get Ripped Off! Tips for Self-Publishing.” Details and registration here.

15 Elements of a Great Blog Post

This post was created by Paul’s Blogging Universe Part 1 class, January 10, 2019.

  1. An Intriguing Title
  2. Humor
  3. Life Relevant
  4. Inspirational
  5. Motivational
  6. How-to
  7. Clear and to the point
  8. Informative
  9. Teaches
  10. Surprises
  11. Connects to another idea or topic
  12. Links to other relevant content
  13. Worthy of my time
  14. The right length
  15. Entertaining

Upcoming Literary Events: Winter-Spring 2019

Here at Charlotte Lit, we’re excited about our ongoing Beautiful Truth initiative, with community writing workshops every weekend in January, a February 1 & 2 visit from poet Terrance Hayes, AND a community public reading event in March. But we’re not the only ones lining up excellent literary events for this new year.

Up this week, Queens University’s MFA faculty holds two readings that are free and open to the public. Local favorites Judy Goldman and Tommy Tomlinson each have new memoirs coming out in the next two months. Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper columnist Leonard Pitts holds a reading coordinated by Park Road Books. As part of their Community Read, the library hosts Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give. All of this and we haven’t even mentioned the UNCC Center City Literary Festival and the Sensoria Festival at CPCC. Take a look at this event listing and invite your friends to join you in celebrating the literary arts in Charlotte.

Tuesday, January 8 at 5 pm – Queens University MFA Faculty Readings: Morri Creech and Jenny Offill, Ketner Auditorium, Sykes Building

Writer in Residence Morri Creech is author of four collections of poetry, including his latest, Blue Rooms, and The Sleep of Reason, a 2014 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Fiction Writer Jenny Offill is author of the novels Dept. of Speculation and Last Things, which was chosen as a notable or best book of the year by The New York Times, The Village Voice, The L.A. Times, and The Guardian (U.K). Sponsored by The Arts at Queens.

Friday, January 11 at 8:30 pm – Queens University MFA Faculty Readings: David Christensen and Marcus Jackson, Ketner Auditorium, Sykes Building

David Christensen is the Executive Producer of the National Film Board of Canada. Poet Marcus Jackson is author of the recently released collection Pardon My Heart. A Cave Canem fellow, he is also author of the collection Neighborhood Register, and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harvard Review and The Cincinnati Review. Sponsored by The Arts at Queens.

Tuesday, January 22, 2018  at 7:30 pm – Davidson College Abbott Scholars Event: Chris Hudgins “From Davidson to Stockholm,” Lilly Family Gallery

Chris Hudgins will discuss Tony Abbott as a mentor, a “Scholar Adventurer” who led Hudgins to his life’s work, to a love of the plays of Harold Pinter and many other dramatists. Hudgins will focus on his scholarly and personal experiences with Harold Pinter (Nobel Laureate, 2005) and on three of the unpublished film scripts Pinter provided Hudgins during their twenty-four-year friendship: The Handmaid’s Tale, The Remains of the Day, and Lolita.

Thursday, January 24 at 7:30 pm – Queen University: Novelist Jeff Jackson, Ketner Auditorium, Sykes Building

The English Department Reading Series presents local author Jeff Jackson, who will read from his mesmerizing novel Destroy All Monsters, a book that’s been called a “taut, atmospheric rock and roll thriller.” His previous novel Mira Corpora was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Admission is free and open to the public. Sponsored by The Arts at Queens. Info

Thursday, January 31 at 7 pm – Main Street Books, Davidson: Tommy Tomlinson

Tommy Tomlinson is a household name in the Charlotte area due to his profoundly enjoyable podcast “Southbound,” which he records in partnership with WFAE. Between recording sessions, Tomlinson has written for Esquire, ESPN the Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Forbes, Garden & Gun, and other publications. Written with the same insight and mesmerizing tone that have catapulted “Southbound” to the top of many podcast playlists, Tommy Tomlinson’s memoir The Elephant in the Room is a searing, honest, and candid exploration of what it’s like to live as an overweight man in a growing America. Info

Friday February 1 & 2, Beautiful Truth at Charlotte Lit

Charlotte Lit is thrilled to bring Terrance Hayes to our city as part of our Beautiful Truth Initiative. Hayes is the author of American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry; Lighthead, which won the 2010 National Book Award for poetry; and other works. He is artist-in-residence at New York University, and is a MacArthur “Genius” Award Recipient.

  • Friday, February 1 from 7-8:30 pm: Terrance Hayes Reading and Talk, Midwood International and Cultural Center Auditorium.

Hayes will discuss using personal narratives to share our stories; and we’ll also celebrate the release of the quarterly 4X4CLT poetry+art posters, featuring poetry by Terrance Hayes and art by Susan Brenner and J. Stacy Utley. Tickets

  • Saturday, February 2 from 10 am to Noon: Writing Workshop 

Led by Terrance Hayes for writers and educators, in the Charlotte Lit studio. Limited to 24 participants. SOLD OUT.

  • Saturday, February 2 from 2-4 pm: Community Conversation about sharing stories for social change, facilitated by Terrance Hayes in The Light Factory. Free, but limited to 40 participants. To request an invitation, email kathie@charlottelit.org.

Wednesday, February 6 at 4:30 pm, Davidson College: Chelsea Hodson, Hance Auditorium/Chambers Building

Chelsea Hodson is the author of the book of essays, Tonight I’m Someone Else, and the chapbook, Pity the Animal. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Bennington College and has been awarded fellowships from MacDowell Colony and PEN Center USA Emerging Voices. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times MagazineFrieze Magazine, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. She teaches at Catapult in New York and at Mors Tua Vita Mea in Sezze Romano, Italy.

Thursday, February 7 at 7 pm: Leonard Pitts, Jr., “Last Thing You Surrender,” Park Road Books (check event listing, venue may change)

In a career spanning more than 35 years, Leonard Pitts, Jr. has been a columnist, a college professor, a radio producer and a lecturer. He is the author of one of the most popular newspaper columns in the country for which he was awarded the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary; and of a series of critically-acclaimed books, including his latest, a novel called Freeman.

Thursday, February 7 at 6 pm: An Evening with Tommy Tomlinson, ImaginOn

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation and WFAE are pleased to celebrate the release of Tommy Tomlinson’s inspirational memoir The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America. Tommy will speak and take questions about his experience and his writing.

The evening will begin with wine and light bites, and Park Road Books will be on-site with books for sale before and after the program. This event is free, but seating is limited, RSVP required.

Monday and Tuesday, March 4 & 5, Friends of the Library at Queens University: Cocktail Reception and Luncheon.

This year’s featured authors are Marie Benedict whose book The Only Woman in the Room is a powerful novel based on the incredible true story of Hedy Lamarr, and Tim Johnston whose thriller debut novel Descent was a New York Times bestseller.

Sunday, March 3 from 2-4 pm, Charlotte Lit’s Third Birthday Celebration, Mint Museum on Randolph Road, featuring Judy Goldman, author of the memoir Together (Nan A. Talese). (More details to come.)

Friday, March 15 from 7-9 pm, Charlotte Lit’s Beautiful Truth Community Public Reading Event, Midwood International and Cultural Center Auditorium. Beautiful Truth participants from all over Charlotte will read short narratives written and shared during library workshops. Free, registration required.

Tuesday, March 19: Angie Thomas, ImaginOn

As part of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s community-wide book club known as Community Read, Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give, speaks at ImaginOn. Each year, the library chooses book titles for adults, teens, preteens and children, and invites everyone in the community to engage in Community Read.

Saturday, March 30: UNCC’s Center City Literary Festival

The evening author lineup includes Tony Earley, Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams, Patrice Gopo, and Allison Hutchcraft. The day events and authors will be finalized soon. Sponsored by the UNC Charlotte Department of English and UNC Charlotte Center City, the two-part festival includes daytime and nighttime events. The day events include children’s authors along with fun kids’ activities such as creation stations (coloring, crafting, and character-building) and scavenger hunts. In the evening, the festival welcomes award-winning authors for a reception, readings, book signings, and socializing. All events are held at UNC Charlotte’s Center City Campus, 320 E. 9th Street. The event is free and open to the public. Info

Thursday, April 4 at 7:30 pm: Jason Ockert, Davidson College, 900 Room

Jason Ockert is the author of Wasp Box, a novel, and two collections of short stories: Neighbors of Nothing and Rabbit Punches. Winner of the Dzanc Short Story Collection Contest, the Atlantic Monthly Fiction Contest, and the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award, he was also a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the Million Writers Award. His work has appeared in journals and anthologies including Best American Mystery Stories, Cover Stories, Ecotone, The Iowa Review, Oxford American, One Story, and McSweeney’s. He received his MFA from Syracuse University, and he teaches at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, and in the University of Tampa low-residency MFA program.

April 5 – 14: Sensoria Festival at CPCC

Monday April 8 at 6 pm: The Irene Blair Honeycutt Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Literary Arts, awarded to poet, novelist, and memoirist Judy Goldman. Dannye Romine Powell will interview Goldman, who will also read excerpts from her new memoir, Together (Nan A. Talese, Feb. 2019).

Tuesday April 9 at 8 pm, and Wednesday April 10, 11:30 am: Carolyn Forche, 2019 Irene Blair Honeycutt Distinguished Lecturer, Halton Theatre, Central Campus

What You Have Heard is True (March 2019) is a devastating, lyrical, and visionary memoir about a young woman’s brave choice to engage with horror in order to help others. Written by one of the most gifted poets of her generation, this is the story of a woman’s radical act of empathy, and her fateful encounter with an intriguing man who changes the course of her life. (from Random House)

Thursday April 11 at 11 am, Tate Hall, CPCC Central Campus and Thursday April 11 at  7:30 pm, Goodyear Arts: Poet Hanif Abdurraqib

Hanif Abdurraqib presents poetry and prose, including work from his new chronicle Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest which received a starred review in Kirkus.

Sunday April 28, Main Street Books Davidson: Charles Frazier, author of Varina and Cold Mountain, in conversation with D.G. Martin (location TBD).

Anti-Resolutions: What you’ll STOP doing this year

On January 3, from 6 to 8 pm, join Cathy Pickens for a FREE session to explore how you can make space and time for your creative work in 2019. Come celebrate the start of your creative new year! Space is limited, and pre-registration is required.


‘Tis the season for resolutions, to take stock of seasons past. Most of us dust off the old list: lose weight, make it to more of the kids’ ballgames. Or we just don’t bother, resolving to plug along as near-perfect as we are. New Year’s Resolutions have become passé, predictable, reliable only in reminding us of failures past.

This year, why not try some anti-resolutions—what you’ll stop doing this year?

  1. Stop ignoring what’s around you. Take real notice of the people and things that make your life run smoothly, more pleasantly. Take a deep breath when you walk out in the crisp air. Develop a child-like curiosity about even the most mundane. Write it down, to let yourself see what you’re thinking. Scribble on a legal pad or in the back of your DayTimer—nothing fancy needed. Creativity and “flow” expert Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests noting one thing each day that surprises you, as a way to awaken your awareness and broaden your focus. Talk to yourself on paper about how to solve a problem. Ask yourself “what if …?” and “why?” You’ll be surprised how it helps you focus. Be mindful.
  2. Stop taking the easy path. Try something that scares you—or at least stretches you. According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, an object at rest tends to stay there. Conversely, as Matthew Arnold observed, “Genius is mainly an affair of energy.” Accept a speaking engagement, hike up Crowder’s Mountain, take a ballroom dance or cooking or kayaking class for fun, or work on that (writing) project you’ve been promising you’ll start. Each new task requires initiative and risk-taking for the beginner but gets easier—once you’ve done it. Get moving, preferably along an uncharted path.
  3. Stop being one-sided. Learn the delicate art of balance. Aristotle urged us to seek the Golden Mean, emphasizing the importance of balance. Where are you out of balance? Develop where you feel weakest. Read something you wouldn’t ordinarily read. If your bedside books are all history or technical manuals, try some well-written fiction or a book you loved—or wished you’d read—when you were a kid. Try listening to a book on tape (the library will loan you one for free!). Visit the Mint Museums. Turn off the TV.
  4. Stop sitting in the same seat. Perception can be more powerful than reality. Practice sitting in someone else’s seat, seeing from her perspective, testing your own. Maybe you, literally, sit in someone else’s seat in a meeting, to break the routine. Look at an issue from your customer’s or co-worker’s or boss’s or sales clerk’s or child’s or spouse’s or mortal enemy’s place.
  5. Stop being inconsistent. What do you value? What’s important to you? Would someone know your values by what you say, by how you spend your time, by the decisions you make? In trying new things, make sure you’ve grounded yourself, that you know who you are. Take time to nurture your spiritual life. Philosopher William James said, “The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.” That wisdom cannot be gained in the push and pull of your busy life. Be still. Turn off the car radio. Get off the treadmill and take a walk outside. Be alone with your thoughts. Recognize who you are and what you value.
  6. Stop being so serious. When was the last time you felt inspired or motivated by a humorless drudge? Does the fate of the free world actually rest on what you’re doing? Okay, maybe it does. But you can still lighten up.

Oh, yeah. Stop promising to get in shape and just get moving. Hit the gym or the sidewalk. Getting enough exercise is more important than your pant size. You’ll need the energy for all the things you’re going to stop doing this year.


Cathy Pickens’ first mystery, Southern Fried, won the coveted St. Martin’s Press Malice Domestic Award for Best Traditional Mystery. She’s written five books in the series, as well as Charleston Mysteries (History Press), an essay on historic crime cases in 27 Views of Charlotte, a regular column for Mystery Readers Journal, and articles on writing craft and on business. She served as national president of Sisters in Crime and on the national board for Mystery Writers of America. As a long-time professor in the McColl School of Business at Queens, she won numerous teaching awards.

Reading “A Christmas Carol” as a writer

“Marley was dead, to begin with.” From first line to last—”God bless us, everyone”—last week 30 people got together at ImaginOn for a joyous public reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. (In case you’re wondering, it takes about three hours.) The cast included 10 Charlotte Lit members and teachers, a dozen local actors, and staff of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Each reader brought their own style to this timeless tale, making the text come alive. Hearing it out loud, I was able to appreciate the story anew. It’s beautifully constructed, and writers can learn by studying it. A memorable protagonist, colorful characters, plenty of humor, flashbacks that work, lots of conflict and tension—and finally, in the end, a wholly satisfying redemption.

Even in redemption, though, there is pain and regret. We see Ebenezer Scrooge’s wasted years. Writers might heed both the lessons and cautions Dickens embedded in the story: it’s never too late to make a change, even the most radical one. None of us wants to find ourselves an old Scrooge, having not done what we were called to do—to have not told the stories we wanted to tell.

Here’s an excerpt from A Christmas Carol, and a link to where you can find the whole story. Embrace both the tale and its telling, and you might give yourself no better Christmas gift.


From A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Stave 4: The Last of the Spirits

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.

It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible, save one outstretched hand. But for this, it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.

He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.

“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?” said Scrooge.

The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.

“You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,” Scrooge pursued. “Is that so, Spirit?”

The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received.

Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spirit paused a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover.

But Scrooge was all the worse for this. It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror to know that, behind the dusky shroud, there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black.

“Ghost of the Future!” he exclaimed, “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But, as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?”

It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.

“Lead on!” said Scrooge. “Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!”


A Christmas Carol is in the public domain, so it’s easy to find and download in a number of formats. (Here’s one, from Goodreads.)

Announcing: Charlotte Lit’s Studio Two!

Charlotte Lit has grown fledgling wings and is ready to fly.

No, we’re not leaving our current nest—we’re adding another. We’re going out on a limb and opening a second studioon the first floor of the Midwood International & Cultural Center.

We’ll use Studio Two for Charlotte Lit classes and social events. The rest of the time will be a greatly expanded Open Studio for our members. Instead of two Open Studio sessions each week, members will have Open Studio hours every day.

Here’s what you can expect to experience at Charlotte Lit’s Studio Two:

  • A first-floor room that’s accessible to all.
  • A beautiful and comfortable space with sofas, tables, desks, and natural light. (And wi-fi, of course.)
  • A writing reference library.
  • Coffee, tea, soft drinks and snacks.
  • Keycode access for members whenever the room is not in use.

We created Charlotte Lit to be a center—a place to write, research, read, and connect—a vibrant community of writers and lit lovers. This is the next leap we must take—and we need you with us.

It’s a community effort—and a $5,000 challenge!

We want to make Studio Two available to all members without raising rates or limiting access to the higher membership levels. So, we’re asking you to voluntarily support this project, to help us cover Studio Two’s operating costs.

One of our members (who has asked to remain anonymous) has made a generous challenge donation of $5,000! All our members need to do is match it. 

Would you consider making a one-time year-end donation? Or better yet, please consider upgrading your membership from General or Family to Supporting, or from Supporting to McCullers Society. And if you’re not yet a member, now is a great time to join us.

We need just 40 people to join or upgrade to meet the challenge. Will you?

Even if you don’t think you’ll use the Open Studio aspect yourself, we hope you share our vision of a true center for the literary arts in Charlotte, one that provides accessible space for our growing community.

Here’s where you go to join, upgrade, or donate. Thank you!