New Times, New Voice

Megan Rich

Over the last several months, I’ve taken a creative break from my novel project and am working on a new essay collection. In this transition, I’ve encountered an interesting problem. Because I’m what you might call a “method writer,” one who tries to become her characters, I noticed that, even when writing a personal essay, I often slip into the unconscious patterns of my novel’s narrator. I’ve been using her buzzwords, her sentence structures, and her metaphors for so many years, some part of me seems to think they’re mine, too. Most egregious, I’ve even fallen prey to her logical fallacies, the ones I worked so hard to help her overcome by the end!

So, I’ve been actively trying to recultivate my authentic voice. I think sometimes we forget that our voice, in writing and in life, is dynamic; if it doesn’t change over time, it becomes stale and boring to us and likely to our readers. When I first started writing my novel, I was living in the West, teaching angsty teenagers, and interacting with all kinds of people without masks: How could I possibly have the same voice that I have now, working on these essays? In the course of drafting, revising, and polishing that manuscript, I also conceived, bore, and breastfed a human being. So, in order to find my new voice, I needed to spend time unlearning who I was and embracing who I’d become.

The particular essay I’ve been working on intensely over the last few weeks is a doozy. I’m attempting, in 6000 words or less, to fully explore my relationship to reproduction — including several pregnancy losses — and the societal underpinnings of shame attached to some of my experiences. Finding the right register, rhythm, and diction (read: voice) is paramount because I hope this essay will speak to and for those who have experienced this, too. After writing a few paragraphs last week — with a register that felt too submissive and diction that felt too easy — I commented the following, in bold, in the margin: “Remember that you were not comfortable at any point during these experiences. It’s okay for your reader to feel a little uncomfortable, right?” The next few hours were a wonderful experimentation in what that voice might be: a direct, precise woman who isn’t afraid to make her audience a little uncomfortable. Sounds good to me!

To write truly voice-driven work, we must continually define and redefine how we want to communicate; we must adjust to the ways we change over time and to the differing purposes of our work. Often, we have to step outside of the unconscious patterns we’ve built onto every page we’ve already written and say, “Hey! Is that still how you want to sound?” If not, I hope you’ll have the courage to discover what you might write to yourself in the margins.


ABOUT MEG: Megan Rich has written two books, a YA novel and a travel memoir, and is seeking representation for her third, a literary thriller inspired by The Great Gatsby. She took part in the highly-selective Sub-Concentration in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan, for which she completed a thesis of original poetry. In addition, she’s a graduate of the Lighthouse Writers Workshop Book Project program. With fourteen years experience as a creative writing teacher and mentor of students from ages twelve to eighty-five, she is passionate about helping others find and refine their voices on the page.


FIND YOUR VOICE WITH MEG: Learn to create a lasting connection with your readers, by developing your voice in Meg’s upcoming class Creating an Authentic Voice, February 1 and 8 from 6-8 p.m. via Zoom. In this two-session class, we will study voice at a deep level to learn the best techniques and generative exercises for connecting directly and quickly with our readers. In the second session, Meg will provide thoughtful feedback and advice on your work, helping you refine and deepen your voice in revisions. More information here.

Read Like an English Major

Betsy Thorpe

My daughter just graduated from college (a semester early, so my savings’ account thanks her dearly!), and now she is looking for a job. Since a lot of interviews take place over the phone for obvious reasons, I end up hearing snippets of her conversations. I’ve preached to her over the years that majoring in the liberal arts teaches you critical thinking skills, so when she’s asked what can a political science major “do” for an insurance firm, or a bank, or a communications firm…she has a ready answer.

Conversely, when people approach me with their books, or book ideas, they apologize in advance when they are not English majors. “I’m sorry—I didn’t study this in school.” I reassure them that you don’t need to be an English major to write a book. But it does help to act like one.

What do English majors do? We analyze how books work. One of my very earliest lessons of this in high school was, how were Hemingway’s books different from Fitzgerald’s? Which author did we prefer and why? A great Twitter thread (that I retweeted, from @literaticat) suggested that if you want to be a children’s book writer, go to the library and read 100 books in your genre from the last five years. “Tear them apart. Why and how do they work?”

Any writer, fiction or non-fiction, can benefit from reading current books that are being published in their genre. Ask, how do the authors I connect with handle structure? Is the book told linearly, by theme, through flashbacks, through different narrators? How are their characterizations, settings, dialogue, pacing, plotting working for you? Are certain methodologies in their writing rubbing you the wrong way, or instead, making you put down the book in awe, your jaw dropping, thinking, Wow, that was beautiful. And then give thought to, Why was it so beautiful?

So much changes in what’s considered “current,” so it pays to be reading in your genre, keeping up, not being old-fashioned. (Are adverbs out or in? What do dialogue tags look like in today’s books? How about…insert drumroll and much controversy and angst…the use of present or past tense!) While yes, it’s good to be you, you don’t want to be the only one who spends twenty pages on the description of an approach to a house, as I found to be true re-reading Jane Eyre and Anne of Green Gables. Back in the 1800s, we needed those descriptions as perhaps we’d never been to England or Prince Edward Island. But thanks to film, we know now what the terrain looks like, and can skip straight to the plot.

Have fun with this reading assignment, and don’t get intimidated by a specific number—just start reading in your genre with a more critical eye! It will make you a better writer, and you’ll be more knowledgeable about current trends.


ABOUT BETSY:  Betsy Thorpe started in book publishing as an assistant at Atheneum, eventually becoming an acquiring and developmental editor while working at HarperCollins, Broadway Books (Random House), Macmillan, and John Wiley & Sons. She then started Betsy Thorpe Literary Services, which helps authors deliver their best work to the public, either through publishers or self-publishing. She is the co-author of numerous non-fiction books, including three featured in the New York Times, and is at work on her second novel, The Writer’s Cottage.


QUERY FOR SUCCESS: Learn how to write a professional and compelling query letter with Betsy in her upcoming class Query Letters for Novels and Memoirs on January 25, 2022 from 6-8PM in-person at Charlotte Lit. We’ll be discussing the essential five paragraphs that make up a query letter, including the elevator pitch, author bio, and the dreaded comparison books. We’ll take a look at some query letters that won the notice of agents, and those that were so awful they got posted online. More information here.

PLEASE NOTE: Proof of full Covid vaccination is required to attend in-person Charlotte Lit events. Send a pic of your vaccination card to staff@charlottelit.org.

Silent Partners

Kathryn Schwille

Kathryn Schwille

Beside my reading chair is a table that’s been in my family for generations. It’s at least 130 years old, with fluted legs and three small finials gracing each side. The table was once painted off-white, and because my grandfather smoked a pipe, a large burn mark scarred the top. Many years ago, I’d tried to remove the paint and sand the top but failed miserably. Bits of white clung to the fluted edges and the ashtray blotch never budged. It was a mess.

Finally, I took the table to be refinished by a professional. I’d always thought it was oak, but when I picked it up the refinisher corrected me: definitely not oak, probably American chestnut. Ouch. That tree has been extinct for decades. In the eyes of Antiques Roadshow, I’d probably defaced (and devalued) a treasure.

The table is pretty, though, in its revision. It usually holds a stack of my husband’s cooking magazines and recently, my copy of Alice Munro’s collection, The Progress of Love. In the twenty years I’ve owned that book, I’ve read several of the stories many times. One is “The Moon Over the Orange Street Skating Rink,” which opens with a scene between two older characters who haven’t seen each other since they were children, and who suddenly meet. I’m struggling to write a scene similar to that, and I’ve turned to Munro for help. What does Munro do that I might borrow? What do her characters say – and not say? How does she avoid predictable dialogue? (That would be the kind I wrote in my first draft: “Hi Amelia, it’s me, Hank. Been a long time.” Yawn.)

Munro’s character Sam, who’s done well in life, is revisiting his hometown, where his old friend runs a neighborhood store. He finds her behind the counter, reading a romance novel.

Sam asked for cigarettes, to test her. She gave him his change and settled her sweater around her shoulders and picked up her book, all without looking at him. Her sweater was covered with little jiggly balls of pink and white wool, like popcorn. She waited till the last minute to speak to him.

“You taken up smoking in your old age, Sam?”

“I thought you didn’t know me.”

“I’d know your hide in a tannery,” said Callie, pleased with herself. “I knew you the minute you walked in that door.”

Sam is playing a game, and Callie has one, too. The testing and withholding give me an idea. A moment of recognition – or lack of it, or refusal to acknowledge it – is full of opportunity. Sam sizes up Callie from that unsophisticated sweater. He and his better circumstances seem to have given him the power in the scene, until she reveals her game. This tiny scene has tension. There’s plenty to inspire me, and off I go. My story is meant to be refinished over and over – no defacing an antique here. With my writer eyes open to Munro’s technique, each of my drafts will come closer to a piece I can live with.


ABOUT KATHRYN: Kathyrn Schwille is the author of the novel What Luck, This Life, set in East Texas around the time of the Columbia shuttle disaster. Her short stories, which have appeared in New Letters, Memorious, Crazyhorse, West Branch and other magazines, have twice won honorable mention in the Pushcart Prize. In 2013, she was awarded an Individual Artist Fellowship from the North Carolina Arts Council.


DEVELOP YOUR EYE WITH KATHRYN: Explore fiction by learning to read like a writer — alert to the craft on the page. We’ll read two contemporary short stories in advance: “The Wind” by Lauren Groff, and “Pedicure” by Elizabeth Strout. In class we’ll look closely at what these master storytellers do and why, with particular attention to their artistic decisions about language, structure, dialogue and getting characters on the page. More information here.

PLEASE NOTE: Proof of full Covid vaccination is required to attend in-person Charlotte Lit events. Send a pic of your vaccination card to staff@charlottelit.org.

Celebrate the Twelve Days of Editing

Ashley MemoryFirst 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.

Why Keep a Personal Journal?

Melinda FergusonHave 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

  1. Increased my reverence and gratitude for my life and Life
  2. Helped me identify what I need to be happy
  3. Provided a safe place to unlock and understand my feelings, explore my emotional life, and recognize my moods and what caused them
  4. Helped me appreciate my childhood
  5. Led me to realize that I am a creative and imaginative person
  6. Boosted my critical thinking and writing skills
  7. Enhanced my self-confidence and given me a greater sense of peace
  8. 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.

Recollecting Ourselves

Elizabeth West

As a writer, I discover so many things that evoke emotions.  This summer, I was doing a COVID cleanout and found a treasure trove.  My mother had saved all of my letters I sent to her when I was 20 and went to London.  I spent the next couple of hours reacquainting with my 20-year-old self.  Only I could read between the lines in those letters and know the true story behind all of those forgotten words.

So many of our memories are intangible, but artifacts – like the letters – are real accounts of times gone by.  We are able to interact with these words, feelings and observations in real time. We can also find meaning in other non-literary items.

As I look around my kitchen, I find several artifacts of my life. The loaf pan, the “fancy” measuring spoons, the never-used espresso set…. These inanimate objects speak to me in ways that no one else can hear.

As a writer of creative nonfiction, I am fascinated by the power of everyday things. I can even look at a homemade Christmas ornament and be transported back to that central New York classroom in the 1980’s when I made it for my family. Here is an excerpt from a story I wrote about our Christmas trees growing up – yes, I said trees – we had two. One was the family’s tree and the other was Mom’s:

Mom’s tree was different. It had a theme – either silver or blue – and had beautiful ornaments. Although I viewed it as impersonal and a little too fancy, I get it now. This was Mom’s tree. All Mom’s. And she could do whatever the hell she wanted with it. This resonates with me so much this Christmas, as I am now a mom and missing my mom who we lost in 2016. If I could have her back now, I would gladly give her whatever kind of tree she’d like.

Christmas is different since she left us. Sometimes, I stare at our tree, and it reminds me of all we have lost. It brings up searing feelings of loneliness and grief. However, two things have brought me out of my haze. Obviously, the kids do not let me brood for long. However, this year, an article made me remember what the Christmas season is all about.

Invite them in – despite the recipe you burned, no matter the dirty house or sink full of dishes. No one will remember these things. All of these imperfections make a home. The love and kindness will be the souvenirs.

Gather up your things and write about them. Share your stories! We need to hear them.


ABOUT ELIZABETH: Elizabeth Adinolfi West is Associate Professor of English at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte. She is also faculty advisor to the student creative writing organization, SWAG. Elizabeth published an essay about her son in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hopes and Miracles. She writes a weekly blog entitled “Turning Arrows into Flowers” at elizabethwest.com.


GET INSPIRED WITH ELIZABETH: Join Elizabeth for Recollecting Ourselves: Using Artifacts to Guide Your Writing on March 1, 2022, from 6-8 PM in person at Charlotte Lit. Discuss finding artifacts from the past and get some guidance on how to create artifacts to fuel your writing. These artifacts can serve as inspiration for poetry, fiction, or creative non-fiction (memoir). See how much fun it can be reacquainting yourself with the past or planting seeds for future writers through the magic of artifacts. More information is here.

Where There’s Poetry, Prose Will Surely Follow

Jamie Pollard-SmithA few weeks ago, I had the honor of hearing Ada Limón read her work at Queens University as part of the Charlotte Lit’s 4X4 Series. Small in stature but huge in heart, her warmth and wit filled the auditorium while her words brought tears to our eyes. One piece in particular struck a chord with me.

 

“The Raincoat” (excerpt)

…My god,

I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her

raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel

that I never got wet.

 

And there it was, the reaction I have experienced so many times before when faced with heart-shattering imagery that hits a little too close to home. I had to write. Immediately.

I went home that night and sat at my computer. It wasn’t that I believed I could write poetry of my own or even some polished piece that would someday rival Limon’s brilliance. It was because I am a writer and words are how I process the world. The mother I lost to Alzheimer’s was my raincoat and now I must do the same for my two teenage children. Hearing Limón point it out so boldly left me spiraling with emotions and ideas. There was nowhere to hide.

Poetry makes us better humans by stirring up our emotional pots. It does not mean that we all must write it, but I have countless drafts that started because someone crafted a piece of poetry that shook me to my very core. It was an image or idea staring at me in the sea of blank space on the page. In all that silence, it could not be ignored. My words poured onto the page.

Pandora’s box had been opened to a sea of memories, regrets, resentments, and everything in between for me that September evening. Facing these demons is hard and necessary work, and while prose is my form of choice, I am thankful every day for the poets who awaken my soul to what lies bubbling just below the surface.

 


ABOUT JAMIE: Jaime Pollard-Smith is a full-time writing instructor at Central Piedmont Community College with a Master of Arts from New York University. Her fiction has been published in Literary Mama. She is a contributor for Scary Mommy and Project We Forgot. Read her thoughts at unbecoming.co.


PUT POETRY INTO YOUR PROSE: Join Jamie for Putting Poetry Into Your Prose on December 2nd, in person at Charlotte Lit. What can the prose writer learn from the poet? Let us count the ways: sound, rhythm, word play, word choice, concision, and so much more. In this session, we’ll read and discuss several prose passages that employ one or more tricks from the poet’s toolbox. Then, we’ll explore the ways we can use those techniques to strengthen our own prose, trying our hands at a few of them through in-class writing prompts.

PLEASE NOTE: Proof of full Covid vaccination is required to attend in-person Charlotte Lit events. Send a pic of your vaccination card to staff@charlottelit.org.

More information is here.

Historical Fiction

Paula Martinac

Paula Martinac is the author of the forthcoming historical novel Dear Miss Cushman.

The Past Comes Alive on the Page

The task facing the historical fiction writer is to bring research to life. In a journal article or history book, you might read that 19th-century American theaters were rowdy places in which audiences frequently booed actors off the stage. In contrast, a historical novel would take you into the boxes and “parquet,” or orchestra seating, and show the repercussions of a poor performance. This excerpt from my forthcoming novel, Dear Miss Cushman, set in the New York City theater world in 1852, demonstrates this idea.

 

When the audience began hissing, I knew Othello wasn’t going to end well. The response jolted me. We weren’t at the Bowery Theatre, where the audience in the pit tossed apples and vegetables onto the stage if a performance didn’t please them. The Prince Theatre was one of New York City’s finest establishments, catering to the upper ten.

Worse, the actor they hissed at was my father.

I was attending my first theatrical performance. Incredible, given that my father was a renowned leading actor, but Mama maintained that theater wasn’t a place for young ladies. For my eighteenth birthday, she gave in to my pleading and permitted Uncle James to accompany me to my father’s performance of the Moor, one of his most acclaimed roles. Mama insisted I have a new dress, and my sister Maude oohed and aahed over the sky blue taffeta until I wanted to take it off and give it to her. I myself put little stock in puffy lady things, especially in pastel hues. Plus, the heavy horsehair crinoline the skirt required for shape made beads of sweat trickle down my stomach.

Still, I could abide these discomforts if it meant I got to sit beside my dapper uncle in his lushly adorned box, draped with red and gold silk, and marvel at the glistening gas-jet chandelier that lit the space. Best of all, I got to watch my father tread the boards as I’d imagined him doing, in full costume and makeup for the Moor and sporting his prize sword.

We were barely one act in when Pa dropped a few lines. Then more—even the ones I ran with him that morning “for good measure,” as he’d urged. He’d appeared in Othello dozens of times, but now the role appeared to baffle him. Although the movement made my stays pinch, I leaned forward, mouthing the words, willing them into his memory.

Taunts rose slowly through the cavernous parquet. Pa squinted toward the footlights in bewilderment….

The audience response crescendoed into boos. Uncle James colored crimson. “We’re leaving,” he announced, spittle collecting at the corners of his lips. He tugged me to my feet. “Now, Georgiana.”


Paula Martinac is the author of the forthcoming historical novel Dear Miss Cushman (Bywater Books, December 2021), and six others, including Testimony; Clio Rising, Gold Medalist, Northeast Region, 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards; and The Ada Decades, a finalist for the 2018 Ferro-Grumley Award in LGBTQ Fiction. Out of Time, her debut novel, won a Lambda Literary Award. She has received fellowships from North Carolina Arts Council and the Arts and Science Council and teaches in the creative writing program at UNC Charlotte.


EXPLORE HISTORICAL FICTION WITH PAULA: Join Paula for Writing Historical Fiction online. Historical fiction has the power to bring people and places from the past to life. If you’re drawn to this genre (or one of its sub-genres, like historical mystery or romance), this class will provide you with motivation and skills to start writing. By the end of the class, you will have a scene or chapter for a work-in-progress or an outline and character biographies that give you a solid path forward. This class meets on three Tuesdays, November 30, December 7 and 14, 6:00-8:00 p.m. More information here.

Horizons

Lola Haskins

Once I wrote “The distance to the horizon is a fierce happiness,” and I believe it’s true.  I had a good friend once who was a fine painter, and a series of paintings he did right before he retired from the art department inspired me so much that I wrote tiny stories about the characters in them. My friend made a fold-out book and exhibited it with the paintings. Later, when I wrote monologues in the voices of just the women, he jumped in and started making extra drawings. Now, he’d been fighting oral cancer for years and about this time he was approaching the end stages. I used to sit with him in his house—I remember he wore a mask because most of his face was gone, he said, he looked like a monster—and we’d talk about how things were going. Then one day he burst into tears and said “Lola, I’m so sorry. I’m not going to be able to finish our project”. To which I told him the truth: “Dear X, don’t worry.  Everything we’ve been doing for all these months IS our project; it was never about finishing in the first place.” In other words, our project was the horizon.

Thinking of tears reminds me of a story about me and another artist. The artist in this one is the 18th century Japanese painter and print maker, Hokusai (1760-1849), whose pictures I’ve loved for my whole adult life but never appreciated properly until I saw an extensive exhibit of his work. I’d thought I preferred his depictions of country people to the views of Mt. Fuji he did late in his life—and I still do like those—but when I found myself in the same room as Mt Fuji, I started crying, that mountain moved me so much—the way he rendered it, it was everything.

After that, I started reading about Hokusai’s life, and what I found has made him a role model for the rest of mine.

…. The period, beginning in 1834, saw Hokusai working under the name “Gakyō Rōjin Manji” (The Old Man Mad About Art). It was at this time that Hokusai produced One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji…

In the postscript to this work, Hokusai writes: “From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects, and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.”

In 1839, a fire destroyed Hokusai’s studio, but he never stopped painting and completed Ducks in a Stream at the age of 87. He is said to have exclaimed on his deathbed, “If only Heaven will give me just another ten years… Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter.”


ABOUT LOLA: Lola Haskins’ poetry has appeared in The Atlantic, The London Review of Books, London Magazine, The New York Quarterly, Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Rattle and elsewhere, as well as having been broadcast on NPR and BBC radio. She has published fourteen collections of poems, a poetry advice book and a non-fiction book about fifteen Florida cemeteries. Ms. Haskins has been awarded three book prizes, two NEA fellowships, four Florida Cultural Affairs fellowships, the Emily Dickinson/Writer Magazine award from Poetry Society of America, and several prizes for narrative poetry. She retired from teaching Computer Science at the University of Florida in 2005 and served from then until 2015 on the faculty of Rainier Writers Workshop.


SEE LOLA LIVE AT CHARLOTTE LIT! Lola Haskins will read from and discuss her work at Charlotte Lit on Friday, November 5 at 6 p.m. Free! Advance registration required.

Rewriting Southern Traditions

Beth Gilstrap

Beth Gilstrap

LAKE HARTWELL, SOUTH CAROLINA

By Beth Gilstrap

 

It’s past lunch hour and Grandmother is still wearing her

housecoat. Tings and sprays bounce from the stovetop. A

glimmer of steam gathers on her upper lip, not sweat, mind

you—not sweat. The peonies on the fabric are wide and

heavy pink, like they’d fall over if they were out in the

side garden as they always are during late April. But we are

in July and July is sweet and frayed, the grass only green

down on the banks of the lake. Me and Juna played chicken

on rafts all morning. Our suits still damp when we put

them on, hers only halfway up as we ran out the door, letting

it slam too hard, hearing Grandmother say, “Watch my

nerves. For Lord’s sake. My nerves.” By the time we come in,

we were striped, our torsos a wormy kind of white, our fingertips

wrinkled, begging for fried squash and okra Grandmother

had in heaps by this point, for smushed-up peaches

meant for the ice cream churn, for teeth-cracking chunks of

rock salt, the wayward bit of a watermelon seed, you know,

that stringy bit you can’t get down no matter how hard you

try so you wind up spitting the seeds on Grandmother’s

floor even though you wasn’t supposed to be eating them in

the house cause y’all know better, cause she done told you

twice to get your butts outside. And once you’re outside,

the menfolk stand in a circle around their cache, taking

stock of M-80s and bottle rockets and whirling spiders and

whistling dixies, which was basically the same, but hateful,

so hateful you could feel it blow your cousin’s pinky off

even though some grown-up yelled “fire in the hole” and

dumbass stood there in a sulphur fog like it was all happening

to someone else and next year when you and Juna went

in at lunch you were practically teenagers and ate rolled-up

honey ham cigars and Chicken in a Biskit Crackers—those

buttery rectangles with a chemical chicken flavor—instead

of spitting seeds on the floor cause now y’all were good girls,

making sure to let Grandmother lie down awhile and have

herself a little peace in the back room with the big box fan

and a single bed and her thin, yellow sheets.


ABOUT BETH: Beth Gilstrap is the author of the Deadheading & Other Stories, Winner of the 2019 Red Hen Press Women’s Prose Prize due out October 5, 2021 and available for preorder now. She is also the author of I Am Barbarella: Stories (2015) from Twelve Winters Press and No Man’s Wild Laura (2016) from Hyacinth Girl Press. Her stories, essays, and hybrids have appeared in Denver Quarterly, Wigleaf, The Minnesota Review, New Flash Fiction Review, and the Best Microfiction Anthology, among others. Born and raised in the Charlotte area, she recently relocated to Louisville where she lives and writes in an ornery old shotgun house.


LEAN INTO LYRICAL TRADITIONS WITH BETH: Join Beth for a reading and book discussion of Deadheading and Other Stories on October 20, at 6 PM for our next Wednesdays@Lit. And join Beth for Uneasy Women: Writing Feminist Southern Gothic Fiction on October 21st. In this workshop, you’ll examine writing traditions, how they’ve changed, and how we might craft them for 21st Century readers by examining excerpts from contemporary female authors including: Toni Morrison, Jesmyn Ward, and Dorothy Allison. We will examine how they subvert traditional gender roles, how they give agency to characters (often deemed outsiders) who have traditionally been victims of the American capitalist patriarchy. More information is here.