by Landis Wade
Charlotte Readers Podcast began, four plus years ago, with the tagline: “where authors give voice to their written words.” But our guest authors didn’t just read their work, they also spoke — elaborately, engagingly, and earnestly — about their work and about the work of writing. After more than 500 interviews with authors from 33 states and five countries, I realized I needed to flip the script. In addition to hearing what they had written, people needed to read what they had to say.
The result: The Write Quotes, an eight-book series about writing, publishing, book marketing, and much more.
Available now is Book 1: The Write Quotes: The Writing Life, created with the help of my podcast co-hosts, Sarah Archer and Hannah Larrew. You can download it for free right here. The quotes in this book reveal how hard-working, award-winning, and New York Times bestselling authors feel about being a writer. As the late Anthony Abbott eloquently said, “Writing is not about writing, necessarily. Writing is about living. And the more deeply and fully you live, the more you are able to write.”
We learn from the quotes in this book that no matter how much or how little money writers make (or lose) in their writing lives, or how demanding writing can be for them, they grab for their pens and fire up their computers mostly for the love of it. Writing is like a giant magnet that sucks them in. They have a common urge to create, to use letters, words, and sentences to tell stories, either about themselves, or others, or about characters they create and befriend in their writing chambers. They also write for therapy or to understand themselves or the world around them. They write for the sake of writing and they write for publication. They write to be remembered and they write to be heard and understood. They counsel us to relax and enjoy the journey, to trust ourselves and write what we love, and to learn the rules, so we can break them.
As more than one author said, they write because they can’t not write.
And perhaps most telling is the advice that it is never too late to start writing.
Book 1 is filled with writers you know, and writers you will meet for the first time: David Baldacci, Therese Anne Fowler, Ron Rash, C.J. Box, Wylie Cash, Judy Goldman, Amber Smith, Kimmery Martin, A.J. Hartley, Clyde Edgerton, Jill McCorkle, Jason Mott, Mark de Castrique, Cathy Pickens, and many more local, regional, and nationally recognized authors. This kind of wisdom is hard won — and sometimes it’s free. Enjoy!
Landis Wade is a recovering trial lawyer turned author turned host of the popular Charlotte Readers Podcast (where he has conducted more than 500 author interviews), whose third book—The Christmas Redemption—won the Holiday category of the 12th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards, and whose recent novel, Deadly Declarations, received praise by Kirkus Reviews, BookLife Reviews and Midwest Book Reviews. He also has been interviewed on more than 25 podcasts and media outlets, gaining interview experience from both sides of the mic. He’s taught courses on podcasting, audiobooks, book marketing, and writing, and has been active in the Charlotte and North Carolina writing communities.
Let’s talk about the writing life. On March 1 at 6 pm, join Landis, co-hosts Sarah Archer and Hannah Larrew, and Charlotte Lit co-founders Kathie Collins and Paul Reali (who are both quoted in the book) for a community conversation on the writing life. Free, via Zoom. Register here.
by Meghan Modafferi
Surely you’ve heard the common refrain, “show, don’t tell.” And it’s good advice, I’ll admit, as most of us are awfully used to the telling, and could use some practice with the showing. But in my view, the real magic comes when we sneak the two together like teenagers under the bleachers, interlaced so imperceptibly that even the most persnickety writing teacher couldn’t parse them entirely.
Because if you look closely enough, there are metaphors in the real world. If you observe, for example, that Riker’s Island is the largest jail on the continent yet it’s missing from most New York City maps, that’s an observation, yes. The empty space on the map is something you could show me. But it tells me something, too. There’s symbolic meaning embedded in the geography, in the cartography, of this place. And while perhaps you shouldn’t tell me exactly what to think about it, surely you are telling me something through the carefully selected details you chose to surface. It’s a tell about you, in other words.
We can never represent every detail, after all. So, we show a snapshot of reality — and we show, inadvertently or not, a glimpse into ourselves. And what a gift that is — to be allowed for a moment to see through your eyes.
So please: tell me. Tell me a little about what it feels like back there, behind those eyes, looking at the same thing as me, while inevitably looking at something different. Tell me what it brings up for you. Show me not only the scene in front of us, but the scene from ten years ago when you were there with your dad, who’s since passed away. Tell me the history of this place, and let me in on the questions you’re still mulling over despite weeks of research.
Creative nonfiction, and perhaps all writing to some extent, is about this: generosity with what we choose to show, and tell, about ourselves.
Meghan Modafferi is a writer and multimedia storyteller whose work has been published by National Geographic, Slate, and the NPR affi liate WUNC. She has taught writing and podcasting courses at Georgetown University.
Learn From Sarah: In difficult times, writing about ordinary things that delight us can be a radical act of care. Inspired by poet Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, this class will focus on creative nonfiction writing, grounded in careful observation of the world and its little pleasures. We will explore several examples of the form with special attention to the balance between darkness and light, showing and telling. Participants will be guided through prompts to support the development of their own original work. Register here.
by Irene Honeycutt
Needing to feel grounded, I sit outside, an acorn in my hand. A slight breeze brushes my face. I loosen my grip on the acorn; and it feels lighter, as if it might mysteriously dissolve and flow into my veins.
Does this acorn hold within its DNA the tiny thing the size of a hazelnut that Julian of Norwich held in her palm? Julian writes that she “looked at this with the eye of my soul and thought: ‘What can this be?’” Such a small thing! Denise Levertov would later address Julian in one of her dialogues: “…you ask us to turn our gaze/inside out, and see a little thing,/the size of a hazelnut,/and believe it is our world?” And in her “Notes on Organic Form,” Levertov seals her own belief by seeing the act of writing as a communion of everything (no small thing): “…writing is not a matter of one element supervising the others but of intuitive interaction between all the elements involved.” The genesis, then, of the written work of art emanates from paying attention to the world. O Taste and See, Levertov implores. This requires the deep gaze, not the passing glance.
How far we have come in recognizing the interconnectedness of all things (beings). Still, mystery remains. “On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree,” W. S. Merwin writes. And Mary Oliver has said that she could almost say trees saved her. Poems guide, rage, console, inspire, bear witness. Can we say the same of trees?
One recent morning, I opened the back door, expecting the usual heat wave. My dog, as surprised as I by the brisk air, began running laps round and round the backyard and I quickly went and stood close to my evergreen tree. I parted a few of the branches and peeked inside. Some gift was always there. As with the giving tree in To Kill a Mockingbird. This time a silky hammock spun overnight held the morning’s catch: a few drops of dew and a sparkle of sunlight and a little something for the spider. I let the branches close on this secret space. And thought of Suzanne Simard’s Finding the Mother Tree which I’d been reading the night before, stunned by the brilliance of her style in conveying the complicated scientific results of her studies of how trees develop elaborate systems of communication. Understories. Interwoven among the trees are branches of her personal journey with cancer. In the forests, she confronts fear; finds joy and courage. Her memoir reminds me of how poets and fiction writers convey similar themes. In one of my favorite short stories taught by a beloved teacher when I was a college sophomore, E. B. White’s character notices “the second tree from the corner” and comes to an epiphany.
Go find your tree. Write about it.
Trees as Muse in Print
Irene Blair Honeycutt is an award-winning teacher and poet. Her fourth poetry book, Beneath the Bamboo Sky (Main Street Rag, 2017), is sub-titled Poems and Pieces on Loss and Consolation. Irene’s kinship with trees began in her childhood in Florida where she built and retreated to her palm hut. She still meets with the woods and enjoys writing time in her mountain cabin. Her work has been published by journals, including Nimrod, Southern Poetry Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology: VII, Black Moon Magazine, Kakalak and Virginia Quarterly. She founded Central Piedmont Community College’s Sensoria, mentors writers, and is completing her fifth poetry manuscript.
Learn From Irene: The tree as nurturer, witness, listener—a source of terror, even—has drawn poets through the ages to reflect on its Mystery. In the first of our two meetings, we’ll explore a variety of “tree” writings and discuss how these pieces reflect our humanness. Then, through a visualization writing prompt that takes us deeper into our relationship with them, we’ll invoke trees as muses to inspire our intuitive writing processes. During our second meeting, participants will be encouraged (not pressured) to share short writings inspired by the prompt.
Learn more and register here.
by Kathy Izard
Many aspiring authors claim to despise marketing. They just want to work on their craft and write a great book, and hope that will be enough to make it hit the bestseller list. They spend years taking writing classes, searching for an agent, and working on a book contract thinking that someday, someone else will do all that social media and marketing stuff.
The truth is, even if you get a contract with one of the Big Five publishers, there will not be a team of magic marketing fairies selling your book. Publishers still expect YOU, the author, to be engaging with potential readers through social media (Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter) and speaking engagements. Unless you are already John Grisham or Michelle Obama you are not likely to go on a nationwide book tour or get booked on the morning TV shows.
I say this not to depress you but to empower you. If you have a story that you want to tell, it is your job to both write it and sell it. Hopefully, you have already spent years drafting a polished story and understand who your audience might be. But even if you have only written the first draft and have no idea who might read it, now is time to begin crafting your business plan. As the author, you are the best person to understand who will be looking to read your romance novel or who needs the advice in your nonfiction book.
Begin to understand how your book matches your readers’ needs by asking yourself these three questions:
- Why did you write the book? Take time to write about this and be honest with yourself. Maybe it is just pure entertainment for you and your reader or maybe there is a felt need you think your book meets for potential readers. Understand why you wrote the book and what your expectations might be for sales.
- Who is your ideal reader? Get specific. What are the demographics of this group, where do they shop for books, and what format do they read (e-books, audiobooks, paperbacks or hardbacks)? You wan to make sure what you publish is what they buy.
- Where can you begin connecting with your type of ideal reader—either virtually or in person? Is it Instagram or LinkedIn? Are there Facebook groups you can join to begin meeting readers before your book launches? Are there in-person groups in your city—book clubs, service clubs, faith groups—that match your book’s theme that you can connect with?
Make these basic questions the starting point for writing the business plan for selling your book. Whether you have a traditional publisher or you independently publish, you will need a good outline of who are trying to sell to and how you will reach them.
You have worked hard to write a manuscript you care about. Now give an equal amount of effort understanding how to get that book to readers who will love it as much as you do.
Kathy Izard is the author of three books, The Hundred Story Home, The Last Ordinary Hour, and A Good Night for Mr. Coleman. She connects with her readers on Instagram (@kathyizardclt) and loves helping writers get their words in the world.
Learn from Kathy
Paths to Publishing: Self-Publishing Start to Finish. Thursday, October 6, 2022, 6:00-8:00 pm. So, you’ve finished a manuscript and have made the decision to self-publish. Where do you start? Join us as Kathy Izard walks you through 10 steps to putting your words in the world. From purchasing your own ISBN number to ordering author copies, Kathy can answer all your questions about becoming a published author of adult or children’s books. Register here.
by Sarah Creech
Good sex in fiction relies on powerful description skills, but what makes it “good” has much more to do with character and conflict than the sensory experience of sex on the page as mere titillation. Sex is always a power dynamic in story with various parties claiming power by different methods and for different reasons. Good sex functions as character development and deepens a character’s psychological richness on the page. Good sex creates subtext and interiority in a story.
Bad sex in fiction ignores all of these important elements of craft and instead focuses on description for description’s sake. Often that description is overwrought or straining for the visual as a stand-in for real yearning and complex desire. Each year, the Literary Review announces its Bad Sex in Fiction award to draw attention to the cliché ways sex is sometimes presented in story. More specifically, “The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction.” (Check out some recent award winners and see if you can spot any reasons for why those particular works were chosen for so dubious an honor.)
But all jokes aside: sex in fiction is a very serious craft concern for storytellers. When and how to invite the reader’s mind onto the page to participate in the imaginary work of scene building is critical. Not all sex is romantic or erotic. Some sex is taboo, violent, without consent. A writer handles difficult material through skillful craft choices.
Sarah Creech is the author of two novels, Season of the Dragonflies and The Whole Way Home. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in various publications, including The Cortland Review, Writer’sDigest. com, StorySouth, and Literary Mama. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and children and teaches at Queens University of Charlotte.
Learn From Sarah: Want to write great sex scenes that don’t just titillate the reader but also reveal character and complicate the plot? Join us for “Sex (How to Write About it Well)” at Charlotte Lit, Thursday, September 29, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. In this course we will study the best strategies to create good tension in a sex scene and learn to avoid the techniques that might get you nominated for the infamous Bad Sex in Fiction award. Learn more and register here.
by Jeffrey Thomson
The Iliad is a book of transitions; it is a fundamentally a book of liminal moments. This is a story from the basement of history—from the moment when we began the movement from an oral storytelling culture to a culture of written literature. It establishes many of the characters and tropes of the modern literary world, while living up to almost none of the norms. It is a challenging, sprawling, and difficult text that is likewise small and intimate in its essential movement. Its characters and heroes interact with gods and Fate but play out an ultimately human story.
The Iliad takes place during the Trojan War, but it is not about the Trojan war. Rather it is about the making of a person—Achilles. We watch as he moves from rage to pity. From unyielding to anything but the direct commands of the gods to yielding to the will of another human being. Achilles is “divinely” selfish in the beginning of book one, but by the end Achilles has learned to feel pity for another mortal. His final acts of grace and generosity show that he has abandoned his selfish anger and found a connection to another human being.
For writers, The Iliad is an unending fountain of characters and moments that can be plumbed and investigated, written and rewritten. It is the text that gave us the world’s first fan fiction—The Aeneid—and continues to provide grist for that mill (Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, the film Troy, etc.). In a moment of—again—invasion and war, reading and talking about Homer’s classic war story will let us—once again, as well—think about what it ultimately means to be a human being.
Jeffrey Thomson is a poet, memoirist, translator, and editor, and the author of 10 books including Half/Life: New and Selected Poems from Alice James Books, the memoir fragile, The Belfast Notebooks, The Complete Poems of Catullus, and the edited collection From the Fishouse. His newest book is Museum of Objects Burned by the Souls in Purgatory. He has been a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, the Fulbright Distinguished Scholar in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Poetry Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, and the Hodson Trust–John Carter Brown Fellow at Brown University. He is currently professor of creative writing at the University of Maine Farmington.
Read The Iliad with Charlotte Lit: Join us for “Reading The Iliad in Wartime” with Jeffrey Thomson. Over six sessions beginning September 20, we will read and discuss Homer’s original classic and think about the way it speaks to our time and the way other writers have used this story to illuminate theirs. This is a “Zoom Plus One” event — when you register you can bring a friend for free! More information and registration here.
From Charlotte Lit’s faculty and staff, here’s a list of our favorite reads this year — most new, but some older favorites, too. Enjoy!
Bright Dead Things, by Ada Limón — Paul Reali
Come Hither Honeycomb, by Erin Belieu — Lisa Zerkle
Facts about the Moon, by Dorianne Laux — Kathie Collins
Indigo, by Ellen Bass — Jessica Jacobs
What Pecan Light, by Hannah Vanderhart — Dannye Romine Powell
Let Me Tell You What I Mean, by Joan Didion — Elizabeth West
One Long River of Song, by Brian Doyle — Irene Honeycutt
Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change, by Anjali Enjeti — Patrice Gopo
Symbol, Myth, and Culture: Essays and Lectures of Ernst Cassirer, 1935-1945, by Ernst Cassirer — David Radavich
A Piece of the Moon, by Chris Fabry — Landis Wade
Annie John, by Jamaica Kincaid — Caroline Langerman
Autumn, by Ali Smith — Jessica Jacobs
Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell — Kristin Sherman
Harrow, by Joy Williams — Jeff Jackson
I Wished, by Dennis Cooper — Jeff Jackson
Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan — Paul Reali
Martita, I Remember You, by Sandra Cisneros — Judy Goldman
Miss Benson’s Beetle, by Rachel Joyce — Betsy Thorpe
One Kind Favor, by Kevin McIlvoy — Kathryn Schwille
Plainsong, by Kent Haruf — Bryn Chancellor
Severance, by Ling Ma — Megan Rich
Song of Achilles, by Madeleine Miller — Kathie Collins
The Black Kids, by Christina Hammonds Reed — Patrice Gopo
The Henna Artist, by Alka Joshi — Surabhi Kaushik
The Outline Trilogy, by Rachel Cusk — John Amen
The Overstory, by Richard Powers — Martin Settle
The Postscript Murders, by Elly Griffiths — Cathy Pickens
The Sweetness of Water, by Nathan Harris — Kristin Sherman
There There, by Tommy Orange — David Poston
Under the Mercy Trees, by Heather Newton — Kim Wright
Tender Is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald — Sarah VanderWood
A Rip in Heaven, by Jeanine Cummins — Amy Paturel
Blow Your House Down: Family, Feminism, and Treason, by Gina Frangello — Ashley Memory
Carry: A Memoir of Survival on …, by Toni Jensen — Bryn Chancellor
Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey — Jennifer Halls
Stray: A Memoir, by Stephanie Danler — Caroline Langerman
Chasing the Thrill, by Daniel Barbarisi — Cathy Pickens
How the Word Is Passed…, by Clint Smith — Paula Martinac
The Peregrine, by J.A. Baker — Charles Israel, Jr.
Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall…, by Carol Leonnig — Jennifer Halls
If I Had Two Wings, by Randall Kenan — George Hovis
Palm of the Hand Stories, by Yasunari Kawavata — Lola Haskins
The Office of Historical Corrections, by Danielle Evans — Kathryn Schwille
The Souvenir Museum, by Elizabeth McCracken — Lisa Zerkle
First Day: Alone in your cozy writing nook, a partridge in a pear tree, you love every word of your new essay. It’s just perfect. Then you realize you’re 500 words over the limit for the contest you want to enter. Yikes!
Second Day: Like those two turtle doves, your initial love for your essay has migrated to sub-Saharan Africa for the winter, maybe forever. You hate your essay now. As you read over it, you realize it’s not very good at all. Is there anything worth keeping?
Third Day: Absolument! Your three French hens remind you of the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Give yourself a break. Besides, there’s no time to start anything new.
Fourth Day: Or is there? The four “calling birds” in your backyard clamor for a new tune. Start over, the blackbirds sing. Start over! Start over! START OVER!
Fifth Day: You have no energy to begin something new. Your five golden rings may be just brass, but your essay is the best you’ve got, so you decide to polish it up the best you can.
Sixth Day: Okay, so you won’t actually cut anything. You’ll just trim the hedge a teeny bit, taking care not to disturb the six Canada Geese-a-laying. You gently prune a few words here and a few words there. But is it enough?
Seventh Day: It is not. However, you refuse to cut the most precious part of your essay. Even if they say that all writers eventually “murder their swans.” Well, that’s for other people to do. Their swans are not as precious as your swans.
Eighth Day: Your cereal milk has soured, and doubt sets in. Wallow in your pity for a while and then get back to the barn with the other maids. You’ve got serious work to do.
Ninth Day: Cutting is actually easier than you thought. The delete key clicks like Ginger Rogers’ heels, and your heart dances with delight. You don’t miss those swans at all.
Tenth Day: Your essay isn’t the same. Now you fear it’s terrible. Ten lords leap in and take it away. You’re happy to see it go.
Eleventh Day: The pipers bring your essay back, and they’re not playing a dirge. When you read your essay again with fresh eyes, you realize it may actually may be better. Leaner, more concise, and more compelling. Hurray!
Twelfth Day: Take a deep breath and submit your revised essay. The world may not love it, but who cares? You do. In your mind, it’s just perfect. And in the end, that’s all that matters. After all, new ideas drum on and on….
ABOUT ASHLEY: Ashley Memory lives in the wilds of the southwestern Randolph County where the pileated woodpecker, chickadees and titmice serve as her “calling birds.” She has written for Poets & Writers, The Independent, and Wired. She serves as a critique editor and judge for the Women on Writing quarterly fiction and nonfiction contests, and writes a blog at ashley-memory.com.
GET OUT OF THE SLUSH WITH ASHLEY: Join Ashley for The Art of Submission: From the “Slush” Pile to the “Rush” Pile on January 11, 2022, 6-8 p.m. online via Zoom. Technology makes submitting for publication easier than ever. Though as more writers offer their work, competition for space becomes fiercer. But take heart. In this class, we’ll cover the art behind successful submissions and how to move from the “slush” pile to the pile editors rush to accept. More information is here.
Have you ever wanted to keep a journal but didn’t know how to begin? Perhaps you’ve asked yourself, “Why should I believe for a minute I have anything at all interesting to say?” Have you ever abandoned a journal out of boredom or dismissed personal writing as a waste of time?
More than sixteen million blank journals are sold annually in stores and on the internet.* As technology threatens to replace traditional forms of communication, there appears to be an opposite impulse to slow down and talk to ourselves. Here’s the catch: While vast numbers of blank books are purchased, few are ever fully used. Would-be journal writers often give up before realizing journaling’s many benefits.
There’s good science from psychologists and medical clinicians claiming personal writing improves your health. Physically, the act of simply sitting down in comfortable surroundings, picking up a pen, and writing your thoughts and feelings almost immediately lowers your blood pressure, reduces your heart rate, and increases the production of T-cells that pump up your body’s immunity system.Writing helps keep your mind sharp by expanding your observational skills and memory. As a spiritual practice, writing strengthens your faith. Professional writers and artists have long used journals to develop ideas, break through writer’s block, and practice their craft. In your journal, you are likely to discover a never-before recognized source of creativity within yourself.
How Journal Writing has Helped Me: A Short List
- Increased my reverence and gratitude for my life and Life
- Helped me identify what I need to be happy
- Provided a safe place to unlock and understand my feelings, explore my emotional life, and recognize my moods and what caused them
- Helped me appreciate my childhood
- Led me to realize that I am a creative and imaginative person
- Boosted my critical thinking and writing skills
- Enhanced my self-confidence and given me a greater sense of peace
- Brought me to a place closer to self-acceptance and serenity
Journal writing is a path to inner peace. As a consequence, I believe I have brought a little peace into the lives of my family, friends, and colleagues. Perhaps this is too much of a stretch, but imagine: If, as the title of physicist Conrad Lorenz’s paper on chaos theory suggests, the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil might set off a tornado in Texas, isn’t it possible that one person’s journal writing might contribute to world peace? Isn’t it a joy to think so?
*Estimates compiled from Leaving a Trace, The Art of transforming a Life into Stories by Alexandra Johnson. Little, Brown and Company, 2001.
ABOUT MELINDA: Melinda L. Ferguson grew up in Lima, Ohio, graduated from Miami University, and moved to New York City to earn and MA from Columbia University before embarking on a career in Manhattan as an editor for major book companies. After her family moved to Long Island, Ferguson taught English classes at Suffolk County Community College, English as a Second Language at the Smithtown Adult Education Program and facilitated memoir writing workshops at community libraries. In 2016, Melinda received an MA degree in Creative Writing & Literature from Stony Brook/Southampton University. Melinda moved to Charlotte in 2016 to be near family.